Uncovered 1924 paper reveals nuncio’s bias against Irish republicans

Vatican emissary satisfied Terence MacSwiney hunger strike ‘seems not supported’

A century ago, the Vatican was deeply troubled by the impact the apparently never-ending violent unrest would have on the church in Ireland.

This was evident in a January 1924 despatch to London by then British ambassador to Paris, Lord Crewe, where he recounted a conversation he had with papal nuncio to Paris, Msgr Bonaventura Cerretti.

The nuncio said he had been instructed by the Vatican to go to Ireland (where the first papal nuncio was not appointed until 1929) unofficially , “to see for himself what the condition of the country is”.

The document was uncovered recently by Tyrone man Pat McCusker, who was doing research at the British National Archives in Kew.


Pope Pius XI, elected in 1921, was "deeply conscious of the harm done to Ireland, and to the cause of religion, by the fact that ecclesiastics in Ireland, including, he was sorry to say, some of the Bishops, were radically divided on political questions".

“As I knew, some of the younger priests had taken an active part on the Republican side. At the same time, he did not think Cardinal Logue’s intervention had been fortunate,” Lord Crewe recalled.

Legitimate authority

Cardinal Michael Logue was Primate of All Ireland at the time and a supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party who, in 1917, issued an instruction calling for obedience to legitimate authority and who condemned the killing of soldiers and policemen during the War of Independence.

Lord Crewe recalled how Msgr Cerretti had also said that “Republicans in Ireland must learn to submit to the will of the majority”.

The nuncio had observed “that government becomes impossible if a small minority continue to stand out against a form of government they dislike”.

He also recorded the nuncio’s satisfaction that the hunger strike “seems no longer to find much support in Ireland” and his “jocular tone” in suggesting those who went on hunger strike were attempting to secure “the Crown of Martyrdom”.

At the Foreign Office in London, Sir Mark Sturgis felt Lord Crewe's despatch might be "of great service" to Free State leader William T Cosgrave and would show "that our diplomacy is at his service".

In a note to staff at the Vice Regal Lodge in Dublin, dated January 8th, 1924, he added “you should not leave a copy of it with him, and it would be advisable to ask him not to tell his colleagues that this information came through Lord Crewe”.

Shown ‘privately’

Returning the document to London on January 10th, 1924, Mr N G Loughnane at the Vice Regal Lodge said the despatch had been shown "privately" to Mr Cosgrave that morning.

He recalled how Mr Cosgrave "agreed it was a document that had better not be left lying about, particularly as it seemed to imply condemnation of the Terence Mac Swiney hunger-strike which even the Free State party here regard as a genuine act of martyrdom which was of great service to the Sinn Féin cause before the Treaty".

Mr Cosgrave also “said he would not mention Lord Crewe’s name in passing on the information to his colleagues”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times