Archbishop Miler McGrath, known as the Enigma of Cashel was also known by many other terms. Reprobate, rogue, scoundrel, contentious, devious, underhand, elusive and greedy are just some of them. Ever since he became Protestant bishop of Clogher in 1570 and Protestant archbishop of Cashel in 1571 he has been reviled, demonised and scapegoated. But he has also been given accolades such as ‘diplomat’, ‘great politician’, a ‘man of gravity and learning’ and ‘a good servant to her majesty’ and to the state.
For someone who played such a pivotal role in the ecclesiastical and political life of Ireland in the last thirty years of the sixteenth century and the first decades of the seventeenth century, Archbishop Miler McGrath has received relatively sparse treatment from historians. Archbishop Miler McGrath’s life has been overlooked for a number of reasons, not least the fact that as Catholic bishop and Protestant bishop and archbishop his life was no great ornament to either church. Both churches have been quite happy to airbrush him out of their memories. When Archbishop Miler McGrath is recognised it is as some kind of benign aberration, a genial rogue or cynical villain but he was much more than that and for many years he was a very powerful figure who could not be ignored by Dublin, London or indeed Rome.
Over four centuries Archbishop Miler McGrath has evoked these extremes of characterisation. While more balanced appreciations of him may have appeared in recent times, in popular history the negative views still tend to prevail. To what extent these characterisations are deserved or not is one of the many questions that Archbishop Miler McGrath – The Enigma of Cashel sets out to examine and answer.
Fr. Patrick J. Ryan is a Holy Ghost (Spiritan) missionary, who was born in Rossmore, Co. Tipperary in 1936. He studied for the priesthood in Kimmage Manor and obtained an M.A. in history from UCD. After ordination in 1964 he taught at the Junior Seminary in Moshi, Tanzania for some six years. For many years he was involved in setting up his congregation’s East African Province, serving as novice master for over a decade. Later he helped set up Spiritan Missionary Seminary in Arusha, Tanzania and acted as Rector. Based in Ireland since 1989, he taught church history at the Kimmage Mission Institute, ministered in Kimmage and Kilcullen parishes as well as completing a ten-year period as parish priest of Greenhills.