History of the FitzGerald Name 

All living FitzGeralds are said to have sprung from the loins of a Norman knight, Maurice, son of Gerald, who accompanied Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, also known as Strongbow, on the Norman conquest of Ireland in 1169. Gerald was Constable of Pembroke in Wales and was married to Nesta, Princess of Wales. 

As a reward for his military service, in 1172 Maurice FitzGerald was appointed Governor of All Ireland, chiefly consisting of the counties of Kildare, Wexford, Limerick and Kerry. The Norman invaders, including the FitzGeralds, gradually intermarried with the wild, red-haired Gaelic tribes "beyond the pale" of Dublin, built a network of castles and gradually became "more Irish than the Irish." 

One of the greatest of Anglo-Irish families over the next four centuries, the FitzGeralds were comprised of two main branches -- the Leinster branch known as the Earls of Kildare and later the Dukes of Leinster; and the Munster branch known as the Earls of Desmond. The FitzGeralds of Desmond built many Norman castles and fortified towns in the province of Munster, including Youghal in County Cork, Askeaton and Kilmallock in County Limerick, and Castlemaine and Tralee in County Kerry. There are others in Counties Waterford and Tipperary. The family founded or endowed monasteries at Askeaton, Adare, and Kilmallock in County Limerick, Tralee in County Kerry, Youghal in County Cork, and Dungarvan in County Waterford. 

Beginning in 1261, two minor branches of the Desmond FitzGeralds descended the Knights of Glin and the Knights of Kerry, the only heriditary knighthoods in the U.K. My own family, based in southern Ontario since 1824, is directly descended from Patrick FitzGerald, the younger brother of the 12th Knight of Kerry, who died in Ireland c. 1700. 

For centuries, the English monarchy was content to let the medieval FitzGeralds rule their island fiefdom as uncrowned kings of Ireland. But in the 16th century, the Tudors waged a ferocious war against the rebellious FitzGeralds, laying the lush Irish countryside to waste. In August 1580, a brother of the Earl of Desmond, Sir James FitzGerald, was captured by the English; on the command of Captain Walter Raleigh, my ancestor was hung, drawn and quartered and his dismembered body parts spread above the gate of the city of Cork to rot for weeks as a moral lesson to all who passed under. The headless corpse of another brother, John FitzGerald, was hung upside down for three years over the River Lee until it decomposed into a skeleton; Raleigh sent the severed head to the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, as a "goodly gifte to Her Highnesse."  In the end, the unruly FitzGeralds were crushed as a great political power and half a million acres of their land in Kerry, Cork and Waterford were awarded to Queen Elizabeth's Protestant officers. Small wonder I've never been a big fan of the inventor of cigarettes.

The family legacy of heroic failure didn't stop there. In 1798, the Protestant aristocrat, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, died together with Wolfe Tone in the failed insurrection of the United Irishmen against the British.  Coincidentally, my father, Dr. John Desmond FitzGerald, was born on the same day and year as the doomed U.S. president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Today there are roughly 13,000 FitzGeralds living in Ireland, principally in the province of Munster in southwestern Ireland. (The FitzGerald/Fitzgerald name is spelt with either an upper or lower case "g".) 


FitzGerald/Woollatt Genealogical Research 

As part of my ongoing genealogical research into my paternal lineage, I am interested in contacting unknown FitzGerald relatives in Ireland, Canada, or elsewhere. I am particularly interested in finding and communicating with any living descendents of Alice Ann Woollatt (born Hertfordshire, England, December 9, 1856; died December 20, 1907, Harriston, Ontario) who married my great-grandfather, William FitzGerald, in 1882 in Toronto. 

I am directly descended from Patrick FitzGerald, the younger brother of John FitzGerald, the 12th Knight of Kerry, as follows: 

John FitzGerald (1670 -- 1745), a son of Patrick FitzGerald, held a commission in the Irish Catholic army of King James II, on whose defeat by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne on July 12, 1690, he fled with a brother officer named Maguire and a man-servant of his own name from persecution in Dublin to the Maguire's County Fermanagh, making the journey in a single night. Because of the severe anti-Catholic Penal Laws, he became a Protestant and lived the latter part of his life at Drumcose, a property in Co. Fermanagh, close to Castle Hume. 

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather: 

James FitzGerald (1715 -- 1789) was probably the builder of Clonavilla House, Clones, County Monaghan, a gentrified, three-storey stone home which was occupied by FitzGeralds for nearly 250 years until the 1970s, when it fell into general decay. Marrying Miss Jolly who owned property in County Cavan, James FitzGerald was a friend of Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin and author of Gulliver's Travels, who visited James at his wife's property in County Cavan. 

Laws of primogeniture dictated that property be inherited by the eldest son. Occupied by consecutive generations of FitzGerald sons, Clonavilla House, neglected for decades, was razed in the early 1970s by its new owner, Hugh Tunney, (a relation of the American boxer, Gene Tunney), who had purchased it from G. Harford FitzGerald (1893-1980), an eighth generation descendant of James FitzGerald. 

The town of Clones (population: 5,000) is located about one mile south of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Pronounced "Clone-iss", the town was featured in Neil Jordan's 1998 feature film, "The Butcher Boy", based on Patrick McCabe's novel of the same name. 

My great-great-great-great grandfather: 

Robert FitzGerald (born Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland, circa 1743 -- died ?) married Miss Jackson whose brother, a General from Jackson Hall, County Derry, descended American Civil War Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. 

My great-great-great grandfather: 

John FitzGerald (born Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland 1779 -- died Monaghan, Ontario, Sept. 5, 1841). John FitzGerald married Elizabeth Peters, originally of Lisabuck townland, Killeevan Parish, Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland. John and Elizabeth emigrated with their children from Clones on April 24, 1824, leaving Dublin on an unknown ship and arriving in Quebec City, Lower Canada, on May 25th. They took another boat to Montreal, which they reached on May 30. They left Montreal for Port Hope on July 13, landing on July 26. They arrived overland in the village of Cavan, Upper Canada, near the town the town of Millbrook, 13 miles north of Port Hope, on August 18. On August 19th, they travelled to York (now Toronto) and received a land grant. In 1831, the family purchased 100 acres of farmland in Millbrook for 150 pounds. The villages surrounding Millbrook -- Cavan, Monaghan, Bailieboro, etc. -- were originally named after towns and counties in Ireland by the newly arriving Irish Protestant immigrants. 

My great-great grandfather: 

John FitzGerald (baptized March 1, 1811 in Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland -- died Millbrook, Ontario, August 30, 1856). A storekeeper in the village of Bailieboro, Ontario, John married Matilda Fisher (b. Monaghan, Ireland, August 20, 1815 -- d. Colborne, Ont., May 6, 1889). They lived in nearby Cavan. Matilda was the daughter of William Fisher of County Monaghan, Ireland. (The FitzGeralds and Fishers may have emigrated from Ireland on the same ship in 1824.) John died at age 44, less than a month after the birth of his last child, William (my great-grandfather) and was buried in St. Paul's Anglican Cemetery, Millbrook, Ont. 

My great-grandfather: 

William FitzGerald (born Bailieboro, Ont. August 3, 1856; died December 11, 1917, Toronto, Ont.). William passed the Ontario College of Pharmacy licensing exams in Toronto on February 6, 1879, finishing fourth in a class of 60 with a 96.6% average. He won the special proficiency prize for taking two firsts (Prescriptions & Practical Dispensing) out of five disciplines. 

William married Alice Ann Woollatt (born in Hertfordshire, England, December 9, 1856) in Toronto on March 1, 1882. William and Alice moved to the village of Drayton, Ontario, northwest of Guelph, where William practiced as a pharmacist, probably starting in the early 1880s, and where they had four children in less than six years -- John, Sidney, Bill, and Hazel. William and Alice then moved the family from Drayton to nearby Harriston, roughly 20 miles away, c. 1892, where they lived at 18 John Street until at least 1901. 

The FitzGerald Drug Store, one of two drug stores in Harriston at the time, was located at 23 Elora Street, just east of the Hotel Coronation. William FitzGerald moved to Bradford, Ont. c. 1901, presumably separating from his wife Alice, who seems to have remained in Harriston as an invalid. 

Alice Woollatt FitzGerald died on December 20, 1907, in Harriston, Ont., and William FitzGerald died on December 11, 1917, in Toronto's Wellesley Hospital. He died six months after the birth of his only grandson, Dr. John ("Jack") Desmond Leonard FitzGerald, my father. 

My grandfather: 

Dr. John Gerald ("Gerry") FitzGerald (born Drayton, Ont., Dec. 9, 1882 -- died Toronto, June 20, 1940).

Entering the University of Toronto medical school at age 16 in 1899, J.G. FitzGerald became a pioneer of public health and preventive medicine in Canada and abroad. Founder of the Connaught Laboratories in 1914 and the University of Toronto School of Hygiene in 1927 (today the U of T medical faculty building and known as the FitzGerald Building), he served as Dean of Medicine at U of T from 1932-1936. 

My father: 

Dr. John ("Jack") Desmond Leonard FitzGerald, M.D., F.R.C.P. (born Toronto, May 29, 1917 -- died Toronto, May 31, 1992). Educated at Upper Canada College, McGill University, Cambridge University, and the University of Toronto medical school, Jack practiced as Toronto's first allergy specialist, beginning in 1950. Founder of the Leonard Avenue Medical Building for Toronto Western Hospital doctors in 1960 and a private allergy extract laboratory, he was also an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Toronto. Coincidentally, my father, John FitzGerald, was born on exactly the same day and year as U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 


“Lives Lived”, Globe and Mail, 2006

Janet Ewart FitzGerald (nee Grubbe) 

Mother, historian, traveler, spy, force of nature. Born December 16, 1918 in Toronto. Died February 11, 2006, in Toronto of pneumonia, aged 87. 

It was during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that our mother Janet was born on Delisle Avenue, a bumpy dirt road in the heart of Deer Park. Scots to the bone, her banker father was a major in the 48th Highlanders; her mother was one of the early woman graduates of the University of Toronto, class of 1907, and a classically trained pianist. From the start, Janet was the rebel in the family, a charismatic character bursting with a mischievous energy that tried the Victorian stoicism of her parents.  

During the Depression, Janet attended St. Clement’s School, then arrived at the University of Toronto, an Amazonian five-foot ten, radiating an aura of glamour and sophistication that readily turned heads in a room. En route to her arts degree, she joined the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma and sang and danced with Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster in the University College Follies of 1936. With graduation came the war, and she applied for a job with the British Passport Office in New York City; as it turned out, the office was a front for British Intelligence. Because her mother and brother belonged to a pacifist organization, she was investigated by the RCMP before being cleared for duty. And so it was our mother began a clandestine career decoding war secrets just a few feet from the office of Sir William Stephenson, “The Man Called Intrepid.” Our mother was sworn to secrecy about her job for the next 20 years. When our own “Miss Moneypenny” could finally break her silence in 1965 and speak of her days with MI5, the jaws of her three children dropped in unison. 

While posted in Guatemala, Janet was swept up in a wartime romance with an American B-29 bomber pilot. When he disappeared in a raid over Japan only months later, she returned to Toronto, a widow of 26. In 1947, she married an allergy specialist, Dr. Jack FitzGerald, the son of a pioneering public health doctor, John Gerald FitzGerald, the founder of the renowned Connaught Laboratories. Naturally, Janet was much taken with this intriguing medical family, not to mention Jack’s prodigious knowledge of American jazz players and their irresistible music. (Serendipitously, the newlyweds discovered they had been kindergarten classmates at Brown Public School over 20 years earlier). 

As our father built up his medical practice, Janet began her volunteer career for the Toronto Western Hospital and the Art Gallery of Ontario while simultaneously managing the finances of Jack’s private allergy lab. When illness forced her husband to retire early, Janet returned to the university she loved, becoming the first Director of Alumni Affairs of University College and founding its book sale in 1978, a popular event that generates over $100,000 each year for the College. 

Proud of her pioneer Scots heritage, Janet spent many happy days at Elmbank, a stone farmhouse built by her paternal great-great grandfather in 1833 on a branch of the Humber River. She pulled together all the old family letters and the result was the self-published book, The Grubb Pioneers of Etobicoke. Shortly before her death, she completed a biography of her maternal great-great grandfather, John Ewart, a pioneer architect and builder in early Toronto -- a crowning moment for a rich and adventurous life. 

Our mother was admired as a grande dame of taste and elegance, yet she never lost her down-to-earth directness, nor her social conscience; in the week before her final illness, she vexed at least one member of her family by voting NDP in the federal election. She was animated by an insatiable curiosity: books, jazz, art, history and world travel remained lifelong passions, as did her unflagging devotion to her two alma maters. Driven by a prodigious energy, razor wit, and a proud, contrarian Scots temperament, her quirks and qualities could have filled a thesaurus: beautiful, indomitable, mercurial, irascible, irresistible, unforgettable. To the end, our mother remained a force of nature; her influence ran deep and wide.   

Shelagh, James and Michael FitzGerald

James FitzGerald
Journalist and Author
Toronto, Canada