PRINCE WILLIAM’S ‘forgotten’ Irish ancestor



‘Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands for their legs could not bear them, they looked like anatomies of death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their grave…’

So the English poet Edmund Spenser described the province of Munster in 1583. While the dreadful spectacle of famine and decay may have appalled his eyes, Spenser, together with friends such as Walter Raleigh, had actively participated in and benefited from Munster’s ruin, as the English Crown wrested the province from the grip of its once powerful overlord – Gearoid (Gerald) Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond.

By 1579 the writing was on the wall for Desmond. Rooted in the feudal tradition of a bygone era, from which he derived his status and wealth, the world outside his Munster domain had moved on. Queen Elizabeth I viewed him as a threat to her power in Ireland, his intrigues with Spain a threat to England’s security and the vast acres under his control in Ireland as a potential goldmine. After years of prevarication in 1579 Elizabeth finally let loose the dogs of war. Desmond was proclaimed a traitor, a price on his head and his lands and castles up for grabs.

For three years a savage military campaign was waged against him by Elizabeth’s military generals, aided by her cousin the Earl of Ormond, Desmond’s bitter rival for power in Ireland. Abandoned by his Spanish allies, ill from dropsy and dysentery, too weak to even mount his horse, Desmond was hunted like a wild animal across the despoiled acres of his vast lordship. Despite his overwhelming liabilities, however, he had one remaining asset - his countess, Eleanor.

Educated, intelligent, courageous and able, daughter of Edmund Butler, Baron of Dunboyne, from Kiltinan Castle, county Tipperary, Eleanor’s destiny was as a wife, mother and chatelaine. But instead her marriage in 1565 to the Earl of Desmond, hurled her into a maelstrom of a bitter family feud, international political intrigue, a religious war, the enforced rebellion of her husband and finally social and political melt-down and ostracism.

With amazing skill, courage and diplomacy, Eleanor at first tried to mediate with Elizabeth and her administrators. Her letters are pragmatic, astute and knowledgeable, as she tried to keep at bay avaricious officials in the Queen’s pay in Ireland, predatory military generals, as well as power-hungry rivals from within her husband’s own family – all of whom hoped to profit from his downfall. Enduring imprisonment in Dublin Castle and in the Tower of London, exile in the slums of Southwark, her only son held hostage in the Tower of London, her mission, to save the House of Desmond, her husband, her children and herself from annihilation, became her obsession.

And when her efforts as a mediator between her husband and Queen Elizabeth were overtaken by international events, she endured three horrific years on the run with Gearoid across the wastelands of his Munster lordship. Enduring a knife-edge existence in desolate hastily-erected shelters in forests and mountains desperately she tried to keep her husband alive until either the vacillating English Queen called off her war dogs or help came from her husband’s fickle Spanish allies.

When her husband was finally run to ground and ignobly beheaded in a lonely cave near Tralee in the winter of 1583, his head pickled in a wine cask, sent to London to end up on a spike at the entrance to the Tower of London, Eleanor set out to salvage what she could from the ruins of his estates for their children. Deserted as the wife of a ‘traitor’ by family and friends, a political and social outcast, pocketing her pride, forced to beg her bread with her five young daughters on the streets of Dublin, pawning everything she possessed, she took her case to the heart of the Machiavellian Tudor Court in London, experiencing humiliation, isolation and imprisonment in the process.

Her persistence and courage finally paid dividends, however, when she won both the respect and assistance of Queen Elizabeth 1 and the love and protection of a new husband, Donagh O’Connor Sligo.

Fighting her cause to the very end of her long and remarkable life until well into her nineties, Eleanor rebutted the many spurious claims made in the Courts of Chancery, in both Dublin and London, to her second husband’s property by the new wave of English carpetbaggers who descended on Sligo after the fall of Gaelic Ireland in the years following the Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls.

Eleanor, Countess of Desmond died in 1638 and is buried in Sligo Abbey where her tomb can be seen today.

Eleanor’s third daughter, Lady Katherine FitzGerald married her first cousin Maurice Roche, Viscount Fermoy. Through the Viscount Fermoy line Eleanor’s descendants include the late Princess Diana and her sons Princes William and Harry.

Eleanor’s childhood home, Kiltinan Castle, Fethard, County Tipperary, is now owned by the composer, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber

© Anne Chambers 2020
Eleanor, Countess of Desmond, 1545-1638 by Anne Chambers (Gill Books)


One of T.K. Whitakers life-long motivations in public office was to establish a positive relationship in Ireland between North and South which over more recent times has become threatened by economic issues such as Brexit and the Backstop.

As early as the 1950s Whitaker initiated cross-border relationships with his civil service counterparts in Northern Ireland on issues of mutual benefit such as electricity supply, transport and the Erne waterway. On 14 January 1965 he arranged the historic meeting between Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill which broke the forty-three year long wall of silence that up to that time had existed between the leaders of both parts of Ireland.

In 1969, amidst the carnage, rioting and teargas he wrote Jack Lynch’s ‘Tralee Speech’ which for the first time committed the Irish Government to a policy of reunification by the principle of consent. In 1970 he embarked on a behind-the-scenes dialogue with his opposite numbers in the public service and banking sectors in Northern Ireland and in the UK from which, over the following two decades, emanated many policy documents which, in turn, informed the Irish and UK Governments’ policy on Northern Ireland.

During the 1960s in his role as the pioneering architect of the Republic’s economic development Whitaker spearheaded the country’s convoluted path towards membership of what was then the European Economic Market. As secretary of the Department of Finance he led delegations to European capitals seeking support for Ireland’s admittance to the then exclusive club of six nations. In January 1962 he attended an EEC Council meeting in Brussels where Ireland’s case was coolly received.

This rebuff to Ireland’s initial attempt to join the European Economic Community (now the European Union) and its implications for the Irish economy was offset in 1965 by a bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom. Negotiated and managed by Ken Whitaker and his team of civil servants, over a six-month period of hard-bargaining, the first Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement became the lifeline for Irish exports, particularly agricultural exports, during the uncertain years prior to membership of the EEC in 1973.

While the economic scenario vis-à-vis Ireland and the UK may have altered in the intervening years, both countries share more than what may divide us; a close interdependence in the areas of trade and travel and as guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Perhaps as in 1965 Ireland should again investigate some form of a bilateral Anglo Irish arrangement in the area of trade. While this time such a venture would, of necessity, need EU support, however, as it might also serve to ease, even eliminate, the conundrum, for Europe as much as for Britain, posed by the Backstop, as well as protect what has been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement, given Ireland’s unique position in relation to Brexit it might also find support among our European partners.

And as to relations between both parts of this island, perhaps TK Whitaker’s proposal made in 1997, as part of the evolving relationship between North and South, to establish a ‘Council of Ireland’ where issues of common interest affecting both sides of the Border, for example Brexit, could be discussed by politicians from both North and South. The fact that such a proposal originated in the 1920s, has never been tried and therefore never incurred any criticism, in theory at least means, as Whitaker noted, ‘that its potentiality is still green’.


Anne Chambers


3rd anniversary of the passing of Dr. T. K Whitaker (1916-2017)


Thursday 9 January marks the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Dr. T. K  Whitaker (1916-2017)

Voted Ireland's 'Man of the 20th Century' by ordinary Irish citizens for his work as a public servant over the space of many decades his life was devoted to the service of the people and the country.

Widely regarded as the 'Architect of Modern Ireland' Whitaker provided the blueprint for Ireland's economic regeneration in the late 1950s and 60s and continued to play a hugely influential role in the economic, social and cultural evolution of the
modern Irish state and in the search for peace in Northern Ireland until his death in 2017.


TK Whitaker Portrait of a Patriot

 '.....a testament to the importance of the real meaning of republicanism and 'the common good'. Irish Times
'Packed with fascinating detail...absorbing'. Irish Independent
'Well written and well researched...crammed with insights'. Sunday Business Post.
(Now available in paperback).



Pictured on the stage of the Linenhall Theatre, Castlebar after their performances at the sell-out concert to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the birth of the Castlebar-born Diva, Margaret Burke Sheridan, Siobhan Kilkelly, Helene Hutchinson Murray, Anne Marie Gibbons, Anne Chambers and Hubert Francis.



Honouring Margaret Burke Sheridan on the 130th anniversary of her birth in Castlebar on 15 October at her grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

A concert and exhibition in her honour will take place on 30 October at 8pm in the Linenhall Theatre, Castlebar.

T.K. Whitaker: Portrait of a Patriot

In 2002, an eighty-five-year-old former civil servant was voted 'Irishman of the Century'.


Indian Prince KS Ranjitsinhji was the most famous cricket-player of his generation


Fearless leader by land and by sea, political pragmatist and tactician, rebel, pirate and matriarch, the ’most notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland’ GRACE O’MALLEY challenges and manipulates the turbulent politics of the 16th century

Grace O'Malley: The Biography of Ireland's Pirate Queen, 1530-1603 is the sole published biographical account of Grace O’Malley, sourced from original manuscript material, both in public and in private domain. For the latter, the author, Anne Chambers, had sole and exclusive access. Much of this material was located and decyphered in its original form (i.e.16th century manuscripts) by the author and is exclusive to her book. Furthermore, the presentation, opinions and analyses in the book are exclusive to the author. The author reserves all her rights in this book. No part of her book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or media, written or oral, or by means digital, electronic or mechanical, including photographic, film, video recording, photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system. Permission from the author and publisher must first be obtained to reproduce any part of or quotations from the book. Any transgression in this regard will be addressed. For more information, comments or enquiries please contact: Info: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Copyright © 2020.


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