Abject apologies for missing the 125th birthday of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid yesterday.
Here was a distinguished clergyman who might have been imported directly from the Spanish Inquisition to administer his particular brand of religious certitude on an Ireland whose abject politicians were only too willing to kiss his ring. (See photo above lest there be any doubt on that score)
McQuaid was a cleric who liked women to know they were welcome in his church, as long as they restricted their activities to making the sangitches and changing the flowers on the altar every week.
Mind you, Ireland has never lacked for misogynistic Archbishops of Dublin. Cardinal Cullen, in the 1870s tried to force the administration to withdraw scholarships and prizes based on examination results from female second level students. He was supported in this by Irish MPs. It was British MPs who ensured that Irish girls would continue to benefit from their hard work in preparing for exams.
His successor, Cardinal MacCabe —an Irish churchman much beloved of Dublin Castle—went through multiple phases of apoplexy at the sight of women attending Land League meetings and, holy horror of horrors, making platform speeches. In a pastoral letter to his archdiocesan clergy he advised them:
‘Very reverend dear fathers, set your faces against this dishonouring attempt, and do not tolerate in your sodalities the woman who so far disavows her birthright of modesty as to parade herself before the public gaze in a character so unworthy of a child of Mary.’
But, of course, the Daddy of them all when it came to clerical misogyny was the Ayatollah himself, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (sadly he was denied a ‘red hat’ despite his sterling work on behalf of sixteenth century values). We don’t even need to grapple with the celebrated controversy over Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme to bathe Dev’s favourite Archbishop and Constitutional Consultant in the cold light of female repression. Or even his role in the insertion of the infamous Article 41.2.1 in de Valera’s 1937 Constitution. (Just in case you need reminding about that one it went something like this …
‘In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’
That’s all big politics. Let’s focus on the really petty stuff instead.
Take, for example, how he took issue, in 1934, with the notion of girls and women being allowed to compete in athletics. In 1928 women had been admitted to the Olympic Games for the first time but McQuaid came from the same school as the founder of the modern Olympiad, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that ‘women have but one task [in the Olympics] that of the role of crowning the winner with garlands’.
In 1934 the National Athletic and Cycling Association [grandparent of Athletics Ireland] was contemplating adding a women’s 100 yards dash to the national championships. McQuaid, then president of Blackrock College, (apparently this is an all-male rugby playing establishment somewhere in south Dublin) wrote a letter on the subject to the Irish Press newspaper on 24 February 1934 in which he observed that: ‘Mixed athletics and all cognate immodesties are abuses that right-minded people reprobate, wherever and whenever they exist.’
He then proceeded to invoke one of only two superior beings whom he acknowledged, by pointing out that ‘God is not modern; nor is his Law’. Women who sought to compete athletically in the vicinity of men were ‘un-Irish and un-Catholic’, and the entire phenomenon was a ‘social abuse’. He concluded by quoting from the only other superior being he recognised, the Pope (the one who never gave him a ‘red hat’), who was, apparently, of the opinion that:
‘…in athletic sports and exercises, wherein the Christian modesty of girls must be, in a special way, safeguarded … it is supremely unbecoming that they flaunt themselves and display themselves before the eyes of all.’
So that was pretty conclusive, God, the Pope and John Charles were on the same side. The NACA decided not to include female athletes … even over 100 yards. To their eternal shame the Irish Camogie Association supported McQuaid, although that may have been not unconnected with the fact that its secretary was a man. Sean O’Duffy—who was apparently not related to Ireland’s leading Fascist Eoin O’Duffy—promised that the Camogie Association:
‘…would do all in its power to ensure that no girl would appear on any sports ground in a costume to which any exception could be taken. If they remained Irish in the ordinary acception of the word they could not go wrong.’
Apparently the word ‘acception’ means ‘acceptation’ or ‘received meaning’. No, me neither!
Not until 1956 did Maeve Kyle become Ireland’s first female athletics competitor at the Olympics. It probably helped that she was a Northern Protestant and, consequently, beyond redemption.
Ten years later, having left Blackrock College, McQuaid was now Archbishop of Dublin with responsibility for all the clergy of the diocese, so, clearly, no longer associated with an institution dominated by testosterone. But he was still obsessed with female modesty, and in 1944 his attention had shifted from athletics to cycling – as in the menstrual cycles of women. In a letter to the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health he shared his anguish about:
‘…the evidence concerning the use of internal sanitary tampons, in particular, that are called Tampax. On the medical evidence made available, the bishops very strongly disapprove of the use of these appliances, more particularly in the case of unmarried persons.’
Now, in fairness to the Archbishop, in using the words ‘unmarried persons’ he was obviously expressing concerns in relation to men who used tampons as well as women. One wonders had his eminence mistaken Tampax for Durex, both, after all, were highly sexualised products with the suspect letter ‘x’ in their names?
Or was his anxiety based on the fear that the tampon might, in addition to its medicinal / physiological purpose, be used by women in pursuit of sexual stimulation. Sexual pleasure and gratification was after all:
a) in the gift of men only.
b) an unfortunate (if unlikely) pre-requisite for the production of children.
c) never willingly experienced by truly Catholic women.
Staying with sport, the Archbishop was also concerned about the dangers of hockey for women – he feared that the frequent twisting movements would lead to infertility, or what he called ‘hockey parturition’. Female hockey players might conceivably—ok, pun intended—find themselves unable to perform the main function appropriate to their gender, i.e. reproduction. The sport of lacrosse, which he believed, for some baffling reason, to involve less midriff action, was encouraged in Roman Catholic girls’ schools in the Dublin archdiocese. The fact that lacrosse had originated among Native Americans using the heads of defeated opponents did not seem to occur to him as making it in any way unsuitable.
Belated happy 125th JC! No returns please.