An insight into the order of Catholic laymen known as the Knights of Saint Columbanus.

The Knights of Saint Columbanus began in Belfast in 1915 as an offshoot of the local conference of Saint Vincent de Paul. 

They dedicated themselves to fighting socialism and at the same time securing a Catholic social justice for the Catholic poor.

In 1921 they came to Dublin and merged with another order with almost the same name, the Columban Knights. They too had the objective of fighting Protestant discrimination against Catholics in business and the civil service. In order to achieve this objective, 

They had to keep their membership a secret.

Members were recognised by secret passwords and handshakes. After 1921 the need for secrecy disappeared in the South but remained in the North. The amalgamated group became a kind of Catholic masonry. Robes worn by officers at the organisation's meetings, symbolise the order's strengths and secrecy. 

It was an organised and skilful pressure group and it came to be believed that those they smiled on did well and those they frowned on did not.

Vincent Grogan, Supreme Knight of the Order and a member of the Society for thirty-two years, argues that members represent the general attitudes of the laity in Ireland and come from a very wide range of occupations and classes. 

We are conservative. So is the whole body of the church in Ireland. The times call for a change of attitude and I as Supreme Knight with my board, who are with me on this, are determined to come out into the open to be seen to be what we are.

The organisation also acts as a political pressure group and Mr Grogan speaks out against the spread of pornography and its effect on young people.

This excerpt from the programme also shows Vincent Grogan officiating at an initiation ceremony at the central headquarters at Ely House. Not just anyone can join. Each of the men was invited to join which is not unusual as the knights actively seek out new members, usually Catholics who have made their mark on the community, born leaders, and of sound financial standing. Each member-elect is presented with a blessed emblem of Knighthood

They want drivers, not passengers.

Members pay dues of between five and ten pounds each year. But that's not all. Practically on a monthly basis, members are asked if they can afford to help specific causes. The Knights of Columbanus takes in around £50,000 a year and it also has some investments.  There are seven thousand Knights of Columbanus, divided into 140 primary councils of about 50 members each. These form 11 provinces. Each council has a Grand Knight and Captain. At the top of the organisation, elected for a three-year term, is the Supreme Knight and his council. 

The real wealth of the Knights is their membership.

The organisation is completely Irish and there are no branches outside of Ireland. 

This episode of 'Seven Days' was broadcast on 3 April 1967. The reporter is Brian Cleeve.