ANN MASSEY recounts the folklore surrounding the mysterious Earl Gerald Fitzgerald
When you think of wizards, Harry Potter and Merlin may be the first names that spring to mind, however, Ireland has not been without its own sorcerers. When you think of Irish Legend, sometimes the line between fact and folklore is a shimmering tale of enchantment, as is the case with The Wizard Earl of Kildare.
The Earl Gerald Fitzgerald was born in the early part of the 16th Century and sent to be educated in Europe where he embraced the Renaissance. During this time his preferred studies were in Medicine, Astronomy and Metallurgy and after some time Gerald discovered he had a penchant for Alchemy.
After a number of years travelling through Europe and after the death of Henry VIII, lost lands in Ireland were returned to the Fitzgerald family and Gerod Earla, as he was known to the Irish, took up residence at Kilkea Castle in County Kildare.
Gerald spent years quietly studying and practising the Occult until his wife became overcome with curiosity and demanded to be a witness to his feats of Dark Magic.
The Wizard Earl agreed, with the warning that if she were to show fear, then his wife would never see him again. He then set about three tests to see if her resolve was strong enough to outweigh her fear.
For the first test Gerald commanded the River Greese to swell up and flood the Banqueting hall in which they sat. The waters rose to the mouth of his wife and she did not flinch.
Satisfied, he moved on to the second test in which he summoned the form of a long departed friend. The dead man strode through the hall, stopped in front of the Countess Fitzgerald and took her hand. He then walked out through the wall at the other end.
When she showed no reaction, the Earl moved on to the third test in which he conjured a serpent like monster that wrapped itself around his stoic wife. Once again there was no fear and so Gerald Fitzgerald made the decision to show her how he could transform his very being.
Gerald told his wife to close her eyes and when she heard him stamp three times, to open them. She did so and a black bird appeared before her. The bird flew up to her shoulder and began to sing. It was at this point the castle cat pounced and the Countess fainted with shock. When she was revived there was no sign of either the cat or the bird.
Legend says that Gerod Earla was never seen again, yet some historians believe the Earl lived out the remainder of his life in semi-captivity in London only returning back to Ireland for burial in 1585.
The story did not end there, as it is believed the Wizard Earl and his closest men at arms have laid in an enchanted sleep in a cave for centuries under the Rath on the hill of Mullaghmast, just north of Kilkea Castle.
Every seven years the Earl Gerald Fitzgerald rises up and mounts his white horse, shod in silver. He rides across the Curragh with his men, bringing fear to the travellers and farmers in their wake, with sightings have appeared as late as the end of the nineteenth century.
It is said that one brave soul entered the Cave and began to draw his sword from its sheath for protection. This act awoke the Earl from his slumber and he asked “Is it time yet?” The trespasser sheathed his sword and replied it was not and Gerald returned to sleep.
“Time for what?” you might ask. The legend says that when the silver shoes of the white steed are worn to nothing, the enchantment will break and Gerald Fitzgerald will rise up in full strength to rid Ireland of its enemies.
Fact, folklore or all of the above, the legend has stood the test of time and Kilkea Castle remains. In fact you can stay there yourself and walk through the very halls and grounds that once belonged to the FitzGerald family. If you should be visiting in the seventh year and see Gerald thundering past on his white horse, take a look at its silver shoes. If they are no more, pack your bag and run, as the Wizard Earl will be coming home