DULCE ET DECORUM? by Donal Kennedy




This was first published here in January 2016. Another stop on Memory Lane.. 

Under “NAUGHTY”   I alluded to the fact that in England the Prime Minister comes next in precedence to the Archbishop of York, who is himself less honoured than the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It’s a fact that should give pause, for thought (for those with thinking equipment) to those who contend that Bunreacht na hEireann, enacted by our generally less academically-exposed compatriots in 1937, was a  theocratic, rather than a Liberal-Democratic, constitution. Those who so contend would have us believe that Irish Catholics were uniquely repressed and puritan at that time.

A fact overlooked is that the enactment of Bunreacht na hEireann was facilitated, when, in 1936, Britain’s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Archbishop Cosmo Lang of Canterbury, with Britain’s obedient Parliament, and her obedient Commonwealth Governments, forced the abdication of King Edward Vlll for his intention of marrying a divorced woman. In Ireland, Eamon de Valera reckoned that if one monarch could be so easily repudiated, so could all his successors.

The February 2016 edition of History Today has a review of a book on the dance-hall era in Britain from the 1920s to the 1960s. It records how the popularity of the halls gave rise, amongst well- off people, to a fear of moral decline of the less well- off. Some Catholic readers in Ireland will remember a Catholic Truth Society  Pamphlet “THE DEVIL AT DANCES”  which warned of  diabolical practices such as the tango. My Mother told a story probably passed down from her great grandparents, of a rural parish priest who reacted to the new-fangled waltz -“There’ll be no belly-rubbin’ in my parish.”

I’ve been reading “THE THIRTIES” written by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1940. It is very informative and interesting. When the Japanese were invading Manchuria and Mussolini’s Fascists invading Abyssinia, Franco crushing Spanish Democracy and Hitler getting up to no good, the question of MIXED BATHING in the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park was vexing some high minds.

For my sins, in the late 1950s, I spent two years as a boarder in Rockwell College, Cashel, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers. One of the priests, whose enthusiasms included Irish (he used holiday in the Ring Gaeltacht near Dungarvan), and cricket, which had been discontinued by the College, and a strain of puritanism little different to that of Calvin and John Knox. To listen to him one might think men and women bathing in the same ocean was a sure road to Hell.

As it happened I had previously been at St Fintan’s CBS, Sutton, and our main playground was the beach behind it. Bikinis were then regarded as risque in Ireland, but a young Continental woman lived two doors away from the school. When school was in she would parade past it on the beach and between classes it was amazing that there wasn’t mass defenestration as we rushed to the windows. When school was out the lady would be mowing her front lawn, still in her bikini, as a hundred tongues hung out over her front gate.Happy Days!

But time marches on, and Rockwell is now co-educational and with a young, lay, female Head Teacher. A few years ago the pupils put on the musical “GREASE”, which, to my superannuated mind, is a nasty and knowing travesty of the innocent 1950s.

In Britain,until 1968, the Lord Chamberlain could prohibit plays, prior to their staging if he thought  ” it fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or the public peace to do so.”  In Ireland plays could be staged without prior permission, but might be prosecuted before a jury, if was thought by the police to transgress Common Law.

The Lord Chambelain’s role was discontinued by the Theatres Act 1968, and the American smash hit “Hair” opened  to great excitementin London..

It showed naked men and women dancing.  I was persuaded to attend it by a group of young Catholic ladies, up from the provinces, doing Postgraduate Teacher Training in the University of London, and staying in a Hall of Residence, run by nuns. One of the most eager to attend was a diminutive nun from, think, Malaysia, a keen pop fan. I’m sure it was the first time most of them had seen a naked adult male body. A few years ago an attempt to restage the show flopped for lack of interest.

Well you may ask what happened to those young ladies.

Reader, I married one of them.





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