Larkin and McQuaid

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2014), Letters, Volume 22

Sir,—James Larkin has deservedly received a lot of attention in 2013 and your special issue on the Lockout (HI 21.4, July/August 2013) was a welcome addition. Having recently bought a second-hand copy of Emmet Larkin’s eponymous 1965 biography of Larkin, I found a letter inserted. The volume I had purchased was a review copy submitted to the Irish Press, where it was reviewed on 27 February 1965 by Francis McManus, the author and broadcaster.

The letter to McManus, also dated 27 February, was from a Franciscan priest from Adam and Eve’s on Merchants’ Quay, Fr Cormac Daly, and bears witness to aspects of James Larkin’s death in 1947 and his contact with the Catholic Church at that time:

Dear Francis,
I have read with interest your excellent book review on Jim Larkin. Your last paragraph in today’s Irish Press was worth mention. I knew Jim well. Many a time we discussed the theatre and films together. When I heard he was ill on January 24th—I had seen Archie O’Sullivan in the Meath Hospital—I decided to call on Jim. He was in a private room. The nurses said he did not wish to see any clergyman, but I mentioned that I knew he would see me. He said ‘yes’, so I went in and in spite of his condition, I received a warm welcome. He joked [with] me about my chaplaincy of the Stage Guild and we continued to talk of the theatre.

I asked him how he was and he said he was very low and had no hope. I remember asking him if he was prepared for the journey and he answered ‘no’. I said I could help him and he appreciated the gesture; but first, he emphasised, he would like, in sympathy with James Connolly, to see the priest who attended him in his last moments. He said he did not know the Capuchin Father well, but I could arrange it for him. If he couldn’t come, I was to come back again. I contacted Gabriel Fallon and Fr Counihan SJ, who were members of the Commission on Youth Unemployment at the time. Jim and Fr Aloysius OFM Cap., were also members. It was difficult to contact Fr Aloysius. It just happened he had flu. On January 28th, he went from his sick bed to the Meath Hospital to see Jim.

Jim thought he would like to wait until Saturday for the sacraments, but Fr Aloysius said he would be in bed on Saturday. Jim then consented and received the last sacraments. The Arch-Bishop [sic] was informed and came on the evening of the 29th. His Grace noticed that Jim had no rosary beads, so he gave him his own.

Jim died on the following day. I often think if I had not gone in on January 24th, no one would have ventured in. Excuse me for intruding like this, but I thought you might like to hear the story, from your remark in the last paragraph today. Every good wish,

Yours very sincerely,
Fr Cormac Daly OFM

The unnamed archbishop was, of course, John Charles McQuaid. This letter therefore supports the contention that McQuaid visited Larkin before his death and that he gave him a rosary. The visit by Fr Aloysius may be less well known and displays Larkin’s ongoing reverence for Connolly. So it seems that despite Jim Larkin’s veto on any clergyman coming to see him before his death, at least three (including a very senior one) were present in the days before he died.—Yours etc.,



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