David Jameson's The Tilson Case: Church and State in 1950s' Ireland tells the story of one the most extraordinary causes célèbre of twentieth-century Ireland, which followed the marriage of Ernest Tilson, a Protestant, to Mary Barnes, a Catholic, in Dublin in 1941. Since this was a mixed marriage and the couple wished to be married in a Catholic church, both were obliged to sign a pledge agreeing to raise any children of the marriage as Catholics. Nine years later Ernest reneged on that promise when he removed three of his four sons to the Protestant-run Birds' Nest orphanage in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, intending to educate them as Protestants. To recover her sons, Mary took a case to the High Court and won; her husband appealed this ruling in the Supreme Court and lost. Widely reported in newspapers in Ireland, Britain and the United States, this bitterly contested dispute pitted the Catholic and Protestant churches against each other and polarised Ireland along confessional lines. Based on archival material, previously unseen documentary sources and oral testimonies, this engaging book not only recounts the intriguing story of Mary and Ernest Tilson, but also offers fresh perspectives on the vexed issue of mixed marriages in Ireland, the Catholic Ne Temere decree and the intimate relationship between the Catholic Church and the state at the time. It also highlights how a domestic dispute, with multiple causes, was elevated to an event of national significance involving both Churches, the state and wider society. Crucially, Jameson also examines another disquieting aspect of the case that has reverberated to the present day: the court proceedings raise awkward questions about the impartiality of Catholic judges at the time and suggest that the Catholic Church exerted undue influence on the workings of the state.
David Jameson is a Visiting Teaching Fellow in Trinity College Dublin. His most recent article ‘Norah Hoult and Temple Lane’s Novels of Mixed Marriages in the Early Free State’ was published by New Hibernia Review in 2018.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.