Born on 16 August 1939, one of three children. He studied for the priesthood at St Patrick's Maynooth and in Rome. He was ordained on 22 February 1964 in Rome by Cardinal Traglia and taught at St Patrick's College, Cavan from 1967 to 1980, when he was called to Rome to be Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Irish College until 1987 and then Rector until 1993. He then returned to Ireland to be a parish priest.
Pope John Paul II appointed him Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh on 13 December 1994. He was consecrated on 19 February 1995 by Cardinal Daly. He succeeded to full governance of the Archdiocese and became Primate of All Ireland on 1 October 1996. He is Chairman of the Irish Bishops' Conference.
Pope Benedict XVI made him a Cardinal on 24 November 2007.