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The State and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

May 26, 2016  Posted in: Cathedral History

The fabric of the Cathedral often helps to tell the story of Ireland itself and the complex history of our State.

Erskine Childers and Douglas Hyde

There are many items in the Cathedral that help to tell the story of Ireland itself. The State Pew, located at the top of the nave, on the left hand side as you face the Quire is one such item. Currently this pew is reserved for the President of Ireland or their representatives although in the past it would have been reserved for members of the British Royal Family when they visited the Cathedral.

A wooden carving of the Royal Coat of Arms, featuring a lion and a unicorn, acts as a reminder that Ireland has not always been the independent republic it is today. The seats were used on several occasions by either current or future monarchs, including Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and Edward VI. When a member of the royal family was not present the Viceroy/Lord Lieutenant would represent the crown in their place.

Since Irish independence the pew has assumed a new role as the State Pew and is reserved for the President of Ireland. Although there is no formal arrangement in place, generally the President visits the Cathedral at least once a year to attend the annual Remembrance Sunday Service. The pew is always left vacant when the President (or his/her representative) is not present in the building. While the pew’s previous function can be seen in the coat of arms, its current use is denoted by the gold harp on an azure blue background located behind the seats which indicates that it is used by the Irish President.

Douglas Hyde after Installation as president

Douglas Hyde after Installation as president

The funerals of two Irish presidents have been held in Saint Patrick and both men are remembered through monuments in the south aisle. Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland died in 1949, and Erskine Childers, who died just one year into his term of office in 1974 were both members of the Church of Ireland. At the time of Douglas Hyde’s funeral, the rules of the Roman Catholic Church were so strict that the members of the Irish government felt they could not attend the service, as this would involve entering a Protestant building. Therefore, they waited outside and did not join into the ceremonies until the funeral procession had left the Cathedral on its way to the graveyard.

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