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Paul Cardinal Cullen: Profile of a Practical Nationalist

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Author(s): Ciarán O’Carroll

ISBN13: 9781847301314

ISBN10: 1847301312

Publisher: Veritas

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  • The poorest country that one can know, according to a Vatican report from the mid-nineteenth century, was Ireland. It was to this country, beset with a variety of problems that Paul Cullen, having spent almost thirty years in Rome, returned in 1850. For twenty-eight years this ecclesiastic, who was destined to become Irelands first ever Cardinal, dominated Irish ecclesiastical and religious life. His influence in Church affairs was so great that his achievements have been described as the Cullenisation of Ireland.

    This book looks at two phases of Cullens secular activities. It traces his role and influence in two separate movements, one parliamentary the other revolutionary, both organised to improve the circumstances of Irish Catholics who were poor, wretched and dispirited on his arrival. The first of these campaigns was the Independent Irish Parliamentary Movement of the 1850s, the other, the revolutionary Fenian movement, prominent in the 1860s.

  • Ciarán O’Carroll



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    This fine study of Paul Cardinal Cullen is to be welcomed. As an ecclesiastic, Cullen had few equals. He was born in 1803 at Ballitore, Co. Kildare. Educated at St. Patricks College, Carlow, and the Irish College, Rome, he was ordained in 1829.

    After spending three years teaching in Collegio Propaganda Fide and 17 as rector of his alma mater, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Apostolic Administrator in 1850. Two years later he was transferred to Dublin, where he served until his death in 1878.

    Spiritual welfare
    Cullens top priority was always the spiritual welfare of his people. He also valued education very highly both as an instrument of evangelisation and as a means to ensure the upward social mobility of Irish Catholics. Thus he concentrated on establishing many schools and colleges throughout the diocese. In 1851, he requested John Henry Newman to establish a Catholic University in Dublin and in 1859 he set up Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, to provide priests for the archdiocese.

    While acknowledging Cullens distinction, as evidenced by a pastoral legacy which has lasted more than a 100 years, OCarroll is mainly concerned with Cullens involvement in the politics of his time. When Cullen arrived back in Ireland he was determined, not least because of his experiences in the revolutionary Rome of the Young Italy Movement, not to become directly involved in secular affairs.

    Disabilities
    Although Catholic Emancipation had been achieved in 1829, Irish Catholics still laboured under many and serious civil disabilities. In the period between that of OConnell and Parnell there was a lack of political leadership. Cullen assumed that the plight of Irish Catholics could be ameliorated by constitutional methods.

    This led to his ambiguous, and at times fraught relationship, with the Independent Irish Party. Comprised of 40 Irish MPs, it was pledged to be independent of, and in opposition to, all British governments that did not concede land reform, repeal of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act (1851) and the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

    Cullen found himself caught up in the tensions within, the policy changes and the eventual break-up of this party. This caused him to be at loggerheads with some of his colleagues in the Irish hierarchy, notably Archbishop John McHale, and some of the Irish MPs.

    It also led him, somewhat ironically, to spend much time and energy railing against clerical involvement in politics. Later, when he set up the National Association in 1864, he was accused of channeling nationalism merely to secure the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

    Cullen is remembered, above all, for his determined, almost obsessive, opposition to the Fenians: he had seen revolution himself at close quarters. This has been construed that he was lacking in patriotism and in no way national-minded. In fact, as OCarroll rightly argues, one can view him as a practical constitutional nationalist.

    Historians have proposed differing views of Cullen. Some are hostile, such as those of R Dudley Edwards and F S L Lyons. Others are more benign, as in the work of Patrick Corish, Peadar MacSuibhne, John Whyte and E D Steele. OCarroll, in this account of Cullen, provides from his extensive and meticulous research evidence which can be used to validate both views.

    Just one criticism: this scholarly work requires a more comprehensive index, but this is a failing of the publisher rather than the author.

    Cullen did not enjoy good health. It is remarkable how often and, at times, for such long periods he was ill. This and his personality would have had some influence on his dealing with complicated and vexatious issues. In the last analysis he was the archetypal Ultramontane bishop and it is through this prism he should be assessed and judged.

    - J Anthony Gaughan. The Irish Catholic, January 15th 2009

    Last year (2009) marked the 160th anniversary of the elevation of Kildare native, Paul Cullen, to the see of Armagh and the 180th anniversary of his ordination to priesthood. Formerly rector of the Irish College in Rome and later Archbishop of Dublin, Cullen would play a pivotal role in the ecclesiastical and secular politics of the second half of the nineteenth century in Ireland. He is particularly remembered for his ultramontanism and for the Romanisation, or Cullenisation as its often termed, of the Irish Church. However, the subject of church historian Ciar?ín OCarrolls recent study of Cullen is a particularly focused one; the key to discovering its primary concerns is found not in the subtitle (portrait of a practical nationalist) but what might be called its tertiary title (Paul Cullen and his relationship with the Independent Irish Party of the 1850s and the Fenian Movement in Ireland of the 1860s). Indeed, the study is clearly divided into two parts, dealing with the respective unfolding of these themes over two decades.

    The figure that emerges from OCarrolls study is that of a man who walked a precarious tightrope between distinct but related groups such as the Catholic Defence Association and the Tenant League of the 1850s, the former a United Kingdom-wide body which aimed to address issues pertaining to the status of the Catholic Church in the British Isles, opposing such unpopular measures as the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, and the latter a national non-sectarian group with specifically Irish concerns. Both, however, shared the objective of establishing an independent party at Westminster. Ever the constitutional nationalist, Cullen would have to tread carefully when the League uncompromisingly advocated the withdrawal of support from government until their demands were met. Ultimately, however, Cullens view was that Catholics had a duty to support the government unless it attacked the Church (p.104).

    The issue that occupied Cullen for most of his episcopate, however, was the issue of clerical political agitation and he would advocate that the confessional and the pulpit were more appropriate and effective modes of intervention than brawling at public meetings and writing in newspapers (p. 87). Two particular thorns in his side were Frederick Lucas, co-founder of the Tenant League and later leader of the Independent Party, who passionately advocated clerical political involvement, and, in the 1860s, Tuam priest Patrick Lavelle, an enthusiastic supporter of the Fenian movement. Lucas would bring his appeal directly to Rome and personally to Pope Pius IX late in 1854 and would portray Cullen as nothing more than a government bishop. Over a protracted period of some eight months, the Pope and senior cardinals would devote a significant proportion of their energies to the political involvement of Irish clergy, a fact that was not helped by the fractious disputes among Irish bishops themselves on the issue. One episcopal candidate for Cloyne would remark that he would never consider acting against the rights of clergy to remain politically involved as in Ireland politics and religion were synonymous (p. 127).

    OCarrolls treatment of Cullen is a sympathetic, although not entirely uncritical one. He points, in places, to instances of Cullens espousal of rather unfounded conspiracy theories such as the idea that the government permitted Fenians to operate in order to weaken the authority of the clergy and to create disunity among Catholics. The period covered is also punctuated by references to Cullens chronic ill-health, which must have also taken its own toll on the decision-making of this deeply divisive prelate.

    OCarrolls detailed and absorbing study of Cardinal Paul Cullen and the significant question of Irish priests and politics in the 1850s and 1860s is a welcome addition to the historiography of nineteenth-century Ireland and it deserves to be widely read.

    - Prof Salvador Ryan Maynooth, Co Kildare, Intercom, February 2010

    Ciar?ín OCarrolls biography of Paul Cullen: Portrait of a Practical Nationalist (Veritas, Ôé¼24.95) was one of the most interesting and important books published this year. Cullen was a seminal figure. The influence of his ultramontane Catholicism was evident throughout most of Ireland for more than one hundred years. He was equally influential on the Catholic Church at large. At the First Vatican Council he was foremost in promoting the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

    As Archbishop of Dublin and leader of the Irish Hierarchy, Cullen single-mindedly set out to lead Irish Catholics from the shadows of the legal and other civic disabilities which were the residue of the English conquest. In so doing he was attacked by the political establishment and advanced nationalists. The latter accused him of placing the interests of the Catholic Church above those of the nation. In the event, Cullen emerges as both a true and practical patriot.

    For too long Cullens contribution to nineteenth century Ireland has been neglected by historians. Hopefully OCarrolls study is a foretaste of a greater scholarly focus on the life and achievements of this remarkable Churchman.

    - J. ANTHONY GAUGHAN, 17 Dec 2009 The Irish Catholic


  • Arrival of Paul Cullen as Archbishop

    The Catholic Church in Ireland to which Paul Cullen was appointed in late 1849 as Primate, Archbishop and Apostolic Delegate was, and still is, organised into four provinces: Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam. There were twenty-eight dioceses, with the Archbishop of Armagh holding the title of Primate of All Ireland, and the Archbishop of Dublin being styled, confusingly, as Primate of Ireland. The vast majority of the population were Roman Catholic. However, political power as well as most material wealth, influence and prestige resided overwhelmingly in the hands of Protestants, predominantly descendants of English and Scottish settlers. Some two centuries earlier these had been planted in Ireland when colonising and pacifying English rulers, lacking the funds to pay their troops and other supporters, had rewarded them instead with confiscated Catholic lands. The majority of the dispossessed Catholics then became tenants, paying rent to usurpers. These were mostly Protestants, adherents of the Established Church of Ireland. In addition to the hefty rents the tenants were obliged to pay, they were further obliged to subscribe to the upkeep of the Protestant Church in the form of tithes. And many Catholics had not merely been dispossessed, they had been banished to the poor land in the west of the country. Others were forced to leave the country. Hence, repossession of their families land was a dominant issue for the people of rural Ireland when Paul Cullen became archbishop.
    The expropriation of the land had followed a succession of penal laws which discriminated against Catholics, impoverished them and degraded them. They were harassed in the practice of their faith and their priests driven underground. There had been considerable easing of this religious discrimination in the decades preceding 1850, but the Irish Catholics now entrusted to Paul Cullen were still a people oppressed and very conscious of being oppressed. This made them anti-Protestant and anti-British, which also meant being fiercely nationalistic and strongly attached to their clergy and their Church and, by extension, to the Pope. The union with Britain, under which, since 1801, Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom ruled by the Parliament at Westminster, was a particular focus of nationalist discontent. The government was now headquartered in London with a cabinet minister entitled Chief Secretary for Ireland carrying responsibility for Irish affairs from an office in Dublin Castle and a Lord Lieutenant representing the crown in the Viceregal Lodge in the Phoenix Park.
    At the time of Cullens appointment to Armagh, the minds of the people were occupied more by their own survival than possible legislative independence. The Great Famine of 1845, 1846 and 1847 resulted in the death of an estimated one million people. In addition, emigration over the following years counted for another million, out of a total population of eight million. For many years Cullen was to be confronted by the material, social, psychological and political consequences of this great catastrophe. It was to have a particularly dramatic effect on the Irish peasant class, by now mere tenants of confiscated holdings which they saw as their own. With an increasing population, the subdivision of farms into small holdings, which large families attempted to glean a living, gave rise to major economic difficulties. Following the Famine many tenants found it impossible to pay either the high rents or the Church tithes. They were thus liable to eviction, a process which had dramatic and oftentimes tragic consequences for those who were displaced. The vast majority of them were not entitled to any security of tenure under the law. They could be evicted and without compensation for any improvements performed to their holdings, while forcible extraction of rent, seizure of goods and eviction sometimes resulted in violence and bloodshed.
    In 1849 there were 90,000 evictions in Ireland and in 1850, the year Cullen arrived in Armagh, there were 104,000. Most of those evicted were destitute. Some of the more able-bodied and adventurous emigrated. Those who remained had to endure the misery of mass unemployment, low wages for those who could get work, inadequate health services to deal with cholera and other diseases, and even hunger. Only a few years before Cullens arrival, the government had extended the English poor law to Ireland and had built the workhouses to house the very destitute existing in the most squalid conditions. A particular worry for Cullen was the exploitation of these conditions by proselytisers who, in the Irish phrase, offered the soup to those who would embrace Protestantism.
    The material situation was bad enough, but the people suffered as much from the position of inferiority into which they had been thrown by these ascendancy Protestant usurpers. These were now treating the native Irish as a servile class and subjecting them to derision and contempt. The English language was being pushed at the expense of the native Gaelic, notably in the government-provided national schools. Despair, depression and a feeling of hopelessness pervaded the main body of the Irish population. This condition of mind was possibly the most damaging long-term consequence of the English conquest of Ireland. The mood of the subject people was caught fairly by the Gaelic poet who had written: The misery we endure is bad enough, but the degradation that follows it is worse The situation was perceived as intolerable to the frustrated Irish mind. The overall situation was explosive, with widespread discontent leading to frequent outbreaks of agrarian violence.
    Overlaying this whole scene was the confusion attaching to what historians term The National Question. At one extreme there were the small but articulate Young Ireland revolutionaries who wanted an independent Ireland and complete separation from Britain. They staged a token insurrection in 1848. At the other extreme, there were those who would accept the union with Great Britain, seeking improvements for the people through Irelands elected members of parliament at Westminster. The majority, who held the middle ground, were attracted to the idea of Repeal of the Union and a separate Irish parliament. The great national leader Daniel OConnell had campaigned for this in the latter years of his life. Like him, they would be prepared to accept the Crown as nominal head of both states and to continue to live with the Union for the time being. It was important for them, however, to be assured of the ability of the Irish members of parliament to bring living conditions and work opportunities in Ireland nearer to British levels. They would then be happy to leave the long-term political status of Ireland to be settled later when, hopefully, the condition of the people would have improved. Paul Cullen could be said to have shared these views.
    The situation would, under normal circumstances, be the responsibility of the political leadership, leaving an archbishop taking over the See of Armagh to tend to the spiritual needs of his flock and the affairs of the Church in Ireland. The sad fact about the Ireland of the time, however, was that there was really no competent political successor to OConnell, who had died in 1847. He had dominated the political scene for two generations, championing the cause of Irish Catholics. In his campaigns he had the strong support of the Catholic clergy. By 1850 the leadership vacuum was very obvious: there were contenders but none with the stature or potential of OConnell. So it was that Paul Cullen, as a formidable Church personality with a genuine concern for the people, found himself closer to secular affairs than he would have wished.
    Paul Cullen was born in April 1803 in Ballitore in County Kildare in the rural parish of Suncroft, Prospect. He was the son of Hugh Cullen and his second wife Mary Maher. His father was a farmer who held a lease on some seventy-six acres of land. Paul received his early education at Shackletons Quaker School, Ballitore, before studying for the priesthood in Saint Patricks Seminary in Carlow town. There he showed sufficient promise to be sent to Rome. He commenced his studies at Propaganda Fide on 29 November 1820 and distinguished himself as a student, defending his thesis on 11 September 1828 in the presence of Pope Leo XII. He was ordained deacon on 22 February 1829 and priest on Easter Sunday, 19 April 1829. He was retained in Propaganda as professor of Sacred Scripture and Hebrew, and held the post of Rector there for a short period during the time of the Roman Republic. In 1832 he was appointed Rector of the Irish College in Rome. In this capacity he acted also as the Roman representative of many of the Irish bishops. He remained as Rector until 19 December 1849 when he was selected by Pope Pius IX as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
    Prior to his nomination as an archbishop in Ireland, the possibility of Cullen being raised to Episcopal office in the United States of America had been raised several times. In August 1834 he was actually nominated as titular bishop of Orien and coadjutor bishop of Charleston on the recommendation of the existing office holder. Cullen however declined the nomination and his refusal was accepted. As early as 1830 Cullens name was mentioned in connection with a nomination as coadjutor bishop to the See of Philadelphia. Cullens name was discussed in relation to the office of coadjutor of New York in 1834 and again in 1837. He was also suggested as a candidate in 1837 for a new diocese to be established in Pittsburgh.
    Cullen was ordained Archbishop of Armagh in Rome on 24 February 1850 and afterwards appointed Apostolic Delegate to Ireland. In April 1850 he set sail for Ireland. He was confronted almost immediately with the issues already mentioned, the land question and the National Question, and ?É most sensitive for him - the implications of clerical involvement in these issues and the disunity among the bishops.
    In the wake of the Famine there were various but unsuccessful attempts to organise protective organisations for tenants facing eviction. Success came in time to two diocesan priests in the diocese of Ossory, Fathers Thomas OShea and Matthew Keefe. On 14 October 1849, in their parish of Callan, Co. Kilkenny they established the Callan Tenant Protection Society to protect 442 tenants from eviction. This clerically inspired organisation then provided the model for twenty similar societies that had been founded in ten different counties by July 1850. All of these were checked and controlled by the supervision of the ministers of religion, mostly Roman Catholic but some Presbyterian.

    A move to amalgamate these individual societies on a common policy on tenant rights led to a conference on 6 August 1850. The chief organisers were newspaper proprietors, including Roman Catholic and former Young Icelander Charles Gavan Duffy of the Nation, Protestant Sir John Gray of the Freemans Journal, and Frederick Lucas of the Tablet, a convert to Roman Catholicism. One third of the attendants were clerics - either Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. The conference resulted in the merger of the existing societies into the Irish Tenant Rights League, popularly called the Tenant League, which was to be a nationwide organisation. Its immediate aims were to campaign by parliamentary means for fixity of tenure and lower rents. A further aim was to provide some degree of protection for tenants threatened with eviction. While the more radical aim of repossessing the land expropriated from their ancestors was not articulated, this was very much in the back of many League members minds.
    The new organisations decision to proceed by parliamentary means represented a significant act of faith in the parliamentarians at the time, and the League leaders immediately recognised that it would require important changes in the Party structures and allegiances. The 105 Irish members of parliament in Westminster constituting about one-sixth of the total membership of the House of Commons were individually affiliated to the established English parliamentary parties, Liberals, Conservatives or Peelites. This resulted in their influence being dispersed and lacking in effectiveness.
    Reacting to this the Tenant League leaders called for the establishment of a new parliamentary group to be composed of those Irish members who were prepared to fight for the rights of the tenant. These would be independent of, and not aligned to, any other party in the House of Commons. This call for an independent group of Irish members of parliament was a significant development. A question now was how the Irish hierarchy, and Cullen in particular, would react to this situation, remembering the strong clerical support there had been for OConnells great political campaigns, notably Catholic Emancipation in the 1820s and Repeal of the Union in the early 1840s.
    The Irish bishops were very much alive to the plight of the poorer people, especially those working the land and those being maintained in the government-provided workhouses. Cullen himself had chaired the National Synod of Thurles shortly after his arrival in 1850. He had there joined his colleagues in a strong expression of sympathy with the plight of the poor people of Ireland, to which social category most tenant farmers belonged. There is further evidence of his concern in his personal correspondence and his public pastorals. He was, even prior to his appointment as archbishop, well informed of conditions in Ireland from his visits home, his correspondence with his family, with Irish bishops and with well-placed people, including Daniel OConnell himself.
    In his very first pastoral, written from Rome before he ever took up his See, he told of how: I know, my dear children, that your sufferings are exceedingly great, and I cannot but weep over your privations and afflictions. Shortly after taking up his Episcopal appointment, and despite the fact that he was ill, he embarked on a visitation of his archdiocese of Armagh. He was shocked at the misery in which the people found themselves. From then on he was to lament repeatedly the state of the mass of the people. His writings for the period 1850 to 1853 in particular record how the mass of the people were forced to endure what he describes variously as bad harvests, famine, persecution, poverty, oppression, distress, misery and disease. He also wrote lamenting the high rate of emigration. He reported to Rome of the destruction of whole villages as a result of mass evictions.
    Cullen was clearly alive therefore to the plight of the tenant farmers. It was soon evident, however, that his compassion for them was not reflected in his attitude to the Tenant League which was campaigning to alleviate their lot. When it came to supporting the League, Cullen cautiously, studiously and diplomatically refused to give direct endorsement to it as an organisation. Invitations to attend League meetings were politely refused, but in a manner which suggested support for the ideals of the League without endorsing the organisation by name.
    Although he declined to attend meetings he did send letters which asserted how, as was the case in February 1851, he felt most intensely for the sufferings of the agricultural population: No one can doubt that it is most desirable that some arrangement may be made to protect their just rights and to better their unhappy condition. Such phrasing ensured that Cullens letters, when read out at a meeting, were greeted with loud acclaim. In October 1851 he went so far as to write to a prominent League supporter and parish priest of Clonmellon, Father Dowling, sending a financial contribution towards the cause of obtaining legal relief for the suffering agricultural population of Ireland. His letter went on to observe: Their case is sad indeed: every man endowed with Christian charity must feel a deep interest in it. It is now most desirable to have the matter adopted by which the rights and interests of both proprietors and occupiers of the soil may be regulated and protected.
    Understandably, tenant right campaigners interpreted such words as reflecting Cullens support for both their cause and their organisation. In fact, this particular experience represented an early example of the enigmatic behaviour which Cullen demonstrated repeatedly in later years. On the ground however, the priests in rural Ireland did not appreciate the subtlety of Cullens statements like that quoted, which, it should be noted, recognised proprietors as well as occupiers rights. The priests remembered the great OConnell campaigns that had been strongly supported by the clergy. They were now more than receptive to approaches from the leaders of the League, and they were not at all moved by the landlords interests.
    Since many clerics, including Cullen himself, came from the class for which the League was agitating, it was not altogether surprising that many priests turned to such a task with a will. The cool caution of the Primate of All Ireland was more than counterbalanced by the heated enthusiasm for the League by many clerics in the country. Indeed, so enthusiastic did some priests become that they found it difficult to restrain their language when speaking in public. Dramatic and vivid pictures of the plight of the people were painted by men of the cloth. Landlords were publicly condemned, pamphlets were composed and professions of political faith extolled by some priests.
    Such words and actions placed Cullen in a difficult situation. He sympathised with the tenant farmers but he did not feel justified in supporting the extreme language employed, or the robust ideas advocated by some of those, including priests, heavily involved in the Tenant League. Cullen appealed and prayed that a spirit of prudence, moderation and justice would guide those who organised tenant right meetings. He insisted that rectification of tenant grievances should be sought by peaceful and not by violent means. Indeed, Cullens pastorals resorted to calling on the poor, including the tenant farmers, to be patient in their sufferings, and to accept them with courage. He assured them that, for their troubles in this life they would be recompensed with the eternal crown of glory.
    He balanced such statements by attacking those who were depriving the poor of the comforts of this world, warning them that they would have to render account for their lack of action before God on the last day. Overall, however, his message appeared to be more of an appeal for compassion from the oppressors of the poor than a call for justice for them. He appealed to the rich, the influential and the powerful for alms and charity in order to preserve the poor from total extermination. At the same time the poor were told to turn to God. Above all they were not to rebel by joining secret societies, a drum which Cullen was to beat many times in later years. On the contrary they were forcefully called on by Cullen and his suffragan bishops to be always good and faithful subjects of the realm. This message of resignation to ones unhappy lot was to prove an inadequate response to the desperate situation of the Irish peasant in the mid-nineteenth century.
    A variety of reasons lay behind Cullens failure to support the League especially when its activities were being backed by other clerics and when he himself sympathised with its aims. Primarily these were his own individual priorities, which would have the land problem behind education and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Further explanations derive from what he had learnt and experienced in his three decades in Rome. There was his respect for private property and for the established order, together with his opposition to Communist influences. These influences he tended to see lurking in many of the political and revolutionary activists he encountered in Ireland. Allied to these was his determination to regulate the involvement of priests in politics. A particular bearing on Cullens attitude to the Tenant League was, surprisingly, the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, 1851.
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Paul Cardinal Cullen: Profile of a Practical Nationalist