George Robert Fitzgerald was born in 1746 son of George, who was married to Lady Mary Hervey, sister of the Earl of Bristol. George Robert was better known as The Fighting Fitzgerald. He was notorious as a duelist, and is reported to have fought in eleven duels by the time he reached the age of 24.
Although noted for eccentricity and fierceness, even his opponents describe him as a courtly and gallant character.
Dick Martin, of Ballynahinch Castle in Connemarra (better known as Humanity Dick) with whom he fought a duel confessed to the impression he made upon him by his exquisite deportment.
Sir John Barrington, who was also hostile to him, commented "A more polished and elegant gentleman could not anywhere be met with."
George Robert attended College at Eton after which he joined the army and was stationed at Galway for some time. In 1770 he married a Miss Connolly, daughter of Thomas Connolly, M.P., Castletown, Co. Kildare and sister-in-law of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, who was lord Lieutenant in Ireland for some time.
Following his marriage he went to Paris for some time, where he lived a princely life. On returning to Ireland he occupied a mansion in Merrion Square in Dublin, where he played a picturesque role in the Volunteers along with his uncle, the earl of Bristol, who was Bishop of Derry. He humiliated many of the followers of the government party especially Barry Yerverton, who was later Lord Avonmore: and John Fitzgibbons, who was to become Lord Lieutenant.
When George Robert married Miss Gibbons he received £30,000 by way of dowry, of which he gave £10,000 to his father old George in return for a deed promising him an annual income and reversing his deed of inheritance.
However his father went back on his word and persuaded by a lawyer friend Seraglio and aided by his other son Charles Lionel, they drew up a conspiracy to deprive George Robert of his share of the estate.
They employed Patrick Randall McDonnell to draw up long-term leases at low rents to some local tenants. A large tract of land at Carrowkeel was leased to Caesar French from Clonbur, Co.Galway under such an arrangement.
On one occasion following this incident George Robert was involved in a sword duel through the streets of Castlebar in pursuit of this Caesar French.
Old George was imprisoned for some time and George Robert took control of the estate. He developed the estate, planted trees, and cultivated corn and flax. George Robert brought 200 linen workers from Ulster to Turlough around 1870 for the purpose of developing the linen industry. He mustered a body of volunteers called "The Turlough" who helped him in his quarrels.
This colonization resulted in the eviction of many catholic families and brought strong protests from the Parish priest Fr. Lennon.
Lord Lucan also brought a colony of presbyterians to the parish but due to local opposition they were moved to the Castlebar area and settled near Sion Hill at a place that has since become known as New Antrim.
He exercised his authority as a magistrate and a grand juror. He denounced the evil doings of the Brownes of Westport, The Binghams of Castlebar and The Cuffes of Ballinrobe, the three most powerful landlords in the area.
His brother Charles Lionel and his father filed an indictment against him and he was sentenced to three years in jail. He escaped within the day however and captured his father whom he imprisoned in a cave at Rockfield for fifteen months and guarded the entrance of the cave with his so-called pet Russian bear.
Following his various quarrels George Robert's execution resulted from an incident where Brecknock, Fitzgerald's lawyer had his fiancée abducted and imprisoned at Glass Island in Lough Conn.
The rescue of the abducted lady fuelled the resentment George Robert had towards Partick Randall McDonnell. Fitzgerald had McDonnell and two of his bodyguards Hipson and Gallagher, arrested on a trumped up charge and held overnight at Turlough house from where they were to be taken to Castlebar gaol.
The next morning 21st February 1786 they tried to escape. They were shot at by two of Fitzgerald's volunteers, Scot Andrew Craig and Fulton. McDonell's bodyguard, Hipson was killed and McDonnell and Gallagher were injured. McDonnell fled towards Chancery but was overtaken by Scots Andrew who killed him at a place called Gortnafullagh (meaning the place of the slaughter).
Fitzgerald, Brecknock and Fulton were charged with murder while Craig escaped with a life sentence for testifying against Fitzgerald .The County Sheriff Mr. Denis Browne (otherwise known as Dennis the Rope) who was in charge of the trial had long been an enemy of the Fitzgeralds. Brecknock, Fulton and Fitzgerald were sentenced to be hanged.
Two hours after their conviction Brecknock and Fulton were transported from the jail, then at the junction of Castle St. and Ellison St., by cart to the new jail, the Bridewell, then under construction at The Mall, where they were hung. An hour afterwards Fitzgerald walked to the gallows having been granted the concession to avoid being jeered by the mob of onlookers.
His hanging was as dramatic as had been his life. On the first attempt to hang him the rope broke.
Fitzgerald got up and shouted: "My life is my own, Browne, the Grand Jury of Mayo cannot afford a rope fit to hang me." On the second attempt the rope was too long. He was eventually hanged on the third attempt.
His remains were removed to the family vault at Turlough where they were buried at midnight, as was the custom among the gentry at this time.
By Brian Hoban