History is history, and truth must be told
Brendan Hoban’s Address at the launch of his latest book Telling the Story, A Dictionary of Killala Clergy which is the third book of a three volume series of Readings in Killala Diocesan History by Brendan.
My interest in history started in the Boys’ National School on the Glen Road in Ballycastle where my father, God rest him, opened up the pages of Irish history and I got my first childish glimpse of how important the past is if we want to understand the present.
I’d have to say that when I went to the college in Ballina, my interest in history didn’t develop much because history, then was just a half subject for the Inter Cert and, in the college at the time, it wasn’t on the Leaving Cert at all. But luckily when I went to Maynooth 50 years ago this September, I discovered that you didn’t have to have history in the Leaving to study it for the degree . . .
Luckily too Tomás Ó Fiaich, later Cardinal, was then Professor of Modern History, and it was a joy studying under him.
I remember doing my history thesis on Bishop Dominick Bellew who was bishop of Killala from 1780 to 1813 and, almost half a century later, I was able to use some of my research in Tracing the Stem, Killala Bishops.
Since Maynooth I’ve retained and developed my interest in history, especially Church history and especially Killala diocesan history, but it’s only in the last 20 years or so that I’ve given it my proper attention.
It has become for me the compelling interest of my life and when Bishop John asked me a few years ago to go to Moygownagh and appointed me diocesan historian all my Christmases came together.
I’ve really enjoyed getting into print the fruits of my research over many years.
Sometimes people imagine that after I have a book published I start researching and writing another book and wonder how I can get so much together so quickly.
Fr. Paddy Hegarty, God be good to him, used to joke with me saying that I was writing books faster than he was able to read them but the truth is that most of the research that went in to the 3 volumes of Readings in Killala Diocesan history had been completed for years.
I also had the writings and the archives of Monsignor Edward MacHale as a background and foundation and in dedicating this book to him I’m acknowledging not just how helpful his research has been to me but the huge contribution he has made to Killala diocesan history.
I’m delighted that two of his nieces, Kit MacHale and Sr Mary MacHale, are here today.
I want to acknowledge too how helpful has been the research of Bishop Thomas McDonnell. I depended on it greatly for my book on Killala Bishops. Bishop McDonnell was very proud of Killala diocese and had a great interest in its history and he was a great believer too in the maxim that the first responsibility of the historian is to tell the truth.
While he could be very defensive about the Church he believed that history is history and that the truth should be told, no matter how difficult that truth might be . . . I think he was right in that, as the cliche has it, if we don’t learn from the past, we condemn ourselves to repeating our mistakes.
That much said my words this evening will be confined to saying Thanks to the many people who have helped me in writing the history of the diocese.
I have to start with thanking God because as most of you know I’ve had health problems over the last few years and there were times when I wondered if I would be able to keep going, so I’m grateful to God for the health of mind and body I’ve been blessed with . . . We never miss the water until the well runs dry.
I want to thank Bishop John Fleming for launching the book this evening but more importantly for his interest in and support for my work as diocesan historian.
I appreciate very much his active participation in this project and his commitment to it and the commitment of the diocese to it as well. Without all that it just wouldn’t have happened.
I want to thank my fellow clergy too for their help, support and patience. Putting this volume together was a bit like doing a huge jig-saw, knowing that many of the pieces would never be found . . . and yet slivers of information can start a search that can end up very productively or up a blind alley so I thank my fellow-priests for putting up with my impatience and my harassment over the last number of years as I scurried for information.
I want to thank my good friend Kevin Hegarty for his (kind) words and also for his help over the years . . . Whenever I’m in any doubt about diocesan history Kevin is my first port of call and I’ve long depended on his wealth of knowledge and if he hasn’t the answer to the question he invariably knows where it can be found . . .
I want to thank Sr. Nancy Clarke for her help with the listing of religious sisters . . . it was something of a nightmare trying to compile it and without Nancy’s help, I have to admit but it would have been jettisoned, long ago . . . I’ve no doubt that we didn’t locate everyone but if we didn’t it wasn’t Nancy’s fault! (It was handy to have two people compiling the list because if anyone has been left out – and I’m sure they have – I can blame Nancy and Nancy can blame me!)
I want to thank Canon David Crooks of the Church of Ireland for permission to use the listings of Church of Ireland clergy and members of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches for their help.
I want to thank Padraig Corcoran for the design and the printing, and for his expertise in handling all the technical side of the production. We’ve worked together for a long time now and I have come to value very much his support and his friendship over the years as well as the many cups of tea Geraldine made for us at all hours.
My thanks too to Fr. Michael Gilroy for organising this launch on behalf of the diocese, and for the time and effort he has put into it. I appreciate it very much.
Finally I want to thank my family and my friends for their support, their care and their love in so many different ways over so many years.
Let me end with this thought.
50 years ago this September I went to Maynooth and in many ways it’s been a roller-coaster time . . . in many ways too it’s been quite unbelievable.
What a lucky generation we’ve been to have lived through such a vibrant and exciting time for our country, for our world and for our Church.
Yes, there have been problems, and I don’t want to brush them aside, but remembering where we’ve come from, who would have believed where we’ve got to?
Michael Munnelly was born in Knockmoyle in Moygownagh parish in 1816 200 years ago this year and he was ordained in Maynooth in 1848. He was appointed as a curate in Kilmore Erris when the Famine was at its height. People were dying in hundreds around him, most of them living in one-roomed cabins with no chimney and no window . . .and Munnelly later told how he went around from cabin to cabin, ministering to people who were dying of starvation, many of whom had the fever . . . Munnelly wondered afterwards how he had escaped the cholera . . . The Mullet and Killala diocese and Ireland are light years away from those days . . . and when we talk about the trials of austerity (and it’s right that we should) we often have no idea of where we came from . . . (Incidentally Michael Munnelly’s great-great-great grandniece Betty Jackson is here this evening).
Just another example.
John Rowland was born in Ballycastle in 1903. He went to the college in Ballina and then emigrated to America where he was ordained for Rockford diocese, Illinois. He left the priesthood, after a few years. A brilliant student, he won a scholarship to the Sorbonne in Paris where he was conferred with a doctorate in physics; he taught for a time in Notre Dame university; he was employed in a senior capacity by the Ford Motor Company; he was a test pilot in the Second World War. What a loss he was to the Church; what a loss he was to Ireland. His grandniece, Cora Talbot, is here this evening.
I mention the stories of Michael Munnelly and John Rowland because they help to give us a sense of perspective, on the Catholic Church, on our country and on our diocese.
Perspective yes, but gratitude too. Gratitude for all the priests of this diocese, different characters, different individuals, different talents but with one thing in common: they faced the rising sun with faith and hope and love and whatever their failings or limitations, their hearts were in the right place: and I’d like to think that this book in some ways is a tribute not just to the 1115 priests in this dictionary but to the thousands of others whose names and stories have disappeared into the mists of history.
Bishop Tommy McDonnell used to say that we know more about priests in the past who were trouble-makers than we do about those who quietly went about their work serving the people.
This book is a tribute to them all, the trouble-makers, who are remembered and the dutiful whose names have disappeared from the record.
I feel both proud and humbled to be numbered among them.
(Copies are available in The Pastoral Centre, Ballina, Eason’s Ballina, Belmullet Parish Office, and locally in parishes throughout the diocese.)
Fr. Brendan Hoban pictured at the launch of his book “Telling The Story, A Dictionary of Killala Clergy” in the Newman Institute with Bishop of Killala Most Rev. Dr. John Fleming who launched this chronicle, dictionary and history of Killala Diocesan Clergy.
Picture Henry Wills.
Bishop Fleming’s Address
“The Irish priest historian.
These are the names of some distinguished Irish priest historians from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These men did two things in particular; they made a major contribution to the study of Irish history, particularly in their own diocese. They also gave a recognition and a respect to Irish secular priests in the intellectual circles of those centuries.
The Irish priest historian had three particular characteristics; 1. As a historian he was generally self-taught. 2. Through his own initiative he acquired the ability to access the sources for his research and 3. He was a working priest in a parish and remained faithful to that work for his entire lifetime. His interest in history was, therefore, personal, local and a hobby, for want of a better word. Commenting on this, the following was said of William Cogan, the Meath historian:
“Fr. Cogan was a committed amateur historian. He was well read and largely self-taught. He began writing articles for the Tablet in 1856 and went on to write what his biographer, the scholar Alfred P. Smyth, has described as “the first complete post-Reformation history of an Irish Catholic diocese”.
Fr. Anthony Cogan never strayed too far from his native diocese, except to make brief trips to Liverpool where he preached to the Irish that were in exile. His priestly life involved ministering in rural parishes in and around Navan. At the time of his death, Cogan was the Diocesan Archivist.
His three volume diocesan history was a massive undertaking. The great strength of the work is that Cogan made great use of an extensive archive, which included manuscript materials from the early 17th century.”
Commenting on the work of John Begley, the Limerick diocesan historian, Jeremiah Newman, then Bishop of Limerick, said; “His own Preface (namely Begley’s) to the first volume gives at least some idea of the pains which he took to consult every source available to him, particularly in Dublin and London, because this history is not only an ecclesiastical but also a civil one of the Diocese of Limerick.
A feature of all three volumes is that they are based on manuscript material and in some places oral tradition. Naturally, the author’s personal interpretation of his material also plays a prominent part overall. This inevitably means that some of the views expressed and conclusions reached are open to question by other historians. But then revisionism is the order of the day in our time.”
These two commentators also remark on the fact that the manuscript material collected by both Cogan and Begley was lost over time and both commented that this should not have happened. Of Cogan’s papers it was said: “Cogan encouraged the bishops of Ireland to preserve the chronicles of their dioceses for future generations. Sadly, the archive that he established in Meath does not survive. In 1909 Bishop Gaughran ordered that virtually the entire diocesan archive be burned.” Newman said; “The late Monsignor Michael Moloney, once said to me that it was a great pity that the transcripts and notes made by the Archdeacon Begley during the preparation of his books do not seem to have survived him. If they did and are ever found, they could serve as a most valuable set of references for any future studies on the history of the Diocese.” Their warning is important for us. It challenges us to ensure that all the material which Brendan has collected should now be stored in a proper archive for future generations to consult.
This evening we add the name Hoban. Killala to this list of illustrious Irish priest historians.
Brendan ticks all the boxes and characteristics of the group which I have described. While he studied under the distinguished Irish historian, the late Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich, Brendan is largely self-taught as a historian. Through his own initiative and ingenuity, he achieved a unique command of the sources for the history of this diocese. Indeed, in all his works, his footnotes are as rich a source of information as the pages of the text itself. Thirdly, of course, he continues to work as a parish priest in this diocese.
The folklore of my native county, Limerick, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century held that the three signs of respectability in a rural family were a priest in the house, a pump for water in the yard and a bull in the field. The priority given to the priest in the house often meant that the brains in the family was encouraged to go to Maynooth and become a priest. And many did. This resulted in the creation of a highly intelligent and well educated group of priests in every diocese, men whose education and intellectual standing was equal to that of any other group in society. They were the leaders in local Archaeological Societies. They were great pamphleteers and many Irish diocesan libraries still have collections of the works of the priest writers of the diocese. These men earned for the Catholic Church in Ireland at that time a position of deep respect in the eyes of educated people.
Brendan has done an enormous service to the Diocese of Killala. Warts and all, he has told its story. But perhaps, the equally important contribution which he makes is to the intellectual standing in which he is held in our country. At a time when the secular state is flexing its muscle more than ever before, when the Church still reels from recent scandals and tries to adjust to a new role in Irish society, when priests are no longer held in the same regard as in the past, Brendan flies the flag for a Church which is still capable of contributing to debate in the public forum, which is deeply committed to pastoral care and which is open to looking at its own life, as well as challenging its leadership.
Brendan’s contribution to debate and to intellectual life is enormous. During the past twenty one years he has written sixteen books. Together, they run to a staggering 4971 pages of written text. Add to this his weekly column in The Western People, his weekly program, Faith Alive, on Mid-west radio, the fact that he was also the first Editor of our diocesan paper, The Vineyard and you will get some idea of his prodigious output. You may not always agree with what he says but all of us respect the fact that he has the courage to say it. Personally, I have no idea where he gets the time and the energy to do all that he does.
I must share with you an unfounded fear which I had. His first historical work in my time, his biography of Charles Bourke, received the title “A Melancholy Truth”. His second, on O’Finan as Bishop of Killala, is entitled “Turbulent Diocese”. His third, on the lives of fifty priests of the diocese, carries the title; “Trouble and Strife.” When he told me that he was working on the bishops of the diocese, a cold shudder ran down my spine; what will he call this one? I needn’t have worried. He gave it the title, “Tracing the Stem” the stem coming from the Italian word for a bishop’s coat of arms. And he continued his benign approach in the title of the volume we are launching this evening – Telling the Story.
Just one final recommendation; if you are thinking of bringing this book with you on holidays abroad; remember, we are in high season for extra luggage.!!
Brendan, thank you. Thank you for this book, which is Volume 3 of your history of this Diocese. Thank you for the service which you have given to recording and telling the story of our diocese. Thank you for your service to the Church.
My friends. It gives me great pleasure to launch Telling the Story.”
Congratulations, Brendan, on all these stupendous achievements. Brings back memories of that heroic man, Liam Swords.
Let me add my congratulations to Brendan. Indeed you’re an inspiration to us all for your lively mind and your broad ranging estimations of the real situation … in our world and in our church. please keep up the good work.