CLAIRVOYANTS, CHANCERS, AND MELANCHOLY REFLECTIONS – by Donal Kennedy


I’m no clairvoyant.

But I will stick  my neck out to predict that this year, as last ,chancers and  charlatans who have habitually marketed lies of their own or recycled those of others will continue in business.

Lies emanating from Dublin Castle during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921) and earlier, continue in circulation. Profits, see, are the motives. And even would-be prophets need to be closely watched.

Some of my older readers will remember the kerfuffle in 1985 when some children claimed they had  seen a statue of the Virgin Mary show signs of life in Ballinspittle, in West Cork. The area is a holiday and retirement destination for well-heeled and influential Britons, some of whom get together to discuss the indigenous population whose culture is a mystery they have never attempted to understand.

Holidaying there at the time was Peter Kellner, then on the staff of THE NEW STATESMAN, and winner of unrivalled awards as a journalist and political commentator in Press, Radio and Television.

He wrote of the Ballinspittle incident and predicted that Ireland would never be re-united. 

The liberal, freewheeling Protestant Unionists in the North would never join with Catholic Nationalist , who ran a state where Divorce and Abortion were not allowed, the sale of contraceptives was forbidden, and films and other media were subject to censorship.

I read Kellner’s article, I believe in THE Times, but It may have been in the New Statesman, where I once had a subscription.

At the time the provisions of the Westminster Abortion Act 1967 had not been applied to Northern Ireland. Indeed some 37 years after Peter Kellner’s prophecy they have not been applied there.

A few years previously a Bill to tighten the restrictions on the criteria for abortions then obtaining in Britain was introduced into the House of Commons in London. 

This Bill would have had no effect in the North of Ireland, which had 12 MPS in Westminster,Ten of them were Unionist, including Enoch Powell. Nine of the 10,including the English Enoch Powell, voted for the imposition of the restrictions.

Only one Unionist, James Kilfedder, voted against the Bill. 

Frank Maguire, Nationalist with strong Republican roots, voted for the Bill. He was essentially an Abstentionist and crossed the Irish Sea to do so. He had last voted in Westminster in 1979 to vote no confidence in James Callaghan and his was the deciding vote.Gerry Fitt, who had been elected as a Nationalist, also voted for the Bill.

I had a letter published in the IRISH POST suggesting the lessons Peter Kellner might have learned from a visit to the North of Ireland, or an examination of Ulster Unionist MPs’ voting records on ethical questions.

I have holidayed in West Cork many times since the 1950s and observed both the indigenous population and the kind of people Kellner would be at home with.

In 1957 I remember being there on a day observed as a Public Holiday in most of Europe but not in Ireland,  North or South. It was a day when observant Catholics were required by their Faith to attend Mass. 

To do so in Ireland, employees had to get permission from their employers. It was generally given. But a sub-Postmistress could not do so or delegate one of her family to take over the shop for the three-quarters of an hour or so necessary, without risking dismissal. 

I was staying with my Uncle, Catholic Curate in Bantry, at the time, but I did not hear that story from him.

But I did hear the story of the Lords of the Big House in Bantry. When the French, together with Wolfe Tone, were in the Bay in 1796 the owner of the Big House,  Richard White, deployed dummy guns and other distractions to fool the French (who were frustrated by foul weather. White was given an Earldom for his loyalty to the Crown.

His family were still in the Big House in the 1950s. By that time some Roman Catholics of similar sentiments were welcome guests there.

One such ” Lady” invited Uncle Dermot to visit her there to hear her Confession. Dermot stood 6’4″ tall and was not going to be treated as a ghillie or golf-caddy by anybody. He told the presumptuous Madame that she was welcome to take her place with other repentant sinners kneeling in the pews of the Church.

In later years when waiting in the Confessional he read James Bond. (That would be penance enough for me.)

Less than ten years after reading Peter Kellner’s piece contrasting the constrictive laws and attitudes of nationalist Ireland and the liberal, swinging ones of unionist Ulster, my wife and I were holidaying in West Cork and one day we dropped into a pub, cheek by jowl with the remains of a  13th Century Franciscan Abbey built on a site used by monks since the 6th Century, and destroyed in 1629 by visitors from England.

The poet Sean O’Coileain (1754-1817), a kinsman of Michael Collins, I imagine, reflected on the 11 centuries when the site was devoted to piety and learning before its desecration by the barbarians.

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 Teachers devoted to piety and learning taught me his poem in the mid Twentieth Century. 

 It is called MACNAMH AN DUINE DHOILSAIGH  – REFLECTIONS OF A MELANCHOLY PERSON.

My wife is a compatriot of the barbarians who sacked and desecrated that holy site, but her Lancashire family has remained faithful to the Faith of Her Fathers since the days of St Augustine. Going to the Ladies’ room in the pub she was shocked to see a Durex machine there, something she had never seen in a Ladies’ room in Britain or on the Continent.

Peter Kellner is a multi-millionaire the result of his opinion-polling.

But his comments on Ireland would be useless for anyone seeking to form an informed opinion on Ireland – North or South.

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