‘Pro Publico Bono’



Without getting into personal views on ANY side of the upcoming parliamentary debate in the Republic of Ireland, I think we can all agree on one thing; freedom of religious belief and expression should not interfere with the governance of a democratic nation. On reading the national newspapers at the weekend, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu. Where had I seen threats of religious excommunication being made against elected representatives of the people, against those fighting to extend the freedoms we take for granted today in our daily lives? On the 12th of December 1920, the Bishop of Cork and Ross, Most Rev. Daniel Cohalan, came out in condemnation of the murder and mayhem visited on Ireland and the City and County of Cork in particular.

The Bishop called on those ‘…who shall, within the Diocese of Cork, organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.’[1] At the time many interpreted his words as meaning that the Bishop had sided against the Irish Volunteers, who at that time were engaged in a ferocious struggle with the British security forces, which regularly had deadly consequences. Those same forces were regularly committing atrocities in the city and to whom censure by a Catholic Bishop would mean little. Further salt was rubbed in the wound when Cohalan mentioned by name Tomás MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney in the same speech, seemingly reinforcing his anti-Republican bias and incensing even moderate Nationalists.[2]

This entry and comment by the Bishop did not have the calming effects sought. It did little to hamper the cycles of atrocity and reprisal being played out by the belligerents in the City and County under his pastoral care. About all it really accomplished was to embitter Catholic Volunteers against the Catholic Church, to harden their resolve and spur them on towards the eventual Truce.[3] In a contemporary context of lobbying, it was ill-advised and an unmitigated failure on the part of the Bishop. Perhaps the appointed Church hierarchy should take stock and reflect on their currently approach to excommunication of democratically elected officials for having to make impossible choices pro bono public

[2] Bishop’s Drastic Action, Irish Independent, 13/12/1920.

About eamonntgardiner

Dr. Eamonn T. Gardiner, is a Consulting Historian. He has previously conducted research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst veterans of the First World War serving as Auxiliary Policemen, during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. He has written extensively on British central and colonial administrative responses to popular insurgencies. In 2009 he published 'Counterinsurgency and Conflict: Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War (CSP, 2009).' Published papers include; 'The training of the Irish Volunteers, 1913-1916' (The Irish Sword, 2017); 'Scattered, Ambushed and Laid Out: War and Counterinsurgency in the greater Tuam area, 1919-1921' (JOTS, 2015). Research interests include De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism; Insurgency, Police/Military Histories; Institutional Histories; Modern Irish/World History; History of Conflict, Protectorates and Peace-Keeping; Hegemony; Old and New Terrorism.
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