Bishops and the Civil War

Taking sides

Sir, – As we mark the centenary of some of the most controversial events in the Irish Civil War, Fr Kieran Waldron, in his article “Catholic Bishops clearly chose a side in Civil War” (Rite & Reason, March 20th) makes a balanced and interesting contribution to the debate. Fr Waldron highlights the condemnation of the republican side by the Catholic bishops in October 1922.

I have always believed that this very partisan intervention on the part of the hierarchy was ill-considered, ill-conceived and totally biased in a volatile atmosphere which called for the most sensitive handling. Their Lordships in effect set out to neuter an angry bull right inside the china shop.

Fr Waldron does make one error in what is otherwise a thoughtful article. The author states that Erskine Childers was executed in December 1922 in retaliation “for the murder of Seán Hales TD”. Childers was executed in November 1922 on trumped up charges weeks before the killing of Hales. – Yours, etc,



Glen of Aherlow,

Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Two events on December 8th, 1922, illustrate the varying attitudes of the Catholic clergy to the bishops’ pastoral of October 10th recalled by Fr Kieran Waldron.

In Mountjoy Prison that morning, the executions of four republican prisoners as a reprisal for the murder of Seán Hales TD on the previous day was delayed for at least half an hour while one of the chaplains, Fr John Pigott, struggled to get Liam Mellowes, one of the condemned men, to agree to a form of regret which would allow him to give absolution in line with the pastoral.

But later that day, Fr Pádraig de Brún, the professor of mathematics at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, a man who owed his livelihood to the bishops, penned laudatory verses that linked the fate of the four to the symbolism of the day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: “Rory and Liam and Dick and Joe/Star of the morning Mary come/Red is their hearts ‘blood-their souls like snow/Mary Immaculate guide them home”.

The poem was published in Republican War News on December 23rd but there is no record of his being reprimanded and later, as Monsignor de Brún, he served as president of University College Galway for 14 years. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 9.