The Fitzgibbon Family

Fitzgibbon family crest

(Crest No. 24. Plate 68.)

THE Fitzgibbon family is of Norman origin, and came to Ireland with the early invaders in the year 1171, settling in the present Counties of Kerry and Cork, and ancient Thomond (Limerick and Clare). A sept of the Fitzgibbons possessed the half barony of Kilmore, near Charleville, in the north of the County of Cork. According to a pedigree of the Fitzgeralds, the Lord or Chief of Kilmore, was descended from Gibbon, son of the celebrated John of Callan, Fitzgerald, and the same Gibbon is the ancestor of the Ridire Fionn, or White Knight, Chief of Clann-Gibbon of Ard-Sciath.

One of the most eminent members of this family was John Fitzgibbon, the famous Earl of Clare, born in 1749. His father was a barrister, who acquired a large fortune in his profession. John Fitzgibbon was graduated with high honors from Trinity College, Dublin, where he was a classmate and rival of Grattan, and afterward took a degree from the University of Oxford, and was admitted to the bar in his twenty-third year. His progress in the law was rapid, and he was soon in the enjoyment of a lucrative practice. His eloquence, though inferior to that of Grattan and Flood, was of a superior order.

In 1780 Fitzgibbon was elected a member of the Irish Parliament for the University of Dublin, and in 1783 he succeeded Barry Yelverton as attorney-general. He distinguished himself in Parliament by his eloquence and ability. Grattan, Flood, and Curran had many fierce wordy contests with him in Parliament, and the last named fought a duel with him growing out of a debate in the house. They fired while the sheriff’s officer was held down in a ditch, but the duelists were obviously not as skillful with their pistols as with their tongues, for they both missed each other.

In 1789 Fitzgibbon was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland and created Baron of Lower Connello. In 1793 he was made Viscount, in 1795 Earl of Clare, and in 1799 he was raised to the British peerage. He did much to reform court abuses in his day, and contributed to establish the rules of equity on a sound basis.

Previous to the outbreak of the rebellion of 1798, Fitzgibbon informed Lord Edward Fitzgerald that the Government was acquainted with all his plans, and begged him to save his life by leaving the country, guaranteeing his escape if he should leave. And when Lord Edward was dying of his wounds, after his capture, Fitzgibbon accompanied his brother and aunt to his deathbed, remaining outside for several hours while the interview lasted. He also interested himself shortly before his death to save for Mrs. Hamilton Rowan her property and to assist her on rejoining her husband on the Continent.

The Earl died in 1802, aged fifty-three years. His grandson, Viscount Fitzgibbon, was killed in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, and with his death the title of the Fitzgibbon family became extinct.