By Christine Salins
PS News Books
The Riddle of Father Hackett. A life in Ireland and Australia
By Brenda Niall (National Library of Australia, $39.95, softcover, 320 pages)
Usually when Jesuit priests die, the order destroys all their papers and other belongings.
Thankfully when William Hackett died, most of his papers and letters remained and thankfully also, they were available to Brenda Niall, who has produced a very well researched and well written biography of this unique and intriguing man.
His influence and place in the political life of both Ireland and Australia is remarkable.
In Ireland, Hackett was not just a supporter of the fight for Irish freedom and republicanism, he was one of the few priests who were directly involved in the struggle.
As a friend of both Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, he was one of the people who almost brought both sides together in the Irish Civil War in 1922.
Perhaps because of this involvement, the Jesuit Order suddenly sent him to Australia, but the mystery still remains as to reasons for his ‘exile’.
In Australia, Hackett shared his passion for Irish freedom with Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne and dominant figure in the anti-conscription campaign during World War I.
Hackett was probably as close to Mannix as anyone ever got. Niall provides some fascinating insights into both the character of the two men and their relationship.
She also recounts her own family’s personal association with Hackett and paints an appealing picture of his wit, intelligence and charm.
It was these characteristics that also brought Hackett into contact with Australian politicians and Prime Ministers, and involved him in the political life of his new country.
Brenda Niall’s biography is not just a good read, but a fascinating examination of Irish- Australian Catholic life and the issues, politics and people who had a significant influence on Australia between and immediately after both World Wars.
Her account of Father William Hackett’s life in Ireland before coming to Australia is a masterfully clear view of a turbulent and troubled time in Ireland’s history.
To find out more about Christine Salins click here.