THE IRISH CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR by Donal Kennedy


IN SEPTEMBER 1914 the Irish Christian Brothers launched a monthly magazine OUR BOYS which was probably the first   Periodical ever produced for Irish Youth.

It was still going strong when I left St Fintan’s in Sutton in 1959. Previous to that,  and subsequently, the country was inundated with English comics with no roots in Ireland.

Indeed I am advised by Scots friends that that the Beano and Dandy, produced in Dundee had two strict rules – they employed no Catholics and did not recognise Trade Unions.

OUR BOYS, so far as I know was produced by the Christian Brothers themselves, which were not affiliated to any Union.

By an unhappy coincidence Britain, chose August 4 1914 to declare War on Germany and Austria. It was recognised by Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne, a devout Conservative Catholic as a squalid trade war, The Archbishop was largely responsible for two referenda which saved Australians from Conscription. 

At the other end of the planet, the devout Marxist, James Connolly formed  the same opinion. Two years previously Connolly had co-founded the Irish Labour Party, intending

to contend for seats in the Home Rule Parliament which the British Liberals had promised John Redmond. Insurrection had not crossed Connolly’s mind in 1912. But Britain’s

European War changed everything

The great humanitarian, Roger Casement, who knew the inner workings of the British Foreign Office described the War as a Crime Against Europe, and his authenticated 

writings on the subject make convincing reading.

As it happens OUR BOYS each month commented on the disaster that had befallen just weeks before and continued each month.

Athol Books republished the commentary as far as September 1918  in 2007 with an Introduction by  Brendan Clifford. Brendan intended then to publish a second edition with “extensive supplementary material”

Brendan, who had no experience of the Christian Brothers or other non-lay teachers, says he sought for evidence to support  Conor Cruise O.Brien’s take on the Brothers,

and Professor Roy Foster’ adoption of it came across the Our Boys’ version.

He comments

“I Searched for evidence that the Christian Brothers, even though they did not teach revolution against England, did at least inculcate hostility to Britain’s Imperial War, and that there was something that was true in what the revisionists were saying about them.What I discovered was that in this case the revisionist assertion was the opposite of the truth -and the evidence was crystal clear adn easy to

  find.

The Christian Brothers supported the British war on Germany. And its support was altogether more impressive than that of the Home Rule Party. Its monthly report of the war was calm, deliberate and well-informed and was without the hysterical edge of the Home Rule propaganda. O’Brien’s image would be more accurate in reverse – perhaps inside every Christian Brother there lurked a Redmondite

 hysteric of the T.M.Kettle kind. I don’t know that there was. I saw no sign of it. But it would be a pity  to lose the image altogether.”

To be continued

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