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  • Gerard McNamee

The Clergy of Down and Connor 1400-1900

Compiled by Monsignor James O’Laverty, revised edited and updated by Canon George O’Hanlon and Monsignor Ambrose MacAulay

[Published by: Ulster Historical Foundation and The Diocese of Down and Connor 2020]

This lavish publication from the Ulster Historical Foundation is, in essence, a revision of lists compiled by Monsignor James O’Laverty in his book An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Ancient and Modern. It is the outcome of many years of research by Canon George O’Hanlon and completed by Monsignor Ambrose MacAulay, two past students of St. Malachy’s College, both recently deceased.

As students, George O’Hanlon and Ambrose MacAulay were near contemporaries in a College emerging from war-time austerity. Both were keen historians, academically brilliant and, although taking different routes to ordination, became senior priests of the Diocese. From 1983 until 2014 Fr George was Diocesan Archivist while Fr Ambrose was a well-known ecclesiastical historian, Chaplain at Q.U.B and more recently Parish Priest of St. Brigid’s (1989-2010).

Although this is a valuable source for local historians and researchers in ecclesiastical history it is probably not a book to be read ‘from cover to cover’. Nevertheless, the biographical notes on Franciscan friars such as the recently beatified Conor O’Devany (executed in 1612) underline the precarious nature of pastoral work in this part of Ireland from the Reformation until the mid-18th century. In the late 18th century clerics with local names such as MacCartan and McMullan were more likely to have received their education in Paris, Lisbon or Salamanca. The year of 1795 marked a major change as the establishment of St. Patrick’s College at Maynooth allowed aspirants to the priesthood to receive education at home.

Numbers may not be a definitive guide to the health of a Christian community but, as a useful preface points out, the diocese had 45 priests in 1800 and 147 priests in 1900. The 19th century section underlines the significant contribution of St. Malachy’s College to the development of this Diocese. In the first 67 years of the College’s existence there were 181 priests and 3 bishops who received their secondary education here. Some of these men were ordained in the College even before the ‘new’ chapel was consecrated in 1882.

Of particular interest are two richly illustrated sections with handsome photographs from Dermot Dunbar and Fr Darach Mac Giolla Catháin. The first section is adorned with images of a Vulgate (Latin) Bible printed in Paris in 1552, an early 18th century Missale Romanum, an altar stone from Penal times and the official Latin identity card of one of two St. Malachy’s ‘old boys’ to attend the 2nd Vatican Council, Monsignor Arthur Ryan (the other was Cathal Daly). The second section has a variety of relevant sepulchral monuments and an extract from the recently recovered Rosarian Society Minute Book which will soon be on display in the College’s O’Laverty Library.

The attractive cover design has some detail from the Irish saints depicted on the rather striking crozier of Bishop Noel Treanor. The 1903 photograph of 24 serious young men, all Down and Connor clerical students, most of them past students (and 4 future teachers) of St. Malachy’s College will underline for many ‘old boys’ the place of the college in the Diocese’s recent history and this remarkable ‘story’ of Christian witness in the north east corner of Ireland.

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