Scandal in Kildare

When the Irish Crown Jewels were found to be missing shortly before the visit to Dublin of King Edward VII in July 1907 there was considerable consternation amongst the authorities at Dublin Castle.

On arrival at the office on 5 July Mrs. Farrell, the cleaning lady, found the front door of the office of arms unlocked. But there were even more serious repercussions for the officials at the Office of Arms, amongst who were two gentlemen, one from south Kildare, and the other from neighbouring Grange Con. The Dublin Herald, Francis Richard Shackleton, a younger brother of the famed Artic explorer Ernest Shackleton, was born at Kilkea in 1876, while the Cork Herald, Pierce Gun Mahony, was a nephew of the Ulster King of Arms Sir Arthur Vicars. Vicars was later to marry a sister of the wife of the Cork Herald. Edward VII was familiar with Ireland, and with Co. Kildare. As a twenty-year old he had undergone military training on the Curragh in 1861, and the reports of his encounter there with the actress Nellie Clifden were subsequently to cause his mother considerable distress. He had attended the races at Punchestown on three occasions, but now his arrival in Dublin was to be eclipsed in the press by the reports of the theft of the Crown Jewels.

The King’s annoyance was to be further acerbated when it was revealed that there was a homosexual ring centred in the Office of Arms (and in London) which included Vicars, the chief Herald, his close friend Lord Haddo, the eldest son of Lord Aberdeen, the Viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; Shackleton and his “intimate friend” Capt. Richard Gorges, an instructor at the Curragh Camp; Francis Bennett-Goldney, Athlone Pursuivant; and most importantly, another intimate friend of Shackleton, the Duke of Argyll, who was married to Princess Louise, sister to Edward VII.

The jewels were never recovered, nor the thieves identified. But there has been much speculation, and Cafferky and Hannafin, the authors of the recently published Scandal & Betrayal: Shackleton and the Irish Crown Jewels (The Collins Press.PB #15), who have described the group as “no ordinary circle of homosexuals, for it included men who came from some of the most illustrious families in England,” conclude that it “remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of this (sic) century.”

They suggest that the theft was a failed Unionist plot intended to embarrass the government, and that the jewels may have been returned to the Crown. The British Home Office has not yet released the files concerning the case, but in his Will Sir Arthur Vicars, named “the real culprit and thief Francis R. Shackleton (brother of the explorer who didn’t reach the South Pole).”

Vicars lost his post after the inquiry into the theft. He was subsequently murdered by republicans in Co. Kerry.

The authors surmise that Shackleton, who had retired from the Office of Arms in 1907, was “teetering on the edge of bankruptcy”, while his famous brother tried to raise financing for his South Pole expedition. His business dealings were dishonest and he suffered only the mildest moral scruples. Any whiff of scandal could have been disastrous financial consequences for Frank Shackleton and his brother.

Therefore the conspirators had no trouble bribing or coercing him to borrow Sir Arthur’s keys (from which moulds were taken).”

He was in later years convicted of fraud, and sentenced to 15 months hard labour.

On release, changing his name, he opened an antique shop in Chichester where he died in 1941.
Pierce Mahony remained in office, but he was found drowned in the lake at Grange Con in 1914.
Capt. Gorges, who sometimes claimed that he had stolen the jewels, threw himself under a train at London’s Edgeware Road station, eliciting the comment from a relative that “the least he could have done was to do it at a decent address like South Kensington station.”

His name was deleted from the family tree.

The authors believe that the theft was part of a Unionist conspiracy to disrupt Home Rule, and that the perpetrators were high-ranking officials in the Home Office and a junior Castle policeman, and that the jewels were subsequently returned to the Crown.

By an extraordinary co-incidence, at a lecturer on the theft of the Crown Jewels, organised by the Co. Kildare Archeological Society several years ago, the late Gregory Allen, archivist of the Garda Síochana, and who had published an article on the subject in the Garda Review, had in his audience members of the Shackleton and Mahony families, as well as a grandson of the cleaning lady, Mrs Farrell!

As might be expected, the subsequent discussion was an interesting one, though unfortunately not recorded.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
February 2003