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The Knights Templar in Ireland

A Medieval Order of Warrior Monks and its Activities in Ireland


Templar Graves in Templetown (County Wexford)

Templar Graves in Templetown (County Wexford)

© 2005 Bernd Biege licensed to About.com, Inc.

On Friday, the 13th of October, in the year 1307 the king's men came knocking. French men-at-arms took the Knights Templar of Paris into custody. It was the start of the end for the "warrior monks", it also was the event that launched a thousand books and conspiracy theories. Soon after the events in Paris the Templars in Ireland were also arrested under suspicion of heresy. Their empire crumbled - but are there still traces to be found on Irish soil? A few ... if you know where to look!

Who were the Knights Templar?

Let's cut a long story short and right to the chase ... the Knights Templar were one of several "knightly orders" founded during the crusades. Forming a new caste of "warrior monks" they took oaths to protect the "Holy Land" and especially pilgrims by the sword. At the same time members strived to lead an exemplary Christian life, mainly based on the medieval orders of monks. Amongst the knightly orders were the Hospitallers (also known as Knights of St. John or Knights of Malta), the Teutonic Order and the Order of St. Lazarus.

The "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon" were formed in 1118 in Jerusalem, adopted the Cistercian rule in later years and were officially recognized by Pope Innocent II in 1130. From humble beginnings the Templars (as they became commonly known) established an almost world-wide empire, consisting of strongholds and estates all over Europe and the "Holy Land". Known as ferocious warriors, they were also operating as bankers and moneylenders.

This last activity more than likely caused their downfall - the heavily indebted Phillip IV of France accused the Knights Templar of heresy in 1307, had the leaders thrown into jail and orchestrated a show trial. With the complicity of the pope the Templars were incriminated, tortured, suppressed (in 1312) and their leaders burnt at the stake (1313). Most knights were either "pensioned off" or taken into other orders ... as were most estates, especially the Hospitallers profiting hereof.

The Knights Templar in Ireland

Ireland was not a crusading country - even the most obstinate locals were devout, non-heretic Christians. So there should not have been any reason for crusaders to be here, should there?

But one should remember that the knightly orders were interrelated with feudal society to a large extent - knights went into temporary service to atone for sins, some even joined to relieve the burden to their families' estates. Others took the full vows late in life, using the orders as a sort of retirement home after a worldly career. And kings and emperor tried to stay in the good books of the orders (which after all provided an ad-hoc task force in times of trouble). Giving estates to the orders and thus "planting" a few combat-hardened veterans as an unofficial police force into wilder areas of the realm was par for the course.

This seems to have been what happened in Ireland - the Knights Templar were given estates, most of which were populated with elderly knights. Still a valid fighting force, though maybe not up to scratch in Palestine and Syria. Outsiders that kept a watchful eye on the natives, in their own interest.

Officially the Templars arrived in Ireland in September 1220 - though documents pertaining to individual Knights Templar in Ireland go back as far as 1177. The first knights may well have entered Ireland with Strongbow's Anglo-Normans. It is debatable whether this constitutes an involvement of the order or (more likely) of individual knights.

What Happened to the Irish Knights Templar After 1307?

After the events in Paris the Knights Templar in Ireland were arrested and placed in Dublin Castle. Between fifteen and thirty knights were taken, most having seen more than forty years of service with the order. Basically Ireland seems to have been the pensioner's home of the order.

Trials commenced in 1310 in Saint Patrick's Cathedral - accusations based on hear-say flew at the knights, but no evidence could be found and no confessions were forthcoming. The trials ultimately fizzled out, ending after six months in an anti-climax. The Templars were admonished to be good Christians and pensioned off. More than likely none of them were expected to put up much resistance if left alone.

The property of the Knights Templar in Ireland was either taken by the crown or transferred to the Hospitallers. Causing no end of confusion for later antiquarians ... and for anyone traveling in Ireland and trying to find Templar property today.

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