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Lost Connections

Maurice Earls

Books and journals referred to in this essay include:
From Easter Week to Flanders Field, The Diaries and Letters of John Delaney 1916-1919, by Thomas J Morrissey SJ, Messenger Publications, 150 pp, €12.99, ISBN: 978 1910248119
Studies, An Irish Quarterly Review, various issues

John Delaney SJ, the son of a Dublin coachman, was born in 1883. The family lived on Charleville Mall just off the North Strand and overlooking the Royal Canal. It was a working class area and perhaps not quite the typical background for an Irish Jesuit. The area remains a working class one, if a little altered from Delaney’s time owing to a ninety-minute visit from German bombers on the night of May 30th, 1943. It is clear from his diaries that Delaney knew the city well and felt at home on its streets, side streets and throughout its suburbs. Later, when serving as a military chaplain in Flanders, he wrote fondly of “dear old Dublin”. In addition to serving as a chaplain from 1917 to 1919, Delaney spent two periods as a missionary in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and also worked in Ireland at different times. He died in Dublin on August 8th, 1956. Those who wrote his obituaries, probably members of his order, thought it prudent to omit mention of his time as military chaplain.

As a scholastic preparing for ordination, Delaney studied at the Jesuit College in Milltown and was living there during Easter week 1916. The college was then less multinational than it had been a few years previously. With the outbreak of war German Jesuits based in Milltown were called home to act as military chaplains and the French ones were called up for armed service. Republican France did not recognise the Society of Jesus.

Delaney spent Easter week walking around the city in his black clerical garb and high Roman collar observing events and discussing them with people he met. In the evenings he wrote up a record of what he witnessed in a private diary which has just been published by Messenger Publications and which is incorporated in a wider biography, largely based on Delaney’s own writings.

The editor/author, Thomas J Morrissey SJ, remarks that the diaries do not contain material which adds to the understanding of the Rising in political or military terms. This is possibly true but the journal is interesting in its own way. From the unguarded writings of the student priest – which were never intended for publication ‑ we gain an insight into everyday political attitudes in Dublin, which arguably is at least as useful as the study of military matters and high politics in arriving at some understanding of the meaning and significance of the only Irish rebellion which can be said, albeit indirectly, to have worked.

The diary is interesting in many respects, not least in that most people with whom Delaney engaged – excluding Unionists – come across as broadly supportive of the Volunteers. This qualifies the frequent claim that the citizens of Dublin were hostile to the Rising. It is particularly interesting, in the light of the concerns of this essay, that in his perambulations Delaney encounters little evidence of hostility or criticism of the Volunteers from Irish Parliamentary Party supporters.

Among other events, Delaney describes the surrender of the Boland’s Mill garrison and says that as the Volunteers were being marched to the RDS showgrounds they were in high spirits, whistling Irish airs and marches. Crowds had watched and all of those present to whom Delaney spoke subsequently praised the “young de Valera, professor in Blackrock College”, who “displayed real military genius in dispersing his men in real strategical points”.

The prisoners were later marched to Richmond barracks in Inchicore. It is known that Volunteer prisoners were abused by the public as they were marched through this working class area (see “Jeering the Men of 1916”.) The probable explanation for the hostility is that many among the working class of Inchicore had family members at the front and, as the injuries and deaths of soldiers mounted, these relatives expressed their alarm and fears in a visceral hostility towards the Volunteers who were fighting the same army in which their endangered family members were serving.

It is unlikely that many of the Dublin working class contingent in the army had enlisted in response to Redmond’s encouragement. A good number would have joined up owing to financial opportunity or need, which pressed sorely on many working class families in impoverished Dublin one year after the lockout. It appears that this dynamic did not apply in the more affluent middle class inner suburbs near the RDS where Delaney records no jeering and conveys an impression of passive support.

When discussing 1916 it is probably best to acknowledge from the outset that it remains a politically live issue. The Rising lies in the historical past, but not in the way that the Revolt of Silken Thomas or The Nine Years War or Grattan’s Parliament does. It has not progressed from the tempestuous political world to the calmer historical world and it seems unlikely that the centenary commemoration will mark that passage.

The simple “it was a good thing and those involved are national heroes” approach, which had, or appeared to have, broad support in earlier decades now snags in our political culture. There is for sure a very sizable number of people who have an uncomplicated and positive attitude towards the Rising. However, it appears this group does not now include the government, whose inclusive approach and insistence on acknowledging all 1916 experiences ‑ including those of British soldiers and DMP men who lost their lives ‑ as being equally worthy of commemoration by the state, is seen by many in the first group as bizarre and draining the Rising of all meaning and significance. (This reviewer recently witnessed a representative of the official commemorations programme being strongly criticised from the floor at the AGM of the 1916 Relatives Association on exactly those grounds.)

The traditional it-was-a-good-thing interpretation, notwithstanding the number of its adherents, is now on the back foot. The official government position is: “The Government is committed to respecting all traditions on this island equally. It also recognises that developing a greater understanding of our shared history, in all of its diversity, is essential to developing greater understanding and building a shared future.” It seems the government is prepared to be as vague or anodyne as necessary in order to avoid trouble. One can have a certain sympathy. No one wants O’Donovan Rossa-type events in Dublin and after thirty years of hard work the government naturally doesn’t want to do anything to unsettle the Good Friday Agreement, which it may feel is facing sufficient threats without adding that of an ebullient celebration of 1916. So, we can expect much government talk of multiple traditions over the next year.

Nevertheless, given the unambiguous nature of the phenomenon at the centre of the commemorations, things may drift off course. Already there are ominous signs. The commemoration of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral has been read by some as a commemoration of the old dynamiter himself and there has been a fair bit of tut-tutting. The government failed to get across the message that that the commemoration was of the funeral alone as a galvanising event for Pearse and his colleagues, the gentlemen insurgents who occupied a building and waited for the gunboat dynamiters to show what they could do to a defenceless city. We shall see if this misunderstanding is a one-off or the first in a series of problems.

Apart from the fear of the reigniting the Northern war there are two broad areas in which 1916 is politically problematic in our time, two areas which act as a brake on the possibility of an uncomplicated consensus that it was “a good thing”. The first, which does not directly affect the book under review, has to do with a feeling that advanced separatist ideology and rhetoric do not reflect the character and aspirations of the country today. Ireland is a country which is growing in wealth and population and which, for better or worse, has enthusiastically embraced a raft of globalist values, including the associated celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity. It has also willingly accepted the attendant reduction in national sovereignty. The new economic and cultural order cannot be satisfied by an “ourselves alone” public ideology, the line now being more “ourselves and anyone else with whom we can do business”. And this new cultural mood is one which has little use for idealism, including the striking anti- materialistic idealism of those who signed the proclamation. This shift would appear to have influenced the government’s position and explains the distance some sections of society are maintaining from the 1916 commemoration. To put it another way, if there is to be a parade, we should not expect an IDA float.

The second problematic area, and this one does impact on the texts under review, has to do with relatively recent expressions – often articulated in Studies ‑ of resentment towards those who displaced John Redmond and the gradualist tradition and went on to become the establishment in independent Ireland, an establishment which played down the historical significance of non-militant nationalism. As we shall see, there is some evidence to suggest that this new Redmondism ‑ like the attitudes which prevailed in Studies in earlier decades ‑ is driven less by a concern for honouring the gradualist tradition itself than by a deep-seated distaste for the political form of the republic and the degree of separation from Britain which followed 1916.

Before its political eclipse in the early twentieth century, the gradualist current was acknowledged as the force in Irish political culture. However, in self-congratulatory mode, independent Ireland, which grew from the guns of 1916, either ignored that tradition or characterised it as being of minor importance and perhaps tainted by moral deficiency and even, in some cases, by actions which were close to collaboration.

All of this was, of course, quite ludicrous. Moreover, deep currents established over centuries don’t just go away. The reality was that the new establishment owed a profound debt to two centuries of pragmatic nationalism. Indeed, beneath its bluster, the new order was itself ultimately gradualist. In short order de Valera was to prove himself quite pragmatic and the former gunman Seán Lemass emerged as the state’s greatest pragmatist. With the eruption of the Northern war, less clear-headed politicians and commentators slowly got in line and in due course the state, having rediscovered its pragmatic soul, harnessed its deep political heritage to achieve what was probably the best conceivable settlement to the conflict for the beleaguered Northern minority.

Of course the gradualist tradition is not the only living tradition in Irish culture, there is also its twin impulse of carpe diem which derives from militant traditions, both Ribbonist and those of the Fenian type. Indeed it is tempting to suggest that this legacy, at least in part, explains the Irish willingness to embrace rapid change, change which in other European countries has been embraced over time, if at all. Undoubtedly, it is a capacity which has often benefitted the country.

The new state’s tendency to minimise the role of non-militant nationalism in the history of resistance to the colonial order was possible because of the great success of the War of Independence, which incidentally also allowed the 1922 split within militant republicanism to be proffered as the only split of significance within nationalism. But there is another reason the state got away with its simplistic account of the past and it is one which brings us back to the texts under consideration. Those, such as the contributors to Studies, who might have championed a counternarrative, one which might well have blended with the republican one, failed to do so. Studies, which was the most substantial intellectual journal published in twentieth century Ireland, did at times engage tangentially with life in the Republic in essays which addressed topics such as health, education and social welfare. But it held back from publishing on the history of the constitutional tradition and from engagement with the new state’s core interests. This pattern suggests a reservation regarding the state’s legitimacy, one which is also implicit in the new Redmondist critique of 1916.

Studies held aloof from the new state, as a state, and this stance was perfectly consistent with its deep ambivalence towards the politics of 1916. At the time of the rebellion itself Studies declined to publish on the major political event which the Rising constituted, choosing instead to consider the literary works of its leading figures. It was a position which was maintained in the years following the rising. The Irish Jesuit Province, it is said, opposed republican fighters in the War of Independence, at least until the British military began killing priests. Similarly, it is reported that individual Jesuits who sided with the republican irregulars during the civil war were “exiled”.

The New Redmondism ‑ whose underlying politics are actually not at all new in Irish Jesuit culture ‑ can be traced to the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising in 1966 and especially to the publication of Francis Shaw’s “debunking” of 1916 in “The Canon of Irish History, a Challenge” in Studies in 1972. It is widely believed, and has been directly stated by Charles Lysaght, that most Jesuits privately agreed with Fr Shaw. This is hardly surprising as Shaw was saying, albeit in more colourful language, what was implicit from the earliest years of the journal, that 1916 was a matter of regret. It is telling that just as Studies showed no substantial interest in the gradualist tradition in the early decades of the new state, neither does the new Redmondism. In the end, it seems celebrating Redmond is really about criticising 1916. It is a puzzling phenomenon. Why, it might be asked, should anyone be animated by a might-have-been one hundred years later? It seems a futile waste of energy.

In more general terms when one considers that political failure and decline are quite normal, it is difficult to understand why the Redmondist attachment to historical resentment persists. On a fair number of occasions in previous centuries the baton of leadership was lost by individuals or groups. It is to be expected, especially, when a leader is perceived to have failed.

The blunt fact is that, in the end, Redmond was a failure (this can happen in politics) whereas the gradualist tradition, largely ignored in Studies, has arguably been – for better or worse ‑ the decisive shaping force of contemporary Irish politics and culture. It was, moreover, a tradition which stood in need of championing in the early decades of the state’s existence. An imaginative revisiting of this tradition and its offshoots might well have demonstrated that 1916 and the War of Independence would have been impossible without the persistence of constitutional nationalism over previous centuries and have gone on to argue for an organic link between the two forms of struggle. But for that, there would have had to exist a positive disposition towards the struggle for national autonomy and a real desire to see an effective Irish state.

When in 1938 Seán Ó Faoláin published King of the Beggars, his anti Gaelic and hugely positive biography of O’Connell, it offered an opportunity for those associated with Studies who might have felt the non-militant tradition was underacknowledged to make their case. Ó Faoláin, whose thesis was stylish but crude and in some key aspects tendentious, presented O’Connell as the man who dragged the backward Gaels into the modern nineteenth century and turned them into English-speaking utilitarians who might make something of themselves in the world. It caused a great stir in intellectual circles. Bryan Fanning has written on the debate which followed in Studies and John Minahane examines the same debate in the current issue of The Heidegger Review. The main respondent to Ó Faoláin published in Studies at the time was Michael Tierney, future president of UCD and a regular contributor to the Jesuit journal. He in turn was responded to by others including the Jesuit John Ryan. Neither was particularly positive in his attitude towards O’Connell.

The responses are notable for their sophistication but also, once again, for a failure to engage substantially with the question of the constitutional tradition. Its status does not appear to have animated the respondents. Their preference in responding to Ó Faoláin was to discuss the contemporary relevance of the older Gaelic order, which O’Connell was said to have rejected, rather than the possibilities in the new state for democratic politics which, it was agreed, he introduced into Irish political culture. The respondents do not quite ignore the democratic theme in King of the Beggars but deal with it fairly brusquely, as something they do not value and as a phenomenon they do not particularly wish to see at the heart of independent Ireland. One is left with the impression that they do not care greatly for democratic politics. In the case of Michael Tierney, this is hardly surprising given that he had been a supporter of the fascist Blueshirts and apparently believed democracy would be a short-lived experiment.

With John Ryan the reason is a little different. Ryan attached less value to Gaelic culture as such than did the other respondents. Significantly, he denied that contemporary Irish culture owed anything to English or Puritan influences as Tierney had suggested. For Ryan Catholicism was the key to the Irish past; it was the country’s defining characteristic which he will not allow to have been challenged by anything, especially English Puritanism. Ryan does not value the idea of a strong and coherent state, which he sees as characteristic of the Puritan tradition and essentially non-Irish. He places Catholic heritage at the centre of Irish experience and sees it as that which makes the Irish irremediably different from the English and that which can be relied on to protect the country morally and intellectually from English utilitarianism. For Ryan the sphere of religion embodies “the highest cultural achievement of our people”, one that will provide Ireland with direction for the future. (For discussion of an earlier example of Ryan’s prioritising of Catholicism over Gaelic culture see “Gaelic and Catholic?”)

There is a little of the intellectual swagger about Ryan and it is not difficult to understand his confidence; the social power of the Catholic Church in Ireland seemed unassailable at the time. He could hardly have admired or much respected the status of the secular democrats who were running the new state and would hardly have suspected that ‑ unlike Tierney’s unregarded democracy ‑ Catholic dominance would prove of relatively short duration.

Not only was Studies uninterested in the non-militarist tradition over the first five decades or so of its existence; it was not much interested either in John Redmond and other nationalists displaced by the events which followed the Rising. There was a general silence apart from occasional mild pieces from contributors such as Denis Gwynn who, as it happens, had in the 1920s revealed himself as less than enthusiastic for democracy and, who as Barra Ó Seaghdha informs us, loathed Pearse. Whatever alternative to the legacy of 1916 those associated with Studies strove for, clearly it was not the representative democracy which originated in the gradualist tradition.

The tone of the 2009 essay “John Redmond, Discarded Leader” by Stephen Collins, who sits on the board of Studies, is representative of the new Redmondist tendency. The essay is reflective and interesting though notable more by what it does not consider than by what it does. It carries a considerable emotional cargo whose thrust is hostility towards those who acted in 1916. (For a more detailed discussion of Collins’s essay see Barra O’Seaghdha “History as a Moral Tale”.) Interestingly, the editor, Fergus O’Donoghue, somewhat distanced himself from Collins’s essay with a well-judged comment within his editorial: “constitutional and revolutionary violence both arose as an enraged response to systemic injustice; one can only be understood in relation to the other”. If there is a dominant tone within Studies, it would be a mistake, it seems, to imagine there is but one voice.

The recent pick-up of interest in Redmond can be seen as in a continuum with Francis Shaw’s famous essay “The Canon Of Irish History, a Challenge” in which the author maintains that the Rising was unnecessary and unwanted. Daire Keogh, writing in Studies, claims that Shaw’s article established an editorial consensus in the journal. It might be argued that the consensus was effectively there from 1916.

As Ó Seaghdha has shown, there is more to Shaw’s essay than would appeal to today’s secular anti-republican historians. He was actually very much in the tradition of John Ryan, believing that a strong state was not in the Irish tradition, hugely attached to the importance of Irish Catholicism and seeing romantic nationalism with its spiritual language as a shallow competitor to the truths of Catholicism. Shaw, like Ryan, was also super-confident, unaware that in terms of existing Catholic social power the clock was showing five minutes to midnight.

One of the more regrettable side effects of the new Redmond fixation is a glamorisation of the Great War and a mimicking of the rhetoric its British champions generate. Generally it helps to call things by their names. The Great War, on which John Redmond gambled, was a grotesque slaughter with over eight million, mostly young men, immorally led to death. It can never be more and from an Irish point of view Redmond’s support for it can, at best, be seen as a tragic error and deviation in a man who devoted his life to the cause of Home Rule.

Willie Redmond, John Redmond’s brother, recognised the failure of the whole Redmondite project as early as 1915 and Thomas Kettle did soon after. Some perceptive Irish Jesuit chaplains also saw the war for what it was and called it by its name. The same is true of many others, including Joyce, who called time on Redmond’s dance with the Liberals some years earlier. Yet there are those who a century later find it congenial, as it were, to carry a light for Redmond’s disastrous choice and it seems Studies is happy to offer them publication.

In the current issue, editor Bruce Bradley writes a careful and stylish editorial in the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other mode. Notwithstanding its structured balance, a Redmondite perspective governs the editorial argument. Speaking of those who followed Redmond’s advice, Bradley writes:

But the heroism of those who, from the noblest motives of principle, willingly endured the horrors of the trenches is worthy of the highest honour and must never be forgotten. If highlighting the brutal, needless horrors of the First World War is one of the purposes of this issue of Studies, paying due tribute to its heroes is another.

Leaving aside the language, which, in part, echoes the propaganda of apologists and glorifiers of the Great War, the lines are surely unconvincing. After all, not all principles are commendable. Moreover, people do things –sometimes idiotic things ‑ for reasons of principle all the time. If we were to make a list of those Irish people who suffered for their worthy principles through the nineteenth century, it would be a very long list. And why must individuals who suffered and died in uniform “never be forgotten” as opposed to the countless millions who suffered and died in an effort to support their families or live decently? What is all this glorious remembering about if not to smooth the path for another generation of victims or perhaps to justify, in retrospect, a culture which encouraged enlistment?

Curiously the example of heroism Bruce Bradley offers is the non-combatant Fr Willie Doyle, a Jesuit war chaplain who was blown to pieces by a German shell in August 1917. One point that emerges from the recent accounts of Jesuit chaplains is that they were quite different in motivation, purpose and practice from the military. Indeed there has been a move to have Fr Doyle, who was certainly a brave and committed chaplain, canonised. Saintly and courageous might be more accurate than the warrior-like term heroic.

John Delaney was another brave and committed war chaplain. As we learn from his letters, his commitment was to bring the sacraments and the comforts of religion to Catholics serving with the British. Though cheery by disposition, he was under no illusion regarding the horror and absurdity of war. His letters home which spoke of “the plains of death” make that clear. He never claims that the war is a noble cause. Indeed, what he writes suggests he believed the opposite. No reader of Delaney’s writings could be less than very sure that he would have rejected the adjective heroic and the idea that he above others should never be forgotten. It would have been sufficient for John Delaney that some people remembered him in their prayers, a favour which he sometimes requested in letters home.

In his editorial, Fr Bradley also refers to Pope Francis – the new Jesuit pope ‑ who recently visited Redipuglia, the site of a First World War memorial and burial ground in northeast Italy. Tens of thousands of exploited and misled Italian soldiers are buried there. (For more information see “The Border Campaign”.) According to an Irish Times report, the pope also prayed at a nearby Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fallen soldiers from five countries who had fought against the allies. Pope Francis was unequivocal in his characterisation of war as destructive and “irrational”. This particular Jesuit, whose grandfather fought in the area, clearly regards the Great War as a great evil. The pope made no mention of “heroes” or their “sacrifices”. Rather he spoke of “victims”, which is surely the more accurate term to use when commemorating young men who were cut down by machines.

The former Taoiseach John Bruton is the most prominent exponent of a pro-Redmond, Irish-history-should-have-been-different position and he has written on the subject in Studies. He is notable in that he presents the argument that 1916 was unnecessary very plainly. Often, it is a view found a little below the surface. It is, I believe, present in this way in Thomas Morrissey’s From Easter Week to Flanders Field.

John Delaney’s 1916 diary is clearly and refreshingly political. He knows what he thinks and is not afraid to have it known as he walks the streets of Dublin. Thomas J Morrissey’s presentation of that diary ninety-nine years later is also political ‑ albeit less clearly so. But the politics of the two Jesuits are different and as a result there is a tension between Delaney and his editor.

The Jesuits in Ireland have what could be described as a traditional closeness to undisruptive nationalism, a phenomenon whose spectrum ran from separatism to neo-unionism. In the course of the nineteenth century Irish Jesuits were affected by the world of constitutional nationalism if only as an unavoidable side effect of their programme to provide education to the Catholic elite, a class which was predominantly of that political disposition. Charles Lysaght, a sympathetic commentator, has said that the Jesuits were associated with the more privileged and less nationalist elements in Catholic Ireland, which is the general perception.

While individual Jesuits presumably varied in their politics, in its schools the order emphasised the adoption of English manners as, amongst other things, a means of placing committed Irish Catholics in positions within the imperial administration. English ways – with the exception of religious ways – were readily accepted. In this the Jesuits were responding to and building on a practice which grew throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century among elite Catholics (see “One Onion, Many Layers”.)

From youth, John Delaney had an interest in Irish history and culture. He spoke Irish and was nationalist in outlook but he too was affected by the cultural transfer under way. Indeed the whole country was in one way or another. The embracing of English manners and practices invariably had significant cultural consequences, the most important of which was the decline of the Irish language. This cultural transfer dramatically characterised the nineteenth century just as the reverse, the acculturation of the Normans had characterised an earlier period. The phenomenon cannot be placed at the Jesuits’ door, even if in their schools they enthusiastically ran with the ball.

The crucial difference was that if the vast numbers who supported O’Connell stopped speaking Irish and became enthusiastic nineteenth century Catholics, unlike some in the Jesuit orbit they retained and indeed developed a visceral commitment to the ideal of Irish autonomy. (Borrowing an idea, it might be suggested that this political intensity was, in part, a psychological compensation for massive cultural loss.)

From the record associated with Delaney’s experiences during his time in a Belgian Jesuit school in Ceylon, we can see an example of the integrationist dynamic as perceived from the outside. Initially the principal, Fr Olivier Feron, was enthusiastic and wrote that “the two Irishmen, who entered the Society for the mission of Galle, constitute a good attachment to our mission”. Very quickly, however, he found the Irish arrivals too English. “They are very English and are not able to enter into our ways; our mentality is not theirs.” A month later he was more direct, writing “they are always occupied with English ideas  …It is the utopia of the Empire that the English are going to input into our plan.” At the end of the year he wrote:

The English Scholastics seem to forget their true role here. We are not at Galle to convert the Singhalese to English ideas, which are always more or less like Protestantism, but to form Christians. Sports, exams are all very well, but above all we are to be ministers of the gospel. The Irish are not like the Irish in Ireland; here they are more English than the English themselves.

This is fascinating material but if the reader is hoping for some illuminating commentary from the editor she or he is disappointed and must make do with the rather bland comment:

The impression conveyed by Father Feron’s Letters is that the role of the scholastic in Belgian and perhaps French tradition was less physically active.

It is hardly surprising that one legacy of this warmth towards English ways was, for many within the Jesuit force field, a negative attitude towards separatist nationalism and a level of ambivalence towards the new state.

The editorial in the current Studies seems to offer a justification for a sort of psychological withdrawal from engagement with the independent state, a justification which essentially claims the state did not permit dissident opinion.

The upheaval of Easter 1916 … meant that, almost overnight, the dominant political narrative in Ireland was irrevocably altered. Honouring the patriots and honouring the soldiers who had served in the armies of the empire against which the patriots had rebelled became almost impossible to reconcile.

To which is added:

In due course, following the annihilation of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the General election of 1918 … official policy and propaganda and the national mood clearly indicated which allegiance was now, alone, acceptable.

Presumably, for the editor, unacceptable allegiances included allegiance to the position taken by John Redmond in support of the British in the Great War. But how, it might be asked, is it possible to have an allegiance to something that has vanished and cannot be, unless there is hidden away a quixotic desire to revisit the terms of separation and settle on some form of semi-attachment? This indeed would be a recipe for both irrelevance and detachment.

The suggestion that the new state did not permit dissident opinion about 1916 is spurious. Whatever its shortcomings, independent Ireland was not a totalitarian society, far from it. There was a vibrant intellectual life, especially in Dublin in the interwar years. There was nothing to stop anyone from mounting an assault on official propaganda and some did. If other people did not do so it was because they chose not to. Perhaps its absence in Studies was another example of Jesuit prudence.

Remembering the Revolution, Dissent, Culture and Nationalism in the Irish Free State by Frances Flanagan, which has just been published by Oxford is a fascinating book which looks at a range of intellectual dissidents who reflected on 1916 and the possibilities for the state in the early years of Independence. Flanagan’s book confirms that dissident opinion could be and was widely expressed in the new state. Her subject is not champions of the gradualist tradition but rather those who felt the possibilities of the Rising period were not realised. The problem with gradualism for those who were hostile to 1916 is that the gradualists actually wanted pretty much the same thing as the Volunteers, a separate and democratic Irish state. It is telling that they are unsung in Studies.

At a minimum, Redmondism now serves as a political cul de sac for its adherents. After all, others wrongfooted by the events of the early 1920s have adapted. By the early 1930s, Trinity College, which represented the heart and mind of the old order, abandoned efforts to prioritise “God Save the King” in its public functions and began a process of accommodation with the new order. Trinity, it can now be said, is making an impressive contribution to the interests and health of the republic. Similarly members of the Anglican and other reformation churches clearly find the state more attractive since the collapse of the prescriptive social power of the Catholic Church. Even those who declined to follow de Valera in 1926 have finally removed their heads from the sand. Are latterday Redmondites to constitute the Republic’s final recalcitrants?

Readers of From Easter week to Flanders Field will soon notice a tone of unease from the diary’s editor with regard to some of the diarist’s political opinions. It becomes clear, for example, that Thomas Morrissey disapproves when Delaney comments critically on the  welcome given to British troops by unionist Protestants living in the inner suburbs of south Dublin. (Delaney sometimes refers to these citizens as “sourfaces”, a negative term in wide currency at the time. It was originally coined by DP Moran who, unconvincingly, claimed it was not meant to apply exclusively to Protestants. The reader must decide for herself or himself whether the term should be regarded as deeply offensive or judge it historically as relatively mild in a time when name-calling was commonplace.)

Morrissey speaks, with a little hand-wringing, of Delaney’s observations as “conveying some of the prejudices of contemporary Dublin Catholics” which are “reflected in the way Delaney speaks of certain Protestant unionist ladies, who warmly welcomed the British troops”. He finds it difficult to understand, it seems, why there should be any negative feeling from those sympathetic to the rebels towards those who supplied tea and cake to the soldiers who had come to put down the rebellion. Delaney is clearly sympathetic to the rebels, as are other Jesuit scholastics and indeed many IPP types Delaney meets during the week. It seems Morrissey is not.

One anecdote conveys Delaney’s analysis of the situation, which was essentially one of an IPP supporter who has lost faith in the efficacy of the leadership’s tactics, a view which was widespread by 1916. Shortly before the surrender the young scholastic meets a young army officer near the RDS. The officer was at pains to understand what it was all about.

‘Now tell me’ he said, turning right round on us. ‘You ought to know. Would it be right for me to say that the reason why those rose and took up arms against us was that they disbelieved the Government, that all the promises made by the Government would not be carried out?’ ‘Certainly’ we said ‘that was the essence of all their publications and statements. Had Home Rule been granted this would never have occurred for it would not be possible.’ ‘Now I held that all along’ he said ‘but I was told I was wrong. And you know they had good reason to disbelieve the government the way it had been going on with its wait and see policy and let things work themselves out.’

Morrissey is silent on this, suggesting to this reader that he does not share Delaney’s interpretation.

It is also worth noting that despite his editor’s suggestions to the contrary, John Delaney is actually quite humane and charitable is his attitudes towards those Protestants who welcomed the troops, and indeed towards the troops themselves.

The Tommies looked very tired and weary, as they had marched in from Kingstown under a broiling sun along the dusty roads. They were eating biscuits, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes which had been given them by the people especially the Protestants, who now wore peaceful looking countenances as the soldiers had freed them from the Catholics and this awful Romish plot, as they said.

It is perhaps telling that apart from concern about Delaney’s alleged prejudices Morrissey does not make any other kind of comment regarding the events Delaney recorded during that historic week. There is certainly nothing to suggest he thinks the Rising was “a good thing”. His comments are essentially confined to criticising Delaney’s politics. At one point he comments:

Delaney, as indicated earlier did not escape the widespread view among Catholics that identified Protestants with a condescending ascendancy class more English than the English.

There is something strange about this statement, not only because there is nothing in Delaney’s diary, as published by Morrissey, to support the idea that he thought in such a simplistic manner but also because it suggests a poor grasp of the basic dynamics of Dublin political life which, under the circumstances, are perhaps worth outlining.

From shortly after the Union of 1800, Dublin was divided between those (mostly Catholic) elements who sought an Irish parliament in which Catholics would be equal and those (mostly Protestant) elements who clung to the Westminster connection. (There were of course other lines of division in the city.) The progress of the nineteenth century saw numerous Catholic political advances, except of course the big one of legislative autonomy. Everyone in Dublin knew which side they were on. In quieter times relations between the confessional elements could be reasonably cordial but when the political temperature rose so did tension. An armed rebellion against the Westminster connection certainly constituted an increase in temperature. Discretion suffered as quiet-living Protestants rushed into the streets to offer soldiers food and drink and IPP-supporting Catholics found themselves atavistically wishing the rebels the best. Given the history of nineteenth century Dublin, it could hardly have been otherwise. The student priest from the North Strand knew exactly which side he was on and what he thought (politically) of those who welcomed the soldiers.

The Protestant response which Delaney notes is no more than one would have expected and is perfectly logical in its own terms.

We passed down Waterloo Place and saw the Protestants all out on their door steps waving hands to the soldiers; and some old dames of the grey hair and spectacles type, with the real sourface displayed to perfection ran over and offered two oranges to 200 men.

Morrissey is critical of Delaney’s attitude but also records that his companion was “furious”, one of many examples suggesting Delaney’s support for the rebels was far from unusual. When using the term sourface Delaney was referring to a type of comfortable south Dublin Protestant viscerally hostile to majority opinion in its defence of the Westminster connection. It is significant that in the extensive references to Protestant officers and men he worked alongside as a war chaplain his attitude is generally warm and positive. The term sourface is never used, which confirms what is already obvious, that his criticisms of Dublin unionist Protestants were political rather than sectarian.

It wasn’t just cups of tea that some Protestant citizens were supplying:

The Protestants at the corners of the roads were delighted and were giving all the information possible to the soldiers.

Yet Delaney was not hostile to this class as people. When shooting broke out near Pembroke road, he commented:

The poor old Protestant minister, who had been giving all the information, could hardly bend over and I was afraid every moment to see him fall. But the Volunteers were only after the military.

Again he typically warned one Protestant lady of danger:

At the corner of Clyde Road we met a real sourface type of Protestant carrying a basket with seven cups in one hand and a large jug of tea in the other. She wished to go down to the house where the soldiers were. I warned her that there was firing going on. She.got under cover.

One wonders what the editor’s handwringing is all about.

The response of an English scholastic which Delaney records suggests the presence of an undisguised strain of anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist feeling among sections of the Protestant population:

An English Jesuit scholastic, who had been down to see the troops come in, wished to speak to some of the soldiers but when he saw the crowd of Protestants at the end of Ailsbury Road and saw the kind they were – all of the real sourface disposition and the grey hair-and-spectacle type clapping hands and saying to one another “Clap, clap, clap for the soldiers. Now we are saved” – he would not speak to any of the soldiers lest he might mix with such a crowd. “I understood for the first time in my life”, he said, “what loyalty in Ireland means, and I recognised that to sing ‘God Save the King’ in Dublin meant to sing ‘To Hell with the Pope’”. He came back dejected …

In Dublin it was a time of pronounced commitment to one’s denomination, which had as its corollary a low opinion of others. The tone is well caught in the reflections of Leopold Bloom. It seems this pattern of denominational rather than personal hostility was present through the social classes. The Catholic poor of Dublin were strongly committed to their religion and believed that attachment to a reformation church would be of little benefit in the afterlife, as the following O’Casey-like anecdote recorded by Delaney suggests:

We passed on and tried to get down to the quay by some of the back streets, when suddenly there was a rush of women calling out for a priest. Man shot. We ran whither we were directed, and then Fr O’Brien and myself had all the blessing of heaven called down on us by the poor women, who greeted us with the following: “Oh God bless the priests. Sure they are always there when you want them. Oh what would we do only for our holy priests. May the Blessed Mother guard and protect them”. We got up to the man. He was badly wounded in the upper leg. Fr O’Brien went up to him and found he was a Protestant. “Get me an ambulance if you can, Father”, said the poor man. So Fr O’Brien turned away to fetch the ambulance, and some asked – “Will he not go to the confession, Father?” “Oh, he is a Protestant”, replied Fr O’Brien. And then, with all the simplicity possible, said a young fellow: “But Father could you not make him turn before he dies”. The faith of these poor people is really wonderful. We went then to fetch the ambulance …

When provoked, Delaney was willing to confront those who opposed the volunteers:

As we stood in front of the barracks gate, I saw a young volunteer marched up along the road by an armed guard. The volunteer’s head was bandaged up. A few Protestant-looking individuals of the real sourfaced type gathered and stood near me. One especially took my fancy. He stood near me and said aloud, but for my benefit, as the prisoner passed us – ‘He won’t be alive this time tomorrow evening’. I said nothing. ‘He’ll be shot and be a dead man by this time tomorrow evening,’ he continued, all of course for my benefit. I could not resist. So I said – ‘Oh indeed’. ‘Yes’, he continued, ‘We’ll shoot them all down’. ‘But you didn’t shoot them in South Africa’, I said. ‘De Wet and company are still alive. You didn’t shoot them’. ‘No’, he said, ‘but we’ll shoot them [the Volunteers]’. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘are you a German?’ ‘No’, he replied, ‘I’m not’. ‘I thought you were from the policy you advocate of shooting down people. Wasn’t the essence of all the Recruiting Posters in Ireland to ask for men to put down this kind of militarism of shooting down people?’ ‘Yes’, he said, ‘but didn’t you know it was all hypocrisy on our part’. ‘Then you are a hypocrite’, I said. ‘You don’t mean what you say. Good evening’. And thus I left him to his fate, boiling all over for he had led himself into the trap in which I caught him so nicely. The few ladies standing round looked at him and smiled at me as I walked away and left him to his thoughts.

Morrissey comments: “Self-satisfied with his inconsequential victory, Delaney passed down by a side street, where he met ‘a great sympathiser of the Volunteers’.” Just as there is little doubt about Delaney’s politics there is little room for doubt that Father Morrissey is at a minimum deeply ambivalent in his attitude towards the Rising. It is interesting that he does not feel any impulse to criticise the-executioner-on–the-ditch and actually dismisses Delaney’s principled confrontation which reflected both the man’s politics and surely also a commendable Christian charity. On another occasion when Delaney confronts a woman who has expressed the hope that a volunteer prisoner will be shot, Morrissey once again is silent in the face of bloodthirsty sentiments.

Morrissey experiences sufficient discomfort over the politics of his fellow Jesuit to feel it necessary to offer some interpretation or explanation for what, in effect, he appears to regard as Delaney’s sectarianism. A culprit is found in the influence of DP Moran and The Leader newspaper. Morrissey, quoting AE Cleary, who wrote for The Leader and for Studies, suggests that Moran had won the general support of the Irish clergy. Moran, we are told, “advocated a cultural nationalism based on Catholic and Gaelic values and urged people to learn the Irish language and purge themselves of ‘West Britishism’”. That is a relatively accurate account in so far as it goes.

In the view of the present writer Moran was a destructive figure ideologically, one who stood against the long-established influence of Enlightenment rationality and broadmindedness in Irish nationalist politics. With his anti-“evil literature” campaigns, his insistence that Irish and Catholic were synonymous, his attacks on autonomous rural culture and his general intolerance, he prefigured the worst excesses of the early independence era that was to come.

In a sense Moran represented a debased form of O’Connellism. He subtracted the democratic and Enlightenment elements adding instead a coercive Catholicism and an empty revivalism which was devoid of any real connection with the ancient culture of the island and was little more than a crude attempt at political engineering.

If Morrissey’s explanation is correct, a politically gullible Delaney learned a shallow sectarianism from Moran which he duly interiorised and used to make sense of the world about him. The thoughtful and intelligent observations and reflections in the diary point away from any such possibility. As an individual, Delaney was absorbed with his religious calling; his faith and religion were the primary means through which he understood and interpreted the world. But notwithstanding the primacy of religious feeling in his interior life, he was socially and politically aware. Like the majority of Dubliners, he was a nationalist and probably a passive supporter of the Irish Parliamentary party. Like most IPP supporters he was not a neo-unionist.

Not only that: it seems Delaney was in the Enlightenment Catholic tradition. When serving as a British army chaplain in Flanders he was delighted to see the arrival of Catholic Americans, commenting:

Their arrival in France will do an immense amount of good, for people will see that republicanism does not mean French anti-clericalism and that a man may be broadminded and be a Catholic at the same time.

While DP Moran was a harbinger of the philistine clericalism that was later to blight independent Ireland, there must have been significant clerical elements for whom he was deeply unattractive. Moran thoroughly disliked the Jesuit, Vincentian and Holy Ghost Fathers’ influence in Ireland and especially in the education system. He saw these elite orders as promoting Anglicisation, a process that he opposed and denounced in every issue of his widely read (English language) newspaper. He was scathing regarding “the sound English education” offered to boys in Irish elite colleges whose parents wanted them to become “gentlemen”. He objected to Clongowes playing cricket against a military team from the Curragh (“hired cut throats”) who he complained were “lavishly entertained by the Fathers”. Castleknock (Moran’s own alma mater) was denounced as a “West British institution on the borders of the Phoenix Park”. Rockwell and Blackrock also get a good kicking. The “West British colleges”, which he also termed the “Shoneen Colleges”, prepared boys to serve the empire. The Clongowian, he said, should be renamed “The Squireen Recruiter”. Needless to say he objected to British army recruitment in 1914 and broke with Redmond, to whom he had previously lent a degree of support, over the issue.

Moran’s emphasis on the national importance of Catholicism was compatible with Jesuit thinking, but his hostility towards all manifestations of Anglicisation was clearly incompatible with the practice of the order. AE – whom Moran dubbed “The Hairy Fairy” ‑ somewhat innocently believed Moran to be a tool of the Jesuits. Patrick Maume, in a more grounded judgement, says that some Jesuits in the national university may have supported Moran in preference to the more secular Arthur Griffith. There is no evidence that Delaney was given to strategic thinking and there are no echoes of Moran’s various nostrums and voluminous opinions to be found in Delaney’s writings, which suggests, in short, that Moran is an unlikely source for John Delaney’s political opinions.

Returning to Morrissey’s comments on the use of the term sourface, it might be suggested that he is just being politically correct. But if this were the case we might expect a protest at other language or sentiment quoted in From Flanders which we might today regard as racist. But this is not so. When a certain Father Murphy writes from the Ceylon mission

The Eastern Memory is very good. The mind is acute but lacks reasoning power. All these qualities of mind and character are improving under European education.

Father Morrissey does not feel compelled to criticise or even comment. Again when Delaney writes home from Flanders he refers to the Germans – towards whom his feelings are characteristically humane – as Fritz (neutral), Poor Old Fritz (positive) and the Boche. Writing from the front about the British West Indian Regiment he says

They are great fellows and reminded me very much of my days in Ceylon. They are all coloured of course, but the Colonel is an Englishman and a Catholic and a fine one at that.

Again no commnet. So it seems reasonable to conclude that Morrissey’s criticism of Delaney’s name-calling is a political matter rather than one of political correctness.

Notwithstanding the reservations expressed, Thomas J Morrissey should be congratulated for bringing John Delaney’s diaries and letters into the public sphere.

It is perhaps worth noting in conclusion that, whatever material advantages may once have attached to being able to pass, as it were, within the upper echelons of the British imperial administration by adopting English manners, those advantages have long disappeared and are utterly irrelevant in contemporary Ireland. Similarly, the dream of a nation characterised primarily by an intense Catholicism as articulated by John Ryan and echoed by Francis Shaw is with John Charles in the grave. Similarly, once more, any residual aspiration for some level of re-attachment to the United Kingdom is radically decoupled from cultural and political reality in the republic.

An outsider then cannot help wondering whether the Jesuit order in Ireland will, in these altered circumstances, discover a new means or framework for engaging positively with the Irish state. Since the eighties there have been articles in Studies focusing on the poor, inequality and also involving criticism of neo-liberal values. This direction may offer some promise. Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home offers a magnificent reflection on themes of social and moral responsibility in a world faced with racing environmental destruction. In the letter, Francis unites scientific and spiritual perspectives in a powerful critique of inequality and environmental debasement. He uses a language which is anti-universalist and which emphasises the importance and potential of local autonomies. It offers a timely idealism which, interestingly, is not too distant from that which inspired the signatories of the 1916 proclamation.


Maurice Earls is a bookseller and joint editor of the Dublin Review of Books.



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