William of Orange's mace back at the Boyne

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

image captionThe mace mysteriously grew a few inches during the cleaning process

King William of Orange's mace, a symbol of Royal authority, is on public display after a clean-up, but not in the UK.

The mace and a ceremonial sword were gifts to the County Louth town of Drogheda for its support during the Battle of the Boyne.

On a hill overlooking the Battle of the Boyne site, an Irish tricolour flies defiantly on the rocky remnants of what was once the obelisk commemorating William of Orange's victory.

The obelisk was blown up by Republicans in the 1920s but it was never replaced and the site is now overgrown.

But a few miles up-river in the historic town of Drogheda, another part of King Billy's heritage and legacy is now more than appreciated.


In a former Franciscan Church, now called the Highlanes Gallery, his mace and sword are on public display after a bit of a spruce up.

Boyd Rankin, dressed in the red period costume worn by leading Drogheda citizens of the time, says the items were given by King William in gratitude.

image captionAn obelisk commemorating the battle was blown up and is now overgrown

"The town gave him support in his war with James II," he says.

"The reason the town needed a new mace was because James was a bit hard-up for cash; he took the original mace and melted it down to make coin to pay his soldiers."

Somehow, the mace has managed to grow a few inches after its clean-up - probably due to some tender loving care.

It had to be hidden several times - especially around the period of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, to stop it going the way of the Obelisk.

But now, the Mayor of Drogheda, Michael O'Dowd, believes the mace is seen locally as something to celebrate, especially given its location.

'Two traditions'

"This venue was a former Franciscan Catholic church but has now been de-consecrated," he says.

"Interestingly, during the 1930s when they were doing some work on the church it was found that IRA weapons had been hidden here.

"So, the two traditions are meeting here and Drogheda itself and the mace are symbols of our shared heritage."

The primary pupils at the local Church of Ireland school got to see the display before it opened to the public.

image captionThe mace has gone on display in Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda

One pupil, Eleanor Moffitt, thinks their school trip is a way of seeing history come alive.

"We went to the Battle of the Boyne museum at Oldbridge last year and it was very interesting and we're here today to see the mace and it, too, is very interesting."

Another student, Joshua Pepper, agrees, saying: "William of Orange and King James fought the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and William of Orange won - it changed the course of Irish history."

The authorities in Drogheda hope King William's mace and ceremonial sword will serve as another tourist attraction for the town and surrounding area.

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