By Madeline O’Connor
A DUBLIN professor of art history has become the first Irishman to be knighted by the ancient Order of Malta in five hundred years.
Dr Paul Claffey, 51, became an Irish Knight of Justice at St Kevin’s Church in Dublin on Saturday afternoon in the company of a grandmaster and prince, an archbishop, and several members of the order dressed in heavy blacked robes and mantillas.
The close of the Latin ceremony, which lasted over two hours, saw Dr Claffey declared the first Irish professed knight of the Order of Malta since Tudor times, when Henry VIII was on the throne in the 1520s.
Dr Claffey prepared for five years to take his vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. Following the ceremony, he said it was important that it took place in Dublin and at St Kevin’s in particular, as it was where his family grew up and where his own father made his First Communion.
The Order of Malta is known in Britain for its ambulance and first-aid services, but is actually one of a small number of chivalrous orders that were established during the Middle Ages to remain active in modern times, and the only one to be both religious and sovereign.
Its prince and grandmaster, Matthew Festing presided over Saturday’s alongside the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.
The order can issue its own passports, has diplomatic ties with 104 countries – not including Ireland– and has been granted permanent observer status at the United Nations, and has thousands of staff and volunteers worldwide caring for the sick, injured and poor.
The order was created in the 11th century in Jerusalem, and became known in Ireland the following century when it was given land on which to build fortified preceptories and, eventually, hospitals and priories.
Under the Reformation, all its property in Ireland was lost. It was only in 1934, when an association was re-established in the country, that it began growing its now well-known ambulance and first-aid corps.