Tomas O Fiaich; Cardinal of All Ireland, Critic of British Rule

From Times Wire Services

Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, the primate of all Ireland and an outspoken critic of the British government, has died during a pilgrimage to the French shrine of Lourdes. He was 66.

O Fiaich, appointed head of both the church in the Republic of Ireland and Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland in 1977, was taken 95 miles to Toulouse by helicopter Tuesday after suffering an apparent heart attack, a hospital spokesman said.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in Ireland, said O Fiaich had appeared ill to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where in 1858 a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, O Fiaich, (pronounced O’Fee), also castigated the violence of the Irish Republican Army.


The predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Irish Republic.

“You can’t unite people with bombs and bullets,” the cardinal once said.

Two years after he was appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics, Pope John Paul II made O Fiaich one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

O Fiaich was born Thomas Fee in Cullyhanna, in south Armagh, within sight of the border with the Irish Republic. He changed his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments developed.

He was ordained in 1948. During a 25-year academic career, he taught modern history at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, west of Dublin, and served as its president from 1974 to 1977.

O Fiaich supported political and church appeals on behalf of Irish prisoners in British jails and called for a review of the case of six Irishmen convicted of killing 21 people in 1974 in IRA bomb attacks on pubs in Britain.

He also blasted Britain in 1988 over its decision not to prosecute a soldier who shot dead an unarmed man at an observation post on the Irish border.

But O Fiaich was also quick to condemn IRA violence, making an emotional plea to Protestants for forgiveness after an IRA bomb killed 11 people attending a war memorial service in the town of Enniskillen in 1987.