Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Diocese of Meath under Bishop John Cantwell, 1830-1866

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Diocese of Meath under Bishop John Cantwell, 1830-1866

Article excerpt

The Diocese of Meath Under Bishop John Cantwell, 1830-1866. By Paul Connell. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. 2004. Pp. xii, 285. $50.00.)

One of the more useful historical fruits from the extensive work done on the Irish Catholic Church in the nineteenth century in recent decades by the likes of Donal Kerr, S. J. Connolly, Patrick Corish, David Miller, and Emmet Larkin, are diocesan "case studies" such as this one, informed by our sharpened understanding of the wider cultural and ecclesiastical transformations of the era. Paul Connell's introduction, in which he conceptualizes the subject of his study, interestingly, not as the "place" of the Meath diocese, or the "person" of Cantwell, but, rather, the "process" of change in the diocese over time, does a respectable job of relating his study to this developing historiography. Connell describes how the challenges of these crucial decades in Irish history (encompassing the rise of O'Connellism, the famine and its aftermath, and the changes in the Church after the Synod of Thurles and the ascendancy of Paul Cullen as the first among equals among the Irish bishops) played out in this part of the Church (p. 7). In that sense, this book should be seen as heavily contextualized ecclesiastical history, alongside Ambrose Macauley's work on Patrick Dorian and William Crolly, Bishops of Down and Conor; Ignatius Murphy's study of the diocese of Killaloe;Thomas Magrath's studies of James Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin; and Thomas Morrissey's recent examination of the career of Thomas O'Dwyer, the Bishop of Limerick. Connell promises, and largely delivers, a rich study focused on both elite clerical culture and the political and pastoral concerns and imperatives that emerged during these years.

Connell might have made a more explicit case for the particular value of his study, however, as Cantwell's perspective from Meath was central, geographically and ideologically, to the issues of the day. Cantwell, as Connell describes, was inclined over the course of his career to play both sides of many issues, and his close friendship with Paul Cullen did not prevent him from making common cause with Cullen's frequent antagonist and ecclesiastical beatenoire, John McHale, the Archbishop of Tuam. Moreover, Cantwell's career was nicely representative of the emerging "modern" generation of clergy in early nineteenth-century Ireland-professionalized, Maynooth-educated, increasingly rooted in the strong farmer class, and possessed of discipline, élan, confidence, and, along with an ultramontane sensibility, an activist patriotism. …

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