James FitzMaurice FitzGerald Returns

James FitzMaurice FitzGerald

Following his failed rebellion in 1565, James FitzMaurice, had submitted to Elizabeth I’s authority and was pardoned, but he lost all his own holdings to the English and was removed from the stewardship of the Earl of Desmond’s territories.

English Protestant adventurers, such as Peter Carew and Sir Walter Raleigh coveted the Catholic held estates in Munster and FitzMaurice, fearing for his safety, decided to flee to the continent. So it was that in 1575 he, with his wife and children sailed to the French port of St. Malo. In France, he sought an audience at the French court with the intention of winning support for an invasion of Ireland. This was declined but Catherine de Medici, the Queen Consort granted him a pension of 5,000 crowns. He then travelled to Spain where he approached King Phillip II for help. He put forward a proposal that Don John of Austria, Phillip’s brother, would become king of Ireland. Again his plans were rebuffed and he next turned to Rome.

Help from Europe

In Rome, he fell in with an English Catholic adventurer named Thomas Stukeley who had been appointed as seneschal over the Kavanaghs by Sir Henry Sidney, and together they entered in a plot by which they would invade Ireland. They laid their plans at the feet of the Pope, Gregory XIII, who gave his blessing and supplied them with a force of 1,000 Italian swordsmen along with a large number of other foreigners, money and some old ships. FitzMaurice and Stukeley sailed with their force to Portugal where King Sebastian commandeered them to fight the Moors in Morocco.

In August 1578, Stukeley was to lose his life at the battle of Alcácer Quibir. FitzMaurice, unaware that Stuleley had died, was able to reassemble some 800 of his army and on June 1579 they set sail for Ireland accompanied by the Papal Nuncio, Englishman Nicholas Sanders.

FitzMaurice arrives in Ireland

A small force arrived at Smerwick Harbour on 18th July and quartered nearby at Dún an Óir in County Kerry. The name of the fort in English is the fort of gold and was given in mockery of Elizabeth I who had lost a ship carrying gold on nearby rocks. The bullion had turned out to be iron pyrites, commonly called fool’s gold.

FitzMaurice immediately sent out a plea to all the surrounding clans and Catholic Anglo Irish families requesting them to rebel against the English Heretics. Although the Earl of Desmond did not join his force, other FitzGeralds did. He was also reinforced by the MacCarthy Mór. They were strong enough to capture and hold the town of Tralee. Other clansmen, with gallowglass and warriors from all over Munster, began to flock to them.

The death of  James FitzMaurice FitzGerald

During a horse raid into the lands of Castleconnell near Barrington Bridge in County Limerick, James came up against Theobald Bourke. The Bourkes had fought alongside the FitzGeralds in the first of the Desmond rebellions against Elizabeth Tudor but had submitted and although they had paid dearly for their part in the rebellion they were allowed to retain their lands. Now Theobald, who was by blood a cousin to James FitzMaurice but came against him. There was a fracas in which Theobald Bourke and his brother Richard (Ulick) were killed and wounded by a musket ball. His wound was so severe that he also died a few hours later.

The Bourkes decapitated the body of James FitzMaurice and displayed his head on the walls of Castleconnell. The body was sent to the Lord President who had it hung on the gates of Killmalock, a FitzGerald town in County Limerick. William, The father of Theobald and Richard Bourke was rewarded by Elizabeth I by being created Lord Baron Bourke of Castleconnell. He also received an annuity of 200 marks.


  • William Fitz-Adelm de Burgh and the Boukes of Clanwilliam by James Grene Barry, JP. Published originally by the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland 1889.
  • The State of Ireland under The Tudors by Don Philip O’ Sullivan Beare.
  • The History of Ireland in 250 Episodes by Jonathan Bardon. Gill & Macmillan. Dublin2009.
  • Ireland Under The Tudors. Volume III by Richard Bagwell. Longmans, Green and Co. London 1890.

Last updated March 2, 2020.

About the Author

Pádraig Mac Donnchadha
Pádraig is a fluent Irish speaker with a passion for history, traditional music, and story telling.