15 September 1821: King George IV of Great Britain, Ireland [& Hanover] returned to his London residence of Carlton House after his Royal visit to the Emerald Ilse OTD. He had been away for some 40 days, 23 of them which he spent on this island. It had been an eventual few weeks in a year packed with drama, farce and tragedy.
He was not really a happy man in this life, plagued as he had been with parents he could not stand, a terrible arranged marriage, a dead daughter [and thus no heir] & the responsibilities of Monarchy now thrust upon him. Indeed so bad had been his relations with his estranged spouse [Queen Caroline of Brunswick] that upon being told that year that ‘his greatest enemy was dead’ [Napoleon Bonaparte] he had reportedly replied ‘is she begod’?
He would in modern parlance be described as having a severe ‘personality disorder’ magnified in the public eye by his eminent position as the Royal Sovereign - a role which he was clearly not suited to or capable of fulfilling to just about anyone’s satisfaction.
His father had died in January 1820, mad and deranged and thus at last the Prince Regent was in line to be coronated as king of these islands. That ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey on 19 July 1821. It was a huge and lavish affair reputedly the most opulent & expensive ever held before or since that time . His wife tried to gain entrance to the proceedings & claim her place as rightful ‘Queen Consort’ but George expressly forbade her entry and she was blocked from coming in - as she has no ticket! She was dead within 3 weeks, believing herself to have been poisoned. The general public were mortified & disturbed by these events and he started his reign as deeply unpopular as he had ever been. But on the other hand most were prepared to give him a chance to prove himself as their lawful Monarch.
What better than to get away from it all and try his luck amongst the Irish and see if they loved him any better for being the flawed man he clearly was?
He arrived off our shores on Sunday 12 August at Howth on the new steam packet ship the 'Lightning’ [later sunk in a storm] after having crossed from Holyhead where he had received the sombre news of Queen Caroline’s death. It must have been a relief but for reasons of decorum he had to go through the motions of mourning her passing.
He therefore decided to avoid landing in Dunleary to the south of Dublin where he was expected and make for Howth to the north of the city and discreetly disembark before proceeding in haste to the vice regal lodge in the Phoenix Park to lay low for a few days. Of course word soon got out and crowds greeted him when he came ashore. He had spent the crossing in gorging goose pie and copious drafts of Irish whiskey punch and was in ‘high spirits’ by the time he waddled ashore.
The passage to Dublin was occupied in eating goose-pie and drinking whisky, of which his majesty partook most abundantly, singing many joyous songs, and being in a state on his arrival to double in sight even the number of his gracious subjects assembled on the pier to receive him.
On setting ashore he shook hands with many of the multitude who turned up to see him, of whatever rank or station in this world, calling them all either ‘Jack’ or ‘Tom’ which enamoured many of the lower orders to him with his overthrowing of royal protocol and treating all his ‘subjects’ with equanimity.
On reaching the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park [today Áras an Uachtaráin ] he addressed the crowd:
I have travelled far, I have made a long sea voyage; besides which, particular circumstances have occurred, known to you all, of which it is better at present not to speak; upon those subjects I leave it to delicate and generous hearts to appreciate my feelings. This is one of the happiest days of my life.
I have long wished to visit you; my heart has been always with the Irish; from the day it first beat I have loved Ireland. This day has shown me that I am beloved by my Irish subjects. Rank, station, honours, are nothing; but to feel that I live in the hearts of my Irish subjects is to me exalted happiness.
And indeed it was probably was the happiest day of his life. Here he was surrounded by hundreds of his Irish subjects who wished him well - unlike the booing & hissing mobs he regularly had to face in London. Finally and at last he was the crowned king of Britain & Ireland. He was now also a free man unburdened by a woman he loathed and to cap it all off it was his 59th Birthday! What more could a Man ask for?
The King then retired to his chambers with his current mistress Lady Conyingham and layed low for a few days to recover and at least observe some respect for his late wife Caroline. It was a remarkable entry for a King with commenters noting that it was the 1st time a Monarch from England had arrived here without an army to protect him. King George did it without as so much a policeman to clear the way!
But on the Friday following, the 17th, he was ready to make his formal entry to the 2nd city of his Empire and the royal carriage made it’s way to the top of Sackville st [now O’Connell St] where a triumphal arch had been erected and a symbolic ‘gate’ installed through which the formalities of a royal request to enter the city was given and accepted by the Lord Mayor.
As the King made his way down the magnificent thoroughfare that it then was the whole street erupted in an outpouring of adulation and of rapturous applause for the royal personage. King George wore a large bunch of shamrock on his hat which he continually clutched as a token of his love for Ireland and her people. The crowd went ecstatic & cheered him even more as he made his way across Carlisle bridge to Dublin Castle.
It was a lovely sunny day and as he stood up in his open carriage, waving his hat, pointing significantly to the big bunch of shamrock attched to its brim, and then laying his hand on his heart, the immense crowds roared their welcome.
George IV Regent and King
The press engaged in gushing prose. “No monarch on the earth ever received a more enthusiastic tribute of devotional attachment to the royal person than the king received from his faithful Irish people on the ever-memorable 17th August,” the Freeman’s Journal declared. “The splendid ovation, the pompous triumph of ‘olden time,’ were but the shadow of a shade to the stupendous spectacle — the magnificent entry of the British Monarch into the capital of his Kingdom of Ireland. Dublin yesterday exhibited a display of pomp and pageantry, and pride, unsurpassed by anything in modern London.”
With that tremendous reception out of the way His Royal Highness began a whirlwind tour of places in and around the Dublin region.
It would be a book in itself to describe all the people he met on his visit but here is a list of the places he went:
The King's Arrival and Reception at Howth - Public Entry into Dublin - Review in the Phoenix Park - Christ's Church Cathedral - Levée at the Castle - The Drawing-room - The Theatre Royal - The Linen Hall - The Bank of Ireland - The Corporation Banquet - The Royal Dublin Society - Visit to Slane Castle - Chief Justice Bushe - The Dublin University - Installation of the Knights of St. Patrick - Ball at the Rotunda - The Curragh of Kildare - The Castle Chapel - Visit to Powerscourt - The King's Departure - The King's Message of Conciliation to his Irish Subjects- The Effect of the Royal Visit on the Country.
He caused Scandal by retiring to Slane Castle with his current mistress the Mrs Conyngham. He was besotted with her, constantly "kissing her hand with a look of most devoted submission." This on top of the very recent death of his wife Caroline just added to the sense of outrage that many of his subjects felt towards him though more so in England than Ireland. However the Ladies loved him and at the State Reception held in Dublin Castle he kissed all 1,000 that were presented to him. He then retired for the evening - but was called back to kiss 300 more!
The Irish, or at least the Catholics amongst them [the great majority at that time] felt he was sympathetic to their cause. Indeed as a Prince he had secretly and illegally married a Roman Catholic - Mrs Fitzherbert in 1785, but he eventually rejected their relationship as it was impossible for him as heir to the throne to publicly acknowledge it. Though when he died in 1830 he was buried with her locket on him to remind him of a love that never really went away.
Eventually the day came for him depart from our shores and as it so happened never to return here again.
The King departed from Dun Laoghaire, which was renamed Kingstown in his honour, on 3rd September. As His Majesty hauled his portly self back onto the Royal yacht, he promised that ‘Whenever an opportunity offers, wherein I can serve Ireland, I will seize it with eagerness’. Many assumed the emancipation of the Catholics would follow swift. In the end, it took eight more years, with George proving deeply reluctant to sign it.
Indeed while the visit had been a tremendous success for the King he had played to the gallery as it were and deliberately sought popular adulation, more like a politician than a sovereign. Who could blame as he was only human? But he was also recognised as the King of these islands and the font of all legislation that he had at the end of the day to personally approve of. He raised hopes here that were politically explosive and he had not the willpower or the commitment to carry through on. He had even met Catholic Bishops in Dublin Castle who had done him homage - an unheard of event since the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the War of the Two Kings [1688-1691]! It looked like Catholic Emancipation was now on the cards. Alas the King was a weakling in these things and blew hot and cold over the issue and was only eventually pushed into signing a Bill in 1829 to sanction it under severe pressure from his Ministers most notably the Duke of Wellington himself.
Following the visit, the Albany became the Theatre Royal, Dunleary became Kingstown until 1921 when it was rechristened Dún Laoghaire, a new Liffey crossing was named Kingsbridge and his footprints at Howth were encased in masonry.
In 1823, an obelisk was erected in Kingstown to commemorate the visit. It has been damaged on a number of occasions but still stands.
George IV [‘Prinny’ was his nickname] was probably the worst king that ever sat upon the throne of England in terms of personality, he was a coward, a glutton, a philanderer, a drunkard and a spendthrift. He was also capable of great charm, wit and sociability when he wanted to be so - though by no means always especially to those he considered too fond of their own importance. He was a huge patron of the arts & architecture. But he was not remembered with much fondness by many of his subjects, least of all by those who knew him best.
He always wanted to be popular with his subjects but he more drove them away than anything else with his behaviour & carry on. However that day in Dublin when he was conveyed down Sackville St in Regal splendour to the adulation of the multitude must have been one he would never forget as a moment in time that he seemed to have finally made it - even if it was only for just one day....