Royal appointment – Denis Fahey on George IV’s visit to Ireland

An Irishman’s Diary

In August 1821, George IV became the first British monarch to visit Ireland since 1690 and the first ever to arrive without an army in tow. His decision to come caused great excitement in Dublin and there was a flurry of activity in official circles to organise an extensive programme. Two new rooms were added to the Mansion House, and 40 cooks, all men, were employed by Dublin Castle to prepare banquets, and a reviewing gallery was erected outside the new General Post Office in Sackville Street.

The date of his arrival remained uncertain because of the illness of his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, but at last word came that his yacht would dock at the new pier in Dunleary on August 12th and a welcoming party led by the lord lieutenant assembled in the little coastal village. Meanwhile, George landed at Howth.

Caroline had died on August 7th and after a few days of formal mourning, he decided to embark from Holyhead but as the winds were unfavourable he crossed on one of the new post office steam-boats that used the north Dublin port.

During the voyage he celebrated his 59th birthday by feasting on goose pie and whiskey and when he arrived, he was, in the words of his friend, John Wilson Croker, the secretary to the Admiralty, gayer than it was proper to tell.

While there was nobody to greet him officially, someone provided a carriage and thousands of people cheered him to the vice-regal lodge in the Phoenix Park, which he reached without protection from a single policeman or soldier.

There he told the crowds who had entered the grounds that his heart was Irish and that despite the intelligence he had received from London, as he described the report of his wife's death, this was the happiest day of his life. He then went into seclusion until Friday, August 17th, when the Queen's remains had been put on a boat at Harwich for transport to Brandenburg and the formalities could begin.

First on the agenda was an official entry to the city at Cavendish Row, just north of Sackville Street and a procession to Dublin Castle observed by enthusiastic crowds. Next day he reviewed the army in the Park, on Sunday he attended Service in Christ Church and on Monday he held a reception in the Castle which was notable for the presence of Catholic bishops in their robes. George had been determined that all should be harmony and, as a token of his good will, as well as receiving the bishops, he inducted the Catholic Earl of Fingall into the Order of St Patrick. But despite his hopes, there was one impropriety.

On Tuesday evening, he presided at a dinner in the Mansion House. After he retired, one of the guests, Frederick Darley, an Orangeman and the son-in-law of Arthur Guinness, forgetting or not caring that the guests included prominent Catholics, proposed a toast to the glorious, pious and immortal memory of King William. News of this divisive act angered George and Darley narrowly escaped dismissal as chief police magistrate, a post worth £1,000 a year.

Visits to Trinity College, the Bank of Ireland, the Albany Theatre and the Boyne battlefield took place over the following days and there were receptions in the Castle and a dress ball in the Rotunda. An excursion to the Curragh for the races on August 31st brought out 120,000 people. He also had three days of private time with his mistress Lady Elizabeth Conyngham in Slane Castle.

On Monday, September 3rd, he visited Powerscourt and continued to Dunleary where Daniel O’Connell presented him with a laurel crown, on bended knee but not, as later myth would have it, after wading into the water. Then, after effusive goodbyes, he boarded his yacht which had finally arrived, but the winds were unfavourable again and he didn’t reach home until September 15th.

Contemporary views about the visit were mixed. The Lord Mayor, Abraham King, claimed with some exaggeration that he had banished every evil passion in six million people; a Whig MP, John William Ward, complained that he acted more like a popular candidate on an electioneering trip than a monarch in pomp surveying a dominion; and the poet Lord Byron excoriated both the "Messiah of Royalty" and the "chain-kissing slaves" who welcomed him in a hastily written poem, The Irish Avatar, which began "Ere the daughter of Brunswick is cold in her grave/ And her ashes still float to their home o'er the tide/Lo! George the Triumphant speeds o'er the wave/To the long-cherished isle that he loves like his bride".

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.