Postcards from the Archives

Dublin Diocesan Archives

Noelle Dowling

One of my favourite items in the archives is not grand or beautiful or all that important in the scale of the Diocesan collections.  I remember chancing upon it many year ago and it simply stopped me in my tracks. It was written by Fr. John Charles McQuaid to his step-mother on the day it was announced that he was to be the new Archbishop of Dublin. 

I had been working on the paper of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (1940-1972) for quite some time and I enjoyed his annotations on the top of the letters he received as well as the drafts he wrote in the third person, always beginning ‘HGAB.’  It had taken me some time to figure that the latter stood for ‘His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin.’

Archbishop McQuaid was a powerful cleric who was loved and admired by many and despised and loathed by as many more.  I often discussed the Archbishop with one of his former secretaries, Msgr. John Fitzpatrick, who died earlier this year.  I asked him if Archbishop McQuaid had been a complex figure and Msgr. John laughed.  He told me there were only two sides to him – you had the man who was Archbishop, who took the role very seriously (perhaps too seriously), the person most people knew and then there was the man, with a wry sense of humour, a sharp mind, full of care and compassion, known only to his close friends and family. 

John Charles was born 28 July 1895 in Cootehill, Co. Cavan.  His father was Dr. Eugene McQuaid and his mother was Jennie Corry.  She died a week after the birth of her son.  Fourteen months later Dr. McQuaid married Agnes Mayne.  John Charles was 16 years old when he learned that Agnes was not his biological mother and this had a deep impact on his life.  However, their relationship must have been very important to him as Agnes was the first person he wrote to when he learned he was to be the new Archbishop of Dublin.  Here was a young man writing to his mother telling her the good news.  ‘You are the very first to whom I give the good news…’ followed by ‘what I owe to you I can never say…’  And my favourite part, he signs it Charlie.