Freedom and the Fifth Commandment

Catholic priests and political violence in Ireland, 1919–21

By Brian Heffernan

Freedom and the Fifth Commandment


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9048-6
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: March 2014
  • BIC Category: RELIGION / History, HISTORY / Europe / Ireland, Roman Catholicism, Roman Catholic Church, History, Ireland, History of religion, European history, Humanities / British & Irish history, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, RELIGION / Christianity / Catholic, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Nationalism & Patriotism


The guerilla war waged between the IRA and the crown forces between 1919 and 1921 was a pivotal episode in the modern history of Ireland. This book addresses the War of Independence from a new perspective by focusing on the attitude of a powerful social elite: the Catholic clergy.

The close relationship between Irish nationalism and Catholicism was put to the test when a pugnacious new republicanism emerged after the 1916 Easter rising. When the IRA and the crown forces became involved in a guerilla war between 1919 and 1921, priests had to define their position anew.

Using a wealth of source material, much of it newly available, this book assesses the clergy's response to political violence. It describes how the image of shared victimhood at the hands of the British helped to contain tensions between the clergy and the republican movement, and shows how the links between Catholicism and Irish nationalism were sustained.


Brian Heffernan is to be highly commended for this fine study which will be a standard work on this subject for many years to come.

For those interested in the war of independence (1919-21), this is a pageturner. The author describes in considerable detail the role of priests and bishops during those revolutionary years. In so doing, he provides a valuable service. Apart from an article published more than forty years ago by Tomás Ó Fiaich, no-one has since written specifically on this subject.

Brian Heffernan is to be highly commended for this fine study, which will
be a standard work on the subject for many years to come.

Meticulously using both archival and newspaper resources, this worthwhile study examines and classifies the response of Catholic clergy to the post - 1918 troubles in Ireland.

'...hugely impressive, illuminating and excellently researched book ... Heffernan has vividly filled a large gap in historical knowledge about how priests navigated exceptionally difficult circumstances and volatile times, and the book deserves wide readership. Drawing on diocesan archives, newspapers, witness statements and contemporary correspondence, Heffernan skilfully weaves these sources together into a judicious, well-written overview.' - Dairmaid Ferriter, Irish Times review. January 2016

'A riveting publication'
Dublin Review of Books, December 2016, Thomas FitzGerald is an Irish research council scholar at Trinity College Dublin


Part I: Obeying the law of God
1. In the old groove: traditional political alignments
2. The fifth commandment and the brand of Cain: condemnation from the pulpit
3. Interfering where they shouldn't: interaction with republicans
Part II: Republican priests
4. Sinn Féin priests: support for Sinn Féin, the Dáil and local IRA units
5. Aiding and abetting: priests involved in the IRA campaign
6. Troublesome priests: responses to clerical support for republicanism
Part III: the clergy and the crown
7. Priest and victim: British measures against the clergy
8. The reign of frightfulness: clerical responses to the British campaign
9. Preserving the peace: mediation, relief work and political activism


Brian Heffernan is a University Lecturer in History at Leiden University

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