Irish Roots

September 26th, 2011

John Grenham


Three weeks ago, Glin Historical Society sent me a copy of their publication The Knights of Glin: seven centuries of change (ed. Tom Donovan, Glin 2009). A self-deprecating cover note said the book was not bedtime reading, but I managed to haul it upstairs and was astonished awake for several nights in a row by just how extraordinary it turned out to be.

Part One is a magnificent piece of family history. Kenneth Nicholls' and Paul MacCotter contribute a scrupulous, scholarly disentangling of the medieval genealogies of all the Fitzgeralds, not just the Knights of Glin. Tom Donovan and three other historians than give wonderfully colourful blow-by-blow accounts of the Knights from 16th to the 19th centuries, including the exploits of Cracked Jack, the 25th Knight, and his disgracefully prolific father, John Frauncis. And the 29th Knight, Desmond Fitzgerald has written a warm, detailed memoir of his own immediate family.

For these alone the work would be priceless. But Part Two then includes some of the best local history I have ever seen. Histories of fishing and farming in Glin, of the development of the village, of local architecture and Glin Castle: every article demonstrates just how intertwined the fates of the family and the locality have been for more than 700 years. The old lazy stereotype of endless conflict between Old English, Catholic Gael and Anglo-Irish is simply made irrelevant.

And in addition the work is beautifully produced, with some of the best design and colour printing I have ever seen. The reproductions of the hand-coloured maps of the area are a revelation.

The 29th Knight, Desmond Fitzgerald died on September 14 last, and the title died with him. Nothing positive can be said about the end of such an extraordinary tradition and the death of such a remarkable individual, but this superb book ensures that neither will be forgotten.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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