Archbishop McQuaid and the ‘Macushla martyrs’

Archbishop McQuaid and the ‘Macushla martyrs’ Former Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin is seen waving to people outside the city’s pro cathedral in the 1960s. Photo: CNS.
A new book on An Garda Síochána reveals how McQuaid’s intervention saved the jobs of sacked Gardaí, writes Ruadhán Jones

Archbishop John Charles McQuaid is a bit of a bogeyman of Ireland’s Catholic past. A controversial figure, he is likely to be remembered as much for his political interventions as for his influence on Irish Catholicism. During his 32-year tenure as Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland (1940-1972), and even before that, he wielded great influence over Irish governments, for better and for worse.

In the popular imagination, Dr McQuaid’s legacy is one of arch-conservatism. His criticism of a government proposal for post-pregnancy care for mothers and infants stands out as an illustrative example. However, a new book, on one garda’s efforts to modernise An Garda Síochána has shed light on the positive aspect of Dr McQuaid’s political power.

Changing of the Guard by retired garda Tim Doyle tells the story of Jack Marrinan’s battle to transform the force at a time of great social and economic change in Ireland. Under Marrinan’s leadership, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) evolved into a skilful and powerful negotiating body.

However, if it weren’t for a timely intervention from Archbishop McQuaid, it is possible that Mr Marrinan’s efforts to modernise the Gardaí could have been stopped before they began.

Mr Marrinan and Archbishop McQuaid’s first encounter was quite a benign one. At the time – the 1950s – Catholics had to get permission to enter Trinity College Dublin, then “a bastion of Protestantism”, writes Tim Doyle. On behalf of the young Jack Marrinan, his parish priest recommended to Archbishop McQuaid that he should be given permission to attend. Dr McQuaid agreed, and, as Mr Doyle writes: “The archbishop, who forgot nothing, would have good reason to remember this young Clareman the next time they met.”

The two were brought together again after 11 gardaí, Marrinan included, were dismissed by the Garda commissioner. The events leading up to their dismissal were as follows: in November 1961, younger gardaí were upset when they were excluded from a pay award. The exclusion was the last straw for these young men and women, who had already been struggling with low pay, poor living quarters and a harsh disciplinary regime.


First, a go-slow protest began, where gardaí conducted their duties with minimal effort. Then, a meeting was organised at the Macushla ballroom in Dublin for November 4. Garda officials claimed the meeting was “unauthorised”, with the threat of penalties hanging over any who went.

Despite this, almost 1,000 members attended the banned protest meeting. The garda hierarchy were swift and harsh in their response, seeking to clamp down on any dissent. Of the thousand, 160 were served with disciplinary notices charging them with discreditable conduct.

On top of this, Jack Marrinan, who had come to the fore during the Macushla gathering, and ten others were dismissed from the force entirely on November 6. If their dismissal stood, that meant no job, no pension and no prospects. “This was now very serious, as serious as it gets,” writes Mr Doyle. “Everything had changed, and not for the better. Tempers were running high, nerves were fraying,” he says later.

Macushla martyrs

The 11, termed by some the “Macushla martyrs”, continued to meet, and gardaí around the country continued to gather in support, as dissatisfaction reigned. However, at one of the meetings in Galway, news began to filter through that the officers were to be reinstated and on November 13, then-Minister for Justice Charles Haughey announced that any officer who wanted his job back would get it.

So what had made the difference? It would seem to be the intervention of Archbishop McQuaid on behalf of the 11 gardaí. His action in the story becomes obvious on Sunday afternoon, November 11, days after the Macushla ballroom gathering.

Jack Marrinan was at the pictures with his girlfriend, when a garda snuck across the aisles and whispered in his ear – the archbishop wanted to meet him. At the same time, writes Tim Doyle, Minister Haughey’s car was seen turning into the driveway of Archbishop McQuaid’s private house on Military Road, Killiney.

The two had a good working relationship, Mr Doyle explains, as Dr McQuaid’s private papers show. “They were both realists and they knew what they had to do,” Mr Doyle writes. Haughey had already shown an inclination to listen to the younger gardaí’s pleas. So long as discipline and normal working returned, it would be matched in parallel by a means of addressing the underlying grievances, he said. After a brief conversation, Archbishop McQuaid offered to publicly mediate in the dispute.

The 11, termed by some the ‘Macushla martyrs’, continued to meet, and gardaí around the country continued to gather in support”

The next day, November 13, Minister Haughey made his announcement. He agreed that any garda who applied would get his job back. “Steps would be taken to address the grievances raised by improvements in the arrangements for representation of garda views,” writes Mr Doyle. “Elections for a new Garda Representative Body would shortly take place and… the matters raised by the Macushla revolt could be addressed.”


Archbishop McQuaid’s correspondence file shows just how closely he was involved in getting the 11 guards reinstated and also his insistence that the men’s concerns be taken seriously. According to Mr Doyle, a note from Archbishop McQuaid’s private secretary dated November 14 said that “the guards concerned have sent in their applications for reinstatement in accordance with the formula suggested by Dr McQuaid”.

The note continued: “Their legal advisers have suggested the following addition: ‘I have been advised that I was not lawfully dismissed from the force, and this application is not to be taken as admitting that I was lawfully dismissed’… In deference to Your Grace they refused to make the addition, as they preferred to [leave the matter] in the Archbishop’s hands.”

Later the same day, Haughey called to Dr McQuaid’s house. A document in Dr McQuaid’s handwriting explains that he gave Haughey “the men’s assurance. [Haughey] was touched and grateful. Assured me that no officer would be on the commission [what would be known as the Fehily Inquiry which was part of the settlement]. No man, I [McQuaid] asked, should be charged or prejudiced in regard to promotion.”

Important day

The 14th continued to prove an important day, as Archbishop McQuaid met with some of the gardaí. Each man took the opportunity to thank the archbishop for his intervention. In turn, Archbishop McQuaid warned them “‘not to be worried by inevitable jolts, remarks etc. after such a settlement.’ McQuaid instanced a ‘very inaccurate report in The Irish Independent’ which had upset them.”

Archbishop McQuaid’s involvement didn’t end there, however. He spoke to then-Commissioner Daniel Costigan, assuring him of their loyalty and that none of the men said a word against him. On November 16, he again met the men, with all 11 present, along with members of the previous, ineffective representative body. They were afraid that talk in the stations and some press meant that Haughey had gone back on his word, Mr Doyle explains.

Dr McQuaid wrote in a note afterwards that he spent three-quarters of an hour reassuring them. Of the men, “only one was really difficult but that is his type, and he has an offer of another”. Mr Doyle comments that Dr McQuaid had as good as identified Marrinan here, before giving the end of the note: “Eventually one and all declared themselves satisfied”.

The esteem Archbishop McQuaid was held in by the affected gardaí led them to confiding in him that there was intimidation happening around the country in garda stations. This was making a settlement more difficult, particularly as senior officers were making threats.

Archbishop McQuaid relayed this information to Haughey: “A sergeant in Fitzgibbon Street had spoken on 16 November about the Minister wiping the floor with the rebels. An inspector in Portloaise had ordered three gardaí to explain their illegal assembly. These are the things that upset young gardaí at such a delicate moment as the present.” Haughey gave an undertaking to put a stop to this behaviour.

Archbishop McQuaid’s files show that, while his involvement was most effective after the Macushla gathering had taken place, he had attempted to intervene indirectly before that. A note records that Dr McQuaid talked with Fr Tom Fehily, who on November 4 had phoned Assistant Commissioner Quinn. Fr Fehily had asked Mr Quinn to hear Garda Eamonn Gunn, then a representative of a garda union.

Mr Gunn wanted to act as peacemaker, seeking permission to attend the Macushla meeting and ask the younger gardaí to desist. Permission was refused, and McQuaid concludes, presumably in some degree of dismay at the decision, by commenting, “and Gunn is the secretary [representative] answering for 400 men”.

However, his interactions with Garda Gunn were not to end there. On the evening of Sunday 12, having already met Minister Haughey, Archbishop McQuaid summoned Mr Gunn and two other gardai responsible for representative bodies to meet him. Here is how Mr Doyle describes the informal chat:


“Over tea and cakes provided by nuns in the adjoining Cenacle convent, McQuaid said that he was anxious to resolve the disciplinary crisis which had resulted in the dismissal of 11 gardaí. The archbishop told Gunn that he had been in contact with the Justice Minister Charles Haughey, and he had offered to persuade the men to refrain from all undisciplined action, including militant meetings. According to Dunn, ‘the archbishop wanted us to leave things to him, and the problem would be overcome’.”

Here, Mr Doyle suggests, Archbishop McQuaid was trying to protect the deal he had already brokered. He didn’t want Garda Gunn or any of those previously elected to represent Dublin gardaí to step in and torpedo his initiative at that sensitive juncture. He concluded the meeting, which ran until 1am, by saying to Gunn and the others that “your guardian angel would look after you”.

Mr Doyle suggests, Archbishop McQuaid was trying to protect the deal he had already brokered”

Mr Gunn was again present on November 16, when he, Marrinan and the other men who were about to be reinstated met Archbishop McQuaid at Fr Fehily’s office. According to Tim Doyle, Mr Gunn said that almost four decades later Fr Fehily told him the Taoiseach Sean Lemass and the Justice Minister Charles Haughey were waiting in the next room for confirmation that the deal had gone through. While this was unlikely, as Lemass was out of the country much of November 1961, it shows the degree of influence Archbishop McQuaid had and his close involvement in the matter.

Around 10 days later, on Monday November 27, Jack Marrinan returned to the force. His notebook entry for the day was initialled and dated by Superintendent Eamonn J. Doherty, the officer who had served his dismissal notice two and half weeks previously.

All the men were reinstated and two months later in January 1962, Haughy set up the Fehily committee to inquire into the conditions of garda service. “While the findings were never published, it was widely believed that the members were shocked with what they learned about garda working and living conditions,” writes Mr Doyle. Later that year, when Marrinan applied for promotion to sergeant, he was immediately put on a short list. Although he eventually decided not to go for the position, instead pushing ahead with the Garda Representative Association, the fact that no one opposed him shows the degree to which Archbishop McQuaid’s recommendations had been acceded to.

Final word

It seems appropriate to give the final word to Jack Marrinan. After Haughey’s November 13 announcement, Marrinan knew that going to McQuaid had worked. But he also realised that he needed to say thank you in writing. While Archbishop McQuaid’s legacy will no doubt be debated for many years to come, the letter Marrinan wrote will surely have to be held in his favour as a reminder of the good he achieved during his long tenure.

Here is the letter, as printed in Changing of the Guard:

“My dear Lord Archbishop

Some of us have already had the privilege of thanking Your Grace in person for your kindness in intervening on our behalf in the recent Garda dispute. We are very conscious of the honour you did us, and indeed the entire force in you thus interesting yourself so personally and effectively in our problems. We now, through this letter, all join together in expressing to Your Grace our united thanks and appreciation for your goodness to us…

With sentiments of deep esteem and gratitude

We remain, My dear Lord Archbishop,

Your Grace’s obedient sons.”

Changing of the Guard: Jack Marrinan’s battle to modernise An Garda Síochána, written by retired Garda Tim Doyle and published by Currach Books, is available online and in stores nationwide.