A defiant Bishop against British rule in Ireland is profiled by Joe Lonergan
In May of 1916, Edward O’Dwyer, the Bishop of Limerick, became a hero for advanced nationalists in Ireland because of his spirited reply to a letter from General Maxwell.
General Sir John Maxwell had arrived in Dublin on Friday 28 April as military governor with ‘plenary powers’ under Martial law. This new commander of the British forces in Ireland, boasted: “When I am finished, there will not be a whisper of sedition in Ireland for another 100 years.” Maxwell promptly set about achieving this.
During the week of 2–9 May, Maxwell was in sole charge of trials and sentences by ‘field general court martial’, in which trials were conducted without defence counsel or jury members and ‘in camera’. He had 3,400 people arrested and 183 civilians tried, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were shot between 3 and 12 May.
General Maxwell also took the time to write to various Bishops around the country directing them to remove suspect priests from the active ministry. However, he picked the wrong man to write to when he penned a letter to Bishop O’Dwyer in Limerick.
Edward Thomas O’Dwyer was born in Lattin, Co. Tipperary, the only son of John Keating O’Dwyer, on the 22 of January 1842. His father was a member of the historic Tipperary sept ‘The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh’ three of whom were Abbots of Holy Cross Abbey during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Shortly after Edward’s birth the family moved to Limerick. The future Bishop was educated at the Christian Brothers School on Sexton Street, and at the Crescent College, Limerick. In 1860, after a year’s study at St Munchin’s College, he entered the National Seminary at Maynooth College, and he was ordained a priest in 1867.
As a curate in St Michael’s Parish in Limerick O’Dwyer was actively involved in the temperance movement. He also established the Catholic Literary Society. At the relatively young age of 44, he was appointed Bishop of Limerick. While Bishop of Limerick he helped establish Mary Immaculate teacher training college and St. John’s Hospital.