Desmond Fennell

Life
1929- ; [Desmond Carolan Fennell], b. Belfast, grandson of a Co. Tyrone native speaker from the Sperrins; brought up in Dublin and ed at O’Connell Schools, and Belvedere; he was placed first in French and German in the Irish Leaving Cert.; entered UCD, 1947 (schol. in classics); grad. in history and economics; simultaneousy studied English and Spanish at TCD; completed MA in history at UCD, 1950-52, studying under Desmond Williams; contrib. to Sunday Press and was befriended by Douglas Gageby (Irish Times); spent 2 semesters in Bonn; taught English at secondary level in Biblao; travelled to America for the school; worked as English reader on Die Deutsches Welle [overseas radio]; sometime exhibitions officer of the Irish Arts Council;

travelled to Sweden, 1960, and was disappointed by its modern society; early writings published through cooperation of Fr. Austin Flannery, OP, editor of the monthly journal Doctrine and Life; m. Mary Troy, with whom a son; also associated with Tom Barrington (IPA) in pro-Europe movement; settled in Freiburg, Germany, to assist with edition of the Herder Correspondence (1964-68), a journal engaged in cultural politics of Vatican Council II; appt. editor, and returned to Ireland, settling at Maoinis Island, off the Connemara coast adjac. to Carna, 1968, with wife and two sons (Osin and Cillian); issued Herder essays as The Changing Face of Ireland (1968);

applied “Europe of the Regions” approach to Ireland and supported Gaeltacht development; also supported the “two nations” analysis of Northern Ireland; opposed modernisms - feminism, divorce and abortion - in The State of the Nation (1883) and Nice People and Rednecks (1986); supported Israel an Iarchonnacnt campaign; wrote for An Phoblacht as pseud. “Freeman”, 1970s; possibly ghosted the Eire Nua policies of Sinn Féin (Kevin St.), in the 1970s; lectured Political Science and Modern European History, UCG, 1976-82; travelled to East Germany in the last days before union, 1990, and issued Dream of Oranges (1996), an eye-witness account; issued controversial pamphlet as The Heaney Phenomenon (1991);

Fennell teaches College of Commerce & Communications, Rathgar, Dublin; established from his own publishing house, Sanas; publishes new essays with Liffey Press as Cutting to the Point (2003); moved to Anguillara, Italy; his dg. Natasha acts as his communications assistant; Fennell is the dedicatee of Seán Lucy, ed., Irish Poets in English (1972). DIW FDA

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Works
Monographs
  • Mainly in Wonder (London: Hutchinson 1959) [result of Eastern travels];
  • The British Problem: A Radical Analysis of the Present British Troubles and of Possible Ways of Ending Them (Dublin: Sceptick Press 1963), 32pp.;
  • ed. The Changing Face of Catholic Ireland, with a foreword by Karl Rahner, SJ (1968);
  • The State of the Nation: Ireland Since the Sixties (Swords: [Poolbeg] 1983) [infra];
  • Nice People but Rednecks: Ireland in the 1980s (1986);
  • The Revision of Irish Nationalism (1989);
  • Beyond Nationalism: The Struggle Against Provinciality in the Modern World (Swords 1985);
  • Bloomsway; A Day in the Life of Dublin (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1990);
  • Heresy: The Battle of Ideas in Modern Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff 1993), 289pp.;
  • Uncertain Dawn: Hiroshima and The Beginning of Post-Western Civilisation (Dublin: Sanas Press 1996), 198pp.;
  • Dream of Oranges: An Eyewitness account of the Fall of Communist East Germany (Dublin [PO Box 4056 D4]: Sanas 1996), 161pp.;
  • The Post-Western Condition: Between Chaos and Civilisation (London: Minerva Press 1999), 137pp.;
  • The Turning Point: My Sweden Year and After (Dublin: Sanas Press 2002), 223pp.;
  • Cutting to the Point: Essays and Objections, 1994-2003 (Dublin: Liffey Press 2003), 288pp.;
  • Savvy and the Preaching of the Gospel (Dublin: Veritas [2003]), 38pp.
  • Ireland After the End of Western Civilisation (Belfast: Athol Books 2009), 102pp.
  • 'About Being Normal: My Life in Abnormal Circumstances (2017).
 
Miscellaneous
  • ‘The Last Years of the Gaelteacht’, The Crane Bag: Journal of Irish Studies, 5, 2 (1981), rep. in The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, 1982, pp.839-42;
  • ‘Choosing Our Self-image (The Problem of Irish Identity)’, in The Crane Bag, 7, 2 [The Forum Issue: Education, Religion, Arts, Psychology] (1983) pp.191-96;
  • ‘Against Revisionism’, rep. in Ciaran Brady, Interpreting Irish History (IAP 1994) [c.p.186];
  • ‘The Heaney Phenomenon’ (1991) [pamph.; also in The Irish Times, 30 March 1991);
  • ‘Nation of Navel-gazers?’ [letter to the editor], in Books Ireland (Nov. 1994), p.290;
  • ‘Our Fragile World: Post-Western Civilisation’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly (Spring 1988).

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Essays available at the Desmond Fennell website ...
 
  • “The Anti-Suicide Campaign is Unrealistic”
  • “ Myself and Irish Intellectual Limitation”
  • “The Staggered End of Western Civilisation”
  • “‘The Renaissance’ in European History”
  • “Making Ireland Unlovable”
  • “The Irish Reaction to the Economic Crisis 2008-2010”
  • “From Aggiornamento to Recovery”
  • “Malignant Shame Has Weighed Down the Irish Economy”
  • “The Disintegration of the Irish Nation”
  • “ Now and Then (occasional short pieces)”
  • —Go to Desmond Fennell Website - online.

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    Criticism
    Toner Quinn, ed., Desmond Fennell: His Life and Work (Dublin: Veritas), 169pp. [contribs. incl. Brian Arkins, intro.; Carrie Crowley, Bob Quinn, John Waters, Mary Cullen, Joe Lee, Nollaig Ó Gadhra and Risteárd Ó Glaisne].

    There is a Wikipedia page on Fennell - online [accessed 16.12.2011].

    Also Joseph McMinn, review of Heresy: The Battle of Ideas in Modern Ireland (Blackstaff 1993), 289pp., in Linenhall Review (Spring 1994); John Kirkaldy, review of Cutting to the Point, in Books Ireland (April 2004), pp.84-85 [infra]; Brian Power, review of Savvy and the Preaching of the Gospel, in Books Ireland (Summer 2004), [ infra].

    Fennell was facetiously styled ‘Eamon de Valera’s representative on earth’ by Austin Morgan in a critique of Terry Eagleton, in Irish Studies Review, 7 (Summer 1994), p.37. (See further under Eagleton, q.v.)

    See also sundry other reviews, in Commentary, as [infra].

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    Commentary
    J. H. Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland (OUP 1991): [Fennell], is faithful to the traditional nationalist view of the British as the historical root of the problem, but repudiates the notion that the Protestant is an Irishman in disguise: “there is one nation, the Irish nation, and part of another nation, namely, the British nation” and the “problem is devising a state in which both these communities can share.”’ [Excerpts from 1986 and 1983]. Revision […] &c (1989) is an attack on revisionist history. [Whyte, 1991, p.138.] Also cites The State of the Nation, 1983; Beyond Nationalism, 1985; Nice People but Rednecks: Ireland in the 1980s, 1986.

    Seán de Fréine, The Great Silence: the Study of a Relationship Between Language and Nationality (Cork: Mercier 1978), quotes Fennell’s letter to the Evening Press (19 Aug. 1963), in which he writes of ‘the shameful fact that in our forty years of freedom not one book which could be called an important contribution to thought has been produced by an Irishman living in Ireland’. (de Fréine, p.103.)

    Barry Ó Séagha, review of Toner Quinn, ed, Desmond Fennell: His Life and Work and The Turning Point: My Sweden Year and After, in The Irish Times (30 March 2002) [Weekend]: contribs. incl. Brian Arkins [intro., here called ‘feeble’], Carrie Crowley, Bob Quinn, John Waters, Mary Cullen, Joe Lee, Nollaig Ó Gadhra and Risteárd Ó Glaisne; cites first published volume, Mainly in Wonder.

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    Bill Sweeney, reviewing Desmond Fennell, The Post-Western Condition: Between Chaos and Civilisation (2000), speaks of the author’s reputation as a ‘fiery critic of modernism’ who ‘shoots from the spleen’ at any deviation from nationalist orthodoxy, ‘an avid collector of conspiracy theories’, and a ‘staunch, if not always lucid defender of his own personal take on the human condition’. The current work of invective gives eyewitness account of collapse of East Germany; Fennell sets his sights on comsumerism and capitalism of the Ameropean [sic] system; lists as evils tolerance of homosexuality, of public display of bodily intimacies and the abandonment of authority of age over youth, as well as ‘demise of civilisation in favour of postmodernism’. Sweeney considers that the book offers a litany of generalisations with no definition of terms.

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    John Kirkaldy, review of Desmond Fennell, The Turning Point: The Postwestern Condition: Between Chaos and Civilisation, and Desmond Fennell: Life and Work, in Books Ireland, May 2002, pp.123-24: ‘Fennell fits into no neat little box; conservative, old-fashion and bigot are unfair or inadequate descriptions. He speaks several languages …’; ‘There is a touch of Swift about him, but also a little bit of Malvolio and Eeyore’ ‘The Turning Point is the weakest of thes books … at one level … cringe-making … a polemic of disgust … [Fennell believes that] the whole wretched mess is the inevitable result of a liberal state … Fennell is grossly unfair to Sweden […].’

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    Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Four Courts Press 2000): ‘The term [revisionism] was introduced into Irish debate by Desmond Fennell, who, in a series of books published since the 1960s, has questioned the modernistation process initiated by Whitaker and Lemass, suggesting that this process has led to the abandonment [17] of most of the goals of the Free state (subsequently the Republic) set itself in the immediate post-Independence period. The most important of such goals were the project of political unification with Northern Ireland and the revival of the Irish language.’ (pp.17-18.)

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    Brian Power, review of Savvy and the Preaching of the Gospel, in Books Ireland (Summer 2004), p.153: […] Fennell […] describe[s] and analyse[s] the anti-nationalist, liberal civilisation that is gaining momentum here [… He] declares himself disappointed on a number of grounds, such as the absenceof an effective and well-supported Chatolic media. For example, no journal comparable to the English Tablet has emerged in Ireland. He wonders at our general apathy and at the Church’s leadership’s apparent conviction that being publicly inaudible is a satisfactory way to evangelise. Nor can he understand how RTÉ has been able to sideline, without challenge, Catholic thought, news and culture.

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    Quotations
    Against Revisionism” (1988): ‘What is the popular image of historical revisionism in Ireland today? A retelling of Irish history which seeks to show that British rule in Ireland was not, as we have believed, a bad thing, but a mixture of necessity, good intentions and bungling; and that Irish resistance to it was not, as we have believed, a good thing, but a mixture of wrong-headed idealism and unnecessary, often cruel, violence. The underlying message is that in our relations with Britain on the Irish question we have been very much at fault […] [Revisionism] is not, primarily, the presentation of new facts, nor again, as some revisionists would have us believe, the refutation of factually false historical “myths”. Primarily, it is a new moral interpretation of the known major facts, and the general course of events, especially in the last century and a half More precisely, it is a new allocation, with regard to the known major facts and the general course of events, of the rightness and wrongness, as between the ideas and actions of the Irish and the intentions and actions of the British (or Ulster British).’ (Quoted in Liam Harte, Satellite Lect., MA Dip., UUC, Feb. 2003.) Further, ‘a new moral interpretation of the known major facts … of rightness and wrongness, as between the ideas and actions of the Irish and the intentions and actions of the British … [due to] British, American, and German capital providing wealth which Sinn Féin economics had failed to provide, and the rise to power in Dublin of a new elite of businessmen, bureaucrats, media people and polticians who adopted swinging London as their cultural lodestar.’ (Lecture delivered at UCD symposium, 1985; printed in Irish Review, 4, 1988).

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    Crossing Swords over Phaedra (Letter to The Irish Times, 11 March 1996): ‘Fintan O’Toole on theatre is always a pleasure to read, and his “Second Opinion on Phaedra at the Gate Theatre (March 5th)” was no exception. But before this fine production, in Derek Mahon’s melodious translation, passes from discussion, I wish to make two corrections to what has been said. The first is embodied in my use of the word “translation . Fintan O’Toole, as others before him, speaks of Derek Mahon’s “version”. But the text, published by Gallery Books, is described by the publisher as a translation; the blurb calls Mahon an “inspired translator”. / The confusion is understandable because renderings of foreign language plays by a number of Irish playwrights and poets in recent years have had varying relationships to the original texts. Moreover, the recent play at the Gate was presented. misleadingly as “Racine’s Phaedra by Derek Mahon”, rather than, correctly, as “Phaedra, by Racine, translator Derek Mahon . Admittedly, Mahon’s translation, in a few places, unaccountably takes liberties with the original and does not render what it says. But 95 per cent of the text is Racine’s play rendered into English, and therefore almost entirely what its publisher calls it, namely, a translation. (A pity, that “almost entirely .) / My other point has to do with the predecessors of Racine’s play. Mr O’Toole, taking his lead, presumably, from Derek Mahon’s programme note, names these predecessors as Euripides and Greek myth. So let me speak up for Seneca whose Phaedra, written 500 years after Euripides, was the immediate predecessor of Racine’s play. Racine had read Seneca and mentions his play in the preface to his own. His own was a new creation, not a translation; but just as large passages of his dialogue draw on Euripides, at two or three points it echoes Seneca. Yours, &c.’ / Portobello, Dublin 8.

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    The State of the Nation: ‘in business, science … etc., the vast bulk of our thinking is derivative’. (The State of the Nation: Ireland Since the Sixties, Swords: [Poolbeg] 1983, pamph.; included also in Seán Ó Tuama, in The Gaelic League Idea, Cork: Mercier 1972.)

    The Legacy of Pearse: ‘The nation states of Europe have not been established by peaceful means. Why should the case of Ireland be any different?’ (Letter to The Irish Times, 2 Sept. 2000).

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    References
    Bernard Share, ed., Far Green Fields, 1500 Years of Irish Travel Writing (Belfast: Blackstaff 1992), incls. extract from Desmond Fennell, Mainly in Wonder (London: Hutchinson 1959).

    Website: There is a Desmond Fennell web site at www.desmondfennell.com.

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    Notes
    The Fennell Wars: Fennell’s scathing attack on the poetry of Seamus Heaney in The Heaney Phenomenon elicited strong response, not least from the poet who probably intended him in the phrase ‘the anvil brains of some who hate me/As I sit weighing and weighing/My responsible tristitia’ (”Exposure”) - quoted by Heaney in his Stockholm Nobel Award Address, 1996. Among stringent critics of the pamphlet were Conor O’Callaghan, who called it ‘an ignorant piece’ ‘State of Poetry’ [special issue], in Krino (Winter 1993), p.51; others incl. Fred Johnstone and Mary Campbell [separately], in Books Ireland (Summer 1991); Fintan O’Toole, ‘Second Opinion’, in The Irish Times, and letters from Robert Welch et. al.

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    Namesake: Sir Desmond Fennell, 1933-2011, son of a Cork-born MD and a Dublin mother, settled in England; ed. Ampleforth, and Corpus Christi, Cambridge; national service in Grenadier Guards; called to the bar 1959; appt. High Court, 1990, ret. 1992; appt. to preside over London Tube Bombings, 2005; died on 29 June 2011.

     

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