Aodh de Blácam (1890-1951)


Life
[orig. Blackham; adopted name, Aodh Sandrach de Blácam; var. de Blacam; occas. pseud. “Roddy the Rover”], b. London, son of W. G. Blackham, MP for Newry, Co. Down; joined London Gaelic League, learned Irish from Robert Lynd in London; moved to Ireland in 1915 as journalist with The Enniscorthy Echo; converted to Catholicism and cultivated a utopian Catholic-nationalist outlook, lending vocal support to Franco’s Spain in the 1930s;
 
Sinn Féin propagandist imprisoned during War of Independence; issued Towards the Republic: A Study of New Ireland’s Social and Political Aims (1918); wrote Holy Romans (1920), a bildungsroman in which Shane Lambert converts to nationalism and Catholicism, while the gombeen-man and parish priest combine for personal gain; published Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1929), A First Book of Irish Literature (1934), and other critical and editorial works; Irish Times staff [but see under Gray, infra];
 
contrib. to Irish Press for 20 years, using his occasional pseudonym; wrote column in Catholic The Irish Monthly, his articles including a denunciation of Yeats’s un-Irish credentials (March 1939); ed. Irish Commonwealth; Towards the Republic (Sinn Fein manifesto dedicated to memory of James Connolly); Fianna Fail executive up to 1947, when he joined Clann na Poblachta; defeated in Co. Louth, 1948 elections; member of emigration commission and later Director of Publicity of the Department of Health. IF2 DIW DIB FDA DUB OCIL

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Works
Commentary
  • Towards the Republic:A Study of New Ireland’s Social and Political Aims (Dublin [q.pub.] 1918), and Do. [2nd rev. edn.] (Dublin: Thomas Kiersey 1919), xiv+110pp.;
  • From a Gaelic Outpost (Dublin: CTS 1921) [infra];
  • Gaelic Literature Surveyed (Dublin: Talbot 1929); and Do. [reiss. with add. chap. by Eoghan Ó hAnluain [‘The Twentieth Century, Prose and Verse’, pp.387-405] (Dublin: Talbot 1973);
  • What Sinn Fein Stands For: The Irish Republican Movement, Its History, Aims and Ideals Examined as to Their Significance for the World (Dublin: Mellifont Press (1921), 23pp. [available at the Internet Archive online; accessed 02.07.2010];
  • A First Book of Irish Literature (Dublin: Talbot 1934; rep. Kennikat 1970) [infra];
  • Gentle Ireland: An Account of a Christian Culture in History and Modern Life (Milwaukee: Bruce Publ. Co. 1935);
  • The Black North: An Account of the Six Counties of Unrecovered Ireland, foreword by Eamon de Valera (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1938) [another edn. 1942, ills.];
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Fiction
  • The Ship that Sailed too Soon, and Other Tales (Dublin: Maunsel 1919);
  • Holy Romans: A Young Irishman’s Story (Dublin: Maunsel 1920);
  • The Druid’s Cave: a Tale of Mystery and Adventure for Young People of Seven to Seventy (Dublin: Whelan 1921);
  • Tales of the Gaels (Dublin: Mellifont Press 1921), ill. Austin Molloy;
  • Patsy the Codologist (Dublin: Mellifont 1922), ill. George Monks, 123pp;
  • The Lady of the Cromlech (London: John Murray 1930);
  • [pseud. “Roddy”,] Roddy the Rover and His Aunt Louisa (Dublin: Browne & Nolan MCMXXXII [1932]), 158pp. [ded. to David Hogan].
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Biography
  • A Life Story of Wolfe Tone (Dublin: Talbot 1935);
  • St. Patrick the Apostle (Milwaukee 1941);
  • The Story of Colmcille (1929);
  • Golden Priest: An Imaginary Scene in the Life of Blessed Oliver Plunket (1940), 20pp.
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Poetry
  • , Dornán Dán, Aodh Sandrach de Blácam do chum (Dublin: Talbot 1917);
  • Songs and Satires ([n.p.] 1920);
  • Old Wine, Verses from the Irish, Spanish ... Done Chiefly in Irish Metres (Dublin: Three Candles [1920], 35pp.
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Drama
  • , Dhá Ríogacht [Two Kingdoms], dráma aon mhíre, trans. [by] an t-Ath Seosamh Ua Moailáin (Oifig an tSoláthair 1944), 23pp.;
  • Ambassador of Christ: A three-act Drama of Saint Patrick [...] (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1945), xi, 90pp. [BML].
 
Miscellaneous
  • ‘Gaelic and Anglo-Irish Literature Compared’, in Studies (March 1924);
  • ‘Who Now Reads Scott?’, in The Irish Monthly, 65 (1937), pp.486-99;
  • ‘Two Poets Who Discovered their Country’, in Irish Monthly 74 (1946), 357-65 [Thomas Furlong and A.N.Other];
  • ‘How Our Forbears lived, books about the land’, in Irish Monthly, LXXV (1947), pp.383-87;
  • ‘The World of Letters: Poison in Wells’, in Irish Monthly, Vol. 65 [q.d], p.280.

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Bibliographical details
A First Book of Irish Literature: Hiberno-Latin - Gaelic- Anglo-Irish from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (Talbot Press [1934]), 236pp, with index. This book, I believe, is the first published essay to summarise all Irish literature, reviewing the chief Gaelic, Anglo-Irish, and Hiberno-Latin writers, and noting their mutual relation. To this extent, with all its defects, it is original. In the actual criticism, I have sought to give verdicts of the best authorities. / I have made the survey century to century, in order to make clear the relation of literature to history.’ [p.vii]. CONTENTS, Bk. I, Beginnings; The Monastic Period; The Red Branch; the Urscealta; Monastic Period, eighth and Ninth centuries; The Middle Irish Period, 10 & 11th c.; the Fenian Cycle; A Century of Reconstruction; II, The Invasion and Irish Revival; The Reformation; Bk. III, The Gaelic Order Passes; The Rise of the Ascendancy; ‘The Hidden Ireland’; The Golden Age of Anglo-Ireland; The End of the Penal Age; The Young Irelanders and Successors; Renascent Ireland. QUOT, ‘Mr Corkery affirms that three great elements are combined in typical Irish literature - nationality, religion, and attachment to the land. If his rule is applied to all the writers whom we have surveyed in this book, it will be found to hold true, their place in Irish consciousness has been determined by the degree in which they accepted the nation, shares its religious faith, and were close to the soil. so it has been; so, Mr Corkery believes, it always will be. He has a rugged style, marred by a tendency to slang and to monotonous mannerisms. True to his principles, he is devoted to his native Munster and labours a small field intensively; yet he has an admiration for the Russians which it is hard to reconcile with Irish traditionalism. He lacks humour and joy, and therefore, works creatively in only one side of life. Yet, with all his limitations, he has influenced rising Ireland more considerably than any other modern writer, and our survey closes with his doctrine [227]. [Goes in a finally para., No.200, to apologise for passing over Austin Clarke, ‘who alone has risen to the epic vision’, as not yet reaching its ‘full maturity]. ... That terrific racial force, the praefervidum ingenium Scottorum, which ensured the survival of the nation and its faith after unparalleled suffering, will not be satisfied by less than a recovery, in complete integrity, of the old racial ideal, everywhere within the Three Waves.’ [228] This copy bears MS notes by John Hewitt, in the form of a column of omissions, John Toland; TC Irwin; James Orr & all Ulster vernacular poets; Herbert Trench; Francis Davis; Joseph John Murphy; Wm. Thompson, naturalist; R. Patterson; S. Burdy; WH Drummond; Lynn Doyle; Rosa Mulholland; John Todhunter. [See Quotations, infra.]

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British Library lists Hugh de Blacam, see Aodh Sandrach de Blacam; see also Clár Litridheacht, ed. Risteard de Hae (1938).

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Commentary
James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room, The Irish Historical Novel (Gill & Macmillan 1983), In his article ‘Who Now Reads Scott?’, Aodh de Blacam complained that among young graduates there ‘hardly any who have read Scott at all’, and argued that all that was genius in him came from the Gael, pointing in particular to Scott’s Irish visit, ‘Did he not declare that County Cork alone had more material for romance within its borders than all broad Scotland?’ De Blacam felt that a return to Scott would help counterbalance the ‘vulgarities of the cinematograph culture, that chief enemy of all that we are striving to rebuild in Ireland to-day.’ (Irish Monthly, 65, 1937, pp.486-99.)

A. N. Jeffares, W B Yeats, A New Biography (London: Macmillan 1988), p.314, On 3 Feb. 1932, [Yeats] had written to Joseph Hone about an article in the Irish Press in which Aodh de Blacam was commenting on the attempt being made by certain Anglo-Irish leaders to bring back the eighteenth century; it was, he [Yeats] thought, ‘the usual kind of thing – only the Gael of the Catholic is Irish ...’ (Wade, ed., Letters, 790).

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R. F. Foster, ‘When the Newspapers Have Forgotten Me ...’, in Yeats Annual 12 (1996), notes that de Blacam published a long denunciation of Yeats’s un-national credentials in the Irish Monthly (March 1939), in which he records that at the outset ‘we did account him one of our masters, and that he ‘was the most consummate of advertising agents’ notably over ‘the grotesque Synge’; but in the end his achievement was only that of a minor poet; he was ‘delicate in youth’, not ‘a man’s man’, and over-introspective; de Blacam noted his arrogant letters issued from Coole, his ‘mock-mysticism’ - he liked symbols as child liked coloured stones: not for meaning but for sensuous effects’, and his philosophical work was ‘worthless’; further that for a moment in the early 1920s, it almost comm,med that Yeats, the man we had loved long since, was turning towards the Catholic Faith’ through attachment to the new French Catholic writers; but ‘Yeats became more bitter than every before, against what we hold most sacred. The indecency which marred so many of his past books now grew more horrid, and the latest book which he published, less than a year ago, was a repulsive play that we can excuse only by assuming that the mind which conceived it was unstrung. His poems, in the last dozen years, were morbid. He wrote of the blood of Calvary some lines so horrible that I could not quote them: one wonders how a publisher printed them. he described Bethlehem as the birthplace of a monster, and lamented the coming of Christianity. How ill this became the poet who had once charmed us with lines about the child that the Little People stole, the mice bopping round the oatmeal chest in a country house, and the merry playing of the Fiddler of Dooney!’. (Irish Monthly, March 1939; Foster, op. cit., p.172).

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Quotations
From a Gaelic Outpost (1921): ‘It is, indeed, a wonderful experience. It is like plunging back through the centuries and awaking in the Ireland of Hugh O’Neill - heroic, Gaelic, unsubdued Ireland. The musical, racy Irish speech on every side of you brings to your mind a thrilling sense of the reality of Insh nationality, such as the dweller in the cities amid English speech and English papers, never feels.’ (p.xi; cited in Luke Gibbons, Transformations in Irish Culture, Field Day, Cork UP 1996, with comments characterising de Blacam as ‘one of the most influential nationalist propagandists in the early decades of the century’, and further remarks on the irony that ‘such sentimental accounts of local allegiance to the nation is that the nation-state was often the farthest thing from the minds of those supposedly responsible for its preservation’ (Gibbons, op. cit., p.97).

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What Sinn Fein Stands For (1921), ‘Catholic Ireland is, therefore, unwilling to yield either to Capitalism or Marxism’ - but espouses ‘distributism’. Mentions William Thompson and the Co-operative movement as an exemplars.

Studies (Vol. XXIII, No. 91, 1924), critiquing Corkery’s Hidden Ireland (1924): ‘He did not tell the whole story of the Gaelic side of Irish history, neglected by Lecky and others ... ‘he showed as little sympathy for the Anglo-Irish as Lecky shewed for the Gael’; ‘To dismiss Anglo-Ireland as unworthy of a Gael’s study, however, is hurtful to Gaelic interests, seeing that a large part of Gaelic and Catholic thought was expressed, during two centuries, in English. The task of the just historian is to depict Irish history with the Gaeltacht as the core, but also to dissect the anglicised sphere, recovering whatsoever belongs to the nation and discarding only what is alien through and through.’ (Extract given in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane, 1991, Vol. 2, p.1013); ‘The upshot of all this is that to identify Catholic with Gael, as it is bad religion, so it is bad history.’ (Ibid., p.1017). [Search title in FDA.]

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Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1929): ‘The nation which had come into being in Cormac’s day was a nation comparable to antique Greece or Fascist Italy. It must have hummed with energies’ (p.23.) ‘The seventeenth century was the most brilliant, the most copious, and the most tragic century in the history of Irish letters’ (p.217; quoted in Norman Vance, Irish Literature, A Social History, Basil Blackwell 1990). ‘In these our days, Gaelic literature has begun to come into its own ... deals with a continuous present.’ [q.p.].

Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1929) - cont: ‘The nation which had come into being in Cormac’s day was nation comparable to antique Greece or Fascist Italy. It must have abounded with energies that it drew from an intense excitement of racial consciousness. The sense of nationality in the Old Irish period was unparalleled elsewhere in the contemporary Europe. (rep. edn. 1973, p.23; quoted in Joep Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor-ghael, 1986, and characterised there as ‘an unfortunate anachronism’, p.169.)

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Roddy the Rover and His Aunt Louise (1932): ‘Ballauvauderaboo is the best parish in Ireland. Behold it!’ (p.9.)

A First Book of Irish Literature (1934): ‘English Morality plays were acted - and transcribed - in Dublin, early in [the fifteenth] century. Some writers see in the Corpus Christi pageants, which were acted at this time by the Guilds of Dublin and Kilkenny, the beginning of drama.’ (Kennikat facs. edn. 1970, p.94; quoted in Loreto Todd, The Language of Irish Literature, 1989.) Further: ‘One of the errors in modern criticism is to assume that everything found in Irish is ipso facto a Catholic production, an expression of the true Irish spirit, as everything in good English from Milton to Mitchel should be regarded as the voice of England’ it is a measure of the expansiveness of de Blacam’s view of Irishness that he included the Gothic tradition which gave rise to Bram Stoker in his pioneering survey.’ (Extract in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane, Vol. 2, 1991, p.955.)

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References
Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), calls him editor of Irish Press, where he wrote under pseud. ‘Roddy the Rover’; lists The Ship that Sailed too Soon, and Other Tales (Maunsel 1919), 150pp. [18 stories, the first a historical fantasy dealing with O’Donnell’s ship from Corunna to free Ireland]; Holy Romans (Maunsel 1920), 390pp. [semi-autobiographical novel of Ulster Protestant raised in London who converts to Irish nationalism and Catholicism]; The Druid’s Cave (Dublin: Whelan 1921), 159pp. [adventure for young people; characters are Conall Mor and Fionn Mac Cumhail, while an English journalist, Horatio Topperly, is made the butt of jibes against the English]; Tales of the Gaels, ill. Austin Molloy (Dublin: Mellifont Press 1921), 119pp. [stories of Finn and the Fianna]; Patsy the Codologist (Dublin: Mellifont 1922), ill. George Monks, 123pp. [7 tales for young people from seven to seventy’; Patsy’s setting is ancient Tara where he makes a fool of the arrogant English king; includes two modern stories, ‘The Ghost of Rathfarnham; A Brush with Brigands’]; The Lady of the Cromlech (London: John Murray 1930), 318pp. [David Maxwell falls in love with Irish girl in Paris, and hunts for her in Ireland with only a portrait near a cromlech to guide him; meets seanachie, &c.]; ALSO Poetry, Donnán Dán (1917) and Songs and Satires (1920). Criticism, Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1929); lives of Colmcille [1929] and Theobald Wolfe Tone [1935], and the local studies, Gentle Ireland (1935) and The Black North, An Account of the Six Counties of Unrecovered Ireland (1938), foreword by Eamon De Valera.

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Kate Newmann, Dictionary of Ulster Biography (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1993), doesn’t mention his conversion to Catholicism or cite his Holy Romans, but calls him editor of The Standard; plays, King Dan and Two Kingdoms; lists prose, The Story of Colmcille (1929); Gaelic Literature Surveyed (1929); The Life of Wolfe Tone (1935); Towards the Republic; The Black North, and lives of saints.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, earlier a socialist, he eventually became vocal propagandist for General Franco’s Catholic Spain in the 1930s; Clann na Poblachta candidate, later worked for Dept. of Health under Noel Browne. FDA 2 selects Studies (1934), de Blacam’s rejoinder to Daniel Corkery’s Synge and the Anglo-Irish (1931) in a piece entitled ‘The Other Hidden Ireland’ (a reference to Corkery’s earlier thesis in The Hidden Ireland, 1924), propounding a multi-racial gaeldom in opposition to the other’s exclusivism. He argues that there is a hidden Anglo-Ireland as well as a hidden Gaeldom’ and suggesting that ‘both Gaelic writers, like Dr. Corkery, and Anglo-Irish writers often err by surveying only a section of the true historical field. The identification of Gael with Catholic is plausible in a study of Jacobite Munster, but it collapses [in] the whole Gaelic field from Kerry to the Hebrides.’ The forensic emphasis of his essay rests on the ‘general knowledge of Irish by Protestants throughout rural areas’ and the more exemplary case of the biblical translators such as Bishop Daniel (Ulliam Ó Domnhnaill). He also stresses the drain of Protestant emigrants which reduced the initial extent of the implantation of Gaelic elements from Scotland. He calls the identification of Catholic with Gael bad religion and bad history, ‘a sort of Irish Nazi-ism’. [FDA2 1013-1018]. Also Towards the Republic, ‘The Making of the Nation’ [982-85]; BIOG, 1019.

Hyland Books (Cat 219) lists Henry H[amilton]. Blackham, Bard of Clanrye [1st edn.] (1932), introduced by Aodh de Blacam; copy used as Christmas greeting by poet’s grand-nephew, who financed publication. Note copy of same in University of Ulster Library (Morris Collection).

Belfast Central Public Library holds A Plea for Ireland (n.d.); Gaelic Lit. Surveyed (1921); Towards the Republic (n.d.); Theobald Wolfe Tone [1935]; title page of Republic cites Irish poems, Donnán Dán [?1920] UUC JORD holds A First Book ...; Holy Romans; Old Wine; Songs and Satires (1920); Towards the Republic (1918); What Sinn Fein Stands For (1921); MORRIS holds The Black North (1938); Towards the Republic (1918); The Story of Colmcille (c.1930). Herbert Bell Library (Belfast) holds Henry H. Blackham, O’Kellys Kingdom (Dublin [?1984]).

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Notes
IT leaders: Aodh de Blacam, expert on Irish affairs, wrote leaders for R. M. Smyllie on freelance basis. (John Gray, Irish Times, Sat. 15th Sept. 1991).

George Boyce (Nationalism in Ireland, 1991 Edn.), quotes de Blacam’s allusion to the ‘foreign Ascendancy whose feet were on the necks of the Gaels’ (What Sinn Féin Stands For, p.23; Boyce, p.385.)

Edna Longley maintains that De Blacam engaged in the Spanish Civil War on Franco’s side (The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.41.)

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