Saturday 17 March 2018

Former Archbishop of Dublin was a good man forced into the wrong job

The academic's life was ruined by a move into Archbishop's House, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Desmond Connell in 1993. Photo: Declan Cahill
Desmond Connell in 1993. Photo: Declan Cahill
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

In 1989, seeking ecclesiastical support for the British Association for Irish Studies, which I chaired, I met the deeply unhappy Archbishop Desmond Connell. I had begun my tour of clergy one morning in Armagh city in an office, where Archbishop Eames of the Church of Ireland listened carefully and offered practical help, then directed me across the way to his opposite number.

My father taught Archbishop Tomas O Fiaich at University College Dublin and always referred to him as "poor Tom Fee", as he felt compassion for someone he thought had always been an amiable man out of his depth as an historian and archbishop.

The cardinal was not yet up, so I wandered about his cheerless living room and read the engravings on the innumerable gifts of Waterford glass. When he finally surfaced, he was so anxious I should have an alcoholic drink that I realised he was in dire need himself. Neither of us could open the tonic bottle, thus yielding the unforgettable image of the jovial Primate of All Ireland trying to prise off the cap between door and frame.

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