Tonight, as a Serving Brother, I attended the Diamond Jubilee Dinner of The Commandery of Ards, The Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem at the Culloden Hotel, Cultra, Co. Down. The Commandery was re-formed by the Grand Prior HRH The Duke of Gloucester on 22nd May, 1952 in the Whitla Hall, Belfast. The 60 members on the Grand Priory Roll living in Northern Ireland were transferred to the new Commandery Roll.
Ards had been established as a Commandery of the Priory of Ireland in 1189. It owned vast tracts of lands in Counties Antrim and Down. It had its headquarters in Castlboy in the Ards Peninsula. The Commandery surrendered its property to the Crown in 1559.
Following the restructuring of the Order of St John in 1999, the Commandery of Ards became a dependent Commandery of the new Priory of England and the Islands. The St John hub is in large premises in Knockbracken Healthcare Park in Belfast. The building was one of 15 villas built in the 1920s to cater for the needs of mentally ill patients. Although the inside of the building has been altered greatly during various refurbishments, there are still signs of its former use as a home for 50 female patients.
St John has been active in Northern Ireland since the Association started first aid classes in 1881. The first Division of the Brigade was formed in 1892. Given its long history, it is not surprising that the Commandery holds an extensive archive. The collection includes a library, newspaper cuttings,silverware, medals, photographic library, pictures, banners, armour, medical equipment and uniforms. The collection is on permanent display in the Museum, Commandery Room and Library.
Pride of place goes to the library, which contains several hundred books, pamphlets and monographs. Two private collections have been donated. The Perowne collection includes a valuable copy of the Histoire de Chevaliers de Malte by L’Abbe de Verdot. The celebrations in 2002 to mark the 50th anniversary of the revival of the Commandery were marked by the presentation of gifts from the Grand Council, the Priories of England, Scotland and Wales, the Commandery of Western Australia, the St John Council of Cyprus and the Brigade in the Republic of Ireland.
At the Diamond Jubilee Dinner, the Knight Commander of the Commandery of Ards read a letter from Her Majesty The Queen acknowledging the loyalty of the Commandery in this her own Diamond Jubilee year.