Tuesday 30 June 2009

The Death of Sheila Cloney

The Irish Times reports the death of Sheila Cloney, the woman at the centre of the infamous Fethard-on-Sea affair in 1957.

"A member of the Church of Ireland, her decision 52 years ago to flee her Catholic husband and the State rather than allow her children to be educated at the local Catholic national school led to a boycott of Protestant businesses in the south Co Wexford village."

The incident was a notorious cause celebre at the time and particularly attracted the attention of northern unionists, including the young Ian Paisley. It is still referred to from time to time by some unionists, particularly those who try to portray the south as a priest-ridden land.

Unfortunately for the unionists, their superficial reading of the situation appears to be incorrect. Certainly the disliked Ne Temere rule had a part to play, but when the local Catholic priest tried to insist on the Cloneys adhering to their commitment to raising their children as Catholics, Sheila refused, partly at least because of the arrogant and bullying manner in which the priest acted, and fled the area and the country.

After a while the Cloneys got back together and Sheila and the children returned to County Wexford where, as a compromise, they were educated at home.

The priest organised a boycott of Protestant businesses in Fethard-on-Sea as a sort of collective punishment. This boycott was condemned in Dáil Eireann by the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, and by Seán Cloney, who said later that "I totally rejected the boycott. It caused a lot of trouble for me. My main support in breaking the boycott came from Old IRA men who themselves had fallen out with the clergy during the War of Independence."

So it seems that the situation was much more nuanced than some northern unionists think – the positions of the IRA and the leader of republican Ireland were similar to those of northern unionism, and ultimately neither Sheila nor Seán Cloney obeyed the orders of the Catholic priest, and both returned to live out their lives in Fethard-on-Sea. It seems that the south was not so priest-ridden, either at the individual or the state level, as it is sometimes claimed to have been.


Anonymous said...

"It seems that the south was not so priest-ridden, either at the individual or the state level, as it is sometimes claimed to have been."

And to reiterate, this unfortunate situation occurred more than half a century ago.

But to be fair I have not heard us as being called priest-ridden in the media in along time.

MPG .....

hoboroad said...

And there was the Maura Lyons affair a Catholic teenager who Ian Paisley was warned to stay away from by a court.

hoboroad said...


You might want to check out the columns of Robert Kilroy-Silk in the Daily Express for Anti-Irish/Anti-catholic content.

Militant Mike said...

I know that in 1998 Bishop Comiskey finally got around to apologising for the boycott but i wonder did Father Wiliam Stafford ever get around to apologising ? - i would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at his Vigilance Committee meetings!! Anyone know what happened to the Protestant music teacher? Never saw the 1999 blockbuster "A Love Divided". Anyone got a copy?

Anonymous said...



I see what you mean but it seems that he has a go at everybody!

MPG .....

hoboroad said...


Everybody except the White English middle class who read the Daily Express!