Walter McDonald

1854-1920; b. June, Emil, Mooncoin, Co. Kilkenny; ed. St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny and Maynooth; ord. 1876; taught at St Kieran’s; Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Maynooth, 1881; also briefly Professor of Canon Law; head of the Dunboyne Establishment; published Motion, Its Origin and Conservation (1898), on relation between theology and science, and placed on the Index Librorum as contrary to doctrine on Free Will, Dec. 1898; five subsequent theological works refused imprimatur; promoted open competition and academic tenure for professorial staff; permitted to publish Principles of Moral Science (1903), on ethical principles transmitted by tradition;
fnd. Irish Theological Quarterly, but forced to withdraw from editorial committee; supported Charles Stewart Parnell after the split; supported Vatican appeal of Fr. Michael O’Hickey against dismissal; supported James Larkin; friend of Sean O’Casey; urged reforms in the managerial system in National Education; supported right of Catholics to enter TCD; published Some Ethical Questions of Peace and War (1919), Some Ethical Aspects of the Social Question (1920); d. 2 May, Maynooth, bur. in Maynooth College Cemetary [NU Maynooth]; his Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor were edited posthumously by Denis Rolleston Gwynn (1925); his History of the Parish of Mooncoin appeared in 1960. DIB DIH

[ top ]

Some Ethical Questions of Peace and War, with special reference to Ireland [1919]; rep. in ‘Classics of Irish History’, with an introduction by Tom Garvin (UCD Press 1998); Denis Rolleston Gwynn, ed., Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor (London: Johnathan Cape 1925). Also History of the Parish of Mooncoin, by Rev. Walter McDonald, D.D., Maynooth (1960).

[ top ]

Louise Fuller, ‘Walter McDonald’s window on Maynooth, 1870-1920’, in Evangelicals and Catholics in Nineteenth-century Ireland, ed. James H. Murphy (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2005) [Chap. 11]; see also Brian Heffernan, Freedom and the Fifth Commandment: Catholic Priests and Political Violence (Manchester UP 2014).

[See Rory Connor, ‘Two Irish Clerics on Violence: Fr Walter McDonald & Bishop Daniel Cohalan’ - being an Appendix to Daniel Cohalan (Bishop of Cork from 1916 to 1952 and a neglected but  absolutely crucial figure in our War of Independence, supplied by author 14.10.2013 - available as .pdf in this frame or new window.]


Patrick Maume - writing on Ethical Questions of Peace and War and Comments on Some Criticisms Received by Rev. Walter MacDonald: ‘These are interesting because they are exceptions to the rule [i.e., separatists emphasising jus ad bellum, imperialists jus in bellum] since MacDonald - who was a Maynooth professor and wrote from a Parnellite home rule standpoint - argues, against attempts by to justify the IRA campaign by reference to Catholic just war theory, that the British Crown had acquired legitimate authority over Ireland by prescription and consequently the Dail government was not a legitimate sovereign entitled to wage war. It would also be worth extending the analysis to the Civil War, since some Republicans certainly argued that the Treaty should be rejected on the grounds that by accepting Irish sovereignty as a grant from the British Crown they would be retrospectively admitting that the Crown had previously possessed legitimate authority over Ireland, and thus that the Dail government had not been entitled to wage war and the War of Independence had been a mere murder campaign.’ (Posted on the DIASPORA E-List - online, 1 March 2012.)

Thomas O’Loughlin, reviewing Patrick J. Corish, Maynooth College: 1795-1995 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1995) - History Ireland, Iss. 1 (1997): ‘[... We are given a set-piece display of a favourite seminary sermon theme in the aftermath of the Enlightenment: the contrast of oratory and classroom. The set-piece works like this: one must not abandon the classroom for piety or one would be a fool, but one must keep the classroom in a subservient position or one will be lead astray with dire consequences. It is a two-tier universe where reason surrenders to passive acceptance, critical judgement to authority, the ordinary Catholic to the hierarch, and “nature” to “grace”. In reality it is the obscurantism of intellectual fear where control and authority are used as more effective means to ensure correct-thinking than reason, and it is recognised as such by historians of religion in umpteen situations. In this book it is found time after time: they may not have been the brightest, but they were holy men; they may not have had much training or academic discipline, but their hearts were in the right place. And, while to his credit Corish uses Walter McDonald and Gerald O’Donovan as sources (p.227), which quotes both of them, alongside Canon Sheehan, is his most severe reprimand of the system - he leaves the reader in no doubt that these critics would have achieved much more if they were less concerned with the classroom and more with the oratory. Thus the book presents us with a trained historian who recognises McDonald as a man of brilliance and integrity whose criticisms were just, but who cannot abide the fact that he broke ranks with the traditions of the institution that that historian loves. The fact that a brilliant theologian - indeed probably the only original theologian Maynooth produced in its first century - could not get his books through the censors in his lifetime does not bother Corish: he accepts it as only par for the course if one wants to dabble in theology. Likewise the fact that McDonald had to resort to extraordinary means so that his criticisms of seminary education could be published posthumously does not strike Corish as an indictment of the whole system.’ (History Ireland - online; accessed 14.11.2021.)

[ top ]

Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor, ed. Denis Gwynn [London 1925; rep. edn. (Cork: Mercier Press 1967): ‘[Revolution] which the official guardians of our religion will not comm, coming, or will endeavour to keep out with their broomsticks.’ (p.269.)

History … proves that laws have been better made and better observed since subjects became free to criticise them ... and there would be ever so much less for history to record, with shame and tears, if there had been more criticism, reverent but fearless, of those who occupied high places, even in the Church, in the past.’ (ibid., p.227.) [Both the foregoing quoted in Ruth Fleischmann, ‘Knowledge of the World as the Forbidden Fruit: Canon Sheehan and Joyce on the Sacrificium Intellectus’, pp.127-37; in A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, ed. Donald E. Morse, et al., eds,. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, p.136. )

On Censorship: ‘The teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Just War always weighed heavily with the Catholic Church, and "lawful authority'"played a key role with Aquinas as with St. Paul.  Aquinas also holds that all other means must be tried first, that non-combatants should be protected and that there should be a good chance of winning. In 1917 Bishops Foley and Gilmartin had declared that conditions for a Just War did not exist in Ireland, on the grounds that constitutional means were available; the (British) Government was not regarded by most people as tyrannical; and a successful outcome was unlikely. But their Lordships also said they 'did not cast aspersions' on those who took a different view, at that time, which for some was a let-out clause. After the treaty General Election of 1922, when the people decisively voted for a settlement, the Church did anathematize the Republicans who continued the fighting." (q.p.; quoted in Rory Connor, ‘Two Irish Clerics on Violence: Fr Walter McDonald & Bishop Daniel Cohalan’ MS supplied by author - 14.10.2013.)

Apologia pro vida sua: ‘I am to die soon and perhaps as Lochiel’s bard thought, in the sunset of life, we may be gifted with special insight into the future, somewhat akin to prophetic vision; or, at least, a dying man may utter warnings with more effect than if he had promise of many years before him. (p.265.)

I should dearly love to see these volumes published but must pass away without hope of that. They might do a little to withstand the revolution which the official guardians of our religion will not see coming or will endeavour to keep out with their broomsticks. Good men, animated by the best of motives but so short-sighted and so cruel, too, in their religious blindness to such as cannot shut their eyes. So God permits – no doubt for wise purposes; blessed always be His holy will. (Reminiscences, p 268-9)

Episcophobia! Yes I have faced Bishops and their Masters being worsted in the conflict and, as I believe, injured grievously. Not maliciously, however; the men who struck hardest at me did it in good faith. I do not blame them nor desire to see them punished, however I may feel aggrieved.
 May they live long and rule happily, but may they be punished also, by being punished for the evil they have unwittingly, not to me only - for that counts little - but to the cause of Truth. The shame of such revelation when it comes, as come it will, is more than enough of punishment. (p 269; all quoted in Rory Connor, op. cit., [2013] - available as .pdf in this frame or new window.)

[ top ]