Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

‘Decisions, decisions…’

The Dublin Civic Trust has a blogpost on the Bank of Ireland’s 1802 competition to redesign the former Parliament House on College Green.

Rather horrifyingly, one of the proposals would have erected a monumental screen closing off the forecourt, completely spoiling the view of Edward Lovett Pearce’s beautiful façade.

Luckily the Bank chose Francis Johnston to harmonise the competition designs into the building we know today.

October 24, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

An Old Name Returns to Banking

or: What Daniel O’Connell has to do with the 2008 Banking Crisis

Daniel O’Connell was a remarkable man by any stretch of the imagination, and is most often recalled for his part in bringing about the Relief Act of 1829 which emancipated the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland from an officially oppressed legal status. Among his many achievements, however, was in London in 1825 founding the National Bank of Ireland.

As the RBS Group’s website notes, O’Connell:

…helped draw up the agreement that established it, spoke at public meetings to drum up support for it, invested in it, attended its first board meetings and, in 1836, was appointed its governor. He became an important figurehead for the new bank and there was even a proposal, not implemented, to put a bust of O’Connell on the bank’s notes.

The National Bank was created with the aim of injecting cash into the rural economy in Ireland, and its charter ensured that half of its returns would accrue to local shareholders in the country. O’Connell, not the best manager of financial affairs, ended up accruing huge personal debts to the bank and had to be quietly bailed out by several others (commencing a tradition of surruptitious banking amongst the nation’s major politicians).

Anyhow, the National Bank expanded across Britain and Ireland. In 1966 its Irish core was sold to the Bank of Ireland, and the English and Welsh branches were acquired by the National Commercial Bank of Scotland (which was a 1959 merger of the National Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland). This, in turn, merged into the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969, with the superfluous National Bank branches being turned into Williams & Glyn’s Bank the following year. (more…)

April 15, 2016 4:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Accession

Henry Harris Brown, Proclamation of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty King George V at Dublin, June 1911
c. 1911; Oil on canvas, 68 in. x 76.9 in.

A triumphant painting, but a last hurrah. The central figure is Sir Nevile Wilkinson, the last ever Ulster King of Arms & Principal Herald of Ireland, exercising the duties of his office by proclaiming the accession of the new king at Dublin Castle.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty and its legislative acts neglected to make provision for transferring this ancient office to the new Irish Free State, but Sir Nevile carried on regardless for nearly two decades, even issuing two dozen grants of arms on the day before his death in 1940.

After his death, the Oireachtas created the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland to continue the granting of arms, and in some sense the Chief Herald is a spiritual successor to the Ulster King of Arms.

(Image copyright of the Fusilier Museum, London; via Fr Guy)
January 22, 2016 11:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Flags, Northern Ireland, and the Union

Flags have been in the news of late, perhaps as a late hangover of the disruptive protests over Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall only on the United Kingdom’s designated flag-flying days. Ironically, this would have brought the Six Counties further in line with normal British practice, but disgruntled unionists viewed it as a diminution of “their” flag and a bit of a fracas ensued with the once-traditional death threats and intimidation returning.

The BBC raised the issue of how Scottish independence might affect the Union Jack. (Pedants only refer to the British flag as the “Union flag”, but the Flag Institute points out both terms are perfectly acceptable). Scottish independence would have no automatic effect on the flag whatsoever, but it has provoked a round of speculation over what changes, if any, should be made to the Union flag.

Then Richard Haass, the American diplomat charged with chairing the inter-party talks on unresolved issues in the Six Counties, waded into matters vexillological when he wrote to party leaders seeking their views on the possibility of a new flag for Northern Ireland. (more…)

December 12, 2013 11:10 am | Link | 3 Comments »

The Dome of the Custom House, Dublin

THE MOST RECENT series of the ITV detective drama “Foyle’s War”, though set in London, was filmed entirely in Dublin. (Ah, those Bord Scannán incentives!). I’ve noticed a phenomenon in which something set in England but filmed in Ireland suffers from English stereotype overcompensation. What this entails is unnecessarily sticking noticeably English ‘things’ (double-decker bus, red pillarbox) into the frame when, if filmed in England, the directors might otherwise be satisfied without these subconscious emblems reassuring the viewer that they are not in fact in the country the programme was actually filmed in.

So two characters meeting on a street of Georgian houses will have a red post box shoved into some arbitrary place on the street to remind us we’re in jolly old England. Despite this, any devotées of the Georgian style will recognise the Irishness of the houses because of the subtle yet noticeable difference between the Georgian styles of, say, London, Edinburgh, Bath, and Dublin.

Anyhow, not to reveal too much of the plot of this latest series, but Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle is recruited into a post-war British intelligence gathering organisation. The exterior shots of the building used as this group’s headquarters is the Custom House on River Liffey in Dublin, only the show’s producers have digitally removed the building’s prominent dome, presumably in order to make it less distinctive and identifiable. (more…)

July 30, 2013 6:20 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

The Legacy of 1916

Sunday’s address by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the party’s annual Arbour Hill commemoration has sparked a certain amount of commentary in the press.

The commemoration of the 1916 rebellion takes place at Arbour Hill prison, where the earthly remains of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising were laid in a pit by the British military authorities. Some of the rebellion’s leaders who did not face the firing squad, most prominently Éamon de Valera and Countess Markievicz, founded Fianna Fáil ten years later in 1926.

Micheál Martin’s address is presented here without comment.

Every state should take time to commemorate and celebrate the people and events of their founding. This commemoration is organised by Fianna Fáil the Republican Party, but we come here as Irish men and women to fulfil our responsibilities to the great generation of 1916.

After 97 years their deeds resonate even more than ever. They saw an Ireland which should not accept limits on its future. They committed everything to the vision of a country with the right to shape its own destiny.

As we quickly approach the centenary of the Rising no one can doubt that the Irish people see the men and women of 1916 as noble and courageous. No one can question their central place in our history. (more…)

April 26, 2013 2:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Irish Vienna

THE IRISH, of course, have a long history of interaction with Mitteleuropa, and with Vienna in particular, from the earliest days. After all, one of Vienna’s most prominent churchs is the Schottenstift which was founded in 1155 when Henry II invited monks from the Irish monastery at Regensburg to start an abbey in the capital of his margraviate (Austria was elevated to a duchy the following year, I think).

The Schottenstift and Schottenkirche are often known as the “Scottish Abbey”. This confusion results from the fact that Ireland was formerly known as Scotia in Latin. It was some time before Ireland became known as Hibernia and Scotland as Caledonia. (Scotland literally means “land of the Irish”).

Happily these links continue today. While recently staying in Vienna with a Galwegian friend of mine, a most devoted follower of Saint Coloman, I noted the Irish contents of his flat. (more…)

March 22, 2013 4:18 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Na clúdaíonn leabhar Karl Uhlemann

Roinnt oibre ag an Karl Uhlemann dearthóir. (Bhí sé ina athair na Gearmáine agus máthair Éireannach).

Foinse: Vintage Irish Book Covers I, II, III

March 15, 2013 3:30 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Vigil for Life

25,000 March in Dublin to Protect the Right to Life

A bit late in the day to report on it, but the Vigil for Life in Dublin a fortnight ago was by all accounts a success. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition government has recently announced plans to liberalise Ireland’s strict protection on the right to life. Gardaí estimate that 25,000 people gathered on the southern side of Merrion Square, which leads on to Leinster House, the seat of the Oireachtas (Ireland’s parliament). Pro-abortion demonstrators staged a counter-demonstration nearby which drew 200 protesters.

The demonstration was organised by a variety of anti-abortion groups in Ireland, including Youth Defence and the Pro Life Campaign. Among those who spoke to the assembled was Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte (whose daughter Michaela was murdered in Mauritius in 2011).

“Ireland is almost unique in the Western world in looking out for, and fully protecting, two patients during a pregnancy — a mother and her unborn child,” Mr Harte said.

“We are here to oppose the unjust targeting of even one unborn child’s life in circumstances that have nothing to do with genuine life-saving medical interventions.” (more…)

February 5, 2013 10:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Ireland needs an undeniably world-class university

NOT A SINGLE Irish university made it into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings this year, but reviving an old proposal might give Ireland more global clout in the academic sphere. While all rankings systems are on some level arbitrary, the THE takes into account the views of over 17,000 academics across the planet and gives us an insight into how institutions — and by extension their host countries — are perceived not only in academia but also in the perhaps more lucrative field of research and development.

Being pushed out of the top 100 doesn’t necessarily indicate that higher education in Ireland is in any crisis; it could merely reflect the comparative rise of other institutions in countries which are beginning to appreciate the value of academic research and institutional prestige. But a country shouldn’t rest on its laurels, and it’s worth asking: Is Ireland missing an opportunity to have a university of unquestionable world-class status?

Reflecting on the 2012 THE rankings, political commentator Richard Waghorne suggested via Twitter that it is high time that University College Dublin, Trinity, and Dublin City University were amalgamated into the University of Dublin. This is an idea with a long heritage which, even if it is to be rejected, needs to be considered seriously. (more…)

August 1, 2012 9:00 am | Link | 5 Comments »

The Historical Sale at Adam’s

800 Years: Irish Political, Literary, and Military History – 18 April 2012

THE ANCIENT PRACTICE of lèche-vitrine is one hallowed by time and tradition. I remember one December day I had a lunch appointment with a friend who worked at the late, lamented Anglo-Irish Bank on Stephen’s Green in Dublin and, being early, I nipped a few doors down to the auction house Adam’s to engage in a bit of what I like to call thing-avarice (which the Germans probably have a word for). We do enjoy taking the occasional peek round the Dublin auction houses to see what’s what, and to examine the cabinet of curiosities that come out from ancient houses and rotting flats and appear in these bright places where commerce and refinement play their strange little waltz. When it comes down to it, though, it’s really just about having nice things — the sort of stuff you want lying around the house inexplicably.

Anyhow, the historical auction at Adam’s is coming up on 18 April and sure enough their senior rival Whyte’s is having a similar sale just a few days later on 21 April. We’ll only look at Adam’s here — if we considered Whyte’s as well, we’d be here all day. (more…)

April 9, 2012 12:45 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Hon. Lady Goulding

Grande dame of charity and sometime Fianna Fáil senator who provided a ‘harbour of hope’ for the disabled & represented Ireland in squash

IF, LIKE ME, YOUR Venn diagram shows a massive overlap for the circles representing politics, history, aesthetics, and design, then the Irish Election Literature website is a dangerous place where you can waste many minutes of your day. Not long ago, I stumbled across their collection of electoral bits related to Valerie, the Hon. Lady Goulding — at least I think that’s the proper style, these realms are arcane and murky. She was most often, but incorrectly referred to as Lady Valerie Goulding, the fate of many wives of baronets I’m afraid.

She was born Valerie Hamilton Monckton in 1918 at Ightham Mote (pronounced “item moat”, obv.), the house noted for its Grade I listed dog kennel. Her father, Sir Walter Monckton (later 1st Viscount Monckton of Brenchley) was a trusted friend of Edward VIII, and the teenage Valerie was employed as a messenger shuttling letters between the King’s refuge at Fort Belvedere and Stanley Baldwin in Downing Street. Visiting Fort Belvedere in 1993, Lady Goulding recalled the last lunch she had attended there in December 1936:

She [Mrs Simpson] was leaving that afternoon for Cannes, and everyone was talking about nothing so as to avoid what was on everyone’s mind. But one really nice thing happened: there were four bottles of beer next to my place. The King had remembered that when we were rounding up the ponies on Dartmoor the previous year I had a beer in the pub, and that he had remarked that I was very young to be drinking. It was very touching.

In 1939 she attended the Fairyhouse races and met Sir Basil Goulding at a dinner party. Goulding had significant business interests in Ireland and became known for once entering a bank board meeting on rollerskates. On her second visit to Ireland, they became engaged, and married quickly as the threat of war loomed on the horizon. Sir Basil served in the RAF, rising to the rank of Wing Commander, while Lady Goulding opted for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry before switching to the Auxiliary Territorial Service. After the war, the Gouldings moved to Dargle Cottage in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. (more…)

April 4, 2012 3:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Adding to Ulster’s Party Panoply

Tim Montgomerie’s ConservativeHome website reports that the Conservative & Unionist Party is setting up its own party in Northern Ireland, following the failure of its collaboration with the Ulster Unionist Party. At the last election, the Tories ran a joint ticket with the UUP under the name ‘Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force’ which fell rather flat.

In the years before the party system was as solidly formalised as it now is, Unionist MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster but today the SDLP is the only Northern Irish party which takes the whip of a British party (in its case, Labour). Gradually official Unionists found themselves increasingly challenged by upstarts, which evolved into the formal division between the Ulster Unionist Party (moderate liberal-conservative unionists) and Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (hardcore conservative unionists).

The decision to start a separate Conservative & Unionist party for Ulster is a curious one, as it can only further split the Unionist vote, already divided between the dominant DUP and the fading UUP. This is at least simpler than in the 1990s and 2000s, when the vote split between these two and smaller Unionist groupings like the UK Unionists, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Ulster Democratic Party, and the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

My favourite Unionist Party, however, was that which dominated the political scene in the Punjab from the First World War until Partition. It was primarily the instrument of the Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh gentry of the province, and counted three holders of knighthoods — Sardar Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, Sir Fazli Husain, and Rao Bahadur Sir Chhotu Ram — among its founders. Alas, with the increasing enmity between the Hindu and Muslim populations of India, its existence became unsustainable, and even the Punjab Province itself was split between Pakistan and India at independence. Sic transit gloria mundi!

February 1, 2012 8:00 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Begley Takes to the Skies

Brave Bear Skydives in Support of Hammersmith’s Irish Cultural Centre

The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, London is in danger of closing as its landlord, the local council, is putting the ICC’s building up for sale. The enterprising folk at the Centre have launched the Wear Your Heart for Irish Arts campaign to raise the funds required to save this outpost of Gaelry and have adopted Begley the Bear as the campaign mascot. Begley is a brave little lad and he recently undertook a charity skydive to raise money for the Centre.

Alright, he wasn’t so brave at first, but he worked up the courage in time.

The ICC’s assistant manager, Kelly O’Connor, accompanied Begley on his endeavour.

She had to cover poor Begley’s eyes at the start…

…but then they got into the swing of things.

And at the end of the day, who could say no to a pint of plain?

December 4, 2011 7:07 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Inauguration of the President of Ireland

PRESIDENTIAL inaugurations in Ireland were once grand affairs. Viceroys and Governors-General were installed with comparatively little ceremony, the last to hold the latter office having been sworn into office in his brother’s sitting room. Ireland first gained a president in 1938 in accordance with the Constitution adopted at the end of the previous year. (Somewhat awkwardly, Ireland had both a King and a President from 1938 until 1949).

The first President of Ireland was known as An Craoibhín Aoibhinn — “The Pleasant Little Branch” — or Douglas Hyde to give his proper name. An ancient professor whose upper lip was enhanced by a bushy moustache, Prof. Hyde founded Conradh na Gaeilge, the league for the preservation and promotion of the Irish language whose headquarters on Harcourt Street — sorry, I mean Sráid Fhearchair — are just a few doors down from the birthplace of Edward Carson. The Times of London reported thus on Dr. Hyde’s inauguration day:

In the morning he attended a service in St Patrick’s Cathedral presided over by the [Protestant] Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Gregg. Mr. de Valera and his Ministerial colleagues attended a solemn Votive Mass in the [Catholic] Pro-cathedral, and there were services in the principal Presbyterian and Methodist churches, as well as in the synagogue.

Dr. Hyde was installed formally in Dublin Castle, where the seals of office were handed over by the Chief Justice. Some 200 persons were present, including the heads of the Judiciary and the chief dignitaries of the Churches. After the ceremony President Hyde drove in procession through the beflagged streets. The procession halted for two minutes outside the General Post Office to pay homage to the memory of the men who fell in the Easter Week rebellion of 1916. Large crowds lined the streets from the Castle to the Vice-Regal Lodge and the President was welcomed with bursts of cheering. …

In the evening there was a ceremony in Dublin Castle which was without precedent in Irish history. Mr. and Mrs. de Valera received about 1,500 guests at a reception in honour of the President. The reception was held in St Patrick’s Hall, where the banners of the Knights of St. Patrick are still hung. The attendance included all the members of the Dail and Senate with their ladies, members of the Judiciary and the chiefs of the Civil Service, Dr. Paschal Robinson, the Papal Nuncio at the head of the Diplomatic Corps, several Roman Catholic Bishops, the Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Killaloe, the heads of the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations, the Provost and Vice Provost of Trinity College, and the President of the National University.

It was the most colourful event that has been held in Dublin since the inauguration of the new order in Ireland, and the gathering, representing as it did every shade of political, religious, and social opinion in Éire, might be regarded as a microcosm of the new Ireland.

These days much remains the same, though much has also changed. The tradition of Mass and other religious services before the inauguration was dropped in the 1980s when an “inter-faith” service was incorporated into the ceremony itself. Dress remained formal all the way up until the 1997 inauguration of Mary McAleese. The President’s husband, who despised all formal dress, displayed a disgraceful egotism by forbidding them from the ceremony. Gone the morning dress, gone the judges robes and wigs, gone the dignity of the occasion. “Business suits” were the order of the day, and remain so.

Thankfully the ceremony still takes place in St. Patrick’s Hall, the great chamber of the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. Regrettably, in the 1990s the walls of the hall were lined with French silk in a completely inappropriate shade of dark blue. It gives the unfortunate impression of a New Jersey mobster’s dining room to what would otherwise be a very dignified and stately hall. A light shade of Georgian blue would be much more appropriate.

The new president, Michael D. Higgins, is a man of diminutive stature. While one regrets he does not enjoy the correct opinion on most things, he is at least old, and so will bring, one hopes, a certain reflective maturity to the office. The mere sight of him reminds me of my childhood in the 1990s, when the now-President was in the news as culture minister during the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ and the Saw Doctors came out with the song “Michael D. Rockin’ in the Dail for Us”.

The interfaith segment this time was a combination of the truly cringe-worthy and the commendable: an absolute murdering of Be Thou My Vision, prayers and readings from the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, a musical rendering of St Patrick’s Breastplate that I actually enjoyed but which seemed more appropriate for a film soundtrack than this event, the Gospel read by the head of the Methodist Church, including the Beatitudes read out by a panoply of multi-culti figures (e.g. a Sino-Irish schoolgirl, a bare-armed deaf woman, a charming African woman in traditional attire, an American man with emotive enunciation in the style of the Evangelical churches). Then the Lord’s Prayer in Irish, a prayer from the moderator of the Presbyterian Church, another from a Quaker woman, and another from a Coptic priest.

Oh mercy, then the cringe-ometer broke with the singing of Make me a Channel of Your Peace. The mayors in their chains of office were markedly unenthusiastic. A reading from the Koran, and a Muslim prayer, followed by the representative of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who looked like she was on some happy-happy pills, read a statement astounding in its vacuousness. Then a musical interlude. Then Enda Kenny spoke, which is always a trial to sit through. (I admit I watched the ceremony later in the day via RTE Player, so I managed to skip that bit).

Eventually, having passed through this penitential trial, there was the actual inauguration itself. The Chief Justice — robeless, pace old Mr. (now Sen.) McAleese — administered the Oath as Gaeilge, which the new president then signed (above). The necessary exercises having taken place, the Chief Justice then handed over the Seal of the President of Ireland (below).

I’ll admit one of the things I hate is how events these days take place for the photographs. In days of yore, events simply took place. A painting or engraving or drawing could be done later, and everything would look grand, whether it was or it wasn’t. Nowadays, the Chief Justice can’t just hand over the seal to the President, she has to hand it over and everyone looks at the camera and smiles. This will be banned when the Counter-Revolution comes! St. Patrick’s Hall will become like those Transylvanian peasant dance halls, where anyone who smiled was expelled, never to be admitted again.

An tUachtarain then graced us with a few words of wisdom.

Then came the more fun bit: the presidential review of the troops.

One has to appreciate a nice bit of military pomp, especially in the stately courtyard of the Castle.

Finally (below), the President & First Lady greeted a crowd of schoolchildren, many of them waving the blue Presidential Standard, before being driven off to Áras an Uachtaráin, the presidential palace in Phoenix Park.

Well, as I said on Twitter: Best of luck to Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann. Not my first choice, but hope he does the country proud regardless.

November 11, 2011 8:47 pm | Link | 10 Comments »

Ireland’s Viceregal Throne Replaced

This sort of thing is devised simply to raise Cusackian hackles: having been used in every presidential inauguration in the history of the State until now, Ireland’s viceregal throne (above, left) is being replaced as the presidential chair. Supposedly it had become “a bit natty”, and no-one in the Office of Public Works knew so much as a single decent furniture restorer to get it back into condition. Scandalous! Its successor (above, right) was commissioned from furniture designer John Lee, and is rather new rite, as they say in London Catholic circles. (more…)

November 11, 2011 8:44 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

The 8th Earl of Wicklow

William Cecil James Philip John Paul Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow (styled Viscount Clonmore from his birth until succeeding to the earldom in 1946) was received into the Church at the age of thirty in 1932. Having attended Mass with the family’s Catholic servants, he was banished from visiting the family home on Sundays in addition to being disinherited. He later married the architect Eleanor Butler who served in Seanad Éireann from 1948-1951. Above is one of three photographs of Viscount Clonmore in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

October 25, 2011 11:38 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Dublin Diary

WE START OUT at the usual Italian place, PH’s stammtisch despite his complaints that they’re stingy and never bring you a limoncello at the end of a meal, as is custom elsewhere. The usual verbal briefings are exchanged, updating each other on the scheme of things and the general banter. It’s warm enough to sit outside, which allows us the luxury of a cigarette with our coffee as we cast aspersions on passing strangers. This quickly moves on to casting aspersions on mutual acquaintances (we will not call them friends!) and extrapolating therefrom more general condemnations of the heresiarchs and heretics of our day (chiefly: liberals, Modernist clergy, fops, les Brideshead affectés, users of inappropriate typefaces, and all people who take life too seriously).

After the postprandial coffee, we head on to Doyle’s but, just as we arrive, Brian gets in touch directing us elsewhere. We meet up with him and his three friends on the street but PH and I do not take a shine to Brian’s temporary entourage and secede from the party. Where to? Lincoln’s Inn, end of Nassau Street. (more…)

June 8, 2011 2:00 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Arms of the Irish Universities

University of Dublin
Universitas Dublinensis; Ollscoil Átha Cliath

Dublin University was founded with the idea of creating a collegiate university along the Oxford and Cambridge model. The University of Dublin, however, failed to develop along those lines, and so its sole foundation was the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, more commonly known as Trinity College. Strictly speaking, TCD and the university are distinct entities in law, Trinity being the only college of the university.

The university’s arms, granted in the nineteenth century, are blazoned Quarterly azure and ermine. First quarter a book open proper, bound gules, clasped or, and in fourth quarter a castle of two towers argent, flamant proper. Overall in the centre point the harp of Ireland ensigned with the royal crown. The castle with fired towers is a reference to the arms of the city of Dublin. While it is the university, not Trinity College, that awards degrees, the university arms were not used on degree certificates until 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was granted an honorary doctorate of law in St. Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle. (more…)

April 14, 2011 8:02 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Dodgy ‘knighthood’ for a dodgy lady

An example of the ‘Lazarus bling’, more medals than you can shake a stick at.

From the blog of John Smeaton we read that the former Irish president (and genial enemy of all that is good and holy) Mary Robinson has received a ‘knighthood’. Last month she was invested as a Dame in the self-styled ‘Order of St. Lazarus’, a fake order of knighthood. The group claims links to the old Order of St. Lazarus of which the last remnants faded away in the 1780s.

The current ‘Order’ was founded as a fake order of knighthood in 1910 by the confidence trickster Jean-Joseph Moser, and has grown by perhaps surprising leaps and bounds in the past few decades, taking into account P. T. Barnum’s famous maxim about a sucker being born every minute. The group has split into various factions and it has become notorious for having members in its ranks who don more metal “bling” than rap stars or Soviet generals.

The so-called Order of St. Lazarus exists throughout Europe and the Spanish- and English-speaking countries abroad, including the United States. The French branch of St. Lazarus was forced by the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honour to cease claiming to be an ‘order’, and members of the Order of Malta are forbidden from participating in St. Lazarus’s activities.

“The Order’s pretensions have been strongly condemned by the Holy See as aiming to replace ‘the legitimate forms of chivalric awards’,” according to Guy Stair Sainty, the acknowledged expert on these somewhat arcane affairs. Nonetheless, Guy points out that “supporters of Saint Lazarus include the heads of a handful of great noble families and, over the years, several leading Churchmen and Cardinals”.

“The Order of Saint Lazarus, although it is to be complimented for its considerable charitable efforts (notably in Germany), need not pretend to an historical continuity to which its claims, at the very least, are unsubstantiated,” Guy Stair Sainty concludes. “Were it to assume the character of a private association, founded in 1910, to emulate the traditions of the ancient crusader Order, it could deflect much of the hostility it has attracted… It would be much more successful and be more readily welcomed into the wider community of international humanitarian bodies, however, if it was to permit an honest appraisal of its origins.”

October 25, 2010 7:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »
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