From the Archives: November 10th, 1947
Opposing views on future of Irish culture
Two apparently irreconcilable viewpoints on the future of Irish culture were discussed at the 21st inaugural meeting of the Technical Students’ Literary and Debating Society in Dublin on Saturday.
The society’s auditor, Mr Bernard Colgan, read a paper on “the twilight of Irish culture”, in which he contended that the cancer of materialism was spreading through the nation.
He criticised Irish writers for their interest in foreign markets, Feis Ceoil and Radio Éireann for their cosmopolitan rather than Irish outlook in music, and the Government for permitting the Irish language “to be tied to the apron strings of a political party and strangled by the red tape of officialdom”. Of the Abbey Theatre he said that visitors could not be blamed for thinking that Ireland was a nation of thieves and drunkards.
Observing that there were two twilights, the minister for posts and telegraphs, Mr PJ Little [Fianna Fáil TD for Waterford], said that he preferred to believe that Irish culture was at the beginning of a new day.
There was plenty of evidence of a love of culture in the true sense. European influence inspired Davis and Pearse with a more intense devotion to their country. The Irish quality of their culture must, of course, be stressed. Every civilised nation had something to give, in temperament, genius and tradition, which no other nation could give. In the solution of the problem of partition they could think of an attractive approach through the medium of culture.
Mr Peadar O’Donnell said that the school of Irish letters had established an identity and maintained its distinctiveness in a difficult situation. Irish writers did not write for a foreign market; they needed to be nothing more than faithful to their own environment to write for a world market.
Holding that there was no cause for pessimism about Irish culture, Mr RM Smyllie, editor of The Irish Times, said that the more people talked about culture the less they seemed to have.
One reason for the halt in the country’s cultural development might be the fact that for seven years they had been sitting down contemplating their own toenails. They had raised the totally negative idea of neutrality into a high principle and became very smug about it. Great literature was born of hardship and suffering, not of smugness and complacency, and there was little hope of inspiring work so long as they were outside the stream of world thought.
Mr Brian Boydell said that when they should be keeping their eyes and ears open to the developments around them so that they might interpret them and expand from the viewpoint of their own national vision, as their contribution to the world, they were told by the loud voices of narrow-minded nationalism that they should shut their doors and develop their own culture from within . . . Councillor J Phelan denied that there was inbreeding of civilisation in the country.
Through its faith, Ireland was in touch with the civilisation of Europe, and its citizens had been given the rugged spirit of individualism that culminated in 1916.
Read the original at iti.ms/STXFEB
Compiled by Joe Joyce