A welcome work in the canon
This excellent text is a reminder that we need to be wary of simplifying church and State Church, State and Social Science in Ireland
By Peter Murray and Maria Feeney Manchester University Press, £75
From the middle of the 20th century the balance of power between the Catholic Church and the Irish State was shifting. One book that dealt with this theme was published in 1971 by the political scientist John H Whyte under the title Church & State in Modern Ireland, 1923-1970.
Whyte had been appointed the first lay lecturer in politics at University College Dublin, in 1961, but was at the mercy of the wrath of the Catholic archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid when the subject of his research became known. Whyte had to leave UCD for Queen’s University Belfast – in effect a case of constructive dismissal.
It was a reminder of the extent of church control over social-science research and teaching, a control that had produced an Irish Catholic “institutionalised culture of pronounced intellectual caution and hierarchical control”. In essence, Irish Catholic writers constructed sociology “as the social branch of ethics” and a “staple set of topics – marriage, family, church, state, private property, relations between capital and labour – was dealt with in terms of very general principles”. By the following decade, however, a professional, secular association of Irish sociologists had been established, suggesting a new dawn.
Wrestling free from church dominance is one of the themes of Church, State and Social Science in Ireland: Knowledge Institutions and the Rebalancing of Power, 1937- 73, by Peter Murray and Maria Feeney, which is a welcome update and addition to Whyte’s groundbreaking study.
It dwells on both the general expansion of education and changes to the focus of sociology through a new emphasis on empirical research. This saw the emergence of research institutes independent of the church, such as the Economic Research Institute – which evolved into the Economic and Social Research Institute – in tandem with State refusal of requests from Catholic social movements for funding for their own research centres.
Another battle front was adult education in the social sciences. McQuaid in all his splenetic glory is well captured here, a reminder that he generated an archive that keeps on giving when it comes to the research of church-State relations. In 1955 he was able to boast: “I have now, at length, been able to take measures in the university” – UCD – “to have Catholic philosophy permeate all the faculties, and I hope that our educated lay folk in the near future will no longer show themselves to be infected by the Protestant English liberalism that had caused and is still causing so much confusion in our country.” He hated the idea that “history, commerce and technology are striving to override the world”.
This book documents the end of the era that produced such episcopal imperiousness, alongside the decline in the high proportion of priests within sociology. Catholic concerns persisted that new approaches would prevent a “wide formation” of students in ethics and sociology, but James Dillon, the minister for agriculture in 1955, told a US embassy official that “vested interests will eventually be beaten down”.
The availability of American finance concentrated many minds in relation to applied research in agriculture, industry and economics. By the early 1960s such research was a major beneficiary of Irish engagement with US government aid programmes and US private foundations such as the Ford Foundation and the Grant Counterpart Fund.
This book reveals a multitude of tensions over control of research. When the Catholic Workers’ College proposed an industrial-relations advisory and research centre in 1965, the department of industry and commerce was concerned that the “close association of the proposed centre with a religious community might be inhibiting”, and the plan was rejected.
Another interesting development was the degree to which Ireland’s social-securi- ty provision became an object of both political debate and social-scientific analysis in the early 1960s. In 1964 Charles Murray, assistant secretary at the Department of Finance, suggested “it would be well to get some work going now on the forms which improved and extended social services might take”.
The key question was whether a social-development programme could be devised; empirical sociology was moving out of the ambit of Catholic social theory into that of the State’s policymaking, but not all government departments were supportive enough – and that, with recession, strikes and inflation, complicated planning.
Church, State and Social Science in Ireland is a reminder that we need to be wary of simplifying either church or State and their engagement with social-science research and teaching. Seán Lemass, often seen as unreceptive to rural priorities, suggested in 1964 that “we need an institute of rural sociology”, but he could not generate sufficient support among his ministers.
Jeremiah Newman, professor of sociology at Maynooth from 1953 and a future, and very conservative, bishop of Limerick, is revisited as an innovator, pushing sociology towards a more empirical approach instead of just “natural law thinking that tended to reduce the discipline to a fairly sterile exercise in ethical exposition”.
There were many more f raught church-State exchanges at an earlier stage than might be assumed. The UCD economist Patrick Lynch, who chaired a social-research committee under the auspices of the David Cooke’s collections include A Slow Blues: New and Selected Poems ( High Windows Press ) and recently After Hours ( Cultured Llama Publishing ) Institute of Public Administration in 1959, wondered if public affairs could be addressed not in relation to faith and morals but with “technical knowledge, experience, intelligence and good sense”.
Fr James Kavanagh, first director of Dublin Institute of Catholic Sociology, was not impressed: “Am I being airy fairy in suggesting that seminars on productivity and management and trade unionism should include always a lecture on some philosophical aspect?” Perhaps both had a point, but in the long run, as another sociologist, Bryan Fanning, puts it, “OECD reports came to replace the papal encyclicals”.
This book is dense, learned and occasionally too crowded and complicated by gazes back and forward midchapter. It is essentially a textbook, and a fine one, but is prohibitively expensive, at £75. It makes excellent use of original archival research to offer new and revised perspectives, the essence of good social-science research, of which Peter Murray and Maria Feeney, of Maynooth University, are admirable and hardworking practitioners.
Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and an Irish Times columnist In the Shangri-La of San Francisco they called it The Summer of Love,
tuning in and dropping out to a soundtrack of spacey guitars.
Bookish, shy, and too young for a droopy moustache and sideburns,
I was hothoused instead by Hayes for the maths I was taking early,
but got a hint of something else in Scott McKenzie’s anthem.
Against her better judgment, my mother allowed me to pick a shirt.
– A bright yellow shocker with a floppy, extravagant collar,
it didn’t survive the first lesson before they sent me home
to dream on at the back of the bus of topless Haight-Ashbury girls,
whose painted bodies sway to airborne waves of music. By Alison MacLeod Bloomsbury, £16.99
Alison MacLeod has written three novels, one of which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2013. The reason for pointing this out is that novels and short stories involve different skills. In this collection MacLeod demonstrates a talent for and assurance in the short form that make the stories a joy to read. All the Beloved Ghosts’ opening piece, Edited by Chris Agee and Cathal Ó Searcaigh Irish Pages Press, ¤14
In the latest edition of I rish Pages t he I rish Times journalist Lara Marlowe writes about the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who said that “Israel is built not next to Palestine, but on top of Palestine”. She also writes of the intimidation she and other journalists and politicians have been subjected to after criticising Israel. There is an essay of Hubert Butler’s from 1947 about a war- crimes trial. Emma Marx translates her uncle’s description of his experiences as an inmate of Bergen- Belsen and one other concentration camp under the Nazis. Dervla Murphy’s essay Hasbara in Action makes sobering reading – as, indeed, does the entire book. The photographic portfolio by Mark Cousins, of the city of Belfast, punctuates Chris Agee’s perceptive essay, Troubled Belfast. Another excellent edition of this journal. The Thaw, about a tragedy that follows an unexpected awakening, sets the collection’s theme of joy, sorrow and the absurd that overlap in the lives of all the characters. The Heart of Denis Noble finds a heart surgeon being propelled back 50 years, to his student days, in the hours before he receives a heart transplant. We Are Methodists sees a Gulf War veteran turned plumber reveal to a client the things he can’t even tell his girlfriend. With only one story that strays beyond the surety of its companions, this is an exceptionally accomplished collection, well worth discovering.
By Jenn Ashworth Sceptre, £8.99
Annette Clifford returns to her long- abandoned childhood home, which is overshadowed by t wo deep- rooted sycamores that threaten the building’s foundations. A similar presence are her dead parents, Nettie and Jack, who narrate the story, their tendrils reaching from the past to the present. The house is putrid with memory, with Annette’s loneliness as a neglected girl growing up alongside Nettie’s blooming cancer. Their lodger cures her father’s sight with a touch of his hands. He traffics in hope, and this sustains her parents through the grim humiliations of her mother’s sickness, until the end. Despite the ethereal narrators, the book’s triumph is in the corporeal, the ache of the mundane, the beauty of small things. The characters have a poetry of the ordinary – a brokenness reminiscent of Alan Bennett that makes them flesh and blood.
Irish Pages: Israel, Islam and the West
All the Beloved Ghosts
From left: archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid, Cardinal Francis D’Alton, president Sean T O’Kelly, papal nuncio Dr Alberto Levame, Philomena O’Kelly, and taoiseach Eamon de Valera, in 1958. PHOTOGRAPH: DERMOT BARRY