Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Friendly Exchange of Thoughts on the Subject of Nationalism

This post is something a little different. Through posting on the Irish Catholics Forum, I have had a few (pleasant) exchanges with a fellow Irish Catholic blogger Young Ireland, whose blog Telling It as It Is can be found here. I have been pleased to encounter someone who, while remaining faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium, is obviously both independent-minded and open-minded.

One of the many prejudices against the Catholic Church is that it is a kind of intellectual retirement home, a place people go when they are tired of thinking for themselves. (The idea that a person could rationally arrive at an acceptance of an orthodoxy, rather than a rejection of all orthodoxy, seems to be-- well, a modern orthodoxy of its own.) But, of course, this prejudice is unwarranted. Faithful Catholics both can and do disagree on many subjects, while remaining true to the authoritative teachings of the Church.

I was interested to notice that, while I strongly agree with Young Ireland on most subjects, we have differing views on the subject of nationalism, and Irish nationalism in particular. I contacted him and asked him if he was amenable to the idea of a friendly exchange of thoughts on this subject, and was very pleased when he agreed to the idea.

He has also agreed to get the ball rolling, and here is his first contribution. (I will respond soon.) Thanks, Young Ireland!


That is what I would like to discuss in this post, both from a personal and a political perspective. I would like to thank Maolsheachlann for his generosity in allowing me to guest blog on Irish Papist, and I hope this post will do his blog justice.

Anyway, as for myself, I grew up in a quite nationalist family in a very republican area in North Kerry. Traditional music, GAA, and the pub were (and still are ) an important part of the local culture. As a child, I remember taking a keen interest in the GAA and traditional music. What I was not so keen on was the Irish language. For about an our each day, our class would parrot off sentences as Gaeilge about various topics. If you are a ten-year-old boy, that is a sure way to be turned off Irish culture. Still though, I was generally happy to go with the flow as it was then.

Now those of you living in the Limerick area (as I do now) may have heard of the Irish College at Ballybunion. In 2006, when I was done with primary school, the College was a 5-minute drive from my house, so unsurprisingly my parents booked me in there as a day student. Looking back, I can safely say that the three summers I spent there were pivotal in the development of my understanding of Irish nationalism, and not for the better. The methods used in teaching Irish were very similar to those in the school I had just left. We were roared at and punished as a group for reasons we were often never told about. Three words of English was enough to send you home (though interestingly one could sing in English and not get in trouble at all). The songs sung at the "Claisceadail", as it was known, had a distinctly republican bent, such as "Oro se do bheatha bhaile" and "Se mo laoch mo ghile mear". The national anthem was sung last thing at night, every night. There was one leader there though who I have great respect for, even today. He was very kind to us and would try to make conversation with people in Irish. Still, I only went the last year at the wishes of my parents. After that, my mind had been made up as far as Irish was concerned.

Amazingly given how much I disliked the subject, I did Honours Irish up to Leaving Cert. In fifth and sixth year, there was only two people in my Honours class, including myself, and my stance towards Irish, though always strongly against compulsory Irish, softened somewhat. I especially liked the discussions on current affairs as Gaeilge and we would often watch clips of TG4 if there was a spare class. One less inspiring thing about LC Irish for me was the late unlamented Stair na Gaeilge. Its uncritical and one-sided version of Irish history presented it as a simple battle between the perfect Gaels and the heathen Galls. It even criticised Daniel O'Connell for not promoting the language and presented 1916 and the Gaelic League in a totally biased manner. All that particular part of the course did was confirm me in the belief that the Irish language was something only for Gaeltacht-dwellers, civil servants and republicans, a belief that I now know to be rather dubious.

Ever since I left the Honours Irish exam for the last time, admittedly the only time I have taken an interest in the Irish language is to criticise it, at times rather unfairly. When I started the "Telling It As It Is" blog nearly a year ago, one of the initial aims was to critique Irish language, nationalism and culture. Though a lot of my early posts on the subject were strident, I always maintained that I was only attacking the use of the GAA and the Irish language for political ends (a la Sinn Fein). It was only around the same time that I learned how interwoven certain sections of Irish Catholicism were interwoven with nationalism and sovereignty. I was surprised at this because even though I wasn't exactly a nationalist, especially during the time of my Leaving Cert, I was strongly Eurosceptic and genuinely believed that the EU was bad for Catholics, thanks the the exploits of Coir. It was only when I read the eloquent comments of Hibernicus on the Irish Catholics Forum about the failings of Coir and the CSP that I learned that I had been duped and that the EU was NOT the gargoyle it was made out to be. After lurking on the forum for a couple of months, I signed up around February and the rest is history.

One thing that has been a constant throughout has been opposition to militant republicanism, which is surprising given that it is very popular in my home parish. I believe it is wrong to force anyone's language and culture on anyone else, and thus I oppose compulsory Irish (except in Gaeltacht areas) as I have said or opinions like "You're not Irish if you do not do (for example) play traditional music". 1916 is rather problematic for me as well. Did innocent people going about their daily business really need to be mowed down without mercy? Would Ireland have gotten independence anyway without a single drop of blood being shed? Is it moral to force a language on somebody that they will probably never use, and possibly even dislike because of it? Was it right to sneer at people critical of certain aspects of Irish nationalism, (like the Language Freedom Movement) as "West Brits"? That the Christian Brothers treated "foreign games" as almost sinful? Only God knows the answer to those questions.

That said, I am happy to be proud to be Irish in less problematic areas. St. Patrick's Day in particular makes me feel more patriotic than I would normally be. In particular, I take great pride in being a Kerryman and being from Ballybunion. When I come home from college every Friday, the first thing I do is read the previous Wednesday's Kerryman to see what happened in the county during the week. I take a very keen interest in local issues in the North Kerry area and would like to run for election in the future. So I am not opposed to nationalism or patriotism per se. What I do oppose is people trying to impose their own opinions on others (Note: I am referring to matters of prudential judgement here, not of dogma).

To be fair though, my views towards nationalists (not republicans) have mellowed somewhat, even if I don't necessarily agree with them. I have found people like Peadar Laighleis and Maolseachlann here to be very tolerant and open to debate on what it means to be Irish. I mean, I would be quite happy to vote for someone like Dana, Ronan Mullen or Kathy Sinnott with whom I may disagree on this issue. Maolseachleann said himself that he was anti-nationalist at my age as well. So who knows, in fifteen or twenty years time, I may come to love Irish language and culture. In conclusion, I suppose I could say that at the moment, I am proud of my country, just not in the way that people usually define patriotism.

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