Kevin McNamara (bishop)

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The Most Reverend
Kevin McNamara
Archbishop of Dublin
Primate of Ireland
Church Roman Catholic
See Dublin
In office 15 November 1984 – 8 April 1987
Predecessor Dermot J. Ryan
Successor Desmond Connell
Ordination 19 June 1949
Personal details
Born 10 June 1926
Previous post Kerry (1976–1984)

Kevin McNamara (10 June 1926 – 8 April 1987) was a senior Roman Catholic academic and bishop who in the early 1980s was seen as one of the most outspoken members of the Irish hierarchy on issues such as abortion and divorce. He served for three years as Archbishop of Dublin before dying of cancer.


Outspoken conservative[edit]

A natural academic, Kevin McNamara's was ordained a priest in June 1949 and soon was appointed to teach moral theology in St Patrick's College, Maynooth where he rose to become a Professor.

In 1976 he was appointed by Pope Paul VI to succeed Bishop Eamon Casey in the diocese of Kerry. In office, McNamara and the neighbouring Bishop of Limerick, Jeremiah Newman, became the most outspoken conservative voices in the Irish hierarchy. They were seemingly out of step with the more diplomatic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Tomás Ó Fiaich and with the Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, Dermot Ryan.

McNamara and Newman were particularly outspoken on the issue of a proposed pro-life amendment to the Irish constitution. While other bishops advocated people vote with their conscience in the referendum on the issue, McNamara and Newman instructed Catholics that they had a duty to "vote yes" to the referendum.

Appointed Archbishop of Dublin[edit]

In 1984, the archdiocese of Dublin became vacant when its archbishop, Dermot Ryan, was given a senior appointment in the Roman Curia. (Ryan was expected to be made a cardinal as a result of the appointment but died suddenly in office before a consistory could be held.) McNamara's selection to replace the more liberal Ryan in Dublin created media reports linking his appointment to the ongoing tension between the papal nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Alibrandi and the liberal Fine GaelLabour Party coalition under Garret FitzGerald. Relations between Alibrandi and the coalition had broken down, with the government requesting that Alibrandi be removed because of his suspected closeness to Irish republicans in Sinn Féin and to the opposition Fianna Fáil party and in particular its leader, Charles Haughey. Critics accused Alibrandi of engineering McNamara's appointment in the belief that the outspoken McNamara could help derail the coalition's liberal policies on divorce and contraception. McNamara, as expected, took a far more outspoken stance of issues than had Ryan previously. While the coalition succeeded in liberalising the law on contraception, its efforts to amend the constitution on divorce were defeated.[1]

Styles of
Kevin McNamara
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference style The Most Reverend
Spoken style Your Grace
Religious style Monsignor

Died from cancer after three years[edit]

McNamara's reign in Dublin was short-lived. Already suffering from what proved to be terminal cancer (giving him the onerous responsibility for Ireland's biggest diocese when he was known to be in poor health was criticised within the Church), Archbishop McNamara died in April 1987, only months after the Fine Gael minority government had been defeated in the 1987 general election.[2]

Archbishop McNamara was succeeded as archbishop by a university lecturer, Desmond Connell.

Later linked to non-reporting of clerical sex abuse cases[edit]

In the early 2000s amid growing scandals within the Catholic Church in Ireland about clerical sex abuse, it was revealed that as archbishop Kevin McNamara had sought legal advice as to the Church's liability arising from such abuse.


There is a laudatory biography of Archbishop McNamara by Louis Power.


  1. ^ Divorce was introduced by another constitutional amendment a decade later.
  2. ^ The Fine Gael-Labour coalition had broken up on the budget in January 1987. A Fine Gael minority government under Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and Tánaiste Peter Barry had remained in office for a couple of weeks afterwards.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Dermot Ryan
Archbishop of Dublin
15 November 1984-8 April 1987
Succeeded by
Desmond Connell