Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Friday, April 28, 2017

That Which is Imagined...

I have a relatively new colleague who's pretty much the embodiment of the SJW (social justice warrior). Her views on nearly all matters social and political are the diametric opposite of mine. Nevertheless we get on quite well (at least, I think we do) and we often joke about the ideological chasm between us.

Last week we were talking about fiction, and she said something that interested me: "I'm only really interested in fiction that has some supernatural or fantastic element". (I forget her exact words, but that was the gist.)

I told her I pretty much agreed with her, and I added a theory of my own: "Realism is a modern invention. Most stories throughout history were fantasy stories." She agreed with this.

This exchange is of great interest to me because of the lady's political and social views. I don't think she's religious at all, although I don't know. But she's extremely progressive, and even joked that if she was going to give a house a name she might call it Progressia.

I take this as support for one of my own views-- my view that art and literature, indeed the entire world of the imagination, thrives on legend, mythology, magic, mysticism, and so forth.

And this is one of the reasons I feel that Ireland's Gaelic Revival was abandoned too soon. Far too soon. In fact, I don't see why it had to be abandoned at all.

I'm using "Gaelic Revival" in a broad sense, to include what is often called the Celtic Revival or Celtic Renaissance as well. From the late nineteenth century, writers and artists (and not only Irish writers and artists) began to draw on Irish mythology, folklore and legend. Common to most of these artistic effusions was a strain of mysticism-- often termed 'the Celtic twilight."

Now, don't get me wrong. I like to think I'm a writer myself (don't laugh), and I know that writers are anarchic creatures, and that the muse is a flighty gal. I love these lines from Louis Macneice, and I think they apply:

Minx or mother, old witch, young coquette,
And often as not a nun, the Muse will never
Conform to type; she uses a finer net
Than the fishing laws allow; she is not clever
So much as cunning, she often walks alone
Sleep means as much to her as high endeavour
And she can stare for hours at a polished stone
And see all heaven reflected in a table;
At times she is monolingual, monotone
At others mistress of the Tower of Babel...

Yes, the muse is flighty, and artists are flightier, and there's nothing surer than that one generation of artists are going to react against a previous generation-- and not only out of perversity, but out of genuine artistic "reflexes".

But the reaction against the Gaelic Revival  is old news now. Very old news. Surely the revival of the revival is long overdue?

The thing is, the tropes used in the Gaelic Revival are capable of infinite variation. That's what art is all about. Irish mythology, early Irish Christianity, Irish folklore, Irish rural life and folkways...there are so many ways these could be used. Fantasy and supernatural horror and science-fiction are particularly rich fields in which this idiom could be employed. (I realize this has been done, but only sporadically. The recent film Zonad was an interesting and amusing example.)

The title of this blog post is "town and country" because I passed through the street of Dublin city centre today and it got me thinking about Dublin, about the city, and about the country.

I've lived in Dublin all my life. It might be expected that I would echo the sentiments of Donagh MacDonagh in his famous (and excellent) poem Dublin Made Me:

Dublin made me and no little town
With the country closing in on its streets;
The cattle walking proudly on its pavements,

The jobbers, the gombeenmen, and the cheats

Devouring the fair-day between them,
A public-house to half a hundred men;
And the teacher, the solicitor and the bank-clerk
In the hotel bar drinking for ten...

But I never did. In fact, I always disliked the sentiments of that poem. From summer visits to my aunt's farm in Limerick, or perhaps just from my own intuition, I'd always firmly believed that the country was better than the town or city....more Irish, more traditional, more spiritual, more aesthetic, more folkloric, more everything that matters. I've believed that since, and I believe it now.

The Gaelic Revival was very much preoccupied with rural themes, and one of the reasons for its eventual decline was that Ireland was becoming a more urban and suburban society, and it was felt that the Irish artist was like the yokel who had moved to the capital in Housman's poem:

From the wash the laundress sends
My collars home with ravelled ends:
I must fit, now these are frayed,

My neck with new ones London-made.

Homespun collars, homespun hearts,
Wear to rags in foreign parts.

Mine at least's as good as done,
And I must get a London one.

(Or a Dublin one, in this case.)

But why should this be so? I never finished Clive Barker's massive fantasy novel Weaveworld, but one line in it-- a line that someone finds written on a book of fairy stories-- moved me profoundly, and still does. It was: That which is imagined need never be lost.

The fact that most of us, and (in the absence of a successful Back to the Land movement) presumably an ever-increasing number of us, live in cities and suburbs doesn't mean that we have to stop feeding our imagination on the countryside and rural ways of life. I actually think it makes it even more important that we preserve a connection with the countryside and its rhythms, even if it's only an imaginative connection. We can take Robbie Burns's lines as our inspiration:

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here

My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

This is Exciting!

An email from the Central Catholic Library:

 Dear members

The Central Catholic Library has the great privilege of welcoming the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Relics of the soon to be canonised Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco Marto to the Library on Saturday 6th May.

You are all very welcome to join us for this joyfilled occasion.

The programme of events will include the recitation of the Holy Rosary and the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, commencing at 12.30 p.m.

The Holy Relics will be available for veneration from 11.30 a.m.

There will also be a number of talks.

Please visit our website for further information.

For further queries: please contact

Please pass on this information to your family and friends. Children are especially welcome.

Hoping to meet you all on Saturday 6th May

In Corde Mariae


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Inventing Yesterday

Many of you will know the story behind "Yesterday", one of the Beatles' most famous songs, and one of the most covered songs in music history. The melody came to Paul McCartney in a dream, but for weeks he was worried that he must have subconsciously stolen it from someone else. After having asked around in the music industry, he accepted he had actually written it himself.

It's not one of my absolute favourite songs, but I do have happy memories of singing it in choir practice, in school, when I was about sixteen. I especially liked: "Now I need a chance to hide away."

Well, the story increasingly comes to my mind when I think of my own youth. The vision of Ireland-- not Ireland as it was, but Ireland as it should be-- which I internalized was, I assume, taken from my environment. It was "out there". Indeed, I had a vision of human life in general which I assumed was received from "out there."

When I look for evidence that this ideal was indeed "out there", I find some evidence-- but not much. I find evidence for this and that element, but not really for the vision as a whole.

And I wonder-- did I come up with this vision myself, and just imagine I'd picked it up somewhere else?

The Troubling Legacy of 1916

I have interrupted my Irish language reading to browse Tim Pat Coogan's History of the IRA. People unfamiliar with Ireland might not realise that the IRA (the Irish Republican Army) has a long and complicated history, encompassing various splits and changes of approach. The IRA of the 1950s was a very different organisation to the IRA of the 1920s, and the IRA of the 1970s was radically different to both of them. The IRA was an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland for most of this state's history. 

At the moment, I'm only interested in the IRA of the thirties, forties and fifties-- before the outbreak of the Troubles. My grandfather was involved in the IRA at this time, and indeed he was held in an internment camp by the Irish government. My entire family on my father's side belonged to the tradition of radical Irish republicanism which rejected the Anglo-Irish Treaty. I'm partly interested in this subject for that reason. 

I'm also interested in it through having recently read a biography of Brendan Behan, who was a member of the IRA in his youth, and who lampooned them somewhat when he became famous. According to the biography I read, it was Behan's old IRA comrades who remained loyal to him, despite this lampooning, when he was in his last phase of self-destruction and had alienated everyone else.

The IRA of these decades attracted a great many intellectuals, writers, and idealists, so it's a big part of Irish social history.

In contrast to the horror of the Troubles, it can seem that the IRA of the middle of the century were more comic opera than anything else. Anecdotes and reminiscences often portray them as hopelessly quixotic and ineffectual. Many of their leaders were devoutly religious (in more recent decades, Marxism took a hold of the organisation). One story in Coogan's book describes how one of the IRA's training camps, located in the mountains, ran out of food. There were plenty of cattle in the vicinity, but none of these diehards had the stomach to shoot a cow!

However, reading Coogan's book rather explodes this whole atmosphere. Whatever funny stories might be told, the truth is that many people were shot, bombed, executed (sometimes as informers) and died on hunger strikes as a result of IRA activity, even before the Troubles. (Tim Pat Coogan is quite controversial as a historian, but I'm simply going on the primary sources he quotes.) Reading about these killings is sickening-- especially the executions, which were performed by both the IRA and the Irish government.

A few days ago, I was reading the writings of Patrick Pearse, the leader of the 1916 Rising. Although I admire Pearse enormously, I'm very troubled by some of the rhetoric he used, for instance in his oration at the graveside of Wolfe Tone:

Ireland one and Ireland free —is not this the definition of Ireland a Nation? To that definition and to that programme we declare our adhesion anew; pledging ourselves as Tone pledged himself —and in this sacred place, by this graveside, let us not pledge ourselves unless we mean to keep our pledge— we pledge ourselves to follow in the steps of Tone, never to rest, either by day or by night, until his work be accomplished, deeming it the proudest of all privileges to fight for freedom, to fight, not in despondency, but in great joy, hoping for the victory in our day, but fighting on whether victory seem near or far, never lowering our ideal, never bartering one jot or title of our birthright, holding faith to the memory and the inspiration of Tone, and accounting ourselves base as long as we endure the evil thing against which he testified with his blood.

When I read those lines, I can well understand why idealistic men and women (and, indeed, boys and girls) would decide that the programme of 1916 would not be fulfilled until it could be truly said that Ireland was "one and free". Furthermore, how could the use of violence to attain this goal be condemned, since the 1916 rebels had used violence? And how could the lack of a popular mandate be used as an argument against the use of violence by any group, since the rebels in 1916 represented a radical minority at the time of the insurrection? (The population later swung behind them, and this seems to have been the expectation of every subsequent incarnation of the IRA.)

I often wonder what Pearse and his fellows expected to happen in Northern Ireland. Did they expect that the Ulster Unionists, who had solemnly proclaimed their loyalty to Britain and their willingness to fight to preserve this connection, would simply go along with a united Ireland once the British were removed? That seems extraordinarily naive. Did they think they should be coerced into a united Ireland through force? That seems extraordinarily ruthless-- indeed, unthinkable.

Please note, I am not drawing an equivalence between the 1916 Rising, the IRA of the nineteen-fifties, and the IRA of the Troubles. Indeed, I believe that the 1916 Rising was remarkable for the chivalry with which it was conducted-- despite some lamentable incidents. Nor do I believe that 1916 was responsible for the Northern Irish Troubles. I think the Troubles grew out of a context of ethnic strife which had little reference to Irish romantic nationalism, although the rhetoric and imagery of Irish romantic nationalism were drawn upon by one side.

However, I can't help agreeing, even if it puts me in the uncomfortable company of many anti-nationalist and revisionist historians, that the 1916 Rising left a dangerous legacy. So ultimately, although I'm fascinated by the Rising and greatly admire those who took part, I can't say that I think it was justified.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Powerful Video from Roaming Millennial

Why Islam hates the West.

I don't consider myself a "Westerner"-- I'm Catholic and I'm Irish, and that's it-- and I'm not anti-Muslim, but I think she's absolutely right. The excuse-making has to end.

Musings of an INFJ

Do you believe in the Myers-Briggs personality test? I'm not sure I do. I know that professional psychologists are quite dismissive of it. However, I find it very interesting. Even if it's a load of cock-a-doodle, it is now a bona fide part of folklore.

We did the test in my secondary school-- in religion class!-- when I was about sixteen. Being a dyed-in-the-wool snob, I was delighted that I came out as an INFJ, which is the rarest of all the types, between one and three per cent of the population. I took the test again a few years ago, on Facebook, and once again the result was INFJ-- which is the rarest of all the types.

INFJ stands for "Introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging". Other INFJs include (apparently): Alanis Morisette, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, Plato, Dante, Hitler, Trotsky, Billy Crystal, Nicole Kidman....I don't know when exactly Adolf Hitler took the test, but this is what the internet tells me.

Without wanting to be blasphemous, I might note that some websites list Our Lord as an INFJ!

When I first read the INFJ personality description, I thought much of it fitted pretty well. Of course, I'm aware of the "Barnum effect", but what did Barnum know? I doubt he was an INFJ.

People join INFJ forums and communities-- I even briefly joined a Christian INFJ Facebook page myself. Anything that brings people together and adds to the gaiety of nations, right?

So here is my parsing of Wikipedia's description of an INFJ, and how it applies to me:

INFJs are conscientious and value-driven. I think this is true, although my conscientiousness is highly selective.

They seek meaning in relationships, ideas, and events, with an eye toward better understanding themselves and others. Half-true. I seek meaning for the sake of meaning. I also seek to understand myself and others, but the quest for meaning is independent of that.

Using their intuitive skills, they develop a clear and confident vision, which they then set out to execute, aiming to better the lives of others. I actually think the first part of this is very true. I do have a clear  and confident vision, and it's based mostly on intuition. And I do try to propagate it, if not execute it.

However, am I trying to "better the lives of others?". I think the Ireland and the world I envisage would be a more interesting and rewarding place. Indirectly, I suppose it would better the lives of others. However, in many ways it might materially worsen them. 

Like their INTJ counterparts, INFJs regard problems as opportunities to design and implement creative solutions. How wrong can you get? I am the worse person in the world at problem solving and my immediate response to a problem is "Oh no! All is lost!". (I hope no prospective employer ever reads this...)

INFJs are believed to adapt easily in social situations due to their complex understanding of an individual's motivations; however, they are true introverts.
I don't know if I adapt easily in social situations. I think I do have a pretty complex understanding of peoples' motivations...but only over time. I'm nearly always wrong about people at first. Yes, I'm a true introvert.

 INFJs are private individuals who prefer to exercise their influence behind the scenes. No. I enjoy the limelight. I like exercising influence behind the scenes as well, though.

Though they are very independent, INFJs are intensely interested in the well-being of others. Ouch. Other than intellectual independence, I lack pretty much every other kind of independence. And I'm not "intensely interested in the well-being of others". I wish I was. I tend to live in a world of ideas and atmospheres. I do care about the well-being of others, but in a very selective and erratic way.

INFJs prefer one-on-one relationships to large groups. Oh boy, do I ever.

Sensitive and complex, they are adept at understanding complicated issues and driven to resolve differences in a cooperative and creative manner. I'm sensitive and complex, but I'm not adept at understanding complex issues. I try to resolve personal differences in a cooperative and creative manner, and think I'm often quite good at it. When it comes to a public cause, though-- fight to the death, no compromise!

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large
. I'm deeply concerned about my relations with individuals, but it's shameful how little time I spent thinking of the state of humanity at large-- God forgive me!

They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people -- a product of the Feeling function they most readily show to the world. Maybe. Sometimes, when I tell people I'm very shy, they don't believe me because they've only ever seen me amongst people I know quite well. A girl I knew in college told me she was confused by me because I always spoke in class but I never spoke out of class. And yes, I am genuinely interested in people-- I'm intensely interested in their opinions, values, view of the world, experiences, etc.

INFJs are said to have a rich, vivid inner life that they may be reluctant to share with those around them. My inner life is so "vivid and rich" that I can share it with the world via this blog, and other outlets, and still have tons of it left over, which I do enjoy keeping to myself.

Nevertheless, they are congenial in their interactions and perceptive of the emotions of others. Yep.

Generally well liked by their peers... This is hit and miss. A fair amount of people seem to like me, while I get the distinct impression that quite a lot of people don't like me at all.

...they may often be considered close friends and confidants by most other types; I've developed close friendships in the last decade or so, although before that I didn't even really have distant friendships. People sometimes confide in me, but not notably often.

...however, they are guarded in expressing their own feelings, especially to new people, and tend to establish close relationships slowly. Personally, I don't think this is true, but I'm told it is. People often tell me what a private person I am. I don't think I'm private at all. I think I'm constantly telling people my ideas and emotions. However, I do keep some areas off-limits, so this might be where the perception arises. Yes, I develop close relationships very slowly indeed.

INFJs may "silently withdraw as a way of setting limits" rather than expressing their wounded feelings—a behavior that may leave others confused and upset. Yes, I do, and I don't care if they're "confused and upset"-- they've been such jerks they deserve it.

INFJs tend to be sensitive, quiet leaders with a great depth of personality. I don't think I've ever been a leader of anything. Sensitive? Yes. Quiet? No. Great depth of personality? Who would answer "no" to this one?

They are intricately, deeply woven, quilt-like, mysterious, highly complex, and often puzzling, even to themselves. Amen, sister!

They have an orderly view toward the world but are internally arranged in a complex way that only they can understand. I think this is true. People often think I am being inconsistent when I feel I am being entirely consistent.

Abstract in communicating, they live in a world of hidden meanings and possibilities. Oh yeah.

With a natural affinity for art, INFJs tend to be creative and easily inspired, yet they may also do well in the sciences, aided by their intuition. Creative? I hope so. As for "easily inspired", perhaps the reader is smiling ruefully at this, thinking of my tendency to write a three thousand word blog post about something I saw on my morning commute. The sciences bore me to tears.

So there you go. There is my assessment of how my own personality tallies with the personality description of the INFJ, which is the rarest of all the types.

The Pleasures of Library Work

A student just came looking for an Italian-English dictionary and I searched for such dictionaries on our online catalogue. While scanning through the list I came across this title:

Elsevier's oil and gas field dictionary in six languages : English-American, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German / compiled by L.Y. Chaballe, L. Masuy and J.-P. Vandenberghe with an Arabic supplement by Shawky Salem.

And I felt an intense pleasure that such a book exists, and is to be found on the shelves of the library. That the world we live in is such a world that such a book on such a subject exists.

I'm often struck by this pleasure.