Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bishop Eamon Casey RIP, and St. Patrick's Day

I feel I should write something about the death of Bishop Eamonn Casey, whose fathering of a son caused a scandal in the early nineties.

I feel I should say something....except I don't really have much to say, except for ar dheis Dé a anam, God bless his soul. The Irish media loves him because he was a left-wing bishop and because he caused a scandal in the Church. But he undoubtedly had many good qualities, especially his concern for the poor.

The Bishop Casey affair is commonly supposed to have been a cataclysmic episode in the history of Irish Catholicsim, and indeed in Irish history. I can just about remember it. I remember sitting in my aunt's kitchen, in her farmhouse in Limerick, and listening to a lot of talk about it. I remember realising that it was even more of a sensation in rural Ireland than it was in Dublin-- and there was plenty of talk about it in Dublin.

And yet....looking back, it seems to me that it wasn't really such a shock to anyone. On the whole, I think people took a certain titillated delight in it, rather than anything else-- not out of any kind of long-suppressed anti-clericalism, simply out of the human fascination with sex scandals. I was in my early teens and I don't rememer being shocked. I don't really believe it played as big a part in the decline of the Church in Ireland as people claim-- although I have little to go on here but intuition, and impression.

Everybody in my aunt's community went to Sunday Mass-- I had never seen anything like it in Dublin. But I remember them joking about the Bishop Casey affair, while it was still very much in the news. The woman upon whom he fathered a child was named Annie Murphy. This was a joke told in my aunt's kitchen, to much laughter: what did Bishop Casey say when a barman asked him what he fancied? "Any Murphy's?" (Murphy's is an Irish beer.)

No, I don't think this was a case of simple faith being rocked to its core.

Which brings me to my other subject, St. Patrick's Day. I've just been in my local shop and it was playing Irish folk ballads and had green, white and orange bunting for St. Patrick's Day.

This also put me in retrospective mood. St. Patrick's Day was something of a non-event in my childhood. I don't even remember very much fuss being made about it in my school.

My parents took me to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin city centre once. It was really crummy, very typical of eighties shabbiness and tack. It was float after float of advertising, with very little spectacle involved.. Regular readers may remember my rhapsodies about Macy's Parade, which is plenty commercial. This wasn't Macy's Parade. it was terrible! The highlight was when a pirate shot me with a water pistol.

St. Patrick's Day has got a lot better since my childhood. Now it's celebrated for the best part of a week, and the parade is about a million times more impressive (and less commercialised). I think that's a good thing.


  1. Yes, whatever has disimproved in Ireland, the parade is not one of them. It is now well done, a bit too cod mystical and non Christian, but better Macnas performance than Bord Telecom Éireann float.

  2. ....I remember reading that Casey was also quite a critic of the Reagan government's dealings in Central America, which reminded me of what you said about Thatcherism. Some circles these days seem a bit too keen to "canonize" these two leaders. They may have been strong against communism, but it has to be asked whether communism fell despite the consumerism of capitalism rather than because of it. And it can't be denied that there were side-effects of suffering coming from some of their decisions.
    A biography of Casey made mention that he actually removed the confessionals in his cathedral and introduced folk masses, saying he never liked Gregorian chant anyway. The anti-celibacy brigade may have been happy when they found out about his child but was it really the type of scalp they would've wanted ? Do progressive priests generally consider celibacy as either important or something that will continue for much longer? A bit of trivia: His brother Fr Michael Casey was a priest in Perth for most of his life. His last parish of about 30 years standing was St Columba's South Perth, built in the art deco era. While not exactly the Honan Chapel it has a very Celtic feel, with windows of Patrick, Brigid and Columba over the choir loft. It's hard to imagine a more different man; unobtrusive on the extreme.
    Remembering you all on the 17th...

  3. Bishop Casey seems to me to be a a very representative prelate of the time, although I actually don't know a whole lot about him...

    Happy St. Patrick's Day to you too!