Ferrar Diaries

Ferrar Diaries: King George IV

Our king comes with the olive branch, the harbinger of peace: in the spirit of peace let us receive him.

So instructs the author of an open letter addressed to the people of Ireland, concerning the state visit of the newly-crowned King George VI in the summer of 1821. A highly symbolic event, signalling what many in Ireland hoped would prove the start of a new, positive chapter in Anglo-Irish relations, the visit was heralded both as an opportunity for religious and political leaders to solicit monarchical favour for Catholic emancipation, and as a chance to celebrate the recent coronation of a British king perceived to be more sympathetic towards Irish concerns than his predecessors. The convivial atmosphere did much to improve, in the short term at least, public opinion of King George, who had seen his popularity decline following a series of scandals he courted while Prince Regent, and the visit, which took place between the 12th August and the 3rd September, was marked by a series of public festivities, the most notable of these being the formal procession of the King into the city of Dublin on the 17th August 1821.

The Magdalene College Library team recently came across a first-hand account of this royal visit to Ireland while cataloguing a collection of diaries which formerly belonged to members of the Ferrar family. The diaries are part of the large collection of papers and prints pertaining to the Ferrar family housed at Magdalene, and document almost a century’s worth of Irish social history between 1788 and 1883. They were primarily written by Michael Ferrar, a clerk who worked at the Merchants’ Quay in Dublin. Ferrar maintained a diary for roughly sixty-eight years, and his entries focus on episodes of daily life – the places he has been, the people whom he has met, as well as visits to his family in Belfast and to London for business purposes.

When King George IV came to Dublin in 1821, Ferrar was still a relatively young man, yet for better or for worse, the visit of the monarch clearly made a deep impression on him, as the entries in his diary at this time testify. Unlike many who were willing, if only for the duration of his visit, to overlook the notorious indiscretions and extravagances of the King, Ferrar was repelled by the monarch’s reputation for gross excesses and was especially appalled by his improprietous behaviour so close to the ignominious death of Caroline of Brunswick – the King’s estranged wife – only days before the King landed at Howth. Ferrar was equally critical of the conduct of his fellow Irish citizens. In an entry composed on the 19th August 1821, he comments that:

the grand doings in connection with the King’s visit go on with full vigour; the Irish are really mad, they have in my mind disgraced themselves forever by their conduct to both the King and Queen, she lying dead in England, not yet cold in her coffin, her husband to be carrying on at such a size here, shows such a want of common decency that well merits the severest apprehension of all good men. I am sick and disgusted with my countrymen and never before regretted being an Irishman.

Despite his reservations, Ferrar nevertheless attended the King’s formal entry into Dublin on the 17th August, with a good view of the procession and of the illuminations which lit up a number of prominent public buildings – although he was not entirely isolated from the vast crowds of people who had gathered to watch, and who, with much drink, merriment, and fireworks seemed “to be losing their reason, nothing at all too wild or extravagant for them”. He was also present for the King’s departure from Dunleary (Dún Laoghaire), situated to the south of Dublin, on the 3rd September. The departure was a spectacular event which saw Dunleary renamed Kingstown, an appellation it retained until 1920 when it reverted to its former title.


Old Library: Ferrar Diary 10

Notwithstanding his ambivalence towards the King himself, Ferrar grudgingly concedes of the departure in his diary entry of that date that:

a more magnificent or imposing scene has never I believe been witnessed in Ireland, many things combined to render it such and by those who beheld it, it can never be forgotten. The shore at Dunleary as well as the pier literally alive with people, a most beautiful water scene, including all the shipping, Man O’ War, etc. draped out with flags of the yards and the moment that the King got into his barge, a royal salute commenced firing from every ship in the bay. In short it beggars any attempt at description.

He was evidently well-situated for the occasion, for, disbelieving as perhaps we all feel when we find ourselves in very near proximity to someone famous, Ferrar cannot help but describe himself as having been so close to the King that he “could have shaken hands with him if I liked”. Given the circumstances however, Ferrar adds, he “did not mind [to do so]”.

By Ellie Swire

Libraries Assistant and Invigilator



Loughlin, James. The British Monarchy and Ireland: 1800 to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

The King’s Visit to Ireland: In a Letter Addressed to the People of Ireland. Dublin,1821.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.