Earls Of Desmond, an ancient family of great influence in S. W. Ireland, between 1329 and 1583. The line numbered 15 earls. The title and family are now extinct. Before the English gained a footing in Ireland, the kingdom of Cork was a separate sovereignty, embracing much of the present province of Munster. It was divided into Desmond or South Munster, Muskerry or West Munster, and Carbery in the southwest. In 1172 Dermod MacCarthy, king of Cork, swore fealty to Henry II., but soon afterward broke his plight and attacked his liege's forces. He was overpowered, and Henry in 1177 bestowed the kingdom on Robert Fitz Stephen and Milo de Cogan. Cogan's share, falling ultimately to co-heiresses, was divided between Robert Carew, Patrick Cour-cey, and Maurice Fitz Thomas. The last was created by the English monarch earl of Desmond in 1329. By aggressions on the lands of Courcey and Carew, and by other acquisitions, the estates of the Desmonds so increased that the 8th earl was possessor of almost the whole of the former kingdom of Cork. He exercised rights of sovereignty with such a high hand that he was attainted of treason, and beheaded at Drogheda, Feb. 15, 1467. His estates, being suffered to remain in his family, continued to augment until Gerald, the last earl, owned a territory extending 150 miles through the counties of Waterford, Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and comprising 500,000 acres.
These earls never yielded more than a nominal allegiance to the English crown. The country of the Desmonds was Irish in language, habits, and religion. Hence it was deemed a favorable locality by Philip II. of Spain, in his war with Queen Elizabeth, to attempt the conquest of Ireland. Accordingly, on July 1, 1578, a body of Italian troops, under the command of James Fitz Maurice, brother of the earl of Desmond, and accompanied by Saunders, the pope's legate, landed in the Desmond country, where they were immediately joined by Sir John of Desmond and . James Fitzgerald, other brothers of the earl. At first Earl Desmond made some show of resistance, but subsided at length into neutrality. On this, Lord Justice Pelham summoned him to surrender his castles to the queen. Desmond refused, whereon he and all of his name were proclaimed traitors, Nov. 1, 1579. Desmond now summoned his people to support the Catholic cause, and his dependants responded to the call. He seized on the town of You-ghal, and until November, 1583, maintained a determined warfare. Being by that time driven from his strongholds, one after another, he wandered over the country for months, and was at last killed in a cabin where he had taken shelter. His estates were divided among the captains of Elizabeth's army.
Sir Walter Raleigh received 20,000 acres, which he sold cheaply to Richard Boyle, afterward earl of Cork. - Jeanne Fitzgerald, wife of James, 14th earl, is said to have lived to an age exceeding 140 years. Her husband presented her at the court of Edward IV., where she danced with the duke of Gloucester, afterward Richard III.; she was widowed during the reign of Edward IV., and died in the reign of James I., some time after 1603. At the age of 140 she travelled from her home at Inchiquin, Ireland, by the way of Bristol, to London, to urge some claim against the government. At that time she was quite vivacious and in possession of all her faculties. Sir Walter Raleigh says, "I myself knew her." ("History of the World," book i., ch. 5.) Bacon mentions that the old countess of Desmond had thrice renewed her teeth. Recent investigators, however, have thrown much doubt on her alleged great age.