McQuaid - the Edna O'Brien connection


For such a controversial book, the launch by Tim Pat Coogan of John Cooney's John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland in the National Museum in Dublin on Tuesday was a low-key affair. Liz O'Donnell and AG Michael McDowell turned up, as well as deputies Michael D. Higgins, Frances Fitzgerald, Marian McGennis, John Gormley and Liam Lawlor and Senators Maurice Manning, Mick Lanigan, Paul Coghlan and John Connor. Clergymen in attendance included Robert McCarthy, the Dean of St Patrick's, and Bishop Pat Buckley.

Publisher Michael O'Brien said McQuaid was partly responsible for the founding of O'Brien Press. His mother was the daughter of two Russian Jews and the late Archbishop's campaign against Jews contributed to the difficulty his father had in getting a job. He eventually founded O'Brien Printing and Duplicating. O'Brien related, from page 348, the story of Edna O'Brien's The Lonely Girl. The book was banned here, but was reviewed in the Catholic Herald. McQuaid was horrified and gave the book to the then Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey. Haughey "came to him next day to express his disgust and revulsion. `Like so many decent men with growing families, he was just beaten by the outlook and descriptions.' "

But there were positive things in the book, O'Brien added, such as McQuaid's work with the emigrants in Britain, his interest in education and medicine, and his defence of neutrality.

Cooney's book, said Coogan, was an extremely important biography written by a serious author. It made one realise just how much Church and Ceasar were hand-inglove, and he believed the Constitution would have to be rewritten.

Cooney himself said it had not been easy to research, write or produce - it was the fruit of six years' work. He had given up the day-job in journalism to complete it, because he believed McQuaid's towering contribution to modern Ireland had been overlooked.

He regretted that the manner in which the book had come to public attention had caused personal pain to McQuaid's relatives and to some churchmen, but he stood over what he wrote. The censorious shadow of Archbishop McQuaid still permeated the Ireland of the Celtic tiger and the reaction against the book had been over the top.