AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY

 

ALBERT MAXWELL, who died recently, was interesting for two reasons. One is that he was a pioneer in the use of statistics in psychiatry. The other is that he was yet another example of the extraordinary brilliance of the Protestant Middle Nation of Ireland.

Apart from the Jews of just about every country, the Protestants of Ireland - and in particular the South - must be the most talented minority of any nation in Europe.

That minority produced four Nobel prize winners - Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Walton. The litany of its writers is almost a cliche - Burke, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Farquhar, Swift, Sterne, Congreve.

Take those names from the cannon of English drama, and the English language. The list is so awe inspiring that it defies analysis, much as renaissance Florence or Elizabethan England also do.

Yet that list is even more astonishing; the great geniuses of Horence and London were in full flower, able to feed off one another. For the most part, the Protestant genius of Ireland flourished by individual effort alone, largely unassisted by peer or contemporary cultural energy.

Famous soldiers

Equally, without the Irish Protestant soldier, there might well have been hardly a British army in late Victorian times and into this century. Wolseley, Roberts, Kitchener, Temple, Montgomery, Brooke and Alexander come to mind - no doubt there are others.

One might also add the Irish Protestants had a major impact on the motor industries of at least two countries - Henry Ford started not merely the Ford Motor Company but also Cadillac; and it was a Carlow Wolseley who started the once famous British car company.

How did this tiny minority population come to achieve so much distinction? And why is it this minority is given so little recognition as a distinctive minority from which so much distinction has emerged?

And had Albert Ernest Maxwell come from the majority population of what we will call Southern Ireland, no doubt his name would have been better known. But he came from the Middle Kingdom, that strangely hyphenated element which is most strident in its repeated assurances that it is not hyphenated at all.

Maybe then the hyphenated condition is past; maybe the Protestant minority has been absorbed unrecognisably into the greater mass of the Irish people; maybe 20 something years of war in the North intensified southern Protestant identification with the Southern State; maybe, maybe.

But is it still not worth asking questions about this small group of people which produced some of the finest minds this island has known this century. Albert Maxwell was such a mind. A Cavan man, he was educated at the Royal School Cavan and Trinity before becoming head at St Patrick's Cathedral School at the age of 25.

Later he gained a doctorate in psychology in Edinburgh, and became a pioneer in the use of multivariate analysis of statistics - whatever that is - in the study of abnormal human behaviour. He read voraciously, well beyond the confines of his own disciplines, so that he was able to incorporate the discoveries in physiology with his own specialisation in statistical psychology.

Reluctance

If anybody was qualified to write a monograph of the Protestants of Ireland, especially the Protestants who were raised in a non Orange culture, it was him. Yet strangely, the Protestant people of Ireland generally seem reluctant to talk about their differences, or boast about their distinctions. History, or inclination has taught them diffidence. They neither spoke out about themselves, though up until recent times, by name and habit and even accent, they were a distinctly different group from the majority, nor spoke out to assert themselves and their public rights.

They were silent from the formation of the State onwards. Laws were introduced to enforce Catholic teaching, and the Protestants of Ireland said nothing. Condoms were made illegal, divorce banned, the Catholic Church given a special position in the Constitution. From the Protestants of Ireland, silence.

Why? Did they feel so insecure that they could not speak out? What had happened to the people of Butt and Parnell, Bushe and Tone and Emmet, that their rights could be confiscated and they said nothing? Was it insecurity? Was there something in the tone of public discourse in Ireland which made it clear that the Protestants were tolerated outsiders who existed beyond the general consensus?

When Todd Andrews closed down the Harcourt Street line, saying it only seemed to serve Protestant solicitors in Dundrum, was he inadvertently betraying a widespread disdain towards and mistrust of the Protestant minority? (And how richly and how often would such words have been quoted had the subject been Northern Catholics and the speaker a Stormont minister.)

By default, this remains a Catholic country with Catholic laws which are generally abandoned only when the Catholic Church loses an interest in upholding them or Europe rules that they are illegal.

Absurd ban

Default is the term. Our lawmakers fudge and defer rather than take the initiative. Legislatively our Easter is what it was in the 1950s, though social habits have made that all but absurd. Once Good Friday was a day of nationwide penitence and church going and the obligatory abstemiousness reflected a general consensus; last Friday afternoon, Dublin was full of revellers. Simply, the ban on alcohol is now clearly an absurd anachronism, but our elected politicians do nothing to acknowledge that reality.

The Catholic Church has virtually lost all control over our private lives, yet still the institutions of the State publicly defer to it. The Angelus bell rings out from our airwaves, though virtually nobody says the Angelus; it is illegal to drink wine with dinner in a hotel dining room on a Good Friday; the monstrously ugly Papal cross still stands in Phoenix Park; the mother with cervical cancer cannot have an abortion; we still have not got divorce. And most strangely of all, the Middle Nation which produced Albert Maxwell and all the other great geniuses of this land, says nothing.