The Vatican, The Bishops and Irish Politics 1919-1939 by Dermot Keogh (Cambridge, UP, £27.50).
IT IS an intriguing truth that Ireland, although massively Catholic between 1919 and 1939, displayed little of the bitter anticlericalism which characterised Catholic southern Europe; there was an affinity between Catholicism and Irish nationalism remarkably absent from the Italian Risorgimento or the development of Spanish Falangism.
In this work Dr Keogh presents a detailed and complex study of the political relations between Church and State between 1919 and 1939; also, he carefully analyses the difficulties of domestic politics within the context of Anglo-Irish relations.
Making excellent use of the Irish and English press, in addition to Irish and Vatican archives, Dr Keogh reveals the quiet diplomacy between bishops, politicians and the Vatican; in the process, without exonerating Cardinal Gasquet for his anti-Irish sentiments at Rome, the author challenges the received myth of British dominance at the Holy Sea.
The real trouble began in 1916 when the Easter Rising stimulated divisions within the Irish community in Rome; and yet, back in Ireland, despite the close affinity of political and religious views, the leadership displayed by the Irish hierarchy was cool, individual and never in any sense politically monolithic. Of the 31 bishops of Ireland, both. ordinary and auxiliary, only one said anything that might be considered a justification of the Easter Rising; 22 bishops remained completely silent, including even Archbishop Walsh of Dublin. It was, of course, the growing fear of the Irish hierarchy after 1917 that Sinn Fein, whose moderates received considerable clerical support, was being driven to extremes by Bolshevik parallels.
The Anglo-Irish war which followed rebellion ranged the bulk of Ireland's bishops on the side of the Irish nation against the Black and Tans, one of the most brutal and provocative para-military formations in the history of pacification.
But Ireland hardly even seems to have been part of Europe. The visit by Sean O'Kelly, leader of the Dail Eireann mission to Paris in 1919 to place Ireland's appeal before Clemenceau, is illustrated. O'Kelly, from his homburg hat, via his winged collar to his patent leather shoes, deferentially turned inwards, was the archetypal civilian which post-war Europe would need to negotiate with. The French poilu standing guard outside Clemenceau's office, scruffy yet businesslike, could have stumbled directly from the revetments of Verdun. His facial expression signifies cold contempt for politicians and the world and who could blame him?
Very redolent of the old Ireland, which has all but ceased to exist, is the photograph of senior Irish clergy, complete with silk hats and canes, leading the funeral procession of Michael Collins through the streets of Cork in 1922. These illustrations are selected with rare judgment.
Dr Keogh rightly stresses some national attitudes.
Cardinal Bourne wrote to Lloyd George in April 1921 sternly denouncing, on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales, the use of the Black and Tans, and he was no less forthright in
his public detestation of Sinn
Fein and IRA excesses. Lord Curzon, British Foreign Secretary, was scathing about the failure of Count de Sails, British representative at the Holy See, to extract Vatican condemnation of Irish nationalist violence. Pope Benedict XV was clearly not anxious to take sides but nonetheless was roundly accused by Archbishop Mannix of finding words of sympathy for Belgium and Poland — yet never for Ireland.
The Holy See did, indeed, attempt to bring about peace in Ireland during the bitter and destructive Civil War, but the Apostolic Visitor, Mgr Luzio, who arrived in Ireland in 1922 in the hope of finding some means of accord through the diocesan bishops, sadly confessed that he found himself dealing with 26 popes.
This is a stimulating and well researched book which makes no concessions to popularity yet is highly rewarding for any student of Irish, Vatican and indeed English history.
Dr Moloney is author of Westminster, Whitehall and the Vatican: The Role of Cardinal Hinsiey 1935-1943.