In 1922, at the height of Ireland’s tragic civil war, Irish Jesuit William Hackett was transferred to Australia by his order. Assigned to a minor teaching post, this seemingly unremarkable newcomer caused no stir.
Yet Father Hackett had been close to the centre of the provisional Irish Republic’s struggle for independence from Britain; part of the network of Irish nationalists who carried intelligence, ministered to republican troops, spoke on republican platforms, and helped to publicise British injustices and atrocities in Ireland. Now, he was effectively an exile. Leading Australian biographer Brenda Niall tells the story of this remarkable priest, in both its Irish and Australian chapters. Cut off from his compatriots, without news of his friends, Hackett sought out Daniel Mannix, the formidable Archbishop of Melbourne, famous for his Irish republican stance and his opposition to conscription. The enduring friendship that followed drew Hackett into Australian cultural and political life, and eventually into the central political controversy of 1950s Australia—the Catholic Church’s covert partnership with anti-communist leaders of the labor movement. An absorbing narrative and a subtle character study, The Riddle of Father Hackett is based on archives in Ireland and Australia, including Hackett’s personal correspondence with Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Erskine Childers, Daniel Mannix and BA Santamaria.