A catholic collection of essays on Ireland
JOURNALISM: DIARMAID FERRITERreviews An Irish Century: Studies 1912-2012 Edited by Bryan Fanning UCD Press, 336pp. €40
SINCE ITS foundation, in 1912, Studies, the Irish Jesuit quarterly journal, has clocked up 400 issues and published about 3,000 essays, arguably becoming the most important Catholic periodical read by Irish intellectuals. Specialising in social issues, philosophy, history and economics, it has provided a forum for analysis of these subjects not just in Ireland but also in continental Europe.
This centenary collection, incorporating 31 of the articles, is a worthy tribute to the journal’s endurance, quality and relevance, as well as being a handsomely designed and accessible overview of the manner in which, during its first 100 years, Studies has recorded and fostered discussion about some of the key milestones and changes in Irish society.
The editor of this anthology, the prolific UCD social scientist Bryan Fanning, points out that after the Irish revolution that brought the Free State into existence, Studies hosted the social, economic, constitutional and political debates that shaped the new State: “Both the conservative and liberal wings of the Catholic bourgeois who dominated politics and academia set out their thinking in Studies.”
In terms of economic planning, Fanning writes that the reorientation of economic policy proposed by the secretary of the Department of Finance, TK Whitaker, in the late 1950s “can be traced through a series of articles published in Studies by various Irish economists in the preceding two decades”.
As the decades passed, Studies began to reflect the emphasis on social justice that permeated certain Catholic quarters; it had “moved well to the left of the political mainstream by the 1980s”, focusing on the damage to social cohesion by market forces.
The range and quality of articles chosen is, overall, impressive. The earlier pieces reflect the political and cultural stirrings of the early 20th century and a high, if unrealisable, idealism. Patrick Pearse’s 1913 essay – his sole contribution to Studies – claimed greatness for the Gaelic epic; 10 years later, however, George Russell wrote an article lamenting that the champions of physical force had squandered the spirit created by poets and scholars.
In 1966 Denis Gwynn commemorated the sacrifice of Thomas Kettle in British army uniform, but Studies was not ready for Francis Shaw’s excoriation of Pearse’s “false equation of the Patriot with Christ” in his article on the canon of Irish history. It was prepared for 1966 but not published until 1972, when it could also serve as “a tract for the present troubled time” in its denunciation of the blood sacrifice.
Some of the articles on economics give pause for thought about the current Irish predicament, such as John Maynard Keynes’s contribution in 1933 on national self-sufficiency and his endorsement of economic protectionism, and Patrick Lynch’s vibrant advocacy of state-fostered economic planning in 1953. John Sweeny’s 1983 article on the extent to which social class differences had become so firmly implanted also resonates in its contention that the “surrendering to the market [of] such fundamental decisions as how many work in what and how is a recipe for social disaster”. It could have been written yesterday.