John Charles McQuaid

The Most Reverend
John Charles McQuaid
Archbishop of Dublin
Primate of Ireland
Church Roman Catholic
See Dublin
In office 1940–1972
Predecessor Edward Joseph Byrne
Successor Dermot J. Ryan
Ordination 29 June 1924
Consecration 27 December 1940
Personal details
Born (1895-07-28)28 July 1895
Cootehill, County Cavan, Ireland
Died 7 April 1973(1973-04-07) (aged 77)
Loughlinstown, County Dublin, Ireland
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John Charles McQuaid, C.S.Sp. (28 July 1895 – 7 April 1973) was the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland between December 1940 and January 1972. He was known for the unusual amount of influence he had over successive governments.

Early life

John Charles McQuaid was born in Cootehill, County Cavan, on 28 July 1895, to Dr. Eugene McQuaid and Jennie Corry. His mother died a week after his birth. His father remarried and Dr. McQuaid's new wife raised John and his sister Helen as her own. It was not until his teenage years that John learned that his biological mother had died.

He was a stellar student at the Cootehill National School[1] After primary school, McQuaid attended St. Patrick's College, Cavan and then Blackrock College in Dublin, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers where he received excellent grades. In 1911 he entered Clongowes Wood Jesuit College in County Kildare with his brother Eugene.

In 1913, on completion of his secondary studies, he entered the novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Kimmage, Dublin. The celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Thomas Davis, a famous Protestant nationalist occurred in 1913 while McQuaid was a novice in Kimmage. Significantly McQuaid referred in his notebook to Davis' famous question: "What matter that at different shrines, we pray unto one God?" He noted: "Yes for a logical Protestant but No for Catholics. We must heed what is in the creed. ... If a neutral nationality be set up, if Protestants are drawn in and not converted, is not the supernatural end missed?"

University, 1914–1925

While serving his novitiate, he studied at University College, Dublin where he was awarded both a first class honours BA in 1917 and MA in Ancient Classics in 1918. He was also awarded an honours Higher Diploma in Education in 1919, while acting as prefect in Blackrock College, 1918–1921. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1924.

McQuaid attended the Gregorian University in Rome where he completed a doctorate in theology. In November 1925 he was recalled to Ireland to serve on the staff of Blackrock College.

Dean and President of Blackrock College, 1925–39

While he was being trained as a religious and then as a priest, McQuaid's great ambition was to become a missionary to Africa. Noel Browne's biographer, John Horgan has written that: "For many years ...his ambition was not ecclesiastical preferment, but missionary service: at least four requests to be transferred to Africa were turned down by his superiors. He could have been one of the greatest missionary bishops of the century – all that energy, and intellect, would have gone through the continent like a whirlwind. These talents were unleashed instead on Dublin and on Ireland."[2]

In November 1925 McQuaid was appointed to the staff at Blackrock College in Dublin where he remained until 1939. He served as Dean of Studies from 1925–1931 and President of the College from 1931–1939.

Although regarded as a strict taskmaster, Dr. McQuaid strove to improve the performance of average and poor students. Holy Ghost priest Michael O'Carroll was a student in Blackrock when McQuaid was appointed Dean of Studies. He recounts how, when McQuaid discovered that a class of sixth-year boys lacked even the rudiments of Latin late in term, he announced in his low steely voice: 'Gentlemen we shall begin with mensa'. By the end of that term, his systematic exposition of grammar and syntax enabled 17 of the 18 boys to pass the Leaving Certificate examination in Latin.

At Blackrock he soon made his name as an administrator and as a headmaster with detailed knowledge of educational developments in other countries and with wide cultural views. In 1929 he was appointed special delegate on the Department of Education's Commission of Enquiry into the teaching of English; in 1930 he was the official delegate of the Catholic Headmasters' Association at the first International Congress of Free Secondary Education held in Brussels; he was present in the same capacity at later Congresses in The Hague, Luxembourg and Fribourg. Elected chairman of the Catholic Headmasters' Association in 1931, he remained in the chair until 1940, being specially co-opted to it in the autumn of 1939 on his ceasing to be President of Blackrock. In an appreciation of Dr McQuaid on the 25th anniversary of his consecration as Archbishop, Father Roland Burke Savage S.J. wrote: "Though a classical scholar by training and a life-long lover of Virgil, as a teacher Dr McQuaid found that he could best form his boys through teaching them an appreciation and a mastery of English prose. In teaching the theory of dramatic structure to his honours leaving class, he frequently drew his illustrations from a study of the composition of famous paintings."[3]

Father Burke Savage also wrote that Blackrock had a noted rugby record and that Dr McQuaid "realized fully the value of games in strengthening both body and character; he knew that on the rugby pitch as or the cricket crease boys learned to be unselfish, to take hard knocks well, to co-operate with each other and to work as a team .... In forming the character of his boys Dr McQuaid imbued them with a virile Catholicism and a strong sense of their social responsibilities."

Blackrock College had educated many senior Irish political and business leaders. McQuaid was close to Éamon de Valera, a future Taoiseach, himself a former Blackrock College teacher. He would later influence de Valera in drafting the modern Irish constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann).[4]

McQuaid meets de Valera in 1931

In a 1998 article in Studies magazine, McQuaid's Holy Ghost confrere Father Michael O'Carroll wrote that Éamon de Valera entered McQuaid's life at about the time the latter became President of Blackrock College in 1931. "De Valera was a past pupil with an amazing attachment to the college. His sons were educated there and he lived nearby. He and his wife Sinéad got to know Dr. McQuaid and friendship between them blossomed. The college president was a regular guest in the house and eventually his advice was sought in a very important de Valera achievement, the drafting of a new constitution for the country. Years later when de Valera was president and host to a number of bishops who had come to Blackrock College for its centenary celebrations [1960] he stated that the articles in the constitution most admired had been influenced by Dr. McQuaid who was now Archbishop of Dublin."[4]

This is a somewhat romanticised account that fails to mention the tensions that arose between the two men in the 1940s and 50s when McQuaid was Archbishop of Dublin and de Valera was frequently head of Government. In 1952 McQuaid writing to the Apostolic Nuncio, complained "From Mr de Valera's re-assumption of political leadership, the chief element of note, as far as the church is concerned, is a policy of distance. That policy is seen in the failure to consult any Bishop ..."[5]

"Co-maker of the Constitution," 1937

In 1937 a new Irish Constitution was adopted which, inter alia, acknowledged the "special position" of the Catholic Church "as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens."[6] It also forbade any established state church and encouraged freedom of religion.

Chapter 8 of John Cooney's "John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland" is entitled "Co-maker of the Constitution" and begins:

From early 1937 Eamonn de Valera was bombarded with letters daily – sometimes twice a day – from Fr. John McQuaid C.S.Sp. They were crammed with suggestions, viewpoints, documents and learned references on nearly every aspect on what was to become Bunreacht na hÉireann – the Constitution of Ireland. McQuaid was the persistent adviser, 'one of the great architects of the Constitution, albeith in the shadows'. However, McQuaid's efforts to enshrine the absolute claims of the Catholic Church as the Church of Christ were frustrated by de Valera.

In contrast historian Dermot Keogh (co-author with Andrew McCarthy of "The Making of the Irish Constitution 1937") has written:

The chapter entitled "Co-maker of the Constitution", is an example of this overstatement. The author does not appear to understand the complexity involved in handling the McQuaid papers relating to the drafting process. Many documents are undated and it is quite difficult to determine their respective influence on those who drafted the final document. The term 'co-maker' implies that the archbishop enjoyed an equal share with de Valera. However, this is to further compound a fundamental misunderstanding of the drafting process: de Valera was not the ‘other’ author of the 1937 constitution.

To over-personalise in this way the functioning of government under Fianna Fáil is to distort a complex reality. If there was a single author of the 1937 constitution then that author must have been John Hearne, the legal officer in the Department of External Affairs. Maurice Moynihan was also a significant force. McQuaid played an important role in the whole process. That is not in dispute. But to suggest that he was the "co-maker" of the constitution is simply not defensible.


Appointed Archbishop in 1940

McQuaid's consecration at St. Mary's Pro Cathedral

McQuaid's appointment in 1940 to the archdiocese of Dublin, the most important and populous in the country, came at a more stable point in Irish politics – following the violence involving the IRA and the Blueshirts and the tensions caused by the Economic War with the UK in the 1930s. The beginning of "the Emergency" (Ireland's term for the Second World War), had produced a new mode of national consensus. Also McQuaid's relations with the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, were excellent in contrast to most of the hierarchy who were distinctly cool towards him. From the evidence of Irish Government archives made available in the 1990s it is clear that de Valera had pressed McQuaid's candidacy on the Vatican. However, it is doubtful if the Vatican needed much urging. McQuaid had an outstanding reputation as a Catholic educationalist and had been close to Archbishop Edward Byrne of Dublin, his immediate predecessor. His name had already been mentioned in connection with his native diocese of Kilmore.

However de Valera was later to state that he had also been impressed by McQuaid's social concerns at a time when the hardships of the war were particularly affecting the poor. The hierarchy and clergy of the Irish Church reflected the views of the strong and middling farmer class from which they were mostly drawn and were uncomprehending of urban life and poverty. McQuaid, as de Valera knew, was different and this was reflected in his first Lenten pastoral in 1941. "The very widespread yearning for social peace is itself proof of the grave need of social reform", McQuaid wrote. But he emphasised that "whatever shape the detailed reform of the social structure ultimately may take, the only lasting basis of reconstruction can be the true faith that we profess."[8]

David C. Sheehy, Dublin diocesan archivist wrote in 2003 that "McQuaid saw the achievement of high office as the natural and appropriate outcome for someone of his background, education and talents. Like Bernard Law Montgomery taking over command of the British Eighth Army before El Alamein, in the late summer of 1942, McQuaid's accession to the See of Dublin, less than two years before, unleashed a man of ability combined with prodigious energy and in his prime. For Monty and McQuaid, prima donnas both, everything that had gone before in their very different lives had been but a preparation for the assumption of senior command and for the challenge of a lifetime. Like warriors of old, they gratefully responded to the bugle call and strode forward to claim their place in history."[9]

Archbishop of Dublin, 1940–71

He was appointed Archbishop of Dublin on 6 November 1940 at the age of 45. His episcopal motto was ‘Testimonium Perhibere Veritati’-"to bear witness to the truth" from John 18:37. McQuaid oversaw a massive expansion of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin during his term. He also established a wide range of social services for the poor of the city. He is especially remembered for his work in the area of charity. In the first year of his episcopate he oversaw the establishment of the Catholic Social Welfare Conference which co-ordinated the work of the great number of charitable organisations existing in the city. The following year(1942) he set up the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau which helped emigrants and their families. He had a personal interest in providing for people who suffered physically, mentally and spiritually. During his episcopate the number of clergy increased from 370 to 600, the number of religious from 500 to 700 and the number of parishes from 71 to 131.[10] In addition some 80 new churches were built, 250 primary schools and 100 secondary schools.[11]

In a 1998 article in Studies, historian Dermot Keogh wrote about the effect of the Archbishop's work on his own life as a schoolboy: "Between 1940 and 1972, the year of his resignation as archbishop [sic.], Dr McQuaid had helped provide 47 new parishes in the archdiocese, together with the necessary primary and secondary educational infrastructure in each of those areas. My generation had been a beneficiary of that policy. In the early 1950s, I had moved from the small two-roomed school beside the old church in Raheny to new premises carved out of the nearby St Anne's woods. There the classes grew exponentially – to 56 in my case. Here was a measure for social change and for the new pastoral challenge facing the Catholic Church in the 1950s – a decade of high emigration, high unemployment and the expansion of the working class into the Dublin suburbs."[12]

This record of phenomenal expansion had one curious side effect. Dublin has two Protestant Cathedrals built in the Middle Ages but no Catholic Cathedral. The centre of the Catholic Archdiocese is the 19th century St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in a side street near the city centre. The Pro-Cathedral was never intended to be other than a temporary acting cathedral, pending the availability of funds to build a full cathedral. (In the aftermath of the 1921 Treaty the Church of Ireland offered to return either St.Patrick's Cathedral or Christ Church to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland: they refused the offer). Archbishop McQuaid bought the gardens in the centre of Merrion Square and announced plans to erect a cathedral there. However, he felt obliged to use the funds originally designated for the new cathedral to build the new churches and schools instead. His successor eventually handed over the gardens to Dublin Corporation and they are now a public park.[13] As a result of the Archbishop's sense of priorities, Dublin still has no Catholic cathedral.

Dr. McQuaid also took a keen interest in industrial relations and was involved in resolving several disputes during his time as Archbishop. During the Teachers Strike of 1946 he sympathised with the teachers and actively supported them.[14]

McQuaid also controversially extended the ban on Catholics attending Trinity College, Dublin. Originally Catholics had objected to being excluded from the university from 1695 until the Irish 1793 Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. In the ensuing century Trinity came to be seen as a dangerous bastion of Protestant influence in Ireland. Exemptions were granted to businessmen such as Al Byrne (in 1948), provided that they did not join any college societies.[15] The policy gave rise to a doggerel verse: "Young men may loot, perjure and shoot / And even have carnal knowledge / But however depraved, their souls will be saved / If they don't go to Trinity College".[16] The general prohibition was lifted by bishops meeting at Maynooth in June 1970, towards the end of McQuaid's episcopacy.

Finally, in 1961 he founded the Colleges' Volunteer Corps, drawn from Roman Catholic secondary colleges in Dublin, which carried out social work. It also served, in full uniform, as an honour guard each when he visited Lourdes, during the Patrician Year and on other occasions. Restricted to male students during his lifetime, it was opened to female students by his successors.


There was the impression of friendship between McQuaid and Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil and frequent head of government from the 1930s to the late 1950s. Historian Dermot Keogh believes that there has been a tendency to view the relationship between the two men as being static and not subject to change or development. Dr Keogh thinks it was quite the reverse. The men were friends and the relationship was less complicated in the 1930s when McQuaid was not archbishop. But after his consecration, McQuaid represented in a formal fashion the interests of the Church and he defended those interests even when it brought him into conflict with the leader of the state who also happened to be his friend. That friendship never clouded both men's concepts of their duties on behalf of church and state. It is all too facile to hold, a priori, that de Valera and McQuaid sang consistently from the same hymn sheet.[17]

There was continuing conflict between McQuaid and de Valera. In 1946 McQuaid's support of the national teachers’ strike, greatly annoyed de Valera. In 1951 the Fianna Fáil government (which replaced the First Inter-Party Government) introduced a revised version of Noel Browne's original Mother and Child Scheme to which the hierarchy, led by Dr. McQuaid had successfully objected. Although the Archbishop still objected to the modified version, he was out-manoeuvered by de Valera.

Personal qualities

The late John Feeney, published in 1974 "John Charles McQuaid – The Man and the Mask". This critical essay on the archbishop presents McQuaid as living outside his time but as a "first class bishop of the old school" who, had he lived fifty years earlier "would have no critics worth speaking of and would hardly be remembered today except by those who benefited from his quiet, personal charity" (page 78/9).

Feeney also evaluates his role in a negative light under the headings 'schoolteacher' and 'medievalist'. Yet, he was also for Feeney a Christian and 'a diligent, sincere and absolutely honest man who did his duty as he saw it".(page 79).

Examples of the archbishop's "quiet personal charity" are rarely supplied in John Cooney's biography, "John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland". He quotes McQuaid's secretary (from 1940 onwards) Father Chris Mangan as recording that "after supper at night, six nights a week he would go out visiting hospitals" (page 144). However Cooney then passes quickly on to the archbishop's administrative methods. There is no discussion on how this regular visiting of the sick fits in with Cooney's portrait of a power-hungry Renaissance-style prelate.

Behind his formidable exterior the Archbishop was an extremely shy man who was ill at ease at social functions. In 1963 after the first session of the Vatican Council, Dr McQuaid set up a secret all-priests Public Image Committee "to examine what is now called the public image of the Church in the Dublin Diocese". The Archbishop insisted that the committee members should pull no punches and they obliged. The committee reported that his public image "is entirely negative: a man who forbids, a man who is stern and aloof from the lives of the people, a man who doesn't meet the people (as they want him to) at church functions, at public gatherings, or television or in the streets, who writes deep pastoral letters in theological and canonical language that is remote from the lives of the people". One of the committee members noted that the archbishop was "somewhat disappointed" after the first meeting. "He felt the discussion centred too much on him personally. The image of the church was not the same as that of the archbishop."[18]

Relationship to Patrick Kavanagh

McQuaid regularly gave money to the poet Patrick Kavanagh whom he first met in 1940. In 1946 he found Kavanagh a job on the Catholic magazine 'The Standard' but the poet remained chronically disorganised and the archbishop continued to assist him until his death in 1967. Patrick Kavanagh was a great religious poet but his long poem 'The Great Hunger' (1942) gave a very bleak view of Catholicism, and the ultra-orthodox prelate must have been well aware of this. Why he chose to disregard this uncomfortable fact is something of a mystery.

(However journalist Emmanuel Kehoe wrote of Kavanagh: "As a teenager I'd nourished a natural Irish anti-clericalism and anger at the sex-denying Catholic Church by reading his staggeringly powerful poem, The Great Hunger. Yet even this epic exercise in savage indignation did not lose Kavanagh the patronage of the Blackrock Borgia, the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. What this ostensibly austere Spiritan found to admire and support in the raggle-taggle character who sometimes sounded like a latter-day William Blake long puzzled me, except that McQuaid must have seen in him a deep and authentic Catholicism.")[19]

The following is an extract from 'Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography' by Antoinette Quinn (2001):

"Since the cancer operation, Dr McQuaid had maintained an interest in his protégé's welfare. When Kavanagh was still living in No 62 [Pembroke Road in 1959], the archbishop's chauffeur-driven Humber would draw up outside at Christmas time and the priest at the wheel would be sent to ring the doorbell and summon the poet. Kavanagh, who checked the identity of all callers to the front door in a car mirror he had rigged up for the purpose, would join His Grace in the car rather than let him see the state of his flat. On the first occasion he confided in the priest that the visit was inconvenient because he had a woman with him. When Dr McQuaid was told, he showed his sense of humour by responding, 'Some good woman from the Legion of Mary, doubtless.'"

The Archbishop also played a role in the events that led to the composition of Kavanagh's poem "On Raglan Road". There was a curious (chaste!) triangular relationship involving Kavanagh, McQuaid and Hilda Moriarty, the lady whose rejection of the poet provided the theme of the song.[20]

Regarding the poet's sudden death on 30 November 1967, Antoinette Quinn wrote: "Immediately on learning of the death, Dr. McQuaid sent a handwritten letter of sympathy to [Kavanagh's widow] Katherine, telling her he would like to have visited Patrick in his last illness and that long before the marriage he 'had arranged that at the shortest notice the poet would be received and cared for in the Mater Private Nursing Home. But it was not God's will.'"[21]

National Teachers' Strike, 1946

The seven-month-long strike by the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) in 1946 strained the relationship between the Archbishop and de Valera who was Taoiseach at the time. The national (primary school) teachers wanted a wage increase and parity with their secondary school colleagues. As former teachers (and de Valera had also been Minister for Education in 1939/40), both men had a very high opinion of the teaching profession but the Government was facing severe financial constraints. De Valera acknowledged the national teachers' great responsibilities, but was not only unwilling to grant them parity with secondary teachers, but refused to meet their more modest pay demands.

In his book "De Valera, The Man and the Myths" historian and journalist T. Ryle Dwyer writes: "When the teachers went on strike, de Valera viewed their demands as a challenge to the authority of his government, and he resisted their demands with the same kind of determination which he had resisted [IRA] hunger-strikers. He even went to the point of straining his long friendship with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who tried to intercede on behalf of the teachers. Eventually the Archbishop persuaded the INTO to capitulate, but many teachers remained bitter and they would become enthusiastic supporters of Clann na Poblachta."[22]

Italian communism, 1947/48

Archbishop McQuaid organised funds for post war relief in various European countries, especially in Italy, sending, clothing, footwear and food, and he arranged that cost of shipping the relief goods would be borne by the Irish Government. Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, replied in 1947 thanking him for the unselfish generosity of the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

In a speech in Rome on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See, the current Archbishop of Dublin Diarmaid Martin said:

"Archbishop McQuaid worked hard to arouse the interest of Irish public opinion in the fight against communism in Europe in the late 1940s, when after a communist take over in Central and Eastern Europe there was the fear that a similar possibility could not be ruled out even for Italy itself. Professor [Dermot] Keogh has illustrated the offer of the Irish government to go so far as to offer hospitality to the Pope should he feel it necessary to leave Italy. On 11 April 1948, Archbishop McQuaid made a personal appeal on Irish state radio, with the full approval of the Irish government, to provide funds to help defeat the communists in the upcoming General Election in Italy. Archbishop McQuaid sent over £20.000 on that occasion and the total sent from Ireland was up to £60,000. In replying, Monsignor Montini noted how much the 'spirit of truly Christian solidarity" had been a "profound consolation and encouragement to [the Holy Father] amidst the sorrows and anxieties of these difficult times'."[23]

Mother and Child Scheme, 1950/51

In the early 1950s, Noel Browne, the First Inter-Party Government's Minister of Health, – shocked by the absence of ante-natal care for pregnant women, and the resulting infant mortality rates in Ireland – proposed providing free access to health care for mothers and children in a new Mother and Child Scheme. The government of the time sought approval from the Catholic Church in relation to the scheme. Archbishop McQuaid strongly criticised the scheme claiming it was against the "moral teaching" of the Catholic Church'. This criticism by McQuaid, in the context of his strong personal political influence, and that of the Catholic Church, resulted in the government withdrawing the scheme, and the resignation of Browne.

Not appointed cardinal in 1953

McQuaid was never made a cardinal and de Valera had something to do with that. In 1953 he was a leading contender but the honour went instead to the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, John d'Alton. McQuaid was informed by a friend in Rome that the reason for d'Alton's appointment was political. The Vatican fully realised that McQuaid was the leading contender for the red hat but, his friend wrote, he had been informed by Joseph Walshe, the Irish minister to the Holy See, that the reason for d'Alton's appointment was 'an attempt to conciliate the North and emphasise the unity of Ireland'.

What the Ambassador did not tell McQuaid's friend, was that he himself had lobbied against the red hat coming to Dublin both on political grounds (although Armagh is part of the UK, Ireland is treated as a whole by most religious organisations, including the Catholic Church) and on the basis of McQuaid's character. Walshe did not mention de Valera's anger over McQuaid's support for the teacher's strike in 1946. Instead he reminded the Vatican that the Archbishop had made constant difficulties over precedence whenever the Nuncio attended the pro-cathedral and warned that if he became Cardinal “the Nuncio would have endless difficulties, with every sphere of his activities, owing to this deplorable weakness in [McQuaid's] character, already so well known to the Holy See".[24]

Indeed, the Archbishop was a stickler for protocol. Awarding the red hat to the Archbishop of Armagh served the dual purpose of emphasising the unity of Ireland while avoiding antagonising Ulster Protestants by seeming to elevate Dublin above Armagh (if the appointment had gone to McQuaid). This kind of convoluted diplomacy was typical of de Valera.

Yugoslavian football match boycotts, 1952–55

In the 1950s Yugoslavia was run by Tito's Communist regime. Tito's courts had sent Cardinal Stepinac to prison for collaborating with the fascist Ustaše during the Second World War and he was released in 1951. The Catholic Church felt that it was still being discriminated against by the regime. Archbishop McQuaid persuaded the Football Association of Ireland to cancel a match between Yugoslavia and the Republic of Ireland in 1952.[25] He then unsuccessfully called for a boycott when a similar match was arranged for October 1955.[26] McQuaid did however persuade the famous radio broadcaster Phil Greene not to commentate the match, which led to the memorable newspaper headline: "Reds turn Greene Yellow".[27][28]

Second Vatican Council, 1962–65

In 2007 Columba Press published "Hold Firm: John Charles McQuaid and the Second Vatican Council" by Francis Xavier Carty. The book focuses on how the legendary archbishop handled the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) and its aftermath in his own diocese.

John Charles McQuaid will always be remembered for his attempt to reassure his flock at the end of the Council that "No change will worry the tranquility of your Christian lives". How wrong he was. There was to be no more tranquility in the Dublin diocese as priests and laity struggled to implement the new liturgical changes, to allow in the winds of change unloosed by Pope John XXIII, to reach out to non-Catholics with the new-fangled ecumenism and then endure the storm raised by the condemnation of artificial contraception in the encyclical Humanae Vitae issued by Pope Paul VI in July 1968.

Dr McQuaid, whose watchwords were control and discipline, was ill-prepared for these turbulent years. Much in his traditional clerical formation rebelled against the new spirit of renewal, aggiornamento, emanating from the Council. He confided to a fellow conservative prelate, Bishop Michael Browne of Galway, that the Holy Faith nuns "will do anything to aid a parish priest. They are untouched by modern craze for aggiornamento". But Dr McQuaid was above all loyal to his Church and pope and in his own way introduced the necessary changes. They were "a new emphasis on old truths rather than new truths" he assured his priests and flock, divided between those who wanted to go faster and those who thought Vatican Two was a lot of hot air which would blow away and life would go on as before.

FX Carty tells the story of that decade, which opens with the Council and closes with the death of Dr McQuaid. His research has thrown new light on the approach of the archbishop to the challenges, especially in the communications field. A poor communicator himself, he inspired the setting up of the Radharc religious TV programme under Fr Joe Dunn and he appointed the first diocesan lay press officer, Osmond Dowling. The files of the press office describe Dowling's private purgatory as he tried to present and defend the strange world of a diocese ruled by a clerical autocrat.

Dr McQuaid's attendance at the Council sessions in Rome was dutiful but without much enthusiasm. He and his fellow bishops were unprepared for the excitement generated by the first session. Dr McQuaid for his part was unimpressed by the reporting of the Council by the Irish religious affairs correspondents. He told the Public Image Committee that "the criticism produced is quite ignorant, the reporting on the Council has been very bad". He told Fr Burke-Savage from Rome: "I am dismayed by the facile ignorance of the journalists who are writing about the documents that have cost us years of work, and by the more facile dictation in regard to what we bishops must now do".

The archbishop would sometimes joke about his "ogre" image in the media. Behind the aloofness was a sense of humour but also, surprisingly, a sense of insecurity as he grappled with unwelcome change. He was devastated when the obligatory offer to resign on his 75th birthday was accepted by Pope Paul, albeit with a year's extension. Carty writes, "He was possibly worried that the Pope's rapid acceptance of his resignation was a negative judgement on his work".[29]

Dr. McQuaid resigned his post on 4 January 1971 and formally relinquished the government of the Archdiocese of Dublin when his successor (Dermot Ryan, appointed 29 December 1971) was ordained Archbishop on 13 February 1972.


Archbishop McQuaid implemented the decrees of Vatican II – including the ecumenical decrees – out of a sense of loyalty to his Church. However he did warm somewhat to non-Catholics, especially those whose attitudes reflected some aspect of his own character. In his autobiography, his Holy Ghost confrere Father Michael O'Carroll records this exchange with the Archbishop:

Father O'Carroll: Well, Your Grace, if you want my honest opinion, I would prefer to hear some Protestants speaking about our religion than certain Catholic priests. I would certainly prefer Malcolm Muggeridge to some of them.

Archbishop McQuaid: Oh, I would agree with you, Father. Did you read his review in last Sunday's Observer of a new history of monasticism? I learned the last sentence by heart. I shall quote it: "The early monastic founders asked everything of their followers and they got everything; the moderns ask little and they get nothing."[30]


In response to the challenge of Vatican II, the Irish Church modernised its structures to some extent. The Catholic Communications Institute of Ireland under Father Joseph Dunne was founded. Radharc ("view" or "vision" in the Irish language), directed by Joe Dunne, was to become of one the national broadcaster RTÉ's longest running documentary programmes. (It was also the first independently produced series on RTÉ.) Fr Joe Dunne was supported by Desmond Forristal, Tom Stack, Dermod McCarthy, Peter Lemass and Bily Fitzgerald, all priests of the Dublin Archdiocese. The priest programmers tackled a variety of topics including the first film shot in an Irish prison The Young Offender (1963). Radharc made films about devotional topics but Father Dunne laid emphasis on the social gospel with films like Honesty at the Fair (1963), Down and Out in Dublin (1964), The Boat Train to Euston (1965) and Smuggling and Smugglers (1965).

Radharc went to Africa in 1965 and the team continued to travel and make films until the 1990s. In total the Radharc team produced over four hundred documentaries between 1962 and 1996.[31]

Allegations of child abuse

In his biography of the Archbishop, John Cooney relates a number of stories that suggest that Dr. McQuaid had an unhealthy interest in children. The main allegation – that the Archbishop had attempted to sexually assault a boy in a Dublin pub – is based on an unpublished essay by McQuaid's antagonist Noel Browne. Reviewers who praised the biography stated that the author should have left out these allegations (e.g. Dermot Keogh, Professor of History and John A. Murphy, Emeritus Professor of History at University College Cork).[32]

There is a satirical account of the controversy by then Irish Times journalist Kevin Myers in his Irishman's Diary on 10 November 1999.[33] There is also an account by Colum Kenny, Associate Professor of Communications at Dublin City University of a meeting he had with the Archbishop as a teenager in the 1960s. Although his attitude to Dr. McQuaid is hostile, he regards Cooney's allegations as absurd. He also provides this revealing vignette: "I remember the archbishop later sighing about the amount of correspondence he received from people. He waved a hand across the papers on his desk and muttered: They write to me about the system. What system? There are only people; or words to that effect."[34]

Two separate allegations of paedophile abuse by McQuaid were brought to the attention of the Murphy Commission.[35] One complaint alleges abuse of a 12-year-old boy by Archbishop McQuaid in 1961. The complaint concerned an adult who, in January 2003, complained to the Eastern Health Board that he had been abused by Archbishop McQuaid 42 years previously. The EHB and its successor the Health Service Executive (HSE), have responsibility for caring for minors (under 18) who have been sexually abused and it is not clear where their duty lies in relation to adults accusing deceased persons. When this complaint came to light several years later, the HSE did not pass this complaint on to the Murphy Commission – again for unexplained reasons – but the Commission is satisfied that this was simply due to human error. In May 2009, the HSE passed the complaint to the then Director of Child Protection in the Dublin Archdiocese, who informed Archbishop Martin, who immediately informed the Murphy Commission.

The archdiocese then organised a further trawl of its files and found a letter "which showed that there was an awareness among a number of people in the archdiocese that there had been a concern expressed" about Archbishop McQuaid in 1999. John Cooney's biography of the Archbishop was published in 1999 and generated enormous publicity – including the publication in the Sunday Times of Cooney's allegations regarding paedophilia. This was very likely to have generated the awareness referred to.

Then in 2010, after the Commission's report had been published, Archbishop Martin told it he had received another abuse complaint against Archbishop McQuaid. The supplementary report of the Commission said "Archbishop Martin was under no obligation to give the commission this information". It was now a matter for the archdiocese "to investigate all complaints against this cleric,” it said. The 2010 complaint is the subject of a civil action against the archdiocese.

The Supplement to the Murphy Report can be read at It is a very short document, does not mention Archbishop McQuaid by name, and – unlike the main Report that goes into great detail about child abuse allegations – gives very few details of the claims.

Meanwhile, John Cooney has called on Cardinal Desmond Connell to apologise unreservedly for dismissing claims that the Archbishop McQuaid had improper sexual relations with boys. (Cardinal Connell was Archbishop of Dublin when John Cooney's book was published in 1999 and described his claims of sex abuse as "rumour, hearsay and conjecture".) A statement from John Cooney said: "It inflicted huge moral and material damage on me as an author and journalist. I would expect Cardinal Connell to offer me, and my publisher, the O’Brien Press, this long overdue apology." However he does not appear to have requested apologies from historians like Dermot Keogh, John A. Murphy or Ronan Fanning all of whom were equally dismissive.[36]

Martin Sixsmith in The Lost Child of Philomena Lee [37] reproduces the letter from Browne and claims McQuaid's total opposition to a government Adoption Act proposed to remove control over adoption of extra-marital children from the Catholic church and vest it in the government collapsed once he was shown the letter.

Handling of allegations of abuse against clergy

In 2009 a Commission of Investigation produced a Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, known as the Murphy Report. The purpose of the Commission was to probe the manner in which complaints of clerical abuse were handled.[38]

A first complaint about Fr.James McNamee (d.2002) bathing with naked adolescent boys at Stella Maris F.C. was made in January 1960, investigated initially by auxiliary bishop Patrick Dunne and reported to Archbishop McQuaid.[39] Fr.McNamee denied the allegations and was believed by the bishops. McQuaid wrote: "as he is a worthy priest I agree that we could not refuse to accept his word."[40] Fr.McNamee moved on from the club but, Archbishop McQuaid said, not immediately "lest he be defamed."[41] Many subsequent complaints were made about Fr.McNamee.[42]

In August 1960 a UK photographic processing company passed on film posted to them from Fr.Edmondus [a pseudonym] in Dublin to Scotland Yard. The photographs were of girls' private parts. It was passed to the Commissioner of the Gardaí, who asked Archbishop McQuaid to take over the investigation.[43] He in turn passed it to Bishop Dunne, who had grave concerns that a canonical crime had been committed.[44] Fr.Edmondus admitted to Archbishop McQuaid that he had taken pictures of children at Crumlin Hospital, because of ignorance and curiosity regarding female sex organs. He related his social discomfiture with females as he was raised with brothers (in fact he had a sister).[45] Archbishop McQuaid and Bishop Dunne finally agreed that a canonical crime had not been committed.[46] Archbishop McQuaid arranged for Fr.Edmondus to see a doctor for instruction "to end his wonderment" at female genitalia.[45] The Commission believed that "Archbishop McQuaid acted as he did to avoid scandal in both Ireland and Rome and without regard to the protection of children in Crumlin Hospital."[47] It described his usage of the word "wonderment" to describe Fr.Edmondus's actions as "risible."[48] It further added, "The apparent cancellation by Archbishop McQuaid of his original plan to pursue the priest through the procedures of canon law was a disaster. It established a pattern of not holding abusers responsible which lasted for decades[49] ... no attempt was made to monitor Fr.Edmondus in other placements."[50]

In 1961 Archbishop McQuaid established a hostel in Dublin for boys who had been in industrial schools – mainly Artane – and assigned priests to see to their spiritual welfare and to help them integrate into society. One of these priests was Diarmuid Martin who went on to become Archbishop of Dublin in 2004 and to take a strong line against alleged clerical abusers. In June 2009, John Cooney wrote an article in the Irish Independent demanding to know why Archbishop Martin had not denounced the alleged horrors of Artane 40 years previously.[51] Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs correspondent of the Irish Times also wrote an article entitled, "Archbishop Defends Abuse Inaction"[52] in which Dr.Martin stated, "Social workers, health boards and the diocese were trying to reform and eventually close down the institutions ... Consensus soon emerged that the best – and indeed the only – option for Artane would be to close it down, which happened in 1969...We did consistently hear stories of severe physical abuse and Dickensian conditions there [at industrial schools]. There was no mention of explicitly sexual abuse. The situation was referred by Archbishop McQuaid to the Department of Education."


On Saturday 7 April 1973 McQuaid was too ill to get up at his usual time of 6.30am to say Mass at his private residence in Killiney Co. Dublin. He was taken to Loughlinstown Hospital where he died within an hour. Shortly before his death he asked nurse Margaret O'Dowd if he had any chance of reaching heaven. She told him that if he as Archbishop could not get to heaven, few would. This answer appeared to satisfy him and he lay back on the pillow to await death. He died at about 11am.[53] He is buried in St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.


In a sermon delivered in 1955 on the occasion of the Catholic University of Ireland centenary, McQuaid praised his predecessor Cardinal Paul Cullen: "No writer has done adequate justice to his character or stature...Silent, magnanimous, far-seeing, Cardinal Cullen would seem to be as heedless of self-justification after death, as he was intrepid in administration during life. Not his the multitude of letters and scrupulous autobiography that help a later age to reconstruct a picture of the unspeaking dead."

Shortly after McQuaid's death, Cardinal John Carmel Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, predicted in an RTÉ radio documentary that history would vindicate him. In his work "Ireland 1912–1985" Professor John Joseph Lee wrote: "The Church is a bulwark, perhaps now the main bulwark of the civic culture. It is the very opportunism of the traditional value system that leaves religion as the main bulwark between a reasonably civilised civil society and the untrammelled predatory instincts of individual and pressure group selfishness, curbed only by the power of rival predators .... If religion were no longer to fulfil its historic civilising mission as a substitute for internalised values of civic responsibility, the consequences for the country, no less than for the church, could be lethal" (page 675).

In his book "Twentieth Century Ireland", published in 2005 historian Dermot Keogh writes:

"Ostensibly the old order was changing. The resignation of two figures from Irish public life at the beginning of the 1970s reinforced that perception. On 4 January 1972 [sic.], John Charles McQuaid retired as archbishop of Dublin after spending over 30 years in the post; he died on 7 April 1973. Eamon de Valera retired from the presidency in June 1973; he died on 29 August 1975. Both men had been close friends in the 1930s. They were representative of a culture of service that had been a feature of the political life of the young state. In the 1970s both men had lost their relevance. But the culture of service, upon which both had built their public lives, was an ever-diminishing influence in a state which had come to revere the philosophy of radical individualism."[54]

In a hostile article in the Irish Times on 7 April 2003, McQuaid's biographer, John Cooney provided a different slant to the observations of Professors Lee and Keogh:

"Generally, there was a consensus that McQuaid's death marked the end of the era of Renaissance-style prelates. Officially, the President, Eamon de Valera, was "deeply grieved" to hear the news. In the privacy of Loughlinstown Hospital Dev wept over the corpse of the Holy Ghost priest on whose behalf he had lobbied the Vatican in 1940 for elevation to the See of Dublin and the Primacy of Ireland. Although their relationship at times was strained, both men co-operated to control people's lives for so long in a closed and puritanical society which the writer Seán Ó Faoláin memorably decried as a "dreary Eden".


  1. quoted in article "Inspired Educator and Ecumenist of Sorts" by Michael O'Carroll CSSp in Studies Quarterly Review, Vol 87, No 348
  3. The Church in Dublin: 1940–1965 in "Studies" Vol 54, No 216 Winter 1965
  4. 1 2 Inspired Educator and Ecumenist of Sorts, Studies, Vol 87, Number 348
  5. Ferriter, Diarmaid (2007). Judging Dev. RIA. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-904890-28-7.
  6. Constitution of Ireland, Article 44.2 (removed by referendum in 1972)
  8. article by Deirdre McMahon "The Politician – A Reassessment" in Studies Review, Vol 87, No 348
  9. article by David C. Sheehy "Archbishop McQuaid: the Diocesan Administrator" in Doctrine and Life, March 2003
  10. McMahon, Deirdre (Winter 1998). Noel Barber S.J., ed. The Politician – A Reassessment. Studies. 87. pp. 349–350. 348.
  12. "Towards a Biography of an Archbishop" by Dermot Keogh
  13. St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral
  14. John Charles McQuaid (1940–1972), []
  15. Note on Al Byrne's exemption
  16. Independent 21 November 1999
  17. "Towards a Biography of an Archbishop", Dermot Keogh, Studies 1998
  18. Hold Firm: John Charles McQuaid and the Second Vatican Council, by Francis Xavier Carty, The Columba Press, 2007
  19. Genius Among The Buckleppers, Sunday Business Post, 2 March 2003
  20. "The Poet, The Archbishop and 'On Raglan Road'"
  21. "Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography" by Antoinette Quinn, page 262
  22. T. Ryle Dwyer, De Valera: The Man and the Myths (Dublin: Poolbeg, 1991, pages 294/95)
  24. 'Ireland in the Twentieth Century' by Tim Pat Coogan, page 380
  25. History Ireland notes online
  27. "The strange ways of a 'control freak'". Irish Independent.
  28. Football Studies vol. 11, 1 (2008)
  29. Tradition and Turbulence, by Joe Carroll, Irish Times 26 January 2008 (Review of "Hold Firm" by FX Carty)
  30. quoted in Blog 'Vultus Christi'
  31. "Twentieth Century Ireland" by Dermot Keogh, page 271/2
  32. "John Cooney and John Charles McQuaid (1) on
  33. See article "Kevin Myers, John Cooney and John Charles McQuaid"
  34. See article "My Hour Alone with John Charles McQuaid", Sunday Independent, 14 November 1999
  35. The Irish Times article Archbishop McQuaid subject of child sex abuse complaints
  37. Pan Books 2009, ch. 9
  39. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 12.5
  40. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 12.6
  41. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 12.7
  42. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 12.9
  43. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.5
  44. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.6
  45. 1 2 Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.7
  46. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.8
  47. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.11
  48. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.69
  49. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.70
  50. Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, July 2009. Chapter 13.71
  51. Cooney, John (20 June 2009). "Why did Good Guy Diarmuid stay so silent for 40 years?". Irish Independent.
  52. "Archbishop defends abuse inaction". The Irish Times. 6 June 2009.
  53. John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland by John Cooney, page 431/2
  54. page 330/31, "Twentieth Century Ireland", Dermot Keogh, Gill & McMillan Ltd. 2005


External links

Preceded by
Edward Joseph Byrne
Archbishop of Dublin
Succeeded by
Dermot J. Ryan

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