Garrett, the Great Earl of Kildare (1477-1513)

Patrick Weston Joyce

312. Garrett or Gerald Fitzgerald, who is known as the Great earl of Kildare, became the eighth earl in 1477. His sister Eleanora was married to Conn O'Neill chief of Tyrone (father of Conn Bacach). He was at this time in custody in London, but only on mere suspicion (308). The king now resolved to govern Ireland through him: but first brought him up to answer the charges. A whole crowd of enemies came forward to accuse him. He was charged with burning the church of Cashel, to which he replied, that it was true enough, but that he would not have done so only he thought the archbishop was in it. The archbishop himself was present listening; and this reply was so unexpectedly plain and blunt that the king burst out laughing.

The king advised him to have the aid of counsel, saying that he might have anyone he pleased; to which the earl answered that he would have the best counsel in England, namely, the king himself; at which his majesty laughed as heartily as before. At last when one of his accusers exclaimed with great vehemence: "All Ireland cannot rule this man!" the king ended the matter by replying: "Then if all Ireland cannot rule him, he shall rule all Ireland!"

Thus the great earl triumphed; and the king restored him, and made him lord lieutenant of Ireland. (1496.)

313. There was at this time a bitter war between the O'Neills and O'Donnells; and the earl often went north to aid his brother-in-law Conn O'Neill.

314. The most important event the great earl was ever engaged in was the battle of Knockdoe, which came about in this way. O'Kelly chief of Hy Many, having a quarrel with Mac William Burke of Clanrickard, applied for help to the earl of Kildare. Kildare and O'Kelly enlisted on their side the chiefs of almost all the north of Ireland except O'Neill. On the other side Burke, knowing what was coming, collected a considerable army, being joined by many of the native chiefs of the south, among others O'Brien of Thomond, Macnamara, and O'Carroll; and he awaited the approach of his adversary on a low hill called Knockdoe—the hill of tiie battle-axes—about eight miles from Galway.

The battle that followed, which was fought in 1504, was the most obstinate, bloody, and destructive fought in Ireland since the invasion, with the single exception of the battle of Athenry (251). The southern men, who were far outnumbered by the earl's forces, held the field for several hours; but in the end they suffered a total overthrow, with a loss of upwards of 2,000. The victors encamped on the battle-field for twenty-four hours; and the next day Galway and Athenry opened their gates to the earl.

315. On the accession of Henry VIII. in 1509 the great earl was made lord deputy. The next year, 1510, he set out on an expedition, which did not end so well for him as the battle of Knockdoe. Having overrun a good part of south Munster, he invaded Thomond, but was utterly routed near Limerick by O'Brien and Burke of Clanrickard, and saved himself and the remnant of his army by flight.

316. This defeat did not check the warlike activity of the earl. Two years later, in 1512, he captured Roscommon; after which he went north, took the castle of Belfast, and plundered the Glens of Antrim, the Scottish Mac Donnells' district. In 1513 he made an unsuccessful attempt to take O'Carroll's castle of Leap in King's County; and soon after died at Athy.