A San Francisco builder is attempting to usurp a British aristocrat as head of a family whose reputation for valour has been tainted by tragedy and scandal.
Paul FitzGerald claims he is the rightful Duke of Leinster, a title regarded as the premier dukedom of Ireland.
He says he should have inherited the dukedom from his grandfather, Desmond, the second of three sons of the 5th Duke of Leinster, who was thought to have been killed in the First World War while serving in the Irish Guards, but who, Mr FitzGerald claims, secretly emigrated to North America and lived there until his death in 1967.
The American construction manager, 39, told The Daily Telegraph that his father had told him stories about the family's aristocratic lineage and later took him to Ireland to research their roots.
"I heard stories of where my grandfather grew up," he said yesterday.
"There was a house with stables and my dad was just astounded when he was able to see everything for himself because his father had told him about it all in such detail."
He believes a collection of heirlooms and legal documents compiled by his grandfather for his father holds the key to proving his right to the dukedom.
The package was lodged in a government department, said the Californian, but had since been mislaid. "We know that my father's name was attached to the documents either in 1929 or 1930.
Paul FitzGerald's aunt, Theresa Caudhill, 80, who claims to be Desmond's daughter, has produced an affidavit giving an account of his life before and after he changed identity.
She claims her father joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood when he was a teenager and carried messages to the United States for the movement. This, she believes was the reason for him being spirited out of the trenches.
Desmond, she recalls, had two leather-bound Dickens novels stamped with a gold-coloured Leinster coat of arms, military medals and uniforms, and a strand of pearls said to have come from his grandmother.
She also remembers a trunk containing documents that he claimed proved his identity.
The current duke refused to comment.
Paul FitzGerald, who is married with two children, said of him: "I really don't know the guy but I don't believe he is the current duke."
He added that his quest to secure the title had nothing to do with wealth or power. "All the money's been burned up. It's basically about righting the wrong that should have been done in the 1970s.
"It's an adventure. Every person has something that they want to see through. This story is so amazing, but the truth is always stranger than fiction."
Monday, February 27, 2006
This story caught my eye...
Blogging will be light, folks - I have much on my plate at the moment. (In the sense of being busy...) But I couldn't not post this curious tale from the Telegraph: