The "Fitzgeralds," or "Geraldines," were powerful Anglo-Irish lords in counties Offaly and Kildare, west of Dublin. Characters in Ulysses refer often to the 10th Earl of Kildare, Silken Thomas, who mounted a rebellion against the English king. But Thomas' grandfather, the so-called Great Earl, also mentioned in Wandering Rocks, was a more formidable leader.
The 8th Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald (Gearoid Mór FitzGerald), often called The Great Earl (An Iarla Mór) or "the uncrowned King of Ireland," served as Lord Deputy of Ireland for the Yorks and Tudors during most of the years from 1477 to 1513. His son, also named Gerald, was the 9th Earl of Kildare from 1513 to 1534, and his grandson Thomas succeeded his father in 1534.
In Wandering Rocks Ned Lambert tells J. J. O'Molloy that the reverend Hugh C. Love is "writing a book about the Fitzgeralds." He kicks himself for not having told the clergyman a good one about The Great Earl: "—God! he cried. I forgot to tell him that one about the earl of Kildare after he set fire to Cashel cathedral. You know that one? I'm bloody sorry I did it, says he, but I declare to God I thought the archbishop was inside. He mightn't like it, though. What? God, I'll tell him anyhow. That was the great earl, the Fitzgerald Mor. Hot members they were all of them, the Geraldines."
The Great Earl was a force to be reckoned with. Despite his involvement in the Lambert Simnel conspiracy in 1487, Henry VII kept him on as Lord Deputy until 1494, when he removed him and had him imprisoned him in the Tower of London. At trial in 1496, however, FitzGerald convinced the king that the alternatives to his rule were much worse. Henry is reported to have said, "All Ireland cannot govern this Earl; then let this Earl govern all Ireland."