Tomás Ó Fiaich

Life
1923-1990 [var. Ó Fiacch]; b. 3 Nov., Cullyhanna, and grew up in Camlough, Co. Armagh; ed. St Patrick’s Coll, Armagh, and Maynooth; ord. 6 July 1948; UCD (MA med. studies); Louvain [Leuven] (licentiate in hist. studies); appt. lecturer in History at Maynooth, 1953; appt. to the Chair of History, 1958; Vice-President of Maynooth, 1970; elected President of Maynooth, 1974; succeeded Cardinal Conway as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, ord. 2 Oct. 1977; visited Republican hunger-strikers at Long Kesh the Maze Prison], July 1978, and protested against their ‘inhuman’ treatment; appointed cardinal, 1979;
 
issued Gaelscrínte i gCéin (1960) giving account of Irish missionaries to Europe in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries; issued Irish Cultural Influence in Europe VIth to XIIth Century (Mercier 1971) enlarging on the topic; ed. poems of Art Mac Cumhaigh as Art Mac Cumhaidh Dánta (1973); asserted that the religious ethos of schools should be be in tune with that of the Catholic home, in Irish News (Belfast), 1979; appt. cardinal, 1979 during papacy of John Paul II; translated the Odyssey into Irish (1991); d. 8 May 1990; succeeded at Armagh by Cahal Daly [q.v.].

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Works
‘The Gaelic League Idea’ [RTE Thomas Davis Lecture ser.] printed as ‘The Great Controversy’, in The Gaelic League Idea, ed. Seán Ó Tuama (Mercier Press 1970), cp.67 [called the ‘best account’ by Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995]’ Gaelscrínte san Eoraip Baile Atha Cliath: FAS 1986); Oliver Plunkett, Ireland’s New Saint (Veritas 1975), 128pp. ‘The Gaelic League Idea’ [Thomas Davis Lecture; re-broadcast 9 May 1993].

Also ‘The Beginning of Christianity’, [chap.] in A Course of Irish History, ed. T. W. Moody & F. X. Martin [lecture series 24 Jan. - 13 June 1966] (RTE 1967), pp.61-75; ‘The Atmosphere of the Catholic School’, in Irish News (Nov. 1979).

See also Treasures from the Cardinal Tomas Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive, ed. Colin McKeown (Armagh 2011), 171pp. [published by subscription].

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Criticism
Diarmaid Ó Doibhlin, ed., Ón Chreagán go Ceann Dubhrann (1992) [var. 1993]; see also Dominic Murray, Worlds Apart: Segregated Schools in Northern Ireland (Belfast: Appletree Press 1985), p.24.

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Commentary
Richard Kearney, Myth and Motherland [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 5] (Derry: Field Day Co. 1984): [...] And one could hardly find a more apt description of the psychological and ideological force of this recourse to the language of the tribe than in Cardinal O’ Fiach’s [sic] statement after his visit to the prisoners in July, 1978: “In the circumstances I was surprised that the morale of the prisoners was high. From talking to them it is evident that they intend to continue their protest indefinitely and it seems they prefer death rather than submit to being classed as criminals. Anyone with the least knowledge of Irish history knows how deeply rooted this attitude is in our country’s past. In isolation and perpetual boredom they maintain their sanity by studying Irish. It was an indication of the triumph of the human spirit over adverse material surroundings to notice Irish words, phrases and songs being shouted from cell to cell and then written on each cell wall with the remnants of toothpaste tubes”.’ (p.12.)

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Kevin Boyle & Tom Hadden, The Choice, Northern Ireland (Penguin 1994), the Catholic Primate during most of the 1970s and 1980s., Cardinal Thomas Ó Fiacch [sic], frequently ecpressed his personal commitment to the ideal of a united Ireland (p.112).

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Padraig O’Malley, Radio Ulster Lecture [in conjunction with RTE & BBC], printed in Fortnight 336 (Feb. 1995), records Protestant comments on the Catholic Church’s response to the Hunger Strikes of 1978, and particularly charges of casuistry against Tomás Ó Fiaich such as those voiced by The Church of Ireland Gazette, ‘Can the cardinal place his hand on his pectoral and swear that his church under his leadership has been flexible in the matters of mixed marriages and human rights of minority religious groups with the territorial jurisdiction of his church? Can the cardinal publically affirm that he has encouraged the same degree of flexibility on all matters of Roman theology and ethical standards, as he has led and encouraged in the assessment of the morality of the current hunger strikes?’

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Quotations
British policy: ‘The present policy of the British government - that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland while the majority want British rule to remain - is no policy at all. It means you do nothing and it means that the Loyalists in the North are given no encouragement to make any move of any kind. It is an encouragement to sit tight. I would like to see that British policy changed into a positive form. I would like them to say, ‘Just as we brought British colonialism to an end in other parts of the world, we are not going to be in Northern Ireland ad infinitum. Our presence in Ireland, which was based on conquest in the past, is now a post-colonial situation, and ultimately we would like to see all Ireland ruled by Irishmen. While we are waiting to move out we would like to use our good offices to try and bring Protestants and Catholics together.’ (In The Universe, 19th Nov. 1985); cited in J. H. Whyte, Understanding Northern Ireland (1992).

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Notes
Bigots & bigots: Fiaich’s celebrated remark that Protestants are religious bigots and Catholics are political bigots (cited in Marianne Elliott, ‘Besieged by rhetoric’, review of Minority Verdict, with other works on N. Ireland, in TLS (9 Feb. 1996), pp.5.)

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