Mac Gearailt, Piaras (Fitzgerald, Pierce) (c.1709–c.1792), poet, was born in Ballykinealy, near Ballymacoda, Co. Cork, into a branch of the Fitzgeralds who were related to the knights of Kerry but had lost most of their property as a result of their involvement in the Desmond rebellion. Although their estate had been reduced to the single townland of Ballykinealy, Mac Gearailt's family remained conscious of their position as members of the gentry, and the respect accorded locally to the poet's father, Michael Fitzgerald, is reflected in the fact that his death was lamented in verse by Éamonn de Bhál (qv). Mac Gearailt's mother, Mary Power, was a member of another Old English gentry family, the Powers of Knockalahara, Co. Waterford. He was the fourth of five brothers, and also had two sisters. His eldest brother, Raymond, died in 1722, while the second and third brothers, Michael and Garrett, were educated in Spain, where Michael remained. About 1753 the poet inherited the Ballykinealy property on Garrett's death. Around the same time he married Kathleen Fitzgibbon, a first cousin once removed, but she died soon after, possibly in childbirth. He quickly remarried Elizabeth Lawlor from Clashmore, Co. Waterford; they had at least one son and three daughters.
Jacobitism formed the principal theme of Mac Gearailt's early work. He composed at least four Jacobite aislingí (‘Ar maidin inné is mé ag déanamh machnaimh’, ‘Cois leasa dom sínte is mo smaointe ar mearbhall’, ‘Do bhíos-sa maidin aerach’, and ‘I mothar glas coille trém néalltaibh’) and his best known composition, the Jacobite anthem ‘Rosc Catha na Mumhan’ or ‘The battle-cry of Munster’ (‘D'aithníos féin gan bhréag ar fhuacht’), has achieved lasting popularity. However, he later became politically disillusioned, on one occasion adding the scribal note ‘is iomaí glór díomhaoin i gceann an tí do chum’ (‘many are the idle utterances in the composer's head’) when copying a Jacobite song by another author.
Mac Gearailt can probably be identified with the Pierce Fitzgerald, gentleman, of Pillpark in the parish of Clashmore, Co. Waterford, who conformed to the established church in April 1759. His change of religion was insincere and may have been undertaken to secure an inheritance – he described it in an apologetic work as ‘géilleadh do shaoltacht, do chlainn, is do chonách’ (‘a surrender to worldliness, children, and wealth’). The song known as ‘Aithrí an Ghearaltaigh’ (‘Fitzgerald's repentance’), which is thought to date from 1762, marked his return to catholicism, and he showed no equivocation thereafter on questions of religion. In later works he vigorously attacked two catholic priests from the locality – John Power, an Augustinian who was also his first cousin, and Jeremiah Hart – who conformed to the established church in 1763 and 1774 respectively.
Mac Gearailt's home appears to have been a regular meeting place for poets from east Cork and west Waterford, and a number of mock warrants that he issued under the title ‘Ard-shirriam Leath Mogha’ (‘high-sheriff of the south’) have survived, indicating the existence of a poetic ‘court’ over which Mac Gearailt presided. The authors with whom he is known to have associated include Eoghan an Mhéirín Mac Cárthaigh (qv), Éamonn de Bhál, and Donnchadh Rua Mac Conmara (qv). On 4 July 1791, in his last dated composition, he transferred his ‘power’ as high sheriff to a younger poet, Éamonn Ó Flaithbheartaigh, because of his advanced age and decrepitude.
The date of Mac Gearailt's death is not known but was probably not long delayed. Although he spent the final years of his life in Clashmore, Co. Waterford, his remains were returned to his native parish for burial in Kilmacdonogh cemetery, near Ballymacoda, Co. Cork.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).