Catholic Ireland, O Catholic Ireland!

Old Irish Stamp of St. Patrick

Today I simply re-present something fragmentary written several years ago. I wrote it years ago, in Catholic Ireland, where Providence arranged me to live and experience something so different from the more secular countries I had known.

I hesitate in re-presenting it. It dates from a time in which I was less traditionally Catholic. I had converted yes, but my Catholicism was still more “Protestant”. And I had more hubris then in thinking I knew better than the Tradition.

Be that as it may, I have resisted the temptation to change much. Here then are my impressions of 2006 while living in Catholic Ireland …

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Gentle Traditionalist

2006: We face the world suffering and we bring to the table what we have.

And … what we have is the gathered fruit from a journey, a destiny shot through with unfathomable depth and meaning.

I face the world, with my own experience of Catholic Ireland.

Ireland – a country radically transformed in the last two decades. Once one of the poorest in Europe, but suddenly transformed by a massive injection of EU capital and capitalist ‘success’. Once radically Catholic, now far more secular.

Yet the legacy of the past remains evident. Everywhere I go on this holy island, I hear the continual lament: ‘Money has ruined us. Money has ruined us’.

From neighbours, from newspapers, from churches, from taxi and bus drivers, I have never heard anything like this far-reaching collective lamentation.

The profound sense of loss cites the loss of community, most of all.

The irony is that Ireland still has by far the strongest community ethic of any country I have ever encountered. And I have lived in several. Simple goodwill and helpfulness here seem to me extraordinary. The social conscience, work for charity and so forth are markedly pronounced.

And yet I am told repeatedly – all of this is but a shadow of the community ethic that once existed in Ireland. ‘Everyone just lives for themselves, these days’ I am told.

By comparison with other countries, Ireland still remains a country of remarkable religious PRACTICE.

The weekday masses have striking levels of attendance, to say nothing of Sunday. Similarly in church after church, one can daily hear the prayer of the faithful: ‘Hail Mary full of grace’… And the chapels of Eucharistic Adoration are not empty. Ordinary people sit within them in silent reverence before the exposed Sacrament.

Again this is but a shadow of what was. I am told by the elders here of a life in their rural childhood, wherein every home, every evening the rosary was prayed. And everyone in the neighbouring area was welcome to come round and join in.

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I am told of a world where the Angelus sounded at 12 and 6 every day and summoned people to prayer. And people really did stop what they were doing. (Though I am happy to note the Angelus stills sounds from my church and on Irish television at these times).

My destiny brought me here to see this …

Now one of the founding fathers of the modern Irish Republic was the staunchly Catholic Eamon de Valera. The political party he founded has dominated Irish politics from the beginning. He himself was elected leader repeatedly over decades in Ireland.

And what did Eamon de Valera stand for? Here is how he addressed the nation on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1943:

The Ireland which we have dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to 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 … whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. It would, in a word, be a home of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.

What I say… is fragmentary. … . There are many nuances, paradoxes, shadows, and yes intolerable abuses in the Irish situation that cannot be captured here.

Still I invite you, my friends in more secular countries, to pause for a moment and reflect on your local politicians and what their electoral prospects would be – on the back of a call for frugality, ‘things of the spirit’, forums of serene wisdom and money ‘only as a basis’ for … the ‘life that God desires that men should live.

And again, de Valera was elected again and again and again ….

Catholic Valera
Eamon de Valera, St. Patrick’s Day, 1943.

Clearly, Catholic Ireland, until comparatively recently, breathed a different AIR to many other Western countries. …

The little known dream of an Irish Catholic prime minister from 1943 …

I wonder if anyone thought: what is the point? Our world problems surely cannot be solved by going back to a dead past on an obscure little island, isolated from the mainstream. We must contend with the present forces of global society.

Forces, which I believe, are too often seen as having an aura of inevitability about them.

One of the chief things, it seems to me, in combating this aura of inevitability, is to HEIGHTEN CONSCIOUSNESS that there is a worldview that informs, shapes and guides all our current political, social and economic activity.

Which activity, moreover, is killing us.

But this worldview is not the only one we have available to us.

Yes, one of the first steps it seems to me, is heightening consciousness that this worldview is ‘pulling the strings’ – and that we have a choice.

Once we are conscious, that is, that our strings are being pulled.

Now I propose … to call this worldview ‘Secularism’. I am aware that this word is not quite accurate, nor adequate and that Secularism is not without noble roots and aspirations.

Still [sometimes] a certain SHORTHAND is necessary. And it is easier for me to say ‘Secularism’ than explain every time that our society is underpinned and moulded by a complex convergence of philosophical currents including:

Relativism, involving a despair of finding any basis for truth that is not relative to one’s own culture.

Philosophical Materialism, in which little but the most crudely obvious material dimensions are admitted as having validity and hence MEANING for the way our society is run.

A Negative Concept of Liberty which holds that any restraint, even self-chosen restraint, equals loss of freedom. This approach is also subtly materialistic, inasmuch as it emphasises material restraints over psychological ones (i.e. someone under house-arrest is seen as not free, but an agoraphobic may be).

… So for the sake of simplicity, I will use the word ‘Secularism’ as shorthand for the zeitgeist …

Now Secularism so-defined, is the air that we breathe. We breathe this air so naturally and unconsciously that we never suspect that we might breathe a different air.

But I invoke very recent Irish history to show that people very like us, did indeed breathe a different air – and created a different society.

We are like fish in an all-surrounding sea – poisoned sea – which have no idea that there are very different options available. Fish in this case, that could breath a very different air, if they became aware that this was not the only sea available …

But when these different options are suggested to us, we can react as though something will be IMPOSED on us …

A British mother I know and … is not a Christian, had her children – for non-religious reasons – enrolled in an at least marginally Christian school. But she resented the fact that her children had Christian concepts ‘imposed’ on them.

But it never occurred to her that that in the state-run alternative, children were also having something imposed on them.

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Because these children are breathing in every day the air of secularism – an ideology composed, again, of materialism, relativism, liberty narrowly and materialistically defined – and so forth.

All of these things are being IMPOSED on our children. An ideology is being enforced. When I tried to explain this to her, she had no idea at all what I meant. And it seems to me that most of us have no idea at all – Secularism is the air that we breathe …”

Fragments from April 2006.

From 2018, Twelve Years Later …

As it happens, years after the above was written, I returned to live in Ireland once again and behold the continued descent into secularism and the horrors it wrought. Here is a video from my new YouTube channel about this:

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2 responses to “Catholic Ireland, O Catholic Ireland!”

  1. epsilon Avatar

    Roger – don’t be fooled by De Valera either!! He duffed an honest man, Michael Collins in the Irish civic war. His party Fianna Fail are the most corrupt you’ll find anywhere. Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern were the architects of greed like no other!

    I don’t mean to be negative and thank you for reminding me here about the good characteristics of many Irish people.

  2. roger Avatar

    Ireland … Epsilon, thank you so much for this and for your other comment here suggesting I overpraise Ireland.

    Well I have said above:

    “What I say… is fragmentary. … . There are many nuances, paradoxes, shadows, and yes intolerable abuses in the Irish situation that cannot be captured here.”

    We are all fallen and every collectivity of people, every nation is fallen – in often very different ways.

    I don´t feel I am completely blind to the ways Ireland and the Irish are fallen too.

    Yet I find it hard indeed not to stand by what I said above. I indicated I had lived in several countries, now seven in fact and Ireland stands out in ways that I think many Irish can scarcely imagine.

    There is nothing like this community ethic in certain other countries I have lived. And the piety there astonishes me … even after all that has happened. Centuries of devotion and prayer have left something unalterable on this Holy Island.

    I am a man in love … in love with your country and of course, love can be blind. I intend to return there as soon as I can. If I am disillusioned, I will let you know : – ) …

    As for De Valera, I confess I know hardly enough about him. I am sure he was very fallen too. And in times of war our fallenness can emerge even more ruthlessly. Still his aspiration quoted above strikes me as quite extraordinary.

    But one thing I really want and need to do is understand De Valera, the founding of the Irish state and its intensely Catholic and originally non-secular culture far, far better.

    On a final note Epsilon, I have little idea how old you are. But one thing I am very interested in is people´s memories of Ireland before secularisation. If you cared to blog about that I would be very interested. Or if you have done already, let me know!

    I ask and I get different responses. Some say terrible poverty. Others point to a community ethic and piety far stronger than even Ireland today!

    And as I say even Ireland today takes my breath away …

    With the founding of the Irish Free State, De Valera and others took Ireland down such a different route to other Anglophone countries, so united to the faith, so not buying into secularist ideology. It is important to me to understand how this shaped people in very different ways than the other Anglophone countries I have lived in, Britain and America.

    And lastly regarding your other comment:

    “I too have been influenced by new-ageism – anyone with a sense of spirituality in the last 40 years where the Catholic Church was banalised beyond belief has bound to have been imho:) Thank God we can now find true expression of spirituality within some of the Church’s walls. …

    I really don’t think we’re alone in this – I hope and pray that God will forgive us for taking so long to realise how much our minds were colonised.”

    Yes banalised beyond belief is tragically true. And in search of Mystery many turned to the New Age.

    Thank you again for this enriching our site with your perception, unknown friend.