THE work and scholarly research carried out over a lifetime by the late Knight of Glin, Desmond Fitzgerald – and now archived – will continue to be a source of knowledge and an inspiration to other scholars and researchers in the years ahead.
Just last week, a little over two years after his death in September 2011, the Knight’s family added yet more to the material already donated and on record at the OPW-Maynooth University Archive. The new material includes a rich trove of personal papers, correspondence and photographs, all reflecting Desmond Fitzgerald’s life-long passion, the preservation of Ireland’s Great Houses.
One letter alone will have be of interest to scholars from a number of disciplines: the letter from Seamus Heaney (also since deceased), in which he refers to the Knight’s contribution to the conservation and preservation of Ireland’s architectural heritage as a “beautiful act of piety and a mighty act of scholarship”.
Other correspondence includes letters between the Knight and other global experts about a Waterford crystal chandelier dating from 1760, and once the property of the Duke of Leinster as well as correspondence with government departments and various bodies such as the Irish Georgian Society, the Irish Heritage Trust and the OPW.
Some years ago, the Knight donated his furniture archive to the centre, located at Castletown House, and this now includes a database of Irish ‘traders’, i.e. master craftsmen commissioned to make unique pieces of furniture, which dates back to the early 18th century and contains details of their skills, types of furniture and copies of their ‘trade labels.’
“We are honoured to receive Desmond FitzGerald’s personal papers and are very grateful to his family for sharing this fascinating archive with us,” Professor Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University said. “Desmond was an iconic figure in the world of Irish country house studies and a champion of its preservation. His papers present us with a rich tapestry of history, insights, research, images and opinions which will speak to all with an interest in preservation. It’s fitting that his collection will be kept in at Castletown, a house so dear to his heart.”
At the Knight’s funeral service in 2011, the Venerable Robert Warren, Archdeacon of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe said the Knight’s work had brought about an understanding and appreciation that much of our art and architecture, which might well have been perceived as belonging to another culture, was really intertwined very closely with Irish heritage and Irish history. “I think that is a very important legacy that Desmond has left,” he said.
Also speaking that day was Trinity College art history Prof Dr Edward McParland who described his friend, Desmond Fitzgerald as a patriot and a truly scholarly Knight. What pleased Desmond inordinately, he went on, was any genuine interest in Irish families, gardens, books, pictures, sculpture, architecture. His memory was prodigious. “He remembered everything. He remembered every-thing he had seen. He shared everything he remembered. His filing cabinet was open to all,” Prof McParland said. Thanks to the archive, this continues to be true.