De Valera and Archbishop Daniel Mannix by Joe Broderick

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 3 (Autumn 1994), Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 2

De Valera and Archbishop Daniel Mannix by Joe Broderick 1On 6 November 1922, with the Civil War raging and his political judgement seriously questioned, Eamon de Valera typed a carefully worded ‘private’ letter to the Roman Catholic archbishop of Melbourne. It was a critical moment. Two weeks earlier, on 22 October, the cardinal primate of Armagh, together with his fellow bishops in Ireland, had published a pastoral letter condemning those who ‘refuse to acknowledge the government…and attack their own country as if she were a foreign power’. The bishops excluded all unrepentant Republicans from the sacraments of the Church; priests who ‘advocated or encouraged’ the revolt were threatened with suspension from their office. In the circumstances de Valera may well have wondered whether his friend, Archbishop Daniel Mannix, might not succumb to second thoughts on the all-out fight against the Free State. He need not have worried. Mannix was, if anything, more intransigent than de Valera himself. Certainly he was, at this stage, more outspoken, reckless even, and not nearly as politically astute. Before much longer, de Valera would be exhorting him, in vain, to proceed with greater caution. Nowadays Daniel Mannix merits no more than a footnote-often a misleading one-in texts on the War of Independence and its aftermath. Yet his performance had considerable bearing on the course of events. And for a moment at least, in 1921, he played a starring role on the stage of Irish history. In Australia, the land of his adoption, his impact was far less fleeting; there he loomed large in public life for the best part of fifty years and made a lasting impression, for better or for worse, on political affairs; even his severest critics in Australia acknowledge him to be one of the most influential figures of his era.


President of Maynooth
His life spanned almost a century- from 1864 to 1963; the first half in Ireland, the second in Australia. Eldest son of a substantial tenant farmer near Charleville, County Cork, he studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth where he would become Professor of Theology and, in 1903, at the age of thirty-nine, president of the college. His presidency lasted ten years, during which time he was active on the Senate of the newly-created National University. In 1909, he (and others) took issue with those (principally Gaelic Leaguers) who insisted on a knowledge of the Irish language as a prerequisite for admission to third-level education. There is no evidence to suggest that Mannix was opposed to the teaching of Irish, but he argued that the impo-sition of the language as an obligatory requirement would exclude many otherwise qualified aspirants from access to the university. For this opinion, he was criticised by Patrick Pearse. ‘With most Irishmen we had hoped for much from Dr Mannix’s energy, progressiveness, clear-sightedness and broad national sympathies’, wrote Pearse in An Claidheamh Solius. ‘Can it be that where Irish Ireland had hoped to find a friend, she has found an enemy?’ Fr Michael O’Hickey, a zealous Irish language campaigner and Professor of Irish at Maynooth, was less circumspect; he launched a frontal (and personal) attack on Mannix whose response was to recommend that the trustees of the college relieve O’Hickey of his post. At this a storm broke over Mannix’s head, and O’Hickey took his complaint to a court of appeal in Rome, where he evidently had powerful friends.


Archbishop of Melbourne
The wheels of Rome moved slowly as ever, and the controversy was still dragging on in 1912 when Daniel Mannix was named coadjutor to the ageing archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Thomas Carr. The appointment surprised those who expected Mannix to be promoted to the highest rank within the Irish church. Archbishop William Walsh, who had ruled over the diocese of Dublin for thirty years, was ailing; Mannix would have seemed the obvious man to step into his shoes. But Walsh was a firm Gaelic League supporter and a good friend of O’Hickey. Though recognising Mannix’s ability, he would probably not have chosen him as his successor. Mannix, for his part, did not welcome his appointment to the antipodes; he received it with resignation rather than enthusiasm, and left his native land virtually under a cloud. His enemies had given him an undeserved reputation for sympathy with the British crown.


Broad nationalist sympathies
From afar, his ‘broad nationalist sympathies’ (noted by Pearse) were more sharply focused. During his first three years in Melbourne, the political climate at home underwent a series of rapid changes, and Redmondite Home Rule, which may have seemed the most realistic option for Ireland when Mannix departed in 1912, was swept away by the tide of events. The archbishop of Melbourne was transformed into a powerful advocate of selfdetermination for Ireland, and before long would declare himself to be a convinced Republican. He was the first bishop to condemn the executions in 1916. And in Australia, thanks to his eloquent campaigning against conscription, his name became a household word. In a celebrated speech, he referred slightingly to ‘Britain’s trade war’ (some newspapers reported this as ‘sordid trade war’). The Australian government’s conscription bill was defeated in two successive referendums; in both, Mannix’s persuasive oratory had been a key factor. He was well aware that the result would have at least as much significance in his homeland as it did in his adopted country; Australia’s vote against conscription set an example. And Daniel Mannix was becoming known as Ireland’s champion across the seas.


Eamonn de Valera at a rally in Boston.(BROWN BROTHERS)

Eamonn de Valera at a rally in Boston.

With Dev in the US

In 1920 he travelled to the United States to join Eamon de Valera on the public platform, pleading the Irish cause before enraptured IrishAmerican audiences. He journeyed from one state to the next – Illinois,Ohio, Nebraska – never losing a chance to launch scathing attacks on the British occupation of Ireland. These denunciations were often spiced with irony; as when, in a flight of fancy, he imagined ‘President de Valera’ presenting himself at the Paris Peace Conference to protest against not a British, but a hypothetical German occupation of Ireland: If he were able to say that Germany had come and, by the exercise of brutal pride, had imposed despotism upon that little struggling Irish nation; if he were able to say that under German rule the population of Ireland had been pulled down from eight or nine millions to four; that the rest of her people had been sent over the seas, hundreds and thousands of them, many of them finding their graves in the bottomless ocean … that at the present moment it took 100,000 German troops with their tanks and machine guns and their
Archbishop Mannix (right) arrives inNew York 19/uly 1920 and meets Archbishop Hayes of New York and Mayor Hylan. ( THE CAPUCHUIN ANNUAL 1965)

Archbishop Mannix (right) arrives in
New York 19/uly 1920 and meets
Archbishop Hayes of New York and

artillery to keep the Irish people in order … what would they say to him at the Peace Conference? They would give him the first place at the head of the table. They would tell him to go no farther with the litany of Ireland’s wrongs. You have told us more than we want to hear. Write out the charter of Ireland’s liberty and we will all sign it. And Mr Lloyd George himself, sitting somewhere near the top of the table, when he came and took his pen and put his name to the charter of Ireland’s liberty, would shed hot, salty, bitter Welsh tears over the wrongs done to Ireland for 750 years. And he would thank God that it had fallen to his lot, a humble Welsh attorney, to unwrite the history of German brutality in Ireland, and to set Ireland free from the clutch of those whom he would call the Huns.

This was the sort of Swiftian dramatization Mannix was particularly good at, and which his audiences came to relish. From New York he sailed for his homeland, where a triumphal reception had been prepared for him. However, before his ship could reach Cobh, it was intercepted by a British man o’war and Mannix was arrested at sea and escorted, under custody, to the port of Penzance in Cornwall, and thence to London. In England he was given his freedom, with the proviso that he was not to hold public meetings in Liverpool, Manchester or Glasgow. His followers proceeded to organize mass demonstrations of support on the outskirts of the principal cities of England and Scotland, and Mannix regaled huge crowds with his denunciation of the Black and Tans and his call for total British withdrawal from Ireland. His words taunted the authorities. ‘I venture to think they will corne to regret’, he said, ‘and very much regret, the day they captured me off the coast of Ireland.’ During the autumn of 1920, Daniel Mannix spent long hours beside the dying Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence McSwiney, in Brixton gaol, and led McSwiney’s funeral cortege through the streets of London to Euston station when the remains were dispatched to Ireland for burial. In May 1921 he visited Rome for an audience with Pope Benedict XV who might have been expected to chastise the troublesome cleric for his meddling in politics; British diplomats at the Vatican had certainly pleaded with the pope to silence the recalcitrant archbishop of Melbourne. Instead, Mannix persuaded the Holy Father to send a message of encouragement to the families who were victims of injustice in Ireland – along with a donation of 200,000 lire.


Mannix’s finest hour

This was Mannix’s finest hour. He was a figure of adulation amongst nationalist Irish men and women everywhere; and his extraordinary oratorical power was at its peak. On his return to Australia in August 1921, his flock gave him a hero’s welcome. By contrast, jingoists (and British Empire lovers generally) petitioned the government to block his re-entry. They could hardly have paid him a higher accolade. In the ensuing years, from his distant outpost in Melbourne, Mannix ‘nailed his colours to the mast’ for de Valera and the anti-Treatyites, and preached vociferously against the Free State government both during and after the Civil War. In this, as we have seen, he put himself at odds with the entire hierarchy of the Catholic church in Ireland, as well as provoking profound division amongst Irish Catholics in Australia. In 1923 he campaigned for de Valera’s release from Kilmainham gaol and raised money for the prisoners’ relief fund. In Melbourne he took advantage of his prestige to ensure a public platform for Father Michael O’Flanagan, president of Sinn Fein – until O’Flanagan was deported by the Australian government for ‘inciting to sedition’. In 1922, therefore, Mannix did not require anyone to make a case against the Treaty; he was already committed. Nonetheless, de Valera’s letter is significant, since it illustrates his careful courting of Church allies. He was in constant communication with Republican sympathisers holding high office in Rome – Monsignor John O’Hagan, rector of the Irish College, and the Revd. Paul Magennis, Prior General of the Carmelite Fathers, amongst others. De Valera could count on the support of these influential churchmen; but Mannix was his only bishop. And, a little later, it was Mannix who would provide an ecclesiastical imprimatur for Fianna Fail’s ambiguous oath-taking. ‘They [the new members of the Daill no more told a falsehood than I would if I sent down word to an importunate visitor that I was not at home.’ This gem seems risible now. Indeed it merited ‘laughter and applause’ when Mannix said it. But it represented the considered opinion of an ex-professor of moral theology at Maynooth and a distinguished Roman Catholic archbishop. As such, it carried remarkable weight. ‘Irish men and women believe in the national right and the national destiny as in a religion’, wrote de Valera to Mannix in 1922, skilfully blending, for the archbishop’s benefit, his Republican ideal with his Catholicism. The present government, he continued, ‘can only exist by outlawing the most unselfishly patriotic citizens of the State’. The first of these (it was understood) being de Valera himself.


Faith in de Valera

Mannix’s belief in de Valera never wavered. He saw him as ‘Ireland’s man of destiny’. In a bout of theological facetiousness, he declared that ‘God – if I may humbly say so – owed so much to Ireland.’ Evidently, for Mannix, Dev was the Almighty’s reward for the Irish people’s agelong loyalty to the One True Faith. When, as J.J. Lee wittily writes, ‘seeing no oath, hearing no oath, speaking no oath, signing no oath, the Soldiers of Destiny shuffled into Dail Eireann in August 1927’, they did so basking in the aura of Mannix’s apostolic benediction. But before this could happen, de Valera had occasion to try his hand at restraining Mannix’s excesses; that was in 1925, when the archbishop’s imminent return home looked like becoming more of an embarrassment than an asset. From Melbourne he had come leading a contingent of Australian pilgrims to Rome for the Holy Year, and announcing his intention to proceed on pilgrimage to Ireland. De Valera (as he revealed late in life) hastened to Rome to persuade Mannix to refrain from public statements; he was anxious to avoid an open breach between the Irish bishops and his sole episcopal supporter. However, Mannix refused to heed his friend’s advice. He was coming home, writes the historian Colm Kiernan, ‘to lay the ghost of that Mannix who had lived most of his first life serving the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at Maynooth, whose record for obedience was unblemished’ .


Locked out of church

The Free State government ostracised him, and so did the bishops. When he arrived at Charleville, the local people came out en masse to receive him in a torchlight procession of welcome. But he found the doors of the parish church locked; and during the weeks of this visit to his home town, was obliged to say daily Mass in a nearby Mercy convent. The parish priest of Charleville refused to give access to this controversial visitor, for fear of incurring the local bishop’s censure. By no means all of the clergy were so subservient to their superiors. In some counties, the majority of Catholic priests were outspoken Republican sympathisers. For several months Mannix travelled up and down the country, making inflammatory speeches. Although he professed to speak for peace and for unity amongst Irish people of all opinions, in fact he was undisguisedIy taking sides and reopening wounds still fresh from the recent civil war. On 29 October 1925, the eve of his departure for Australia, he addressed a special ‘priests’ night’ at the Rotunda in Dublin which was attended by hundreds of clerics come from far and near. There he gave one of his most provocative orations, deriding the ‘stepping stones’ theory of those who defended the Treaty – a document, he insisted, which had been signed only under threat: We have got partition of the country and a hybrid Home Rule thrust upon us at the point of a gun and, for this, people praise England’s loyalty in carrying out conditions she herself imposed … Nothing has convinced me so much of how Irish ideals have fallen as that Irish people should praise the loyalty of England that has partitioned our country and spends annually one million pounds upon military and police to maintain a sectarian border. Not surprisingly, the assembled Sinn Fein priests went wild. And amidst cries of ‘Up the Republic!’, they called on ‘President de Valera’ to speak. De Valera was brief. ‘It is a pity’, he said, ‘that [Archbishop Mannix] cannot stay in Ireland where he is so badly wanted, and not have to go back to the farthest end of the earth.’ In his heart, the ‘president’ may have felt a certain relief at his friend’s forthcoming departure. The archbishop’s approach was too blunt; Irish politics would be requiring men capable of more sinuous and subtle manoeuverings. ‘With the benefit of hindsight’, writes Kiernan, ‘Mannix looked back on his return to Ireland in 1925 as a mistake.’ This seems doubtful, since Mannix was not normally given to self-reproachment. But, in fact, he never visited Ireland (or Rome) again, even though he lived in full possession of his faculties – and in control of his archdiocese – for well nigh another forty years.


Long and vivid memory

Even in his hundredth year, Mannix could call up from memory, and vividly recount, episodes from the past. Pope Benedict XV he described as ‘an unprepossessing little man – but an honest man’, and Pope Leo XIII was the object of his censure for failing to back the Irish tenant farmers during the so-called ‘Plan of Campaign’ in 1886. Mannix would have been a twenty-two-yearold seminarian at the time of that crucial episode in the Land League’s struggle, and was doubtless inspired by bishops Walsh of Dublin and Croke of Cashel who dared to pit their opinion against that of the pope. Croke, especially, was a rolemodel for the young Mannix – Croke who declined to accompany Walsh to Rome for Leo XIII’s anniversary celebrations, saying: ‘I am tired of battling with Rome .. .it sometimes puts me to the pin of my collar to be  in thought as reverent, and in act as obedient as I ought, I suppose, to be’. Croke’s anti-Vatican sentiments might just as easily have fallen from the lips of Daniel Mannix – except that Mannix would have expressed them more elegantly. Although reared in the Rome-oriented Church which Cardinal Cullen had fostered in nineteenth-century Ireland, Mannix came to weary of Roman centralism. He learned to make use of papal decrees when they served his purpose, and overlook them when they did not. In much the same way, in fact, as Eamon de Valera turned episcopal utterances to his advantage – or else ignored them. Of the 1922 pastoral letter de Valera said, in his letter to Mannix: ‘the late pronouncement of the hierarchy here is most unfortunate .. .Ireland and the Church will, I fear, suffer in consequence’. Dev evidently considered himself a better judge than the bishops of what was good for both the country and the Catholic Church. And by the mid-thirties he had practically convinced their lordships that this was, in fact, the case.



As we know, de Valera’s political handsprings finally landed him on his feet, and Mannix’s unwavering support was vindicated. The two erstwhile rebels were acclaimed as wise and prudent rulers, and were to endure in government (civil and ecclesiastic) into ripe old age. Both were tall, spare and ascetic, emanating that almost indefinable charisma which bespeaks the natural leader. Mannix possessed a more stylish theatrical flair than de Valera. He also displayed an irrepressible sense of the absurd which would have been quite foreign to the Taoiseach. Superficially, Mannix appeared to be as conservative as de Valera; but in many ways he was profoundly iconoclast. This was not fully realised, perhaps, until after he was gone. When his fifty-year reign in Melbourne came to an end and other bishops took charge, the life of the Church seemed drab by comparison, and its mission innocuous. His successors were good men – safe and conventional. The trouble was that Mannix had left few of the conventions intact. In 1971, Paul VI referred to Mannix in terms that suggested a much-diminished papacy hankering after bygone glories. ‘Monsignor Mannix?’, he said. ‘Ah, yes! A different man for a different age. We can no longer do the things we could do then.’


Joe Broderick is a freelance journalist and writer and author of Fall From Grace, the Life of Eamonn Casey.


Further reading: M. Gilchrist, Daniel Mannix, Priest and Patriot (Melbourne 1982). C. Kiernan, Daniel Mannix and Ireland (Dublin 1984). B.A. Santamaria, Daniel Mannix, The Quality of Leadership (Melbourne 1984). D. Keogh, The Vatican, the bishops and Irish politics 1919-39 (Cambridge 1986).


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