FOUR IRISHWOMEN by Donal Kennedy


I had no intention of writing a piece for International Women’s Day. But two letters in yesterday’s Irish Times got me started.

One was about Mary McAleese and her spat with the Pope for which she has sought allies in THE IRISH TIMES.

The second was about Mary Robinson’s error of judgement in diagnosing the abused daughter of the Sultan of Dubai.

When Mary Robinson was elected President of Ireland it demonstrated that the highest office in the State was open to all adult citizens regardless of creed or gender. Her predecessors, all of whom had given long and distinguished service to Ireland before being raised to that office included two Protestants. Once in office, they all acquitted themselves with dignity.

As a citizen of Ireland I was ashamed of Mrs Robinson’s visit to Buckingham Palace through the Tradesman’s Entrance and her boasting that one of her ancestors had been a flunkey there in the days of the Famine Queen Victoria. I was
angered on reading the Court Circular in THE TIMES saying that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had received the President of the Republic of Ireland. Extradition Warrants addressed to “the Republic of Ireland” were ruled out of  order by judges in Dublin and a High Court judge ruled “The Republic of Ireland” was the description of a soccer Team.

Had a similar snub been offered to the President and citizens of France, there would be wigs on the green on the Champs de Mars!

However you define the Irish Presidency, it was used by Mary Robinson as an item on her CV and she deserted  it before her term was completed.

Perhaps she was emulating a Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, who gave up his Mitre to become Provost of Trinity College because the pay was better. Oliver St.John Gogarty thought that was bad form, and I agree with him on that score. Clever lawyer though she is, I’m glad she never sat on the Bench.

In olden times it was not unknown for monarchs to retire to monasteries or nunneries to toll their beads in silent prayer that their crimes and misdemeanours in office be forgiven by a merciful Deity.

But Mary McAleese is a woman of our time and on leaving the Presidency earned a Doctorate of Canon Law and a Loose Cannon firing broadsides at Popes and the Catholic Church generally. She has been accused by Breda O’Brien, one of the few columnists in the Irish Times whose contributions I respect, of deliberately distorting a pronouncement of the late Pope John Paul II. Her dispute with the current Pontiff is a rather
bare knuckles affair. Poor Cardinal Newman who, in Dublin (The Idea of a University) advocated courteous and reasoned discussion, is well out of it.

The third Irish woman I’ll consider is Victoria White of the IRISH EXAMINER. Unlike the Contrary Marys she was never a Roman Catholic. I think she is a member of the Church of Ireland. And any pieces I’ve seen of hers seem well informed, sober and sensible.

She rejects out of hand the idea that the Catholic clergy have been generally abusive of children or that, compared to the clergy of other denominations that they are more more partial to such abuse. She cites studies in the United States and she refutes the allegation that the requirement of clerical celibacy inclines the clergy or nuns to abuse.

She recalls how Nano Nagle (a cousin of Edmund Burke)  who founded the Presentation Sistesrs,was responsible for the education and the feeding of the daughters of the Irish poor, and the poor in Britain and other countries over more than two centuries. 

Nano Nagle was probably the most influential Irish woman in history and was regarded as such not that long ago..

RTE has been presenting a series called HERSTORIES.
Neither Nano Nagle nor Mother Mary Aikenhead, who founded the Sisters of Charity got a mention.

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