Archbishop Daniel J Mannix: Cork-born cleric drew attention to Irish situation

Archbishop Daniel J Mannix: Cork-born cleric drew attention to Irish situation
Archbishop Daniel J Mannix of Melbourne was a constant thorn in the side of the British, both for his anti-conscription campaign in Australia, and his championing of Irish independence.

The impact of the military campaign waged by the IRA during the War of Independence has been greatly distorted in both song and story. 

The chorus of one rebel song ended with the lines: “the boys who beat the Black and Tans were boys from the County Cork”. 

Few people believed Irish forces could defeat the British militarily in the wake of the First World War. Nothing that happened in this country during the War of Independence could even remotely be compared with any of the battles of the so-called Great War. 

The British were undermined by international pressure due to the apparent contradictions in their own behaviour during the two conflicts. 

In this, the first of two major articles on factors which forced the British government to back down, historian Ryle Dwyer examines the vital part played by one Cork man in highlighting, for the broadest international audience, the blatant contradictions of Britain’s behaviour during the two conflicts.

The role played by Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, Daniel J Mannix, in the campaign for independence has been seriously overlooked in recent years.

Originally from Charleville, Co Cork, he probably did more than anyone to highlight internationally the gross contradictions in the supposed British aims in the First World War with their subsequent conduct in Ireland.

The IRA undoubtedly provoked the British, but prime minister David Lloyd George and his Secretary for War, Winston Churchill, over-reacted by using the Black and Tans to introduce outrageous terror tactics, not so much against the people who were fighting them, but also against totally innocent Irish people, as they targeted the Irish people as a whole.

After receiving his primary education from the Christian Brothers in Charleville, Daniel Mannix went on to St Colman’s College, Fermoy, before studying for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He was ordained there in 1890. He then joined the staff, and became president of the college in 1903.

During almost a decade as college president, Mannix actually welcomed both King Edward VII to the college in 1905, and King George V in 1911. He was credited with modernising the Maynooth college into one of the best Roman Catholic seminaries in the world.

In October 1912, he was appointed coadjutor bishop to Thomas Carr, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia. Carr, who was from Galway, had actually served as Bishop of Galway for three years before being moved to Melbourne, as its second Archbishop in 1887.

In Australia, Bishop Mannix seemed almost to welcome Great War in 1914. He publicly expressed the opinion that it would cement and consolidate party feelings both in Ireland and the British Empire.

In this crisis, Irishmen will take their place side by side with Englishmen and Scotsmen in the defence of the Empire. If this crisis brings all Irishmen together we may have reason to rejoice.

He initially denounced the Easter Rebellion, but was utterly repulsed by the executions of the leaders, and soon became a strong advocate of Sinn Féin.

During October 1916, he exploded onto the political stage in Australia, when prime minister William M Hughes tried to introduce conscription by a national plebiscite. Mannix opposed compulsory military service. “I hope and believe that the peace can be secured without conscription in Australia. For conscription is a hateful thing, and almost certain to bring evil in its train,” he said.

The government had the authority to implement conscription, so Mannix praised Hughes for seeking the public’s endorsement: “The prime minister has wisely ignored evil counsel and allowed the people to decide for themselves.”

Although Mannix was the only Catholic bishop in Australia to oppose conscription openly, he emphasised that he was speaking as a mere citizen — not as a bishop. Catholics should make up their own minds, he said, and vote accordingly.

Conscription was defeated nationally by 51.6% to 48.4%. Victoria, where Melbourne is located, actually supported conscription by a very narrow margin, but the prime minister still sought to scapegoat Mannix for his national defeat in the referendum. 

With his new high public-profile in Australia, Mannix projected the Irish struggle for independence into international politics on the opposite side of the globe.

“Is it wrong to suggest when England claims to be fighting for Belgium and other small nations, that she should first put her own house in order and do justice to Ireland?” Mannix asked on March 11, 1917.

“The settlement of the Irish question is not without its difficulty. But it is easier to do justice to Ireland than to rescue Belgium from the grip of the invader.”

He took an active part in the Australian Federal election campaign of May 1917. He warned: “In my judgment, every man who votes for Mr Hughes is voting for another referendum of the people of Australia on conscription.”

“I repudiate in the most emphatic manner the Archbishop’s suggestion that I propose to find a ready excuse to bring on another referendum,” Hughes responded, accusing Mannix of uttering “a deliberate falsehood”.

Priests should attend to the spiritual needs of their people, he added, “and should not stoop so low and paltry as politics”.

Mannix was not about to back down. He publicly advocated that “those who voted against conscription last October should vote against Mr Hughes now”.

After splitting the Australian Labor Party in 1916 over conscription, Hughes formed a minority government by merging with the Commonwealth Liberal Party. 

The two parties then amalgamated to form the new Nationalist Party, which gained 21 seats to win a decisive overall majority, with 53 of the 75 seats in the Australian House of Representatives in May 1917.

Time proved, however, that Mannix was accurate in predicting that Hughes would call another plebiscite on conscription. 

This referendum in December 1917, led to a further showdown between the prime minister and Mannix, who had formally become the Archbishop of Melbourne in May, following Carr’s death. As archbishop, Mannix took more open stands on different issues.

“Now I may claim to know something about the Catholic Church, and I know countries in which the Church has failed most disastrously are those countries in which ecclesiastics kept within the sacristies and took no interest in the temporal concerns of their people or in public affairs,” he explained.

Hence he felt obliged to afford leadership on public, as well a religious issues.

Mannix confidently predicted that the Australian electorate would again reject conscription, this time by a greater majority. He clearly had no qualms about getting involved, and Hughes lashed out at him personally.

Violent incidents

The campaign tended towards violence at times. On arriving in Warwick, Queensland, on November 29, Hughes faced a near riot. Rotten eggs were thrown at him. One knocked off his hat.

The prime minister suggested the rowdies responsible were either members of the militant American labour organisation — the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) — or supporters of Sinn Féin.

“I will keep law and order in this country,” he proclaimed to the cheers and hoots of the gathering.

“Neither Sinn Féin nor IWW will keep me from it either. There is a man to-day who is the real front of the offending, a man to whom every German in the country looks; to whom every Sinn Féiner looks, to whom every IWW man looks, who is the real leader of the opposition to the government’s proposal,” Hughes said.

Australian prime minister William Morris Hughes (1862-1952) with his wife Mary in London. He frequently clashed with Mannix. Picture: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Australian prime minister William Morris Hughes (1862-1952) with his wife Mary in London. He frequently clashed with Mannix. Picture: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

“His name is Mannix. If you follow him you range yourselves under the banner of the deadly enemies of Australia.”

The conscription issue was “purely and simply an Australian question,” Mannix responded, but the government was asking the Australian people “to put the Empire first and Australia second”.

“Mr Hughes and those associated with him openly pinned their fate in the most shameless way to sectarianism and racial hatred,” Mannix argued. 

The prime minister was playing “upon the ignorance of the people in Australia on the Irish question … by assuming that there is in Australia a large section of the people who can be got to vote for conscription, but only through hatred or fear of Catholics, of Irishmen, of Sinn Féiners.”

“I hope that Mr Hughes, has miscalculated the strength of the bigoted, sectarian, and narrow-minded section in Australia,” Mannix continued.

“I think the Australians know a political trickster when they see him, that they will discount his misstatements, and that, they will be guided by their own calm common sense in arriving at a verdict.”

This time voters in Victoria rejected conscription, and the national margin more than doubled to 7.6%, from 3.2%. The anti-conscription side won nationally by 53.8% to 46.2%.

This was a decisive victory for the archbishop over the prime minister. Writing in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, James Griffin concluded that Mannix “had become arguably the most revered and reviled figure in Australian history”.

Mannix organised a “Convention of the Irish Race” for Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne on November 3, 1919. He was copying the Irish-American community, which set up a similar race convention for North America back in February.

Some 2,000 delegates attended the convention, including five other Archbishops and 10 bishops. They included Francis Redwood, the Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand. Although born in England, Redwood told the convention he was as Irish as the best Irishman on the issue of Irish independence.

“We are here for a declared, definite purpose, to support Ireland’s claim as expressed at the last general election in Ireland,” Mannix emphasised at the outset of the convention.

The convention confirmed that stand and went on to call for funds to be collected in Australia and New Zealand to support the Irish claim for self-determination.

When Hughes continued to complain about the archbishop’s involvement in politics, Mannix retorted that this criticism was hypocritical, because the prime minister had tried to enlist his active support for conscription.

Hughes had sent the Irish-born politician, Hugh Mahon, to plead with the archbishop privately to support conscription.

“Of course,” the prime minister said, “this is absolutely false.”

But Mahon publicly affirmed that Archbishop Mannix’s account “is true in every particular”.

Having played a major role injecting the Irish question into Australian politics, Archbishop Mannix decided to try his hand further afield.

He was due to report to the Pope at the Vatican, so he decided to travel there via the United States, where he projected the Irish question in an enormous way.

He sailed from Sydney to the USA on the liner Ventura on May 19, 1920. When the ship called at Honolulu in Hawaii, the passengers were serenaded by a band on the quayside. As Ventura was about to sail again, the band played ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ the American national anthem.

Mannix ignored taunts to stand for the anthem. He said he thought the band was playing British national anthem, because some loyalist passengers were heckling him and singing ‘God Save the King’. He was formally welcomed to the United States with a civic reception in San Francisco on June 7. 

Next evening he spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 5,000.

During that address, he trod carefully, as he criticised the manner in which the idealism of American president Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points had been betrayed at the 1919 Peace Conference.

American president Woodrow Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay at the start of the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
American president Woodrow Wilson leaving the Quai d’Orsay at the start of the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“You remember, as I remember, how gladly the Fourteen Points were accepted at that critical time by those with whom he led you into alliance,” the archbishop told the gathering. “But when it came to the Peace Conference, his 14 points were not worth the paper on which they were, written.”

“I don’t say that the President has forgotten his principles,” the Archbishop added, “and I honour him for having enunciated them, no matter how far short of them he fell in realisation. But even if he had forgotten them, the people in Ireland had not.”

“Ireland will look to America above all others. America is her greatest friend, her most powerful friend,” Mannix insisted.

“America has been always ready to give her a helping hand in every emergency.”

Mannix moved on to Los Angeles, where he said, “There is now no hope of reconciliation” between England and Ireland. Anything short of independence would not be accepted in Ireland. 

The Irish object not merely to bad government from the outside,” he said, “but to any government from the outside.

“England has crippled Irish trade and depopulated the country,” he complained. The population of Ireland had been halved since the mid 19th century. “Ireland is the only country in Europe, with that sad story,” he insisted.

Whistle-stop tour

The archbishop decided to engage in a kind of whistle-stop tour of large cities on his train journey to New York, from where he was due to sail for Ireland on July 31, 1920.

This amounted to a lecture tour supporting the Irish struggle for independence, with planned stops in Denver, Omaha, St Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York, with side trips to Boston and Washington, DC.

The controversy over the national anthem at Honolulu was inflamed when one of the Ventura’s passengers made a formal complaint to the Justice Department, calling for the archbishop’s expulsion from the United States for insulting the national anthem in Honolulu. Mannix’s explanation — that he mistook ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ for ‘God Save the King’— seemed incredible.

That he might not have recognised the American anthem was understandable, but he would have recognised ‘God Save the King’. His secretary, Fr Albert Vaughan, provided the press with a convincing explanation for what had actually happened.

The band at the quayside in Honolulu wound up the session with ‘America’, and ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, which were run into each as if they were the one tune. ‘America’, — often known by its opening line, “My Country ’tis of thee” — had the exact same melody as ‘God Save the King’. 

The archbishop therefore thought it was the British national anthem, especially when some vocal loyalists circled his chair “on deck and sang ‘God Save the King’ with all their strength,” Fr Vaughan explained. They were clearly taunting him to stand to attention, but he ignored them.

The band went straight on to play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. “But the archbishop, who had heard that anthem only once before, did not recognise it if, indeed, he heard it in the confusion,” Fr Vaughan explained.

“As a matter of courtesy,” Mannix said he would normally stand for the British anthem, “but I do not think I am bound to rise when some ill-bred person sings the anthem to embarrass me”.

He knew the Americans were particularly touchy about anybody insulting their flag or anthem, so he would have stood if he realised that the band was playing the American anthem.

“I have been called a traitor, but never have been called an imbecile, and I would be one if I were to offer an insult to your flag and anthem,” he told the press in Chicago.

His tour turned into a triumphal procession. “I am delighted to find here great sympathy for the Irish cause,” he said. 

It is the same in Australia. With such great sympathy and the sympathies of much of the rest of the world enlisted on Ireland’s side it is hard to believe that England can stand very long against the independence of Ireland, no matter how great an economic loss such independence may mean.

The archbishop was formally conferred with the freedom of the city in Detroit and received a similar honour from the mayor in New York, where he was welcomed by a crowd of more than 18,000 at Madison Square Garden. He shared the speaker’s rostrum that evening with the visiting rebel Irish president, Éamon de Valera.

If Ireland’s enemy had been Germany, then Ireland would now have freedom, Mannix insisted. If de Valera had been able to go before the Peace Conference and say that the wrongs suffered by Ireland were due to German oppression, the peace conference would have given Ireland immediate independence. 

But because the wrongs were inflicted by England, the Irish president was not allowed to attend the conference.

de Valera and Mannix spoke again at a dinner for some 500 priests the following evening in the Astor Hotel, New York. Both men had known each other while Mannix was president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

“His Grace, the Archbishop of Melbourne may have forgotten it,” de Valera told the dinner. 

“One of his last acts as president of Maynooth College was to send me a letter which I treasure… It was a letter in which he told me that the bishops would soon be meeting and they wanted me for a time — until they could secure a priest to fill the position — to fill the post of professor of mathematics.”

In view of existing support for Ireland in the United States and Australia, Mannix argued the Irish Republicans would win out in Ireland. Addressing the Cliffhaven Catholic Summer School at Plattsburg, New York, on July 15, he declared himself a Sinn Féiner, and roundly abused all things British, in a way that left him open to the charge of engaging in Anglophobic rhetoric.

England was the “greatest hypocrite in the world,” he charged. “Ireland has the same grievance against England which the American revolutionaries had, only ten times greater,” he told his summer school audience. “England was your enemy, is your enemy and shall be your enemy for all time.”

Press reaction

Those remarks attracted considerable coverage in the international press. The Daily News in London described it as “pernicious nonsense calculated to foment enmity between Great Britain and the United States.” That criticism was widely reported in newspapers around Australia.

From the Irish perspective, there was no doubt that Mannix had secured phenomenal press coverage for the Irish cause. Being a Catholic Australian archbishop afforded him a distinct platform that he exploited to the full, even though he hardly mentioned religion in any of his speeches.

He received enormous press coverage during his stay in the United States, which was just two days short of eight weeks. There were more than 200 reports of his activities in the American newspapers during June, with more than 40 of those on the front pages of different daily newspapers.

In July, his story attracted well over 1,000 American press reports, with the whole thing turning into a virtual torrent during the final week of July, after prime minister Hughes of Australia viciously denounced the archbishop during an address at Bendigo, Victoria, on July 24, 1919.

Hughes accused Mannix of being the real leader of the disloyalists and extremists in Australia, branding him a traitor and a criminal. “If we are to choose between the Kaiser and him as to who is the greater criminal, I know who I should choose,” the prime minister said.

“Today the British empire is surrounded by enemies,” Hughes added. 

“It is being attacked by Bolshevism, Sinn Féinism and Germanism. When we see in our midst, therefore, men who would break up the empire and plunge a dagger into its very heart, what are you to think of such men except that they are traitors,” he added.

They have only one objective and that is the destruction of the empire, or at any rate the founding of a Republic of Ireland.

When he went on to refer to the Mannix as the person “who stands behind and foments and directs all that cataract of hatred directed against me, and against those like me who had the courage to decline to be led by such men as he,” Hughes left himself open to the suspicion of merely seeking revenge for being defeated by Mannix on the conscription issue during the war.

He went on to accuse Archbishop Mannix of essentially betraying Christianity. “Show me in the words he has spoken in America one thing that savours of the doctrine of Christ — one thing that any minister of Christ dare speak from the pulpit,” Hughes said. 

“They stamp him as a man who has gone out in the guise of an archbishop to foment war between England and America.”

British prime minister David Lloyd George added to the international spotlight by announcing that the archbishop would not be allowed to set foot in Ireland. 

Supporters protest against Archbishop Daniel Mannix’s exclusion from Ireland. The British government would not permit Mannix to land in Ireland. Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow were also off limits, so he was eventually put ashore in Penzance, Cornwall.
Supporters protest against Archbishop Daniel Mannix’s exclusion from Ireland. The British government would not permit Mannix to land in Ireland. Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow were also off limits, so he was eventually put ashore in Penzance, Cornwall.

Mannix had never been charged with any crime, much less convicted, but he was being denied access to the land, where he was born and reared and had lived for all but the past seven years. Hence the whole thing generated worldwide press interest.

As no efforts were being made in New York to prevent him boarding the White Star liner Baltic, which was bound for Britain with a stop at Queenstown (now Cobh), Mannix adopted a defiant stance on the eve of his departure. He indicated he was as prepared to take on Lloyd George, as he had taken on Hughes in Australia.

“The British Government seems to have great difficulty in deciding what they will do with me,” the archbishop told New York reporters. “That’s the difference between Mr Lloyd George and me. He doesn’t know what he’s about to do with me, but I know right well what I’m about to do,” he added.

“I have the same right to stand for Ireland that Cardinal Mercier had to stand for Belgium, and if I have to go to prison for Ireland, I would then have scored one distinction over Cardinal Mercier, whom the Germans never sent to gaol.”

He was referring to Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, who had stood up to the German occupiers who held him under house arrest in Belgium during the first world war. Mercier frequently became the focus of Allied propaganda, and it was a measure of his influence that Mercier Press, the publishing house in Cork, was actually called after him.

When the late Seán Feehan set up that company in 1944, more than a quarter of a century after the First World War, he named it after the Belgian cardinal, because he believed that, in resisting the Germans, Mercier had demonstrated the inadequacy of arms against the strength of ideas.

Mannix consistently referred to the fact that the Allies had supposedly fought for the rights of small nations like Belgium in the First World War. 

Some 49,000 Irish volunteers made the supreme sacrifice in that struggle, but those men were then shamelessly betrayed when the victors ignored Ireland’s rights as a small nation after the war.

The archbishop would have had a strong empathy with those men, as he had endorsed the Allied cause at the outset. Hence he greatly empathised with Cardinal Mercier and exploited such thinking during his final days in the United States in July 1920. He was highlighting the strength of ideas to secure publicity.

group of Allied soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) on the Gallipoli peninsula during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
group of Allied soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) on the Gallipoli peninsula during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Irish role in the military struggle to secure independence received very little coverage in comparison with the publicity that Mannix’s was generating. 

His appeal was such in his final week that he was on the front pages of more than 400 different American newspapers, as well as 39 different newspapers across Canada, extending from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

As the Baltic approached the Irish coast, three Royal Navy destroyers began escorting the ship and continued to do so for about three hours, until it neared Queenstown harbour. 

Then at about 1.30 in the morning of August 9, one of the destroyers sent a boarding party to the Baltic — consisting of two police detectives from Scotland Yard and the commander of the destroyer, Wyvern. The police officers presented the archbishop with two documents.

One was an order signed by General Sir Nevil Macready, the British Military Commander in Ireland, forbidding Mannix to set foot in Ireland, while the other was from Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, the Chief of Imperial General Staff, notifying him that he was also being prohibited from visiting Liverpool, Manchester, or Glasgow.

When the accompanying naval officer announced that the archbishop was being taken off the Baltic, Mannix balked. “I refuse to leave the ship,” he said.

The exchange between them was overheard by another expatriate Australian bishop from the Charleville area — Daniel Foley, the Bishop of Ballarat, Victoria.

“The naval officer then attempted to persuade Dr Mannix, who again refused, whereupon the officer put his hands on Dr Mannix’s shoulders, which probably was equivalent to legal arrest,” according to Bishop Foley.

The archbishop thought he was being arrested, so he complied with the commander’s instructions, thereafter, and agreed to leave the ship. His secretary, Fr Vaughan, was allowed to accompany Mannix, and they were transferred to the destroyer Wyvern.

“The commander showed the greatest possible courtesy, and left nothing undone to make my involuntary cruise with him as comfortable as possible,” Mannix told the press after landing in England.

There was considerable speculation about where he would be landed. The destroyer initially headed for Fishguard, but this was changed, and he was dropped off at the first and most remote location, nine miles from Land’s End at Penzance.

Own goal

The British scored a figurative own-goal in essentially hijacking Archbishop Mannix off the Baltic and then essentially dumping him in Penzance. The landing attracted considerable press attention, and the archbishop seemed to enjoy his notoriety.

“I have had a good deal of amusement out of it all,” he told reporters in London next day. “Since the Battle of Jutland,” he facetiously said, “the British navy has not scored a victory comparable with the chasing of the liner Baltic from the Irish coast and capturing without the loss of a single British sailor of the Archbishop of Melbourne.”

The British government was roundly criticised by even its own press:

  • “It is a sorry story of government ineptitude,” the Times noted. “If it was his tongue they fear, they may comfort themselves with the reflection that they are about to lend it a new eloquence,” wrote the Northcliffe newspapers.
  • The Daily Express declared that the British government had endowed the archbishop with martyrdom, while the Daily News accused the government of “passing from folly to folly and from blunder to blunder with a kind of demoniac inspiration to evil.”
  • “The Government is,” the Westminster Gazette warned, “making itself particularly foolish about Archbishop Mannix. It has given his visit an international importance and has put itself into a position in which it may well in the end find that it has been both defied and fooled.”
  • “Dr Mannix is for the moment a star of the first magnitude,” the Star concluded. The government has virtually acted as advance agent for the archbishop’s visit. “Every device of sensationalism and publicity to advertise the coming of the great man. Nothing is spared that can whip up excitement. It is all very silly and mischievous.”
  • “To our mind all the fuss concerning a no doubt amiable but certainly excitable prelate betrays a sad lack of the sense of proportion,” the Evening Standard wrote.
  • The only newspaper to take an opposite view was the Morning Post, which described Mannix “as a pestilential and malignant prelate,” who should be re-shipped to Australia by the first boat.

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