08 September 2013

Crass materialism and penny-pinching
100 years after ‘September 1913’

No 5 Woburn Walk ... the Bloomsbury home of WB Yeats at the time he wrote ‘September 1913’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As part of the centenary commemorations of the Dublin Lock-Out in 1913, I have been asked to deliver a paper on the Church of Ireland priest and former Vice-Provost and Senior Dean of Trinity College Dublin, the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn (1877-1962), who is buried in Whitechurch churchyard.

If you were to rely only on Wikipedia, you might think Gwynn is worth remembering solely as an Irish international cricketer. But during this year’s commemorations it is also worth remembering that Gwynn was always sympathetic to the cause of Labour and was the only academic of any note at TCD who was actively engaged in the Labour movement in Dublin.

He was a friend of James Connolly, active in a peace committee that had strong links with the Irish Citizen Army – indeed, it is said that the Irish Citizen Army took its name at a meeting in Gwynn’s rooms in Trinity.

Other members of the Church of Ireland who took an active part in the Irish Citizen Army included Dr Kathleen Lynn, the daughter of a Co Mayo rector of Cong, and Countess Markievicz, who was born Constance Gore-Booth.

At the height of the lockout, the poet William Butler Yeats published September 1913. Although it was dated 7 September 2013, the poem was first published in The Irish Times on this day 100 years ago, 8 September 1913.

William Martin Murphy, who was a conservative Catholic and claimed to be a constitutional nationalist, led the employers throughout the lockout, and also opposed funding for the Hugh Lane Gallery after Sir Hugh Lane had offered his art collection to the City of Dublin, claiming it was too costly.

In this poem, Yeats criticises Murphy for his crass materialism and his lack of humanity, but also undermines any of his claims to being a voice for middle-class constitutional nationalism. At the same time, Yeats is acknowledging the naivety of some Irish Republican figures like Robert Emmet following public violence as a result of attempts at revolution.

Although Murphy is not named personally in the poem, many of the other figures are remembered to this day, including Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone – all three, like Yeats, born in the Church of Ireland. But who is the O’Leary, who is dead and in the grave alongside romantic Ireland?

Although John O’Leary (1830-1907) was a separatist, believing in Irish independence, he was not a republican but a constitutional monarchist. He believed in physical force, but was opposed to individual acts of violence such as those promoted by O’Donovan Rossa. He was strongly opposed to the land agitation promoted by Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell.

For most of his life, O’Leary opposed any form of parliamentary action, and he was particularly hostile to the former Fenian MP John O'Connor Power. However, he supported Parnell during the early days of the split in Irish Parliamentary Party in 1890-1891. He was a secularist, believing that the Church should stay out of politics, and writing in the Dublin University Review in 1886, he pointed out that in an independent Ireland Protestants would need guarantees of liberties.

He inherited family property in Tipperary town that provided him with a comfortable income for most of his life. He did not have to earn money and was able to assist fellow separatists financially. However, he was remembered in Tipperary as a “hard landlord” and he became a victim of agitation in 1889-1891, when his income from rental payments dried up.

O’Leary’s warnings in the the Dublin University Review in 1886 were put to the test in 1925, when legislation was being put forward to abolish divorce. In a speech in the Senate defending Protestant rights and traditions, Yeats declared:
I think it is tragic that within three years of this country gaining its independence we should be discussing a measure which a minority of this nation considers to be grossly oppressive. I am proud to consider myself a typical man of that minority. We against whom you have done this thing, are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence. Yet I do not altogether regret what has happened. I shall be able to find out, if not I, my children will be able to find out whether we have lost our stamina or not. You have defined our position and have given us a popular following. If we have not lost our stamina then your victory will be brief, and your defeat final, and when it comes this nation may be transformed.

The contributions Yeats made to the debates in the Senate show the value of this institution, and arguments for its abolition today solely on the grounds of cost appear to echo William Martin Murphy’s penny-pinching and mean-minded arguments against the Hugh Lane Gallery at the height of the 1913 Lockout.

September 1913, by WB Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the ha’pence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone? For men were born to pray and save?,
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone –
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone –
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide?
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died?
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone –
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry – “Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son” –
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone:
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

Praying for peace in Syria and the Middle East

‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the 15th Sunday after Trinity [8 September 7, 2013]. I hope to be back in Christ Church Cathedral this morning for the Cathedral Eucharist, after an absence of a few weeks, and hope to be in Belfast later in the day for two ordinations.

The Year C readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Jeremiah 18: 1-11; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14: 25-33.

Luke 14: 25-33

25 Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Freedom, war and wisdom

The demands of peace and justice are not always easy to keep in balance, and those who bear this responsibility often carry a cross that many of would prefer not to share.

The ‘Lesser Litany’ in the Book of Common Prayer prays:

O Lord, guide and defend our rulers
and grant our government wisdom.

Let your ministers be clothed with righteousness and let your servants shout for joy.

O Lord, save your people
and bless those whom you have chosen.

Give peace in our time, O Lord,
and let your glory be over all the earth.

In the Epistle reading this morning, the Apostle Paul appeals to Philemon to act not out of duty but out of love. Saint Paul is not thinking of justifying slavery in this reading. Quite the opposite: he has thought of giving Onesimus his freedom, by stealth (see verse 13).

Saint Paul could have said to Onesiumus he was free on condition he stayed in Rome, or Caesarea or Ephesus, or wherever Saint Paul was writing from. But only on condition that he worked with him (see verses 10 and 11); that would have been conditional freedom only, not true and total freedom. Instead, Saint Paul appeals to Philemon to act not in his own interests, but in the interests of the Kingdom of God.

Acting in the interest of the Kingdom of God and the wisdom referred to in verse 31 in the Gospel reading should be reflected on by those who are wondering what to do about the awful plight in Syria: “Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?”

In Rome yesterday [7 September 2013], Pope Francis took part in a day of fasting and prayer that he asked to be observed throughout the world for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and the world. Last Sunday, he invited “fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will” to join in that day of prayer and fasting.

He said “it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”

“Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace!” he added.

This is part of what Pope Francis said last Sunday:

… I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming. I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII,
Pacem in Terris [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302). All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace. May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative. On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.


God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
Grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the Gospel;
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
we have received these tokens of your promise.
May we who have been nourished with holy things
live as faithful heirs of your promised kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.