Dublin priest says archbishops remind him of the Housemartins

Band found success with ‘mixture of populist politics and Christianity’

A Dublin parish priest, rebuked by two Catholic archbishops last June for casting doubt on media reports that Fr Michael Cleary fathered children, has described their reaction "as disappointing to say the least".

Fr Arthur O'Neill, administrator in Cabinteely, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and the Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin reminded him of 1980s pop group the Housemartins.

"Their melodies and harmonies were always a mixture of populist politics and Christianity, which gave them lots of public appeal." In his parish newsletter Fr O'Neill recalled his "real surprise" last year was "to read about myself on page one of The Irish Times 'being rebuked' by Archbishop Martin for daring to ask such a question."

He said he had “simply asked what evidence was there at the time to allow so many journalists write with such certainty [about Fr Cleary].”


“That an Archbishop, in fact two of them – Archbishop Martin of Armagh rowed in as well, as did the Dublin Diocesan communications office (some misnomer on this occasion!) – were all prepared to make comments to the press, without ever trying to make contact with me before they did so was disappointing to say the least. I would have expected better from all of them,” he wrote.

“Personally I place a higher regard on my character and my reputation than to let such ill-founded utterances and attendant inferences go uncommented upon.”

In his Father’s Day newsletter on June 15th last, Fr O’Neill described media revelations that Fr Cleary had children as “exasperating”, unproven and the result of “shoddy practice” by 40 named journalists.

He challenged the journalists to prove such revelations. Fr Cleary had suffered a serious injustice, he said.

“The burial of a person’s legacy deeper than their body just isn’t fair – if it’s based on a falsehood,” he said.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the remarks were Fr O’Neill’s alone and were not supported by him. He also said “parish newsletters are not vehicles for the expression of personal views”.


Returning to the issue in the Cabinteely parish newsletter this month, Fr O’Neill said one of the “unwelcome surprises” he experienced in 2014 had been “the media’s take on the written questions I posed on Father’s Day” concerning claims that Fr Cleary had children.

“Wouldn’t it have been far more effective and indeed would shut me up once and for all on this subject, just to reveal the reason for their certainty in the early 1990s,” he said. Fr Cleary died in December 1993.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times