Archive of the Month
Charting a Course Through the 1970s
by David Bird
A note on the Church of Ireland Gazette included in the recently–published compilation of essays on Irish Anglicanism 1969–2019, states:
It has often been a paper that has ‘punched over its weight’ being consulted by those in the mainstream media who wish to ‘take the temperature’ on church affairs from a reliable and articulate source from time to time…
The editions of the paper for the years 1970–1979 strongly reinforce this opinion.
Early in 1972 the Gazette received the Hibernia Press award for the best religious publication in Ireland, and it maintained this standard as the years went on in spite of the cascade of events and developments that occurred during the decade. As revealed in the previous presentations on the 1960s here and here the paper continued to be edited by Canon F.A.G. (Andy) Willis, while in February 1975 the Revd Houston McKelvey (later Canon of St. Patrick’s and Dean of St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast) took over. Canon Willis (later Archdeacon) would continue to write editorials until mid–September 1977. Editorials by both editors were well argued, easily understood and pulled no punches whether dealing with bishops, church administration or political events and leaders. This was quite an achievement in the extraordinary situation that developed during that time.
In 1975, the new editor changed the format and added blue to the heading initiating ‘Make or break effort for Church paper’. Headings were bold and dramatic and a great effort was put into increasing the circulation and revenue – the latter by special features that attracted advertising. The year 1977 brought more order to the layout with a new heading and smaller size page which is now a considerable advantage in reading on–line. Each edition now began to have 24 pages (as opposed to 16 or even as little as 8 at times). This was an indication of the increasing amount of activity to be commented on in the Church and world.
During this decade the Gazette covered a wide range from the devotional to the humorous and used a number of regular columnists – the two best known being Cromlyn (Canon John Barry) and Gazebo who was Canon Andy Willis. Other regulars were Mrs Frances Condell on Women’s Affairs ‘Talking it over with you’, John Gunstone on the Church of England, Diana Hartford, S.E. Long, and Gordon Pamment.
To review a decade of the Gazette without commenting on Cromlyn/Panorama written by Canon John Barry, whether one agreed with him or not, would be a travesty. Some of his writings were pleasant nonsense, in others he was controversial. He did not much like Liturgical Revision or Jack Lynch but greatly admired Garrett Fitzgerald. His contributions generated spirited letters including those from Bishop Cathal Daly and Cardinal Conway. He met the latter at the Ballymascanlon meetings and paid tribute to him when he died. Cromlyn wrote very much from the Northern viewpoint and perhaps the best riposte to his political contribution (and they were numerous) came from Canon Frank Blennerhassett and can be found in the edition for the 10th February 1978.
Continuing its 1960s remit, the Gazette faithfully reported diocesan affairs and happenings in the wider Anglican Communion. News came from Canada, Africa, India, Trinidad and Tobago and America, North and South. The Christian Church behind the Iron Curtain was not forgotten. However, a darkening cloud was gathering over the island of Ireland. What can only be described as “Murder and Mayhem” intensified. Most of the bombings, shootings and murders occurred in the North and the period now known as ‘the Troubles’ had begun. The pages of the Gazette are full of the events of this period.
On 4 April 1970, the front page lead story appeared under the header: ‘Violence condemned by Church leaders’. On 20 August 1971, Fr. Mullen, a Roman Catholic priest, was shot dead and in October a police constable was murdered (22/10/71). 1972 was a particularly bad year with Bloody Sunday in Derry (4/2/72) the Abercorn Restaurant (10/3/72) and churches and church halls damaged. In July nine people were killed in Belfast including fourteen year old Stephen Parker, son of the Missions to Seamen Chaplain Rev Joe Parker (28/7/72).
Cromlyn wrote in his column on 22 September 1972:
The bombing goes on, the shootings go on, the killings go on
The Gazette stated that hundreds of Protestants were victims of violence (24/11/72). Church leaders frequently condemned assassinations and destruction 12/1/73, 25/1/74, 6/12/74, 7/2/75, 11/4/75, 18/4/75 5/9/75 but still they went on. On 14 September 1973 the Gazette listed 875 dead and 10,000 injured and by 24 April 1979 the number had increased to 2,000 dead. The paper reported many high profile atrocities such as the murder of Senator Billy Fox, the death of a judge and magistrate, and the Birmingham bombings in 1974; the Short Strand bombing, the Herrema kidnapping and the killing of three members of the Miami showband in 1975; and the Kingsmill massacre of ten Protestants and blowing up and killing of the British Ambassador to Ireland, Ewart Biggs, which occurred in 1976.
The decade ended with some terrible events in 1979 – the killing of Airey Neave in March, the killing of 18 British soldiers and Earl Mountbatten on 27 August. A week later the Gazette reported that a Dungannon church had been bombed for the 13th time. Analysing the paper through the years makes very sad reading with numerous examples of painful tragedies.
Throughout the decade, the Gazette‘s editors were not found wanting in their editorials – from the Arms Crisis 15/5/70, internment 27/8/71, bombs in Dublin 8/12/72 and Birmingham 29/11/74, blackmail by violence 10/10/75, and the deaths of Ewart Biggs 30/7/76, Airey Neave 6/4/79 and Mountbatten 7/9/79.
And alongside these political issues, the striking realisation is how ordinary parish and diocesan life went on. On 25/3/77, for example, Cromlyn noted the:
extraordinary degree of normality in the North
The “murder and mayhem” generated a growing desire for peace. Some 3,000 people attended a ‘Prayers for Peace’ service in St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin in February 1972.
By the end of that year there were prayers said all over Ireland (6/10/72). Many supported the ‘Witness for Peace’ movement sponsored by the Revd Joe Parker(2/3/73), with badges for peace on sale at 25 pence each (8/6/73).
At the end of 1974, the four church leaders including the Archbishop of Armagh, launched a Churches Peace Campaign ‘Think–Pray–Talk–Peace’, and in that same month a group of churchmen met with representatives of the IRA in Feakle Co. Clare in the middle of December. It was a controversial meeting but led to a two week ceasefire. Aware of its potential, the Gazette headed an editorial on 3 January 1975 ‘A ray of hope’.
In 1975 there were Peace rallies, a Peace Walk in Dublin with 15,000 taking part and the Gazette launched a ‘Peace Think–in’ in the 12 December edition, asking people to contribute in 300 words how the Churches could promote peace in Ireland. The next movement that got widespread support was that launched in September 1976 by women – known as the ‘Peace Women’. Two of the founders, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, later received the Nobel Peace Prize.
This movement faltered for reasons well set out in an editorial on 6 January 1978. It can be argued that peace did not come because no new, well thought out political initiatives were forthcoming. Policies were stuck in the past. From the Republic the solution was a United Ireland but the Northerners saw this as “Rome rule”, and did not see what was wrong with the North.
Editorials were aware of this and advocated leadership, wide community involvement and time to consider the Irish dimension (30/3/73), and to establish conditions under which democracy could be effective (31/8/73)
Slowly in articles and letters, ideas began to emerge on how to bring peace. In March 1972 David Bleakley had set the scene by stating that Christians should spearhead reconciliation. Senator Trevor West in a letter published in June 1973 wrote that a complete change of attitude and a determination to find common ground was needed. Indeed a letter published on 7 April 1978 contained the germ of the conditions that would eventually bring peace to Ireland.
In spite of the deteriorating situation there were positive outcomes – in particular relations between the churches in Ireland. The condemnation of violence by church leaders in 1970 was soon followed by the Roman Catholic Primate joining the three Protestant leaders in statements. One very positive development early in the decade was the establishment of the Irish School of Ecumenics in November 1970. On the other hand an issue that divided and was much discussed and written about was that of mixed–marriages and the implementation (uneven at times) by the Roman Catholic Church of the ‘Motu Proprio’ regulation – described as ‘a barrier to goodwill’ by the editorial on 14 July 1972. The highlight at the end of the decade was Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in August 1979.
The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) began to work more effectively but in May 1971 the editor found it ‘incredible’ that there were no women as Church of Ireland representatives. At its spring meeting in April 1972, the ICC invited the Roman Catholic Church to send representatives to a conference with representatives of the Council. This conference took place in September 1973 at Ballymascanlon House Hotel, Dundalk, and was the precursor for many more ecumenical meeting of various kinds. The editorial of 5 October set the context of the meeting.
By May 1977 the Gazette had an editorial on ‘The future of Ballymascanlon’ and by October 1978 was suggesting it was time for a new approach.
As far as internal Church affairs were concerned, the Gazette championed proper and effective communication and welcomed the appointment of a Press Officer in March 1970, as the Church grappled with doctrinal issues such as the ordination of women, lay readers, liturgical revision and the remarriage of divorced persons; social matters including mixed marriages, contraception and world hunger; and administration challenges including communication, committees, ministerial stipends and recurrent theme of diocesan boundaries. It stressed the importance of broadcasting ‘whatever the cost’ on 13/9/1974 and advocated the proper training of church spokespersons, clerical and lay, in dealing with the media.
Looking back to the decade of 50 and 40 years ago the most surprising thing is the absence of women in the councils of the Church and Ministry. Yet, the Gazette was generous in the coverage it gave to the Mothers’ Union and the Girls’ Friendly Society and catered for the female reader with Mrs Condell’s columns and then “Fairly Feminine” by various contributors. However in the Church at large, very few women served on select vestries, diocesan synods, the General Synod and internal Church committees. Curiously as late as September 1977 there were no women on the newly–established Priorities Committee. As reported on 25 June 1976 Mrs Dorothy West became the first woman to serve on the Representative Church Body (RCB) and the Standing Committee, but it was not until December 1979 that she was joined by Mrs E.A. Moore.
From what might be called a ‘standing start’, the decade saw a steady movement for the ordination of women. This was all recorded in the Gazette and favourably commented upon in editorials. Following a request from Hong Kong the ACC backed women’s ordination by 24 votes to 22 in March 1971; in 1973 the U.S. bishops are reported as ‘puzzling it out’, and Canada accepted the principle of priesthood. In 1974 a majority of bishops in the U.S. condemned the recent ordination of 11 women, while the following year in the Church of Ireland, women were becoming lay readers – Dublin commissioned five in November 1975. In May 1976, the General Synod approved in principle the ordination of women and in 1977 a 15–person committee was established to clear the way for the ordination of women in possibly five years. That same year Australian women were to be ordained but in March 1978 the Gazette reported the Episcopal Church of the United States had split on the issue. The final hurdle was cleared when the bishops at Lambeth voted 316 to 37 with 17 abstentions to the effect ‘that there are no theological grounds to forbid the ordination of women’. It still took over ten years for the Church of Ireland General Synod to pass the required legislation and the first woman to be ordained.
The Gazette covered a myriad of other issues during the decade. It was very supportive of the ordained ministry and advocated for better stipends and pensions and the provision of housing for retired clergy. It gave cautious approval for the idea of an auxiliary ministry (3/8/73) as a logical follow – on from lay readers. Liturgical revision was very much an issue of the decade with one article on Prayer Book revision suggested that ‘every revisionist Committee should include a poet and a literary critic of high standing and a musician’. (7/3/71). Divorce and the re–marriage of divorced persons came to the fore in 1976 and the Gazette gave full coverage and an editorial on 19/3/76.
Big changes occurred in the education sector in the Republic. At the end of 1970 came the proposal to establish community schools and in April 1972 (21/4/72) came the announcement that three comprehensive schools for Protestants were to open in September – two in Dublin and one in Cork shown below as published on 22 September 1972. Primary schools were amalgamating and new schools were being built (Co. Sligo 14/11/75) and in 1975 came proposals for national school management committees 28/2/75.
The Gazette was very conscious of the need by Christians to help the suffering overseas and highlighted disasters and famines as they occurred and gave prominence to the Bishops’ Appeal started in 1972 (4/2/72), Christian Aid and The Tear Fund. In December 1972, it noted that the Bishops’ Appeal had raised £100,000 for the Boat People of South East Asia. There is a surprising tribute from Mother Teresa printed on 1 February 1974 in which she said:
it was the inspiration and dedication of the Mission to Lepers, which gave me the example and courage to begin my work.
A month later the Church of Ireland established Overseas House in a premises in Dublin, which opened in March 1974, as reported on March 17 of that year.
The letters page was always present but towards the end of the decade it played an important role in dialogue about and understanding of the many issues that had arisen. Through Christine Ni Elias, Director of Education and a member of the Church of Ireland in Co. Tyrone, Sinn Fein saw fit to write to the Gazette in December 1978.
During the 1970s there were two central–Church committees which played a particularly important role in steering it through the troubled waters of the time – the Role of the Church Committee and the Priorities Committee. The activities of both are well covered in the pages of the Gazette. For further background click here.
Additionally, the Gazette gave prominence to other challenges and developments – water, conservation, homosexuality and the World Council of Churches’ policy on combating racism. In the wider world, one can read of the interest that America – church and state – began to have in Irish affairs. The American–Irish project, founded by the then rector of Tullamore (Meath) Canon Kerry Waterstone, for example, took young people from across communities in the North for holidays to the United States, commencing in 1975. An Irish American Forum was held in Boston in 1975 (3/10/75) as reported by Alan Acheson, and the Churches were invited to take part.
The Church of Ireland Gazette in this period of the 1970s more than lived up to the accolade it had received in 1972. It was a vital part of the work of the Church of Ireland and now available in digital format provides a mine of information for researchers of this period.
David Bird, a graduate in Agriculture from Trinity College, Dublin (where he was President of the University Philosophical Society) is a retired dairy and tillage farmer from Cobh, Co. Cork. Within the Church of Ireland, he served for a number of years on both diocesan and General Synods, various diocesan committees, and was a member of the Standing Committee and the Role of the Church Committee. More recently he was a member of the Human Sexuality in a Christian Context Committee. He was one of the Church of Ireland representatives to the Irish Council of Churches and a member of the delegation that visited the USA in 1981. He took part in the Church’s presentation to the New Ireland Forum in 1983.
A long–time member of the Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce – President on two occasions – he was on Cobh Urban District Council and the Cork Harbour Commissioners. He was Chairman of Cobh Heritage Trust and Fota Trust and is currently Chairman of Cork Butter Museum and a director of Cobh Community Care and Cobh Community Hospital.
The RCB Library acknowledges the support of the Irish Government’s Reconciliation Fund, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which made this presentation and release of the 1970s editions possible. To search and view the 1970s releases, and all the other editions of the Gazette to 1979 inclusive, click here.