Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2023), Letters, Volume 31

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Sir,—The very striking cover image of Robert Ballagh’s painting, Lest we forget, and the accompanying article ‘John Charles McQuaid reassessed?’ by Mary Kenny (HI 31.2, March/April 2023) together make a valuable and interesting contribution to the debate on this titan of twentieth-century Ireland. However, there is no reference to the McQuaid painting being based on the classic portrait of Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, housed in the National Gallery, London. Surely, the striking parallels between McQuaid and Richelieu add piquancy to portrait and article: both men of sincere faith, of great ability and, when necessary, ruthlessness, who were mighty and autocratic wielders of secular power, indefatigable administrators of rare skills and sophisticated connoisseurs of the arts.—Yours etc.,

Curator, Limerick Museum

Without doubt Archbishop John Charles McQuaid coveted the acquirement of a ‘red hat’, but the role of cardinal was to elude him. Yet, when I began my picture, Lest we forget, I decided, with ironic intent, to portray John Charles McQuaid as a prince of the church. However, my problem was that I had never seen a cardinal in full regalia. Consequently, I did what I have always done if faced with such a conundrum—I resorted to a trawl through art history. When I came across a reproduction of Philippe de Champaigne’s powerful portrait of Cardinal Richelieu I realised I had found the perfect reference for my depiction of John Charles McQuaid in all his self-confident importance.—Robert Ballagh.

Sir,—Mary Kenny’s gallop over the career of John Charles McQuaid, president of Blackrock College and afterwards Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin, in particular her reference to the bishop’s meticulous record-keeping, prompted this letter. I am older than Mary. In my Dublin youth, it was the habit to publish the moneys collected annually by parishes for the pope on the front page of the Dublin evening newspapers in a pecking order. Top of the list was Mount Merrion; surprisingly, second was the parish of Christ the King, Cabra, which, thanks to its inaugural parish priest, Canon Ó Ceallacháin, straddled part of middle-class Phibsborough, along with the tenancy of the Corpo’ in Cabra. The canon lived in the best house in the area and rode about on a horse or in his Rover car. He divided his church so as to prevent movement from the rear to the front. To gain entry to the front, one had to enter by a porch fore of the dividing railing and part with money: no money, and the Canon and his ‘henchman’ would send you around the back to join the poor. In June 1953, a church holiday fell on a Monday. I was despatched to mass with my penny. Some neighbours’ younger children were in front of me entering the forepart; they had no money for the canon’s plate. He proceeded to shoo them out. I got angry and told him: ‘If you don’t let them in I will knock you down’ (even though this would have been miraculous, as I was a skinny teenager and he a stout octogenarian). The canon stood aside, and the youngsters entered. That afternoon I took down the family writing pad and penned a letter of complaint to John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop’s Palace, Drumcondra Road, Dublin. Within a fortnight I received a reply from another diocesan canon, promising remedial action, in the manner of the best TD. Canon Ó Ceallacháin no longer stood in the porch. But he reverted to form after six weeks. Roll forward 30 years and I sought from the diocesan archivist, a Mr Sheehy, a copy of my correspondence. Yes, he confirmed there was a church holiday on a Monday in June 1953, but no sign of the correspondence. So, I am not sure that McQuaid kept all … perhaps he passed it to Canon Ó Ceallacháin, for he, unbeknownst to me, called to my mother about the matter. I would have put it on display, for it is tiresome to be told that was then and things were different. Moral standards hardly changed, but brainwashing was more extensive then.

Mary wrote of McQuaid’s objection to adoption. What was really perverse was his mean influence on the legislation, which precluded the adoption of children by parents in ‘mixed marriages’. As one in that category myself, albeit with own children, I attended the 1972 Fine Gael Ard-Fheis in Cork—my first, having joined the least worst party at the time—and I proposed the repeal of this hateful section of the Act. Paddy Cooney, minister in the coalition government of 1973–1977, did so in 1974.

I was confirmed by McQuaid in 1950, along with the full of the Pro-Cathedral. No parents were permitted to enter for the ceremony. Recently on RTÉ radio’s Liveline, a man, previously adopted, and the natural son of Protestant father and Catholic mother, told of his youth and confirmation. He was invited, he told listeners, by the archbishop to come up to his house. There the topic ceased and abruptly moved to another. So perhaps Mary Kenny is right when she asserts that no evidence has emerged that McQuaid himself molested a young male?

I am not privy to the archbishop’s ‘hideous’ residence at Drumcondra. However, the Irish Times property supplement (29 August 2013) published a nice photo of his later bachelor pad at Killiney, complete with a tall turret, which Archbishop McQuaid is said to have added so that he could watch the bird and other wildlife on Killiney beach.

You can get a glimpse as to why I founded the Campaign to Separate Church and State in 1986.—Yours etc.,


Sir,—In Mary Kenny’s article it is stated that Archbishop McQuaid forbade Catholics to attend Trinity College, Dublin. He could and did overrule this ban on occasions. As a fifteen-year-old Catholic who had completed an honours Leaving Certificate I wished to go to university. University College Dublin had a lower age limit but Trinity had no such rule. My mother, who had great initiative, took me to see the archbishop. He received us cordially, listened to our viewpoint and said that I could attend Trinity. He also added that he was sure that I would keep the faith! I qualified in science and medicine and I remain a practising Catholic. John Charles McQuaid on this occasion was neither overbearing nor authoritarian.—Yours etc.,



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