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My ancestors - O'Rahilly - Contents


Alfred O'Rahilly




Alfred O'Rahilly (see here),
President of UCC, polymath, noted lay Catholic apologist,
born 19th Sept 1884, Listowel, Co.Kerry.
He was educ Presentation Convent, Listowel.
He was educ St.Michael's College, Listowel, for short time.
He was educ Blackrock College, Dublin. Senior grade examination 1901, 12th in Ireland.
Not living with mother in 1901 census.
He was educ UCD (NOT UCC), BA 1907 (1st class hons, 1st place and scholarship), MA 1908 in Mathematical and Experimental Physics (1st place, 1st class hons, gold medal, studentship).
In 1908 he entered Stonyhurst College to teach mathematics, intending to become a Jesuit. But his highly individual temperament was not suited, left them. Later in life he would again join the priesthood.
B.Sc. UCD, 1912.
Co-founder 1912 and co-editor of the quarterly Studies, eventually its most prolific contributor.
Became Assistant lecturer in mathematics and mathematical physics, UCC, 1914.
His 1st cousin The O'Rahilly died in 1916 Rising.
He joined Sinn Fein in 1916 [Dict. Ir. Biog.].
He mar 4th Sept 1916, Rathmines, Co.Dublin, to his 1st cousin Agnes O'Donoghue [born 6 May 1885].
Still listed as "Rahilly" at dau's birth 1917. Soon after followed the example of The O'Rahilly and switched to "O'Rahilly".
Prof of Mathematical Physics, UCC, 1917-1943.

Nationalist in revolutionary period:
He was an active supporter of Sinn Fein. He opposed WWI conscription. He opposed use of UCC buildings as British Army Hospital. Contributed to nationalist periodicals. Disputed allegations that Sinn Fein was Marxist, anti-Catholic.
PhD, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 1919.
Member of senate of NUI 1919-54.
Registrar of UCC 1920-43.
Sinn Fein member of Cork City Corporation from Jan 1920 to 1921, during War of Independence.
Wrote controversial articles in Catholic Bulletin, Studies and Irish Theological Quarterly, offering a theological justification for the IRA war. In late 1920 he urged non-violent civil disobedience.
After publication of "The Theology of Tyranny" he was twice imprisoned by the British authorities. At one point he was held in Cork Jail, adjoining the grounds of UCC, SW side of central Cork.
In 1921 he published Who Burnt Cork City?, about the burning of much of Cork city centre by the Black and Tans in Dec 1920.
He was arrested Apr 1921, jailed for 6 months. Held in Victoria Barracks (now Collins Barracks), NE side of central Cork. Then held on Spike Island, near Cork. Then on Bere Island, W Co.Cork.
After the Truce he was released Oct 1921.
He went to London as constitutional adviser to Irish leaders negotiating the Treaty, Dec 1921.
After independence, he was on the committee that drafted the 1922 Constitution. He produced the "C" draft, which was very much a Catholic influenced document, but he failed to win the day with Cosgrave's government, and a more secular Constitution was adopted.
He was strongly pro-Treaty, early supporter of Cumann na nGaedheal.
He once said that (his 1st cousin's daughter) Sighle Humphreys would have shot him, if she had got hold of him during the Civil War.
Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Cork city 1923-24. Elected in 1923 general election (and here). Resigned 1924 to devote himself to UCC, causing 1924 by-election.

In physics he engaged in controversy attacking Einstein's Theory of relativity.
Founded Cork University Press 1931. He added 350,000 volumes to UCC library.
Despite being pro-Treaty, he gradually came to be a strong supporter of de Valera.
He opposed the IRA's continuing activities in the 1930s.
He was pleased by de Valera's more Catholic 1937 Constitution that replaced the 1922 Constitution.
He supported de Valera's neutrality in WW2.
Hon. D.Litt., NUI, 1939.
D.Sc., NUI, 1940.

He was perhaps Ireland's most prominent traditional lay Catholic apologist in the mid 20th century.
Huge output of papers, articles, books and letters on wide range of subjects and controversies.
Engaged in controversy with H.G. Wells. See his reply [O'Rahilly, 1940] to Wells: "I come from Catholic forbears whose consolation amid the persecution of Mr Wells's fellow countrymen was - after Mass in a bleak field - the recital of the Rosary."
In the same he says: "If I wanted to anchor in any century, I would prefer the thirteenth .. At any rate it would be more preferable than to be so frightfully up-to-date as Mr Wells, so much at the mercy of the latest fad or ephemeral stunt."
Engaged in controversy with Flann O'Brien, who dubbed him "Alf the Sacred Raver" (reference is to "Alph, the sacred river").

President of UCC 1943-54. He instigated the Dept Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Dairy Science, Chair in Theology, adult education courses, and courses in Ethics for medical students.
He ordered the removal of the statue of Queen Victoria at UCC. See Irish Times, 26 Aug 1997.
At one point he was concerned about "immodest" dress among female students. He banned bare legs on campus. Staff asked to enforce it.
Founded Cork University Record 1944.
Lived in a house in UCC.
Vice-chancellor of NUI 1943-45, 1948-51, 1954.
Delivered series of talks on "Religion and Science", Irish radio, early 1944, published as booklet 1948.
Agnes died 14th Sept 1953, age 68 yrs.
Alfred was made Member of Order of St.Gregory 1954.
After his wife died, he retired from the UCC Presidency Oct 1954, and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by finally becoming a priest.
On his retirement, the Irish Times profiled him, 25th Sept 1954. They mention that somebody described Alfred as "the finest mind of the twelfth century" (note this is not their description).
He was ordained 18th Dec 1955, age 71 yrs, in Blackrock College chapel, by Archbishop McQuaid, in the Holy Ghost Fathers (C.S.Sp.).
He was associated with Blackrock, lived in a house in grounds of the college.
Became a Monsignor ("created a domestic prelate" 1960).
Worked on a comprehensive, multi-volume life of Christ, mammoth work, not completed before his death. (Finally collected and published as The Crucified, edited by J.Anthony Gaughan, 1985.)
He died St.Michael's hospital, Dun Laoghaire, 2nd Aug 1969, age 84 yrs, poss. 5th Aug, (todo) see [GROI].
The O'Rahilly Building in UCC was named after Alfred in 1998.
Alfred and Agnes had issue:


  1. Sybil O'Rahilly.

  2. Ronan O'Rahilly,
    mar 1stly to Kitty Pyne,
    mar 2ndly to Fabiola Müller.




Alfred O'Rahilly.
From 1960 Reminiscences. See larger and full size.



Letter from Alfred to Nell on 25 May 1916, after 1916 Rising.
"I am going to try to be an Irishman in future."
Note that he is still "Rahilly" and has not yet adopted "O'Rahilly".
This is [P106/121(5)] (see online).




[O'Rahilly, 1940] shows Alfred in full flight, a master of insult and ridicule - even if his arguments (in my personal opinion) are fundamentally flawed. A young student would need a lot of confidence to argue with him:

"But, then, Mr Wells has decided views on everything, views so clear to him that mostly he will not bother even to argue for them. I think it was Lord Melbourne who said: 'I wish to God I were as sure of anything as Tom Macaulay is about everything!' "

"Thus, from his superior height, speaks the B.Sc. (hons.) in zoology of London. Why, even as an undergraduate he knew almost everything"

"This megalomaniac pose is tremendously convenient. I once had a student who adopted it - but he was plucked."





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