Page 7, 13th March 1936

13th March 1936
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Page 7, 13th March 1936 — "What I Think Of
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"What I Think Of

The Irish"

BY THE BRITISH

[The following articles are written by four people asked at Tandom, whose views on the subject were unknown to the editor off the Catholic Herald. Some of our readers may want to write and tell us how much they approve (or, possibly, disapprove) of the views expressed. Such letters to our correspondence columns must not exceed 200 words in length.—EDITOR.]

BY AN ENGLISHMAN'

Whenever the conversation turns on crocodiles and alligators a fancy, received perhaps before the age of reason, still makes me inclined to murmur that the difference between them is that in opening their mouths one elevates his upper jaw while the other depresses his lower. But which does what?—there I'm vague. Let's say that crocodiles open upwards and alligators downwards, and tuy with a second whim, that both are vegetarians.

I'm going to be like the alligator, who says that crocodiles work the wrong way up, not bad for snapping at water-lily blooms but inconvenient for grubbing at the roots. A zoo alligator this, who has only squinted at his neighbour; of restricted experience, to say that crocodiles are alligators upside down.

A Parable

This is a parable, not an allegory, so don't press the likeness, anyhow as regards the mud. l'm the Englishman who has never been to Ireland, with a Catholicism imaginatively untinted by Irish influences, with few Irish friends, talking more from his reading than his direct personal experience. Feeling that I deserve to be snubbed for my impertinence, let me confess at once my admiration for the way the Irish manage the blooms of faith, and then sink back to my mud and roots.

How shall I put it?—the impression I

have that the Irish do not bring their religion down to the bed of ordinary

human experiences and interests, to the individual and social arts and sciences that are lower than faith.

I'm not moralising, merely wallowing in terms of housing and municipal politics and dancing and the drama and respect for other people's customs and tolerance of criticism.

No Lack of Energy

It's not that the Irish lack energy and variety in human affairs, for they manage our imperial destiny with the Scots and our national pastimes with the Jews. Its not that their faith is faint, for "down with the Pope" could produce a rough house in many livensed premises. It's not that they don't take their religion into every walk of life, for they do, more violently perhaps than most.

Violently—perhaps that's the word, taken more in its philosophical than tumultuous sense: an action on something that does not respond according to its own proper nature.

Ulterior Motives

I have the feeling that in general Irish Catholics do not respect the medium in which they may work; that history, for instance, is not approached with purity; that ulterior motives are too prominent (to judge from their press) when they consider such subjects as hygiene or politics or literature and so on.

Irishmen as Irishmen can manage such things very well, but their Catholicism seems to contribute little: and when it enters the result is, well . . . violent. I can only squint across St. George's Channel, but the Irish Catholic publications that come my way always strengthen this impression, of a Cathialicism that does not seem to join up with the rest of human life, of a bloom broken from its roots.

Is this just a passing phase, largely caused by the oppression of the penal days and the disorders of the bad times, or was it an element in the opposition long ago between the Celtic and Roman missionaries in Britain?

At any rate, while it lasts an Irish Catholic civilisation and culture can scarcely be expected. And this is what hope of the Irish.

Now my alligator, having delivered my elf of a sweeping generalisation, feeling relieved and yet not so sure, crawls up the slope of his tank and lids his eyes. Will he ever see the Nile and Ganges, ever fleets cf crocodiles to show him he is wrong'?

BY A SCOT

Anything a Scot may say about the Irish is suspect, for in this sphere Scotland is ruled too much by prejudice. The truth of the matter is that the Irish of Glasgow and Edinburgh are to the self-righteous and more unpleasant type of Scotsman as the Jews are to Hitler: a ready-made explanation and excuse for a good deal that is rotten in the country. I wish to make it clear at the outset, therefore, that I write of the Irish Irish. And I leave out of account the poor immigrants in Glasgow (or, for that matter, in London or New York), who may be no better than they should be, but who might yet be a great deal worse considering the sort of hospitality our slums have to offer them.

An Engaging People

Let me say first of all that I like and admire the Irish. They are courteous, intelligent, witty and hospitable—to mention a few only of their virtues. There is, moreover, no better place in the world than Ireland for an earnest person to spend a holiday. Personally, I laugh almost without ceasing from the glad moment I disembark at Dun Laogliaire till the sad moment when I re-embark there.

And this brings me to my second point. which is a paradox'. It is obvious to the Scotsman that the intelligent and witty Irish have but little sense of humour: compared, at any rate, with 1.13.

They cannot see how funny they are. (14ence the Irish Bull.) They do not appreciate a joke against themselves. This makes them, for the visitor, the more delightful and entertaining.

The Irish Game

It is enchanting for an outsider to watch the Irish Game: to have the heavy treetrunks, laid by One Lot for the annoyance and destruction of the Other Lot, courteously and laboriously removed from the path of his car, replaced after he has passed, and again removed and replaced on his return journey; to know that the Bombs and Bullets which fly through the air occasionally are extremely unlikely to do any damage. For politics in the Distressful Country are not more serious than football matches—which, to my mind, is pleasant hut absurd.

I might sum up the last paragraph by saying that, whereas the Scot is serious but humorous, the Irishman is neither. But this would not be altogether true. In the past, strong national feeling, combined with this very lack of humour, caused the Irishman to become so serious as to take politics altogether too seriously. Then the Irish Game was played in earnest. The Bombs went off and the Bullets found their mark.

This was our fault, and that of the Englishmen and Welshmen whom we govern. The blame cannot be too hem ily laid upon us.

Now the Scot is humorous and serious, but he is also slow. It may well be that there is not a word of truth in what I have written. It is my interpretation; but perhaps the Irishman is as amused by my attempt to understand the lively, subtle genius of his race as I am at his apparently absurd antics: only he is too polite to laugh aloud.

BY A WELSHMAN

The trouble about the Celtic twilight, one might say, is that it is a twilight. In the mood of anthropological eeal induced by congresses it is easy to merge the peoples of the " Celtic fringe " into a common race, mystical and mournful under an eternally heavy sky : divided by the " accidents " of history, it is true, but instinctively at one against the domination of the Saxon.

And, standing on some Pembroke headland, one can well indulge in a sentimental regret for the days when a strip of sea Was the most formidable barrier between Wales and Ireland.

To the Welshman to-day, there is little left to suggest that former identity: a ruined chapel by the sea, a fugitive echo of his own language in an Irish name, and little more. To him, the recent ardour of the pan-Celtics is academic, unnecessary.

That Blessed Word

He has kept his language, he has substituted the safer ecstasies of revivalist religion for the ardour of nationalism (although latterly he is beginning to wonder why). The blessed word " Celtic," he feels, is an abstraction best left to the freakish intellectuals who love to invoke it. As to the Irish, he scarcely knows them now. He realises that they are Catholic and turbulent, and he thinks them overgiven to drink and boasting.

But he has never been to Ireland, and the only Irish he has net are casual labourers over for the harvest or navvies in the mining valleys. And Gwyddel has become a term of reproach: it implies the noisy, the untidy. and, most of all, the foreign.

"In places in Wales far removed from the direct influence and problems of the industrial areas it can be heard said when one man treats another meanly, Dyna hen das Gwyddel (' That is an old Irish trick '), or of a disunited and quarrelsome family, Mae nirw ytz hyw jet Gwyddelod ( They live like Irish people ')."

Not For Export

If he is honest, the Welshman knows that the Irish is of all characters the most unsuited for export. The peculiarities he dislikes and thinks typical are peculiar because they are divorced from their environment. A taste for political wrangling becomes mere rowdiness abroad; the alleged Irish concern for Eternity rather than for Time becomes a complacent acceptance of a low station in life, which the (usually) pushful Welshman thinks contemptible. And that religion which in Ireland is holy and universal seems in Wales a little mysterious, and in any case foreign.

But to an increasing body of Welshmen Ireland (as a symbol rather than as the home of the Irish) is making a considerable appeal.

A Parallel Case

The disintegration which is gradually invading the hitherto inviolate features of Welsh life-the Nonconformist chapel and all it implies, the belief in a LiberalTotal-Abstinence millennium, the acceptance of political, as well as economic, exploitation at the hands of Whitehall bureaucracy-this disintegration is not as yet leading to a constructive alternative.

But many of us are beginning to see in the efforts of Ireland (that symbol) to achieve a return to national dignity a parallel to our own hopes. With that goes the realisation that the religion of Ireland is no fortuitous " extra "; it is the necessary framework for Irish aspirations.

There, across the Irish Channel, is the spectacle of a nation that is both free and Catholic. But, • ,o end at the beginning, the name of Ireland is all the Welshman knows, for Ireland, to him, is not the Irish.

BY AN IRISHMAN

An old Roman geographer called Strabo made a strange and perhaps significant error when he spoke of Ireland. "Ireland", said he, "is situate halfway between England and the continent of Europe."

The statement is as a piece of geography manifestly false: as a piece of psychology it is possibly, if not demonstrably, true.

The Irish mind has more in common with the French and perhaps the Spanish than with the English. There is indeed a tradition (or a legend) that the earliest settlers in Ireland came from Spain.

Unlike the Gauls and the Spaniards, however-and the British for that matter -Ireland never endured or suffered the Roman discipline. Every Irish schoolboy knows that Caesar never conquered Ireland and believes that he would have failed in the attempt.

The Roman Priest

In the course of centuries, it is true, St. Patrick came and saw and conquered. He was indeed a Roman citizen and may even (such is the divine mercy) have been born in England though Irish opinion (misliking the idea) continues to favour the theory that he came from Scotland or from Gaul.

But Patrick represented not the political but the spiritual power of Rome. And until yesterday the distinction was perpetuated in the popular jingle: "We take our religion from Rome, our politics from home."

We take our religion from Rome. Ut Christiani, ita Romani sumus. Who could have heard without humility and pride the Rumanian prince just back from the eucharistic congress in Australia who told, as the greatest of the things that he had seen, of ",la foi granitique des Irlandais"?

European Culture

And with the Catholic religion goes the high tradition of European culture.

During the great centuries of Irish history (which were the dark ages of the European story) in the little islands off the Galway and the Mayo coast men kept not only the Christian faith but also the classical tradition and the texts of Greek and Latin letters. Even to-day, and especially perhaps to those who are aware of the disappearance, even the collapse of culture among the disinherited masses of the English people, one is immediately conscious of the wide diffusion of culture among the Irish folk. Who has heard (shall we say?) the members of the Trade Union Congress sing intelligently in Latin?

Men and Gentlemen

Some twenty-five years ago a young student from Sandhurst persuaded an Irish exile sojourning in Mayo to make a visit to the Aran Isles because (as he said) the natives "are such gentlemen".

And men with it: as the miracle of Irish and reform shows, which caused Hilaire wiloc after a visit to Ireiand in 1910 to exclaim in the House of Commons: "The grave has been opened and the stone has been rolled away: Ireland is risen from the dead."

God grant to the Irish in Ireland a renewal of the charity and the missionary spirit of their fathers for without their help it looks as if the Christian tradition in England and in Europe may be broken in the crisis in which we are.




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