What ought to be rescued from the wreckage of Catholic Ireland?

As I’d expect, Mary Kenny has offered a critically sympathetic and definitely non-polemical take on the long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith from Catholic Ireland, noted already by Gladys.   For critics who may gloat that it’s all up for religion entirely, she makes an important distinction between faith and the institution of the (Roman Catholic) Church which by no means writes off faith entirely.

Mary points out that the problem with Vatican 2 was that it removed or played down so many props to faith, wrongly abominated by strident Protestants in my view –  like the drama of ritual or routines like family prayers with rosary beads, and exposed the blunt choice that had been buried in ecclesiastical theatre for centuries – do you believe or not believe?

Behind it were the abuse scandals waiting to be exposed  but prefigured for example in the late John McGahern’s  searing novel The Dark. It was re-issued by Faber in 2008 bearing a red  “banned”  sticker which I have in front me me now, recalling its first publication  in 1965 when it was proscribed  by the Irish censorship board. This article recalls an attitude to the Church not unlike Mary’s today which veered away from confrontation and allowed the work to speak for itself and sink into public awareness in spite of the ban. John didn’t protest against the ban himself because he didn’t want to show up  the Irish state “making bloody fools of themselves”. This was not only magnanimous but in the end , effective. Militants should take note.

Not that protest should be ruled out. It’s surely a case of horses for courses.  In her youth, Mary displayed her  fine gift for  protest as  a miniskirted spokeswoman  on the the pill –or condom-  train from Belfast, and afterwards on TV. This was a positive publicity coup carried out at the height of the Troubles that those of us who were around at the time will never forget.

In a later article for the Indo, Mary herself recalled the climate of the time, comparing the handling of the McGahern ban to the pill train excursion .

On 22 May 1971 a group of Irish feminists including Mary Kenny travelled to Belfast by rail and made their return to Dublin laden with contraceptive devices into a statement on the illogicality of the law. This provoked criticism from the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland; Thomas Ryan, Bishop of Clonfert, said that “… never before, and certainly not since penal times was the Catholic heritage of Ireland subjected to so many insidious onslaughts on the pretext of conscience, civil rights and women’s liberation.

 Spluttering reactions like these are period pieces today but we are still left with the question Mary’s Guardian  piece today implies: when faith is undermined, is scepticism a sufficient substitute? She also has more sympathy for the young State today than she may have had at the time. As  all women  become their mothers, she has a great quote from her’s after watching her daughter’s appearance on The Late Show:

Why can’t you be a bit cuter, like Mary Robinson?” she said. “She keeps her dignity. You have to go out and make an eejit of yourself?”

As we get older we  miss our parents and  tend to swing to the right.   But sorry Mammy. On that one, I think Mary had it right first time.

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  • sherdy

    One lesson – never again be subserviant to men in frocks!

  • glenda lough

    The forces of Godless secularism, like a huge octopus, have wrapped Ireland in their evil testicles. Surely it is time for Christians to strike back!

  • salgado

    I’m hoping “evil testicles” was a typo. It’s a horrific mental image.

  • aquifer

    A scepticism about the value of material things is useful to salvage when economic activity can damage people and the environment. An assumption that souls are worth the same more or less is a good starting point for human rights and democracy. If churches have to be dumped along with the sectarian and nationalist claims that one gang of souls are worth more, fine.

  • Religion is faith based, whereas church is cult based? Or are all of them aberrations of the mind based upon figments of imagination?

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    I’m hoping “evil testicles” was a typo. It’s a horrific mental image.

    lol, I was kinda hoping that’s what she meant 🙂

  • DoppiaVu

    evil testicles.

    Glenda, you’ve just made my day.

    I’m about to give your post the first of what I hope will be many commendations.

  • glenda lough

    Let the mockers mock and the knockers knock but I for one say: why oh why oh why should people home in on a minor typing error instead of heeding the whole message? When this trivial mistake was pointed out to me during our ‘Canonise General Franco Now!’ coffee morning today I had to be revived with a bottle of brandy. But I know that Almighty God is merciful and will surely extract revenge on my detractors. You will all roast in hell.

  • Digory Kirke

    The interference in the Roscommon incest case by the late Mina Bean Ui Cribin in the name of being “pro-family” is one poisonous legacy that should and must be dead and buried.

  • Rory Carr

    Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.

    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

    Unfortunately there is no entry therein for Mary Kenny,

  • Greenflag

    @ glenda lough ,

    Heres all the octopus you need or should that be octopi ?
    Tentacles are illustrated but not testicles 😉


    The last word on the Octopus is from the legendary Ogden Nash

    ‘Tell me o Octopus I begs
    Is those things arms
    or are they legs
    If I were you O octopus
    Instead of me I’d call me us

    Vampire squids of Goldman Sachs rule as everybody out there minus their testacles knows and today even the US Federal Government fessed up that they are not pressing charges against the Vampire Squid because well because well because ye see ye see -the law is different for these kinda people /squids 🙁

  • Mister_Joe


    As you well know, the Government doesn’t tell the banksters what to do. It’s the opposite.
    In that context, with regard to what should be rescued, what shouldn’t be rescued is the RC Church in Ireland having the ability to instruct the Government what to do, which was the situation until fairly recently,
    Whatever happened to the promise to prosecute the child molesters, regardless of their age?

  • Greenflag

    @ mister joe ,

    ‘Government doesn’t tell the banksters what to do. ‘

    Not just in Ireland -Joe . It’s a worldwide phenomenon . There are some 5,000 highly trained and paid financial sector lobbyists in Washington DC or almost 9 for every Congressman or Senator and they’ve been essentially writing /drafting the banking laws for the country for the past twenty years or more . The politicians -Republican and Democrat have been simply rubber stamping the moneymen’s preferred legislation .

    Not quite the same as permitting the inmates of a lunatic asylum to draw up the house rules or the inmates of a prison to draft up parole conditions and sentence remissions.

    So while there is disgust at the US Government’s decision not to prosecute there is no surprise either .

    As for the Republic ‘bailing out’ the RC Church to the tune of 100 million euros during the Ahern era ? After that pathetic cave in the the Church we should’nt be surprised that the ECB and IMF did’nt tread lightly when the time came to stomp on the Irish taxpayer 🙁

    You’ll note that Greece got a 50% write off for which they reamin ungrateful whereas the Irish got sweet fanny adams and a kick in the goolies for even daring to ask !

    To them that hath shall be given and to them that hath not even that which they haven’t got will be taken from them 🙁

    There are times when I think that there is not an honest banker or clergyman or politician left in the country 🙁