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Chapter 12

The Illustrious Order of the Knights of St. Patrick

The Great Hall, or Ballroom, became known as St. Patrick's Hall when George III instituted the 'Illustrious Order of St. Patrick' in 1783. The central panel, of Valdre's ceiling paintings in St. Patrick's Hall, depicts the event with King George seated on a dais, between the symbolic figures of Great Britain with the then British flag and Ireland with her harp, while Justice and Liberty are in attendance. The stall plates along the walls chronologically record the names and the banners show the family crests of the Knights of St. Patrick. Their insignia, an eight-pointed star, is above the eastern doorway and one of their ceremonial badges is on view in a glass case on the north wall.

St. Patrick's Hall

St. Patrick's Hall

The 'Illustrious Order of St. Patrick' was the Irish equivalent of the English 'Order of the Garter' and the Scottish 'Order of the Thistle'. Knights were required to be 'descended of three descents of nobleness' on both paternal and maternal sides. Its purpose was to give social advancement to senior peers and so, further secure their loyalty. An award of Knighthood was seen as evidence of the high social standing of the recipient and there was considerable competition for the limited places.

The lavish investiture ceremony of Knighthood took place in St. Patrick's Hall. As soldiers lined the route, the new knights in elaborate garb, walked in ceremonial procession to an installation ceremony in St. Patrick's Cathedral. A celebratory banquet took place later in the Castle.

The 'Irish Crown Jewels' was the name by which the Insignia of the Knights of St. Patrick became known. They consisted of the Grand Master's diamond badge set in silver with a trefoil in emeralds on a ruby cross and various other valuable jewels. They were stored in a bank vault, except when in use. In 1903, they were transferred to a safe, which was to be placed in the newly constructed strong room in Bedford Hall. However, the steel safe proved to be too large for the doorway and Arthur Vicars, the Officer of Arms, agreed to them being stored in the Library.

It was discovered that they had been stolen only four days before the State Visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The King had intended to invest Lord Castletown as a Knight of the Order, but was furious on account of the theft and cancelled the ceremony.

Although under great pressure, Vicars refused to resign. Rumours were spread about his sexual orientation, with the objective of shaming him into leaving. It didn't work, and he refused to appear at the sworn Viceregal Commission, demanded a public royal inquiry instead and accused his second in command, Francis Shackleton (brother of Ernest - the Antarctic Explorer) of the wrongdoing. However Shackleton was exonerated by the commission, while Vicars was found culpable.

Later Shackleton was jailed for misappropriating a widow's savings. Arthur Vicars spent his remaining years as a recluse, in a 'big house' (ascendancy manor) in Co. Kerry. On the 14th April 1921, in the period between the War of Independence and the Civil War, an armed IRA contingent brought him out of Kilmorna Castle and shot him dead, before burning the building.

As Ireland is a Republic, this Order of Knighthood is no longer in existence. St. Patrick's Hall is now mainly used for State functions, including inaugurations of Ireland's Presidents. The Office of Arms is now part of Dublin Castle Conference Centre facilities. The Irish Crown Jewels have never been located.