The Knights Templars in Ireland

‘R. A.’
Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 2, Number 87
March 1, 1834

Having in the preceding article[1] given some idea of the interesting district of Fingall, the following slight sketch of the rise, progress, and final destruction of the Knights Templars, to whom the Castle of Clontarf formerly belonged, may not be unacceptable.[2]

This society took its rise during the period of the first crusade at Jerusalem, about the year 1118; and although formed at a period later than the other military order of the Knight Hospitallers, or of St. John of Jerusalem, soon outstripped it in wealth and power, and was also the earliest abolished. The name assumed by the knights had, according to some, a reference to vows entered into for the defence of the holy temple against infidels; and according to others, from the acccidental occupation of some chambers adjacent to the temple, by the original members of the order.

The knights were ecclesiastics; differing in this from those of Saint John, who although bound by strict monastic rules were not in orders; their vows were very strict, enjoining celibacy, poverty, humility, and inveterate war against infidels; to the latter it must be admitted they adhered pretty steadily, but the former injunctions were often interpreted with great laxity. Their dress in peace consisted of a long, white robe, having the cross of St. George on the left shoulder, and worn after the manner of a cloak or mantle; a cap, turned up, such as heralds call a cap of maintainance, covered the head; and the staff or abacus of the order, having at its extremity an encircled cross, was borne in the right hand. Their panoply in war did not differ materially from that of the knights of that period, except the distinctive cross, the badge of the order being emblazoned on the cuirass, and the Agnus Dei was displayed on their banners.

Their superior, elected for life, chosen by the order and styled the grand master, took rank as an independent prince. Immediately under him were the preceptors or priors, each ruling over his peculiar district, and subject to the grand master and the statutes of the order. The number of the knights' companions were unlimited; they were each attended by two esquires, who were usually candidates for admission into the order, into which none were enrolled but those who could prove their nobility of descent for two generations.

Their preceptories or priories were usually surrounded by what was called a peculiar; that is an ecclesiastical jurisdiction independent of the bishop of the diocese, and were generally erected near a river, often on a slope, or at the bottom of an eminence; they were sometimes built with that jealous regard to strength and security usual in the baronial residences of the day, but frequently were of a moderate size, capable of accommodating from twenty to thirty knights; the dread of the order, who were accounted the best lances in Christendom, serving them for ramparts and fosses. There was always a chapel, and sometimes a church attached, and the surrounding meadow served them as a tilt yard and place of exercise.

Few of these buildings have escaped the wreck of time; many of them have merged into private residences, and of those which remain, Clontarf Castle is, we believe, the most perfect specimen extant in this country.

The institution of the Knights Templars exactly suited the taste of an age tinctured with all the elevating spirit of romance, and heightened by the spirit of religious enthusiasm; and the Christian world was so well pleased with the unexampled valour and Christian virtues displayed by the first members, that in the space of 126 years from their first institution, they were possessed of no less than nine thousand manors in Christendom; and at the time it was determined to put a period to their existence, they were in actual possession of sixteen thousand.

But these times of their prosperity passed away. Corrupted by luxury and profusion, they degenerated from their austere simplicity, and original purity and uprightness; and instead of illuminating the world by their good example, they became the model and standard of every vice that could disgrace humanity. Pride, covetousness, cruelty, and infidelity, aggravated by every species of tyranny and oppression, were the distinguishing marks of their character; and independent of all authority, and trampling on all laws human or divine, they became the objects of universal hatred and detestation; and their character, as given by Matthew Paris, fully presents the picture which Sir Walter Scott has so admirably portrayed of them in his novel of Ivanhoe.

Philip, King of France, was a prince naturally avaricious and jealous of his prerogative; he beheld their rising greatness with a malignant eye, and their possessions with envy; and taking advantage of the general feeling against them, he determined, in conjunction with the pope, to suppress the order.

Luxury, intemperance, and cruelty were crimes too general in that age to bear particularly hard upon the Templars—they were, therefore, accused of sorcery, unnatural lusts, and idolatry—charges so monstrous as almost to exceed belief; but which were readily credited in that credulous age: and the people being prepossessed against them, Philip found it easy to carry the iniquitous transaction through his courts; and upon the proofs adduced, their estates, houses, and effects were seized; and their persons simultaneously secured in castles, prisons, &c.—their estates and effects were sequestered into the hands of commissioners; and the grand master and several of his knights were subjected to the torture, under the extremity of which they gave vent to expressions which were afterwards wrested into a confession of their guilt, and they were publicly condemned and burned alive in Paris in the year 1307.

In England, Edward the Second, tempted by the amazing accession of property consequent on this persecution, followed the example of Philip—the designs of both being alike favoured by the pope. It was, therefore, publicly ordained by the king and his council, that all of the order throughout his dominions should be seized; and in the year 1307, the order for their suppression was transmitted to John Wogan, Justiciary of Ireland, on the Wednesday immediately after the feast of the Epiphany, enjoining him to have the same executed without delay. The mandate was accordingly obeyed; and on the morrow of the purification they were everywhere seized and committed to prison—Gerald, fourth son of Maurice, lord of Kerry, being then grand master of the order in Ireland.

It does not appear that the Templars of Ireland were as hardly dealt with as those on the Continent; perhaps their conduct was not so flagrant: they had fought and bled in defence of the English power in this country; for in the year 1274, William Fitz Roger, the prior of Kilmainham, was taken prisoner with several others, by the Irish at Glyndelory, when many of the friars were slain; and in the years 1296 and 1301, William de Rosse, the then prior, filled the honourable situation of lord deputy of the kingdom; and in 1302, but a few years before their ruin, he was appointed chief justice of Ireland; this argues that he at least was a man of unblemished reputation and acknowledged probity; and, perhaps, may account for a degree of lenity with which they appear to have been treated by the authorities here; as we find the king, Edward the Second, found it necessary by his writ, dated September the 29th, 1309, to further command the said Justiciary to apprehend without delay all the Templars that had not yet been seized, and them to safely keep in the castle of Dublin, together with those who were before apprehended.

Their doom was not finally fixed until “1312, in which year, on the morrow of Saint Lucia the virgin, the moon appeared variously coloured; on which day it was finally determined that the order of Knights Templars should be totally abolished.”

The trial of those who were seized was conducted with great solemnity in Dublin before friar Richard Balybyn, minister of the order of Dominicans in Ireland; friar Philip de Slane, lecturer of the same; and friar Hugh St. Leger; among other witnesses were Roger de Heton, guardian of the Franciscans; Walter de Prendergast, their lecturer; Thomas, the abbot; Simon, prior of the abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr, and Roger the prior of the Augustinian friary in Dublin. The depositions against them were weakly supported; yet they were condemned, and their lands and possessions of every kind granted to their rivals—the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, an order still represented by the Knights of Malta.

In England many of the knights were committed to monasteries, there to do penance for their supposed offences, with a daily allowance of four pence to each. The grand master was allowed two shillings per day. To many of their chaplains the king allowed three pence per day for their diet, and twenty shillings yearly for their stipend or livery: their servants had two pence per day, and inferior servants one penny, and either five or ten shillings yearly for their livery; and for this allowance they were to perform the same services they had before done for the knights; and in Ireland the king, on petition of the master, granted the manors of Kilcloghan, Crooke, and Kilbarry for their support.

The possessions of the order in Ireland were very considerable; they had, in addition to their chief seat of Kilmainham, the prior of which sat as a baron in parliament, two other commanderies in this county, viz—Clontarf, which furnishes the present illustration, and Baldungan in the barony of Balrothery, besides many others in various parts of the kingdom.

In conclusion, the Knights Templars after figuring a brief space on the stage of life, and astonishing the world, first by their virtues and afterwards by their vices, have passed away like a falling meteor, and sunk into eternal night, are now only remembered as

“The baseless fabric of a vision.”


[1] See A Day's Ramble on the North Side of the City (Fingall and Clontarf)

[2] Condensed from an article by R. A.