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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

Catholicism has played a central role in Irish society for centuries. It is sometimes perceived in a negative light, being associated with repression, antiquated morality and a warped view of sexuality. However, there are also the positive aspects that Catholicism brought to bear on Irish culture, such as the beauty of its rituals, education and health care, or concern for the poor and the underprivileged. Whatever their experience of Catholicism, writers of a certain generation could not escape its impact on their lives, an impact which is pervasive in the literature they produced.
This study, containing twelve chapters written by a range of distinguished literary experts and emerging scholars, explores in a systematic manner the cross-fertilisation between Catholicism and Irish/Irish-American literature written in English. The figures addressed in the book include James Joyce, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Kate O’Brien, Edwin O’Connor, Brian Moore, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Vincent Carroll and Brian Friel. This book will serve to underline the complex relationship between creative writers and the once all-powerful religious Establishment.


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MARY PIERSE The Donkey and the Sabbath 45


Mary Pierse The Donkey and the Sabbath In 1905, the Italian novelist Antonio Fogazzaro published a new volume entitled Il Santo (The Saint). While Jesuitical inf luence ensured that the Vatican banned it in 1906, placing it on the infamous Index, a political party – the Italian Christian Democrats – took the book’s teaching as their model for practical charity. Theodore Roosevelt opined that it was a ‘good book for any sincerely religious man or woman of any creed, provided only that he realizes that conduct counts for more than dogma’; a contemporary critic described the central character, Benedetto, as ‘a mingling of St Francis and Dr Dollinger.’1 These dif ferent reactions and opinions very clearly convey divergent understandings of what it might mean to be a Roman Catholic in that period. In Ireland too, similar conf licting notions were prevalent and they were not unrelated to two ideas enunciated by the fictional Benedetto: the greater importance of conduct over ritual, and the pernicious ef fect of clerical domination. Whatever about the varying beliefs of those born into Irish Catholicism, it is intriguing to explore the possible attraction of such a denomination for those who converted to its fold. Viewed from outside, what did they see that enticed them to change their religious allegiance? Can their decisions be viewed as in any way similar to that of John Henry Newman whose very public conversion coincided, to the week, with the departure of Ernest Renan from Roman Catholicism? If anything has been missing...

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