New book on conservative priest with a radical streakAugust 31, 2012 - 7:00am
If there was ever a priest who provoked strong reactions and polarised opinion, it was Fr John Fahy, from Kilnadeema near Loughrea, who died in 1969.
His tireless campaign for the rights of small farmers in the years following Irish independence, won him many admirers. But his narrow-minded nationalism and vitriolic comments on Protestants, Jews and non-Irish people were so outrageous they would see him convicted under Incitement to Hatred Act these days.
This colourful character is now the subject of a biography by retired schoolteacher Jim Madden, a native of Banagher, Co Offaly, who knew the late Fr Fahy well.
Fr John Fahy: Radical Republican and Agrarian Activist 1893-1969 is the title of the book, which is published by the Columba Press, and it’s obvious that the author regards the late priest with affection, while not ignoring his shortcomings.
Fr Fahy was based in the parish of Lusmagh – the only Offaly parish in the diocese of Clonfert – when Jim was a teenager.
“Lusmagh is just out the road from us in Banagher,” explains Jim, whose father was a butcher in the town, “and he’d come into the shop to us.”
Fr Fahy, a noted radical and republican, caused problems for both church and the secular authorities from the time he was a student in Maynooth, when he urged fellow students to take part in the 1916 Rising, explains Jim.
After being ordained in 1919 Fr Fahy was loaned to a parish in Scotland where he was involved with the Republican movement. When his colleague Fr Michael Griffin – who had been on loan from the Diocese of Clonfert to Galway – was killed by the Black and Tans in 1920, Fr John returned home. During the Civil War he was under the authority of the disciplinarian Bishop Thomas O’Doherty, so was obliged to stay silent.
In 1924 Bishop John Dignan took over Clonfert. He had Republican leanings and, secure in this knowledge, Fr Fahy became increasingly radical.
Most people who opposed the 1921 Treaty with England did so out of Republican beliefs, says Jim Madden. But Fr John, and people like the Donegal socialist Peadar O’Donnell were different. They were anti-Treaty, but they were also socially aware and in favour of small farmers.
In 1929 Fr Fahy spent nearly two months in Galway jail after attacking a bailiff who was seizing cattle from a local woman, Biddy Nevin, because she failed to pay her land annuities. These annuities – a legacy of British rule – were paid by the new Irish Free State to England for farms which had once been owned by landlords.
Fr Fahy and Peadar O’Donnell objected to these payments and, on this occasion, Fr Fahy took action.
He was charged with obstruction and seizing stock from the sheriff’s bailiff, and summoned to appear before Loughrea District Court.
Jim documents this in the book, and describes how frantic discussions took place between Church and State authorities behind the scenes to resolve the matter before it went to court.
However, any attempt to avert a confrontation between Church and State required an apology from Fr Fahy, and he wouldn’t apologise. He was arrested but then refused to recognise the court, describing it as ‘an unlawful assembly’. He was returned for trial, but wouldn’t pay bail and as a result, was sent to jail until the trial was held seven weeks later. Jim’s book includes contemporary accounts of events, which show Fr Fahy’s breathtaking disregard for the authorities.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.