Fitzgerald, Martin Thomas (1865–1927), last owner of the Freeman's Journal, was born 9 November 1865 in Charlestown, Co. Mayo, second child of James Fitzgerald, shopkeeper, and Bridget Fitzgerald (née Mullarky). He had an elder brother and two sisters. Moving to Dublin at an early age, he made a considerable fortune as a wholesale wine and spirit merchant, and acquired a substantial residence, ‘Ardilea’, Dundrum, Co. Dublin. The eponymous firm he founded remained in his family's ownership until 1971; his youngest daughter, Nora (1915–68), ran it for many years.
Fitzgerald was a rumbustious figure, prominent in horse-racing circles, where one of his associates was Richard ‘Boss’ Croker (qv), formerly of Tammany Hall. Another was Hamilton Edwards (1872–1932), a British journalist who had worked with Northcliffe (qv) in London. Fitzgerald and Edwards jointly purchased the Freeman's Journal in October 1919. Founded in 1763, it had been the organ of the Irish party at Westminster since Parnell's time. Accordingly, after Sinn Féin's triumph in the 1918 general election it lost its raison d'être and was offered for sale. Its purchase by Fitzgerald and Edwards was essentially a commercial venture, but Fitzgerald had been a home ruler and the Freeman's new management soon committed itself to a policy of dominion status for Ireland.
It was an inauspicious moment to revive an ailing Irish newspaper of moderate nationalist sympathies, and Fitzgerald lost a huge sum in the attempt to do so. The difficulties he encountered were extraordinary: the Freeman was suppressed by the British military authorities for seven weeks (December 1919–January 1920); Fitzgerald, Edwards, and the editor, Patrick J. Hooper (qv), were imprisoned in Mountjoy jail for a month at Christmas 1920 after publishing a story of army brutality; after the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty, which the Freeman strongly supported, its printing presses were smashed (March 1922) by a raiding party of 200 Irregulars; and because of the Freeman's stance against them, the Irregulars ordered Fitzgerald (December 1922) to quit Ireland on pain of death. He published that threat in facsimile in the Freeman but otherwise ignored it.
Fitzgerald played a significant role in the process leading to the 1921 treaty. Once the government decided to explore settlement possibilities, he was able to use his standing as a newspaper proprietor to act as an intermediary between Sinn Féin and Dublin Castle. He was in regular contact with both Michael Collins (qv) and Alfred Cope (qv), assistant under-secretary at the Castle. Cope, using the nom de guerre ‘Mr Clements', frequently visited Fitzgerald's home. Their relationship took on a further dimension when, during the treaty negotiations, Cope sought to influence the shapers of public opinion in Ireland to support the emerging settlement. Through Fitzgerald, Cope gained a measure of control over the contents of the Freeman at that time.
The Freeman's subsequent campaign in favour of the treaty was generally regarded, even by many on the pro-treaty side, as unduly partisan. It included intemperate editorials, the suppression of anti-treaty manifestos and speeches, and a notably malevolent treatment of Erskine Childers (qv), culminating in a cartoon depicting de Valera (qv) as the mouthpiece of Childers. The new administration in Dublin, however, came increasingly to rely on the Freeman for propaganda. In recognition of this, and also because he would represent the old home rule tradition, Fitzgerald was nominated to the Free State senate in 1922. He served in that forum until his death (9 March 1927). By then, the Freeman had succumbed to its many tribulations. The main factor in its eventual demise was that the partnership of Fitzgerald and Edwards ended in grief when the latter tried unsuccessfully to corner the market in newsprint and then absconded, leaving debts that the enfeebled Freeman could not meet. Its last issue appeared 19 December 1924; the assets, including the title, were later bought by the Irish Independent.
Fitzgerald married (1904) Mary Kathleen Fogarty (c.1880–1956), born in Demerara, British Guyana (only child of William Fogarty, a prosperous West Indies merchant from Co. Limerick, and his first wife, Hannah; Fogarty married secondly Nannie Egan, from Co. Mayo). They had two sons and four daughters. Their younger son, Martin (1917–45), won the MC with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards at Geffen, Holland (October 1944), and was afterwards killed in action in Germany. Their third daughter, Kathleen (1910–97), married the conductor and musicologist Michael Bowles (qv).