Tomás Ó Fiaich

Tomás Ó Fiaich

infobox cardinalbiog
name = Tomás Cardinal Ó Fiaich

See = Armagh
Title = Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh
Period = 18 August 1977 – 8 May 1990
cardinal = 30 June 1979
Predecessor = William Cardinal Conway
Successor = Cahal Cardinal Daly
post = President, Maynooth College | date of birth = 3 November, 1923
date of death = 8 May, 1990
place of birth = Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh |

Tomás Séamus Cardinal Ó Fiaich (November 3, 1923May 8, 1990) was an Irish Cardinal, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland from 1978 until his death. He was born in Cullyhanna, [Early years of Cardinal O’Fiaich [] ] and raised in Camlough, County Armagh, a staunchly nationalist/republican area of Northern Ireland in 1923, two years after the partitioning of Ireland.

Priest, president to archbishop

Tomás Ó Fiaich was ordained a priest on 6 July 1948; he spent his first year of ordination as assistant priest in Clonfeacle parish. He undertook post-graduate studies in University College Dublin, (1948-50), receiving an M.A. in early and medieval Irish history; he also studied at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, (1950-52), receiving a licentiate in historical sciences.He joined the faculity of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth in 1953. Tomás Ó Fiaich was an academic and noted Irish language scholar, folklorist and historian in the Pontifical University in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, the National Seminary of Ireland. [Website for St. Patrick's College, Maynooth [] ] From 1959 to 1974 he was Professor of Modern Irish History at the college. ["Irish Times" Obituary [] ] In this capacity he suggested to Nollaig Ó Muraíle that he begin research on Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and his works. He served as vice president of the college from 1970 to 1974; in 1974 he was appointed college president, a post that traditionally precedes appointment to an episcopal position in the Irish Church. He held this position until 1977. [Significant appointments of Tomás Ó Fiaich [] ]

Following the death of William Cardinal Conway in 1977 Monsignor Ó Fiaich was appointed Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Paul VI on 18 August, 1977. He was ordained bishop on 2 October 1977. The Principal Consecrator was the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi; the Principal Co-Consecrators were Bishop Francis Lenny, the Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh and Bishop William Philbin the Bishop of Down and Connor. [Ordination of Tomás Ó Fiaich to bishop. [] ] Pope John Paul II raised Ó Fiaich to the cardinalate on June 30, 1979; he was appointed Cardinal-Priest of S. Patrizio that same day. [S. Patrizio Cardinal Titual Church [] ]

Years as Archbishop of Armagh

Although Cardinal O’Fiaich spent all of his formative years in academic circles, he proved to be an adept pastor. [Comments from Basil Cardinal Hume [] ] His tenure as Primate is often associated with the political strife ramant in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. One incident often closely associated with the late Cardinal is the Hunger Strikes that occurred in 1981.

Papal Visit 1979

The first major event in O'Fiaich's cardinalate was the first ever papal visit to Ireland after 1,400 years of Christianity from 29th September to 1 October 1979 by Pope John Paul II. The Pope heard mass before one million people in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. His major speech at the border with Northern Ireland called on all the organizations that were prolonging The Troubles to end their activities, followed by a visit to the Marian Shrine at Knock, County Mayo.

Initially blocked for cardinalate by Pope John Paul I

Pope John Paul I controversially blocked plans to make Ó Fiaich a cardinal in 1978 with the quip "Ireland deserves better". The United Kingdom and Irish governments of James Callaghan and Jack Lynch respectively had privately lobbied to prevent Ó Fiaich from being awarded the red hat because of the belief that he was too close to Irish militant republicanism. Writing later, then leader of the Opposition Dr Garret FitzGerald referred toHowever Pope John Paul II later rescinded his predecessor's decision and raised Ó Fiaich to the cardinalate on 30 June 1979.

Criticism by Irish politicians

Politically he was also criticised for his less critical stances on Irish republicanism than those taken up by his predecessor, Cardinal Conway, and the Bishop of Down and Conor, Cahal Daly (later O'Fiaich's successor). Successive Irish governments under taoisigh Jack Lynch and Garret FitzGerald criticised him for what they claimed was excessive closeness to republicans.Fact|date=April 2008 Unionists in particular were critical of Ó Fiaich.

Praise from republicans

Republicans however praised the cardinal for his criticism of British policy in Northern Ireland and for his open championing of a united Ireland.Fact|date=April 2008

Media criticism

Some of Ó Fiaich's sternest critics were in the Irish media, notably the (anti-republican) Sunday Independent and the (liberal) Irish Times. He was however strongly defended on occasion by the (more radical nationalist) Irish Press and An Phoblacht.

Hunger Strikes

During the IRA hunger strikes Ó Fiaich was believed by many to have been a privately influential figure among republican supporters, credited with helping end the first hunger strike through direct contact with republicans in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. [Cardinal O’Fiaich visits the Maze [] ] He visited the Maze and witnessed the "Dirty Protest" (where prisoners rubbed their faeces on the walls of their cells and left food to rot on cell floors, while just wearing blankets and refusing to wash, in protest at the withdrawal of Special Category Status from republican prisoners), stating

:"I was shocked at by the inhuman conditions . . . where over 300 prisoners are incarcerated. One would hardly allow an animal to remain in such conditions let alone a human being. The nearest approach to it that I have seen was the spectacle of hundreds of homeless people living in sewer pipes in the slums of Calcutta."ref|Maze

When hunger striker Raymond McCreesh died, Ó Fiaich said:

"Raymond McCreesh was captured bearing arms at the age of 19 and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. I have no doubt that he would have never seen the inside of a jail but for the abnormal political situation. Who is entitled to label him a murderer or a suicide?"

While the Cardinal showed deep concern for the treatment of prisoners, he was equally critically of those who used violence to further the cause of Irish nationalism. [Cardinal O’Fiaich criticizes violence. [] ]

Reverend Armstrong Situation

In 1983, Reverend David Armstrong was forced to leave Limavady due to his wishing Father Kevin Mullan's congregation "Happy Christmas." Cardinal Ó Fiaich gave the reverend a cash donation to help him resettle in England. [ [] The Irish News (October 8, 2008) ]

Activities at the Vatican

During his tenure, Cardinal Ó Fiaich attended many synods and meetings of the Sacred College of Cardinals. The main meetings were

* First Plenary Assembly of the Sacred College of Cardinals, Vatican City, November 5 - 9, 1979
* World Synod of Bishops (Ordinary assembly), Vatican City, September 26 - October 25, 1980
* World Synod of Bishops (Ordinary assembly), Vatican City, September 29 - October 28, 1983
* World Synod of Bishops (Extraordinary assembly), Vatican City, November 24 - December 8, 1985
* World Synod of Bishops (Ordinary assembly), Vatican City, October 1 - 30, 1987 [Attendance at meetings in Vatican City [] ]

ex abuse cases

Cardinal O Fiaich was the last head of the church in Ireland in the decade before the discovery of hundreds of pastoral sex abuse cases up to the 1990s. While not directly responsible in each case, his lack of supervision allowed many accused priests to be moved to other parishes, or abroad, where some continued their activities. Other abusers such as Monsignor Micheal Ledwith were promoted, and some would say protected, by the Cardinal. Such was the number of cases exposed by 2008 that in hindsight he could not be said to have been in supervisory control of many of his priests and bishops, but was more of a remote figurehead.

Reordering of Armagh Cathedral

Infobox cardinalstyles
cardinal name=Tomás Cardinal Ó Fiaich
dipstyle=His Eminence
offstyle=Your Eminence
Ó Fiaich's re-ordering of the high Victorian gothic St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh proved contentious. He had the highly decorated high altar and screen replaced by a plain white Wicklow granite altar table.

Though Ó Fiaich himself wrote approvingly of the new design for the sanctuary, many others were highly critical, arguing that the new sanctuary design defaced what had been a particularly fine nineteenth century building, with the brutal simplicity of the white oval altar contrasting with the original features surviving. One critic, writing in the "Sunday Independent", compared Ó Fiaich's altar to something from the set of "Star Trek".

Ó Fiaich's altar piece was subsequently removed by Archbishop Seán Brady and a more classical replacement installed.

udden death

Ó Fiaich died of a heart attack on the evening of Tuesday May 8th 1990 while leading the annual Armagh diocesan pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Lourdes in France. He had arrived in France the day before and had complained of feeling ill shortly after saying Mass at the grotto in the French town. He was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Toulouse, 125 miles away where he died. He was aged 66. He lay in state at the cathedral in Armagh where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects. [Funeral of Cardinal O’Fiaich [] ]

He was succeeded as archbishop and cardinal by a man six years his senior, Cahal Cardinal Daly, then the Bishop of Down and Connor. [Down and Connor [] ]

Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library

The Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library, a registered charity, was opened in Armagh in the years after his death. [Link to the Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive [] ] Named after the cardinal to honour his academic interests, it contains extensive archival material about local and national Irish folklore, heritage and history. Cardinal Ó Fiaich's private papers covering his period as archbishop and cardinal are held by the library, as are those of nine previous Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh dating back to the mid eighteenth century.

Ancient Order of Hibernians

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an exclusively Roman Catholic organization largely (though not exclusively) based in the USA, has named its #14 Division in Massachusetts and #7 Division in New York City after the late Cardinal.


# Then Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Garret FitzGerald, on behalf of the Government, raised Alibrandi's position directly with Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Benelli at a meeting in 1975. (FitzGerald in The Irish Times)
# Garret FitzGerald, "All in a Life" (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) p.337.)
# Statement by Tomás Cardinal Ó Fiaich, quoted in Tim Pat Coogan, "The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace" (Arrow, 1996)



* "Edmund O'Reilly, Archbishop of Armagh 1657-1669," in "Father Luke Wadding Commemorative Volume," pp.171-228 (Franciscan Fathers), 1957.
* "Irish cultural influence in Europe, 6th to 12th century," Dublin, 1967.
* "The Irish Bishops and The Conscription Issue 1918", in "The Capuchin Annual", 1968.
* "Columbanus in His Own Words" (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1974)
* "Virgil's Irish background and departure for France," in "Seanchas Ardmacha," ix (1985), pp.301-17.
* "Gaelscrínte san Eoraop." Dublin, 1986.
* "Irish monks in Germany in the late Middle Ages," in "The Church, Ireland and the Irish," (ed. W.J. Sheils and Diana Wood), Oxford, 1989; studies in Church history, xxv, pp.89-104.
* "The early period," in Rémonn Ó Muirí (ed.) "Irish Church History Today," pp. 1-12, Armagh [1991?]
* "Virgils Wededegand in Irland und sein Weg auf den Kontinent," in "Virgil von Salzburg," pp.17-26 (date unknown)

External links

* [ BBC page on the hunger strikes containing comments by Cardinal Ó Fiaich]
* [ Tomás Ó Fiaich memorial library and archive]

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