Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzgibbon, Gerald

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FITZGIBBON, GERALD (1793–1882), lawyer and author, the fourth son of an Irish tenant farmer, was born at Glin, co. Limerick, on 1 Jan. 1793, and, after receiving such education as was to be had at home and in the vicinity of his father's farm, obtained employment as a clerk in a mercantile house in Dublin in 1814. His leisure hours he devoted to the study of the classics, and in 1817 entered Trinity College, where he graduated B.A. in 1825, and proceeded M.A. in 1832, having in 1830 been called to the Irish bar. During his college course and preparation for the bar he had maintained himself by teaching. In the choice of a profession he was guided by the advice of his tutor, Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Sandes. His rise at the bar was rapid, his mercantile experience standing him in good stead, and in 1841 he took silk. In 1844 he unsuccessfully defended Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Gray, one of the traversers in the celebrated state prosecution of that year, by which O'Connell's influence with the Irish masses was destroyed. In the course of the trial Fitzgibbon used language concerning Cusack Smith, the Irish attorney-general, which was construed by the latter into an imputation of dishonourable motives, and so keenly resented by him that he sent Fitzgibbon a challenge. Fitzgibbon returned the cartel, and on the attorney-general declining to take it back, drew the attention of the court to the occurrence. Thereupon the chief justice suspended the proceedings, in order to afford the parties time for reflection, observing that 'the attorney-general is the last man in his profession who ought to have allowed himself to be betrayed into such an expression of feeling as has been stated to have taken place.' The attorney-general thereupon expressed his willingness to withdraw the note, in the hope that Fitzgibbon would withdraw the words which had elicited it, and Fitzgibbon disclaiming any intention to impute conduct unworthy of a gentleman to the attorney-general, the matter dropped, and the trial proceeded (Annual Register, 1844, Chron. 323). Fitzgibbon continued in large practice until 1860, when he accepted the post of receiver-master in chancery. He published in 1868 a work entitled 'Ireland in 1868, the Battle Field for English Party Strife; its Grievances real and fictitious; Remedies abortive or mischievous,' 8vo. The book, which displays considerable literary ability, dealt with the educational, agrarian, religious, and other questions of the hour. The last and longest chapter, which was entitled 'The Former and Present Condition of the Irish People,' was published separately the same year. Its design is to show, by the evidence of history and tradition, that such measure of prosperity as Ireland has enjoyed has been due to the English connection. A second edition of the original work also appeared in the course of the year, with an additional chapter on the land question, in which stress is laid on the duties of landowners. This Fitzgibbon followed up with a pamphlet entitled 'The Land Difficulty of Ireland, with an Effort to Solve it,' 1869, 8vo. The principal feature of his plan of reform was that fixity of tenure should be granted to the farmer conditionally upon his executing improvements to the satisfaction of a public official appointed for the purpose. In 1871 he published 'Roman Catholic Priests and National Schools,' a pamphlet in which the kind of religious instruction given by Romanist priests, particularly with regard to the dogma of eternal punishment, is illustrated from authorised works. A second edition with an appendix appeared in 1872. Having in 1871 been charged in the House of Commons with acting with inhumanity in the administration of certain landed property belonging to wards of the Irish court of chancery, he published in pamphlet form a vindication of his conduct, entitled 'Refutation of a Libel on Gerald Fitzgibbon, Esq., Master in Chancery in Ireland,' 1871, 8vo. Fitzgibbon also published 'A Banded Ministry and the Upas Tree,' 1873, 8vo. He resigned his post in 1880, and died in September 1882. As an advocate he enjoyed a high reputation for patient and methodical industry, indefatigable energy, and great determination, combined with a very delicate sense of honour, and only a conscientious aversion to engage in the struggles of party politics precluded him from aspiring to judicial office. Fitzgibbon married in 1835 Ellen, daughter of John Patterson, merchant, of Belfast, by whom he had two sons, (1) Gerald, now Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, (2) Henry, now M.D. and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

[Catalogue of Dublin Graduates; British Museum Catalogue; information from members of the family.]

J. M. R.