The Word is 'Coco'
Conference of .. .
TT is curious that just after my colleague, Douglas Hyde. has been writing about one part of Ireland, I for once should dig myself out of my Fleet Street ditch to spend a week-end in Belfast. I am delighted that I made the trip — at 383 mph. on thc return flight — if only because I was introduced to "Coco." Among all the new names created out of initials. this one must surely take the prize. And it would not take much ingenuity to lengthen the title so that "Cola" could be added. Anyway, "Coco " stands for "Conference of Catholic Organisations" — and the thing itself is as unforgettable as its name. Once a year all the lay organisations of the diocese of Down and Connor gather together in conference to hear lectures on a certain topic and to discuss the subject together. This year the subject was "an Enquiry into the Catholic Education of Adults,"
THIS gathering-together of dele gates of all organisations obviously enormously helps to make the lay apostolate more real and more effective. And I was greatly impressed by the method of discussion. Thus on Saturday night, Fr. Cronin, the Principal of Strawberry Hill, lectured on modern reforms of catechism instruction in schools as one vital way of forming the future adult Catholic. These reforms naturally reflect a changed attitude to the religious approach which today is Christocentric, as well as changed attitudes to pedagogy. After the lecture the 200 to 300 delegates were divided into 15 discussion groups, each with a leader. After the discussions, the leaders came in turn to the microphone to report the practical findings of the group to the whole conference. What struck me most was the clear and practical nature of the findings and recommendations of each group.
IT became clear at once that the leading laity of the diocese were expressing definite wishes for a large number of changes from present ways and routines. Of course, the Church is not a democracy and such methods could be exaggerated. But the delegates fully realised this for their findings, while definite, were moderate, reasonable and well within practical limits. I do not know what happens to them. but one hopes that they are finally laid before the Bishop for his consideration and judgement. Alas, Bishop Mageean, who was to have opened the conference, was un well. One has been so much aware of conferences which, despite all the valuable talk and discussion, seem to end in smoke and one feels that this model way of quick discussion by groups should be studied and imitated here. It is a very simple way of passing from the abstract to the concrete. One so strongly feels how much untapped energy and enthusiasm among the laity exists for lack of method of immediate practical expression.
The D'Alton Plan
My visit to Northern Ireland gave me the privilege and great pleasure of calling (in the usual Irish rain) on Cardinal D'Alton in Armagh. The Cardinal, who is 76, and has recently celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest. has also been in poor health this winter, but he told me that he was feeling a good deal better now — and to see him walking rapidly with his red biretta through a freezing gale was good confirmation of his recovery. We naturally talked a little about the "D'Alton Plan" which became news when Douglas Hyde interviewed the Cardinal in the spring of 1957. lits Lniiiience told me that he was very happy indeed about the general effect, He felt that it had really helped to bring hack the question of United Ireland to free and reasonable discussion without people feeling any sense of disloyalty or compromise with principle when they expressed their honest views. He was clearly optimistic about the long-term future, yet without underrating in any way the great practical difficulties.
CERTAINLY, my own feeling as
a result of many conversations in Belfast and even within the majestic halls of Stormont itself (where preparations were being made for the royal visit) was that the whole position had been greatly eased over the last few years. Among much that I heard two points stood out. One was that the Unionists today are not so much inclined to take it for granted that they will inevitably be Britain's pampered pets. Perhaps this is only a passing feeling due to the alarming increase in unemployment (10 per cent, and more in certain places) and disappointment over the British Government's lukewarm interest in what means so much to them. But the other point may have more permanent validity. I was told that the deepest Protestant objection to a federal Irish Union within the Commonwealth arises from the fear that the Irish State of the future would forbid divorce or the sale of contraceptives in the whole of Ireland. The Protestants, though fervent and church-fillers every Sunday, do not share Catholic doctrine about such things. They would also resent the present Irish censorship.
The oldest government
HARDLY less important, especi ally for the workers who are poor supporters of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, is the fear of the loss of the Welfare State and the secularist British type of Health Service, where, say, the Mother and Child problem arises. If this fear could be removed, it might well be that we should at last see the defeat of "the oldest government in the world." A Labour Government in Northern Ireland working in with a Labour Government in Westminster might bring about a very different political atmosphere. I could not myself see why in a federated Ireland ihrre vraild tint be special legislation in regard to divorce, etc., for the Protestants. I he Republic, after all. is not technically a Catholic State in the old sense of the word; it is a lay State. And the Republic has been a model in the matter of religious tolerance and educational freedom.
Breaking down barriers
EVEN only a day or two in Northern Ireland makes a very odd impression. It still bears so many marks of being two nations so that one hardly knows where one is. One is shown the traditional Orange districts and the original Catholic districts (where rents are higher) and one realises that the two communities live side by side with scarcely any contacts. This seems to be due more to tradition than any active hostility today, though a doctor pointed out the kind of practical problem that arises. At a medical dinner what is the nationalist doctor to do when the Queen's health is drunk? The simplest answer is not to attend. There is still, of course, legal discrimination as. for example. in housing. for the local government's franchise is heavily weighted against the poorer Catholics. But I gathered the impression that the rest r of the discrimination was more private than public. The Orangeman will prefer to give employment and promotion to his own people. But I at least felt, perhaps quite wrongly. that there could be more breaking down of personal barriers from the Catholic side and that this would grow with the growing sense of the essentially apostolic nature of Catholic Christianity. All this would certainly help towards the final happysolution to the Irish question.
Brian Boru and Stalin
IN Armagh, which my host thought should be made into Ireland's University town, I was shown the wrecked police barracks which appropriately stand next to the spot where the different architectures make plain the boundary between the houses of the former masters and the ghetto of the Catholics. But I ant sure there v.as no sympathy with the I.R.A., though it was always uncomfortable to see the heavily armed police ever ready to deal with trouble that could start anywhere. The "Old Cathedral"—you must not call it the Protestant Cathedral—spans the centuries in a strange way. On one side rest the bones of the 9th century patriot Brian Boru; on the other a gargoyle has the face of Joe Stalin ----a pretty fancy of a carver doing ro.cirsr•atirme Th. dral, I thought, could do with some emptying out of 19th century marble and fussiness to make it more liturgical. Structurally it is a fine building disfigured by an outdated taste.
A MOST delightful host was Mgr. Arthur H. Ryan (who has just been given the D.Litt. of the Queen's University), not to mention the gay and bubbling Mother Bertrand, OP.. of Aquinas Hall. But perhaps I was made to feel most at home in true Ireland when we ordered tea in the hotel after reaching the city from the airport. The tea was delayed more than half-an-hour. Then a young waiter Caine along. sheepishly apologising for the delay. " I had to wail for the water to boil," he said. We all burst into laughter and my cicerones said: " Well. it might have been laid on for your