A History of the Order in Ireland


The Order first arrived in Ireland in 1171 and it swiftly established preceptories (houses that offered medical care services and facilities), in Counties Wexford and Waterford. By 1174, the Order’s Irish headquarters, the Priory of Ireland and Hospital of St John was established at Kilmainham in Dublin. Its second great hospital was the Preceptory of Any in County Limerick, from which the town of Hospital takes its name. Within a few years, the Order had founded over 129 centres including lazar-houses (for the care of lepers), in Counties Kilkenny, Carlow, Tipperary, Cork, Limerick, Kerry, Kildare, Meath, Louth and Down. Many of the Irish priors were quite colourful characters, including Roger Utlagh (Outlawe), who had opposed the English-born Bishop Richard de Ledrede’s infamous witch trial of Alice Kyteler in Kilkenny in 1324.


It is important to state here that the medieval Priory of Ireland was a separate institution from the Grand Priory of England, and it communicated directly with the Order’s Grand Masters in Jerusalem and later in Rhodes during this period. Indeed there is evidence that some Irish Knights had brought the devotion to St. Brigid of Kildare with them during their tour of duty in the Holy Land. The medieval flourishing of the Order’s hospitaller services in Ireland ended with the dissolution of the Order by King Henry VIII in 1540. For a brief period under Queen Mary I, the Order was restored in Ireland in 1557, but that hopeful rebirth was soon dashed with the accession of the hostile Queen Elizabeth I 1558. Nevertheless, Irishmen continued to join the Order in Continental Europe and titular Priors of Ireland continued to be appointed. Among the most illustrious of them were Mathurin d’Aux de l’Escout Romegas (1557-1581), who was one of the great heroes of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 and of the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, and Laval Nugent from Westmeath (1860-1862). By 1813, Nugent had liberated Croatia and the Italian peninsula from Napoleonic domination. In recognition of his achievements, he was created a Roman Prince, an Austrian Imperial Count and a Knight of the Golden Fleece. Later, in 1860, he was appointed titular Prior of Ireland.


During the three great sieges of Limerick in 1651 (Cromwellian), in 1690 and 1691 (Williamite), members of the Order were present in the city providing medical care and assisting in the defence. However, it would not be until the twentieth century that the Order would re-establish itself institutionally in Ireland. During the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932, the representatives of the Order’s Grand Master, Fra’ Ludovico Chigi della Rovere Albani, made contact with members of the surviving Old Irish Catholic nobility, such as Charles O’Conor Don of Clonalis, Thomas Gaisford St. Lawrence of Howth, Patrick Valentine MacSwiney of Marshanaglass, William Wilson-Lynch of Thomond, and Andrew Bonaparte-Wyse of Waterford. This resulted in their admission as Knights into the Order, and the re-establishment of the Order in Ireland under the title Irish Association of the Order of Malta by decree of Grand Master Chigi della Rovere Albani, on 13 April 1934. Appropriately, its coat-of-arms derives from the seal of the aforementioned Prior Roger Utlagh, arguably the most distinguished and effective medieval Irish knights in the Order. Significantly, the first President of the Irish Association, Charles O’Conor Don, was the linear descendant of the last High King of Ireland, Rudhraighe Ua Conchubair (1166-1198). All the founding members of the Irish Association were drawn from the old Gaelic and Hiberno-Norman Catholic families who had remained in Ireland, and from professional and business backgrounds.

Ambulance Corps & Charitable Activities

In 1938, the Irish Association’s Chancellor, the Marquis Patrick MacSwiney of Marshanaglass, and Dr. Charles Conor O’Malley, Professor of Opthalmology and Otology in University College Galway, commenced the Ambulance Corps’ services as the Association’s primary charitable activity.

The first unit was established at Galway. Within ten years, ambulance corps’ units were established in other Irish cities and towns, and they are still actively engaged in providing emergency medical assistance to local and rural communities. This service provided the blueprint and example for the development of similar ambulance and mobile emergency medical services elsewhere such as Malteser Hilferdienst in Germany and Malteser International. Subsequently, the Irish Association has expanded the range of its activities in the provision of care and support services for the disabled, elderly, marginalised and vulnerable, and in providing support for maternity and medical services in the Order’s hospital Bethlehem.

  • 1171Order Arrives in Ireland

    Preceptories established in Wexford & Waterford
  • 1174Irish Headquarters Established at Kilmainham

  • 1540Dissolution of the Order in Ireland

  • 1651Siege of Limerick

    Members of the Order provided medical care
  • 1690Siege of Limerick

    Members of the Order provided medical care
  • 1691Siege of Limerick

    Members of the Order provided medical care
  • 1934Re-Establishment of the Order in Ireland

    Under the title Irish Association of the Order of Malta by decree of the Grand Master
  • 1938Ambulance Corps Established

    First unit established in Galway as the Irish Association's primary charitable activity.