One of the most notorious characters of 18th century Dublin was George Robert Fitzgerald. Contemporaries described him as a ‘reckless duellist’, who loved to duel so much that he would provoke fights with total strangers and is reported to have fought in eleven duels by the time he reached the age of 24. He fought duels with Lord Norbury and Lord Clare and he once narrowly missed killing Denis Browne, a brother of Lord Altamont when he fired a shot at him in the middle of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street). On one occasion George was involved in a sword duel through the streets of Castlebar, which is still the stuff of legend. It commenced at one end of Main Street, and continued all along the street ending on Ellison Street.
He was born in 1746, at Turlough House, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, the eldest son of George Fitzgerald and Lady Mary Hervey, daughter of Lord Hervey, Vice Chamberlain to George II. His parents separated when he was young and he went to live in England with his mother and younger brother. He attended Eton and joined the army in 1765 aged 17. At 18 he visited the French court as a protégé of the Comte d’Artois, the King’s brother, but fell out of the royal favour by fighting duels and using loaded dice at the gaming tables of Versailles.
George married Jane Connolly of Castletown in Co. Kildare and was obliging enough to spend her entire dowry on an extended honeymoon of nearly three years, taking in Paris, Rome, Florence and Brussels. He returned to his house at Merrion Square Dublin alone and almost penniless.
He was constantly at loggerheads with his father over money and the Turlough estate and on one occasion he handcuffed the poor man to a dancing bear for an entire day. He was later fined and sentenced for two years in Castlebar Goal for this and for imprisoning his father in a cave on the family estate with, it was claimed, the same bear guarding the entrance!
He was eventually tried and convicted for the murder of Randal M’Donnell, one of his neighbours, and was hanged at Castlebar on 12th June 1786, aged only thirty-nine. It was said that before his execution he drank a whole bottle of port and then threw himself off the scaffold, but the rope snapped in two and he fell to the ground. He told the sheriff to go and get another rope – but not from the same shop! But by the time a new rope was procured, he had sobered up and lost his nerve. He went to his maker crying and begging for forgiveness. 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.