Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Belling the marmalade cat

Malcolm was sorting old files, when he came across this copy of The Bell, from December 1953.

Seán O'Faoláin and Peadar O'Donnell founded the The Bell in 1940. O'Faoláin was the editor until until 1946, and O'Donnell continued it until 1954. Anyone with the complete series has a compendium of Irish writing by authors of stature (and some neophytes): Paddy Kavanagh, Mary Lavin, Flann O'Brien, Frank O'Connor, Brendan Behan, Denis Johnson, and many more.

The magazine achieved an importance that was crucial. Imagine an early Granta transported to the Liffey's quays, struggling with ferocious censorship, championing social and ideological change against clerical and institutional conservatism, perpetually underfinanced, and with paper rationing.

The moment of its foundation was itself significant, following de Valera's new Constitution and contemporary with the intellectual and political "know-nothing" isolation that went the Neutrality policy. O'Faoláin was born in 1900, the son of an RIC man in Cork. He was seized by the enthusiasm of the Irish League, and became an IRA man in the War of Independence. He achieved a world view through study at Harvard and a time in London. When he returned to Ireland it was with the conscious intent to wake:
... this sleeping country, these sleeping fields, those sleeping villages.
His hopes for the accession to power of de Valera in 1932 were soon disillusioned. In 1938 O'Faoláin published King of the Beggars, and with it challenged the romantic nationalist dream of the rustic nation of Gaels and Catholics. O'Faoláin's most immediate target was his former teacher, Daniel Corkery, the Professor of English at UCC, who sought to channel Irish education and writing into a sterile and conservative nationalism:
In a country that for long has been afflicted with an ascendancy, an alien ascendancy at that, national movements are a necessity: they are an effort to attain the normal.
For Corkery the "normal" was not the world of Yeats, Synge and O'Casey, but a narrow and inbred culture:
If one approaches 'Celtic Revival' poetry as an exotic, then one is in a mood to appreciate its subtle rhythms and its quiet tones; but if one continues to live within the Irish seas, travelling the roads of land, then the white-walled houses, the farming life, the hill-top chapel, the memorial cross above some peasant's grave -- memorable only because he died for his country -- impressing themselves as th living pieties of life must impress themselves, upon the imagination, growing into it, dominating it, all this poetry becomes after a time little else than an impertinence.
That from 1931 and still in print.

O'Faoláin (left, in 1968) saw Gaelic Ireland dead at Vinegar Hill, and irrelevant to the emancipation achieved over the century since Daniel O'Connell:
... the Irish fisherman and the Irish farmer and the Irish townsman is the result of about one hundred and fifty years of struggle. And that, for history, is long enough for us. To us, Ireland is beginning, where to Corkery it is continuing. We have a sense of time, of background: we know the value of the Gaelic tongue to extend our vision of Irish life, to deepen and enrich it: we know that an old cromlech in a field can dilate our imaginations with a sense of what was, what might have been, and what is not; but we cannot see the man ploughing against the sky in an aura of antiquity.
O'Faoláin was far ahead of his time. He had a happy prescience (as in this extract from October 1936) which is only being now achieved:
English-speaking, in European dress, affected by European thought, part of the European economy, of the rags and tatters who rose with O'Connell to win under Mick Collins -- in a word this modern Anglo-Ireland.
Malcolm met Peadar O'Donnell (right) during 1960s Dublin, including a more conversation in New Books, in Pearse Street. He was from Donegal, and much easier to grasp. By 1924, in his early thirties, he was a member of the IRA Executive Council, arguing for socialist policies. That led him to be a founder of the Workers' Revolutionary Party and of the Republican Congress. He went to Spain with the Connolly Column. Malcolm will return to O'Donnell in future posts: for the moment, it is sufficient that he from whom the following arises.

The December 1953 issue of the Bell was a short-lived attempt to take the magazine back to monthly publication. O'Donnell's editorial preface quoted O'Faoláin from October 1941:
We consider abstract terms (as for example, Nationalism) unhelpful since they only come to life when they take concrete forms in things like dress, language, manners, sport, literature ... What we really want THE BELL to do is to record the emergence of those actual modes which any man can speak of with satisfaction as characteristic examples of our natural genius for living.
In that light, O'Donnell includes an essay of his own, derived from his attempt to cross narrow barriers, by considering the Orangeman. Malcolm appends it, as a small service to the world of literature, and in admiration of a great man whose human sympathy and social conscience show through here:



I HAVE been reading the minutes of the monthly meetings of an Orange Lodge over a period of fifty years. I have often asked writers who are easily in touch with this hidden Ireland to report on it, not to make little or much of it but to let us in on what goes on at lodge meetings. It never crossed my mind that lodge minutes might come my way, but I learn now that it is no rare thing to find such a document as this in private hands. Once a book is used up there seems to be no ritual regarding its custody ; it is only unusual that an outsider is let read it and make any extracts he desires.

The first minute in the story of this lodge is dated over fifty years ago. On that evening eleven brethren of the Order foregathered to lift the warrant issued to them by the Grand Lodge and thereby constitute themselves a Loyal Orange Lodge. They subscribed a shilling a piece towards the guinea. for the warrant, and borrowed ten shillings. I was able to have a word with one of the eleven men and on reading over the names to him he gave details that helped build up the picture. They were all wage-earners.

The worshipful master of a neighbouring lodge took the chair at their first meeting which opened with "a prayer and a reading from Scripture." The new club elected its officers. The minute records that the ten shillings borrowed to lift the warrant was refunded. Contributions that evening added up to sixteen shillings and sixpence, expenditure fifteen shillings, so that the new lodge made its start with one shilling and sixpence in hand. The meeting was held in a member's home.

The second meeting faced the lodge with some questions of regalia. The ritual lays down that collarettes shall be worn when the lodge is in session but collarettes cost two shillings each. It was left to members to pay as they could while in the meantime an effort would be made to get the collarettes on trust. A gift of seven shillings and sixpence was paid to a brother to replace the heads of a drum that had suffered somewhat at an outing. By the next meeting the lodge found itself with a fixed address, the Mission Hall in its district. Collarettes were worn. The main business of the meeting was the ways and means to equip the lodge with its own banner. A committee was appointed to go more fully into the matter. Income two pounds four shillings and sixpence, outgoings one pound sixteen shillings and fourpence. The pound was a payment on the collarettes. There was a slight ripple in the lodge that evening. Something seems to have taken a brother's toes for he sent word he was not coming to lodge meetings any more. A deputation was appointed to go and see him. A member brought up the plight of a brother who had some family trouble, made still more of a burden by unemployment, and proposed a gift of ten shillings. After a discussion and a vote it was agreed that ten shillings be given him, on the understanding that those who favoured the idea undertake to refund the ten shillings.

The committee on materials for a banner and orange sashes reported back.. They laid out the samples of cloths on offer and the meeting made a decision that the silk for a banner and material for the sashes be ordered from Arnott & Company. The committee on the banner also submitted suggestions for the design-pictures, colours and inscription-and the lodge gave a ruling. A further recommendation by the banner committee to hold a ballot to raise funds was turned down notwithstanding that the committee had gone so far as to get quotations for tickets and had cadged gifts for the drawing; the gifts noted on the minutes are a bicycle, a hand-painted draughtboard and a pair of trousers.

In the statement of accounts on the following month the balance sheet of the banner is set out in full detail: Members' subscriptions, five pounds ten shillings; collection, eight pounds twelve shillings; profit on a lecture, three guineas. A social proved disappointing for the profit was only three shillings and sixpence half-penny. But it all added up to seventeen pounds nine shillings and threepence half-penny. The expenditure is listed : centre of the banner, four pounds thirteen shillings and four pence; the border, two pounds one shilling and three halfpence ; cord and tassels, one pound five shillings; fringe, eighteen shillings and ninepence; wool cord, eight shillings; braid, one shilling and eiqhtpence; poles, one pound ten; rosettes, two shillings; painting nine pounds; making in all nineteen pounds seventeen shillings and ten pence halfpenny.

With all this burden of expense on its shoulders the lodge did not take kindly to the action of the Hall Committee in raising the cost of the monthly hire to two shillings. A deputation was appointed to call on the Hall Committee. They seem to have run into it for they reported back that the hall management considered their meetings lasted far too long, involving a great waste of light. It was proposed and seconded and formally decided that the new rent be paid. A member submitted a letter of resignation. It was ordered that he be advised that as his dues were not fully paid his resignation could not be discussed. The balance in the box rose to two pounds eight shillings and eightpence halfpenny.

A day was appointed for unfurling the banner. Arrangements were made to make it something of an affair. A band was secured, and there was to be a social, but the whole thing had to be called off. The paint was still wet on the eve of the great day. It was ordered that be banner be placed in the worshipful master's house forthwith; there is a hint of anger in the records. The balance in the box was three pounds, one shilling and twopence. A gift of thirty shillings was made to a brother, those voting for it undertaking to make the sum good; members who disagreed merely raised no hand for or against.

And so the tale goes on. The story over all the years is taken up in large part with the lodge budget. The Twelfth of July is an expensive day — in 1911 a big drum was hired for three pounds, a fifer for a guinea, a drummer for ten shillings — but there is a revenue to off-set the expenses, for every man who marches behind a banner pays a fee to the lodge fund. This cess is known as “walking fee" and it varies from a shilling to half-a-crown, a man, in the accounts for the period these minutes cover.

The minutes give no idea of the practice followed in the admission of new members. It only records the name of the man proposed for membership and the names of the proposer and seconder and adds that the name was forwarded for examination. One has to go outside the minutes for an outline of the procedure governing first entry into a lodge. Enquiries are made by the local lodge, and also by the district lodge, and grand lodge. A man is not admitted if he is a Catholic, nor if one of his parents is a Catholic. It is held against him if his social life takes him among Catholics. Before Mr. J. M. Andrews became a force in Six-County politics Unitarians were banned, but that ban was removed when he was admitted. Earlier still Presbyterians were denied membership. Now nothing bars a man except membership of “the Church of Rome." Indeed, the lodge wears the airs of a religious sodality. Every meeting opens with a prayer and a reading from Scripture; every meeting ends with " God Save the King" or " Queen" as the period requires. In quiet days the meetings record the worries and joys of domestic happenings as members bring them in from their homes. But all the time the lodge is alert for whatever concerns Protestantism and its struggle with the Vatican. Indeed, the minutes of an Orange Lodge suggest that the Protestant community in the North-East of Ireland sees itself as a beleaguered city, frightened of Roman Catholics sneaking in on them to undermine their security and uneasy that British politicians might betray them to the besiegers. They live in the shelter of the royal favour rather than under the protection of the British government, but when the British King himself takes a step that does not correspond with their views on relations with Catholics they speak out against the king too; as in 1906 when Princess Ena married the King of Spain. The minute of a lodge meeting at that period gives a resolution of protest dealing sharply with the matter:
"That this lodge in meeting duly assembled protests against the action of the King in countenancing the joining of the said British Royal Family by the marriage of the Princess Ena with the King of Spain on account of the said King of Spain's membership of the Church of Rome, thereby causing the submission of the said Princess Ena to that church. The King of England thereby violates his declaration oath."
The battle of the evening ranged around this last sentence. There were those who wished to blame the government, making out that the King was in the hands of his ministers, but the Balfours of Burley among the members would not admit such an excuse on a matter of conscience, and so the charge that the King of England thereby broke his declaration oath was sustained.

But while the lodge minutes make it appear that its members look on North-East Ulster as a Protestant bastion which has to be for ever on guard against Catholic wiles, which form a threat that makes it necessary to be linked politically with Britain, there is no doubt about their Irishry. They are above all else, Irishmen. Many of them have been members of the Gaelic League; at least one worshipful grandmaster signed his name in Gaelic in all official lodge documents. What set up the differentiation within the Orange Lodges which led to the great Orange schism known as the Independent Orange Movement? The story is likely best told in the minute books of the Independent Orange Lodges and it will be a great pity if they are not collected into some library where they may be studied; it would be well worth while to acquire them for the National Library. It is not easy to realise to-day that the officers of The Grand Lodge of the Independent Orange Order could address themselves to "all Irishmen whose country stands first in their affections" and publish at a mass meeting of orangemen a manifesto which declares:
“Unionism in Ireland is a discredited creed . .. National issues are to be once more sacrificed on the altar of sectarianism ... We do not trust either of the English parties on questions that divide Ireland ... The man who cannot rise above the trammels of party and sect on a national issue is a foe to nationality and human freedom ... Not in acts of parliament and their repeal lies the hope of salvation for our country, so much as in the mutual inclination of Irish hearts and minds on the common ground of nationality."
There are peeps at things one does not like in these minutes. It is a shock to come on a record of a member of the lodge being summoned to the district lodge to explain how it came about that his name got into the papers as participating in a social in a hall attached to a Catholic Church. But this leads to a much more complicated question, the interplay between Orange formations on various levels. The lodge is the direct doorway into the work-a-day world, but there are other units of Orange organisation that beat down on the lodges and bustle them to conform to a pattern; to make the beleagured community into a city state. (Have they even got so far as to have a policy for organising an intelligentsia to go with it?) Be the policy which works downwards on the Orange Lodges what it may, the men who enter them are pretty normal Irishmen. Their fears make them easily roused out to take the streets behind the banners and slogans of other days. Their fears dwarf both themselves and their neighbours. The real test of their vitality and resilience and power of survival is whether they can take their place in the hurly-burly of Irish life to find in the free exercise of their citizenship the full freedom they seek as Protestants. The test of the republicanism of Ireland as a whole is the steps that are taken to encourage them to trust their future to the cultural atmosphere of the nation. Republicanism is a much livelier force in Ireland, North and South, than the Catholic-fearing Protestants or Protestant-fearing Catholics realise.

I am very much in debt to the kindly, worshipful grandmaster who gave me the minutes of this long series of meetings to read. He did so to let me see how irreconcilable are the Fenian and Orange creeds. But I know of no better way of making clear how unreal are the fears that divide us than thumbing thro' these pages of heavy-fisted writing where each chapter opens with “a prayer and a reading from Scripture." Sphere: Related Content


yourcousin said...

That's a good piece of writing in the Bell. Anyone who has ever had to sit through a reading of minutes from the previous meeting will be able to relate and I must confess that it took me back to many a Wednesday night at the union hall.

The innanities of the first part are starkly contrasted with the political tinge of the second part. While nothing new, the minutes highlight the fundamental differences in regard to how the conflict in NI is seen. I mean FFS, Unitarians? The everybody but Catholics can easily enough be translated into anybody but SF (which I think it has) and I often think that the unionists will be screaming about sticking it to SF as they march into a UI.

Though even I interchange religious groupings with political grouping (and so am guilty as anyone)I still feel that its importance as a source of conflict is overrated. I saw this quote in a book and it always stuck with me.

On a Saturday after the Battle of Arklow fifteen rebel prisoners were, so a contemporary writer records, 'all hanged together out of the same tree'. They were made to hang each other. Before this dance of death took place a young bandsman of the militia who was watching called out to the rebels:

'For dencency's sake, for religion's sake, and for your precious souls' sake, reflect properly on your awful passage into eternity and be reconciled with your Saviour.'

Whereupon one of the rebels called back to him:

'You be damned! I die in a good cause: I die fighting for my country and shall go heaven; and you will go to hell for fighting against it."

Hardly an argument about transubstantiation versus consubstantiation.

Indeed the Whiteboys (a non-political grouping in the terms of "high-political" issues) were ignoring threats of excommunication as early as the 1760's with the 80's and 90's being seen as "high points of popular anti-clericalism" (Smyth's "The Men of No Property" citing Connolly's "Priests and the People in pre-famine Ireland").

Now admittedly the Catholic Church in Ireland has occupied a unique role as the spiritual head of a majority of the population and yet was cast into a role opposition from the ruling power. Once it was given free hand (with the inception of the Free State) it lasted about sixty years before it succumbed to secularism from within the Catholic population. Now I wouldn't have faulted Bertie if he declared a day of mourning for John Paul but the fact that it was business as usual for ROI was a sign of how far Ireland has come from being "priest ridden" land.

That the plantation took place within the context the thirty year's war is endemnic of the times. That it has been allowed to survive into the 20th and indeed expanded upon for political gain is depressing and inexcusable.

Most Republicans were probably somewhere in between Joe McCann (who was a lay brother within a religious at the time of his death) and Padraig McKearney (a devout atheist) and I can't help but feel that the Troubles were more about which color the curbs would be painted than what awaits us after we die. The fact that new religious groupings were created to equate the former to the latter just makes me shake my head.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Thanks, OAC, for that.

I liked the O'Donnell piece for similar reasons. The Lodge in question must be an urban one: the problems of unemployment loom large. The sub-text of the account tells us how Orangeism and the Romish Menace were exploited to overcome class and trade union activism.

That links, as you do, to your second point. The same clear-out that rediscovered The Bell gave me an anonymous pamphlet Who Fears to Speak?, published by the "National '98 Commemoration Association" (so my first guess dates it from 1948). I'll scan that and put it up over the next few days. You may find the last-but-one subheading interesting: "'98 not a sectarian war".

yourcousin said...

Holy shit. Having reread my post I must confess that I'm missing enough words to form an entire paragraph. My bad.

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