The amazing Fr Eugene O’Neill

It’s amazing what you read in the papers. A-ston-ishing. The most recently example was yesterday in The News Letter, which reports a Glengormley priest – Fr Eugene O’Neill-  as saying that no priests under forty-five are interested in removing the border. Apparently it was on the back of a “Thought for the Day” he did on BBC radio. Can you believe that – members of the Irish Catholic clergy found wanting in their commitment to Irish republicanism? Those of us old enough still get a tingle when we remember the stirring words of Cardinal Cahal Daly, back in the heat of the conflict, when he used deliver those blistering criticisms of the British army and the RUC, as well as the depth of understanding he showed for the Irish people’s centuries-old struggle to run their own affairs. And to think that all that is now turned on its head: according to  this forty-five-year-old priest,  priests like him and younger just don’t care about a united Ireland!

And there’s more – quite a bit, in fact. Fr O’Neill says many Catholics are “rethinking their nationalism” and wondering whether “as Catholics they necessarily had to be nationalist”. He’ll find it hard to untangle that one. As I remember my own baptism, part of the ceremony involves a clear commitment to active republicanism throughout adult life or else face excommunication.   Eugene also says that the Queen and the British government are far nicer to people of faith than the Dublin government. In fact, he draws a comparison between the anti-Catholic sentiment in the southern state and the persecution of Catholicism in some former Communist countries.

I actually think he has a half-point there. In the south there is indeed an anti-Catholic Church bias in the media, for reasons too tedious to repeat; but that it’s comparable with persecution of the Church in Communist countries? Get a grip, Eugene… But shhh – he’s talking again.

“For my generation of priests and everyone below us the national question is irrelevant- literally irrelevant…no one is interested in the national question”.

Ach ach achone – has it come to this? The Catholic clergy, especially the hierarchy, men on whom those struggling for a united Ireland always knew they could depend, all the way from the local parish priest right up to the Pope – to think that they’ve now turned their back on the whole project. A thought too deep for tears.

Well, that’s it, then. Sinn Féin and any other party interested in the notion of sovereignty resting with the Irish people – forget it. Go home. You’re wasting your time. You may think that people will get excited about commemorating the centenary of  Easter 1916 and the programme of the first Dail in 1918,  or that they’ll turn out in huge numbers, the way they did when the body of Kevin Barry was re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery some years ago. Hah! No chance. They’ll be at home discussing Greece and whether the euro will last. As Eugene himself says, “Don’t we have any values beyond the economy?”

The answer,  Eugene, is No. And that’s why I expect they’ll cancel all those centenary commemoration plans that were in the works before your News Letter  interview. Total waste of money.

So there you are. Truth hurts. I would add that Ireland is lucky to have clear-thinking, informed priests like Eugene, but that’d be to flirt with a discussion of values  and skirt dangerously close to the subject of nationalism. So I’ll just make my excuses and go rejoin all those other Catholics  checking out the state of the FTSE 100.

5 Responses to The amazing Fr Eugene O’Neill

  1. ralph4america February 22, 2012 at 7:21 pm #


  2. Anonymous February 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Oh look its Ralph he is back after cluttering up the BT debate with junk its now your turn Jude!

  3. Anonymous February 29, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    That Priest is an attention-seeking closet unionist/royalist. The cheek of him claiming to speak for the Catholic community!

  4. Thinking Nationalist February 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    A Chara,
    I wonder if anonymous above actually read the piece in the Newsletter last Tuesday.First of all Fr O’Neill did not claim to speak for the Catholic community. He was speaking of his converstions with fellow priests uner the age of forty five where the constituional question of a United Ireland is rarely discussed so that it is almost irrelevant. Many Catholics like myself are rethinking their nationalism and I have met many who are. Do you have a label for us? Fine if you do but it may just pro He was giving a thought for the day on Radio Ulster.
    It is quite clear from the above piece from Jude Collins and other articles in the Belfast Telegraph and Irish Catholic it has got people thinking. What ever your thoughts on the issues raised by Fr O’ Neill it is sad that you seek to attack the Man rather debate with the issues and questions raised. Is not Name calling and labelling and stereotyping in which you have engaged in the very issue that Fr O’Neill was raising?
    Fr O’ Neill is an Irish Passport Holder If you read Liam Clarkes article in Belfast Telegraph last thursday you will see from his article that Fr O’ Neill does not fit your label. He has actually republican lineage. He was merely posing questions . Why do we have to attack the questioner personally with labels? Are we afraid of the questions? Please do play the ball but not the Man.
    I hope you are capable of doing so. So rise to the challenge of debate rather than name calling.
    Is Mise le Meas
    Thinkink Nationalist

  5. Jude Collins February 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Thinking Nationalist – thanks for your thoughts, although I’d hate to think that your title implies other nationalists don’t. I think there are a lot of issues raised by Eugene O’Neill’s article. My point in the blog is that it would have been news if Catholic clergy had expressed an interest in a reunited country – history until now shows them firmly on the side of the status quo. His point about separating our Catholicism from our nationalism: I think he’s a little behind the programme there. I haven’t figures but I’d be astonished if even a third of nationalists/republicans are committed Catholics – the link is already broken, except by “Catholic” he means “Catholic background”. Third point I’d make – and it’s not confined to Fr O’Neill – is that it’s insulting to assume that Irish people can think of one thing only. It’s perfectly possible to be concerned about your job/mortgage AND to be concerned that your country is partitioned. LBJ may have claimed Gerard Ford couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time but the Irish people are a little smarter than that, I’d guess.