Fitzgerald, Maurice (1774-1849) (DNB00)

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FITZGERALD, MAURICE (1774–1849), hereditary Knight of Kerry and Irish statesman, was the elder son of Robert Fitzgerald, knight of Kerry, by his third wife, Catherine, daughter of Launcelot Sandes of Kilcavan, Queen's County. The dignity of Knight of Kerry was first borne in the fourteenth century by Maurice, son of Maurice Fitzgerald of Ennismore and Rahinnane. The latter was third son by a second marriage of John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald (d. 1261) [cf. Fitzthomas, Maurice, first Earl of Desmond], stated to be grandson of Maurice Fitzgerald (d. 1176) [q. v.], the founder of the Geraldine family in Ireland. Maurice Fitzgerald was born 29 Dec. 1774, and entered public life almost before he was legally competent to do so. On the representation of his native county suddenly becoming vacant in 1794, Fitzgerald was elected to fill it. He then wanted some months of coming of age, and could not take his seat in parliament, but when he eventually made his appearance in the parliament house at Dublin he gave high promise. For thirty-seven years uninterruptedly he continued to represent Kerry in the Irish and imperial parliaments. The Knight of Kerry entered public life at the same period as two of his personal friends, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh. Up to the time of the union Fitzgerald sat in the Irish parliament, and he voted in favour of that measure. He outlived all his colleagues, and with him expired 'the last commoner of the last Irish parliament.' For four years, 1799-1802, Fitzgerald acted as a commissioner of excise and customs in Ireland. In 1801 he was returned for the county of Kerry to the imperial parliament. Soon after he entered the House of Commons he was called to a seat in the privy council, and at the board of the Irish treasury. The latter office he resigned at the dissolution of the whig ministry in 1806. While he had not much general sympathy with the whigs, he agreed with them on the catholic question. The partial fusion of parties in the Canning ministry called him to office as lord of the English treasury (July 1827). The passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act, which had always been warmly supported by Fitzgerald, removed the only barrier between him and the tories. Feeling himself bound, as an emancipationist, to support the Duke of Wellington, he again took office in 1830 as vice-treasurer of Ireland. Shortly afterwards his active political career terminated, for although he once more held office as a lord of the admiralty in Sir Robert Peel's short-lived administration of December 1834, he never again recovered his seat in parliament, which he lost in the struggle attendant on the Reform Bill. He was defeated at the Kerry election of 1831, and again in 1835. He was frequently invited to seek the suffrages of an English constituency, but declined. In 1845 Fitzgerald addressed a 'Letter to Sir Robert Peel on the Endowment of the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland.' The Duke of Wellington and the writer were the only survivors of those who professed Pitt's politics in the Irish parliament, and Fitzgerald's letter, while partly explanatory of Pitt's views and pledges, also established the fact that this great statesman was the originator of the 'treasonable and sacrilegious scheme' of Peel. When Pitt left office he drew up a paper explaining the causes of his resignation, which was delivered by Lord Cornwallis to the Knight of Kerry for circulation among the leading Roman catholics. Pitt's views were subsequently more fully revealed in the 'Castlereagh Correspondence.' Fitzgerald approved the means by which the union was carried, declaring it to be a very popular measure among the Munster and Connaught population; and with respect to the parliament on College Green, with whose inner workings he was intimately acquainted, he stated that he was 'thoroughly disgusted with its political corruption, its narrow bigotry, and the exclusive spirit of monopoly with which it misgoverned Ireland.' On the passing of the Act of Union, Lord Castlereagh addressed a confidential letter to Fitzgerald, acknowledging the pledges given to the Irish catholics, and announcing his intention to support the endowment of their church.

In private Fitzgerald was an excellent friend and landlord. He died at Glanleam, Valentia, 7 March 1849, having married (1), 5 Nov. 1801, Maria (d. 1827), daughter of the Right Hon. David Digges la Touche of Marlay, Dublin; and (2) Cecilia Maria Knight, a widow, who died 15 Oct. 1859. By his first wife he had six sons and four daughters. His four eldest sons predeceased him, and he was succeeded in his 'feudal' honours by his fifth son, Peter George Fitzgerald [q. v.]

[Gent. Mag. 1849; Cork Southern Reporter and Kerry Post, March 1849.]

G. B. S.