BISHOP David Moriarty of Kerry was one of the leading lights of the Catholic Hierarchy in the 1800s.
He had been educated locally and then in France before he went to Maynooth. Within a few short years of ordination, he was chosen as vice president of the Irish College in Paris and afterwards, as president of All Hallows College in Dublin. From there, in 1854, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Kerry and in 1856, succeeded to the see on the death of Bishop Charles Sugrue.
He proved an enlightened and reforming bishop. He travelled all over his diocese preaching, administering sacraments and emphasising the importance of teaching children catechism. He advocated regular parish missions and arranged regular retreats for the diocesan clergy at which he himself preached.
Linked in with this he invited the Franciscans and Dominicans to return to Kerry. He firmly believed in education and was a staunch supporter of the, recently introduced, national school system. To further develop education services, he was responsible for the building of the diocesan seminary St Brendan’s in Killarney, which is still one of the foremost secondary schools in the country.
He did not confine his building to schools but also encouraged the building of many parish churches as well as completing the building of St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney. It was one of his sermons, however, in the cathedral in Killarney, which led to his most infamous moment when he ventured into the realm of politics.
The mid-1800s saw a huge decline in the political power of the Church in Europe. It lost the Papal States and in 1870 lost Rome to the Italian government. In an encyclical in 1864, Pope Pius IX wrote strongly against the revolutionary movements and condemned anyone who advocated the separation of Church and State.
The Irish Church followed Rome and, led by Cardinal Paul Cullen, spoke strongly against the newly established Fenian movement. They considered it a secret oath-bound society which was contrary to Church teaching. In England and America where the new organisation was strong , they refused the sacraments to its members. They feared that those who defied the political and legal authority of the state would subsequently treat the church in a similar manner.
Cardinal Cullen’s attitude to the Fenians was shared by most, if not all, the hierarchy but most of them were shocked by the forcefulness of Bishop Moriarty’s opposition and the vehemence of his outburst. Following a long sermon at his Sunday mass, he went on to condemn the Fenians describing them as swindlers, criminals and God’s curse.
He used the infamous phrase that “when we look down into the fathomless depths of the infamy of the heads of the Fenian conspiracy, we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough nor hell hot enough for such miscreants”. His speech was quoted, twice, in the House of Commons the following week. Lord Naas, chief secretary for Ireland, told the house Bishop Moriarty had informed him by letter that no one left the Church as a consequence of what he said and that he never addressed a more attentive audience.
Bishop Moriarty of Kerry delivered his ‘hell isn’t hot enough’ sermon on the Fenians on February 17, 1867 – 146 years ago this week.