The theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown Jewels, the heavily jewelled 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 6 July 1907. The stolen gems were never found and the crime remains one of Ireland’s greatest mysteries.
The Irish Crown Jewels were the star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick, an order of knights established in 1783 by George III. The heavily jewelled pieces were presented to the order in 1830. The Grandmaster Star was a large pendant made of 400 Brazilian white diamonds arranged into an eight-pointed star, with a shamrock of emeralds atop a cross of rubies on blue enamel in the middle. The large oval badge was made of 24-karat gold, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. The collars of five knights of the Order were also stolen along with the jewels.
Prior to 1903, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights were in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms. The gems were kept in Dublin Castle where they were guarded by the Ulster King of Arms and his staff as well as a 24-hour outdoor patrol of policemen and soldiers.
In 1903, a safe room was installed in the castle, but it was only after it was built that it was discovered the safe which held the jewels was too large to fit in the doorway. Because of this, the safe would remain outside the strong room in the library. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms were held by its staff, but the two keys to the safe were kept by Sir Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms who was charged with protecting the jewels. He carried one of the keys on his person, while the other was kept in a locked drawer in a desk at his home. However, Vicars was rather lax in his security. One account describes Vicars after a night of drinking, handed his keys over to his friends; the next morning he woke up draped in the country’s most valuable ornaments. Another account, in May 1907, Vicars mistakenly left the first key to the safe attached to a key ring with his other office keys; the keys were discovered by a maid, who sent them to the Chief Herald’s office by way of a male servant.
The insignia were last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on 15 March 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick’s Day on 17 March. They were last known to be in the safe on 11 June when Vicars showed them to a visitor to his office. The jewels were discovered to be missing on 6 July – four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it was planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, into the Order. The theft reportedly angered the King but the visit went as scheduled, however, the investiture ceremony was cancelled.
A police investigation was conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Posters issued by the DMP depicted and described the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrived on 12 July to assist. His report, which was never released, was said to name the culprit but was suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).
Vicars refused to resign his position, and similarly refused to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft. Vicars argued for a public Royal Commission instead, which had the power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accused his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denied to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, was involved. Shackleton was exonerated in the Commission’s report, and Vicars was found to have “not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia.” Vicars was compelled to resign, as were all the staff in his personal employment.
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