FitzGerald, Gerald fitz Maurice (‘Gearóid Iarla’) (1338–98), 3rd earl of Desmond , justiciar of Ireland and poet, was son of Maurice fitz Thomas FitzGerald (qv), 1st earl of Desmond, and his second wife, Aveline, daughter of Nicholas fitz Maurice. He succeeded to the earldom after his elder brother, Maurice fitz Maurice, 2nd earl of Desmond (b. 1336), was drowned crossing the Irish sea sometime between 20 April and 5 June 1358. After an inquisition determined that the second brother, Nicholas, was mentally incapable of protecting the earldom, the Desmond lands passed to Gerald in July 1358 with the proviso that he honourably care for his brother. He was given livery of his lands in July 1359, on condition that he marry Eleanor Butler, daughter of the justiciar, James Butler (qv), 2nd earl of Ormond. While most of his career was spent securing his authority in Munster, he did attend parliaments in Dublin and served as justiciar from April 1367 to June 1369, when he was replaced by William of Windsor (qv). He was defeated and captured by the O'Briens at the battle of Monasternenagh (July 1370), but was later released when Windsor marched into Munster to confront the O'Briens. In 1372 he was again ordered to protect his lands against the O'Briens. In 1376 a quarrel broke out between Desmond and Richard de Burgh (qv) (d. 1326), but Ormond stepped in to mediate.
He was one of the magnates summoned to Cork after the death of Edmund Mortimer (qv), earl of March and Ulster, in December 1381, but refused to take office as justiciar, saying that he could not protect his lands from the Gaelic Irish. Although he had good relations with his father-in-law, his relations with James Butler (qv), 3rd earl of Ormond, were far more controversial, and open conflict broke out several times during the 1380s and 1390s. He was appointed as deputy for the defence of Munster in January 1386 and served as justice of the peace for Cork, Kerry, and Limerick till his death in 1398. Although he spent his life fighting the Gaelic lords of Munster, Desmond showed a clear understanding and appreciation of Gaelic culture, and was willing to work with them on occasion, as when he allowed a segment of the O'Briens to migrate to Waterford after Monasternenagh.
Gerald's family had long been patrons of Irish learning, and the Ó Dálaigh family of Cork provided hereditary poets to the Desmond Fitz Geralds. He was himself the addressee (as was his brother before him) of poems by Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh (qv). His own contribution to literature is considered significant; although not regarded as a major poet, Gerald (sometimes referred to as ‘Gerald the rhymer’) is acknowledged as the first recorded practitioner of amour courtois poetry in the Irish language. Several poems attributed to him (rightly or wrongly), in which themes of courtly love are interwoven with traditional Irish poetical forms, are preserved in the ‘Book of the dean of Lismore’. At the very least, it can be inferred that poetry in French was collected and read in the family (Verses in Anglo-Norman French, headed ‘Proverbia comitis Desmonie’ in Harl. MS 913, f. 15b, are usually attributed to Gerald's father).
Gerald died in 1398. Legend claims that he vanished in mysterious circumstances, and that he sleeps at the bottom of Lough Gur, his ghost appearing above the lake every seven years.