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Perth's affable answer to Melbourne's Archbishop Daniel Mannix


Faith, Ireland and Empire: The Life of Patrick Joseph Clune, by Christopher Dowd. St Paul’s Publications, 2014, 416 pages, $39.95.

‘The charge of socialising readily with lay people and others outside the monastery was one to which Clune in all probability would have happily pleaded guilty. He was an outgoing, even extrovert, man who loved company and conversation. The cigars and whisky were all part of the picture’.

This engaging biography, written by one of Australia’s leading Church historians, goes an appreciable distance towards preserving the sense that leadership, whether in the ecclesiastical sphere, or for that matter secular public life, is not always borne of fierceness, ambition and egocentricity.  

Patrick Joseph Clune was born near Ruan in County Clare in 1864 and was installed as Archbishop of Perth in Western Australia in 1913. He died in 1935.

Despite being an archbishop in the world’s most remote capital city, Clune managed to exert considerable influence within the Irish 'spiritual empire' that crossed the globe in the early twentieth century. It is an empire whose legacy in places like Australia, where the Irish influence in general from the early convict days was always strong and remains palpable today.

Fr Dowd characterises the style of Catholic Christianity which the Irish missionaries brought to Australia in the later nineteenth century as ‘at once sentimental and deferential, nationalist and anarchic’. The consecration of Clune as Bishop of Perth two years before he became Archbishop took place on Saint Patrick’s Day, and a prominent role in the festivities was taken by the Hibernian Australasian Benefit Society and Irish Pipe Band.

Clune was a patriotic Irishman who supported Home Rule, though he, like other displaced Irish patriots such as Charles Gavan Duffy, in an Australian context could give a speech on the occasion of the coronation of Edward VII that was praised by the local Protestant establishment for its profession of loyalty to the British crown.    

In contrast to the sectarian suspicion expressed by elements of non-Catholic Australia towards Mannix, who opposed military conscription during the First World War, Clune was lauded during the war as 'pro-war effort, pro-conscription, pro-empire and pro-crown'.

Many Catholics volunteered to fight with the Australian Imperial Force, and several were awarded the Victoria Cross. Clune travelled from Perth all the way to the Western Front so as to minister to the Catholic soldiers sent there.  

Clune was open to being friends with anyone living within the Perth Archdiocese and enjoyed warm relations with Protestants and Jews. The affability was ever present: ‘His welcoming, expansive and jovial personality made it easy for him to mix with a diverse spectrum of people: government ministers and timber cutters, bishops and railway workers, senior civil servants and shopkeepers, bank managers and farm hands.’

Even so, there were those within the Church hierarchy who found fault with Clune for being what they viewed as ‘an exterior man’.

As a Redemptorist Father who had dedicated his life to the missions, Clune for some in the Church was not an obvious choice for higher office, and as Archbishop of Perth he took over an organisation in financial dire straits. Every ounce of Clune’s natural charm was needed to steer the Archdiocese away from the brink of bankruptcy and lead it to flourish once more.  That he turned things around within a few years was a remarkable achievement, albeit one that does not sear the pages of history.

Where Daniel Mannix in relation to the struggle for independence in Ireland was an activist who outspokenly supported the Republican side, Clune strove to act as a peacemaker, a difficult and indeed thankless task.  

Though not controversial in his interventions in Irish revolutionary politics as was his fellow prelate Mannix, Clune was for a time at the centre of events, undertaking the role of honest broker between the Republican leadership and Lloyd George.

In the end, Clune could be said to have been let down by Perfidious Albion – though Dowd on this point is empathetic towards the British side – and also by the same machinations within the Republican movement that would claim the life of Michael Collins, a man with whom Clune personally got on well.

In keeping with the equanimity of his character, Clune does not seem to have been left bitter by his failure to facilitate peace between Britain and Ireland. ‘I suppose the time was not ripe in the mysterious ways of Providence’ was one comment he made on the debacle. Clune declined to criticise publicly the representatives of either side in the negotiations.

In this book, the author, a Dominican friar based in Melbourne who is the Provincial Historian for the Australian Dominican Province, amply demonstrates a natural feel for history and brings to bear on the life of Patrick Clune his understanding of the life of a member of the priesthood.

He shows how though the world in which the clergy lived during Clune’s era was different to that of our world, a priest’s life, to say nothing of that of an archbishop, was not necessarily simpler, or easier.

Certainly Patrick Clune was supported in his vocation by a genius for friendship.

Simon Caterson is a freelance writer partly educated in Ireland and based in Melbourne.  

Topic tags: Simon Caterson, Archbishop Clune, Archbishop Mannix, Catholic church, history



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Existing comments

I do note, Clune out mannixed Mannix on Irish antipathy to Britain. The former canonised the Sinn Féin According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography: In Paris in January 1921 "[Clune] publicly described the Sinn Feiners as 'the cream of their race'.!!"[Tell that to the Black and Tans]

Father John George | 03 April 2015  

And today neither a priests life nor bishop's life is "not necesarily easier or simpler" due to betrayal by abusive clergy,but over 2000 years, priesthood faced down commensurate demoralising scandals,schisms,dissent,persecutions,exile etc

Father John George | 03 April 2015  

Re Archbishop Clunes ''affability'', It is reported in the April 21st Sydney Morning Herald:

" Questioned In the House of Commons in regard to Archbishop Clune's statement in Australia that every Infamy perpetrated hy the Germans In Belgium had been repeated, and oven exceeded. In Ireland, and whether any steps had been taken to clear Britain's good name, Mr. Lloyd George said he had not seen all the newspaper reports of Archbishop Clune's speech, but he and his colleagues In- side and outside 'the House had taken every step to explain and justify the Government's action in Ireland."
[Surely such outpouring makes Mannix look positively reticent in comparison!!!!]

Father John George | 04 April 2015  

Truly excellent article. Mannix was highly intelligent and the British didn't relish being put down by such lowly born. Thank you for sharing.

Benedict Reid [Ireland] | 09 July 2016