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Gate to Glin castle
© Gate to Glin castle

Originally Normans, the Knights of Glin are a branch of the Desmond Geraldines, who were also called the Fitzgeralds. The first castle they built was by Thomas Fitzgerald in Shanid around 1200.

There are two versions of how the title was bestowed on them. According to the first version, the father of all the Geraldines was John Fitz-Thomas Fitzgerald, who was of Anglo-Norman descent. He was father to four or five illegitimate sons and, with his royal authority, he conferred Gibbon as the White Knight, Maurice as the Knight of Kerry or the Green Knight and John Fitz John as the Black Knight or the Knight of Glin. The second version claims that King Edward III conferred the three brothers with knighthoods after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.

Unlike most knighthoods, this one is inheritable and at present the 29th Knight of Glin is Desmond John Villiers Fitzgerald. Down through the years, it can be shown that the Knight of Glin has supported people who revolted against the English forces. In 1567, the Knight was to be sentenced to death along with his son but escaped death due to a legal technicality. His son, however, was not as lucky. Edmund Fitzthomas Fitzgerald decided not to get involved in the second Desmond Rebellion and had his lands and castle restored to him. By the turn of the century, his attitude had changed.

In 1600, due to the Knight's support of O'Neill and O'Donnell, the Knight of Glin was besieged in Glin castle by the English troops who were led by Sir George Carew. Carew had earlier captured the six-year-old son of the Knight and threatened to kill him if the Knight did not surrender. The Knight replied that he and his wife would be able to have more children if their son was killed. After two days, the English took the castle and many of the defenders of the castle were either killed or drowned in the Glencorbry River. The ruins of this castle are still visible.

The castle was the home of the Knights of Glin from about 1260 until 1642, when a house was build near the site of the present castle. In 1730, John Fitzgerald conformed to the Protestant religion and became Knight in 1732. He was the first Protestant Knight.

Ruins of Glin Castle
© Ruins of Glin Castle

The present day castle was build between 1780 and 1790 by John Bateman. Although it is called a castle, it is actually a Georgian house. The contractor was a Mr. Sheehy and the stone was brought from Athea by horse drawn sledge. By 1798, the majority of the interior was finished but with the Fitzgeralds about to become bankrupt, the craftsmen downed tools and left the castle. The "Cracked Knight" who was the Knight at the time, burned many of the documents relating to the history of the Knights of Glin and other family matters in the 1860s. His grandson Desmond FitzJohn saved the castle from being burned by a Sinn Féin mob in 1923. FitzJohn was confined to a wheelchair as a result of a stroke in 1910 and refused to leave the house, telling the mob that "you'll have to burn me in it boys". On hearing this, the mob left and the house was saved.

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