‘On Being Intellectually Superior’ by Soinbhe Lally




It is very pleasant to be convinced of one’s own intellectual superiority. Better still, to be convinced of the intellectual superiority of one’s own tribe. So I couldn’t resist smirking and rolling my eyes when I read that TUV councillor Jack McKee objected to the erection of a memorial for eight Islandmagee women convicted of witchcraft in 1711, because he is not convinced that the women were not witches, and besides, the memorial might become a shrine to paganism and satanic worship.

It behoves a TUV born again Christian to challenge witchcraft and devil worship. In the context of Ireland, witches are Protestant. The notion of witchcraft and the urge to prosecute mainly women for its practice, was an import, first by English planters in the south and southeast of the island and, in 1711, by the descendants of Ulster Scots planters in Island Magee. We “mere Irish” of the time already had our imaginations filled and our anxieties stoked by assorted fairies and pookas so we never did get round to worrying much about witches.

Today, we say that our identification as Catholic or Protestant is more about ethnicity than religiosity and like to believe that our own tribe has moved beyond superstition and religious fanaticism. As enlightened ethnic Catholics we get to take a tribal delight in laughing at ethnic Protestant’s Councillor McKee’s outburst.

Pride comes before a fall. It was with dismay that I read that Derry priest, Fr Roland Colhoun, has, like Councillor McKee, denounced Satanism and paganism. His warning is against, not witchcraft, but the practice of Yoga. He has cautioned his congregation against yogic stretching and head massage. They are spiritual health risks, drawing unwitting practitioners into a bad domain where Satan and the fallen angels rule. Fr Colhoun even misquoted Pope Francis, “Do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes.”

I checked. What Pope Francis actually said was “Courses in yoga, Zen meditation, even extensive studies in church teaching and spirituality can never free people enough to open their hearts to God and his love.” Francis’s comment put yoga on a par with Catholic church teaching and spirituality. It was not a warning against yoga.

Councillor’s McKee’s comments attracted international attention as did Fr Colhoun’s. Hindus worldwide have protested and the President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed, is asking Pope Francis and Bishop McKeown to discipline Fr Colhoun.

And to think that all this time I thought the fundamentalists were the other lot, not us.

7 Responses to ‘On Being Intellectually Superior’ by Soinbhe Lally

  1. ANOTHER JUDE February 24, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    Down with that sort of thing….Careful now…..

  2. Willie D. February 24, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    There is a good and colourful description of the 1711 witch trial in Vol.10 of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, which takes in Larne and Island Magee. It states that “in no part of Ireland are the people more generally and inveterately superstitious than here … most …implicitly believe in witchcraft, fairies, brownies and enchantments.”
    Although all the people were Presbyterians of Scottish origin, Jack McKee might be dismayed to learn from this account that they routinely ignored their Minister, indulged in excessive whiskey drinking, especially on Sundays, that ” almost all their enjoyments terminate in drunkenness and debauchery” and that ” in 1798 [they] distinguished themselves by the active part they took in the rebellion.”

  3. Patrick Fahy February 24, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

    Note that Father Roland Colhoun is no old Fogey who might be forgiven for thinking that yoga is the modern form of witchcraft. Instead, he is a young man, ‘the new face’ of the modern Catholic Church in Ireland. Is it any wonder that so many Catholic, by no means all young, are disillusioned and alienated from practice of their religion? This is no isolated occurrence.The alliance between the Catholic hierarchy and the DUP around the issue of the treatment of homosexuals speaks volumes. What a bleak future for Catholicism in Ireland.

  4. Am Ghobsmacht February 24, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    It makes me face-palm whenever I hear people equate paganism with satanic worship.

    I mean, paganism is older than Christianity.

    Plus it’s polytheist, accepting a few other gods and points of view about the place is arguably what NI needs the most…

  5. michael c February 24, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    I’m expecting Fr Tim Bartlett to join the DUP any day.

  6. RJC February 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    I wonder how much Sinn Féin’s more liberal attitudes costs them votes in the north from Catholics holding more traditional views? The marriage referendum in May should hopefully be met with a resounding ‘YES’ which will then leave these sick counties the only place in Britain and Ireland without legislation allowing for same-sex marriage. Any chance of a referendum up here?

  7. michael c February 25, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    The SDLP were always “the clerical party” in the North.They were always on school boards at the behest of the local PP and to the forefont on church committees etc.Some older voters may be wavering but on a voting register of some 2000 in my own area ,I would be surprised if any more than a dozen would abandon SF on so called “moral” issues. Believe it or not I am still a practising Catholic but adhere to the old slogan “we take our religion from Rome but our politics from home”.