Conor Cruise O'Brien, Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (Poolbeg 1994), 197pp.

Includes several citations from an autobiographical excerpt printed in The Atlantic Monthly (June 1944). Epigraphs include: ‘Here be ghosts that I have raised this Christmastide, ghosts f dead mean that have bequeathed a trust to us living men. Ghosts are troublesome things, in a house or in a family, as we knew even before Ibsen taught us. There is only one way to appease a ghost. You must do the thing it asks you. The ghosts of a nation sometimes ask very big things and they must be appeased whatever the cost.’ (Patrick Pearse, [Speech] Christmas Day 1915)

On 1641: Those who were oppressed for professsing a common religion – Gaedhil as well as Gaill –came to feel a common sense [11] of nationality, which they do not on the whole seem to have experienced before. Indeed, the works in the Irish language by Hiberno-Roman Counter-Reformation clerics, like Keating and Hackett were strong contributing factors in this outcome. [12]

In the century 1690-1790 there are few recorded signs of nationalism among Catholics [13]

Confederation of Kilkenny, classic Counter-Reformation banner: In Omni Tribulatione et Angustia Spes Nostri Jesu Ac Maria [13]

ON CARDINAL CULLEN [22] sect. ‘Cardinal Cullen: Manager of Nationalism’: cites Monsignor Patrick J. Corish, ‘Cardinal Cullen and the National Association’, in ed. and intro. Alan O’Day, Reactions to Irish Nationalism (1987) []: ‘Cullen was intensely Irish, but his patriotism, in marked contrast with, say, Thomas Davis, rested on a complete identification of Faith and Fatherland: his interpretation of past history, which is the basis of all patriotism, was dominated by the fact of Irish attachment to the Catholic faith’ (p.127). Cullen [In defence of the Christian Brothers’ history teaching]: ‘What is that almost all the leaders of Fenianism have been educated in the Protestant Dublin University, in the Queen’s colleges and in the normal and [interdenominationally] mixed national schools. The youth of the Christian Brothers schools, of the Catholic colleges, and of the the Catholic University, have not been compromised.’ (quoted in Larkin, Consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland 1860-1870 (Dub:Gilll Macmillan 1987).

Larkin: ‘The Fenians were in their quarrel with the Church attempting to drive a nationalist wedge between the clergy and the people, and Cullen was determined that this was to be resisted at all costs (Consolidation, p.423-4).

During proceedings of Powis Commission into primary education, 1868, Judge William Brooke questioned Cullen on Christian Brother history-teaching: ‘Professing to cultivate a spirit of Irish nationality, the Christian Brothers have compiled for their more advanced pupils reading books abounding in narratives of English perfidy and cruelty, and many passages in prose and verse of such a character that the Irish student cannot failed to be imbued with a detestation of any connection with England [...] ’; he was answered that the books mentioned facts ‘certainly not creditable to the English Government’ but that the books inculcated Christian faith and therefore taught charity and respect: ‘Faith thus strengthened [...] tends to preserve a spirit of subjection and obedience in the people.’ (Quoted from Barry M. Coldrey, Faith and Fatherland: The Christian Brothers and the Development of Irish Nationalism 1838-1921 (Dublin 1988), called a ‘seminal work’ by O’Brien [25]

CO’B Argues that the popularity of Yeats’s literary movement in the 1890s arose because it was a form of nationalism disapproved of by the church authorities, who had just murdered Parnell (according to the assumptions prevailing at the time in the circles in question) [30] [...] by the middle of the first decade of the new century, Parnellism was no longer à la mode [...] [31]

O’Brien’s use of D. P. Moran reflects his explicit assertion in several places that Moran’s Leader reveals with unique blatancy the sectarian basis of Irish nationalism. He gives a fulsome account of Moran’s attacks on W. B. Yeats, initially unsuccessful in the era of Diarmuid and Grainne and Cathleen Ni Houlihan, but finally triumphant in the period of The Playboy riots, which O’Brien considers that he effectively orchestrated. His term for the anti-establishment campaign that he was conducting was ‘The Great Twist of the Sourfaces’; his invariable name for Irish Protestants was ‘Sourfaces’.

The fFirst issue [of The Leader] (1 Sept. 1900), carried a welcome from W. B. Yeats, referring to ‘the many attacks you have made upon and the movement I represent’, being a reference to the attacks on his The Countess Cathleen (1892).

[On D. P. Moran and The Leader:] Irish-Ireland [...] the slogan was the coinage of a briliant and pugnacious journalist: DP Moran. Moran was intensely Catholic and intensely nationalist: a thorough-going Faith and Fatherland person, fully in tune with the basic ideology of the Christians Brothers, but recklessly idiosyncratic in his personal formulation of the same [33] [...] may have had clerical backing for the foundation of his paper, and both his paper and his Irish Ireland movement had significant, if discreet, support from the Hierarchy [...] The Leader was the most exciting thing in Irish journalism [...] sharply written, hard-hitting, taboo-breaking, and animated by [34] a well defined sense of purpose [...] committed journalist [...] a great hater [...] It would probably not be quite fair to say that Moran hated Protestants, but it would be very near the truth. [...] saw [...] his mission was to subject what remained of the Protestant Ascendancy by putting the fear of God into the minority in Catholic Ireland [...] The files of The Leader from 1900 to 1914, constitute the only sustained explicit exposition of Catholic nationalism that we have. Through the 18th and 19th c. the whole area is covered with a fog of dissimulation and pseudo-oecumenism. After 1921, in the new Irish State, that fog decorous descends again and has never lifted this. [35]

Quotes: ‘Most of the heroines of modern British drama are prostitutes’ (under the heading “ The British Mind in Ireland”, 6 Oct. 1900); against ‘Sourfaces’, 9 Feb. 1901 (under heading “A Sad Day” on those who mourned Queen Victoria): ‘There is something very distinctive about the face of the average loyalist, it is characteristic in its way as that of a Jew [...] They all understand one another especially when employment is to be given. These brick-complexioned and sourfaced whole and part foreigners rule the country’; reference to “Jewman Bull” (26 July 1902); denounced Protestant bishop of Limerick, Dr Bunbury, as a ‘bigot’ for defending jews of Limerick against Catholic anti-semitism (23 April to 4 June 1904); ‘If a man is in doubt whether he is a Sourface or not let him look in the glass: if two men or women are in doubt let them look at one another. These are not infallible tests, for as a man may smile and smile and be a villain, so may a man smile and be a Souface. A Sourface is not a Protestant, or a toy Atheist, or a Unionist. A Sourface may be any of these things. It very often happens that a Sourface is a Protestant, or professes to be one; but he is not a Sourface because he is a Protestant, but because he is something else besides’ (Leader, 11 May 1901). ‘Castle Catholics’, ‘Shoneens’, and ‘West Britons’. Moran’s declaration of principle: ‘We want to go back to the Gael, the matrix of the Irish nation. If the Gael is to be raised, the proper place for the sympathetic Palesman is behind the Gael until he becomes absorbed. But it would appear that the price of the tolerance and of the alliance is that the Gael speaks under his breath and says “Thank you” when one per cent of the former graciously smiles on him. Ireland has two religions and the majority cannot talk about their religion above their breath, for fear of appearing bigoted, intolerant, and offending our patronisers’ (5 Jan 1901); ‘There was a time in Ireland when public opinion was Irish; it was then Catholic as well. That was when the Irish Gael lived freely and in honour in his own land. And the faith which he intertwined with patriotism was the traditional Catholic faith handed down to him from Patric. Meanwhile the alien colony became firmly rooted in the land and tried to totally extinguish every vestige of Irish Ireland – and almost succeeded. Aliens in race, and mostly aliens in religion they tried to plant their religion, language, in a word their whole civilisation on the conquered country [and on] the Native Irish as distinct from the alien settlers.’ (8 June 1901); ‘Why should Irish Catholics try to prove their tolerance when they have never been toler[ated]? Let those who have been intolerant prove that they have given it up. (31 May 1902). Further cites The Leader’s endorsement of rural intimidation of Protestants [4 Mar 1905; 42], and elsewhere speaks of Moran’s ‘sharp and bitter, little mind [54]’.

NOTE: O’Brien’s essay includes a section of W B Yeats’s relations with Irish-Ireland and especially with Moran: W B Yeats and Other Nationalist’ [53-70], together with another entitled ‘Yeats and Maud Gonne Diverge’ [70-77], and a third called ‘The Fall and Resurrection of Maud Gonne’ [77-85].

Moran refers to Yeats’s movement as ‘an assembly known by the strange name: National Literary Society’, and continues: ‘We would point out that the West British way of looking at things may have been in keeping with the spirit of ten years ago, but though the ‘National’ Literary Society does not know it, we have advanced a little in the last ten years. would it not be time they ceased talking nonsense in this society or else shifted it over to Birmingham?’ [55].

T.W. Rolleston responded: ‘Are Davis and Ferguson and Yeats and AE to be nothing to the Irish Catholic because he is a Catholic and are De Vere and Griffin and Morgan to be nothing to me because I am a Protestant?’ (Leader, 5 Jan. 1901). [55]

Quotes: ‘The few non-Catholics who would like to throw in their lot with the Irish nation must recognise that the Irish nation is de facto a Catholic nation, just as the English Catholic recognises that England is de facto a Protestant nation. We desire to realise an Irish Ireland and let the non-Catholics help in the work or get out of the system. Their kin have robbed us and enslaved and interrupted our development as a nation. They owe us restitution.’ [59]

[On Yeats:] ‘He sometimes writes poetry which no Irishman understands, or rather which no Irishman troubles his head to read; he thinks Catholics are superstitious and he believes in spooks himself; he thinks they are priest-ridden and he would like to go back to Paganism; he is a bigot who thinks he is broadminded; a prig who thinks he is cultured; he does not understand Ireland [...] However, he means well, and he might be left to time and experience for the acquirement of sense, only that he has no small distractive power, in this unthinking and cringing land. Of course this description does not apply to any individual’ [the last phrase described by O’Brien as an uncharacteristic ‘perfidious disclaimer’]. [59]

[On Diarmuid and Grainne:] ‘‘They have offered an insult to our mind and heart, by their misrepresentationi of the story in its moral aspect. The character of Grainne has been gratuitously defiled by the hand of the English mind. From the beginning of the Fenian story to the end there is not one line that could be twisted into a suggestion of unfaithfulness on her part [...] the vile woman of this coarse English play [...] Let the English mind in future write plays for itself. We will have none of them. (Leader, 2 Nov. 1901, under heading ‘The English Mind’) [60].

Quotes: ‘The Irish people are Christian, they believe in the morality of the Catholic Church, and they will not suffer any attempt to pervert their opinions on such matters, or to misrepresent their attitudes towards such problems’ (‘The Philosophy of an Irish Theatre’, 21 Oct. 1903)

[D. P. Moran sneers at West Britons in the stalls:] ‘Kathleen Ni Houlihan makes Irish patriotism quite harmless, if not respectable’ (‘At the Abbey Theatre’, 7 Jan. 1905).

[On Synge’s Playboy:] ‘Mr Synge has apparently outraged Irish piety and the authorities of the theatre are, we think unwise in fighting the cause of what they call “freedom of judgement” with such a weapon as The Playboy of the Western World” (Leader, editorial, 2 Feb. 1907.)

‘The unmistakeable vigorous and spontaneous outburst of disapproval which practically put an end to the last act of Mr Synge’s gruesome farce at the Abbey Theatre last Saturday can only be regretted on the grounds that it was so long delayed [...] Attacks on filial affection, the sacredness of life and the modesty of women [...] an undercurrent of animalism and irreligion [ [...] &c.] (Review of Playboy, idem. [2 Feb. 1907]) [83]

O’Brien seems not to notice that J. O’Donovan, writing the The Leader, is Gerald O’Donovan, author of Fr. Ralph. His letter of protest in The Leader (12 Jan. 1901) took issue with Moran’s statement that ‘Even Mr. Yeats does not understand us, he has yet to write one line that will strike a chord of the Irish heart’, recounting by way of ‘an instance to the contrary that struck me very much.’ O’Donovan replies: ‘I have a dainty volume of Mr Yeats’s collected poems. One evening I missed my book from its accustomed place. I asked my housekeeper if she saw it. In some confusion she said it was in the kitchen where she had taken it to read one of the poems – The Ballad of Peter Gilligan – to a neighbour. “To tell you the truth, sir, the two of us cried over it.”’ [56]

[Quotes Cathleen Ni Houlihan, in which Michael Gillane is called from his marriage to Delia by the Old Woman to fight for Ireland in the 1798 Rebellion in the West of Ireland:] Bridget - ‘It is a wonder that you are not worn out with so much wandering’. Old Woman - ‘Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no quiet in my heart. When the people see me quiet, they think old age has come on me and that the stir has gone out of me. But when the trouble is on me I must be talking to my friends.’ Bridget: ‘What was it put you wondering?’ Old Woman - ‘Too many strangers in the house.’ Bridget - ‘Indeed you look as if you’d had you’re share of trouble.’ Old Woman - ‘I have had trouble indeed. Bridget - ‘What was it put the trouble on you? Old Woman: ‘My land that was taken from me.’ Peter - ‘Was it much land they took from you?’ Old Woman: ‘My four beautiful green fields.’

Also: ‘If any one would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me all [...] [Sings:] For the death that shall die tomorrow [...] They will have no need of prayers/They will have no need of prayers’; ‘It is a hard service they take that help me. Many that are red-cheeked now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to walk the hills and the bogs and the rushes will be sent to walk hard streets in far countries; many that have gathered money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that have red chekes will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that, they will think they are well paid.’ [Offstage, singing]: ‘They shall be remembered forever/They shall be alive for ever,/They shall be speaking for ever,/The people shall hear them for ever’. the play ends: Peter [to Patrick, laying a hand on his arm]: ‘Did you see an old woman going down the path?’ Patrick: ‘I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen. [END]

[Pearse at Wolfe Tone’s grave, Bodenstown Co. Kildare, 22 June 1913:] ‘We have come to the holiest place in Ireland; holier even than the place where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought us life, but this mean died for us. He was the greatest of Irish Nationalists [...] We have come to renew our adhesion to the faith of Tone: to express once more our full acceptance of the gospel of Irish Nationalism which he was the first to formulate in wordly terms. This man’s soul was a burning flame, so ardent so generous so pure, that to come into communion with it is to come unto a new baptism, into a new regeneration and cleansing.’ (Coll. Works: Political Writings and Speeches Phoenix n.d., pp.58-62.)

Further: ‘how this heretic toiled to make free men of Catholic helots, how as he worked among them, he grew to know and to love the real, the historic Irish people’ [idem 64; O’Brien 101]

Pearse refers to patriotism as ‘a faith which is of the same nature as religious faith’; describes Emmet’s death as ‘a sacrifice Christ-like in its perfection [...] such a death always means a redemption’; on Mitchel’s Jail Journal: ‘the last Gospel of the New Testament of Irish Nationalism as Wolfe Tone’s Autobiography is the first’ (from a Hermitage’; Coll. Works, 139-212pp. [101].)

[Quotes Pearse:] ‘When men come to a graveyard they pray: and each prays in our heart. But we do not pray for Tone – men who died that their people may be free “have no need for prayer” [quoting Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan]; Here be ghosts that I have raised this Christmastide, ghosts f dead mean that have bequeathed a trust to us living men. Ghosts are troublesome things, in a house or in a family, as we knew even before Ibsen taught us. There is only one way to appease a ghost. You must do the thing it asks you. The ghosts of a nation sometimes ask very big things and they must be appeased whatever the cost’; ‘Thus Tone, thus Davis, thus Lalor, thus Parnell. Methinks I have raised some ghosts that will take a little laying.’ (Patrick Pearse, Christmas Day 1915, in Coll. Works, pp.223-255; [O’Brien, 103]

[Pearse, further:] ‘Let no man be mistaken as to who will be lord in Ireland when Ireland is free. The people will be lord and master. The people who wept in Gethsemane, who trod the sorrowful way, who died naked on a cross, who went down to hell, will rise again glorious and immortal, will sit in judgement on the right hand of God, who will come in the end to give judgement, a judge just and terrible.’ (Coll. Works, p.345); MacDara, in The Singer: One man can free a people as one Man redeemed the world [...] I will take no pike. I will go into battle with bare hands. I will stand up before the Gall as Christ hung naked before man on the tree’ (Plays, Stories, and Poems, p.44.)

[Pearse, further:] ‘I do not know if the Messiah has yet come and I am not sure that there will be any visible and personal Messiah in this redemption: the people itself will perhaps be its own Messiah, the people labouring, scourged, crowned with thorns, agonising and dying, to rise again immortal and impossible.’ (‘The Coming Revolution’, Nov. 1913; Coll. Works, p.91; O’Brien, 107.)

CO’B discusses the organising and galvanising role of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in the Plough and the Stars riot of Feb. 1928. [122]

Sel. Bibliography
Bartlett, Thomas, ‘Defenders and Defenderism in 1795’, in Irish Historical Studies (1985) [cp.375]; Barry M. Coldrey, Faith and Fatherland: The Christian Brothers and the Development of Irish Nationalism 1838-1921 (Dublin 1988); Emmet Larkin, Consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland 1860-1870 (Dub:G&M 1987); Daire Keogh, The French Disease: The Catholic Church and Radicalism in Ireland 1790-1800 (Four Courts Press 1993); Frank Callanan, The Parnell Split, 1890-91 (Cork 1992); Alan O’Day, ed., Reactions to Irish Nationalism (Dublin 1987) - incls. David Miller, ‘The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland: 1898-1918; Monsignor Patrick J. Corish, ‘Cardinal Cullen and the National Association’ [c127]; W F Mandle, ‘The IRB and the Beginnings of Gaelic Athletics Association’ [c.94].

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