Guarding the Soul of Catholic Ireland

Catholic Ireland soul
Old Irish postcard of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dundalk, Ireland.

Recently, I received some words from A, a new commenter at this site, that pierce my heart.

Evidently, A acutely feels, as do I and many others, the tragedy of modern, globalised secular Ireland. For she or he writes:

Could ANYone have forseseen the changes wrought in the last twenty years, their swiftness and their sheer magnitude?

The aching sadness still hits me like a ton of bricks sometimes – am I living in Ireland, or in a huge Epcot Centre version of Ireland?

There used to be this country called “Ireland”… didn’t there? Did I only imagine her ?!? Was she ever really here? Where is she?

Perhaps I would feel closer to her and could see her clearly in my mind’s eye if only I could leave this strange FrankenIsland. But this madness has swept over the entire West – where else is there to go now?

Later on, A expanded by saying:

What I can’t get my head around is how easily the Irish gave away our entire heritage on a silver platter, and not with a bang but with a whimper.

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Almost instantly, I found myself responding to A’s  honest ‘aching sadness’ regarding a fake Disneyworld Ireland, ‘purified’ of the faith, ‘purified’ of the real. I said:

My heart goes out to you and I know not what to say, except to affirm that I believe there IS a real Ireland.

And that your pain moves my heart because it testifies to the fact that you remember her and you cherish her …

Your memory, your cherishing, your alienation from this globalised fakeness are incredibly important things … no matter how painful they are. So many are NOT alienated …

What I think will be necessary in the future is that those who love and cherish the real Ireland work at something like the construction of an Ark … an Ark to carry the soul of Ireland amidst this deluge. I hesitate to say this, though, given that I am not Irish. (Alas!)

I publish A’s comments here, because I want to ‘rescue them’ from a combox where they are far less likely to be seen. I also publish my own response as a small indication of where I hope to proceed with this blog in future.

Today, I can only clarify a little what I mean by that. But I will say this: Ireland once had a Catholic, Gaelic culture which felt natural and right to the vast majority of her citizens.

That culture has now been almost washed away in the deluge we call globalisation. (This, of course, is too simplistic: if I were writing more I would include everything from global capitalism to the New Age movement to the aftermath of Vatican II and more.)

For now, my point is that remnants of genuine Irish culture still remain and they need to be protected, cherished, guarded from the flood.

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Hence, my image of an Ark. Now, the Ark I see must seek to preserve – indeed reignite! – two different streams. I can only allude to the first stream briefly now: it is what is essential – not secondary, incidental or peripheral – to the vision that animated Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera and many more.

For lack of better words, I might call this the Gaelic stream. For whilst some believe the dream of Pearse and de Valera is but a chimera, a construct imposed upon the people, I trust it is far, far more.

Sure, it contained innumerable chimeras and false constructs – as any far-reaching human enterprise does. But again, it is a matter of what is essential here, and I repeat, not secondary, incidental or peripheral. All that, obviously, begs big questions. But for now, I hesitate to say more, as, again, I am not Irish and I have not yet sufficiently immersed myself in this stream.

However, the second stream, the Catholic stream I call it, I have immersed myself in for fifteen years now. I can and will speak more confidently of this. But for now, I simply turn to an American Catholic author Russell Shaw. In his book, American Catholic, Shaw speaks of recreating in America a Catholic subculture.

For me, his words about America point to what must happen in Ireland. If there cannot be an authentic Catholic culture in Ireland at this time, there can be the creation of a subculture.

Let us listen to Shaw:

It is necessary to restore – or more properly create – a healthy Catholic subculture. The old Catholic subculture, with all its strengths and limitations, was the bedrock foundation of American Catholicism until well into the twentieth century. Then, weakened by demographic shifts and cultural revolution, it was tossed aside by Catholic intellectuals and the leaders of the Church.

There is no bringing it back to life now, as some Catholic nostalgia buffs apparently would like to have happen. But the need is imperative for a new subculture … as the underpinning for American Catholicism in the twenty-first century.

When I speak of creating a new Catholic subculture, the reaction often is, ‘That isn’t realistic. What you’re talking about can’t be done.’ It’s the scepticism that is unrealistic, for that supposedly unrealistic project is, for better or for worse, already taking shape – right before the sceptic’s eyes, if they would only open their eyes, and see it.

Signs of an emerging Catholic subculture … include … proudly orthodox new Catholic colleges and universities (and a few that are not new but have taken serious steps to refurbish their Catholic identity); new, similarly orthodox religious communities; media ventures like EWTN and Catholic radio, along with a growing number of websites … periodicals and publishing houses; professional organisations … and groups and movements committed to promoting an authentic Catholic spirituality for lay women and laymen living and working in the secular world.

And Shaw also writes:

The new Catholic subculture is not a pipe dream. Already it is taking shape here and there. Many times it represents a reaction by individuals and families against what they rightly perceive as a morally destructive American secular culture. Some homeschool their children. Others have given up on television and carefully police access to the Internet in their homes. Still others have taken the radical step of moving out of big cities and their suburbs to smaller, quieter, more conservative, and less culturally threatening communities where the assaults on their eyes, ears, and morals – and those of their children – are less flagrant.

Now, there is a lot in Shaw’s words that deserve unpacking – which I hope to do in future.

For now, I return to my thoughts above, highlighting words I said to A. For I spoke as to how A remembered the real Ireland and how A loved and cherished her.

I also referred to the need to protect and guard the soul of Ireland.  For this, it is sometimes necessary to go into battle. However, I would rather be for Catholic Ireland than aggressively against something elseAnd herein lies the trap many traditionalists fall into: they are bitterly anti, whether it is anti-modernism, anti- secularism, anti-Vatican II and so forth.

In other words: what will build this Ark is LOVE.

Those who cherish and foster love in their hearts will contribute to the construction of the Ark.

I hope there will be much more to say about this Ark in time. For now, I will just add that I hope The Gentle Traditionalist, my short upcoming book from Angelico Press, provides an example of what I mean. For the Gentle Traditionalist is not so much anti, as he is for … (Again: there are times when battle is necessary.)

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As I have said here, that book exploded out of me in ten short weeks this spring. And it exploded from my heart – a heart that loves Ireland.

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The book is a wide-ranging dialogue between Catholic, secular and New Age characters set in Ireland (Monaghan to be precise) and the dialogue not only concerns Catholic tradition, but it also features Pearse, de Valera and 1916

Finally, I will just say that Mary Kenny’s magnificent book Goodbye to Catholic Ireland is also on my mind in terms of constructing this Ark. For that reason, I am, at long last, preparing an extensive review and commentary on this very important text. (UPDATE: That review is now here.)

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10 responses to “Guarding the Soul of Catholic Ireland”

    1. roger Avatar

      Thanks, Stephen!

  1. Aidan Avatar

    Keep up the good work and the writing. As a priest, I want to play my part in building the ark.

    1. roger Avatar

      Father, thank you. It is an honour to receive this from a member of the Ordained in Ireland. I look forward to your efforts.

  2. […] « Guarding the Soul of Catholic Ireland […]

  3. Michael Avatar

    There is a tremendous vitality in American Catholicism which I think owes some credit to its engagement with Evangelicalism and even anti-Catholic fundamentalism. The presence of true believers in Jesus Christ has had a fruitful impact on the Church.

    Most of the key lay leaders in the Church today were at one time Reformed Christians. The role of independent lay founded non-profits have been very important, because these organizations are free to be faithful often during a time when local bishops and chancery offices were going off the rails. What is happening in America is more than just a subculture, it is a movement that is impacting and changing American culture with increasing effectiveness and sophistication.

    Regarding the causes of Ireland’s Catholic collapse, I think you mistakenly lay it at the foot of globalization/capitalism and the New Age movement. Globalization has been with us since the time of St. Patrick (indeed wasn’t the the victim of “international trade”?), so too has gnosticism (druidism is basically a form of gnosticism). So these are straw men.

    The only reason why Ireland is not leading the world in transforming global culture with the presence of Christ, is because the Church has failed to fully initiate her people into the fullness of the New Covenant with Christ. Period.

    The culture of death is OUR fault (meaning the Church), it isn’t the fault of global free markets or gnosticism. Evils flourish where there is no antiseptic presence of Christ manifesting in all the various spheres of social organization through His people.

    There is a marxist tendency in the Church in Ireland, to point the finger at market forces, or the media, or fill in the blank. These rather are opportunities unlike any other time in history to transform the world rapidly. Don’t take the bait by railing against the tide, grab a surf board of the Holy Spirit instead! wink emoticon

    1. roger Avatar

      Michael, I have taken far too long in responding to this. (Even if I did say a little at Facebook.) Please forgive me.

      As I indicated to you at Facebook, I found your comments about the American Church most gratifying and illumining. I sense the same “tremendous vitality” from afar … but it is wonderful to hear your up close testimony.

      Eg: “What is happening in America is more than just a subculture, it is a movement that is impacting and changing American culture with increasing effectiveness and sophistication.”

      This is very, very moving for me to hear and accords with so much else that I am registering from afar.

      As for your points regarding Ireland and capitalism, I am unsure what to say. I would rather not argue with you. For I sense you are a good person and I prefer not to argue with good people! I would rather support them.

      Without arguing then, let me simply say that years of living in Ireland and years of pondering my nearly twenty years living in America have led me to somewhat different conclusions regarding these things.

      Here I will simply note that many years ago, I was a profound believer in “market forces”, believing deeply in the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions.

      The course of my adult life has led me to revise that drastically. So this is not to argue with you, but to say:

      1) I think I can understand where you are coming from, given who I was in the past and

      2) My views, I honestly believe about not about taking “bait”, as you perhaps fear, but are borne of decades of reflection.

      I explore these themes a lot more in my upcoming book, The Gentle Traditionalist.

      You may find that part of the book off-putting, should you read it. But if you do read it, I hope you will see we concur on very much otherwise.

      Certainly, my book owes a very great deal indeed to Valentin Tomberg. (There is even a striking section from his legal-political theses quoted therein about the ideal Christian state. Tomberg also helped me radically re-think my politics.)

      UPDATE: Since writing the above, I realise I should add something further. In addition to what I have just said and what is in the book, I am actually in process of preparing another post with a long extract from the book about these very themes.

      I fear, Michael, that upcoming post might seem quite objectionable. Perhaps it might even seem I were arguing with you. I hope not.

      The truth is the extract was written long before you wrote and I have been meaning to post it for quite some time. So many delays … it may go up quite soon with a title like “A Valentine for Catholic Ireland.”

      It is hard to dissent from good people – alas, the good folk of this world are often so divided – but if you do see this post, you may see that it is deeply felt. Even if I do fear you may find it quite objectionable …

      Let me thank you again for your very moving witness to other deeply moving things coming out of America. What is happening in America may well help to save Ireland …

  4. […] Before closing, however, one more thing concerning The Gentle Traditionalist. The story is set in Monaghan, Ireland – as we have announced before (here). […]

  5. Michael Avatar


    As an attorney, I have no problem with hearing an argument, however, due to my training, I can come off as being argumentative, which is not my intention. Illumination of the true is.

    There is a tendency for traditional Catholics to rail against globalization and capitalism (or a business economy as I prefer to put it) as if these are the baddies that we have to fight. Often what I find in these debates is a failure to make distinctions and a framing of the problem that basically turns our people impotent to transform the culture.

    To put it another way (which will no doubt rub the wrong way), the problem isn’t that we have global capitalist billionaires, the problem is that we don’t have enough Catholic global capitalist billionaires who are saints.

    Too many of our faithful people are formed with an education traditionally reserved for noblemen of means and leisure, and do not have the vision, skills or framing of the problems of our age to enter the corridors of power and influence to take territory for the Kingdom.

    A Christian Victorious spirit and mindset doesn’t rail against the system, but transforms it from within.

    Like the missionaries from Iona of old, they didn’t rail against the spread of global gnostic barbarism and their destructive form of wealth accumulation, but they entered and infected the system with the elevating, purifying and transforming presence of Christ.

    We see this same spirit today among Christians who purchase exhibit booths at porn conventions to give them the opportunity to connect, bless and build relationship with people in the porn industry. This is while there are Christians outside the convention center holding signs saying, “You are going to HELL!”

    What I’m saying is only this. Don’t allow your analysis of issues to lead you (and your readers) to be placard holders standing in a place of little to no influence. Be the people who boldly enter the strongholds of the enemy to liberate the captives and set them free. Transform the culture. To do that, you have to be in the room, not outside it and railing against its existence.

    I would refer you to the good work of Catholic University of America on the issue of Catholicism, globalization and free markets.

    1. roger Avatar

      Dear Michael,

      Thank you for this, which to my mind contains elements of noble aspiration, but also much that I disagree with (again after ‘decades of reflection’ as I said above).

      After reading your comment twice and prayerfully, I hope, I began a response to you, which already amounts to several hundred words. I will be posting that response when I finish it and I think I may be posting my response as blog in itself.

      (I occasionally do this when I want to say more than seems appropriate in a comments box.)

      If I do post it as a blog post (not fully decided yet) I think I would like to post your full comment as well, if you have no objection. This will elevate your arguments to greater prominence, so I trust you will not object. But let me know if you do.

      So a long response will be made either here in the comments or at my blog. But it could easily take me a fortnight or even more.

      Part of my slowness in responding is not only that I type very slowly, but that I ideally like to take what may seem inordinate amounts praying and thinking first. My pace may seem odd indeed to an attorney like yourself, who I imagine must think on his feet very quickly.

      But we are all very different creatures and I reserve the right to strive for a slower pace of life than our very fast modern world wants to allow.

      So a proper response will take me a bit longer. And it may not even seem a proper response, as I will not be arguing with you, point by point.

      There are two other factors in my slowness in responding, the second which may interest you.

      First I am in intense processes right now, which include but are not limited to promoting my book launch in the next fortnight or so.

      More interestingly, though – and relevant here! – is that I am also trying to finish two of the most extensive posts I have ever done on Valentin Tomberg.

      These posts are also feature an argument – though not with you. You may actually appreciate the argument. Or at least some of it.

      However, a subaspect of these posts concerns Tomberg’s legal theses, which possibly (?) might be less congenial.

      As an attorney, I hope you may be interested to discover more of Tomberg’s legal thinking, assuming you do not know it already.

      Again, the main thing I am arguing will, I imagine, be along your lines of thinking.

      I can argue, Michael, if I judge it right and necessary. With the two upcoming Tomberg posts I have, after much prayer, decided it is right to mount the argument I do. (It concerns Tomberg’s pre-conversion youth, among other things.)

      Still, in terms of my decades of disagreement with you in the above, I tend to think my limited time would be better spent in prayer, study than in argumentative exchanges with your good self.

      If you can be patient with me, I thank you for it!

  6. […] Unusually, I decided to to respond to this by writing a post. And, at the risk of boring redundancy, I want to recap a little from what I wrote several months ago: […]