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The forgotten Archbishop of Dublin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin launched The Life and Times of Daniel Murray: Archbishop of Dublin 1823–1852 by Thomas J Morrissey SJ on 13 March in Belvedere College SJ, Dublin 1. The book is the first study of its kind, and its publishers, Messenger Publications, say it is not only an important contribution to the study of the history of the Irish Church, but an account of the value of political moderation that speaks to our own polarised time.

Thomas J. Morrissey (see photo) is a Jesuit priest, an educationalist, historian and author of many books including one on another Dublin Archbishop, Edward Byrne. He is a former headmaster of Crescent College Comprehensive, Limerick, and former director of the National College of Industrial Relations, Dublin.

Most Rev Diarmuid Martin described Archbishop Murray as a strong force that renewed, fostered, supported and fought for groups founded by women in Ireland and focused on the important role of women in the Irish Church. He went on to describe how Archbishop Murray facilitated access to education for Catholics and his persistence was often considered resistance.

Despite Archbishop Martin’s comments, Daniel Murray (1768–1852) is a virtually forgotten figure in Irish history. Archbishop of Dublin, from 1823 until his death in 1852, Murray was the leading figure in the Irish Church during a pivotal time in its history, according to Morrissey. He shepherded the Irish Church through the age of Emancipation, Repeal and the Great Famine, and oversaw drastic changes not only in the culture of the Irish Church but the very landscape of its physical presence in Ireland. Murray was a key advocate for much of what we recognise as modern Ireland, says the Jesuit historian. From the National University System to the schools of the Christian Brothers, from the Irish Sisters of Charity to St Vincent’s Hospital and the Pro-Cathedral, Murray’s mark can be seen throughout the country, and perhaps most prominently in the city of Dublin.

Why then has Murray, admired by the Great Emancipator Daniel O’Connell no less, disappeared from our history? In this work Morrissey argues that Murray’s extraordinary ability to act as a mediator between the Irish Church and Rome, between Ireland and the British government isolated him from an Ireland in which national pride and Catholicism were becoming closely linked. Murray’s pragmatic focus on the betterment of the Catholic people of Ireland, and his willingness to negotiate with officials in Britain and Rome, created a perception of him as a ‘man of the Castle’. A perception at odds with his deep concern for his people.

Another example of Murray’s pastoral concern was his support for Mary Aikenhead of the Irish Sisters of Charity. He encouraged and assisted her to found the order, moving out of the traditional cloisters mould to go out into the world to serve the desperately poor and needy people of her day. She was greatly supported by him in the building, and staffing by her nuns, of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin where the poorest of the poor could get medical treatment. The Archbishop also financially supported Mother Mary and to this day there are sculptures of both figures at St Vincent’s.

Most Rev Diarmuid Martin described Archbishop Murray as a great preacher and a real presence in Dublin society, noting that it was the poor that regretted his death the most. The Archbishop concluded that the book is a remarkable achievement for the author.

Among those who attended the book launch were Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Chief Justice; Noelle Dowling, Dublin Diocesan Archivist; John Cooney, Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Independent; Maureen O’ Sullivan TD; Roger Childs, Editor of RTÉ Religious Programmes; Bernard Treacy OP, Director of Dominican Publications; Fr Anthony Gaughan, Historian and Author; Brian Mac Cuarta SJ, Director of the Archives of the central government for the worldwide Society of Jesus; and Dermot A Lane, President of Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin.

The Life and Times of Daniel Murray: Archbishop of Dublin 1823–1852 is available from Messenger Publications and in all good bookshops.