Fitzgerald, Katherine (d. 1604), countess of Desmond , was reputed to be the legendary old countess of Desmond. She was the daughter of Sir John Fitzgerald, 2nd lord of Decies, and Ellen, daughter of John Fitzgibbon, the White Knight. She married Thomas fitz Thomas Fitzgerald (qv), 12th earl of Desmond, after 1505. They had a daughter, Katherine, who married Philip Barry Oge. Thomas died in 1534 and she is believed to have spent the rest of her life at the castle of Inchiquin, Co. Cork.
The legend of the old countess is based on two sources. In 1614 Sir Walter Raleigh (qv), in his History of the world, wrote of an old countess of Desmond who lived at Inchiquin and who had been married during the reign of Edward IV. Three years later Fynes Moryson (qv), in his Itinerary, wrote of the old countess of Desmond who died aged 140. Katherine's identification with this ‘old countess’ is somewhat problematic. According to Raleigh, who claimed to have known the old countess personally when he participated in the Munster plantation in the late 1580s, she had been married during Edward IV's reign, which ended in 1483. However, Thomas fitz Thomas's first wife, Sheila, daughter of Cormac Laidir McTeige MacCarthy, lord of Muskery, was still alive in June 1505, indicating that Katherine did not marry Thomas in Edward IV's reign. Moryson, who did not claim to have known the ‘old countess’, gave her age as 140, which would mean Katherine would have been at least forty by 1505, the earliest date at which she could have married Thomas. From these two sources other writers have embellished the legend with stories of her having danced with Richard, duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), who died in 1485, and of her death being caused by her falling from a tree while gathering apples, cherries, or nuts.
Katherine died in 1604 aged at least ninety, which in itself would merit the appellation of ‘old countess’; she had been a widow for seventy years. Perhaps Raleigh and Moryson embellished the facts for their readers. Whatever the truth, the legend of the 140-year-old countess of Desmond persists.