DIFP Print Logo

No. 35 NAI DFA ES Paris 1920

Memorandum by Sean T. O'Ceallaigh to Pope Benedict XV
(Copy)

ROME, 18 May 1920

Twelve years ago, during the celebration of the Sacerdotal Jubilee of your venerated predecessor, I came to Rome to take part in that celebration as one of the official representatives of the Municipal Council of Dublin. On that occasion I had the honour of reading the address of congratulation presented by the Municipality of Catholic Ireland's Capital to the Sovereign Pontiff.

This time I do not approach your Holiness in any official capacity. I have, indeed, been sent from Ireland to Paris to present the case of Ireland and look after her interests at the Peace Conference. I am a duly elected member of the Irish Parliament (representing one of the divisions of Dublin) and have been elected its President. I have also been for the past fourteen years a member of the Municipal Council of Dublin. These facts I mention merely to show with what authority I speak.

Being here in Rome I have sought the honour of an audience with Your Holiness to express my allegiance as a faithful son of Holy Church and to pay the respects due to its Head.

I desire in the next place to express to Your Holiness the appreciation which our Catholic people of Ireland feel for the unswerving neutrality which they believe Your Holiness has observed during the war in the struggle of the Irish Nation for the preservation and extension of its liberties. Above all we appreciate the unyielding front which Your Holiness maintained against influences seeking to use the Holy See to the detriment of the Irish Hierarchy and of the Irish People in the National resistance to conscription in May 1918.

During my stay in Paris I did not fail to notice that not only does much ignorance and misunderstanding of Ireland and of the Irish National movement prevail but that the calumnies circulated by the Protestant press of England have been accepted as facts by the public of France and of Italy and even by the Catholics of these countries. These calumnies, I have noticed are still being circulated by the press of these countries and unhappily the Catholic press, even of Rome itself is known to have been far from blameless in this respect.

I therefore beg to take this opportunity to lay before Your Holiness a short memorandum on the present national movement in Ireland particularly in its relation to the Catholic Church and to the Holy See.

The Irish National Movement (now commonly known as SINN FEIN) aims simply and solely at the achievement of the sovereign independence of Ireland - in other words, our aim is to obtain that independence which every other white race in the world has already won. We claim merely the same sovereign independence that Poland has won after one hundred and fifty years of slavery and struggle. We claim the same sovereign independence recently granted to many new nations, unfamiliar in name, Protestant as well as Catholic, whose claims fall far short of Ireland's. Ireland's righteous and time-honoured claims have been frequently recognised by Your Holiness's Predecessors and even actively assisted by them as far back as the sixteenth century. Ireland alone of all white nations is denied the universally accepted right of self-determination - that loudly proclaimed and oft-repeated war cry of so many of the contending powers in the late world war, a cry accepted by all of these as one of the basic principles of peace.

On the occasion of the General Election of December 1918 all Ireland formally and unequivocally expressed its demand for an independent Irish Republic. At that election seventy-three out of one hundred and five supporters of absolute independence were returned by the Irish people, also six others who are in favour of the right of self-determination and who only differ as to the means of attaining independence, thus recording a political unanimity unparalleled among nations old or new.

The Irish Hierarchy has endorsed the demand of the Irish people to choose its own form of government and again renewed that demand in their declaration of January 27th. of this year. In America and Australia just as at home in Ireland, both Hierarchy and clergy are standing compact behind the Irish people in their claims for the application to Ireland of the principles laid down in Your Holiness's Peace Note, particularly in what you so courageously said of Poland and of its claims, viz., that Poland was entitled to independence because of its historic traditions and of the sufferings it has had to endure. I am sure I need not waste time in pointing out that on both grounds Poland's claims are small indeed and but of yesterday in comparison with those of Ireland.

Returning now to the results of the General Election of 1918: our Parliament and our Government, headed today by President de Valera are recognised by the Irish people as the only legal and morally binding government in Ireland. His Eminence Cardinal O'Connell and His Grace the Archbishop of Sydney, both now in Rome, can substantiate that they are recognised as such not only among the Irish at home and abroad but that they have the active support of many millions of peoples of other nationalities in America and Australia.

More than ninety per cent of our Parliament and its electors are Catholics - Catholics as deeply religious as any others in the world - and as generous and devoted to the Holy See as our martyred predecessors of the past. The Irish Hierarchy and clergy will bear witness to the truth of this statement, and their opinion can be easily ascertained just now when so many are in Rome for the beatification of one of the sufferers in the days of old. The lives and deaths of our deceased leaders and comrades of yesterday also justify this, as was doubtless made clear to Your Holiness by the late Rector of the Irish College in his statement on the Insurrection of 1916.

As practicing Catholics we have never allowed our national movement for independence to be contaminated by anti-religious or other dangerous movements condemned by the Church; yet we find that the continental press reproduces the calumnies fabricated in England, painting our struggle for bare liberty as a movement of anarchists.

What has given particular pain is that even the Catholic press of Rome, not even excluding organs said to be in close touch with the Holy See, has not only systematically refused to voice the cause of an oppressed Catholic people but has even gone so far as to give circulation and prominence to the calumnies of their Protestant oppressor, just as persistently as the Masonic press of Europe. 'Audi alteram partem' seems to enter but slightly into the ethical code of the Catholic press of Rome when Ireland is concerned. Rather it is 'Hear the great Protestant Empire' and 'Suppress its weak and defenceless victim'. It has almost systematically suppressed the story of England's political, military and economic tyranny in Ireland. By circulating the worst of the false cables of unknown Protestant or Masonic journalists it has given and continues to give a false impression of the state of Irish affairs very prejudicial to Catholic Ireland. The attitude of these papers would be a matter of small importance were it not for the fact that it influences the views of many ecclesiastics who naturally enough take for granted the accuracy of the news supplied by responsible Catholic papers. This applies not merely to Roman ecclesiastics but to many highly-placed ecclesiastical subscribers to the 'Osservatore Romano' in foreign countries.

This suppressio veri and suggestio falsi is particularly noticeable in the accounts of real or pretended outrages. Such outrages have invariably occurred in the past in every country where foreign or class repression reigned, yet they were seldom heard of outside the confines of the country concerned; nor was the entire country blackened for the rash deeds of a few irresponsible youths. It is only when the instruments of English tyranny are struck down for the purpose of avenging or deterring the crimes of official law-breakers that England sets in motion its world-wide masonic press agencies with the object of calumniating the whole Irish nation and thereby depriving her of the natural sympathy of civilised peoples - the one deterrent force that could prevent the wholesale exercise of England's brutal tyranny.

Even English statistics themselves show that Ireland is the most crimeless country in Europe. The number of crimes committed by the oppressed in the heat of our national warfare is not merely relatively but absolutely small. It is well to bear in mind that Ireland is an armed camp, occupied by overwhelming numbers of British armed forces with all the appliances of modern warfare; that the people are subjected to every sort of malicious provocation; that constitutional means of redress are denied them; that military law administered by courts martial is in active operation. In these circumstances it is not surprising if individuals or sections of the people inflamed by countless wrongs, cannot always be restrained, and if they sometimes take the law into their own hands and wreak the vengeance that comes within their grasp. Yet these solidly extenuating circumstances are never referred to by the press in question.

On the other hand the continental press, with the exception of the socialist organs, seldom if ever publish reports of the massacres or murders committed by soldiers or police in Ireland; and on the few occasions when such acts are referred to every care is taken to publish England's official calumnies, viz: that they were justified by alleged attacks on her armed forces. To cite an instance of these unfair methods, not even once has the Catholic press of Rome published the verdicts of Catholic juries, duly sworn, which established that such murders and massacres were the work of English hirelings and paid instruments of tyranny in Ireland. In Rome, it was left to the socialist press to publish the verdict of the jury which declared that the Catholic Lord Mayor of Cork1 was assassinated in his own house by English armed forces at the direction of the English Government.

The protests against such action of the catholic press already made by myself and other Irishmen have hitherto been absolutely ignored, and I am informed that this very month the Bishop of Limerick has written to persons in this City complaining of the false statements published by the 'Osservatore Romano' regarding incidents alleged to have occurred in his diocese. Yet the same Catholic paper which saw fit to publish the false story of the burning of a Protestant school in the diocese of Limerick completely ignored the striking and unanimous protest of the Bishops of Ireland against England's barbarous cruelty to untried political prisoners, and failed to give any account of the remarkable demonstrations of religious faith and fervour when, all human aid seeming to have failed them, citizens of Dublin assembled in thousands outside the prison gates to unite in public prayer in an appeal to Divine Providence to protect the Nation against England's brutality.

These facts rankle in the hearts of good Irish Catholics whose utmost anxiety is that the cause of faith and fatherland should remain firmly united now as in the past. The leaders of the movement, lay and ecclesiastic, have every confidence that this sacred union will continue. They cannot, however, conceal their uneasiness at the constant efforts of the English Government, of the English press, of English agents and of English propagandists of every grade, to influence the Holy See after having failed to influence the Irish Episcopate as a body. We know too well that such efforts were made in the past. A generation ago we saw with anguish the success of these efforts. Though the Irish people of thirty-five years ago refused to allow these successful intrigues to deter them from their course or to detach them from the Holy See, they realised with dismay that it was actually possible for the tools of a bitter Protestant and anti-Catholic empire to procure the denunciation by the Holy See of the Irish popular movement and its leaders, and to obtain that condemnation at a time when the bishops of Ireland were unheard but known to be hostile to such a step. The fact that it was possible for a Catholic Hierarchy and a Catholic people to be ignored and condemned by the Holy See and for a Protestant diplomacy successfully to induce the Holy See to disavow, unheard, a weaker Catholic nation came as a shock and left an indelible impression on a people which long ago learned never to forget a favour or an injury.

Though our political leaders of the present day hope that no regrettable situation of the kind will again arise, yet, in the unavoidable absence of an Irish Minister, the presence of an English Minister at the Vatican, always within reach of the ear of the Supreme Pontiff, causes a certain amount of popular anxiety that England may seek to induce the Holy See to interfere in Irish affairs or at least may seek to injure individual Irishmen or asperse the good fame of our country and its popular movement, after the manner of her unscrupulous Government and press. Remembering the history of the achievements even in our own day, of certain unofficial representatives of the English Government, the presence of this official minister is undoubtedly a menace to our country, as long as Ireland is not similarly represented. Our leaders however, are confident that as long as the Holy See is guided by the advice of the general body of the Irish bishops no unhappy consequences will arise. I say the general body, for while the general body of the Irish Episcopate have proved their patriotism and political sagacity, we have to recognise that some few members of that body do not see eye to eye with the full political aspirations of their people and do not therefore enjoy their complete political confidence. Such a real revolution has taken place in Irish opinion and policy that only by keeping in closest touch with Irish sentiment can mistakes, with their attendant grave consequences be prevented.

Such ill consequences would not be confined to Ireland but would react wherever the Irish race is planted. Twenty millions of our race are scattered throughout the United States, Australia, Canada and elsewhere. They have carried the Catholic faith with them; they, and not British Catholics, form the backbone of the Church in those countries; and they occupy a powerful position in the political life of those states. What a powerful factor the Irish race forms in the United States to-day can be judged from the reservations to the Peace Treaty made by the United States Senate at their request.

In the United States and Australia and to a large extent in Canada the Catholic Hierarchy and priesthood is largely composed of the sons of Ireland. They deeply sympathise with their mother country in her efforts for independence. None have spoken more forcibly on this question, doubtless because of the liberty they enjoy in those lands. Moreover, none would view with greater dismay than they any untoward act which could lessen the respect or loyalty of the Irish race to the Holy See.

The position of Irish Catholics is a cruel one. We are enslaved by a Protestant power. The penal laws against our religion are not yet abolished in full. The injurious social and economic results of these anti-Catholic laws will not be overcome for generations. To the present day we suffer political injury inside and outside of Ireland, simply and solely because we are practicing Catholics. Sons of martyrs, we are known in every Masonic lodge and every anti-Catholic country as 'Papists', and par-excellence, the most devoted of all the children of the Holy See. An ex-minister of France confessed to me that the reason why Ireland remained so long unsuccessful in her struggle for independence and got so little assistance from foreign countries, was the fact that we are a Catholic nation. Another well-known French politician also assured me that if Ireland were represented by free-masons we probably would have been heard at the Peace Conference. Whether or not these statements be true, Irish Catholics believe that their devotion to their religion and to the Holy See handicaps their efforts for independence. While this in no way shakes their adherence to the Faith, they naturally resent the audacity of an officially heretical government approaching the Holy See on occasions through Catholic or non-Catholic channels, seeking to procure, on pretexts of faith and morals, the condemnation of Catholic Ireland. It is true that the latter happens to be weak and England strong; hence England tries to turn into an instrument of further oppression a force on which Ireland should obviously have paramount claims and for which Ireland suffered and fought and bled while the oppressor repudiated, blasphemed and persecuted it. Like the Frenchmen I have alluded to, anti-clericals have not been slow to fling in our faces such unfortunate incidents as the Veto controversy of 1795-1816 concerning the interference, direct or indirect, of the English Government in the selection and appointment of Irish bishops, or what happened not so long ago when the Parnell Testimonial was attacked and the Plan of Campaign condemned without the knowledge of the Irish bishops, the condemnation taking place at the very time when the most prominent member of the Irish Hierarchy was in Rome and actually in consultation with the Holy See on Irish secular affairs.

I have set out these feelings of the Irish people frankly and fully, in the manner that I hope, Your Holiness would wish good Irish Catholics to express themselves to their Spiritual Father. This expression of the sentiments of their political leaders is a confidential outpouring of hearts whose highest desire is to preserve the loyalty of our people to the Holy See - the one great power that has most helped them in the past and whose sympathy they most appreciate. I can assure Your Holiness of the unfailing loyalty of both people and leaders and of their constant prayer and anxiety that nothing may ever happen to diminish by one iota the well-known devotion of the Irish people to the Catholic Church and its Venerated Head.

Sean T. O'Ceallaigh

1 Tomás MacCurtain.

Users who read this document also viewed...

  • Document No. 1 Volume 1 (21 January 1919) Declaration of independence Read more...
  • Document No. 7 Volume 1 (20 April 1919) George Gavan Duffy to Cathal Brugha Read more...
  • Document No. 6 Volume 1 (01 April 1919) Constitution of Dáil Éireann Read more...
  • Document No. 5 Volume 1 (07 March 1919) Sean T O'Ceallaigh to Cathal Brugha Read more...
  • Document No. 20 Volume 1 (14 July 1919) Diarmuid O'Hegarty to George Gavan Duffy Read more...


Design & Development by FUSIO