THE late Mary Raftery was rightly a muchrespected and muchloved journalist. And what follows is certainly not criticism of her or her achievements, but of our Great Single Narrative.
Once upon a time, the Great Single Narrative of Ireland was largely provided by the Catholic Church.
Now it comes from the new clergy in the secular media. In this current GSN, the hapless Irish people were oppressed by a sadistic caste of sexually depraved priests, who raped, brutalised and violated children at their ease, immune to all legal consequence.
As with all successful GSNs, there is sufficient truth in these allegations to sustain the myth. But within the culture that has emerged around this GSN, virtually all memory of the selflessness and dedication of scores of thousands of priests, brothers and nuns down the centuries has vanished.
And when you consider the cynical alliance the Catholic hierarchy struck with Charles Haughey’s Fianna Fail in the 1980s, you shouldn’t be too surprised that modern secular Ireland is not too charitably disposed towards the Catholic Church.
The hierarchy, better than most, knew about Haughey; about his coauthorship of the Provisional IRA; about his financial malfeasance: and about his compulsive philandering.
How sweetly paradoxical it was that Haughey’s political successor, Bertie Ahern who – scenting the changing in the breeze – aligned Fianna Fail with the emerging post- Catholic GSN, leaving the Catholic hierarchy as the jilted old spinster at the altar. Bertie Ahern’s creation of the Redress Board, along with the sudden and revolutionary new jurisprudential dogma that an allegation of abuse constituted proof thereof, changed just about everything in Irish life.
The presumption of innocence was abandoned, and the concrete rang with the sound of babies’ shattered foreheads, along with the bathwater.
A worldwide advertising campaign was begun, asking for “victims” to come forward, in order to be compensated.
This, uniquely, was compensation-culture being fed not by litigantlawyers, but by the very people who would have to pay the compensation. It is doubtful whether any state has ever behaved with such ruinous stupidity, but in fact it was only a weird mutation of the Fianna Fail cargo-cult creed: that the state exists to shower goodies on the citizens, who in due course will reward the party at the ballot box.
No Golconda is so vast, no oil-well so bottomless, no diamond- mind so carboniferously- endowed, as to be able to sustain such promiscuous and dysfunctional generosity indefinitely.
The Fianna Fail gravy ladle finally reached the bottom of the tureen with the bankers and the speculators; but by that time, its unprincipled munificence towards anyone who had made allegations of clerical abuse had created an insatiable army of litigants, – and not just in Ireland, but across the English-speaking world.
From their howls, and the government-created enquiries which treated all allegations as jury verdicts, has emerged the Great Single Narrative of our times.
THE new GSN created a very great lie: that the Catholic Church was responsible for all our woes, when the truth was more complex: a consensual and democratically endorsed pact between the governing political caste, the electorate and the Catholic Church created a strange society, in which all three components were responsible for the many failings.
A people that believed in corporal punishment produced a like-minded clergy; and a sexually repressed society nominated a caste of sexually illiterate virgins to devise sexual norms for the non-virgins.
Would you choose a plumber or electrician on such principles? No wonder things went wrong. But just for once, let’s look on the positive side.
Irish Catholic priests and nuns were determined that Irish emigrants to the US arriving as third-class citizens wouldn’t remain that way.
Yes, it’s easy now to mock the austere puritanism and sexual rigidity of Catholic mores, but the men and women who ran the Catholic Church knew what anarchy can be unleashed in the absence of order (as any O’Connell Street at midnight will now testify).
And contrary to much current fiction, many women were immensely powerful in Irish life of yesteryear.
Our hospital system was invented and run by an army of unpaid and mighty Irish females: the Sisters of Mercy and of Charity. (Take your pick: them or the HSE?) A vast network of hundreds of girls’ schools, educating millions of pupils across the world, was created by the Ursuline, Presentation and Loreto nuns of Ireland.
An example: a single Ursuline convent, that of the Annunciation in Cork, spawned daughter-convents in Wales, New York, Kentucky, South Carolina, Ontario, Kenya, British Guiana, Demerara and Barbados.
Overall, the Presentation Sisters of Ireland established 116 schools in the US alone. Knocking the Catholic Church is easy: but the work ethic, sobriety and discipline imparted by the Irish clergy were essential to the success of the Irish in the US.
Having a Great Single Narrative is common to most societies; it is usually called a myth, and is generally composed of benign historical garbage.
But what distinguishes the Irish Narratives is the overnight rejection and excoriation of previously respected forms of Irishness. And this is utterly counterproductive, for self-hatred is no way to build either a real future, a happy nation or a unifying Great Single Narrative.