“Every jelly mass quivered – shook – moved. A moment more and the reaction had gone to a finish. Denis M’Carthy, Dublin Metropolitan Policeman, true Celt, minor poet, rose to his feet a Chemist.” The message of the parable seems to be that science in Ireland is to be understood as a vital modernising force that can dispel the Celtic Twilight of obscurantist romantics.
Ahern’s patience, likeability and almost congenital desire to avoid confrontation helped him. He effectively handed over control of domestic policy to Charlie McCreevy and the PDs. His failure to get agreement on his most favoured policy, the building of a national stadium, showed his lack of power in this area. One policy he was interested in was social partnership, and he effectively used the ever-rising exchequer revenues to buy the compliance of a union movement that was happy to be bought off.
These then are the lives Hastings tackles – those of playwright, short story virtuoso and novelist, traveller, millionaire art collector, exile, homosexual, secret agent and unhinged old man. Maugham had a long life – he published his first books while Queen Victoria was on the throne, and at least one of his lovers, David Posner, lived long enough to die of AIDS in 1985.
French Catholic culture offered a supplementary world, and in some cases a focus for unfulfilled longings, for those who found Free State culture insufficient or repetitive. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Maria Cross can strike today’s reader as brilliantly eccentric, an anomaly; it should instead be regarded as the finest analytical product of a culture we have almost forgotten.
In most communist societies, the intelligentsia, and in particular the artistic intelligentsia – engineers of the human soul in Stalin’s phrase – were afforded the opportunity to feel important and live well, if at the price of a slight (in Russia not so slight) risk of things ending quite badly … All that was necessary to keep things on the right course was that if kindly advice about the content of one’s work was offered one should take it.