Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzgerald, James (1742-1835)

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FITZGERALD, JAMES (1742–1835), Irish politician, descended from the family of the White Knight [see Fitzgibbon, Edmund Fitzjohn], was younger son of William Fitz- gerald, an attorney of Ennis, and younger brother of Maurice Fitzgerald, clerk of the crown for Connaught. He was born in 1742, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he greatly distinguished himself. In 1769 he was called to the Irish bar, and he soon obtained a large practice, and won a great reputation both as a sound lawyer and an eloquent pleader. In 1772 he entered the Irish House of Commons as member for Ennis; in 1776 he was elected both for Killibegs and Tulsk in Roscommon, and preferred to sit for the latter borough; in 1784 and 1790 he was re-elected for Tulsk, and in 1798 he was chosen to represent the county of Kildare in the last Irish parliament. His eloquence soon made him as great a reputation in the Irish parliament as at the Irish bar, and he was recognised as one of the leading orators in the days of Grattan and Flood. Though an eloquent speaker, Fitzgerald was not much of a statesman; he, however, supported all the motions of the radical party, and in 1782 he made his most famous speech in proposing a certain measure of catholic relief. In that year he married Catherine, younger daughter of the Rev. Henry Vesey, who was grandson of John Vesey, archbishop of Tuam, and cousin of Lord Glentworth, ancestor of the Viscounts de Vesci. Fitzgerald never sought political office, but he eagerly accepted professional appointments, which helped him at the bar. He thus became in rapid succession third Serjeant in 1779, second Serjeant in 1784, and prime Serjeant in 1787. In all the debates which preceded the final abolition of the independent Irish parliament Fitzgerald distinguished himself. He opposed the project of the union with all his might, and he was certainly disinterested in his cause, for in 1799 he was dismissed from his post of prime serjeant to make way for St. George Daly, who had been converted to the unionist policy. The Irish bar insisted on showing their respect for him, and continued to give him the precedence in court over the attorney-general and solicitor-general which he had held as prime serjeant. When the union was carried Fitzgerald accepted it, and he sat in the imperial parliament for Ennis from 1802 to February 1808, when he resigned the seat to his son, William Vesey Fitzgerald. He, however, was re-elected in 1812, but again resigned in January 1813, when he finally retired from politics. His name, like his son's [see Fitzgerald, William Vesey, 1783-1843], was unfortunately mixed up in the Mary Anne Clarke scandal with the Duke of York. This son, who was thoroughly reconciled to the union, held many important political offices, and in recognition of his services his mother was created Baroness Fitzgerald and Vesey on 31 July 1826, when James Fitzgerald himself refused a peerage. James Fitzgerald died at Booterstown, near Dublin, on 20 Jan. 1835, aged 93 ; the baroness had predeceased him 3 Jan. 1832. His youngest son, Henry Vesey Fitzgerald, was dean of Emly (1818-26), and dean of Kilmore from 1826 till his death, on 30 March 1860. He succeeded his eldest brother as third Lord Fitzgerald and Vesey in 1843.

[Gent. Mag. March 1835; Blue Book of the Members of the House of Commons ; Blacker's Booterstown, pp. 241-3 ; Sir John Barrington's Memoirs of the Union ; Grattan's Life of Henry Grattan; Hardy's Life of the Earl of Charlemont.]

H. M. S.