Words to Mary.

I arrived at the Carol Service in South Wexford a little late, so I had to stand in the porch,2000px-Island_of_Ireland_location_map_Wexford_svg hearing, but not seeing, what went on within. It was like listening to an external broadcast. In a way this was right, because it was the BBC broadcasts of the annual Carol Services at King’s College Cambridge on Christmas Eve from 1928 onwards that launched the service of nine lessons and carols into the Christian world. What a success it has been! The service is now spreading among Irish Catholics, and the congregation I joined was about half Catholic and half Protestant.


Eric Milner White ( 1884-1963 ) who arranged the Carol Services at King’s College Cambridge from 1918, they were first broadcast ten years later

Perhaps because I could not see much I found myself listening all the more intently to the readings. The modern translations which used in the service were not quite to my taste. But they do have the benefit of makings things clear to those not raised  on the rotund formality of the Authorised Version as I was.

Probably the right solution in such cases is to use both modern and more traditional language versions thus making use of both formal and informal registers. Undoubtedly though modern versions do have a role as was instanced in one place on this occasion. The congregations response to the reading of St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation in modern version was striking. The church suddenly became still. The old cliché about being able to hear a pin drop would probably have been an exaggeration- but not by much!  Why was this?

The passage concerned  ( Luke, 1, 26-38 ) reports the dialogue between the angel Gabriel and young woman who was soon to become the virgin mother. The text is at once chaste, written with enormous delicacy, highly intimate ( “I know not a man,” verse.34 ) and realistic. The young woman is puzzled and fearful rather than coy. She is faithful to her religion, but conscious too that the path she has been instructed to follow is a new and strange one. Above all the narrative is strikingly personal.fra-filippo-lippi-the-annunciation-1 St. Luke stresses that he has checked his sources, and that the events he has described have taken place within secular time. But events in the Roman world play are of little significance in this part of his narrative. St. Luke does, it is true, draw out the political implications of his story, but these are not to the fore in the dialogue between Mary and the angel.

Here it is all about individuals. And I think that it was these intimate and individual elements which in the story which electrified the congregation in the  church in South Wexford, a few days ago. While the other readings had focused on the grand narratives of creation, revelation, and redemption, the passage from St. Luke refocused our attention on the very specific claims made by Christianity.

At a pinch one could have Buddhism without Buddha. The insights of the master could survive the absence of the master. Indeed if all is illusion then then the master too could, and perhaps even should be, dispensed with by the true adept. World_Japan_The_Great_Buddha__Kamakura__Japan_007890_But this could never be said of Christianity. For Christianity the message and the messenger are one. “The dancer is the dance.” To remove Jesus from Christianity is to destroy the religion which he founded.

A person, not a truth then, is at the core of Christianity. And this means that the value of the human personality is at the very centre of what Christians are trying to affirm. And it is this that emerges so strongly from Luke’s text. The story told by Luke is about individuals. Christians are bidden to celebrate not vague principles, but God’s love each of us expressed through a person. And this is why Christmas is properly too a time for acknowledging with gratitude the richness that we, all of us,  will bring to the Messianic banquet, which our celebrations of his coming on Friday will vainly attempt to prefigure!


stock-photo-7833475-sprig-of-european-hollyThe Edmund Burke Institute will be closed until the new year. Next up, I think, is a major piece about Islam…stay tuned…

Arthur Griffith: working-class hero.

Griffith: a Biography, by Owen McGee, Merrion Press, 536 pages, E.27.99.

By Eamon Delaney.

So many books are coming out on the nation-building period of 1916-1921, that one almost wished they were emerging at a less-crowded time. One such is this fine, detailed and substantial biography of Arthur Griffith.

GriffithGriffith may not have the glamour of Michael Collins, or the longevity of Eamon de Valera, but he is a crucial figure in those formative years. He embodies the transition between the original non-violent Sinn Féin of before 1916, to the radicalised movement after it which claimed credit for the rebellion and pursued a policy of seeking Irish independence via withdrawal, disobedience and ultimately armed struggle.

Griffith was also a highly political, even intellectual, figure who, unusually for an Irish nationalist activist, was also preoccupied by economic issues and the structures that political independence might take. Although a lifelong Fenian, he also offered less militant models for separatism, such as his famous embrace of the Dual Monarchy of Austro-Hungary. He moved between Constitutional and physical-force opposites, an important flexibility, as we tend (perhaps through the prism of recent political events in Northern Ireland) to view these tendencies as either one or the other.


John Redmond, speaking in about 1916

In fact, an Irish nationalist of this time usually carried elements of both, although Griffith did express real contempt for the Irish Parliamentary Party of Parnell, and later Redmond, in a way that now seems often petty and internecine rather than productive.

It is also a somewhat high-handed disdain, given that Griffith and his fellow revolutionaries would soon have to make some hefty compromises themselves: especially Griffith himself, indeed, whose own position during the 1921 Treaty negotiations is often credited (or blamed) with leading to the overall national concession.

Either way, he had to come back to Ireland and sell the Treaty, both to the Dáil and then to the country. The subsequent bitterness and Civil War exhausted Griffith and almost certainly led to his sudden death in August 1922, only weeks before the violent death of Collins.

Curiously, in this long book there is not much focus on the actual Treaty negotiations. This may be because, as McGee rightly states, the substantive issues – and limits to Ireland’s ambitions – had already been conceded before the poker game of negotiations in London. In which case, Griffith was in a very difficult position, but when he signed the Treaty he stuck fast to the deal.

Griffith is also unusual among his peers in his genuine Dublin working-class background, growing up in Dominick Street and being affected by poverty in a way that informed his politics and very often his behaviour: he distrusted the arty aristo-nationalists of the Abbey Theatre.abbet theatre He also went to South Africa to support the Boers against their British rulers, after which he returned to set up nationalist newspapers in Ireland. A printer by trade, he saw the value of propaganda.

McGee teases out Griffith’s ongoing suspicions about Catholic Church influence in Ireland, much of which would, alas, come to pass. The author also explores Griffith’s anti-Semitic opinions, although these were very much of their time.

Although not a particularly charismatic or romantic figure, there is a tremendous integrity and dedication to the quiet workaholic Griffith, whose life was truly cut short by his herculean effort. One can only lament that both he and Collins did not live beyond the Civil War period, as they may well have saved the country from sliding into its later economic and Church-ridden torpor.


Eamon Delaney is a writer and broadcaster based in North Dublin.

This article was originally published in “The Irish Independent”


Look what the cat brought in.

Donald Trump is a disaster for America. His foolish remarks are doing great trump2damage to the reputation of The United States. Indeed given that we are now living in the age of the internet he may well have done more damage to the standing of America than any man other than Senator Joseph McCarthy. Mr. Trump is also obviously now damaging the relations between Muslims and others within The United States.

Who is responsible? Well clearly Donald Trump is. He is a man of vast ego, little judgement, and no moral and cultural hinterland. What you see is unfortunately exactly what you get. But there is a deeper responsibility for the Trump phenomena, other than that which is attributable to either Mr. Trump, or the fools who support him. And it lies like the body of a dead mouse at the door of America’s liberal academics.dead_mouse

American liberals are not liberals. They are deeply intolerant. And this is especially true of those who inhabit the universities of the United States. America has no cultural capital. Political power resides in Washington. Financial power is concentrated in Wall Street, and to a lesser extent Chicago. And Hollywood still makes the films. But for cultural leverage you have to go the campuses. Here is where the influence resides. And it is from here that conservative voices have been silenced systematically for fifty years.

The result of this intellectual “pogrom” has not been to destroy the right. But has meant that it has been taken over by ignorant characters such as Donald Trump. If American universities were really places where real diversity was welcome, where debate was encouraged, and where both left and right made at least some effort to provide platforms and space for one another, then Donald Trump would not be riding so high in the polls. If by some ill chance the unlikely should happen and Mr. Trump should be sworn in as President then the liberals will have nothing to blame but their own intolerance. Those who make responsible conservativism impossible, do not create the conditions where the left can triumph, they ensure merely the rise of the ugly right.

Rebel Yell

Rebel+Yell+by+S_C_+GwynneRebel Yell, The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne, (Scribner, New York, 2014) $20.

Blogging about the American Civil War is like eating the first mince pie of Christmas. It is difficult to stop. Why is this? It is because, I believe, of the number of remarkable characters involved in that most terrible of conflicts. The list of these extraordinary figures seems endless, Lincoln, Davis, Lee, Grant, Semmes,  Brown, Douglas, and the other abolitionists,  matched by those wild southern Fire-Eaters- Southern publicists dedicated to independence at whatever cost. And incredibly not a few of these characters appeared on the same stage together. Many of the generals knew one another at West Point; and Robert E. Lee, later to be the South’s greatest general, was in charge of the security at John Brown’s execution.

Also present on that famous occasion was one John Jackson, a professor of mathematics and natural sciences at the military academy at Lexington Virginia.  Jackson’s story combines deep tragedy, terrible pain, and almost inconsolable suffering.  He was orphaned as child, forced to run from home, shattered by the death of his first wife, and tortured by the fact that he could not under church law marry her sister after her death.  And yet his second marriage was one of deep happiness- his last granddaughter dieing as recently as 1991!

Had it not been for the Civil War Jackson would have remained an unimportant figure perhaps remarkable only for the Sunday school he founded and ran for slaves. For Jackson, of course, was a man of his place and time. While he was raised in a what is now West Virginia where slavery was not important, he and his wife were both supporters of the institution; and he owned six slaves- three of whom been given as wedding present, and three he had bought at their instigation.

For Jackson the crucial event which defined the rest of his life until he fell in battle, was the moment when he urged the students of the military academy at which he taught to- “Draw the sword, and throw away the scabbard.” Since he had not previously shown any interest in politics and had always opposed secession, this created a sensation, and launched him by degrees into one of the most extraordinary, although brief, military careers in history.

There is a lot that is troubling about the cause for which Jackson fought, and there is a lot which downright disturbing about Jackson. There is no need to reiterate the evils of slavery. They are well understood.  For me though the ferocity of his old covenant religion, was even more disturbing  to read about, than it was to discover that his wife simply placed their slaves alongside cattle and chickens as animate property. Jackson like John Brown was more comfortable with the Old than the New Testament. There indeed was something, but only something, of the Taliban in Jackson, as there was undoubtedly in Brown. In one terrifying letter Jackson even questioned whether the South should take prisoners. He executed a man that Jefferson Davis ( hardly liberal of the year!) wanted pardoned. And yet for all these terrible failings Jackson emerges from this biography as a sane and moral man.

These qualities though are not what separates him for all the other sons of Adam. Jackson’s importance derives entirely from his extraordinary skills as a general. I am no expert on military history, but reading Gwynne’s account of his campaign in the Shenandoah valley I could sense that with Jackson I was the presence of a master; in the company of someone who had discovered, almost perhaps to his own surprise, that he was he was almost uniquely gifted in the art of war. No wonder then he attributed his victories to divine intervention!


His sister Laura Jackson Arnold, who sided with the Union. They never spoke again.

More precisely, what was it that distinguished him from his opponents? What did he have that they lacked.  I think that it is summed up in his maxim: “Do not take counsel from your fears.” And that from a man who was fighting for the South because he feared servile insurrection! What a man, what a book, buy it!



Dr. Joseph Shaw

“In the real world, there are real victims and real oppressors. Presenting people as such however, does not make them so.

St benets hall

St Benet’s Hall, where Dr. Shaw is based

Dr. Joseph Shaw FRSA, who teaches philosophy at Oxford. His blog is now to be found among our Philosophy links.

“Decommissioning” – the American debate

The terms of the Second Amendment to the American Constitution seem clear enough. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Case closed then, at least for Americans? Well actually no, or at least, not so fast. There is now a mass shooting in The United States every two months. Not everybody is happy.duke chapel I shudder when I think of what could happen if a madman with a rifle were occupy one of the gothic towers which dominate the campus of the university from which I graduated. I am not alone in being fearful. There are now millions of responsible Americans, among them President Obama, who think that The Constitution has been misunderstood, or that it should be changed. There is consequently a passionate debate about guns in America.

Americans are at their best when they are arguing. When Americans are agreeing with one another, about Mom, about apple pie ( in truth usually too sweet and not a strong point of American cuisine!), and about baseball they can be very bland. But debates among Americans are always interesting. For us in Ireland the debate about gun control in The United States seems strange. Here the “decommissioning” of weapons was rightly seen as a move away from political tyranny. But in The United States there are serious voices who argue that the private ownership of firearms is crucial for the preservation of political freedom.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter the debate in American about “gun control” is culturally rich. It involves constitutional principles, legal interpretation, history, criminology, sociology, and psychology. Consequently it is a textbook example of how Americans go about reconciling the terms of their constitution with the practical realities. As such it is of importance to all those who wish to understand The United States; but it also holds lessons for us as we prepare for our own referendum about the clash between the right to life, and right to autonomy.

We are therefore including The National Rifle Association, and The Coalition to stop gun violence, among our American links.Kentucky's