Fitzgerald, John David (1816–89), Baron Fitzgerald , Irish law officer and British lord of appeal, was born 1 May 1816 in Co. Limerick, second son of David Fitzgerald, a merchant from Dublin who was believed to have taken part in the abortive rising of Robert Emmet (qv) in 1803, and his wife Catherine, daughter of David Leahy, merchant. Educated privately by a Mr Mundy at Williamstown, Co. Dublin, in 1834 he entered the King's Inns. He was called to the Irish bar (1838) and made a rapid ascent on the Munster circuit, beginning in the court of chancery but soon expanding his practice to include the common law courts. The finest pleader at the bar, he worked tirelessly and soon established a reputation as one of the country's greatest advocates. In 1847 he was made QC, establishing a preeminence on the Munster circuit.
A catholic, he was liberal in politics and became independent liberal MP for Ennis, Co. Clare (1852–60) defeating the sitting member by thirteen votes. More success followed; in 1856 he was appointed solicitor general for Ireland, and in April attorney general and an Irish PC. Shortly afterwards he was smeared in parliament by the Irish master of the rolls, Thomas Berry Cusack Smith (qv), for allegedly assisting in the escape of the banker John Sadleir (qv). On 15 July Fitzgerald delivered a detailed rebuttal of these charges in the commons that succeeded in vindicating his own character and depicting Cusack Smith himself as the culpable party. He lost office briefly (1858–9) when the liberal government went out of power, but returned as attorney general in 1859.
In February 1860 he became a justice of the court of the queen's bench in Ireland, and soon afterwards declined an informal invitation to become Irish chief secretary. During his tenure he presided over a number of important cases including the trial of the Fenian leaders (1865), of Richard Pigott (qv) for seditious libel (1868), and of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and thirteen others for conspiracy to encourage tenant farmers to avoid paying rent (1880–81). In 1882 he became a lord of appeal, the first Irish judge to be appointed, and this was accompanied by a life peerage. Thereafter he sat in the house of lords, where he took a special interest in Irish affairs. In 1885 he was offered the Irish lord chancellorship and accepted, but subsequently changed his mind and declined the honour.
His reputation as a fair and able judge was deserved: he was respected for the wisdom of his decisions, helped by an almost instinctive understanding of what was just. Strongly interested in Irish education, he was a commissioner of national education (1863–89), a visitor of the queen's colleges, and a governor of the Royal Hibernian Military School. He was awarded an LLD (1870) by Dublin University. He died on 16 October 1889 at his home in Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. He married first (1846) Rose (d. 1850), daughter of John Donohoe, a Dublin distiller; and secondly (1860) Jane, daughter of Arthur Southwell, and sister of the 4th Viscount Southwell. He had three sons from his first marriage, David (1847–20), John Donohoe (1848–1918), and Gerald (1849–1925), all of whom were appointed KC; he also had four sons and six daughters from his second marriage.