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Blue plaque honour for ‘man of the people’ Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich on 100th birthday

The former Archbishop of Armagh - who passed away at Lourdes in May 1990 - is remembered as an 'inspiring leader and champion' with the plaque to be unveiled at his birthplace in Cullyhanna

Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

The former Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich is to be honoured with the unveiling of a blue plaque.

The Ulster History Circle will create the permanent memorial on what would have been the Cardinal’s 100th birthday.

It will be unveiled at his birthplace, in the village of Cullyhanna, at ‘An Chrosbhóthar’, 58 Kiltybane Road, today (Friday), November 3, at 12noon.

The official duty will be performed by the now Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Eamon Martin.

Cardinal Ó Fiaich – who passed away in 1990 – will be remembered as a ‘man of the people’; as well as a church leader, he was an historian, scholar and Gael.

Thomas James Fee was born on November 3, 1923, the second son of schoolteacher parents, Patrick Fee and Annie Carragher.

At various times both parents taught at Cregganduff public elementary school. His older brother Patrick became the doctor in nearby Crossmaglen.

As a young boy of five, Tomás entered Cregganduff school where is father was headmaster before attending St Patrick’s College, Armagh, where, in 1940, he gained a scholarship to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

He was ordained into the priesthood on July 6, 1948, and he continued his studies in UCD and at the Catholic
University of Leuven in Belgium.

Tomás was a noted scholar in the Irish language and with a profound interest in folklore and history.

In 1953 he joined the teaching staff of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and whilst as a lecturer at the College, he adopted the fully Gaelic version of his name. Thomas James Fee became ‘Tomás Ó Fiaich’.

From 1959 until 1974, he was professor of modern history and became vice president of Maynooth in 1970, while 1974 saw him as president of the college.

In spite of his academic background, Tomás Ó Fiaich was appointed to the vacant archbishopric of Armagh and the Primacy of all Ireland in August 1977. He was raised to Cardinal just two years later in 1979 and continued to follow his deep interest in Irish and local history.

In 1980, the Cardinal received the Irish American Cultural Institute Award for translating the Bible into Irish and among his publications are Oliver Plunkett, Dánta and Saint Oliver of Armagh. (ref. Roddy Hegarty-Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library- Armagh).

In the Catholic Church in Ireland, the Cardinal’s home parish of Lower Creggan has the unique distinction of producing two Cardinals, the other being Cardinal John Murphy Farley, Archbishop of New York in the early 20th Century.

Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: “Tomás, Cardinal Ó Fiaich is renowned for his dedication to the church, to Celtic history and to Irish language, and he is remembered as an inspiring leader and champion.

“On the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Ulster History Circle is pleased to commemorate the archbishop, historian, scholar, and Gael with a blue plaque at his birthplace, and the Circle is particularly grateful to Foras na Gaelige for their financial support, and to the Creggan History Society for their kind assistance.”

Cardinal Tómas Ó Fiaich died suddenly at the age of 66 whilst leading a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, in May 1990, and is buried in the grounds of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Armagh.

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