McRedmond, Louis (1932–2011), journalist, writer, broadcaster and religious commentator, was born Luke John McRedmond on 20 May 1932 in Mitchell Street, Tipperary town, the only child of John McRedmond, a bank cashier, of Upper Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and his wife Anne (née Kirby), formerly an actress in the Abbey Theatre. Always known as Louis, he grew up in Mitchelstown, where his father became manager of the town's Bank of Ireland branch. He attended the local CBS before boarding at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, from 1945. Entering UCD in 1950, he studied law, and after matriculating at King's Inns in 1951 was called to the bar in 1954. He also took a UCD arts course, graduating with a BA in modern history and economics (1953) and an MA in modern history (1954), and acquired the Fine Gael associations customary for someone with his social, educational and professional backgrounds.
Handicapped by being deaf in one ear, he struggled to attract briefs, and supplemented his income by tutoring UCD history students and reviewing books for the Irish Independent. He joined the Independent as a sub-editor in 1956 and ceased practising law around 1960 to concentrate on injecting greater sophistication into the paper's leaders, features and book reviews as leader-writer (from 1959) and chief leader-writer and literary editor (from 1962). Through his involvement in the Institute of Journalists, he formed contacts across Irish and British journalism, and begin lecturing and publishing articles on the role of journalists in society in the early 1960s. In 1957 he married his UCD contemporary Maeve Gallagher of Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. They had two sons and two daughters, and later settled in Dundrum, Dublin.
Tested by Irish catholicism's hidebound censoriousness, his religious faith was renewed by Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in terris (1963), which he hailed for aligning the church with an age driven by the idea of individual freedom. (His MA thesis had treated the unsuccessful attempts by nineteenth-century French liberal catholics to reconcile their politics with their loyalty to an authoritarian papacy.) In autumn 1965 his interest in catholicism's aggiornamento ('a bringing up to date') brought him to Rome where he covered the final session of the second Vatican council for the Independent. Inexperienced in reporting, and compelled to grapple with onerous deadlines and arcane theology, he relished nonetheless the antique splendour, backstairs intrigue and intellectual effervescence of the occasion, forming intense friendships debating doctrine with clergy and journalists in cafés, restaurants and bars.
The heady atmosphere encouraged McRedmond and the other Irish correspondents to depart from their long-established policy concerning the catholic church (the Irish Times excepted) of reprinting ecclesiastical statements without comment. Combining straight reportage, cerebral analysis, pious reflection and lighter personal observations, his acclaimed dispatches conveyed his euphoria at the liberal resolutions adopted during the council's final session and conviction that a higher power was guiding the fallible and disputatious participants towards prophetic outcomes. In 1966 this experience produced a book, The council reconsidered, wherein he deployed his gracefully erudite and persuasively lucid prose to stress the importance of embracing not just the changes formally promulgated, but also a wider conciliar spirit, entailing more autonomy for national churches, a meaningful role for the laity, and an ecumenism rooted in a respectful desire for Christian unity rather than mere politeness. He was especially enthusiastic about the council's more ennobling interpretation of conjugal love and apparent implicit endorsement of artificial birth control.
Believing that the new dispensation obliged the newly empowered, yet ill-informed, Irish laity to develop a deeper understanding of their faith, he urged the bishops to avail of the media for communicating with a flock variously intrigued, baffled and troubled by the post-conciliar religious ferment. This was optimistic, given the passivity of the laity and the paternalism and secretiveness of a hierarchy, which, moreover, resented losing control of the religious narrative to the self-made media theologians arising from Vatican II. Although the bishops tolerated McRedmond as the least objectionable of his ilk, Bishop Michael Browne (qv) of Galway had him in mind when he carped publicly about journalists who thought they had a hotline to the Holy Spirit.
McRedmond returned to Rome to cover the synod of bishops in 1967 and 1969, and published regularly in the Independent and highbrow periodicals on the aggiornamento's uncertain progress. Promoted the Independent's assistant editor (1967) and editor (1968), he sought to curtail the gains made by the Irish Times among university graduates by making the Independent less deferential towards the catholic church and by further distancing it from Fine Gael. Accordingly, the Independent publicised the opposition among the catholic clergy and laity to the Humanae vitae encyclical of Pope Paul VI (July 1968), which reaffirmed the prohibition on artificial birth control, and the Dublin clergy's dismay at the conservatism of the liturgical directives issued in spring 1969 by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (qv).
A steady, high-minded editor, McRedmond lacked the flair required for a medium increasingly shaped by the immediacy of television. In challenging the Irish Times in terms of liberalism and analytical depth, he was constrained by the Independent's conservative readership, by changes in Independent Newspapers' newsroom favouring the sensationalist Evening Herald, and by management's insistence on prioritising advertising over editorial space. Following policy disagreements with management and a moderate decline in his newspaper's circulation, McRedmond was abruptly sacked in late December 1969 by a board convinced that the Independent needed a more populist tone. The Irish media widely condemned this decision, and McRedmond had to dissuade his former staff from striking in protest.
Declining his old job as chief leader-writer, McRedmond attributed his ousting to overweening commercialism, and extracted improved severance terms following legal action. The financial worries he experienced attendant to a young family and a newly purchased home were eased when Irish Times editor Douglas Gageby (qv) commissioned him on a freelance basis, until he found employment in September 1970 as the first director of the pioneering journalism course at Rathmines College of Commerce. In August 1973 he became RTÉ's head of information and publications, having previously participated in and performed research for RTÉ broadcasts. Before and during his time in RTÉ, he publicly criticised the government's section 31 directive for hindering the station's coverage of the Northern Ireland troubles.
Enjoying influence with senior management, he led RTÉ's mid-1970s campaign against the proposal by the minister for posts and telegraphs, Conor Cruise O'Brien (qv), for using a projected second television channel to retransmit BBC1. In summer 1975, McRedmond and O'Brien debated this issue at public meetings throughout those parts of the country, comprising roughly half the state's population, incapable of picking up British television transmissions by aerial. McRedmond's advocacy was crucial to the success of RTÉ's counter-proposal for a second RTÉ-controlled channel that would transmit mainly British programmes.
Required to deal with irate members of the public as the new channel proved a disappointment, and as RTÉ's output and ratings suffered from limited resources and internal disarray, he propagated increasingly threadbare justifications of RTÉ's broadcasting monopoly and programme-making. In February 1986 he gladly took voluntary redundancy following changes to RTÉ's management structure that undermined his authority. Thereafter, he worked as a freelance writer and as an editor for the Gill and Macmillan publishing house, while also lecturing on journalism at DCU and for one term per year on broadcasting ethics at the International Academy of Broadcasting, Montreux, Switzerland.
He had continued contributing on religious affairs to newspapers and periodicals, most notably as Ireland correspondent (1966–95) for Britain's leading catholic journal, the Tablet, and warned in the early 1970s that high mass attendances camouflaged the widespread religious apathy generated by the Irish church's failure to fulfil the promise of Vatican II. In 1972 he was a member of the Irish Theological Association working group that advised removing the discriminatory catholic values embedded in the Irish law and constitution. Irritated by conservatives' tendency to conflate liberalism with secularism, he was disturbed by the growing permissiveness and superficiality of western society, and regarded secular humanism as an inadequate substitute for Christianity. As the animosity between the liberal media and the church intensified in the mid 1970s, his attempts at evenhandedness drew the scorn of his fellow journalists.
The reversal of the long-stalled conciliar reform movement following Pope John Paul II's accession in 1978 provoked McRedmond into sharper criticisms, particularly regarding the policy of appointing conservative bishops loyal to Rome in disregard of the local clergy's wishes. Further dismayed by the Irish hierarchy's determination to preserve its control of the schools and the legal prohibitions against divorce and the free sale of contraceptives, he maintained that the Irish constitution's catholic ethos represented the tyranny of the majority and was contrary to Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae. He also unconvincingly defended the media from populist accusations of godless metropolitan elitism and foresaw the short-lived nature of the 1980s resurgence in catholic triumphalism.
Relying on printed primary sources, in 1990 he published a book, Thrown among strangers, on the founding of a catholic university in 1850s Dublin by John Henry Newman (qv). Delighting in and long inspired by Newman's arguments for a liberal education and a theologically sophisticated laity, and elaborating upon doctrine in accordance with the fresh perspective conferred by historical progress, McRedmond also outlined how Ireland's relatively easygoing folk catholicism was then being succeeded by a dogmatic clericalism. He often romanticised pre-famine Irish catholicism as precociously liberal, while stressing that Irish catholicism as generally understood was an imported confection of Roman legalism, French devotionalism and English sexual puritanism dating to the mid-nineteenth century.
Based on original research, and the first comprehensive study of its kind, his next book, To the greater glory: a history of the Irish Jesuits (1991), manifests his gratitude towards the order for a happy education in Clongowes Wood, and was well received by professional historians. The Jesuits' formative influence on McRedmond is borne out by his description of their finest qualities: 'a slightly distant dignity, solid scholarship, assurance in controversy with precision of argument and clarity of speech; concern to advance the faith and to serve with controlled passion the cause of justice' (p. 114). He also edited the memoirs of former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (qv), and drew on his wide reading to compile Modern Irish lives: dictionary of 20th-century Irish biography (1996), a reference work providing brief biographies of 1,400 leading figures, living and dead.
McRedmond died on 16 January 2011 in the Blackrock Hospice, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Mount Venus cemetery, Rockbrook, Co. Dublin. His papers are held in DCU. His son David became chief executive of TV3 and An Post. McRedmond was a loyal critic of his church, whose faith was sustained by his innate, historically grounded conservatism and upbringing in a society steeped in sanctity, which imparted an enchanted sensibility abidingly evoked by one hopeful autumn in Rome.