The Knights Templar is an organisation shrouded in mystique and the dark arts. Founded in 1118 by Hugh De Payne these ‘holy warriors’ stated mission was to protect christendom and to safeguard travellers going to and from the holy land in Jerusalem. Some of the tales that abound about this mysterious fighting force include connections with The Holy Grail, the Arc of the Covenant, and even allegations of a conspiracy involving Leonardo Da Vincis the Last Supper.
But what is lesser known is that the Knights Templar at one stage had a significant presence in Ireland. The organisation had staging posts in counties as diverse as Kilkenny, Kildare, Tipperary, Sligo, Waterford, and Wexford, and most notably when it comes to this article, in Cooley Co Louth.It was said that Henry II sent over 200 Knights Templars to the Cooley Peninsular in an attempt to keep a tight reign on the outer reaches of his Irish Kingdom in an area formerly known at the time as the Pale.
The evidence of their presence can be witnessed at the eerie ruins of Saint Marys Church in Templetown Co Louth. An area more commonly associated with Celtic Mythology and the tale of the Tain Bull Of Cooley where the great Irish warrior Cuchulainn died whilst defending Ulster against her enemies.
The Church itself is situated on top of a small hill and is surrounded by breath taking vistas of Carlingford Lough, the Mourne Mountains, and Slieve Foy Mountain. Upon approach you are welcomed by a scattering of weather beaten headstones and most notably an imposing Celtic Cross. Remarkably, in the graveyard at Templetown, you can find a number of Knights Templar burial sites. The sites are identified by the carving of a sign of the cross alongside a carving of a lamb. The final resting place of men who apparently had pledged to give their lives to defend Christendom.
In reality, these Knights would have been sent to the area to quell any unrest emanating from from rebellious Ulstermen, who would have attacked these outposts from beyond the Pale, an area where King Henry II’s Writ wouldn’t have loomed as large. The Templars where forbidden from killing other Christians except for reasons of self defence, and there is good reason to believe that they abided by these rules when they where in Ireland, because there is very little mention of them in any of the ancient Gaelic annals.
Henry II granted many of these warriors large estates and much wealth in reward for their obedience. Whilst the myth of the Templars being holy warriors devoted to faith and god is a charming story, In reality, the Templars became little more than a force that sought to impose the will of the powerful and wealthy upon the masses. The organisation invented one of the very first banking systems.
As time passed, the organisation became too powerful and wealthy and ultimately it was to feel the wrath of King Philip of France. King Philip had members arrested and charged under sacrilege and idolatry charges. In Ireland, the guilty culprits where apprehended and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. After the Templars where purged by King Philip apparently they ceased to exist but there are many conspiracy theorists who believe that the group simply went underground and became the Stone Masons and got involved in other clandestine activities that they are still involved in to this very today.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, Its remarkable to think that amidst the windswept hills and valleys of Cooley, and beneath the ancient Slieve Foy Mountain lies the burial place of a number of Knights Templars. Who knows, maybe the Holy Grail itself lies buried beneath the ground of Saint Marys Church? hows that for a conspiracy theory?!!