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Beaten and Bruised…. Ireland’s intelligentsia- Brian Mahon – ICD Program Coordinator

Cultural hegemony can take many forms. We have seen this repeatedly throughout history; prominent examples being the United States and their hegemony on popular culture in the Western World after WW2 or Alliance Françoise in regard to the maintaining and propagating of French culture.  Another possibly more pernicious example is not as well known, the story of Irish culture when they gained independence in 1922.

The country turned in on itself. What the Unionists had feared about a free Republic had come true. Ireland was controlled by the Catholic Church. Books were banned, movies censored, a fresh narrative created for the Irish people.

Books by esteemed authors such as Flann O Brien and Aldous Huxley were banned because they did not, it was contended, conform to the cultural narrative that this new island had created for itself. Indeed many ridiculed the behemoth that was the church in their works and inevitablly banned.

Perhaps the best example is that of John McGahren. A primary school teacher in Ballinamore Co. Leitrim who wrote a challenging book called ‘The Dark’, which dealt with themes including masturbation and adolescence. One particular scene dealt with an encounter between the protagonist of the novel, the young boy, and a priest.

Any wonder the piece was banned. Further to this McGahern was fired from his post as a teacher in Ballinamore.

This sort of behaviour exemplifies the hegemony that the Catholic Church had on culture in Ireland in the not so distant past. People were run out of the country if they disagreed with the Catholic Church, while at the same time the Church was perpetrating unspeakable crimes against innocent children, crimes far worse than anything that was written in the books, films or music that was banned by the very same authorities.

Of course this hegemony could only be maintained with the help of the Government, who, as it transpired were quite willing to maintain and propagate this vestige of cultural purity that the Irish people supposedly had. De Valera’s vision for Ireland was not something that existed in reality and with far too many people in Ireland being forced to leave or not have their voices heard.

Hegemony of any culture or the cultivation of a false one can lead only one way; disaster. While it must be noted that if people really wanted to get their hands on some of the books it was possible, for many others, especially those in the countryside, never even got the chance to take the book out from the library and make their own mind up.

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2 thoughts on “Beaten and Bruised…. Ireland’s intelligentsia- Brian Mahon – ICD Program Coordinator

  1. yes I agree in essence with the above point. further to that I think an analysis of revolution across Europe will reveal that the Irish experience of nationhood was one that put church philosophy superior to all others. in other countries such as France where rational thinking had taken hold from the Enlightenment onwards, there was a move towards secularisation as a cornerstone of republicanism. however the Irish sought merely to replace one divine law with another i.e that of London with Rome. think of what was once said about the Holy Roman Empire ‘it is neither holy, roman or an empire’ and you begin to understand the level of irrationality that the Irish state was designed upon.

    Posted by Peter | June 24, 2011, 4:03 pm
  2. Peter,

    Do you think there’s something to be said for the fact that Ireland had two sets of leaders before they gained independence? The British on one hand and the Church on the other, and when one left the other took over and implemented their set of rules as best they could? People could only take on one power at a time really. Further to this religion became such a core part of the Irish identity with the Penal laws, Catholic Emancipation etc etc that it worked in with the nationalist narrative of ‘us versus them’ mentality. Of course there were Protestants who were also nationalist but for the narrow version of Nationalism this holds.

    What’re your thoughts?

    Posted by Brian Mahon | June 27, 2011, 9:15 am

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