Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dancing at the crossroads

The recent post on the other channel reminds Malcolm, yet again, of Eamon de Valera and his comely maidens. Despite the protest that we've been this way before, Malcolm retreads his search for a truth.

Here's Helena Wulff giving a version in her Dancing at the crossroads: memory and mobility in Ireland:
In Jiving at the Crossroads journalist John Walters describes how Modern Ireland emerged as detached from the Past in the 1980s. Ardent advocates of Modern Ireland spoke disparagingly about de Valera's dancing-at-the-crossroads vision of a people content with hard work and simple pleasures. I was well into my research before I discovered that de Valera did not talk about "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads". The mistake has occurred partly because the version of the speech which was printed in the Irish Press diverges from what de Valera actually said. This I have been able to confirm by listening to a tape of the speech recorded at RTÉ. de Valera actuallv said "happy maidens" on air, but it as printed as "comely maidens". Nowhere does "dancing at the crossroads" appear.
Incidentally, the full title of Walter's polemic was Jiving at the Crossroads: Shock of the New in Haughey's Ireland. The second phrase, time-expired perhaps, seemed to go AWOL for subsequent editions.

Wulff's revisionism seems to let Dev off that particular hook: however fellow seekers after the unvarnished truth can find two minutes and forty-nine seconds of Dev addressing the nation on line, courtesy of RTÉ's archives. The meat of de Valera's St Patrick's Day, 1943, speech was correctly about:
The restoration of the unity of the national territory and the restoration of the national language [which] are the greatest of our uncompleted national tasks.
Much of this, including the peroration, in cúpla focail, also seems to have been lost in the translation.

Once one has turned from Dev's pulpit delivery (the echo on the recording seems quite appropriately jesuitical, too), there are one or two problems remaining.

The thunderer of Burgh Quay

When the Press Group expired in May 1995, £7 million up the Swanee, (the result of a botched trans-Atlantic stitch-up and merger deal, which went spectacularly sour), it was indeed the end of an era.

Newcomers would need reminding of how amazingly successful an operation the Press had been. The daily (200,000 copies a day) had siblings: with the Evening Press (Dubliners bought 175,000 copies) and the Sunday Press (450,000 copies a week: no trip from chapel to bar complete without it) it was a phenomenon.

The minor premiss here is that the Irish Press could conceivably, ever, have misquoted Dev. This paper was de Valera's exclusive property. It was his mouthpiece. Any Irish Press reporter covering an assignment in which Dev was involved (which means any of his public movements at all) would likely be summoned to the Great One's side. The text or statement would then be agreed before it was telegrammed to Dev's former comrade-in-arms, editor Frank Gallagher. Any amendment in what Dev should had said was no accident.

Bright with cosy homesteads
The Ireland that we dreamed of would be the home of a people who
valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people
who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the
things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with
cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the
sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest
of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides
would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short,
of a people living the life that God desires that men should
live. . . .
A utopian, even noble vision: the question must be asked -- whether Dev, or dystopian Standish O'Grady better prognosticated:
the shabby sordid republic ruled by knavish corrupt politicians and the ignorant rich.
The major premiss is that de Valera was some naïf in embracing a return to simpler, more "natural" values. Even when we discard the "dancing at the crossroads" phrase, we are left with a world-view (or rather a national view) which is so close to Daniel Corkery's sinister parochialism as to be indistinguishable.

Corkery (1878-1964) came late to academia. He published The Hidden Ireland in 1924. It was effectively his MA thesis, and spawned Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (written 1929, but published 1931). Despite the lack of a first degree, Corkery became Professor of English at UCC: a professor of English who proved to himself that an "Anglo-Irish" writer (like, say, the vicar's son, Standish O'Grady) was an logical impossibility. And then passed that conviction on to others: thus Frank O'Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin suffered this ailment.

The good Professor, in 1931, reckoned three characteristics distinguished the Irish “national being” from those of England: nationalism, land and religion (notice that telling antithesis of "Ireland" and "England").

1916 and all that

Such religiosity, and chauvinist baggage were common currency among the macho, God-fearing post-1916 survivors, and de Valera loaded them into his 1937 Constitution. This deliberately overthrew the Free State Constitution, that derived its secular tone from the 1916 Declaration of Independence (see below).

More to the point, Article 40.1 of the 1937 Bunreacht na hÉireann was, and still remains explicitly, and double-negatively discriminatory:
All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.
This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function.
The “capacity, physical and moral, and of social function" of women was further defined (Article 41.2):
1. In particular the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives
to the State a support within the home without which the common good cannot be
2. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged
by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the
This was de Valera's future for the chapel-going, child-bearing, Irish woman in her kitchen, once she had put away her dancing-shoes.


1937 betrayed the whole tradition of equality in the Irish tradition. Without recapitulating millenia, it had been the women who carried so much of the 1916 burden: Con Markiewicz, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Maude Gonne-MacBride, Charlotte Despard, the largely-forgotten women of Cumann na mBan ...

Yet, the Declaration of Independence had been addressed to:
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Before the ritualistic appeal to a Higher Power, it concluded:
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
Note, if nothing else, one assertion: the univeral suffrage which would not be achieved in the UK for another decade-and-a-half. Here, though, Malcolm addresses the de Valera replacement for the vision of 1916.

In 1937 just four TDs denounced the proposed Constitution for its discrimination against women. The independent Frank MacDermott put up 42 amendments, including altering the irredentist claims to the North (which themselves greatly delighted Craigavon) and deleting the peculiar position accorded the Roman Catholic Church.

As recently as 1996 officialdom came up with reasoned recommendations to reform the chauvinism: they still lie in some dusty and neglected file.

Dance on

Dev's achievements in 1937 were:
  • keeping the Catholic hierarchy, who wanted a theocracy on the Salazar model, on side;
  • alienating women intellectuals, including his hagiographer Dorothy MacArdle;
  • ensuring that war-time Britain's factories and hospitals would be adequately staffed, and the Hammersmith Palais frequented by emigrant girls.
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