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Saturday, August 19, 2017
Date Posted:

How Rome Sacrificed Ireland’s Interests To Her Own

The Ensalvement of a Nation: the Romanising of Ireland
Dr Clive Gillis

Rome seized Ireland between 1850 and 1860.

In 1849 O’Connell was dead and Queen Victoria had just completed a very successful Royal visit.  Far from republican terrorists succeeding in a plot “to kidnap the Queen and hold her hostage in the Dublin mountains against the release state (republican) prisoners,” Victoria experienced rapturous crowds, red carpets and illuminated cities wherever she went.  A mere two hundred members of the Confederate Clubs did gather at the Grand Canal armed with pistols and daggers but dispersed without taking any action.  The Union was secure and Britain was confident of neutralising and absorbing Irish Roman Catholicism.

The four Archbishoprics

Rome at the time was operating through the four ancient Irish dioceses.  Armagh in the north had the primacy.  Dublin, the richest and most prestigious was in the east.  To the west was Tuam and Cashel in the south.

Armagh lay vacant.  The dissensions among the three remaining Roman Catholic Archbishops in 1849 over the comparatively minor matter of Victoria’s visit encapsulated the gross disharmony which characterised their every move on issues great or small.  At one end of the spectrum was “pugnacious” noisy archbishop McHale of Tuam, and inveterate nationalist and law unto himself, who regarded it as his duty to snub as abruptly and rudely as possible any olive branch from the British Government.  He wanted a savage address presented to the Queen.  Not without reason, he had earned the nickname of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, often simply abbreviated to ‘the Lion’.

Archbishop Murray of Dublin headed up the opposing camp.  He was a senior, pro-British, “castle archbishop” (that is an archbishop who was sympathetic to Dublin Castle from which Ireland was governed) and he was no friend of Rome.  Murray sought peaceful co-existence with Britain and also, mercifully for Britain, headed the largest party.  He wanted a “warm welcome” for the Queen.

McHale the Lion, true to type, rejected out of hand Murray’s first draught and then his rewrite.  Wearily Murray wrote to Lord Clarendon who was organising the visit, “Your Excellency will perceive what I have to endure from some of my Brethren”.  And readers will appreciate that not only Murray but Rome also suffered as a consequence of such quarrels.  This civil war in the Irish Roman Catholic church, affecting every issue, embarrassed the Vatican for the ten years up to 1850, weakening Rome in Ireland and strengthening Britain.

Paul Cullen

Rome needed to bring the Irish hierarchy together and to get them on her side, instead of quarrelling among themselves and either seeking peaceful co-existence with Britain or pursuing the interests of Irish nationalism, which were not necessarily always those of Rome.

Actually Rome had long been grooming her man.  Paul Cullen came to the Eternal City from Carlow as a youth of 17 with a Quaker education, courtesy of canny RC parents.  He was devoted to the popes and the papal supremacy with a genuine zeal.  He was enthralled by Rome’s Counter Reformation churches.  He vowed to see Ireland purged of heretical Protestantism which he hated with every fibre of his being. Cullen’s conspicuous display of loyalty to three successive Popes made him a marked man and he was genuinely trusted throughout the Vatican.  Cullen had held a senior post in the Propaganda which controlled all Rome’s appointments throughout the world and he had as a result obtained an intimate knowledge of Rome’s part in Irish affairs while, in turn, explaining Ireland to Rome.

Protestant heretics

He became Rector of the Irish College at only 29, and prudently groomed soul-mate Tobias Kirby as Vice-Rector to be a duplicate of himself.  A whole generation of upcoming priests were devoted to them both.

Cullen was Roman through and through.  He spoke, wrote and thought primarily in Italian and Latin.  He became not just a Vatican insider but a trusted one, a thing as rare then as it is now.  The threat that he represented to Irish Protestantism was immense and yet, years later, when he had presented Ireland on a platter to Rome, he could boast that he had done it without having dined even once with a Protestant heretic.

The 1848 revolution saw Pius IX flee Rome to govern from outside the papal states.  Meanwhile golden boy Cullen notched up more Vatican brownie points by sheltering wanted Vatican officials in the Irish College.

Pius was exasperated with the hierarchy in Ireland and was determined to rein them in.  He was aware that it was an hour of destiny.  If Ireland were not seized now it would be lost to the Protestants forever.  Despite all the strain of running the papacy from Gaeta, Pius acted immediately when Armagh became vacant through the death of Archbishop Crolly who was “castle” Archbishop Murray of Dublin’s closest ally.

Cullen the castle man

To Pius this was a matter “transcending all others”.  He and the unanimous Propaganda did not hesitate.  They insisted that Cullen go at once “to make Rome’s will effective” for all time in Ireland.  The Vatican knew full well that if Cullen replaced Crolly it would deal a fatal blow to Murray’s pro-British camp and would result in the delivering up of Ireland to Rome.  The British meanwhile were to be fooled by Cullen assuming the appearance of a “castle archbishop”.  Cullen would be seen as a welcome new restraint on the Lion.  Rome’s battle plan was to isolate and weaken the Lion and his nationalist adherents whilst simultaneously undermining the real “castle men” without them realising it.  The press was skilfully enlisted to disseminate the image of Cullen as the new “castle man” and therefore on the side of Murray of Dublin’s party.

Cullen and the Lion

At the start of Cullen’s campaign the hierarchy numbered 28 in total.  Committed Lion supporters numbered eight over against the eleven strong Murray camp.  Cullen could only rely on a mere six supporters.  Ireland was safely Britain’s.

Murray of Dublin died in 1852.  As early as 1856 the total number of bishops and archbishops had been increased to 31.  This was achieved by the crafty creation of new sees and by Cullen putting his men in the new sees.  Others he made coadjutors to neutralise inept, sick or drunken opponents.  He also recruited some “neutrals” to his cause.  Cullen’s party now boasted 16 including himself.  He was unassailable and Rome exultant.

The Lion’s support was reduced to five including himself, and by 1860 Cullen had almost completely isolated the Lion and rendered his own position inviolable.  Dead Murray’s pro-British party was reduced to a leaderless remnant numbering 10 by 1856 and it was only a matter of time before it drifted romeward.

Rome makes no secret of how Cullen achieved this.  Details of the actual issues Cullen used – mainly education, inheritance law and priests in politics – need not bother us.  He began his campaign not in Ireland but in Rome.  He delayed travelling to Ireland until his Propaganda contacts were lined up and he had overseen Kirby safely installed as Rector of the Irish College.  He then came via the Irish College to Paris to be sure he knew how matters stood there.  The Lion, rashly assuming Cullen to be an ally, bombarded him with patronising correspondence.  Cullen’s disarming replies cunningly kept his future enemy on side.  The British Government also received similar reassuring noises.

Irish disrespect for Rome

When Cullen arrived in Ireland, he was shocked by the lask of respect for Rome’s authority, the lack of embellishment in the churches and the paucity of monks and nuns.  The Roman Catholic Ireland we know today is really a nineteenth century creation.  Realising the weakness of his position, Cullen resorted to bluff.  This was based upon Pius LX’s mandate which, besides granting him the primacy, made him Apostolic Delegate empowered to call a Synod.  He wrote to Kirby in May 1850, “I think they are terribly afraid.  They are persuaded that I have more power than I pretend to have.” 

Besides dealing with his own chaotic diocese, Cullen took exclusive charge of arrangements for the Synod.  He recruited his old students and trusted friends as officials, handpicked his theologians and secretly advantaged his supporters and disadvantaged his opponents.  He also established fail-safe lines of communication with Rome.  He wrote long newsy letters in English every week to Kirby, his successor at the Irish College, as any issue could suddenly blow up making today’s gossip tomorrow’s intelligence.  He then wrote regular formal reports to Kirby in fine Italian, the only diplomatic language acceptable to Vatican officials in Rome.  Finally, when even Kirby ought not to know, he wrote in fine Italian or Latin direct to the Propaganda.

Full Roman pomp

The Synod of Thurles was held in August 1850.  Ireland had seen nothing like it for centuries.  Ten thousand people watched the hierarchy process in full Roman pomp.   “The Mass was celebrated by the Primate himself with full solemnity – all the arrangements were modelled as far as possible on the Papal Chapels – the music too was Ecclesiastical … I thought I was in Rome amongst the Cardinals once more,” wrote a participant.

And how did outnumbered Cullen fare politically in Synod?  He got his way by the thinnest of margins, using his only weapons which were fear of the pope’s man, beautiful organisation of the event in flamboyant Roman style and, most amazingly, feigning alliance with the Lion to outvote the Murray camp.  From that time onwards, with fanatical single mindedness, he dedicated himself to widening that margin.  Every subsequent Cullen initiative, whatever its apparent purpose, disguised some strategy in this overriding obsession to make the pro-Rome party the majority.  First Cullen must speak for all and then Britain must obey.

Cullen defeats the Lion

When Murray of Dublin died, Pius IX immediately transferred Cullen to that rich and prestigious diocese.  It then dawned on the Lion that Cullen had been his enemy all along.  Amazingly the romanisation of Ireland now depended less on Cullen engaging directly with the British than destroying the Lion.  The decline of the Murray camp was now a foregone conclusion.

The Lion was a patriotic Irishman at heart, many years Cullen’s senior when Cullen arrived in Ireland, and was capable of exploiting his formidable personality, the press and Irish popular opinion all to the full.  But this counted for nothing once Cullen started gunning for him.  Cullen fought him day and night literally without respite.

Ultimately the Lion was isolated, losing the support of even his closest friend.  Yet Rome in a sense destroyed Cullen. By 1856 he had won but his blind obsession with the papal supremacy meant he could not stop fighting.  This precipitated a nervous breakdown in 1858.  He fled to the Eternal City, the only alma mater he knew, for prolonged convalescence.  He did eventually get a cardinal’s hat – the first Irishman to do so – but Rome teased him with delay.  His zeal for the papal supremacy secured him a major part in preparing the Dogma of Papal Infallibility promulgated by Pius IX in 1870.  But when in 1878 he travelled to Rome for his idol Pius’ funeral, he arrived too late.  Disappointed, he died suddenly at work only a few months after his return.

Ireland was now Rome’s.

We hope in the next issue to look at Rome’s link with the Irish Republic in view of the recent, much publicised celebrations of the 75th anniversary of that event.

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