History Lesson

Luck of the Looters

Sir Arthur Vicars loved his job at Dublin Castle, but there was just one duty of the role that never piqued his interest: keeping watch over the Irish Crown Jewels. More interested in heraldry and family trees, Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, saw sentry duty as a bore. Unluckily for the Irish Crown Jewels, his lordship’s feigning interest, along with the cunning of a still-unknown thief, led to the most scandalous jewel robbery in Ireland.

It began with the placement of certain jewelry safe. The Jewels of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick (yes, they contained a shamrock) were originally stored in protected bank vaults in Dublin. In 1903, the decision was made to place the estimated $5.4 million dollar jewels in Dublin Castle’s historic Bedford Tower. Unfortunately, the measurements used for the safe were incorrect, so Sir Arthur Vicars had the safe with the jewels placed in the castle’s library instead. In a questionable move, Vicars regularly received guests in the library, and was quick to show off the precious jewels to any visitor. So confident in the fact that the jewels would stay put, Sir Arthur would constantly lose his keys while having too many pints at the pub, with friends even taking them and mailing them back to him for fun. 

During the summer of 1907, Vicars’ luck would finally run out when a sentry found the jewels to be stolen out of a fully unlocked safe (did we say Vicars didn’t care about this part of the job?) Between June 11th and July 6th, someone, or some group, pilfered the entire treasury. Immediately fingers were pointed like straight out of a game of Clue. Could it be Vicars himself? Irish Republicans embarrassing the British King set to arrive that summer? Or could it even have been Francis Shackleton, the brother of the famous explorer Ernest? The other Shackleton was not only a friend of Vicars but an infamous high-society gambler who could have needed the jewels to pay off debts. 

This curious “whodunnit” case remains open today, with the jewels never returning to the public eye. Even more mysterious was the government’s response at the time, which possibly repressed investigative findings due to the scandalous nature of the culprits and their proximity to the crown. Sir Arthur Vicars was quickly dismissed from his post after the highly publicized crime, probably wishing he had just ordered a Bedford Tower-fitting safe.

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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