Thirty years after his death, is the Irish Church leader who was lampooned in the English press as an IRA fellow traveller due a reassessment?
Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, died on Tuesday 8 May 1990, aged 66, while leading a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. Appreciations of Cardinal Ó Fiaich (pronounced O’Fee), were carried in The Tablet in the issue of 19 May – the 150th anniversary of its foundation, a coincidence that would have elicited a chuckle and a puff of his pipe from the fervent Irish nationalist.
His former colleague at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Enda McDonagh, recalled that Ó Fiaich, a very reputable scholar specialising in early Irish Christian history, had become a leading promoter of Gaelic language and culture while remaining “a popular, some might say populist, priest”. He was outrageously portrayed in a Cummings cartoon in the Sunday Express as the recruiting officer of the Provisional IRA and denounced as its “chaplain-in-chief” by the paper’s editor, John Junor. Leading English Catholics, particularly Norman St John-Stevas, lobbied to prevent him getting a red hat in 1979, two years after his appointment as Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Paul VI; although he had reservations about Ó Fiaich’s politics, Cardinal Basil Hume refused to be part of these machinations.