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An Irishman's Diary, Irish Times, 10th November 1999

We now seem able to convict a man of being a pederast on evidence so risible that it wouldn't even pass muster in a Stalinist show trial.

There throughout my adult life been a few things I have been utterly confident I would never freely do. I would never rub salt in my eye. I would never stick my tongue in a live light socket. I would never try to understand how a computer works. And I would never defend John Charles McQuaid.

Actually, John Charles himself is not the primary object of what follows so as much as the rules of evidence by which we make judgements about anybody and anything, never mind eminent churchmen and paedophilia. If people may be convicted on the sort of witnesses which John Cooney produces to show that the former archbishop of Dublin was a pederast, then I may as well come clean here and now: my name is Lee Harvey Oswald and I shot the Martin Luther King at Bal na Blath.

What evidence? What is the evidence that John Charles McQuaid was a child abuser? First, witness Y, who, aged nine, was summoned to McQuaid's study, where the archbishop's lewdest deed seems to have been fingering his pectoral cross. He did not mention sex, but merely asked Y if there was anything he wanted to tell him. Not knowing anything about sex whatever, little Y said no. Are you sure?, asked the archbishop. Yes, said little Y. Exit little Y; end of story.

Pretty riveting stuff, I think you'll agree.

The next bit of utterly compelling evidence that John Charles was a rampaging child-abuser came from X, who was 16 when the archbishop in a private conversation discussed sex with him. Now some people might feel that a discussion with a teenager about sex is not unusual - that, indeed, what better age is there to discuss sex? However, there is more. At one stage, McQuaid put his hand on the boy's knee. He did WHAT? He put his hand on the boy's knee.

Appalling! And what else did he do? Did he move his hand up X's thigh? Did he suggest they try Swedish massage on each other? Did he...

He did none of those things. There was, however, another private meeting.
There! I knew it! And what did the ruffianly prelate do to little X? Expose himself? Suggest a little nude wrestling? Get out the old tape-measure to see who'd got the biggest? Not quite. This time, there as no talk at all about sex, no hand on the knee, merely an encouragement for the lad to join the college volunteer corps.

A withering indictment; hanging's too good for him! But there's still more. Noel Browne, a man whom secular Ireland canonised in his own lifetime - after he went to some considerable trouble, and no little manipulation of the truth, to ensure this outcome - was, apparently, approached by a stranger at a funeral who told him of sexual advances John Charles is said to have made to a schoolboy. The "secret," Browne said, "appeared to be burning a hole in the man's skull."

Strangers' Secrets
I too have been approached at funerals, and other places where people gather, by strangers who apparently have secrets burning holes in their skulls. I can spot them - or more accurately, their eyes - at a distance: the Ancient Mariner look, though that of course was at a wedding. The principle is much the same. My normal tactic on beholding the dilated pupils heaving to is to cry, Good God! I left joint in the oven! Must dash! Do tell me your utterly fascinating tale the next time we meet!

Noel Browne did no such thing. He listened gravely to the stranger, and then wrote a fictional account of what he had heard.This (oh compellingly believable) tale has J.C. McQ attired in black polo-neck sweater and black cap - very Avengers - arriving at the side-door of a pub and being shown upstairs to a private room where the publican's son served him a whiskey.I can do no better than report verbatim from John Cooney's account. According to what the lad later alleged to his father: "The boy claimed that McQuaid edged closer to him on the settee and he feared that the cleric was intent on sexually assaulting him. Unable to speak and near to tears, at last accepting the unbelievable, the boy stood abruptly and fled the room, leaving the tray and the money behind him."

Risible Evidence
There is no and. That was it; hearsay from a nameless Ancient Mariner at a funeral. The only clearly damning judgment one can certainly make is that if prelates really do insist on visiting pubs dressed as Emma Peel, they're asking for trouble. It would be easy for me to declare my liberal credentials at this point by denouncing John Charles McQuaid; easy but irrelevant.

What is really relevant is that we seem able to convict a man of being a pederast on evidence so risible that it wouldn't even pass muster in a Stalinist show trial. And of course such allegations would never even have seen the light of day if they had been made about an icon of Irish liberalism such as Noel Browne.

For this is the law of liberal Ireland, almost as if framed by Titus Oates himself: priests and nuns to be found guilty as charged.


Archbishop McQuaid
The Irish Times - Friday, November 12, 1999

Sir, - Kevin Myers (An Irishman's Diary, November 10th) has once again used his influential position in a very positive way to remind people in the media of an element which appears to be rapidly disappearing from that sector, namely "cothrom na Feinne". He is to be congratulated for once again sticking his neck out in this respect.

There is, of course, a more fundamental element relating to how we comment on the character of others, particularly in the public media. That relates to calumny and rash judgement, something about which many of us received some measure of instruction at school. In seeking to diminish the character of any person, we succeed in diminishing our own. –

Yours, etc.,

Seamus Grimes,
Tirellan Heights,