Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and the Yugoslavia Football Match

When a bishop tried to stop a football match.

As we’re in World Cup time, I thought I might just go over the details of how Archbishop John Charles McQuaid tried to prevent Ireland from playing an international football match against Yugoslavia in 1955.

No.  I’m not joking.  After all, this was the same prelate who intervened with a government minister 11 years earlier to ban the sale of Tampax for fear its use might stimulate girls at an impressionable age and lead them into using contraceptives to satisfy their aroused passions.

To fully appreciate the context of this story, we need to look at what happened during the Second World War.

Yugoslavia Ireland 1955Croatia was controlled by the Ustasha, the vilest fascist regime imaginable, led by Ante Pavelic.  An extreme Roman Catholic movement, the Ustasha enunciated a policy of extermination against the Jews and the Orthodox Catholics by a simple policy.  All Jews would be killed, while one third of Orthodox Catholics (for which, read Serbs) would be murdered, another third would be expelled and the final third would be forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism, thus turning them into bona fide Croats.   In pursuit of that plan, the Ustasha set up and operated the biggest extermination camp outside Nazi-occupied Poland, at Jasenovac, and this ultimately led to the renewed savagery of the Yugoslavian conflict in the 1990s, after the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation.

Interior minister Andrija Artukovic oversaw the extermination policy and, following the Allied victory, found refuge in Dublin thanks to an Irish government that saw him as a defender of Catholic values.  He lived in Terenure with his family for two years before moving on to the United States with the help of DeValera’s government.

Aloysius Stepinac was Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb in the war years.  Stepinac was a strong supporter of the Ustasha and despite recent attempts at revisionism, it seems he remained a supporter despite their genocidal efforts throughout the war, as did priests, including the entire Franciscan order, throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It goes without saying that Tito’s new Yugoslavian government arrested Stepinac after the defeat of the Ustasha, and this was what excited McQuaid’s ire.  He had no great difficulty with the Dublin government accommodating a mass murderer such as Artukovic, but he couldn’t stomach the arrest of a prince of the church, much less his trial and imprisonment.

And so it came about that, in 1952, when the FAI arranged a match with Yugoslavia, even though Tito had freed Stepinac, John Charles McQuaid decided to flex his episcopal muscles and he succeeded.  The FAI caved in immediately to McQuaid’s intervention, but the victory wasn’t to last because, three years later, when McQuaid tried a second time to prevent a match between Ireland and his hated communist Yugoslavia, he found that the normally-compliant Irish people were not so obliging.  Despite putting pressure on the Department of Justice to obstruct Yugoslavian players’ entry to the country, and despite leaning on the Taoiseach, John A Costello, McQuaid failed to have the match cancelled.  The President, Sean T O’Kelly, to his shame, was induced to pull out and the Army band did likewise, in a disgraceful submission to clerical authority, as did the team coach, Dick Hearns, a Garda.  Even the fanatical soccer commentator, Philip Greene, made himself unavailable to cover  the game, and in a very sad moment for Irish journalism, Radio Éireann declined to broadcast the match.

Despite all that, despite the Legion of Mary picketing Dalymount Park, despite the opposition of the Gardai, the government and the parish priests, a crowd of 21,400 attended the game, and McQuaid never exercised the same influence in Ireland again.

The sex-obsessed virgin Prince of Drumcondra had over-reached himself and in doing so demonstrated that his kind were not so invincible after all.  Unfortunately, it would take another half century before all the Irish people came to understand how shallow-rooted the authority of the Catholic hierarchy really was, and how morally compromised the old men were who enunciated it, but it was McQuaid who set that process in motion, and for that we owe him some thanks, even if he wouldn’t appreciate it.

10 thoughts on “Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and the Yugoslavia Football Match

  1. Not directly related to this story, but I’m reading a lot of anti-Catholic-Church articles in the wake of the Tuam babies scandal. I agree with a lot of it, but I’m getting the feelign that the RCC is being scapegoated for issues which run deeper within Irish society itself.

    The very fact that McQuaid failed here shows that the RCC was not in fact all powerful or in absolute command of Irish society. Alot of the decision that were made in the Irish Free state and republic were, and still are, made without the direct intervention or supervision of the church.

    My concern is that in the 21st centruy, Irish people will blame Catholicism for the failings of the republic, in the same way that Irish in the 20th century blamed Britian. Will we be moving onto the EU/ECB after that? Such easy scapegoating ignores the wider power of a state and society which did and still does think and act for itself more than it follows the orders of foreign organisations, British Empire, Catholic Church, or European Central Bank.

  2. This was one of his few failures. As I’ve covered elsewhere, I think he was a minnow compared to Cullen, who did the real damage.

  3. Watching from afar (Sydney) I am struck by the absolute lack of investigation of the role of Raidió Teilifís Éireann role in the various scandals. We know that RTE was like the banks and other plum job providers in the “FREE STATE” were secured by 6 honours in the leaving cert, a chat with the PP and of course a visit to the local Fianna Fail clinic.
    The dogs in the street knew what was going on / wrong, it is time to interview Gaybo, MARIAN FINUCANE and the surviving DJ’S to see what their role was and to find out how the Censorship was enforced. It reminds me of when EAST GERMANY collapsed, those who propped up or worked for the system went through some tough questioning so why not our leading lights who obeyed the Censorship laws and took instructions from The Nazi Church. I was only doing my job really the show is over.

  4. Why do some people comment on this site about anti-Catholic-Church…
    Are they still to blind by their faith, to admit that their cult is wrong…
    When the keys of the schools, hospitals and part of social services system was handed over to them the church, ie. The Irish Catholic Church, in the foundation of the state..
    They must have rubbed their hands with glee, we have them now boys would have been the echos around the halls of the Popes SS Training college in Maynooth,
    The proclamation that was read out by Padraig Pearse, was practically re-written by Dev & Co when they got hold of the new republic… and signed the Catholic Church into state as their right hand men…

    Sure it wasn’t too long ago, that a priest marched into a pub somewhere in the mid-lands, with the Guards by his side and demanded that the condom machine be removed from the premises…

  5. I see that in the World Cup recently Croatia beat an African country, Cameroon maybe,
    4 – 0. There must be a residue of fascist catholicism still on the Dalmatian coast. Boycott for the hols and take a package holiday in secular muslim Turkey instead.

  6. I had a flick through a very interesting book recently which contained selected letters to and from JCMcQ, one that caught me eye was him writing to the then Minister for Foreign Affairs giving him permission to attend the church service part of the funeral for a foreign dignitary ( in that persons own country) who was not a Catholic, fascinating read and shows what was happening here at that time.

  7. @ Bruno Re. Croatia during WW2, it’s not that simple. Yes, the government was fascist and fought with the Nazis (and for 6 weeks after the German surrender). But a lot of Croatians fought with Titos partisans, including the father of a friend of mine who lives in Dubrovnik. Tito himself was half Croatian. He was in his mid 40s when he took power and if he had lived another 10 years-perhaps Yugoslavia would have made it, as the people with the awfull memories would have mostly died out and some sort of relationship with the EU may have been hammered out. As it was, it was Hans Dietrich Genscher and German right-wingers who caused the break-up by recognising Croatia as an independant state. The French were almost as bad by recognising Serbia. You are correct about the power of the RCC in Croatia today and they got all their land and property back. The Franciscians run the Medjugorge racket. Read ‘The Impossible Country’ by Brian Hall.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.