Archive of the Month
A Borderless Church? The 1960–69 Period
by Dr Ian d’Alton
Ah, the 1960s! Long hair and short skirts. Civil rights become flashpoints in the USA and Northern Ireland. The Beatles rise, Judy Garland dies. Twiggy. Woodstock and RTÉ are born. Michael Viney’s ‘Five Per Cent’ in the Irish Times. Riots erupt in Paris. War in Vietnam. Commemoration of the 1916 Rising. JFK elected, with much hope. JFK assassinated, with much despair. Mankind sets foot on the moon.
The Church of Ireland Gazette was not unaffected by the zeitgeist. In October 1963, with a change in ownership, it swapped its staid 19th–century image for something much more resembling a contemporary broadsheet newspaper.
In the last issue of the rather quaint and old fashioned Gazette, its longtime columnist ‘Cromlyn’ (Canon John Barry) looked for change in the new publication – although not, he wrote, the sort of sensationalism that would see parochial news ‘prefaced with the latest on the search for Miss Choir Girl, 1963.’ Primate James McCann saw it as:
a paper with a youthful appeal to the new generation – not to the squares
It featured more photographs, and enhanced articles on cookery, fashion and records. Puzzles and stories for children, a cartoon strip, a crossword and a section on sporting activities in the Church differentiated it from its predecessor. The paper still contained parish and diocesan news, the occasional theological piece and book reviews, so there wasn’t a complete break with the past. A new church–sponsored publishing company was registered in Northern Ireland, marking a decisive shift northwards in coverage, advertising and circulation. The institutional church – clenching its teeth and recognizing that if it wanted to have a public voice it would need to stump up – granted the Gazette annual subsidies of between £3,000 and £3,500 in the 1960s. Circulation increased to about 10,000 from 2,500 previously. But that later fell back. The paper only ever reached a small proportion of the broader Church of Ireland membership.
In 1960 I was ten, living in Dalkey, Co. Dublin. St Patrick’s Church, my primary school and rectory all were contained within a ‘gated community’, a sort of metaphor perhaps for us southern Protestants who operated within our self–contained Lilliputian world of separateness from the sea of Catholicism within which we swam. My own name actually features in the Gazette in June 1961, as the recipient of a Wesley College scholarship. In the ordinary course of events, I’d probably have gone to Trinity, joined a ‘Kingstown’ yacht club, and got a safe job in Dublin. But in 1962 my father’s work took us to Cork, and the suburb of Douglas.
For a while I might as well have been in Timbuctoo. The city seemed an alien place, and so small. The Cork accent was impenetrable. A fraction of Wesley’s size, my new school, Cork Grammar, had only 120 pupils and its struggles reflected the sensitivity of education for southern Irish Protestants. Money was always the issue. In January 1960 the Gazette reported on the lack of grants for secondary schools in the Republic. My parents had to pay school fees; they did not benefit from Minister Donogh O’Malley’s announcement of free secondary education in the Republic in early September 1966. Cork became a flashpoint for differing visions of Protestant education, evidenced in letters and diocesan synod reports in the Gazette from 1966 through to 1970 and beyond (see CoIG, 4 Nov. 1966, pp 2,3 – article by the principal of Alexandra College, and J.L.B. Deane’s raising of the difficult circumstances in Cork at the diocesan synod; also Lesley Hackett’s letter, CoIG, 17 May 1968, p. 7, regarding the then Cork situation).
Even with a tiny Church of Ireland population, Cork had a complete, if miniature, Protestant infrastructure – schools, a hospital, ‘Protestant’ firms and farms, Scouts, Guides, and Girls’ and Boys’ Brigade, a care home and an undertaker (essential). We could live a Protestant life, and die a Protestant death, without much troubling the Other Side. Douglas was a posh middle–class suburb, a bit like Dalkey in miniature. Its imposing 1875 Victorian church was actually somewhat bigger than St Patrick’s. Although we weren’t great church–goers, my mother and I became stalwarts of the parish dramatic society, and we helped out at fêtes and events.
During the 1960s, we southern Protestants began to emerge from self–cocooning. The Gazette in 1960 had expressed wariness of John F. Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism. Yet by the time of his assassination it praised him ‘in proving that men of goodwill of many faiths could work together for the common good’. Ecumenism was the single biggest subject covered in the Gazette in the decade, especially after the Vatican Council’s influence began to permeate even traditional and devout Ireland. In January 1963 it was a matter of some comment in the Gazette that, at a lecture in QUB given by a Jesuit scholar, the front row had the Anglican bishops of Connor and Derry alongside the Catholic bishop of Down and Connor and the Presbyterian Moderator. A monthly column, ‘Ecumenical Record’ was in the paper in 1966 and early 1967. A typical example of thoughtful coverage was Bishop Henry McAdoo’s five interrogatory articles ‘Unity in truth – what are the chances?’ in June and July 1968.
Whatever about theological disputations, relations on the ground steadily improved. By 1965, the opening of a new rectory at Portarlington could attract the (possibly slightly envious?) good wishes of the local Catholic priest. In April 1966 the Gazette reported a visit by Catholic pupils to an Anglican church in Belfast. Photos like that in July 1968 showing the local Catholic priest attending the opening of a new Church of Ireland primary school at Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, were becoming commonplace.
Of course with the inexorable decline of the Protestant population in the Republic, anxious Catholic ecumenists may have often wondered if there would be enough Protestants left to be ecumenical with. The Church did its best. In the face of Ne Temere and the implacable opposition to even discussing mixed marriages by the Catholic authorities we Protestant teenagers in Cork were herded together to eye potential mates in parish socials, outings, drama societies and sports clubs (especially ‘Protestant’ badminton, tennis and hockey). We seldom frequented ‘Catholic’ dance halls, but when the discotheque arrived in Cork in the late 60s we tried out these wonders of the world. And while as a consequence I had a couple of Catholic girlfriends, I ended up marrying the daughter of a west Cork rectory. In 1967, I went to University College, Cork to study history, and this perforce broadened my horizons – in a 3,000 or so student population, there were but 13 of us ‘non–Catholics’. Considered a somewhat exotic species, there was interest in, rather than hostility towards, or indifference to, our lives and views.
In Cork, we functioned by keeping religion out of personal friendships with the Other. By the same token, the Gazette had to steer a careful path when it came to issues touching on the divided island. Acrimony could arise if unfavourable comparisons were made – there was always a tension between north and south. Synod reports in the Gazette show an undercurrent of resentment from stretched northern parishes about unfair allocation of resources: in November 1965, a Cavan correspondent condemned the expenditure on the aforementioned Portarlington rectory (£8,000) as ‘extravagant’.
In 1968, when the bishop of Limerick gave an ‘Outspoken condemnation of Paisleyism’ and stated that ‘we find no evidence of intolerance or discrimination in the Republic’, that provoked a riposte from a Downpatrick reader, predictably mentioning population decline. It often seemed to us that the northern church was prickly because while it had 75% of the Church’s membership on the island, it had to watch out on two fronts – the majority Presbyterians; and the Catholics. We southern Anglicans led a more relaxed existence – we had little competition from the Protestant side, and we barely registered on the Catholic Richter scale anyway.
On the thorny question of political and cultural identity, the Gazette’s official position was that of the Church – ‘render unto Caesar…’. The paper asserted that southern Protestants were good citizens – a leading article on Michael Viney’s ‘The Five Per Cent’ reckoned that their voting record in the Republic, for instance, was ‘…not unworthy of their traditions’. In 1968 the Gazette highlighted the prominence of Anglicans on the committee of Rathvilly’s (Co. Carlow) award–winning Tidy Towns campaign – ‘the Protestants mustn’t let the side down’. The Gazette was never afraid to challenge governments in both jurisdictions. I still recall the day in 1966 that Nelson Pillar in Dublin was blown up. The paper took the southern government to task for what it claimed were intelligence failures in preventing it. Yet it was equally forthright on northern matters. In 1964, ‘Cromlyn’ castigated Belfast Corporation for closing children’s playgrounds on Sundays – ‘Ulster stands firm. No Swings on Sundays’. In 1968, it gave front–page prominence to the bishop of Derry’s call that ‘bigotry must be challenged’.
At the end of the decade, Northern Ireland started to erupt, first with the civil rights movement and then with full–scale violence. The Church of Ireland attempted to be a moderate voice, despite many of its clerics and prominent laymen being involved in the Orange Order. When in February 1967 the bishop of Ripon was barred from preaching in Belfast, largely through Orange Order–led protests against his perceived ‘Roman’ bias, the Gazette printed a sermon heavily critical of the Order’s ‘competitive denominationalism’. The Church’s overt support for ‘moderate’ unionism, in the forms of Captain Terence O’Neill and Major James Chichester–Clarke, was frequently highlighted in the paper.
For us Cork Anglicans in 1969, the very notion of the Orange Order – and the passions it aroused – seemed as fantastical and far away as that man who had just stepped onto the moon. The Gazette on 25 July duly commented on this triumph of technology and human spirit. But – bringing us back to earth – its principal editorial was on the election of George Otto Simms as Primate.
In noting the ‘special challenges’ that he would face, the Gazette – indeed, none of us – could not imagine the fallout from the Troubles in the coming decades, north and south, spiritual as well as temporal.
Dr Ian d’Alton is Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College Dublin, and author of a forthcoming essay entitled:
‘”A Church paper for Church People”? The Church of Ireland Gazette and the 20th century’, to be published in M. O’Brien & F. M. Larkin (eds), Periodicals and Journalism in Twentieth Century Ireland, volume 2 (forthcoming, 2021)