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.
Croatia 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.