Sunday 25 February 2018

Ancient family title vanishes forever as last Knight of Glin goes to his final rest

SURROUNDED BY HIS ANCESTORS: The last Knight of Glin, Desmond FitzGerald, lies in repose yesterday as his wife Olda pays her respects. Photo: Tony Gavin
SURROUNDED BY HIS ANCESTORS: The last Knight of Glin, Desmond FitzGerald, lies in repose yesterday as his wife Olda pays her respects. Photo: Tony Gavin

Barry Duggan in Glin, Co LIMERICK

HE was the last in the line of an ancient family of FitzGeralds, and yesterday the 29th Knight of Glin lay in state in his magnificent castle, its battlements flying the knight's standard at half-mast.

It was an emotional day as a constant line of family, friends and mourners passed by the open casket in a final tribute to the last Knight of Glin, known to his grieving family as 'Knighty'.

While his stern ancestors kept watch from large gilded portraits hanging from above, Desmond FitzGerald, the 29th Knight of Glin, was carefully placed in the centre of the castle's great hall.

Sitting alongside the light oak coffin and thanking everyone for their sympathies was the Knight's wife, Olda, and his three daughters, Catherine, Nesta and Honor, and their extended family.

Desmond FitzGerald takes with him the 700-year-old title of the Knight of Glin, as he had no heir to inherit it.

He died aged 74 on September 15 following a long battle against cancer and will be buried after mass in the Co Limerick village of Glin tomorrow.

Friends of the FitzGerald family and neighbours from Glin began arriving at the castle long before 4pm yesterday. The gardens were bathed in sunshine and the knight's flag flew at half-mast above the battlements, as it has since he passed away.

Today's funeral has allowed his extended family to travel from across the world to the small west Limerick village for the service.

Best known among them will be Catherine's husband, actor Dominic West, who is best known for playing tough-talking cop Jimmy McNulty in the hit US television series The Wire.

Even in death, the last Knight will create a small piece of history. Today's funeral takes place at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Having donated the 'Knight's Church', or Protestant church, to the local development association years beforehand, the Knight of Glin's funeral service will be the first and last celebrated in the village's Catholic church.

Beforehand, he will be carried from his castle by his staff and placed on a horse-drawn cart. The cart will be driven by John McMahon of Lisselton, Co Kerry, a friend of the FitzGeralds. The coffin will be covered with ivory and foliage from his estate and a single piper will lead the cortege.

The funeral service takes place at the same church where the FitzGerald family gathered with their friends just over a year ago for the wedding of Catherine and Dominic West. Many who celebrated the union at Glin Castle that night are expected to travel to west Limerick again to pay their respects.

The Knight's personal flag will be placed over his coffin during the funeral and presented to his widow afterwards. He will be buried at the adjacent Knights' Plot.

Directing traffic at the entrance to the castle yesterday, Thomas Wall -- head gardener at Glin Castle for 38 years -- said the wake and funeral kept with the Knight's wishes.

"This is what he would have wished for -- a humble goodbye. It is in keeping with the tradition for his father's funeral in 1949 and his grandfather's in 1936," said Mr Wall.

Today's arrangements are being managed by Healy Undertakers, who also oversaw the funerals of the 27th and 28th Knights.

The Knight of Glin is an ancient Irish noble title which was handed down by chieftains and has been recognised by successive Irish governments. Mr FitzGerald could date his ancestors back to 1169 when they first arrived in Ireland from Wales.

The castle dates to the 1790s and the ceiling above Mr Fitzgerald's coffin was one of the few parts of the castle left untouched during renovations. Flowers from the gardens decorated the main hall, whose walls are adorned with the Knight's ancestral paintings and their swords and lances. All mourners spoke of the peaceful atmosphere.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent in 2008, Mr FitzGerald said he was not bothered about the Knight of Glin title dying with him.

"The Knight of Glin is a romantic title. It's not much use except for the romance of the story," he said.

Sunday Independent

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