Do Fethard traces remain?

Roy Foster’s review of The Fethard-on-Sea Boycott by Tim Fanning, (Collins Press, 240pp, €14.99) takes me back to my earliest memories of sectarian divisions, together with echoes of the Mother and Child controversy. This review in the New York Times of the film of the story seems puzzled by the whole thing, the sort of docu-drama the British make but is seldom made in the US. Not just a love story against the odds, in other words. Do faint traces of anti-Protestant bigotry remain? I suspect they do, though even that relentness observer of Irish mores Prof Foster doesn’t seem quite sure. In the late 1950s both Fethard and Mother and Child were part of the kit of anti-Catholic bigotry in the North.

When Mary Cloney died 10 years ago, her funeral was fully ecumenical, involving both local churches; the Protestant rector was a former Catholic priest who had left the Church to get married and then been ordained in the Church of Ireland. It suggests a very different country from that revealed by the events of 1957. But one closes this thought-provoking book unable to decide whether the Fethard trauma delayed the development of a new Ireland or hastened it on its way.

Sheila I see died last July and husband Sean in 1999

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Indeed, there was anti-Protestant bigotry in 1950s Ireland.
    And perhaps the Fethard story is one that was needed o lance a particuarly unpleasant boil. Other examples being the Cabinet ministers who stood outside the Church at the funeral for Douglas Hyde. Or the Sligo librarian who was hounded from her job because the good Catholics in Sligo feared the reading habits of the children determined by one of them.
    Sectarianism can be nasty but is any of that on a par with UDA Romper Rooms in………Belfast.
    Ah thats different.
    We are talking 1950s.
    Ar we talking those much missed testimonials in the pages of the Belfast Telegraph on a Saturday night. Stories about the “whore of Babylon” and all that.
    To be honest I was but a babe in the 1950s.
    Hushed conversations about the feral child Kevin Halfpenny. And yes that was dramatised (starring Dervla Kirwan I believe) just like the Fethard story…really totemic for anti Protestant bogotry in Catholic Ireland.

    The wheel has turned…..Tommy Tiernan, Ed Byrne, Dara O’Briain and the rest line up to tell the world their not Catholic. Heaven forfend ….too many cheap laughs. All or most thoroughly deserved of course.

    But I look forward as much as Brian Walker to a drama-documentary on another piece of 1950s bigotry……….oh lets see Maura Lyons. No takers in the BBC Drama Department?

  • granni trixie

    Funny enough, about an hour ago resolved to buy this book (catching up on papers a day late, as per usual, despite multi tasking).

    In the context of today hard to take in the impact/significance of mixed marriages then.
    That said, during the Troubles, for people living in social housing estates it just wasnt a safe option. I remember trying to help such a couple who had separated but who wanted the wife to relocate to somewhere where it was safe for the (Protestant) father to visit (not enough shared space).

  • DerTer

    FJH – Would you mind expanding a bit on what the actual drift of your message is? Sounds very much like whataboutery to me – but I await your response before finally making up my mind.
    As regards Roy Foster’s review of Fanning’s book – and without having read the book – I see the main message as being, what a wonderful couple they were. Both Sean and Sheila emerge with a great deal of credit.
    As to “whether the Fethard trauma delayed the development of a new Ireland or hastened it on its way”, I’m afraid I take the delayed option. I remember the boycott being stoutly defended, and any dissent being regarded almost as apostasy – despite deValera’s mild rebuke to the boycotters (if that’s the right word).

  • granni trixie

    Whatever happened to Maura Lyons,hairdresser extraordinaire,working beside the Broadway picture house and source of so many rumours. People thought her story would do for Paisley,alas not.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    granni trixie….apparently she never speaks about despite offers to so do.

    del ter,….as you await my response before making up your mind then I see a certain inconsistency that you havent actually read the book referred to……but have already determined the message.

    As regards “whataboutery”…….au contraire, I have listed examples in the South which were much worse……and I have hardly defended them. I have also referred to the BBCs drama dept on Halfpenny and Fethard and drawn attention to acts of sectarianism in the north, perhaps greater than the Fethard incident.
    and drawn attention to the fact that the maura Lyons story is perhaps one of the greatest untold stories of 1950s Belfast and has not been dramatised or even discussed much. In part due to the subjects relunctance.

    Cal McCrystals article in the Independent 1994(the link is massive but I quote)
    ‘Mr Paisley was in touch with the girl when prima facie she was abducted’.

    Abduction of an underage girl….thats the kinda thing that usually works Sluggerites up to frenzy. Obviously 20 years is more relevant than 50 years.

  • granni trixie

    Goggled ML story to find 1957 account which says that at 15 years old ML worked in a stitchers (as you did then). That reminded me that she worked in the hairdressers AFTER she came home and the ‘scandal’ had abated – remember peeping in to try to see her when going to the flicks. Article makes refs to “Alan Paisley” and Harry Diamond who spoke out about in Parliament about all this.

    Butwaitaminute, I’ve forgotten what on earth ML got to do with mixed marriages?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    granni trixie,
    I think Mr Walker was focussed on bigotry rather than mixed marriage.
    My point is that incidents like Fethard and the inadequacies of the Republic (from Angelas Ashes via Edna O’Brien to Roddy Doyles Ballysomewher Trilogly) has been thoroughly explored right up to the three “comedians” that I mentioned.
    The same has not been true of “Norn Iron” to the same extent. Yes Graham Parker and risible stuff from Martin Lynch and those godawful Hole in the Wall people……but the actual sectarian undercurrent of 1950s Belfast is still taboo.

  • Reader

    FitzjamesHorse: …but the actual sectarian undercurrent of 1950s Belfast is still taboo.
    Or it was:
    1) Taken for granted.
    2) Boring in comparison with the documentary material provided by the 1970s and 1980s

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Indeed Reader.

  • Framer

    Brian adds, to cover himself, that “In the late 1950s both Fethard and Mother and Child were part of the kit of anti-Catholic bigotry in the North.”

    But plenty of Protestants who were not bigots, particularly those who had been driven north (some 50,000 southern Protestants left) in the 1920s, could see this for what it had becomes – a Catholic state for a Catholic people as de Valera insisted.

    Republicans and the IRA had effectively been storm troopers for the church even if Rome Rule was an unintended consequence. And the church made the fatal mistake of allowing itself to take state power.

    Fatal for it today because it disregarded the state’s laws when disciplining paedophile priests over those years.

  • Greenflag

    reader ,

    It was not either 1) or 2) but both .
    The 2) derived in great part from the fact that ‘Unionism’ had accepted 1) for so long that it was considered ‘natural’ . In fact any attempt by any unionist leader or politician to suggest that it was’nt natural or could somehow be ‘fixed’ was met with general indifference by the unionist establishment and by an end to a political career at the next election .


    ‘And the church made the fatal mistake of allowing itself to take state power.’

    And they are still at it . Unionism’s traditional not an inch is matched only by the RC Church’s not a millimetre . Both these institutions will eventually get their come uppance in the Ireland of the not too distant future .

  • Greenflag

    I agree with you.

    The Catholic Church ruled the south and the Protestant Church ruled the north.

    It may improve now, but as we see from cardinal Brady this bunch of leeches hang on like, leeches. It is exactly the same in the north.

    It needs thorough independent investigations into every church the length and breadth of this island to sort them out, and then throw them out.

    A lie is a lie, unless you are a priest or a vicar.

  • Reader

    pippakin: The Catholic Church ruled the south and the Protestant Church ruled the north.
    But which Protestant Church? C of I? Presbyterian? Methodist? Free P?