Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich, Irish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, is born in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, on November 3, 1923. He serves as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1977 until his death. He is created a Cardinal in 1979.
Ó Fiaich is ordained a priest on July 6, 1948. He spends his first year of ordination as assistant priest in Clonfeacle parish. He undertakes post-graduate studies at University College, Dublin, (1948–50), receiving a Master of Arts (MA) in early and medieval Irish history. He also studies at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, (1950–52), receiving a licentiate in historical sciences.
In 1952 Ó Fiaich returns to Clonfeacle where he remains as assistant priest until the following summer and his appointment to the faculty of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is an academic and noted Irish language scholar, folklorist and historian in the Pontifical University in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary of Ireland. From 1959 to 1974 he is Professor of Modern Irish History at the college. In this capacity he suggests to Nollaig Ó Muraíle that he begin research on Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and his works. He “was an inspired lecturer, an open and endearing man, who was loved by his students… Tomas O’Fiaich was my Good Samaritan.”
Ó Fiaich serves as vice president of the college from 1970 to 1974 and is then appointed college president, a post that traditionally precedes appointment to an episcopal position in the Irish Church. He holds this position until 1977.
Following the relatively early death from cancer of Cardinal William Conway in April 1977, Monsignor Ó Fiaich is appointed Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Paul VI on August 18, 1977. He is consecrated bishop on October 2, 1977. The principal consecrator is the papal nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi. The principal co-consecrators are Bishop Francis Lenny, the auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, and Bishop William Philbin, the Bishop of Down and Connor. Pope John Paul II raises Ó Fiaich to the cardinalate on June 30, 1979, and he is appointed Cardinal-Priest of S. Patrizio that same day.
Ó Fiaich dies of a heart attack on the evening of May 8, 1990 while leading the annual pilgrimage by the Archdiocese of Armagh to the Marian shrine of Lourdes in France. He arrives in France the day before and complains of feeling ill shortly after saying Mass at the grotto in the French town. He is rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Toulouse, 125 miles away, where he dies. He lies in state at the cathedral in Armagh, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects.
Ó Fiaich is succeeded as archbishop and cardinal by a man six years his senior, Cahal Daly, then the Bishop of Down and Connor.