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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.