Aaron Callan is a native of Limavady and a graduate of the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast. He is a Ulster Unionist, Orangeman and occasional blogger.
Rev James Godfrey MacManaway was born in 1898, the son of the Rt. Rev Dr James MacManaway, Bishop of Clogher. Educated at Campbell College and then Trinity College Dublin where he obtained both a Bachelors and Masters.
He enlisted during the First World War at the age of 16, he did this directly from Campbell College, he would fight at the Battle of Loos before joining the Royal Flying Corps. By 1925, he was ordained as a Minister in the Church of Ireland by the Archbishop of Armagh. He would serve a Curate at Drumachose, Limavady before he would take up the position of Senior Curate at Christ Church Londonderry.
After this he became the Rector in 1930, where he would stay for 17 years. In 1926 he would marry Catherine Anne Trench, the only daughter of Sir Thomas Lecky and widow of Major FCB Trench, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They would partly reside at Greystone Hall, now Rossmar School, which was built between 1831 and 1833 for Edmund Smith, but their main residence would be at Red Roof, Northland Road in Derry.
MacManaway would again serve his country during the Second World War as Senior Chaplain to the forces. He would take part in the evacuation of Dunkirk with the 12th Royal Lancers and later would see action in the Middle East as Senior Chaplain to the First Armoured Division. He would serve in Egypt, Libya and Palestine in 1943 before joining the invading forces at Salerno. He was also involved in the Italian Campaign until the end of the war with the exception of two months which were spent in Greece. In February 1945 he would return to the Italian Front as Senior Chaplain to the 10th Armoured Division. For his services he was awarded the M.B.E.
By 1947 MacManaway would resign his position as a Church of Ireland minister and decided to turn his attentions to the political world and he would be elected the Unionist Member for the City of Londonderry to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. He won with a majority of 4,028 over a Labour opponent and he held the seat in 1949 against a Nationalist on both occasions he took over 60 percent of the vote.
However, his ambitions were set on attaining a seat at the House of Commons. Although, due to the fact that he was a man of the cloth, there was some doubt as to his eligibility. This is because of historical statues debarring clergymen of both the Established Church and Roman Catholic Church from sitting as MPs in the House of Commons. MacManaway would seek out legal advice, which he got from the Attorney General of Northern Ireland Edmund Warnock. Warnock was of the opinion and would advise MacManaway that since the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869 the statutory bars did not apply to MacManaway.
On the back of this advice MacManaway would put his name forward for West Belfast constituency and was selected by the Unionist party to contest the east in the 1950 General Election. As a precaution he would resign all his offices in the Church of Ireland and relinquished all his rights as a priest in the Church. After a vigorous campaign he won the seat for the Unionists by defeating the sitting MP Jack Beattie (Labour) by an impressive majority of 3,378. Among the many activists who helped out in the campaign was a young Ian Paisley.
MacManaway would be the first clergyman to take up a seat in the House of Commons in 150 years and this would cause a stir in Westminster. Most likely no-one took notice of his candidacy as he was fighting for a tough seat against a sitting MP. Virtually everyone at Westminster was taken aback when his position as an MP was called into question by a single backbench Labour MP, Major Geoffrey Bing. Whenever the topic of MacManaway’s membership was raised in the House it caused great debate among members, with a number of Unionist MPs and even a certain Winston Churchill speaking in defence of MacManaway.
MacManaway would be put under the scrutiny of a Select Committee of the House. However, they could not or would not reach a decision and with some disquiet they would put forward the recommendation that urgent legislation should be created to clarify the law. The matter was then referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by The Lord President of the Council Herbert Morrison.
Their judgement identified a lacuna, or gap, in the existing legislation which would disqualify MacManaway. While the Irish Church Act 1869 did disestablish the Church of Ireland, there was no express provision in the Act permitting its clergymen to sit as MPs. Therefore, MacManaway was subject to the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 which debarred any person ‘ordained to the office of priest or deacon’ from sitting or voting in the House of Commons.
Their judgements were as follows:
Their Lordships answered the questions of law referred to them as follows. They will humbly advise his Majesty:
(1) That the provisions of the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801, so far as they apply to persons ordained to the office of priest or deacon, do not disable from sitting and voting in the House of Commons only persons ordained to those offices in the Church of England as by law established;
(2) That those provisions disable from so sitting and voting all persons ordained to the office of priest or deacon, whether by a Bishop of that Church in accordance with the form of making and ordaining priests and deacons according to the order of the Church of England, or by other forms of episcopal ordination
(3) That the Reverend James Godfrey MacManaway is disabled from sitting and voting in the House of Commons by reason of the fact that, having been ordained as a priest according to the use of the Church of Ireland, he has received episcopal ordination.
Professor Robert Blackburn, a specialist in electoral law, has questioned the MacManaway judgement:
The alternative interpretation that might have been taken of the words in the 1801 statue was that the disqualification related only to priests of the Established Church. This was clearly the purpose of prohibition two hundred years ago, when not only were Anglican clergy regarded as the fourth estate of the realm, but their religious posts were in grant of the Crown and they were therefore in a directly analogous position to other holders of public offices or places of profit under the Crown. Mr Chancellor Addington made this very point during the House of Commons debates during the passage of the 1801 Act. His view was that, ‘As a great part of the benefices of the clergy were in the immediate gift of the Crown, the inclusion of the clergy would tend to diminish the independence of the House by increasing the influence of the King’.
This factor could only apply to priests of the Established Church, because elsewhere the Crown did not make the appointments. Furthermore, if all episcopally ordained priests were meant to be disqualified, as the court rules, this clearly included all priests of the Roman Catholic Church, yet the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 was passed a few years later to cover their situation. This 1829 Act can only be explained if Parliament at the time intended in 1801 Act to apply only to the Established Anglican Church. Mr MacManaway was unfortunate, therefore, in losing the legal right to sit in the Commons, after his local electorate had given him the political right to do so.
The more appropriate interpretation of the 1801 Act, after the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869, was that ordained priests in the Church of Ireland were no longer disqualified. This would have been in tune with the general political feeling that ancient statues prohibiting priests or former priests standing for Parliament had become antiquated and anachronistic, that it should be the internal rules or ecclesiastical law of the churches concerned to regulate whether or not it is suitable for a priest to stand for Parliament, and if so, in what circumstances, and that any development in or parliamentary or judicial law should move in the direction of relaxing rather than increasing the extent of this statutory disqualification.
The judgment, also ignored later legislation that removed the bar on an ordained priest as long as he resigned his benefice, emoluments and pension.The Commons would back the judgement and resolved on 19th October 1950 that MacManaway was disqualified from sitting. However, the House of Commons cleared MacManaway of any liability for fines which he had incurred for voting in parliamentary divisions while ineligible. MacManaway did this on five occasions. He was deeply hurt by the judgement and he bitterly protested the decision at what he perceived as unjust anachronism which brought his political career to an abrupt end. MacManaway’s career in the House of Commons lasted all of 238 days.
He did not however contest the ensuing by-election and 23 year old Limavady Urban Chairman Thomas Teevan would be selected by the Unionist party to contest it, who said after his selection, ‘As the Loyalist candidate I shall call on the entire Loyalist community to rally round me as they rallied round Mr. MacManaway’. MacManaway for his part give his full support to Teevan, speaking at a Unionist meeting in Limavady he would state, “I am extremely glad that the people chosen to take up the torch which he had not been allowed to continue to hold was another Limavady man, Mr. Teevan”.
The local paper which reported for the meeting would also state that for MacManaway the tide had gone against him owing, he thought, to a very dirty trick, but he was an old solider and, like every old solider, he knew what it was to have to meet disaster as well as triumph. “The Socialist Government”, he commented, “may imagine they got rid of Godfrey MacManaway, but if God spares me they will see Godfrey MacManaway back once more”.
Sadly MacManaway would not be able to keep up that pledge. He would also have to resign his Stormont seat in light of the judgement passed at the House of Commons which would apply to the Northern Ireland Parliament as well. Tragedy would strike MacManaway shortly after leaving the Commons, his wife died in January 1951. His own health, which was never robust started to deteriorate after her passing. His eyesight began to fail so rapidly that he had practically lost the sight of one eye and was threatened with the loss of sight in the other. He could only walk with extreme difficulty and only then with the aid of a stick as a support and a guide because owing to his poor eyesight he could not walk on unfamiliar ground without it.
He was severely injured in a heavy fall when he tripped on the staircase while leaving the Ulster Club in Belfast on his way to address a meeting in support of his successor and Unionist candidate for West Belfast, Thomas Teevan. Teevan also had a connection to Limavady, where he was born, and also happened to be MacManaway’s Godson. He would die a few days later in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast at the age of only 53.
A verdict of accidental death was returned by the Belfast City Coroner. The coroner, Dr Lowe, stated at the inquest into MacManaway’s death that there had been a lot of conjecture as to what caused it. Lowe would state that the death was due to meningitis which he contracted following a fracture of the skull which had been caused by the fall. Lowe would also state that, “MacManaway would be greatly missed, and that he was a gifted man, and scarcely knew when to stop when he was doing something for a cause”. Going on further to state, “One of the causes in which he was interested was the cause of Ulster”.
Thomas Teevan became the youngest member of Parliament at Westminster since the time of William Pitt the Younger at the time of his election. At only 23 years old he became the Baby of the House upon taking his oath on 5th December 1950. He would defeat Jack Beattie in the by-election of November 1950 with a majority of 913 in an 80 per cent poll. It was a hotly contested election and Teevan was noted for being a vigorous speaker and for the force with which he expressed his views. He was well known for his belief in the British Empire and how it could still play a part in world affairs. His tenure lasted only 330 days when he lost the seat to Beattie by just 25 votes in the 1951 General Election. Aged only 24, he thus became the youngest person to leave the House of Commons in modern times.
He had started his political career in Limavady Urban Council where he was elected the Chairman at the age of 21, thus becoming the youngest Chairman of any local authority in Northern Ireland. Teevan had a brief but promising career as a barrister: he graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a First Class Honours Degree in Law and won an post-graduate scholarship where he also lectured part time. He would also during his student days at Queen’s University become the Chairman of the Law Society, President of the Literary and Scientific Society and Chairman of the Students’ Unionist Association.
Shortly before his death he had completed a thesis on the law of landlord with a view to obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He had been invited by the Oxford Union Society to debate the subject, “The Partition of Ireland”, with a Cabinet Minister from the Republic of Ireland. This had been scheduled for November 1954, which sadly was a month after his untimely death at the age of 27. Teevan a rising star was already tipped to be a future leader of the Ulster Unionist Party before his death and was a force to reckon with during his life.
In the aftermath of the MacManaway case another House of Commons Select Committee in 1951 examined the possibility of a change in the law. However, while the Committee acknowledged the anomalous and anachronistic nature of the ancient legislation, and taking soundings from a number of Christian denominations, the Committee recommended no specific changes to the law. The matter would be untouched for another 50 years until David Cairns, a former Roman Catholic priest, was selected to fight a safe Labour seat and a potential re-run of the MacManaway loomed. The Labour government moved quickly to introduce a bill removing almost all restrictions on clergy of whatever denomination from sitting in the House of Commons.
Rev. James Godfrey MacManaway is someone who lived an action filled life, from being a young solider to a Church of Ireland minister and then Unionist politician. A staunch old school Unionist, he was a fervent advocate of Northern Ireland’s ties with Britain. He reached the summit in Ulster politics by serving in two Parliaments but seen his career cut short something which he was deeply hurt about. His successor as West Belfast MP, Thomas Teevan, would also see his career cut short when he died at the age of 27.
Both were extraordinary men in their own way and both of them seen their political careers shortened by death. Dying within three years of each other, both are buried in Drumachose Church of Ireland in Limavady. It is remarkable to think that a quiet market town in Couty Londonderry is the place where two rabble rousing West Belfast MPs would find as their final resting spot.
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