There was a time when Planet Ireland orbited its own smug, self-satisfied star, held on course by a mysterious force known as certainty. That was an era when Irish missionaries roamed darkest Africa, ridding the natives of their superstitions and giving them new ones. It was a time when children on Planet Ireland were locked up in prisons run by brutal, ignorant rapists, when priests dictated to legislators what laws they might pass regulating private sexual behaviour of grown adults. It was an era when priests and bishops could bring down an entire government with a single word, and when Prime Ministers of our little planetoid were happy to grovel on their knees before a Prince of the Church.
Nobody exemplifies this power more than John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin from 1940 to 1972. While still president of Blackrock College, McQuaid played a huge part in drafting the 1937 constitution in much the same way as an Iranian cleric might today. When Ayatollah McQuaid, clicked his fingers government ministers jumped.
The Murphy commission accepted that the failure was due to human error, but it seems extraordinary that the HSE would not grasp the explosive significance of the documents it had in its possession.
According to the journalist, Patsy McGarry, McQuaid was fond of a tipple and often dropped into a pub near his residence for a quick nip to steady his nerves. On one such occasion, according to McGarry, the landlord’s child came running down the stairs, crying and saying that McQuaid had done something to him. The Archbishop was immediately ejected from the premises.
Nothing would surprise me about the institution McQuaid represented. In 1960, according to the commission report, McQuaid was contacted by Garda Commissioner Costigan about obscene photographs of young girls in Crumlin children’s hospital, taken by one of his priests, Paul McGennis when he was chaplain there. Costigan had been contacted by Scotland Yard after a security officer at a British film-processing laboratory intercepted the film and informed the police. However, instead of investigating a crime, Costigan chose to abdicate his responsibility and pass the matter to McQuaid. The archbishop did nothing, and McGennis went on to abuse children for a further forty years. It says much about the power wielded by these men that not even the Garda Commissioner had the courage to stand up to them.
Perhaps now we understand more clearly why McQuaid, a notoriously severe man, was so lenient with a child abuser.
Perhaps they shared more in common than just a dog collar.
Planet Ireland’s orbit has been waning for some time. I wonder if the McQuaid story will be the one that finally cuts the gravitational umbilical cord and sends our little planetoid spinning into the void until captured by a different star?
Health warning: unfortunately, the Wikipedia article on McQuaid is contaminated by the involvement of an active apologist for clerical abusers, who claims to have created most of it. It’s not a reliable source.