Wednesday 5 July 2017

Q-dunnit? Who Grabbed St. Patrick's Jewels?

One hundred and ten years ago this week Ireland was rocked by a crime that is still unsolved. It was a crime that sent shockwaves into the British royal family and uncovered a secret world that existed in the heart of the Irish capital.

See if you can answer the question people have been asking for over a century – who stole the Irish Crown Jewels?

Let’s start with the background and story of the crime and then we’ll look at the suspects.

The Irish Crown Jewels were actually the insignia of the Order of St. Patrick, Ireland’s highest order of knighthood, and were part of the British crown jewels. They consisted of a magnificent star badge and an equally magnificent jewelled chain collar and pendant badge. All glittered with hundreds of Brazilian diamonds, rubies and emeralds. They have been estimated to be worth over £4 million today.
A Star of the Order of St. Patrick. This is smaller than the
one stolen from Dublin Castle but no less magnificent
The jewels were kept at Dublin Castle and only brought out on ceremonial and state occasions, and only worn by the sovereign’s representative, the Viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as Grand Master of the Order. However, on the afternoon of 6th July 1907 St. Patrick’s Jewels, along with several other jewelled collars belonging to Knights of St. Patrick, were gone.

An alarming prelude to the theft was that in the early morning of 3rd July when the office cleaner arrived the entrance door to the Herald’s Office at Dublin Castle was open. The police guard had checked the door at 7.30 p.m. the night before and it was firmly locked. No-one had been seen entering the castle grounds.

What came to light in the aftermath of the theft was the revelation that there was a secret homosexual ring centred at the castle. This ring included the people responsible for the safety of St. Patrick’s Jewels as well as the future Duke of Argyll who was married to the king’s sister Princess Louise, and Lord Haddo the son of the Viceroy and Lord Lieutenant.

Rumours of a gay clique at Dublin Castle first emerged after an Irish nationalist hinted at such in a newspaper article in 1884. None of our suspects had any link to the castle at that time but the rumours stuck. The homosexuality of several of the suspects, once revealed, only served to perpetuate the rumours of gay orgies in the castle itself.

St. Patrick’s Jewels were locked in a safe in the Dublin Castle library. There were only two keys, both kept by Sir Arthur Vicars. One he wore on a chain on his person all the time and the other was locked in a drawer in his bedroom. The jewels were seen in the safe when Sir Arthur last opened it on 11th June.

Access to the library was only through the main entrance to the Office of Arms. There were seven keys to the entrance door. They were held by Sir Arthur, his secretary, Pierce Gun Mahoney, the office Messenger, the night inspector, the Board of Works overseer, and the office cleaner. We can eliminate the overseer as a suspect because he hadn’t been at the castle since March. Police also eliminated the cleaner and secretary.

As for access to the library during working hours any official visitor or member of staff could slip unnoticed into the cellars whenever the office messenger, the only person whose office was on the ground floor next to the library, went upstairs to Sir Arthur’s office. He/she could also easily leave unnoticed the same way. As for the night-time, a skylight that led into all office areas could be easily opened unnoticed from ground level. None of the military or police guards who were there 24 hours a day noticed anything suspicious.

The police questioned everyone at the castle about their whereabouts on the night of 2nd-3rd July when the entrance door was found open, and on 5th-6th July, the night before the theft was discovered.

So, who are the main suspects? From the brief reports I’ve given below can you decide “Q-dunnit?”

SIR ARTHUR VICARS : Ulster King of Arms, Ireland’s chief herald and genealogist and the man ultimately responsible for the safe-keeping of St. Patrick’s Jewels. He was diligent in his duties, but when he was told on 3rd July that the entrance door had been found unlocked he didn’t seem concerned. On 6th July he gave his safe key to the office Messenger who then discovered the safe open and the jewels gone. Sir Arthur never gave his key to anyone. Sir Arthur had an intimate (possibly physical) relationship with Francis Shackleton whom he invited to live with him (in separate bedrooms) in his house some half-hour carriage drive from the castle. He was also known to show off St. Patrick’s Jewels to anyone he thought might be interested, contrary to his required duties. He seemed genuinely shaken when the jewels were found missing. ALIBI : On 2nd July he was having dinner with a friend and wouldn’t have had time to go from his home to the castle and back without being seen by the guard. On 5th July he checked the premises, locked the office and went home. He didn’t return until 11.30 the next morning.

FRANCIS SHACKLETON : Dublin Herald, a mainly honorary and ceremonial title (Sir Arthur’s co-second in command). Younger brother of the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Francis and Sir Arthur had known each other for years and Shackleton lived with Sir Arthur when performing his ceremonial duties in Dublin. Being appointed Dublin Herald helped to regain his reputation which had been tarnished after he resigned from the army after some hushed-up scandal. He could easily have secretly copied one of Sir Arthur’s safe keys when staying with him in Dublin. ALIBI : Francis hadn’t been in Ireland since May.

PIERCE GUN MAHONEY : Cork Herald, again mainly an honorary and ceremonial title (Sir Arthur’s other co-second in command). He was Sir Arthur’s nephew and visited him at home many times. He could also have easily secretly copied any of the keys. ALIBI : Mahoney had left Dublin in April for health reasons and didn’t return until 4th July.

FRANCIS BENNETT-GOLDNEY : Athlone Pursuivant, the lowest rank of herald, and yet again an honorary and ceremonial title. As such he could afford to have a full-time career in England as the Mayor of Canterbury. He first met Sir Arthur through a mutual friend, the gay sculptor Lord Ronald Gower. Without trying to influence your judgement, it was revealed after Bennett-Goldney’s death that he had been pilfering various items from the Canterbury archives. ALIBI : Like Shackleton, Bennett-Goldney had not been in Ireland since May when he stayed with Sir Arthur and Shackleton at their home and worked with them at the castle. Could this have given him any chance to secretly copy one of the keys?

RICHARD GORGES : Musket instructor at the Curragh military barracks near Dublin. He was Francis Shackleton’s lover. He was literally booted (i.e. physically kicked) out of his regiment for being found having sex with a young boy, one of many it later transpired. Sir Arthur refused to accept Gorges onto his staff or into the castle because of it. This may have had some connection with Shackleton’s own hushed-up exit from the army. This meant that Gorges would not have access to any keys – unless Shackleton had secretly made copies and Gorges “acquired” them during one of their regular hook-ups in Dublin. ALIBI : Supposedly he was in Curragh barracks on both of the evenings the police were looking in to. We’ll never know. He was never questioned. Interestingly, when he was arrested for manslaughter a few years later he confessed to the theft of St. Patrick’s Jewels. No-one believed him!

Those are the suspects. A Viceregal Commission of Investigation was conducted. Sir Arthur Vicars refused to take part arguing that only a public enquiry would reveal the truth. He was probably right. Twenty-two witnesses were called to give evidence, and the commission turned into a trial against him. Sir Arthur was found guilt of negligence in his duties and fired as Ulster King of Arms. To his dying day he accused Francis Shackleton on the theft.

Various historians have named one or more of the above suspects at one time or another. The current consensus is that Shackleton and Gorges worked together to steal the jewels. But what do you think? On the very brief evidence I’ve given do you think they are guilty? Or was is Sir Arthur all along?

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