Henn the former president of Catherine's College, Cambridge, was interrupted in the course of his lecture to the Yeats International Summer School at Sligo.
Dr. Henn. who was director of the school for a number of years, was lecturing on Yeat's attitude towards "the Big House" i.e. the homes of the landed gentry, when towards the end of his lecture he was rudely interrupted by two young ladies who professed to be members of the "Literature and Ideology Study Group". The ladies were promptly shouted down and Dr. Henn finished his lecture without further interruption.
From a circular which the girls distributed to the students after the lecture it appears that this group is investigating "the Fascist theory and practice of W. B. Yeats." Last month it seems the group held a series of four meetings at which preliminary papers were presented.
The circular went on to say: "We showed how Yeats promoted Fascism and showed his contempt for the Irish people in his actions, speeches and essays, in his support for the Blueshirts and his advocation of the theories of Mussolini and we showed how this reflected his position as a supporter of a decaying ruling class and was intended to maintain that position."
The circular continued in the same dictatorial vein: "We went on to trace the same issues in Yeats's poetry; that 'the people are stupid and need
us to tell them what to do'; that the makers of history are individual heroes or supernatural forces rather than people in general, that action and thought are mutually exclusive and SQ on."
Yes, and so on; this is the kind of "higher guff" to which we Irish are rather prone. Would we be better off I wonder if ruled by a "Literary and Ideology Study Group" than by a W. B. Yeats? Could the L. and I.S.G. be a cover group for some of those hidden forms of dictatorship which operate in the name of the people.
Same virtues and vices
"If the Orangeman and the Hibernian in the North of Ireland .went to the same elementary school, the Ulster question would not be so difficult to solve and we would be nearer to Christianity as it was meant to be, and not have the pseudo-version which prevails to such an extent today."
That extract is taken from Tomorrow Was Another Day by Seamus O'Connor, schoolmaster and freedom fighter of Meenahila , near Knocknagoshel in the county of Kerry (a county which has always topped the list in the number of its religious vocations). This man's book of memoirs, recently published in paperback by Anvil Books, Tralce, makes fascinating reading. In this matter of education alone he has much to teach just as we have much to learn.
He taught in a school which, though in a predominantly Catholic parish, always had a quota of Protestant pupils. "Except that they moved into another room during Religious Instruction, there was never the slightest indication, in class or out of it, between Catholics and Protestants, that there was any difference between them. Each must have learned from the other, inadvertently, that their respective virtues and vices were all the same. irrespective of their religion."
Understandably, the effect of this was to breed a spirit of ecumenism long before the word became fashionable, He describes the funeral of a Protestant minister (a very remarkable man, by the way) in a neighbourhood which was predominantly Catholic.
"The church was filled to bursting with the Catholics of \ the district during the church ceremony preceding his burial (although at that time, as far as I know, it was considered a rather serious sin for a Catholic to be present at a ceremony in a non-Catholic church)".
When the time came to carry the coffin out to the graveside in the grounds "six Catholics jumped forward, carried him on their shoulders to the grave, lowered him into it and eventually filled it." One is tempted to believe that the Kingdom of Clod was not far from that touching scene.
Seamus O'Connor died in December of last year. The greater part of his memoirs deals with his experience during the fight for freedom and in that more terrible period that followed "when brother by his brother died." Yet all is told without bitterness and is leavened with humour.
He spent some time in the U.S. where he noted with some dismay "that we. who were subjected to centuries of oppression at home" instead of having a more merciful regard for and less bigotry towards other people, had nothing but contempt "for Jews, Italians, Poles and coloured people."
One is painfully reminded of the address of the lawyer for the defence of the K.K.K. members indicted for the murder of Mrs. Viola Gregg during the march on Montgomery, U.S.A., in 1955. Here is the concluding passage: "I stand here as a white man and I say we're never going to mongrelize the race with nigger blood; and the Martin Luther Kings, the white niggers, the Jews. the Zionists that run that bunch of niggers — the white people are not gonna run hefore them." That lawyer's name — never be it spoken without tears — was Matt Murphy!