The MYSTERY of the lost Irish CROWN JEWELS: a century-old enigma

The mystery of the Irish Crown Jewels, a tale of betrayal, corruption, and scandal, has never been solved.

The MYSTERY of the lost Irish CROWN JEWELS: a century-old enigma

The lost Irish Crown Jewels were part of the ceremonial dress of the Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick. When not adorning the Grand Master’s clothing, however, they were kept under lock and key at a Dublin fortress.

That is, until one day in the summer of 1907, when the jewels went missing from their safe in Dublin Castle.

The perpetrators of this crime and the fate of the Irish Crown Jewels have never been revealed in this story of theft, betrayal, corruption, and scandal.

Origins – what were the Irish Crown Jewels?

The Jewels of the Order of St Patrick – colloquially, the Irish Crown Jewels – were a bejewelled badge and star created at the behest of King William IV for the Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick. 

This is the Irish equivalent of the Order of the Garter or Order of the Thistle. They consisted of 394 precious stones that originally comprised King George III’s Order of the Bath star and the Crown Jewels of Queen Charlotte. 

The badge of the Irish Crown Jewels comprised a shamrock made of emeralds and a St Patrick’s saltire hewn of rubies.

Theft – the 20th-century disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels

A vintage photo showing Dublin's Metropolitan Police announcement of the lost Irish crown jewel, adding intrigue and historical significance to the narrative surrounding the lost Irish crown jewel mystery.
Credit: Wikimedia / Dublin Metropolitan Police

When not worn or cleaned, the Irish Crown Jewels were kept in a safe at the Ulster King of Arms Sir Arthur Vicars’s office in Dublin Castle. They were last officially removed from their safe on 11 June 1907 when Vicars took them out to show them to a guest.

The Irish Crown Jewels were found to be missing almost a month later, on 6 July, just days before a visit from King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra for the Irish International Exhibition.

Along with the lost Irish Crown Jewels, Vicars reported missing inherited family jewels, the collars of five members of the Order of St Patrick – the Marquess of Ormonde, and the earls of Howth, Enniskillen, Mayo, and Cork.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police, with the assistance of Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of London’s Scotland Yard, carried out the initial investigation into the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels.

Kane’s report—which reportedly named the culprit—never saw the light of day after being suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Theories – who stole the Irish Crown Jewels?

A portrait of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars, the former custodian of the lost Irish crown jewel, captured in dignified poise, reflecting the historical significance and intrigue surrounding the missing artifact.
Credit: Flickr / Hoodworld

Theories abound as to the crime’s culprit. Vicars, who refused to vacate his post, also declined to attend a Viceregal Commission under Judge James Johnston Shaw. 

Instead, he argued for a public Royal Commission that could subpoena witnesses.

Vicars publicly accused his second-in-command, Francis Shackleton. However, DCI Kane refuted these allegations and found that Vicars had neglected “due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia”. 

Vicars and his entire staff resigned as a result. However, Vicars and his family would maintain their suspicions of Shackleton.

Information from Vicars’s half-brother, Pierce O’Mahony, Irish journalist Bulmer Hobson published a piece in the American newspaper, The Gaelic American. Hobson’s article points the finger at Shackleton and military officer Richard Gorges. 

The account alleges that Shackleton and Gorges plied Vicars with whiskey until he fell asleep when they then stole the key to the safe. 

Shackleton then purportedly took the Irish Crown Jewels to Amsterdam for sale. The men are said to have escaped punishment for fear that they would expose the “discreditable doings” of high-ranking British personnel.

Scandal – what happened next?

An image of Dublin Castle, showcasing its impressive architecture and grandeur, with stone walls, turrets, and flags fluttering in the breeze, evoking the rich history and cultural heritage of Ireland's capital city.
Credit: wikimedia /oiramCC-BY-SA-3.0

In their book Scandal & Betrayal: Shackleton and the Irish Crown Jewels, John Cafferky and Kevin Hannafin claim that officials knew of Vicars, Shackleton, and Gorges’s homosexuality and compromised the investigation to avoid a scandal.

On the other hand, the London Mail accused Vicars of giving a mistress access to the jewels that she took and sold in Paris. However, Vicars successfully sued the paper for libel the following year.

Irish Nationalist MP Pat O’Brien blamed “loyal and patriotic Unionist criminals”, who, according to Cafferky and Hannafin, aimed to embarrass the incumbent British Government formed by the Liberal Party.

The theft made a mark on contemporary culture: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans‘, bears similarities to the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels.

While Bob Perrin’s novel Jewel is based on its events. But, while speculation and fictional accounts may abound, the true mystery of the 1907 theft of the Irish Crown Jewels may never be solved.

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