Farrell, Monica (1892–1982), protestant evangelist, was born in Dublin in 1892, one of the younger children in a family of seven. Her mother died when she was seven and she was brought up by an older sister who worked as a seamstress. She reacted to her bereavement and physical ill-health by passionate religious devotion. Two brothers were priests and two sisters became nuns. Farrell attended a convent boarding school in her early teens, later transferring to the Central Model School, Marlborough St., Dublin. According to Farrell, this transfer was motivated by passionate adolescent desire to confront protestant pupils with catholicism; instead, her school arguments led her to disbelief in catholicism and adherence to protestantism. For some time Farrell secretly attended presbyterian services, concealing her change of religion from her family. Her married brother expelled her from the house when her deception was discovered.
Farrell took refuge with the Irish church missions, run by the Church of Ireland, and taught in their schools before going to England. Here she became well-known as an anti-catholic street speaker; her claims that catholicism was a vast money-making racket in which a consciously dishonest clergy swindled a dimwitted laity understandably aroused heated and sometimes violent opposition from catholics. Some of these experiences are recalled in Laughing with God (1957).
Farrell moved to Australia in 1937 at the invitation of an anglican missionary group, the Builders. She founded her own independent fundamentalist ‘Light and truth crusade’ in 1947 and her activities reflected the exportation of Ireland's sectarian divisions to Australia by catholic and protestant emigrants and activists such as T. C. Hammond (qv). Her pamphlet Ravening wolves (1949), containing graphic descriptions of forced conversions to catholicism and massacres of orthodox Serbs by the Croatian nationalist Ustasha movement during the second world war, declared: ‘Ustashi is another word for Catholic Action.’ This was a transparent reference to the controversial political role of the Australian Catholic Action movement sponsored by Archbishop Daniel Mannix (qv).
Farrell began a worldwide speaking tour on the issue of Magdalen laundries in 1947 after encountering a former magdalen who had escaped from a convent in Tempe, New South Wales. These institutions for ‘fallen women’ were a longstanding target of protestant campaigners, who saw them as exemplifying the evils of religious life and competing unfairly with lay and non-catholic laundries. The 1902 split in the Orange order, which led to the formation of the independent Orange order, was partly triggered by accusations that the official unionist leadership had been insufficiently zealous in pressing for restrictions on convent laundries. Protestant controversialists, such as the promoters of the dubious Confessions of Maria Monk, tended to collapse the distinction between nuns and penitents. The extent to which the magdalens were kept against their will was also a bone of sectarian contention.
As part of her campaign, Farrell revisited Ireland in 1950 and 1951. She addressed numerous meetings in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the National Union of Protestants on such topics as ‘Women in chains – Rome's convent laundries’, provoking threats of violence. The campaign involved the young Ian Paisley (qv), who cited Farrell as a significant influence throughout his career. Paisley's encouragement of fundamentalist secession from the Irish presbyterian church led mainstream presbyterians to distance themselves from the later stages of Farrell's campaign.
She took advantage of this visit to re-establish contact with her family, who showed some friendliness towards her and she later claimed to have converted some of her siblings, though it is not clear how far these were public conversions as distinct from Farrell's wishful thinking. She published an autobiographical pamphlet, From Rome to Christ (1951), which went through six editions, viewing rising anti-clericalism after the mother and child scheme as a hopeful sign, and predicting that Ireland must eventually become protestant or communist. She published other apologetic pamphlets, including, A ready answer: the evils of mixed marriages, and Why am I a protestant, daddy?
During her career Farrell addressed thousands of meetings in Britain, Australasia, North America, and continental Europe. She operated an independent ministry from her home in Glebe, New South Wales, until her death in 1982 and her pamphlets circulated among fundamentalists after her death.
Farrell was an archetypal example of the convert whose hostility to their former beliefs is in direct proportion to their previous fervour. Her religious conversion involved uncritical absorption of the political prejudices of her new co-religionists. Her autobiography denounces British withdrawal from southern Ireland as a ‘weak-kneed betrayal’ of southern loyalists, and she accuses Irish catholic immigrants to Scotland of taking jobs from protestant Scots by ‘unfair’ competition. Like her nineteenth-century counterparts, such as William Murphy (qv) (d.1872), she engaged in sensationalism and deepened sectarian divisions. Nonetheless, she publicised serious issues that were excluded from more respectable channels by tact or influence. By the end of the twentieth century the catholic church in Ireland became painfully aware of the long-term consequences of its earlier refusal to entertain criticisms of the church's relationship to the Ustasha and the activities of Magdalen laundries.