Though long a baptised, confirmed, married member of the Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church, I bridle at the term “Roman Catholic” on the lips or in the writing, of those who would consider me and my kind as a benighted Irishman. Rarely confused, thank be to Jove, with knighted Irishmen such Bono and Geldof.
I can visualise a Lady Bracknell, daintily examining me through a lorgnette, before ordering a manservant to have me impaled and mounted in a display case like a not too decorative butterfly.
Political, polemical and academic commentators use the term as a faux polite insult. I prefer the rude honesty of those who would call me a tadhg, which like Donal, were terms of disdain on the lips of the Cromwellians. I’d settle too for “Fenian” – “Sinne Fianna Fail” brings most of our kind to our feet, and “Croppies Lie Down” is unlikely to replace it, despite the advocacy of Fintan O’Toole and his ilk.
These musings arise from a rereading of an article by Dennis Kennedy (no relation, Deo gratias), a former Deputy Editor of The Irish Times, in the May/June issue of History Ireland.
Dennis Kennedy was taught at Queen’s University Belfast in the 1950s by J C Beckett who later became QUB’s first Professor of Irish History and still takes him as his mentor .From Beckett he got, and retains the conviction that the progress towards Irish independence was a consequence of the benign role of British Governments between the Act of Union in 1800 and the Civil War of 1922-23.
In an essay “Ireland under the Union” Beckett wrote –
“By a whole series of enactments, beginning with the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliaments in 1829, and passing through the reform of the electoral system, the disestablishment and disendowment of the church (Church of Ireland) and the reform of local government,, there was brought about the complete change of the balance of power in Ireland.. It is no exaggeration to call this change a revolution brought about by constitutional means..”
Every advance, every reform under the Union was extracted through the clenched teeth of Governments. In London. Daniel O’Connell, though chosen by the Clare electors, had to fight a by-election before he could take his seat, while the Duke of Norfolk, no friend of his fellow-Catholics in Ireland, was able to take his seat in the Lords. Only the fear of an armed insurrection in Ireland effected that reform. Other reforms followed disturbances. Habeas Corpus was frequently suspended, as high and as often as Irishmen and women for the wearin’ of the green. Like Mae West’s diamonds and furs, goodness, or the good sentiments towards Ireland on the part of Britain’s rulers, had nothing to do with reforms.
“One change was fundamental to the shaping of modern Ireland: under the Union English became the language of the Irish people. In 1800 almost half the population were Irish speaking; by 1922 the official returns showed that this had declined to about 18%”
So Dennis Kennedy observes.
I was born in December 1941. At that time many millions of Europeans spoke Yiddish. It is a language virtually extinct today, though then there were Yiddish entertainments, music hall, films, serious drama, newspapers and a literature in Europe and America.
In January 1942 a meeting near Berlin decided to murder all the Jews in Europe and the attempt was vigorously pursued. Zionists believed Yiddish a decadent language to be discouraged whilst reviving Hebrew, which had not been the common everyday language of Jews for centuries.
Between 1800 and 1922 there were many calamities in Ireland arising from landlordism. Ireland was and is a largely fertile country, raising cattle and sheep, pigs, poultry and game, with rivers and lakes and surrounding seas abounding in fish. It raised barley and oats and wheat. And it exported all those in great quantities, together with vegetables, whiskey and beer, as the newspapers in Ireland and Britain recorded. It was sufficiently stocked with provisions to sustain more than half the regiments of the British Army, which were chiefly employed in escorting them to the ports for export to Britain, whilst millions of the poorest Irish, who had subsisted on the potato, starved when that one crop failed.
That is the reason why the Irish language, which had the oldest literature North of the Alps, declined.
Why Dennis Kennedy thinks Ireland, Europe, or mankind should consider that a boon is a matter for him to explain
Footnote: The July/August issue of History Ireland carries my comment on another topic raised by Dennis Kennedy