On being a Catholic Jewish Anglican thingie…

Mark Lawson on the seemingly (by Northern Irish standards at least) random shards of his socio religious make up.


  • Rory

    I really enjoyed Lawson’s article, Mick. Thanks for posting it up.

    On the subject of Irish people who consider themselves lapsed, agnostic, non-practising, atheistic, former or indeed even “now anti” Catholic, among one of which groups I am from time to time to be found, I sometimes hear the echo of the words of the Monaghan poet, Patrick Kavanagh,”Every time I hear an Irishman deny his faith I hear the cock crow thrice”.

    Kavanagh’s autobiography “The Green Fool” is one of the most lyrically beautiful, truly humble literary autobiographies that I have ever read and I would heartily recommend it to all.

  • DK

    Hi Rory,

    The quote “Every time I hear an Irishman deny his faith I hear the cock crow thrice.” Is Kavanagh implying that those who leave the church (not specified, but I assume it is Catholic) are like Peter, deying Christ – except in Kavanagh’s analogy they are denying Ireland and condemning Ireland to Crucifixion?

    Or am I missing something as that sounds an enormously intolerant thing to say.

  • Rory

    No, DK, he has no intention of being polemical in his remark and he charge of leaving the faith and thus leaving Ireland to her Crucifixation most certainly is not intended.

    It is just that he feels that catholicism was so deeply imbued into the culture and psyche of the Irish that a denial of it seemed to ring hollow.
    Kavanagh was fairly immune to the political passions. Read his autobiography, it really does bear reading and you will be glad that you did, I promise.

  • untermenschen

    “It is just that he feels that catholicism was so deeply imbued into the culture and psyche of the Irish that a denial of it seemed to ring hollow.”

    I agree entirely with this interpretation.

    Leaving aside NI, which is a totally different kettle of fish, and not to downplay a jot the after effects of British colonialisation, so deeply imbued was this in the Republic, that someone who was not catholic was considered somehow not to be wholly Irish.
    (Except, of course, if they excelled at something in the arts or sporting worlds when they would immediately be clasped to the collective Irish breast.)

    This was self-perpetuating to a degree as well.
    If you feel not totally accepted it sends signals of outsiderness which, in turn, “proves” the difference exists.

  • Rory

    DK, perhaps I should just elaborate a wee bit more, just to dispel any notion you might have that Kavanagh considered the abandonment of the Catholic faith and leaving Ireland to its own crucifixion when he made the remark I quoted.

    Kavanagh was born in Iniskeen, Co. Monaghan in 1904, the son of a small-holder who was also a cobbler. Life at home was pretty miserable for him – penurious, arduous, tedious work on the farm, dreaming of girls and poetry and detesting the tyranny of the clergy with all its sexual and cultural repression which was worse even than the economic hardship.

    His first great work of poetry, “The Great Hunger” deals with the subject of sexual repression in Irish farmers. He was most anti-clerical, and yet, and yet, he was an acute observer of the human condition, of the frailties of the human heart and I suppose was always drawn back a little to the simple, quiet faith that was practised by the ordinary poor and which was unshakeable.Later, I suspect especially when recovering from the ravages that he had allowed alcohol to play upon him, he perhaps harkened back to that idea of gentle simplicity and that it is from that yearning that his remark springs.
    But i may be wrong. Read more of his and of him and decide for yourself. A good starting point is his semi-autobiographical novel “Tarry Flynn” published by Penguin Modern Classics, as is his autobiography “The Green Fool”.

    Perhaps the best known of his poems is “On Raglan Road”, often set to song and performed by every man and his donkey. (My favourite version is that by the American singer, Bonny Raitt, on the Chieftans’ “wimmin only” album – you know the one, with the Japanese woman and “Saki in the Jar” and all that?)

    Untermenschen makes a good point, but a little is lost, I fear, in its polemical underpinning. It need not be. Have a dip into Kavanagh yourself, Untermenschen, he touches the souls of all men who yet have souls to touch.

  • untermenschen

    “… but a little is lost, I fear, in its polemical underpinning.”

    Could you elaborate a little.
    I meant only to make the point I made, and no other.

  • Rory

    Untermenschen – it is that you seem to want to drag the discussion into the area of the repressive clergy dominated Free State, which Kavanagh felt, suffered under and reviled more than you or I ever could (he lived under it) almost as a point scoring exercise. Please forgive me me if I have wrongly read that into your post.

    I think Kavanagh was touched, as I have said, by the quiet, simple faith of the poor that was held, despite, not because of, the clergy. I often see a similar phenomenon here in England where the simple honest sincerity of Afro-Caribbean congregation members in Pentacostalist churches, run by the most awful rogues and charlatans. Their own sincere honest spirituality is untainted by the rogues that act as their ministers. In moments of turmoil I often wish that I could share their gentle trust and hope.

  • smirky

    Mick thanks for posting Lawson’s article, I enjoyed it very much. My Ukrainian Catholic great-grandparents emigrated to Canada and at “Customs”, when they pronounced their names for the record, they were misunderstood and from then on the name on the family passport no longer sounded Ukrainian Catholic but now, *gasp* Jewish. My parents, both ‘lapsed Catholics’, whatever that means, did not baptize me, I never went to church, and grew up with no knowledge of religion whatsoever. As I age, I have discovered ‘perception’ versus ‘reality’ and now wonder how many times I have been discriminated against for having a Jewish sounding name!?? (hahaha hey wait a minute, maybe THAT’s why I didn’t get that job I applied for 😉 Now I wonder, how many incorrect assumptions have I made about people over the years?? and do you know that I have never talked about religion so much until I moved to this part of the world, the lovely North of Ireland, Norn Iron, Northern Ireland…

    and so now I’m an unbaptized atheist with a Jewish-sounding maiden name from an old Catholic family, now married to a Protestant from NI (but not a ‘unionist’, no, that’s another label, another new term I’ve learned.) I also wonder what slot I’m being put in when I fill out job applications, when I tick the box for the ‘Monitoring Officer’… I happily and enthusiastically tick that ‘OTHER’ box and I think “well, that’s me, nobody’s putting me in any religious category” and then someone told me I’m probably put into the Protestant category because my married name ‘sounds Protestant’… Very interesting indeed.

    btw Slugger is great. thanks

  • untermenschen

    Thanks for that.
    No actually I didn’t but just mentioned the artistic and sporting stuff to head off predictable reposts of “what about such and such”.
    Considering most of my other posts it is easy to see why you suspected that.

  • barcas

    I have often mused on the wonderful potential of “Tarry Flynn” as a TV serial. Sensitively handled it would (could) be superb, insensitively handled it would rival “Father Ted” as a parody of Irish life.

    How about it, RTE?


  • Rory

    Untermenschen – you are very gracious. Thank you.

    Barcas – You put me in a quandaty. I can’t decide whether I now want the sensitive or insensitive version of “Tarry”

  • Rory

    Whoops! That should be “quandary” of course. I must have been drinking too much “t”. Apologies.