Remarks by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, in Newman House, St Stephens Green, Dublin
I am delighted to have been asked to speak at the launch of this beautifully produced volume, which is an exceptionally well chosen, and contemporarily relevant, selection of essays, published over the last 100 years in the Jesuit journal “Studies”.
“Studies” first appeared in March 1912, exactly a century ago.
In the time since receiving an advance copy of the book, I have read most, but not all of Bryan Fanning’s selection of essays.
Undoubtedly the most startling essay in the book is “The Canon of Irish History, A challenge” by Father Francis Shaw SJ.
It was intended for publication in 1966, but was deemed too controversial for publication by the then editor of Studies . It was eventually published in 1972 under the courageous editorship of Fr Peter Troddyn S J , who happens to have taught me at school.
As we prepare to commemorate the enactment of Home Rule in 1914, the sacrifices by Irish soldiers in the Great War, and the deaths in and after rebellion of Easter 1916, the content of Fr Shaw’s essay is as relevant, and probably as controversial, today, as it was 46 years ago, when it was first offered for publication.
Fr Shaw analyses the physical force tradition of Irish nationalism and , in so doing, quotes extensively from the writings of Patrick Pearse.
He questions Pearse’s identification of Nationalism with Holiness , his hatred of England, and his glorification of death and violence.
Writing in December 1915, when the horrors of the Great War were already all too well known in the homes of Ireland , Pearse said
“The last 16 months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields”
On another occasion, Pearse sought religious vindication for such a view. He said
“The Christ that said ‘My peace I leave you, my peace I give you’, is the same Christ that said ‘I bring not peace but the sword’”
Pearse expressed the view that Ireland would not be” happy again”, until she recollects the “laughing gesture” of a young man going into battle, or “climbing to a gibbet” for his hanging.
All commemorations serve an educational purpose for the future. It is important that such sentiments as these not be glorified in 2016, and that their consequences be fairly assessed.
They were misleading to people 100 years ago, and they are just as misleading today.
Warfare may sometimes be necessary as a last resort in self defence, but it is never glorious or holy in the way Pearse, and many others of his generation, apparently saw it.
The wonderful thing about this volume is that it enables us to read what authors thought, at the time, without the opportunity for selective reinterpretation in the light of subsequent events .
Yet much of the writing is remarkably up to date and pertinent.
We have John Maynard Keynes 1933 critique of what we now call globalisation, George Russell (AE)’s 1923 critique of the negative cultural impact of what we now call Armed Struggle, and a controversy in 1938 about Daniel O Connell and his view of his Gaelic heritage.
We have interesting insights from Tom Garvin and Raymond Crotty about what people thought about economic development in the time before the Celtic Tiger and the Celtic Bust.
There is an essay , written by 1983 ,by John Sweeney on Social Inequality, something that has not diminished in the intervening years, and which may have been contributed to by the globalisation that Keynes had written about, 50 years before.
We have Sean Lemass’ recollection of the 1916 rebellion, and excellent biographical essays on John Redmond and Tom Kettle.
Kettle, who died at the front in the Great War, had a different attitude to war to Patrick Pearse.
“I want to live to use all my powers….. to drive out of civilization the foul thing called war, and put in its place understanding and comradeship”,
And he regretted the 1916 rebellion, because he felt it spoiled his dream of a”free united Ireland, in a free Europe”.
I hope Tom Kettle will be remembered in 2016, which will be the centenary of his death, because his message has great relevance to our times.
Stephen Collins essay on John Redmond deals with the career of a man whose memory he says was “systematically buried” when the new state came into being in 1922.
It is important to say that Home Rule was enacted into law in 1914 as a direct result of John Redmond’s work. I also believe that the institutions of the state, that became operational in 1922, owed much to the civil service work done in the 1912 to 1914 period, in preparation for Home Rule .
As befits a Jesuit publication, there are interesting essays on religious practice in Ireland, on the theology of Dr Paisley, and the response of the Catholic Church to the abuse scandals.
I congratulate Studies, and the UCD Press, on an excellent publication.