Head of Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell ‘ambivalent’ to NI centenary events

The head of the Church of Ireland believes Irish President Michael D Higgins would have “enriched” the NI Centenary service in Armagh last month, but added that it “wasn’t fatal” that some invited guests did not attend.

By Graeme Cousins
Monday, 1st November 2021, 1:02 pm
Updated Monday, 1st November 2021, 5:06 pm

Speaking to The Saint Patrick Podcast, Archbishop John McDowell said he was “ambivalent” to events like the centenary because “everything didn’t go well” over the past 100 years in Northern Ireland.

While attended by PM Boris Johnston, Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney and NI First Minister Paul Givan, the service was snubbed by the Irish president and SF’s Michelle O’Neill. The Queen was also forced to pull out for health reasons.

The archbishop said he continued to have great respect for President Higgins and declined to speculate about whether the Irish President would have felt at home at the service.

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Most Rev John McDowell at the service of 'Reflection and Hope' to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland at St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

He told podcast hosts Martina Purdy and Elaine Kelly: “It would have been lovely to have him there because he would have enriched the gathering.”

He added: “We felt – still feel – that what we were planning as a good thing, that it was a positive thing. The word celebration never entered our heads and never entered our literature.”

The archbishop said the service was simply to acknowledge an historic fact regarding the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. He pointed out that the church leaders used the same language as the advisory body set up in the Republic of Ireland to deal with historical centenaries.

He acknowledged that, for some, these events were an appalling failure and for others, tremendous historical occurrences.

He said: “I suspect for a lot of people – myself included – they are ambivalent events.

“You can’t really look back over the past 100 years and say everything went well because everything didn’t go well and we wanted an opportunity to reflect that.”

The archbishop said that a large part of him just wanted to “move on” but reflecting on the service he said it wasn’t fatal that some people could not come.

He said: “It would have been, you know, good if other people who were invited were able to come but it wasn’t fatal to the whole thing that they weren’t.

“In fact at one stage I can remember Archbishop Eamon Martin and I saying, that if it was just the five of us there, it would still be a good thing.”

• The St Patrick Podcast can be accessed via the Saint Patrick Centre website www.saintpatrickcentre.com

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