Irish Papist

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Interesting Links About Amoris Laetita from Edward Feser.


The fact that the Maltese bishops ae now effectively sanctioning adultery makes it clear, I think, that clarification is necessary.

I read the document attentively and with docility, and indeed (as one of the four cardinals who issued the duba said) the problem lies not in the text of the document itself, but in the way it has been interpreted.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What I Believe In

I had the idea today to include a "featured post" permanently on my sidebar, in order to explain in reasonable detail what I believe in, and what I care about. I've noticed that this is always the thing I look for when I visit blogs myself, so it seems only courteous to include one here.

First and last, I am a Catholic. I was born and baptised a Catholic, and raised in a Catholic home, but it was only in my thirties that I came to accept the faith intellectually, and to practice it. Before that I was somewhere between atheism and agnosticism.I believe all that the Church authoritatively teaches, from the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the evil of contraception.

I have no problem calling myself a conservative Catholic. (Labels are useful.) I believe the Catholic Chuch should be more assertive, not less so. I'm dismayed by the prevalence of left-wing politics and political correctness even amongst orthodox Catholics, from laymen to bishops. However, I also believe that all my fellow Catholics are my brothers and sisters, and I listen with respect to the pastors God has ordained me. I agree with Lord Acton that "Communion with Rome is dearer than life". Reading the history of the Catholic Church fills me with pride, not shame. My faith is everything to me.

Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, has called for "a humble and listening Church." With all due respect to His Grace, I believe that the Church has been too "humble and listening" in recent decades, greatly to its detriment and to the detriment of society in general. I do not believe that what today's men and women need most from the Church is that it should "walk with them", listen to them, or validate them. They can get that from any talk show host, New Age guru, or therapist. I believe that today's men and women need to Church to speak the truth of Christ to them, in a loving but firm way. The idea that the Church is suffering from excessive rigourism seems frankly bizarre to me. I believe that mainstream society will respect the Church more if it proclaims its message more confidently and less apologetically.

Nor do I have any problem calling myself a conservative in general. The particular conservatism I embrace is traditionalist conservatism. I have not read a great deal of Edmund Burke, but I think I can call myself a Burkean conservative. I cherish the web of traditions that society has woven over generations and centuries, and it grieves my heart to see it injured or torn down. I do not consider "backward-looking" to be an insult. I believe a country that ceases to cherish its history and traditions has lost its soul and faces inevitable alienation.

Emund Burke. I hear he's very good.
You will encounter the word "tradition" over and over again on this blog. I think the importance of tradition to the human spirit can hardly be exaggerated. By this I mean all traditions; national traditions, local traditions, family traditions, artistic traditions, commercial traditions, and every other kind. Tradition, paradoxically, gives us both a sense of home, and a horizon-- it opens up a horizon through time and in the realm of imagination.

I also cherish the idea of difference-- the difference between national and regional cultures, the difference between men and women, the difference between children and adults, the difference between private and public, and so on. The imagination of our age is one that is fired by the obliteration of boundaries, the fusion of opposites, the deconstruction of stable identities. I find that very dull. I think insularism is much more exciting than multiculturalism, provincialism much more exciting than cosmopolitanism, masculinity and femininity much more exciting than gender-bending, and so on.

I am an Irish nationalist. My Irish nationalism is not really concerned with the 'national question' of whether Northern Ireland remains part of the UK or the Republic of Ireland. I grew up with the horrors of The Troubles, and have no desire to see them re-ignited. My Irish nationalism is, rather, cultural and social in nature. I cherish the ideals of the Gaelic Revival, perhaps best expressed in Douglas Hyde's 1892 lecture "The Necessity of De-Anglicizing Ireland." (Not that I am anti-English. I love England and Englishness. I am as eager to see England embrace its Englishness as I am to see Ireland embrace its Irishness.)

This means I am a revivalist, as well as a conservative. The Gaelic Revival achieved a great deal, especially in the field of reviving native sports and music. However, the Irish people abandoned it a few decades after independence for no better reason (in my opinion) than fickleness, and an infatuation with international pop culture as seen on TV.

After decades of being annoyed by Irish language enthusiasts, I have come to agree with them that the revival of the Irish language is by far and away the most important element of Irish national revival. "Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam"-- a country without a language is a country without a soul. Although I attended an Irish language school (for which I have come to be immensely grateful to my parents), I never attained fluency. In the last year or so I have made a huge effort to read more Irish and to speak in Irish where possible. My beloved wife Michelle, an American, encouraged me in this.

I have little patience for the pedants who question the 'authenticity' of the Gaelic Revival's vision of Gaelicness. Creativity and invention play a part in revival. I have no problem with "creative anachronism". It's the Gaelic sublime which matters, not the reconstruction of some particular way of life. Gaelic Ireland is a land of the imagination.

I am strongly opposed to globalization, and I would like to see every country in the world protect its sovereignty, borders and national identity. I would like to see the European Union dissolve. In America, I sympathise with "states' righters"'. The day the UK voted to leave the EU was one of the happiest days of my life. None of this means that I am opposed to international cooperation and friendship, reasonable migration, and humanitarian assitance. I want a world of nations, not a global village.

Nigel Farage, hero

I am a democrat. Not because I think the majority are always right, but because I agree with Churchill that democracy is the worst system that has ever been devised, apart from all the others. The tyranny of the majority can be bad, but I can't think of any case where it's been as bad as the tyranny of a Stalin or Hitler or Elizabeth the First. Not only this, but I think that elections and politics are an important part of forging a national consciousness and public spirit.

However, my democracy goes somewhat deeper. I don't think people are "sheeple", even when I disagree with the majority. I don't think I'm any better than the next man. I don't think the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. I think the ordinary is beautiful.

Because I am a traditionalist, I am also a monarchist-- not an absolute monarchist, but a constitutional monarchist.

When it comes to economics, I am pretty agnostic. I find the sort of people who attribute every social ill to "capitalism" to be tiresome, especially when they are Catholic. Capitalism is just another word for economic reality.  What sort of capitalism? That's the question. I think Catholic social doctrine admits of many possible answers to that question. I think economics is less important than culture.

Dirk Benedict. Another hero.
I am pretty much opposed to all forms of modern art, especially when it comes to poetry. I think poetry should (usually) rhyme, scan, make sense, and address itself to the common reader and universal themes. I think radical breaks with artistic tradition are always a bad thing. I think art that concerns itself with form over content is decadent. I think poetry is very important, and that the neglect of poetry by modern society is a very bad thing. I think John Betjeman and Philip Larkin were the last major English-language poets.

I think high culture should draw from folk culture, from folk life. I have no problem (in principle) with censorship of culture on the grounds of indecency, blasphemy or public morals.

Although I'm not a libertarian, I have some libertarian leanings. I think free speech on matters of political and social debate should be untrammeled, and that free speech and freedom of association need to be ardently defended in our time of rampant political correctness. I'm inclined to believe in the right to bear arms (something I once strongly opposed). 

I believe that feminism is a philosophy of hatred, in practice if not in theory, in general if not in every instance. I love women to bits. I think men and women need each other.

I'm a romantic. Everybody is a utilitarian to some extent, but I delight in anything that contradicts utilitarianism, if the consequences are not fatal or tragic or excessive. The Irish law against the sale of alcohol on Good Friday delights me, because it makes no rational sense whatsoever. I like irregularity, mystique, ceremony, ritual, taboo, discrepancy. Curtains make a house a home.

Macy's Thankgiving Parade

I love America. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! I'm not talking about the "other" America of Allen Ginsberg and Noam Chomsky, either. I mean rootin', tootin', stars-and-stripes, Macy's parade, root beer-drinking, have-a-great-day-y'all America.

I love England-- white cliffs of Dover, Big Ben, Carry On, fish and chips, 221B Baker Street, John Constable England.

I deeply admire the Jewish people, especially their dedication to family and tradition.

G.K. Chesterton is my great hero and biggest influence.

I don't believe in the death penalty, because the thought of telling a human being that he is going to be killed at a particular time is sickening. I think society has a right to punish wrong-doers, but that the deprivation of liberty is punishment enough for anybody, and that jails should be as humane as we can make them.

I believe everyone is equal in human dignity. I think it's silly to expect equality of outcome in any human activity, and oppressive to legislate for it.

I believe in snow globes, cosy pubs, strong steaming cups of tea, happy endings, cheering for the underdog, sentimentality, morning mists, thick snow, Santa Claus, ghost stories, parlour games, and eccentricity.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Remembering my Mother

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of my mother's death. The year 2001 looms large in my memory. Of course, the 9/11 attacks are an important memory for everybody. But it was also the year my mother died, the year I did a training course in the Allen Library archive (now defunct), and the year I began to work in UCD.

It's hard for me to remember my mother, because I feel so guilty for taking her so much for granted. It's hard to think of all the meals made, all the clothes washed, all the limitless work that goes into raising a child for which I never really showed appreciation. I think if she had lived a few years longer I would have shown appreciation. We lost her at the time I was most aimless and lost.

Because I was very withdrawn at this time, I was terrified of being considered a mammy's boy. I wasn't as close to her as I should have been for this reason. (The healthy response to that would have to become more outgoing and extroverted.)

A strange distance and embarrassment had grown up between us in her last years-- on my side, at least-- and I sometimes feel 'stuck' on this. Even when I speak to her in my prayers now, I feel this. I never really spoke to her as an adult, because even though I was in my early twenties when she died, I was more like a teenager-- and a particularly immature one at that.

She died of an extremely rare disease (in its fatal form, at least) called amyloidosis. She was in an out of hospital for years before she died. I also feel intensely guilty for not being as loving as I should have been in those years.

My mother was from Limerick. She had a rather strange childhood. Her father died young, and her mother remarried, but, although my uncle and aunt lived with their stepfather and my grandmother, my mother didn't. She went to live with an aunt in Blackrock, a well-heeled area of Dublin. I understand that my aunt was quite genteel.

When I was a child, I had an excellent book called How to Hold a Crocodile, full of miscellaneous information. One article explained the different glasses to be used for different alcoholic drinks, and how far each should be filled. "I had to know all that stuff when I was a girl, when we had visitors", she told me. "Did you know how much to fill them?", I asked. "Oh, you always filled them all the way up", she said, laughing. Maybe they weren't that genteel.

I like to think of my mother's rural background. I have never been a very convicted Dubliner. I think the soul of a nation is in its countryside.

Recently, I saw a video clip of her that had been unearthed from a television archive. (She was in various community organisations in Ballymun and was being interviewed by a current affairs programme.) As we have no recordings of her I hadn't heard her voice for over a decade. I was amazed at the difference between the voice on the clip and the voice I remembered. It was much more cultured and much more rural than I remember.

My mother was by no means a snob but she did carry an air of distinction with her in the very working class atmosphere of Ballymun. As Ballymun was full of high-rise apartments at that time, it was common for people to stand at the bottom of the apartment and shout up to someone living in it. I won't say my sister's name, but it's a single-syllable name-- not so easy to shout, so her friends broke it into a diphthong when they shouted for her. "There's only one syllable in that name", my mother called back from our window, on one immortal occasion.

When my mother died, a big crowd gathered for the funeral and I heard her described as a saint over and over. You never think of someone as a saint when they are living in the same home as you.

It was my mother who brought me and my brother to Mass, spasmodically. I hated it, not out of any dislike of Mass or religion itself, but because it meant the end of the weekend. (I liked Christmas Mass, though.) She wasn't ostentatiously pious. The only religious remark I can remember her making was: "Judas was damned for despairing, not for betraying." She may have made others, but I don't remember them.

My father never brought us to Mass that I can remember, but he would take us into the pro-Cathedral when we were in town. On birthdays, we would go into the city centre to buy a present, have fizzy orange and crisps in the Flowing Tide pub, and then light a candle in the Pro-Cathedral. (The Catholic cathedral in Dublin is popularly known as the Pro-Cathedral, short for Provisional Cathedral, because the Protestants commandeered the existing Catholic cathedral at the Reformation, and the Cathedral that was built to replace it was regarded as provisional.)

Other than big ceremonial events like funerals, the only time I can remember my parents and myself in a place of worship together was during one of my mother's many stays in Beaumount Hospital. We went into the oratory to say a prayer. It's one of my oustanding memories-- a "purple notebook" moment. I remember the oratory as being quite modern and strange-looking, and, although I was at least an agnostic and more an atheist at this time, I felt a very strong sense of God's otherness and presence.

One of the reasons I felt distant from her in the last years was because I thought she must have been disappointed in me. After she died, I heard she slept with my poems under her pillow in hospital, which astounded me. I never would have guessed this.

I have no digital pictures of her. Her name was Mary Patricia but she used the name Patricia or Pat-- she told me that every second girl of her generation was called Mary, so most of them used their middle names.

There is a rowan tree planted to her outside the Irish language school, Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch, in Ballymun, in the small sloped field between the back gate and the carpark. It is planted in the name of her brother and sister, who are now both deceased as well, and it has a plaque beside it. Every time I pass it, unless I am in a particular hurry, I stop to say a prayer. Even now I feel remorseful and strangely embarrassed, but I ask her to pray for me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Former Irish Government Minister Berates Current Irish Government Minister on the Idea of Staffless Libraries

As published in The Irish Times.

"A library is a place of human interaction." Well, not really-- at least, that hardly seems one of its defining characteristics.

I don't like the idea of staffless libraries, but I think it should be (or at least, it will be) the public who decides whether they want or don't want them. Libraries themselves have been cutting their own throats by pushing people towards self-service machines and trying to make every interaction an online interaction, The argument is always that there is more productive, stimulating work to be done behind the scenes and that it is "freeing up staff". But the public is always dubious when they are told about all the important work that goes on behind the scenes, whether it's the police, hospitals, banks or libraries. And can you blame them?

I was arguing passionately against the dehumanisation of libraries seven or eight years ago. Few people in my own library bothered to support me. I can't get very worked up about it now. What will be, will be.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tom, Dick and Harry

Thinking about this phrase, I came across this little snippet of knowlege on Wikipedia:
The phrase is a rhetorical device known as a tricolon. The most common form of tricolon in English is an ascending tricolon, and as such the names are always said in order of ascending syllable length. Other examples of this gradation include "tall, dark and handsome", "hook, line and sinker", "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"; and so on.

I found myself wondering if there have ever been three friends actually called Tom, Dick and Harry. Well, there must have been. It must happen all the time. Probably three brothers, too.

Thinking about tricolons got me thinking about words in general.

Some weeks ago I was manning a service desk in the library with a colleague who directed a student to the "device" beside the self-service machines where she could pay her fine with university credit. (There is an internal system of credit which can be purchased with cash and which can then be used to pay library fines, print, photocopy, buy stuff in the university shops, etc. Indeed the café directly below the library, a private venture, accepts this credit but not credit cards or debit cards.)

I found myself wondering why my colleague had used the word 'device' instead of 'machine', 'booth', 'kiosk', or any of the other terms that could have been used.

I think about this quite a lot. Why do we use one word rather than another, when there are a multiplicity of words that could be chosen? Why did I use the word 'multiplicity' in the last sentence, and not 'abundance' or 'embarrassment' or 'plethora'?

This questions puts me in mind of the philosophical dilemma (or perhaps the philosophical joke) of Buridan's ass. The form in which I first encountered it was this; if a chicken is equidistant between two pieces of grain, rationally it should remain rooted on the spot forever since there is no reason to go towards one rather than the other.

If somebody is writing a poem or an essay, and mulling over every word choice, then it's not too surprising that he or she will prefer one rather than another. But I'm more interested in the case of spontaneous, unreflective speech. We very often choose one term rather than another without even pausing for thought. What is happening in our minds at such moments?

This became particularly interesting to me this year, since I was trying to improve my Irish. A learner of any language finds himself constantly returning to the question: "Would a native speaker say this? How is this language actually used?".  I remember a French teacher advising us not to use the term 'boum' for party, since "only thirteen year olds would call a party a boum". (Indeed, I just did a bit of research, and found that even French teenagers won't thank you for using the term.)

But here we come to an interesting twist, in that it's the privilege, perhaps even the hallmark, of a native speaker to break both the rules and the conventions. We're always doing it. We use nouns or names as verbs, even if they're never used in that way. We revive archaic usages ("are you going to join me for luncheon?"). We mispronounce words for the heck of it.

More ordinarily, we simply choose words in a slightly unusual way for the sake of finesse. A well-spoken person might say she is "none-too-sanguine" instead of "not that confident", simply for the sake of variety, or for dramatic understatement, or for some such consideration.

It's funny to think of the drama that's being played out every time we open our gobs.

Indeed, the mystery of choice, or free will, or whatever you mean to call it, never ceases to entrance me. I wonder why someone is reading that book, or listening to that song, when they have an indefinite number to choose from. I wonder, too, how allegiances and beliefs are formed, and when exactly the inner Rubicon is passed and somebody becomes committed to a particular belief system.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Calling All Men

I'm happy to announce that I wil be talking at the 2017 Faith in Men conference in the Apollo Hotel, North Brunswick Street, Dublin. Mark your calendars for 5th March, 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Faith in Men conference is a rallying point for Catholic guys who want to be better men and better Catholics. 

This is the programme:

10:00: Registration, tea and coffee, and warm-up activity of touch football.

11:00: "Hey, Why is This Church Full of Chicks?". Lecture by Amy Millicent, former feminist, home-schooling mom of three boys, and blogger.

11:30: "Jesus: The Perfect Guy". Lecture by Josh McSloane, author of Man up For Jesus.

12:00: "The Rosary is for Warriors!". Lecture by Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh, blogger.

1:00: Barbecue lunch. (Vegetarian option available.)

2:00: "This Dress is So Not Me". Lecture by Anthony Sedakis, former transsexual

2:30: "Game Over". Lecture by Josh McGerald, former video game addict, author of Honey, Don't Walk in Front of the Screen.

3:00: Open discussion on the crisis of masculinity in the Church today, moderated by Ken Cookson, former soccer professional and Catholic speaker.

3:30: Tea and coffee.

4:00: "How To Take Her To Heaven". Lecture by Jessica Clarke, author of God's Gift to Women: A Catholic Guy's Guide to Dating and Beyond.

4:30: "Fight the Good Fight!". Keynote Address by Bishop Andrew Summerville, patron of Men of God lay association.

5:00-6:00: Closing Q&A and general discussion. Confession available.

Guys, hope to see you there! Women also very welcome! Registration details available soon.

More on Keith Waterhouse

Let's face it, Christmas gifts are often not very good. People try their best, but very often a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and a vague awareness that somebody likes hororr movies (exempli gratia) might lead somebody to gift a discerning horror fan with a DVD of the latest semi-pornographic slasher flick.

This year, however, I got some extraordinarily good Christmas gifts. One was City Lights and Streets Ahead, two Keith Waterhouse memoirs in one volume. I've written about Keith Waterhouse here and here

I thoroughly enjoyed Waterhouse's account of his upbringing in Leeds, and his early efforts at writing and becoming a journalist. However, when he does become successful (and he became hugely successful at a young age, not oly as a journalist but also as a novelist, dramatist and screenwriter), the book becomes rather dull-- for my taste, at least.

While I find reminiscences of the streets, markets and daily life of Leeds to be fascinating, I find stories from the clubland of London-- Peter O'Toole's hellraising, champagne in hotel lobbies, the anecdotes of squalid afternoon drinking clubs full of bohemians, the quirks of legendary newspaper editors-- to be both tiresome and distasteful. I think I am irredeemably square. Glamour and glitz bores and irritates me.

However, his accounts of his actual writing life (both on his own and with his writing partner Willis Hall) never fail to fascinate me.

When, as a child, I read a collection of Waterhouse's newspaper journalism, I relished the persona he projected in them-- a solid, rather provincial family man. That was the life, I thought-- bashing away on the typewriter in working hours, a pattern of family picnics, board games, old-fashioend pubs, and browsing in second hand bookshops the rest of the time. (As a matter of fact, his first wife divorced him because of the amount of time he spent at his work, and he admits he saw more of his children after the divorce than before it.)
I think this rather innocent subterfuge was deliberate on Waterhouses's part. I once read a set of guidelines he wrote for newspaper columnists, one of which ran a litlte like this: "If you write about your daughter's scholarship to Cambridge, you will only succeed in irritating all the parents whose daughters didn't get a scholarship to Cambridge."

What  prompted me to write this post was this anecdote in which Waterhouse writes about a teenage girlfriend who turned up when his film, Billy Liar, featured a character loosely based on her:

The character of Liz was based very loosely on a teenage girlfriend back in my Leeds days, who had abruptly vanished after I had become engaged to Joan. I heard she had gone to Canada. Thirty-five years then elapsed. One evening I was sitting at home watching television when there was a ring at the doorbell. There on the threshold stood a middle-aged, matronly figure whom, the years rolling back, I could just recognise as 'Liz'. I invited her in and gave her a drink and asked where she had been all these years. "Oh, round and about" said 'Liz', quoting a line used by the fictional Liz. It turned out that she had indeed gone to Canada and then had spent a good many years drifting about Europe, teaching English. But it also turned out that she seemed to identify herself totally with the made-up Liz of Bily Liar, that she imagined I was Billy and she was Liz, and that inside her plump frame was a Julie Christine [the actress who played Liz] trying to get out.

Why she had after all these years decided to descend upon me out of the blue she did not explain. She said she had read that I was now divorced, as she was herself, but that seemed pretty thin-- her source for this information was Who's Who, and her only pupose in looking me up in the first place must have been to find out my address. My belief is that she had arrived at some crisis point in her life and this seemed to her a way of dealing with it. At any rate, after that strange evening, 'Liz' kept on turning up in my life. I would be giving a talk in the City University when I would recognise her sitting in the middle of the audience, like some figure in a Charles Addams cartoon. I would be signing books at a literary fetival and there she would be in the queue of purchasers. I would be catching my weekend train to Brighton and there on Victoria Station she would be not so palely loitering. And then, after a few weeks of this, again she vanished, as abruptly as she had arrived. I toyed with turning my encounter with 'Liz' into a short story, but then I decided that if I delved into her motivations closely it would prove too sad to write.

Not only would that story seem too sad to write, but it seems strange to me that Waterhouse would include an anecdote like this in his memoirs. What are the chances 'Liz' read this book? How did she feel if she did? It seems uncharitable, unchivalrous, and cruel to me.

Still, it's a fascinating book, and provokes many thoughts. I may write more about in the future. These days, Waterhouse's writing fascinates me as much for what is missing from it as for what is there. Although I am a lifelong anglophile, it really seems to me as though something died in the English soul after the Second World War (though it took several decades to decompose). Perhaps I should call it the urge for the sublime, or the transcendental. 

One section in Waterhouse's memoirs concerns his efforts, as a teenager, to meet girls and sleep with them. To this end, he became a member of a whole succession of religious congregations, as well as attending meetings of various political factions (spanning the entire ideological spectrum). Of course, virtually all adolescent males have an overpowering interest in girls, although the conscious desire to seduce them seems to be more widespread in some periods than in others-- and the post-war period seems to have been one of those. But what really intrigues me is not the young Waterhouse's carnal urges, which are not at all strange, but the apparent absence of any flash of idealism, sparked by his time amongst Methodists and socialists and Congregationatlists. Mind you, he was idealistic in his own way-- he left the Daily Mirror when Robert Maxwell took over, despite Maxwell's determined efforts to keep him-- but it was a subdued, disillusioned kind of idealism. 

Where did it go, the visionary gleam? Why did the very strong tradition of 'non-conformist' English Christianity, with its corregated-iron-roofed chapels, its hymns, and its temperance drives, seem to disappear overnight? What happened to the dreams of Merrie England dreamed by William Morris and his disciples? When did Albion disappear into the UK? This question fascinates me, and I have no answer to it.