Dominic Hackett, known to the family as Dom, qualified as a pharmaceutical chemist in 1890 and later emigrated to the United States where he became very involved in labour affairs. He was a close friend of Thomas MacDonagh. Many of his letters are among the MacDonagh papers in the National Library of Ireland. I am indebted to our local historian Ann Murtagh for much of this information.
Two other brothers joined the British Army – Jack and Bat or Bartholomew. They both fought in World War I following their Clongowes days. A story from Clongowes, no doubt apocryphal, has a senior member of staff showing an Irish nationalist through the corridors which displayed pictures of past pupils who became Governors General, Naval Commanders and top military men of the British Empire. When asked if they had any real Irish around the college, the reply was “Oh yes, we have quite a big domestic staff”. At least, the story reflects the then prevalent attitude.
After his Army days, Jack travelled extensively and that included China. He returned to Dublin and became secretary of the Royal Dublin Golf Club. He frequently wrote articles for the Irish Times.
Bat Hackett fought with the British Army in World War 1. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at the Battle of Loos in 1915. He followed his father’s calling and became a doctor. Like so many others he was at Fairyhouse Horse Races on Easter Monday 1916 when the Rebellion broke out in Dublin. He reported to the Dublin Fusilier unit and treated the wounded. As doctor to Mountjoy prison he had the unpleasant duty of certifying as dead the executed leaders of the rebellion, many of whom were his brothers’ friends. He had the same role after the hanging of the 18 year old Kevin Barry.
Having touched on the military members of the Hacketts , I now turn to the church militant one, Fr William. Clongowes educated, the teaching trumped the abominable treatment of his family in Kilkenny by the same church. Ignatious Loyola’s “give me the boy” etc is borne out. Staunchly nationalist however, he was proud to have shared a train journey to Naas with Yeats’ hero John O’Leary. He trained for the priesthood in a seminary in Tullamore. Part of the training was a three year study of philosophy in France and Holland. A Jesuit cannot be ordained before thirty three years and therefore has a long period of study.
After ordination William was sent to Limerick where he became a friend of the Daly family. One of the family was Ned Daly executed by the British in 1916 for his role in the rebellion. The two local bishops, O’Dwyer of Limerick and Fogarty of Killaloe were staunchly nationalist, unlike most of their confreres. William organised a sort of cadet corps of youths in Limerick giving them a military type training. This was the era of the Volunteers where it was common to see arms carried openly.
William was soon back as a teacher in his old Alma Mater Clongowes. From there he regularly cycled across the Wicklow mountains to the home of the Bartons and Childers families both very active in Nationalist movements. In the War of Independence. William, in a pastoral role, visited many Irish Volunteers in prison prior to their execution by the British such as Thomas Whelan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Frank Flood, Tom Ryan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Maher and Edmond Foley.
When the Truce came and the later Dail Debate on the Treaty, he gained access to the Dail chamber as an unofficial “Chaplain to the Dail”. While William knew and was friendly with people on both sides of the debate it seems fairly clear that he leaned more towards the Republican side rather than that of the Free State. It is probable that Michael Collins’ last letter was to Fr William Hackett. He opens it with “A athair a chara” – Father and friend. It is the evening before Collins’ assassination and he is apologising for not having met the priest as requested due to an administrative mix up. It would appear, like Collins, William was now in Cork. He may have been interested in being an intermediary as De Valera was also in the vicinity at the time. Any other interpretation is too terrible to contemplate.
His Jesuit Order was less than pleased with his political involvement and his being known to have visited Erskine Childers at a republican camp at Glenveagh Co. Donegal. Within a week after Collins’ death the “turbulent priest” was sent by his order to Australia. There he became a particular friend of that other staunch Irish nationalist Archbishop Mannix. They used spend the Summer months together which was deemed a great honour for William although he did say no one else wants the particular honour. He also became a friend of Thomas O’Loughlin, who had funded the building of St John the Evangelist church in Kilkenny. For William he funded a fine library which De Valera visited in the late 1940s on one of his rare terms in opposition in the Dail.
Mrs Childers wrote to him during the Civil War to tell him of the execution of her husband and William’s friend Erskine. His order in Australia later insisted that all correspondence between them be examined by the Jesuit authorities.
William befriended Dr Niall’s family. A daughter of the house, Brenda, was fond of him and when she got access to Doug Boyd’s documents decided to write “The Riddle of Father Hackett”. He had been killed by a car when crossing the road at age eighty-two in 1951.
One would have to search long and hard to find a family in Ireland with such a multi faceted dimension as the Hackett family. So far this “blow in” has not found any greater family in Kilkenny.