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The Knights Templar in Ireland

Updated: Mar 18

Happy St. Patrick's Day one and all.

 
 

March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day, seems to be the day when the world becomes Irish. The Guinness flows and the music gets played just that little bit louder.


In a gap between the festivities I thought it would also be the perfect opportunity to take a brief glimpse at those Templar brothers who made Ireland their home.


We all know about the Knights Templar from their daring deeds protecting pilgrims on their long journey from Europe to the Holy Land. We also know about Templar commandaries in France and England. But very little is ever spoken of those knights who lived and worked elsewhere.


Where were they based? Why did they go? And what did they do when they got there?


It is my hope the following paragraphs will shed some light on these three questions.

 

The Templars were not part of or associated with the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. In fact, the Templars started to arrive in Ireland sometime between 1172 and 1177. With the first definitive evidence of the Order being in Ireland appearing in 1177 when Matthew the Templar witnessed an Irish Charter.


Despite Ireland being part of the Templar Province of England the Knights Templar, also, would not have regarded themselves as part of the English colonisation of Ireland because their being there was that of a Holy mission.


In fact, Ireland had its own Templar Master. Although it does appear most of these were appointed from the English General Chapter from amongst the English or Anglo-Norman Brethren.


The Master in Ireland was an officer of the English Crown and was one of the Auditors of the Irish exchequer. The Master in Ireland had no particular place of residence in Ireland as no preceptory was established as a "headquarters" in the way Kilmainham was established as such for the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. As you can see Kilmainham was not a Templar site, as is often thought.


The first known grant of land was made by Henry II in c. 1180 who gave the Order the "vills" of Clontarf, County Dublin and Crook, County Waterford (a "vill" was a settlement or taxable unit) and ten carucates of land (one carucate of land equated to 120 acres of land in the Danelaw). He subsequently added a marsh at Waterford and a Church dedicated to St. Barry.


These grants of land by Henry II led to numerous other grants by Anglo-Norman noblemen and even the Irish nobles.


We see over the years properties being conferred on the Order by many such as the DeLacy Family, Matilda DeLacy Butler gifted a huge property on the Cooley Peninsula of County Louth in c.1250, by the Taffes of Louth of lands in County Dublin, by the Bourkes of land in Sligo and by the FitzGeralds of land in Kildare. The Irish also supported the Templars, with the O'Morras (O'Moores) gifting Lands at Kilclogan in County Wexford.


Eleven major preceptories and manors of the Order have been identified, namely, Clontarf in County Dublin (which was the most important preceptory in Ireland),Rathronan and Athkiltan in County Carlow, Gowran in County Kilkenny, Crook and Kilbarry in County Waterford,Templehouse in County Sligo where the Knights Templar built their most westerly European stronghold in 1216, Kilsaran and Cooley in County Louth (the most wealthy apparently), Clonaul in County Tipperary and Kilclogan (Templetown) in County Wexford.


As a result of these grants the Irish lands were, by 1308, the third most valuable of all the Templar holdings and worth £400.00 per annum.

As stated above the Templars in Ireland did not see themselves as colonisers but members of a religious order whose role was to generate income from the resources they had been given to support the relief of the Holy Land.


The Templars in Ireland would have been generally past their fighting best whose function was to administer the Order's Estates and collect the rents from the tenants who were mainly Irish.


As you have seen from the general history of the Order the Church was "forced" to move against the Templars by Philip the Fair, the King of France on the 13th October 1307. The Church ordered all Monarchs to move against the Templars, including Edward II, King of England and High King of Ireland. Edward was much less inclined to arrest any Templars, and even when he did so there was no torture or burnings as happened in France. This was the case with Edward's treatment of the Templars in Ireland.


The Templars in Ireland were arrested on the 10th January 1308, incarcerated in Dublin Castle and they were charged with the same "crimes" as their Brethren across Europe.


The trial of those who were seized was commenced in January 1310 and 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.


Forty-one witnesses were called in the trial and amongst the witnesses called against the Order 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. Most of the witnesses were from other religious orders, prejudiced against them because of the Templar's wealth and privileges.


None of the witnesses could furnish any concrete evidence as to any wrongdoing by the Templars, and as the Templars in Ireland strongly denied the charges (many of their French Brethren admitted to the charges having been subjected to torture) the trail resulted in the Templars having to do penance, being absolved and sent to Monasteries to repent.


However, as we know, the Templars were dispossessed and their lands and possessions of every kind granted by the Pope to their rivals - the Hospitallers, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem - which Grant in Ireland was subsequently confirmed by Henry II.

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