It is generally agreed that the two foremost statesmen in nineteenth-century Ireland were Daniel O’Connell, who died in 1847 during the worst period of the Great Famine, and Charles Stewart Parnell, who became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1880. During the three decades between those two careers the most important Irish political figure was not a statesman, but a churchman: Paul Cullen, who had spent the first three decades of his career in Rome and returned to Ireland as archbishop of Armagh in 1849, became archbishop of Dublin in 1852 and was created a cardinal in 1866, and died in 1878. Ironically, despite his unquestioned significance in Irish history, no fully satisfactory academic biography of him has ever been published. Moreover, he was denied even the usual commemorative biography that most Victorians of his stature received, whereas his nationalist adversary in the Irish hierarchy, Archbishop John MacHale of Tuam, was honored with not one, but two, biographies in the decade after his death. Nowadays, the most reliable account of Cullen’s role as an archbishop is the first four volumes of the late Emmet Larkin’s seven-volume history of the Catholic Church and Irish politics from 1850 to 1891—an achievement that, together with his theory of a “devotional revolution” during that period, is recognized by his role as author of the lead essay in the book under review.
Larkin’s work, however, is not a biography, and neither is Cardinal Paul Cullen and His World. It is a collection of essays on many aspects of Cullen’s complex life. Five essays address Cullen’s relationship with particular individuals: Pope Gregory XVI, Pope Pius IX, Cardinal John Henry Newman, MacHale, and Margaret Aylward (founder of the Holy Faith Sisters). Five concern religious issues of special concern to Cullen: ultramontane spirituality, pastoral vision, social welfare, opposition to the government’s national education system, and papal infallibility. One analyzes his brief administration of the Archdiocese of Armagh. Two address his interest in art and architecture, and another presents a fascinating analysis of the statue in Cullen in the Dublin Pro-Cathedral. Four essays address Cullen’s major Catholic communities: Catholic Dublin, Catholic Belfast, Catholicism in the Antipodes, and Irish emigrants in general. Two explore Cullen’s interest in Catholic institutions: the Mater Hospital in Dublin and the Irish College in Paris. Two examine Cullen’s relationship with paramilitaries: the Irish Papal Brigade that was organized to [End Page 168] support his efforts for protection of the Papal States during the Italian unification, and the Fenian movement that he regarded as a potential Irish version of Italian nationalism. Two essays examine Cullen’s dealings with parliamentary entities: Irish Conservatives and Gladstone’s first Liberal government. The volume ends with the epilogue “Reassessing Paul Cullen.”
The essay that really conveys the importance of the book, however, is Colin Barr’s “‘An ambiguous awe’: Paul Cullen and the historians.” He explains not only the political unpopularity that deprived Cullen of an early biography but also other obstacles such as scattering of some of Cullen’s papers as far as the Antipodes and the failure of the Diocese of Dublin until well into the second half of the twentieth century to maintain a archive routinely usable by the historical profession. The good news is the recent funding by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences of a “Cardinal Cullen Project” that includes the book under review and the research of several of its contributors. The book is full of valuable information and analysis, promising further understanding not only of Cullen but also of the complex Irish transformation from a world of confessional states into one of nation-states.