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Catholic imagination, modern Irish writing and the case of John McGahern

19 Secular prayers: Catholic imagination, modern Irish writing and the case of John McGahern Frank Shovlin even now I feel the desperate need of prayer John McGahern, The Leavetaking In 1929 Liam O’Flaherty, the once student-priest, but by then Ireland’s most openly anti-clerical writer, published a scathing attack on the Irish Catholic Church in a short, aggressive book titled A Tourist’s Guide to Ireland. ‘This may seem extraordinary’, he wrote, ‘but it is true that in remote parts of Ireland, usually the parts of interest to tourists, the parish priest has a

in Irish Catholic identities

in falling levels of Mass attendance and attitudes to church teaching, there has been a deep process of secularisation.5 The Nobel Prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney, has spoken of his personal loss of faith, of belief in God and the afterlife, and seems to assume that his experience is the norm,6 a sentiment encapsulated in one of his poems, ‘Out of This World’,7 when he noted that ‘The loss occurred offstage’, and, one might add, in his case, quietly, profoundly.8 So, is that it: will the Irish Catholic Church succumb in the face of modernity’s challenges, the

in Irish Catholic identities
Irish-American fables of resistance

  105 6 The poetry of accumulation: Irish-​American fables of resistance Eamonn Wall Writing on Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin’s poetry, Andrew J.  Auge, in a devastating piece of reportage, describes the recent change that has taken place in the reputation and role of Irish Catholic Church:  ‘by the turn of the millennium, the once imposing edifice of Irish Catholicism appeared increasingly derelict’ (Auge 2013:  145). Given all we have learned from reports into how the Church has dealt with abuses committed by its clergy and cover-​ups initiated by its hierarchy, it

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism
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’s working-class mothers prayed with their rosary beads ‘in church, home, on the street, in shops or queues, almost anywhere’.3 These accounts illustrate that lay Irish women came to represent faith and nation in the modern age. They testify to the central positions that lay women held in the religious worlds of nineteenth and twentieth-century Ireland even as they document both changes and continuities in how women practiced their faith from the post-famine decades to 1950. In the immediate aftermath of the Great Famine, the Irish Catholic Church remained institutionally

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
Tracing the transformation of Irish Catholicism through the eyes of a journalist

believed and managements and editors would never have held out against a massed attack by the all-​powerful Irish Catholic Church. From first-​hand experience I  witnessed one of the worst of the Christian Brothers break into the office of the manager and demand that a court case that mentioned Artane (the largest industrial school in Dublin) should not be used. Before the manager could lift a phone he would push open the editorial door to tell us the manager had instructed that the case be dumped. He got away with this just one more time. On the third time of demanding

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism
A time of hope!

, the educational, health-​care and social-​care systems being run by the Church (financially and administratively this was much to the advantage of the State), the Irish Catholic Church was a political force to be reckoned with –​and politicians knew this, and, with some notable exceptions, respected it. Their own Catholic faith deepened that respect, even when more evident political motivations were present. At a time when, as a nation, we had no real political representation, the Irish Catholic Church created a sense of identity and dignity both collective and

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism
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Ireland’s referendum and the journey from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft

sacramental nature, the Irish Catholic Church was creating what Julia Kristeva sees as a national community which is ‘not a political one but organic, evolutionary, at the same time vital and metaphysical –​the expression of a nearly irrational and indiscernible spirit that is summed up by the word Gemeinsinn’ (1991: 176–​7). Thus, marriage, from this perspective of maintaining the seminal significance and organic nature of the Irish Gemeinschaft, came to be of central importance, and over the years, the Church, with the compliance of the State, made sure that marriage was

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism

argument was particularly suited to bolstering a long-held conviction that a Protestant-dominated industrialised state was fundamentally antagonistic to the spiritual wellbeing of its Catholic citizens and, not insignificantly, this was also compatible with a nationalist reading of Irish history. Tom Garvin has characterised the Irish Catholic Church in the twentieth century as espousing a ‘curiously empty rhetorical democratic radicalism or national populism’.8 This marriage of conservative and populist economic thought with the increasingly nationalist rhetoric of the

in Irish Catholic identities
Church, State and modernity in contemporary Ireland

-​the-​church-​in-​ireland (accessed 19 August 2015). —​—​(2011) ‘ “Keeping the Show on the Road”: Is this the Future of the Irish Catholic Church?’, Address to the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies, Magdalene College, Cambridge, 22 February, available at www.catholicbishops.ie/​2011/​02/​22/​address-​ by-​archbishop-​martin-​to-​the-​cambridge-​g roup-​for-​irish-​studies-​magdalene-​college-​ cambridge (accessed 19 August 2015). McDonagh, Enda (2003) ‘Church-​State Relations in Independent Ireland’, in James P. Mackey and Enda McDonagh (eds.), Religion and Politics in Ireland at the Turn of the

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism
Irish priests and the unravelling of a culture

to minimise and sometimes deny the prevailing crisis in the Irish Catholic Church’ by asking who will actually say mass for the people in another decade or two: Suddenly there it was, like a pearl glistening in a clearance, demanding our attention. It isn’t, of course, the only question that needs to be asked as our Church faces a difficult future, but it is of immediate and critical concern. For, at most, we have a window of a decade or so to come to terms with this imminent crisis. And unless we do a Eucharist famine will prevail in Ireland as parishes without

in Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism