Monday 24 July 2017

Kevin Myers: Had Myles escaped he might have become a literary giant

Last Saturday, just about the most brilliantly shocking supplement in the history of Irish journalism (give or take) appeared in this newspaper.

It featured the monotone half-decade, 1950-54. Grey rosary processions of women in grey cardigans were blessed by grey bishops, while other grey bishops scattered grey droplets of holy water on grey soldiery in grey serge. Ireland was the colour of a granite jail cell, lit by the forlorn candle of guttering hope. Another supplement, for the late '50s, is due tomorrow: peruse it, and rejoice that you are alive today.

The past for most countries is usually worse than the present, but in Ireland, much, much more so. This country then belonged to what we might call the Hiberian Triangle: Portugal, Spain and Ireland were apparently locked in a bizarre experiment in which all widows permanently donned black weeds, and the three states rigorously enforced largely Catholic laws. The Iberians needed fascist dictatorships to impose their authoritarian Popery: but here it was done with the democratic consent of perhaps the most brow-beaten, brainwashed, robotic people in Western Europe. This had become an island of despair, leeched dry by emigration, and made philistine by a vigorous isolationism commanded by an austere and authoritarian clergy. Here it was, in all its glory: the abomination of desolation that had resulted from 1916 and the demented cult of Ourselves Alone. Yet beneath this grey sanctimony festered an underworld of sexual degradation, rape and abuse, from those poor pimply lads of the Artane Boys' Band to the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries.

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