Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Neo-devism: a Manifesto

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but I'm only publishing it now.

We live at a time when the winds of change seem to be blowing through the political landscape, when the landscape itself seems to be shifting. For my entire life, the main political debate on both sides of the Atlantic was between libertarianism (with some sprinkling of social, religious and cultural conservatism) on the right and liberalism on the left. Individualism was the fundamental dogma of both, and raising the standard of living was the basic goal of both.

Eamon De Valera
Today, that seems to be changing. Tradition, heritage, community and other intangibles seem to be live political issues again. I welcome the new dispensation, while acknowledging the dangers that accompany it in some cases.

This also seems to be an era of manifestos and new -isms, and I would like to add my own new -ism to the brew; Neo-Devism. (So spelt because the eye struggles with Neodevism.)

Neo-devism is a distinctively Irish social and cultural philosophy. "Dev" is, of course, Éamon De Valera, who dominated Irish politics in the twentieth century, and the entire philosophy is based on his much-derided St. Patrick's Day speech of 1943:

The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live. With the tidings that make such an Ireland possible, St. Patrick came to our ancestors fifteen hundred years ago promising happiness here no less than happiness hereafter. It was the pursuit of such an Ireland that later made our country worthy to be called the island of saints and scholars. It was the idea of such an Ireland - happy, vigorous, spiritual - that fired the imagination of our poets; that made successive generations of patriotic men give their lives to win religious and political liberty; and that will urge men in our own and future generations to die, if need be, so that these liberties may be preserved. 

Please note that Neo-Devism does not base itself on the political and social outlook of Eamon De Valera. It simply takes the above text as an inspiration. I might come up with a better name than Neo-Devism, anyway.

I also recognize that Neo-Devism is Cloud Cuckoo Land material at the moment, since Ireland would have to be a robustly Catholic nation again to make it possible. This is, to use the vogue expression, "blue sky thinking".

These are the distinctive features of Neo-Devism:

1) It is entirely democratic in its agenda and methods.
2) It is unabashedly Catholic in spirit, while guaranteeing freedom of religion to all faiths.
3) It is unabashedly Gaelic in its cultural aspect, while respecting a reasonable pluralism.
4) It is firmly traditionalist, while also seeking to foster genuine progress where it is appropriate.

Here are some of its particular elements:

1)  Religion shall be respected and supported by the State. All Catholic holy days of obligation, as well as other important days in the Catholic liturgical calendar, shall be public holidays. Every religious tradition that meets a threshold of adherents in Ireland will have official representation in the Senate and on selected Dáil committees. The state broadcaster will provide religious broadcasting for every faith, proportionate to its number of adherents, to a greatly expanded degree.

2) The protection of human life from conception to natural death will be a national priority, as will be the protection of home and family life. Marriage shall be between one man and one woman. The State will do everything in its power to enable households to flourish on one income.

3) The role of parents in raising and educating their children will be protected as far as possible, with minimal interference by the State.

4) While freedom of speech and assembly will be guaranteed, the State preserves the right to protect public morals and morale from culture, advertising, and entertainment which is indecent, blasphemous, nihilistic, or otherwise injurious. The National Lottery shall be abolished, and commercial gambling shall be prohibited. Local lotteries with prizes capped at reasonable levels shall replace the national lottery. The State shall not patronise avant-garde art of any sort.

5) The office of President shall be abolished and Ireland shall cease to be a republic. A committee shall be established to determine a suitable monarch for the Irish nation, whose descendants or closest relatives will remain the nation's monarchs in perpetuity. The monarchy will be mostly ceremonial in function. The re-introduction of historical earldoms will also be investigated; these will be purely honorary. An honours system to recognise outstanding contributions to national life shall be instigated.

6) Economic freedom shall be protected, but key utilities such as public transport, postal service, electricity, and gas will be fully nationalised.

7) Ireland shall leave the European Union. Neutrality will be more strictly observed. The Irish army's sole purpose shall be the defence of Ireland. Ireland will not join any other supranational organisations, and will take a highly conservative approach to the signing of international treaties and conventions.

8) The centres of all major cities will be fully pedestrianised.

9) The Gaelic Revival will become the official cultural policy of the State, extending to public art, sport, currency, stamps, language, advertising, commerce, architecture, and every other sphere of cultural life. "Gaelic" here is understood as a cultural rather than an ethnic term, and will be considered the common heritage of all the State's residents regardless of ancestry or history. Artistic freedom and cultural pluralism will be respected; the State will seek to promote a Gaelic idiom, which is open to a great degree of creative interpretation, through patronage and promotion rather than prescription, although some prescription may be practiced.

10) The State will make it a fundamental priority to preserve and restore Ireland's natural and cultural heritage; the Irish language, the Gaeltacht, Irish rural life, local tradition, the culture of the Irish Travelling community, Irish wildlife, and so forth. The State shall strive to stop and reverse urban sprawl.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Memoriam William McGonagall

William McGonagall (1825-1902) is often described as the worst poet of all time. He was a Scottish handloom weaver who felt the vocation to be a poet when he was in his fifties. His poetry is extremely naive and artless. He tended to write memorial poems and poems about disasters-- 'The Tay Bridge Disaster' is his most famous work. He was often mocked in his lifetime, even pelted with fruit, but he seemed completely unaware he was a figure of fun. He once walked to Buckingham Palace to recite before the Queen. (He was turned away.)

I wrote this poem in 2003. I had a lot of fellow feeling for McGonagall in my youth, when my burning ambition was to become a poet. First of all, I thought that anyone whose poetry was printed, sold and remembered was more more to be envied than the vast majority of humankind. Secondly, I felt that McGonagall's case was only an exaggeration of the case of any poet who did not have Nobel Prize or a poet-in-residence position to justify his or her versifying. As I've written before, I was wretchedly aware of the mockery often doled out to would-be poets, and in fact I greatly exaggerated it in my own mind. (McGonagall himself encountered kindness as well as cruelty. His friends often arranged sales of his poetry books to ward off his poverty.)

The poem is written in the style of McGonagall, whose lines were highly irregular in length, and who never worried much about scansion. I call him 'sober' because he was a temperance advocate.

The figure of the "holy fool" has always been a potent one in my imagination.

Perhaps McGonagall has had the last laugh. His poems have never gone out of print. I remembered this poem yesterday evening, when I happened across a reference to the great man, and decided I may as well blog it.

Oh, sober bard of the silvery Tay!
Alas, I am very sorry to say
That many great names of your age have passed away
While yours-- never great but in jest-- stays with us today.
Until relatively recently a Scottish pub bore your name
And second-hand bookshops attest to your rather dubious fame.
Does the mockery you were deaf to in life now sting you in death?
Or does McGonagall's ghost keep his holy innocence yet?

That ignorance, my bonny Wiliam, that not every smile showed a friend;
That innocence (just like your lines) that seemed all but powerless to end.
You only saw kindness in cruelty, only touched paper to praise;
What man of the times did you fail to lament at the end of his days?
No genius doubted his genius as little as you doubted yours
Though you drank to the dregs all the woes that the man of the muses endures.
You were poetry's bastard son; but even the truest of heirs
Have tasted the scorn that you tasted. It waits upon each man who dares
To mould words to beauty, forge phrases that speak of a soul to a soul;
Dear ghost, it is only the worthiest things that a cynic finds droll.
They have no mocking words for the river of newsprint that endlessly flows;
And why? Is a folly in verse to be cursed more than venom in prose?

The last words we leave to the world are some stanzas carved into a stone
And no man so poor and so beaten but harbours a dream of his own.
And every street corner, and coffee shop table might hear unimpressed
The flash of a phrase, that the ages might happily hold to their breast.
But nobody knows where to look, when you go about baring your soul,
For to feel is indecent, and silence a little like bladder control,
We like words that deepen the soul. It's not your crude lines that offend
But your hankering after the wondrous, William; your thirst to transcend.

As the boy with the gentle bright eyes must be beaten by sullen-eyed louts
His soul clouded over with fear, and his dreams choked with dreads and with doubts,
So the world tried to punish you, William, for keeping a hold of your dreams;
But their dull worldly wisdom can only make weary. Your folly redeems.

Does your spirit still pace those long paths, from the Tay to the Thames,
In search of your fugitive fortune, sack stuffed with your Poetic Gems?
Or has God lent grace to your yearning, and granted what man has denied;
To stand in the ranks of the poets, and sleep upon Shakespeare's right side?
Rest now from your wandering minstrel; a vison's a troublesome thing.
The prophet does not choose his truth, or the poet the song he must sing.
The heavens had marked you for folly, but better a fool than a knave;
And Westminster's ghosts lost a comrade, when you filled a pauper's mean grave.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Visual Memory

I was interested to come across this paragraph on the Wkipedia page for Aldous Huxley:

American popular science author Steven Johnson, in his book Mind Wide Open, quotes Huxley about his difficulties with visual encoding: "I am and, for as long as I can remember, I have always been a poor visualizer. Words, even the pregnant words of poets, do not evoke pictures in my mind. No hypnagogic visions greet me on the verge of sleep. When I recall something, the memory does not present itself to me as a vividly seen event or object. By an effort of the will, I can evoke a not very vivid image of what happened yesterday afternoon ..."

I suffer from this lack of a visual memory or a visual imagination to an extent that it's hard for other people to believe. I hate descriptive passages in novels, because pictures simply don't form in my mind. Sadly, descriptive passages are usually the passages other people like the most, quote the most, and discuss the most.

Very often, I imagine scenes in novels as happening in places I have been, even when it's a ludicrous setting for the scene.

I am unable to draw a detailed picture from memory, or to give a visual description from memory, of places where I have been thousands of times, or for hundreds of hours.

I frequently get lost, and even when it comes to places I can navigate with no difficulty whatsoever, I can rarely direct other people there. This is quite an impediment in the library, where giving directions (both to parts of the library and places around campus) are a major part of the job. Very often, if it's within the library, I need to bring the person there as I don't know how to direct them. If it's outside the library, I often simply have to ask a colleague to give the directions instead.

I have often been unable to remember the simplest details about something I have looked at innumerable times-- its colour, for instance.

I am rubbish at identifying flowers, trees, birds and cars.

I guess it's a small impediment as impediments go. But it's nice to hear it didn't hold Aldous Huxley back.

Thank you So Much

Many thanks to everybody for all the emails and comments. I really appreciated them. I had an emotional weekend. I wrote a long blog post explaining and then deleted it, thinking it was too moany. The world seemed a harsh, uncaring place last night, so it meant a lot that people cared enough to email, and made me feel so much better. Thank you!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Feeling Blue

I was up until five a.m. yesterday morning arguing with a whole room of people who believe religion is delusional, Catholicism is sexist, abortion is a human right, etc. etc. A floating audience of young people (teens and twenties) each started out by declaring they didn't believe in religion or God, and each eventually announced they believed in "something" spiritual.

At a bus stop today, I listened to two Romanian charismatic Christians discussing Jesus and God with three Irish people. They all agreed the Catholic Church was a swindle.

I met two friends in the Gresham Hotel today and both of them told me they believe in a higher power and that they admire Jesus, but they don't believe in Christianity for various reasons (dsagreements between the gospels was one).

I'm not feeling blue because of my failings as a Christian evangelist, or because of the widespread rejection of the Faith in our society, but for more mundane reasons. If anyone feels like sending me a chatty email at it would be appreciated.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

War Song of the Saracens by James McElroy Flecker

I found some lines from this poem drifting into my head today. I encountered it in one of the many editions of Palgrave's Golden Treasury when I was about seventeen or eighteen. At that time I was reading a little bit of poetry early every morning. It's very Chestertonian, although Chesterton would not have been writing from the point of view of the Saracens. Like the poetry of Rubert Brooke, it seems to come from an era when Europeans felt their culture had grown decadent and over-sophisticated, and looked wistfully at war, discipline and sacrifice. (A reaction I've never felt myself. There are plenty of things I don't like about modern society, but its relative peacefulness is not one of them.) Whatever the poet's motivations, and although we would certainly be less inclined to romanticise its subject today, it's a very fine poem.

We are they who come faster than fate:
We are they who ride early or late:
We storm at your ivory gate:
Pale Kings of the Sunset, beware!
Not on silk nor in samet we lie,
Not in curtained solemnity die
Among women who chatter and cry,
And children who mumble a prayer.
But we sleep by the ropes of the camp,
And we rise with a shout, and we tramp
With the sun or moon for a lamp,
And a spray of wind in our hair.

From the land where the elephants are,
To the forts of Merou and Balghar,
Our steel we have brought and our star
To shine on the ruins of Rum.
We have marched from the Indus to Spain,
And by God we will go there again;
We have stood on the shore of the plain
where the Waters of Destiny boom.
A mart of destruction we made
at Jalula where men were afraid,
For death was a difficult trade,
And the sword was a broker of doom;

And the Spear was a Desert Physician
who cured not a few of ambition,
And drave not a few to perdition
With medicine bitter and strong:
And the shield was a grief to the fool
And as bright as a desolate pool,
And as straight as the rock of Stamboul
When their cavalry thundered along:
For the coward was drowned with the brave
When our battle sheered up like a wave,
And the dead to the desert we gave,
and the glory to God in our song.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Nineteen Year Old Poem about the Irish Language

Here's a bit of an oddity. In a recent post, I wrote a little bit about the Irish language school I attended in my teens, and the conflicted attitude I felt towards the Irish language, Irish culture and Irish patriotism. Briefly summarised, this is how I felt (although I would have struggled to express it):

I was attracted towards Irish nationalism, if it was the full Gaelic Revival programme to revive Irish traditions, in a romantic, nostalgic, ruralist, and poetic mode. But the Irish nationalism I encountered around me wasn't romantic or poetic or reverential. It was bullish and progressive and urban and hi-tech and all the rest of it. Irish nationalists, and particularly Irish language enthusiasts, were quite emphatic about how up-to-date and progressive they were. They were interested in the future, not the past. They weren't "reactionary" or backward-looking, no siree! They were open to punk rock, sexual liberation, drugs, modern art, anti-clericalism, and all that jazz. The Pogues are probably the best exemplars of this attitude.

It didn't make sense to me. Why try to hold onto anything if you were going to take progress as your watchword, if you weren't going to at least be favourable towards old and venerable things? Obviously we can't live in the past, but can't we at least honour the past and treat it with reverence? How does it make any sense to cherish selected traditions while gleefully bashing others? If you're going to hitch your wagon to the notion of permanent revolution, why on earth would you expect your favourite institutions to get an exemption?

Progressive nationalism still baffles me. I recently read that the pioneering Welsh nationalist, Saunders Lewis, insisted (against many of his fellow Welsh nationalists) that nationalism had to be conservative. Of course. Isn't it obvious? And yet most Irish nationalists today are left-wing and progressive.

I mentioned that I wrote some poems expressing something of this attitude. I wrote at least two; I've lost one, but one (which I wrote in my college years) was published in The DIT Examiner and I still have it. I include a photograph. It was published in April 1998. More than nineteen years ago now! I was twenty years old. I think it's pretty accomplished for a twenty year old.

As will be obvious from the poem itself, I took a very dim few of business-people at this point. I pretty much viewed them as criminals and public enemies. I hated them. I wrote another poem about two business-men looking at a public park and talking about the office blocks they could build on it. Any appeal to "market forces", in my view, was nothing other than naked greed. I had an apocalyptic vision of a corporatist future where even the streets were privatised and human life was commercialised to the utmost degree. And this despite the fact that I was always a cultural conservative and strongly anti-Marxist.

Of course, this all seems rather embarrassing to me now. Although I've never become a zealot for the untrammelled free market, I've come to agree with Peter Hitchens that "capitalism" is simply a word used by people who think you can change human nature. Where I once believed that commerce and consumerism bulldozes over tradition, I no longer think this is necessarily the case. I've come to think that commerce, like chips, goes with everything. "Capitalism" doesn't have an ideology. It's just lots of different people trying to make a buck (like most of the rest of us).

This poem was obviously sparked when I read some article about a campaign for greater use of the Irish language in business (which seems like an entirely laudable objective to me now). Note the positive reference to priests, back at a time when I didn't practice any religion (and wouldn't for many, many years). "Gaeilgeoir" is pronounced "gwale-gore" and means "Irish language speaker", and usually, "Irish language advocate" as well. "Ochone!" is an Irish expression of lamentation, pronounced "ock-own!. The Fenians were an Irish nationalist movement in the nineteenth century and is generically used to mean an Irish nationalist.

Reading it nineteen years later, I think my instincts were healthy but my interpretation of them was wrong. I was right in celebrating "the poet, priest, and bar-stool Fenian", and insisting that there was no point in trying to preserve or revive a tradition if you didn't have a traditionalist mentality. I was right to champion romanticism and sentimentality. But I was wrong to take business and commerce as the enemy.

As for "the eternal disposessed", this was mostly my romantic attachment to the underdog and the outsider. I had this idea that one should always be on the side of the underdog and the outsider. This was long before I read Chesterton and started to think more clearly. I still feel a chivalrous regard for the underdog and the outsider, but I now realize that, if you believe in something, you have to support it even when it's winning. Abandoning your cause at the moment of victory is no better than abandoning it at the moment of defeat. Christ accepted the cross and the crown of thorns; he also accepted the palms and the jar of perfume.

I contributed poetry to the student newspaper for much of my student years. (I'm glad I did, and that I still have many of them.) The editor was more than happy to accept them, since few people contributed to the college newspaper. We would have rather cosy chats in his office every month. He was an Irish language speaker himself, and he now presents a radio show on an Irish language station. Perhaps this is why I wrote it in the first place, since I had precious little interest in the Irish language at this time. (My threat to "turn my face away from it" in the last verse is rather amusing to me now. I could hardly have turned my face away from it any more than I had already.)

I liked it better, when the businessman
Used other tongues to follow his vile quest;
When Irish-speaking had its own quaint clan
Who Trade saw as pariahs of the West;
The poet, priest, the bar-stool Fenian,
And all of the eternal dispossessed.

"Our mother tongue is not mere propaganda!",
The modern Gaeilgeoir cries, fist in the air.
"We left that lefty stuff behind with granda!".
Well, let him leave it; but how does he square
His task of linguistic Save-the-Panda
With business's crusade of laissez faire?

Why sell the yuppy Gaelic, when his creed
Is not to buy what can't be quickly sold?
Why think the hearts of profiteers will bleed
For the unwanted, profitless and old?
The market first! The market must be freed!
If Gaeilge PLC folds, let it fold!

But if it sells its soul, I'll turn my face
Away from it, without one short ochone!
A tongue untainted by the market-place
That lures trade's troops to be Hibernophone
And sells out from the poor, the only race
That everyone is eager to disown.