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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Assassination of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars

arthur-vicarsSir Arthur Edward Vicars, genealogist and heraldic expert, is assassinated in Kilmorna, County Kerry by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 14, 1921.

Vicars is born on July 27, 1862 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and is the youngest child of Colonel William Henry Vicars of the 61st Regiment of Foot and his wife Jane (nee Gun-Cunninghame). This is his mother’s second marriage, the first being to Pierce O’Mahony by whom she has two sons. He is very attached to his Irish half-brothers and spends much time at their residences. On completing his education at Magdalen College School, Oxford and Bromsgrove School he moves permanently to Ireland.

Vicars quickly develops an expertise in genealogical and heraldic matters and makes several attempts to be employed by the Irish heraldic administration of Ulster King of Arms, even offering to work for no pay. In 1891 he is one of the founder members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society and remains its honorary secretary until his death.

Vicars first attempts to find a post in the Office of Arms when in 1892 he applies unsuccessfully for the post of Athlone Pursuivant on the death of the incumbent, Bernard Louis Burke. In a letter dated October 2, 1892 his half-brother Pierce Mahony writes that Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, is dying and urges him to move at once. Burke dies in December 1892, and Vicars is appointed to the office by letters patent dated February 2, 1893. In 1896 he is knighted, in 1900 he is appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) and in 1903 he is elevated to Knight Commander of the Order (KCVO). He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and a trustee of the National Library of Ireland.

In 1897 Vicars publishes An Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536 -1810, a listing of all persons in wills proved in that period. This work becomes very valuable to genealogists after the destruction of the source material for the book in 1922 when the Public Record Office at the Four Courts is destroyed at the start of the Irish Civil War.

Vicars’ career is very distinguished until 1907 when it is hit by the scandal of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of St. Patrick, he has custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the “crown jewels.” They are found to be missing on July 6, and a Crown Jewel Commission is established in January 1908 to investigate the disappearance. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy refuse to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings are published on January 25, 1908 and he is dismissed as Ulster five days later.

On November 23, 1912, the Daily Mail publishes serious false allegations against Vicars. The substance of the article is that Vicars had allowed a woman reported to be his mistress to obtain a copy of the key to the safe and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. In July 1913 he successfully sues the paper for libel. The paper admits that the story is completely baseless and that the woman in question does not exist. He is awarded damages of £5,000.

Vicars leaves Dublin and moves to Kilmorna, near Listowel, County Kerry, the former seat of one of his half-brothers. He marries Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, County Westmeath on July 4, 1917. He continues to protest his innocence until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.

In May 1920 up to a hundred armed men break into Kilmorna House and hold Vicars at gunpoint while they attempt to break into the house’s strongroom. On April 14, 1921, he is taken from Kilmorna House, which is set afire, and shot dead in front of his wife. According to the communiqué issued from Dublin Castle, thirty armed men took him from his bed and shot him, leaving a placard around his neck denouncing him as an informer. On April 27, as an official reprisal, four shops are destroyed by British Armed Forces in the town of Listowel. The proclamation given under Martial law and ordering their demolition states:

“For any outrage carried out in future against the lives or property of loyalist officials, reprisals will be taken against selected persons known to have rebel sympathies, although their implication has not been proved.”

Vicars is buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire on April 20, 1921. His wife dies in Somerset in 1946.


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Birth of Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS, scientist, archaeologist, physician and Member of Parliament (MP), is born in Dublin on April 14, 1661. Molyneux is the first to assert that the Giant’s Causeway, now a National Nature Reserve of Northern Ireland and a major tourist attraction, is a natural phenomenon. Legend has it that it is the remains of a crossing between two areas of land over an inlet of the sea that has been built by a giant.

Molyneux is the youngest son of Samuel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, Master Gunner of Ireland, and grandson of Daniel Molyneux, Ulster King of Arms. His great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Molyneux, who is originally from Calais, comes to Ireland about 1576, and becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland.

Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Molyneux becomes a doctor with an MA and MB in 1683, at the age of 22. He goes to Europe and continues his medical studies, resulting in gaining the MD degree in 1687. He is admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society on November 3, 1686.

Molyneux practises medicine in Chester sometime before 1690. He returns to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne. He is elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians 1692 under Cardinal Brandr Beekman-Ellner and becomes the first State Physician in Ireland and also Physician General to the Army in Ireland, with the rank of lieutenant general. Between 1695 and 1699, Molyneux represents Ratoath in the Irish House of Commons. He is Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College 1717–1733 and becomes a baronet in 1730. Both he and his brother William Molyneux are philosophically minded, and are friends of John Locke.

Molyneux marries twice, first to Margaret, sister of the first Earl of Wicklow, with issue of a son and daughter. It is believed that the son dies in childhood. In 1694 he marries Catherine Howard, daughter of Ralph Howard, at that time Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College. They have four sons and eight daughters, of whom Daniel and Capel both succeed to the baronetcy.

Thomas Molyneux dies on October 19, 1733 at the age of 72. He is believed to be buried in St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin, however there is a fine monument to him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, with an elaborate description of his honours and genealogy. His portrait is in Armagh County Museum.


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The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels

irish-crown-jewels-rewardThe theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown Jewels, the heavily jeweled star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick, as well as the collars of five knights of the Order is discovered on July 6, 1907. The theft has never been solved and the jewels have never been recovered.

Prior to 1903, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights are in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms, and are kept in a bank vault. In 1903, the jewels are transferred to a safe, which is to be placed in the newly constructed strongroom in Dublin Castle beside the Ulster King of Arms’ office. The new safe is too large for the doorway to the strongroom and Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, instead stores it in his office. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms are held by Vicars and his staff, and two keys to the safe containing the insignia are both in the custody of Vicars. Vicars is known to regularly get drunk on overnight duty and he once awoke to find the jewels around his neck. It is not known whether or not this is a prank or a practice for the actual theft.

The insignia are last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on March 15, 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17. They are last known to be in the safe on June 11, when Vicars shows them to a visitor to his office. The jewels are discovered to be missing on July 6, four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it is planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, into the Order. The theft reportedly angers the King but the visit goes on as scheduled, however, the investiture ceremony is cancelled.

A police investigation is conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Posters issued by the DMP depict and describe the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrives on July 12 to assist. His report, which is never released, is said to name the culprit but is suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Vicars refuses to resign his position, and similarly refuses to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft. Vicars argues for a public Royal Commission instead, which has the power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accuses his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denies to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, is involved. Shackleton is exonerated in the Commission’s report, and Vicars is found to have “not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia.” Vicars is compelled to resign, as are all the staff in his personal employ.