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  • The Exile and Repatriation of Father Dominic O'Connor (O.F.M. Capuchin), 1922–58
  • John Borgonovo (bio)

In the autumn of 1935 Father Luke Sheehan, head of the Capuchin mission in the state of Oregon, announced to his Dublin colleagues the recent death of his nephew Father Dominic O'Connor:

About 12:40 he passed on to his Creator. God rest his soul. He had a troubled life. He is now at peace. . . . We laid the poor boy on a sweet and peaceful slope amid the tall pines. Whether or not his gentle sleep will be disturbed is for the future. There is talk at this side, and I hear also in Ireland, to the effect that Frs. Albert and Dominic are to be taken back. Both wished to be covered with the green sod of Ireland.1

Twenty-three years later, Father Luke's suggestion finally came to pass. The 1958 repatriation of the two Capuchin exiles generated a republican spectacle that exploited cultural memories of persecution and exile, two touchstones of Irish nationalist identity. The event occurred only after decades of difficult negotiations with government and clerical authorities, which reflected the uneasy dance of Irish republicanism with the Catholic church, the Irish state, and Irish America. Ultimately, leaders of what can be called the "Old IRA Movement" symbolically answered clerical and lay hostility in 1922-23 that helped to defeat their revolution and drove many colleagues from Ireland forever. The resonance of the event with the Irish public also signaled a wider acknowledgment of the price paid by what Gavin Foster has called the "mini-diaspora of the Civil War."2 [End Page 122]

Republican Priest

John O'Connor was born in 1883 in Cork city. Educated locally, first by the Christian Brothers and later at the Capuchin College in Roches town, Co. Cork, O'Connor came from a devout family, with three of six brothers serving as priests and three of six sisters as nuns.3 He entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Capuchin) in 1889, took the name Dominic, and was ordained in 1906. He progressed onto the Royal University of Ireland and entered the University of Louvain in 1907, where he ultimately received a degree in theology (figure 1).

Upon his return to Cork city, Father Dominic embraced the Gaelic League.4 He gravitated toward its advanced nationalist wing, and in early 1916 O'Connor stood on an anticonscription platform at nationalist rallies.5 A few months later, O'Connor unexpectedly joined the British army as a chaplain and was assigned to the 10th "Irish" Division in Salonika. He apparently enlisted under the instructions of his Capuchin Father Superior, answering a call from Cardinal Michael Logue of Amagh for "all the chaplains that can be got."6 Writing later from a military hospital in Salonika, Dominic jokingly explained to his sister, "When those who had done all the recruiting were too cowardly to go, there was nothing left except to have us who were anti-recruiters go and help the souls of the soldiers."7

Discharged after two years of war service, Dominic moved to the Capuchin's Holy Trinity Church in the Cork city center.8 He rejoined the burgeoning republican movement, which prepared for physical resistance during the 1918 conscription crisis.9 O'Connor became [End Page 123]

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Figure 1.

Father Dominic O'Connor (1883-1935).

Image courtesy of Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Sinn Féin's most visible clerical supporter in the city. His younger brother Joe, a draper, was a senior officer in the Cork No. 1 Brigade, an influential IRA unit that encompassed Cork city and Mid-Cork.10 Dominic enjoyed warm friendships with Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, who served as the city's successive republican [End Page 124] mayors and IRA brigade commanders. MacCurtain appointed Father Dominic as official chaplain to the Lord Mayor and as chaplain to the Cork No. 1 Brigade. Dominic took an expansive view of his paramilitary spiritual duties, at one point appearing outside Cork Men's Prison during an IRA escape in case his services were needed.11...


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