The diocese of Meath under Bishop John Cantwell 1830-66 – Paul Connell
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John Cantwell, bishop of Meath, was one of the pivotal figures in Irish catholicism during the middle of the nineteenth century. His episcopacy spanned the pre- Famine and post-Famine period, a time of huge political and social change in midnineteenth century Ireland. Building on the legacy of his predecessor, Patrick Plunkett, Cantwell transformed the diocese both physically and organizationally. He encouraged the building of churches and schools and was responsible for greatly expanding the presence of religious orders in the diocese. During his time as bishop he had to grapple with very serious difficulties both nationally and within his diocese, not least the effects of the Famine. His episcopacy was marked by a keen interest in politics on his part, and he was particularly instrumental in promoting the causes of Repeal and Tenant Right. Encouraged by his approach and example, his clergy developed an even keener interest in politics and their approach established a pattern of political activity on the part of clergy in the diocese that lasted until the turn of the century. A shrew political tactician, Cantwell was nevertheless a pragmatist. While avoiding the approach of Archbishops Murray and Crolly, which emphasized co-operation with the government, he also refused to be drawn into the more radical stance advocated by MacHale. It is a tribute to him that he remained on friendly terms during his episcopacy with both Cullen and MacHale.