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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of William John Conway, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

William John Cardinal Conway, Irish cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 until his death, is born on January 22, 1913 in Belfast.

Conway is the eldest of four sons and five daughters of Patrick Joseph Conway and Annie Conway (née Donnelly). His father, a self-employed house-painter, also has a paint shop in Kent Street off Royal Avenue. His mother, who survives her son, is born in Carlingford, County Louth. He attends Boundary Street Primary School, St. Mary’s CBS (now St. Mary’s CBGS Belfast). His academic successes are crowned by a scholarship to Queen’s University Belfast. He decides to study for the diocesan priesthood. In 1933 he is conferred with an honours BA in English literature, and goes on to read a distinguished course in theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway is ordained on June 20, 1937 and awarded a DD (1938). On November 12, 1938 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and in 1941 he receives the DCL degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When Italy enters World War II in June 1940 he returns to Belfast to take up duty in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is appointed to teach English and Latin in St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, but after one year he is named professor of moral theology and canon law in Maynooth. He contributes regular ‘Canon law replies’ to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which are later collected as Problems in canon law (1950), the only book published by him.

In 1957 Conway becomes vice-president of Maynooth, and in 1958, he is named Ireland’s youngest bishop, Titular Bishop of Neve, and auxiliary bishop to Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is consecrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on July 27, 1958. He serves as administrator of St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, for the next five years, gaining valuable pastoral experience, and also uses these years to familiarise himself with his new diocese, especially its geography. On the death of D’Alton, he is chosen to succeed him in September 1963, and is enthroned on September 25 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sensi. At the end of 1964, Pope Paul VI chooses him as Ireland’s seventh residential cardinal, and he receives the red hat in the public consistory of February 22, 1965.

The thirteen-odd years of Conway’s ministry as primate are dominated firstly by the Second Vatican Council and secondly by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His primary concern is the church, to steer it through testing times. He is a very active bishop in a diocese of 160,000 Catholics, with fifty-seven parishes and some 167 priests. He carries the burden alone until 1974 when he is given an auxiliary in the person of his secretary, Fr. Francis Lenny (1928–78). Two new parishes are created, five new churches are built, and many others are renovated to meet the requirements of liturgical reform. Twenty new schools are also provided. He attends all four sessions of the Vatican council (1962–65), as auxiliary bishop and as primate. On October 9, 1963 he addresses the assembly, making a plea that the council might not be so concerned with weightier matters as to neglect to speak about priests. He also makes contributions on the topics of mixed marriages, Catholic schools, and the laity. On the topic of education, he is convinced that integrated schools will not solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

Conway represents the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at each assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, at first with Bishop Michael Browne of the Diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh, his former professor in Maynooth, and later with the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan. With Cardinals Jean-Marie Villot and Pericle Felici, he is chairman of the first synod in 1969, a signal honour conferred on him by Pope Paul VI. He addresses the assembly, opposing the ordination of married men as a move that would release a flood of applications from around the world for dispensations from priestly celibacy. His experience of violence in Northern Ireland is reflected in contributions he makes to later synod assemblies, especially in 1971 and 1974.

Apart from the synod, Conway travels a few times each year to Rome for meetings of the three Roman congregations on which he is called to serve (those of bishops, catholic education, and the evangelisation of peoples) and the commission for the revision of the code of canon law. He also travels further afield in a representative capacity to the International Eucharistic Congress at Bogotá, also attended by Pope Paul VI, and to Madras (1972), where he acts as papal legate for the centenary celebrations in honour of St. Thomas. In 1966 he is invited by the bishops of Poland to join in celebrations for the millennium of Catholicism in that country, but is refused an entry visa by the Polish government. In January 1973 he feels obliged to forgo participation in the Melbourne eucharistic congress because of the troubled situation at home. Within Ireland he accepts invitations to become a freeman of Cork and Galway (1965) and of Wexford (1966). In 1976 the National University of Ireland (NUI) confers on him an honorary LL.D.

Conway is acknowledged as an able and diligent chairman of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The core problem in the early years is how to lead the Irish church into the difficult new era that follows the council. He shows exceptional leadership qualities in the manner in which he promotes firm but gentle progress, avoiding sudden trauma and divisions. A major event in his term as Archbishop of Armagh, and one that gives him much satisfaction, is the canonization of Oliver Plunkett, his martyred predecessor, in the holy year 1975. He follows with great interest the final stages of the cause from 1968, and is greatly disappointed when grounded by his doctors six weeks before the event. He does however take part, concelebrating with Pope Paul VI at the ceremony on October 12, 1975. He also presides the following evening at the first mass of thanksgiving in the Lateran Basilica, receiving a tumultuous applause from the thousands of Irish present.

More than anything else, the Troubles in Northern Ireland occupy Conway during the second half of his term as archbishop and primate. He is the leading spokesman of the Catholic cause, but never fails to condemn atrocities wherever the responsibility lay. He brands as ‘monsters’ the terrorist bombers on both sides. In 1971 he denounces internment without trial, and the following year he is mainly responsible for highlighting the ill-treatment and even torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He repudiates the idea that the conflict is religious in nature, emphasising its social and political dimensions, and is openly critical of the British government over conditions in Long Kesh Detention Centre, and of ‘the cloak of almost total silence’ surrounding violence against the Catholic community.

In January 1977 Conway undergoes surgery in a Dublin hospital, and almost immediately comes to know that he is terminally ill. It is the best-kept secret in Ireland until close to the end. On March 29, he writes to his fellow bishops informing them that the prognosis regarding his health is ‘not good, in fact . . . very bad,’ and that he is perfectly reconciled to God’s will. He is still able to work at his desk until Good Friday, April 8, 1977.

Conway dies in Armagh on Low Sunday night, April 17, 1977. Seven countries are represented at his funeral by six cardinals and many bishops. The apostolic nuncio, the bishops of Ireland, the president and Taoiseach, six Irish government ministers, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are also among the mourners. The cardinal is laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh. The red hat received from Pope Paul VI is suspended from the ceiling of the Lady chapel, joining those of his four immediate predecessors.

(From: “Conway, John William,” Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, contributed by J. J. Hanley)


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Death of James McNeill, Second Governor-General of the Irish Free State

James McNeill, Irish politician and diplomat who serves as first High Commissioner to London and second Governor-General of the Irish Free State, dies on December 12, 1938.

One of five children born to Archibald McNeill, a Roman Catholic working class “baker, sailor and merchant,” and his wife, Rosetta (née McAuley) McNeill, McNeill is the brother of nationalist leader Eoin MacNeill. He serves as a high-ranking member of the Indian Civil Service in Calcutta.

Although unconnected with the Easter Rising in 1916, McNeill is arrested and jailed by the British Dublin Castle administration. On release, he is elected to Dublin County Council, becoming its chairman. He serves as a member of the committee under Michael Collins, the chairman of the Provisional Government, that drafts the Constitution of the Irish Free State. He is subsequently appointed as High Commissioner from Ireland to the United Kingdom.

When the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, retires in December 1927, McNeill is proposed as his replacement by the Irish government of W. T. Cosgrave and duly appointed by King George V as Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

In office, McNeill clashes with the King’s Private Secretary when he insists on following the constitutional advice of his Irish ministers, rather than that of the Palace, in procedures relating to the receipt of Letters of Credence accrediting ambassadors to the King in Ireland. He also refuses to attend ceremonies in Trinity College, Dublin, when some elements in the college try to ensure that the old British national anthem God Save the King is played, rather than the new Irish anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann.

When Éamon de Valera is nominated as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State in 1932, McNeill opts to travel to Leinster House, the parliament buildings, to appoint de Valera, rather than to require that he go to the Viceregal Lodge, the Governor-General’s residence and the former seat of British Lords Lieutenant, to avoid embarrassing de Valera, who is a republican.

However, McNeill’s tact is not reciprocated by de Valera’s government, and some of its ministers seek to humiliate him as the King’s representative by withdrawing the Irish Army‘s band from playing at functions he attends and demanding he withdraw invitations to visitors to meet him. In one notorious incident in April, two ministers, Seán T. O’Kelly (a future President of Ireland) and Frank Aiken, publicly walk out of a diplomatic function when McNeill, there as the guest of the French ambassador, arrives. In a fury, McNeill writes to de Valera demanding an apology for this treatment. When none is forthcoming, apart from an ambiguous message from de Valera that could be interpreted as partially blaming McNeill for attending functions at which ministers would be present, he publishes his correspondence with de Valera, even though de Valera had formally advised him not to do so. De Valera then demands that George V dismiss him.

The King engineers a compromise, whereby de Valera withdraws his dismissal request and McNeill, who is due to retire at the end of 1932, will push forward his retirement date by a month or so. McNeill, at the King’s request, resigns on November 1, 1932.

In June 1932 John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College hosts an extravagant garden party to welcome Papal Legate Lorenzo Lauri, who had arrived in Ireland to represent Pope Pius XI at the 31st International Eucharistic Congress. While de Valera maintains a very high profile at the event, McQuaid, at de Valera’s request, goes to great lengths to avoid MacNeill to the extent possible.

McNeill dies on December 12, 1938 at the age of 69 in London. His widow Josephine is appointed Minister to the Hague by Seán MacBride, Minister for External Affairs in the coalition government of 1948.


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Death of Saint Gelasius of Armagh

Saint Gelasius of Armagh B (AC), also known as Giolla Iosa and Gioua-Mac-Liag, dies on March 27, 1174. The son of the Irish poet Diarmaid, Saint Gelasius (meaning `servant of Jesus’) is the learned abbot of Derry for sixteen years. He is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh c. 1137, when Saint Malachy resigns and serves as Primate of Ireland until 1174.

During his long episcopacy, Gelasius has to deal with the events before and after the Norman invasion, including the alleged Donation of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to Henry II of England, Henry’s arrival in Ireland in 1171, and Pope Alexander III’s confirmation of everything granted by Adrian IV.

Gelasius reconstructs the Cathedral of Armagh and, in 1162, consecrates Saint Laurence O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin, although the invasion and settlement of Dublin by Norsemen means that the Christians of that see are looking more to Canterbury than Armagh. That same year, during the Synod of Clane in County Kildare, a uniform liturgy is ensured throughout Ireland by requiring that only Armagh-trained or Armagh-accredited teachers of divinity may teach in any school attached to the Irish Church.

Gelasius is an indefatigable prelate. He makes constant visitations throughout Ireland, reorganizes old monasteries, and convenes synods. He is said to be the first Irish bishop to whom the pallium is sent. Pope Eugene III’s papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Paparoni, brings four pallia with him to the Synod of Kells in 1152 for the archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam. The records of this synod include the first mention of tithes in Irish annals, which Cardinal Paparoni proposes but none of the participants support. The matter of tithes and the Peter’s Pence is an important consideration in subsequent negotiations between Pope Adrian IV and Henry II of England.

Gelasius convenes another synod at Armagh in 1170 in the hope of finding some means to expel the Anglo-Normans, who had invaded the country the previous year, before they become too entrenched. In 1171, Henry II of England arrives, lavishly entertains the civic and ecclesiastic Irish leaders, and requests the convening of the Synod of Cashel, during which he presents a plan for improving the Church of Ireland. At this time there is no mention of any claim of Canterbury or the Donation. However, the eighth canon of the synod decrees that the Irish Church will celebrate the Divine Office according to the usage of the Church of England, which is still Catholic at the time.

The bishop of Armagh does not attend the Synod of Cashel. At the time he is occupied in a visitation of Connacht and Ulster in an attempt (in concert with the high king) to organize a defense of Ireland. He realizes that Henry II has duped many Irish princes by masking his true intentions.

The following year Henry II falls under interdict for his murder of Saint Thomas Becket. When news of HenryII’s penitential, bare-foot walk to the shrine of Saint Thomas and his plans for the `uplift’ of the Irish Church reaches Rome, Pope Alexander III confirms the Donation of Ireland made by Pope Adrian IV. Shortly thereafter the Church of Ireland became English, the School of Armagh is closed (c. 1188) and the last native bishop of Armagh until the Reformation dies in 1313.

(From: “Saints of the Day – Gelasius of Armagh” by Katherine I Rabenstein, CatholicSaints.Info (www.catholicsaints.info) | Pictured: Arms of the Archbishop of Armagh, in the Church of Ireland)


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The 31st International Eucharistic Congress Begins in Dublin

eucharistic-congress-closing-ceremony-1932The 31st International Eucharistic Congress begins in Dublin on June 22, 1932 and runs through June 26. The congress is one of the largest eucharistic congresses of the 20th century and the largest public event to happen in the new Irish Free State. It reinforces the Free State’s image of being a devout Catholic nation. The high point is when over a million people gather for Mass in Phoenix Park.

Ireland is then home to 3,171,697 Catholics. It is selected to host the congress as 1932 is the 1500th anniversary of Saint Patrick‘s arrival. The chosen theme is “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.”

The city of Dublin is decorated with banners, bunting, garlands, and replica round towers. Seven ocean liners moor in the port basins and along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Five others anchor around Scotsmans Bay. The liners act as floating hotels and can accommodate from 130 to 1,500 people on each. The Blue Hussars, a ceremonial cavalry unit of the Irish Army formed to escort the President of Ireland on state occasions, first appears in public as an honor guard for the visiting Papal Legate representing Pope Pius XI.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College, hosts a large garden party on the grounds of the college to welcome the papal legate, where the hundreds of bishops assembled for the Congress have the opportunity to mingle with a huge gathering of distinguished guests and others who have paid a modest subscription fee.

The final public mass of the congress is held at 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 26 in Phoenix Park at an altar designed by the eminent Irish architect John J. Robinson of Robinson & Keefe Architects, and is celebrated by Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore. A radio station, known as Radio Athlone, is set up in Athlone to coincide with the Congress. In 1938 it becomes Radio Éireann. The ceremonies include a live radio broadcast by Pope Pius XI from the Vatican. John McCormack, the world famous Irish tenor, sings César Franck‘s Panis Angelicus at the mass.

Approximately 25% of the population of Ireland attend the mass and afterwards four processions leave the Park to O’Connell Street where approximately 500,000 people gather on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding Benediction given by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

The English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton is also present, and observes, “I confess I was myself enough of an outsider to feel flash through my mind, as the illimitable multitude began to melt away towards the gates and roads and bridges, the instantaneous thought ‘This is Democracy; and everyone is saying there is no such thing.'”

On the other hand, such an overwhelming display of Catholicity only confirms to Protestants in the North the necessity of the border.

(Pictured: the closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin in June 1932)