Ex-Priest Slattery and his wife Mary Elizabeth McCabe in Memphis.

The Slatterys: ‘Creating chaos in Scotland and Wales

Read part one of this series.

In our second part on the Slatterys, we continue the story of the ex-priest and the bogus nun who claimed a Cavan connection.

Joseph Slattery, was born in Limerick on March 6, 1857, and educated at the Limerick seminary and later at St Patrick’s College, Thurles. However, his intemperance as a priest created problems, and Cardinal McCabe gave him a stern warning. But. It was Archbishop Walsh who had the final word before dismissing Slattery from the priesthood. Joseph emigrated from Ireland in 1887 before turning-up next at a theological seminary as a student for the Baptist ministry in Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. His training was paid for or by the Baptist Education Society, and here he portrayed himself as a former priest who now renounced the Church of Rome and wrote a paper in which he said he was educated in Maynooth.

Unluckily, for him, a Catholic priest, the Rev J.V. McDonnell, of Hamilton, wrote to Archbishop Walsh and got the full story. Quite simply, Slattery never attended Maynooth. McDonnell promptly sent the letter received from the Irish Archbishop directly to the Colgate University and as a result Slattery got expelled. Then he tried to worm his way into the favours of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia and was expelled from the ‘Philadelphia Conference’.

Mary Elizabeth McCabe, it is said, travelled from Ireland in March 1885 to America, where she ‘supposedly’ became a Protestant, then met and married her accomplice, Joseph Slattery; it was a con-artists match made in heaven. However, Mary Elizabeth’s Irish origins are a little sketchier and we may never know where exactly she came from. However, what we do know, is that the law was never too far away when the Slatterys were in town.

On February 16, 1898, the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph reported on a case of ‘considerable interest’ to ‘Roman Catholics’ that came before the police courts in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the Slattery pair were charged with selling corrupting literature, with one book in particular causing hurt called ‘The Devil’s prayer book’. The courtroom was packed for the hearing and the judge ordered every copy of it to be destroyed. The case was adjourned to give them time to carry out the order. But, the conniving husband and wife continued to sell the same vile books and pamphlets as soon as they moved on to other towns. Previously, Mr Slattery had been arrested in Boston, Massachusetts for dealing in ‘immoral and obscene literature’.

Their tour of Scotland was supported and promoted by staunch organisation called Protestant Alliance who’s puffed up description of the pair records that the bogus nun was educated in Rome, however, she never mentions being educated or living in Rome in her autobiography.

During winter, on November 16, 1898, the Western Mail reported on ex-priest Slattery’s speeches at St Andrews Hall, in Cardiff, Wales, where he denounced mixed marriages, and celibacy in the church, in what was a general condemnation of his former beliefs. One spectator roared ‘lie’ to which Joseph Slattery responded, ‘put that man out!’ As happened at the Slattery lectures, physical force ensued before the man was thrown out. Soon a growing chorus of boos and shouting echoed about the room as the ex-priest shouted for the police and the ‘protestants’ to help throw-out the people who booed him. Slattery’s roars were ‘ineffective’ against such a large body of people noted the Western Mail.

The former priest got down from the stage and walked to the gallery where the commotion was worst. A melee amongst all persuasions of Christians and the police took place. Joseph Slattery’s preaching, created scenes of ‘great excitement’ which continued for some time in the hall. He eventually scrambled back to the stage having been relieved of his ‘priestly’ collar and waistcoat, taken by the crowd as ‘trophies of war’.

He added salt to the wound he’d opened, telling the crowd to now turn to ‘evangelical Christianity’ and ‘an open Bible’, before escaping as quickly as he could out the back door to Mary Street, where another battle had broken out that lasted for two hours and with great difficulty, the police eventually calmed the turmoil unleashed.

A woman correspondent from the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph was ordered by her editor to attend Mr Slattery’s ‘women only’ show, even though the journalist initially said she rejected ‘religious or would be religious discussions’ held publicly. Mary Slattery’s performance took place in St Andrew’s Hall, Cardiff, on a Tuesday.

The reporter felt intimidated by the strong show of force as burly policeman lined the stairwell. They were put in place to throw out disruptive women. The paper said that Mr Slattery spoke in a strong American-Hibernian accent, and dressed in black slashes of emerald green, a complement to her native country. Someone in the audience shouted, ‘you were never a nun’, to which Mr Slattery told the women that Cardiff’s protestants ‘badly needed’ home rule.

Having paid an admission fee the Welsh women were encouraged to buy the ‘literature’ on sale. Afterwards, departing the hall to again re-join the men waiting on the footpath across the street. A few riotous folks who attended these bigoted warblings found themselves in court, with one man receiving a fine of five shillings, or if he defaulted, he’d get seven days in jail.

The unfrocked priest and his companion’s main objective was financial greed, noted The New Zealand Tablet on February 1, 1900, reporting on their tour of New Zealand, which by stirring up vitriol had made a clear profit of £800 for them in a three-week period working the City of Melbourne. The Tablet ended its article with an appropriate quote from Dryden: ‘For bold knaves thrive without a grain of sense, But good men starve for one of impudence’.