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Military history at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

May 26, 2016  Posted in: Cathedral History

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has many reminders of Ireland’s violent past. It is home to monuments of men and women who died in wars all over the world and also serves as a burial place for a small number of soldiers. It is the venue for the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at which the Irish President lays a wreath at the war memorial in the North Transept of the building.

For many years the North Transept of the Cathedral operated as a separate parish church, known as the Chapel of Saint Nicholas Without. During the 19th Century this chapel became home to a number of large monuments which commemorate Irish men who died in service of the British Army. In 1865, during the Guinness Restoration the division between this part of the Cathedral and the rest of the building was removed, although the space retained its function as a place of remembrance. Today the area is simply called the North Transept, with many of the monuments and other forms of remembrance still present.

Dominating the North Transept are two enormous monuments dedicated to the men of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment who died in the China War 1840-42 and the war in Burmah in 1832. There are also individual monuments which commemorate Lieutenant Colonel Tomlinson (who died in China), General Clement Alexander Edwards (Colonel of the Regiment) and Major James Farrant Ring (who died in the New Zealand War in 1864).

Regimental Colours

Hanging above the arches of the North Transept are a number of flags which commemorate Irish men and women who died in service of the British Army. Some of these are between one hundred to one hundred and fifty years old and would have served as regimental colours for Irish regiments in the British Army, such as the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. A few may have been carried in battles which occurred in places such as China, Burma and the Crimea (Ukraine). A few other flags are more modern (such as one for the R.A.F) and serve as a reminder of the Irish men and women who died during World War I and World War II.

The Roll of Honour

On display in the North Transept is an original copy of the Roll of Honour. This is an illustrated list of men and women who died on active duty in World War One. There are several volumes in this list, one of which is always on display. The illustrations in each book were drawn by well-known Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931). Historians’ estimates of the number of Irish men and women who died during this war vary from 30,000- 50,000.

Stained Glass Commemoration

Several windows in the North Transept are dedicated to individuals or groups who died while in service of the British Army.

French Window

Located on the west wall of the transept this window commemorates three men; Charles Stockley French, Claude Alexander French and Bernard Digby who all died during World War I. The window depicts a wounded soldier being cared for underneath a large image of a knight in armour. A small section of this window uses glass saved from Ypres Cathedral in Belgium and brought back to Dublin.

King Cormac of Cashel

On the east wall of the transept there is a window decorated with an illustration of King Cormac of Cashel. The design is by well-known artist Sarah Purser who was part of Irish arts movement known as “An Túr Gloine”. The window is dedicated to the Irish men who died in the Boer War (1899-1902)


The window on the east wall of the transept is of the harbour of Sevastopol.  It is the oldest window in the Cathedral and it commemorates Irish dead of the Crimean War (1853-56)

The Duke of Shomberg (North Choir Aisle)

One of the most famous men to be buried in the Cathedral was killed during a very significant battle in Irish history. The Duke of Shomberg was King William III’s most important commander during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Shomberg attempted to cross the River Boyne during the battle. However, none of the men under his command followed him and he was surrounded by the enemy and killed. Despite this set-back the Williamite army was victorious and afterward William III travelled to Dublin where he visited the Cathedral.

William chose the Cathedral as the final resting place for the Duke’s body; he was buried in the wall of the choir. For many years the burial went unmarked. Despite a large pension, no one in his family would pay for the construction of a monument over his grave. Eventually Dean Jonathan Swift intervened and used Cathedral funds to place a small plaque in front of his grave.

Some Individual Monuments

Captain Thomas Jones (Died in Madras, 1847)

Lieutenant Thomas Rice Henn (Killed during the Battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan, 1880)

Lieutenant George Ross McGusty (Killed in Abbeville France, 1916)

Captain Henry Maxwell (Killed near Thiepval France, 1916)

Lieutenant Ernest Edward Brannigan (Killed at the Somme, 1916)

Lieutenant Guy Vickery Pinfield (The first man killed during the Easter Rising, 1916)

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