I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Faith of Our Fathers

James Moran
The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day, by Roy Hattersley, Chatto & Windus, 640 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-1784741587 One of the most surprising revelations of Roy Hattersley’s new book, The Catholics, comes in the first two pages. Hattersley is known as having been a Labour MP for thirty-three years, a deputy leader of the Labour party for almost a decade and a member of the Wilson government and the Callaghan cabinet. He is also known for providing the inspiration for a memorably slobbering puppet on Spitting Image. But in the opening pages of his new book he reveals something that emerged only upon the death of his own father in the 1970s. When Hattersley senior passed away, Roy opened a letter of condolence which began “as you will know …” and continued “we were at the English College in Rome together and were young priests in the diocese of which I became bishop”. Roy Hattersley had, until that point in his life, no knowledge that his father had ever been a Catholic priest, although, in retrospect, he began to realise that it was slightly suspicious that he never seemed to have any problem translating the Latin inscriptions found in old churches. Hattersley knew his father as a government official who attended Church of England evensong. But in fact, during the 1920s, he had been a Catholic priest in the Nottinghamshire mining town of Shirebrook. There he had agreed to meet a young woman to prepare her for admission to the Catholic church before her marriage to a young Catholic collier. Father Hattersley gave this “instruction”, and then performed the marriage ceremony. But two weeks later, the priest and the bride ran away together. For the next forty-five years they lived together happily, and eventually married. Roy Hattersley was the fruit of that union. At eighty-four, Hattersley has now produced a book that begins with that legacy. He is not a believer himself, asserting bluntly that religion is “belief in the unbelievable”, adding that, “the decision to write The Catholics was neither inspired nor promoted by the Church of Rome. Had the commission come from the Vatican or one of its constituent hierarchies, it is unlikely that the chosen author would have been the atheist son of a defrocked priest”. Yet he does give a broadly sympathetic view of the Catholic church, through a…

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