Though the recent death of Carmelite nun Sr Mary Kevin O’Higgins ends another living link to the revolutionary period, it does help us underscore still-relevant networking patterns. Maev O’Higgins was born in Government Buildings (now the Department of the Taoiseach), the eldest child of Kevin O’Higgins, the architect of the Free State, who was murdered on his way to Mass on July 10th 1927, by the founding members of the Communist Party, in an attempt to set the Cumann na nGaedheal Government against De Valera’s fledgeling Fianna Fáil, whose electoral fortunes had soared in the general election held the month before.
When her mother died, Arthur Cox, Sr Kevin’s step-father, a very successful solicitor in his own right, became a priest and served on the African missions. Sr Kevin (she took her father’s name on becoming a nun), was buried close to Carmelites Sr Mary Teresa Joseph O’Farrell and Sr Mary Angela O’Farrell, both of whom were aunts of Rory O’Connor, who had briefly led the Republican forces in the Civil War before O’Higgins, once O’Connor’s close friend, had him executed. Joseph Mallin, the youngest child of executed Irish Citizen Army leader Michael, spent most of his adult life as a Jesuit priest in Hong Kong and Nazi collaborator Frank Ryan’s three sisters were nuns.
Tom Lynch, brother of IRA Republican chief Liam Lynch, was ordained a priest on 11 June, 1922; Martin, his other brother, taught for many years as a Christian Brother at Westland Row CBS, which the Pearse brothers and the perpetrators of the Mount Street Ambush all attended. Elise Briscoe, the Jewish daughter of Bob the Robber Briscoe, became a Carmelite nun. Bridie Keyes, Liam Lynch’s bethrothed, never married and never became a nun. Like many other die-hard Republican women of her generation, she earned her bread working for Joe McGrath’s Sweepstakes.
As the deeply religious McGrath was, at various times, a Larkinite enforcer, a 1916 rebel, a bank robber (with Bob the Robber), a torturer, a Free State government minister, a strikebreaker, and an IRA enabler, Ireland was, as the Daily Mail’s song attests, a very funny and complicated place sir.
Archbishop McQuaid, the bane of pretend progressives, gave scholarships to the children of IRA master bomber Jim Donovan to attend Blackrock College. Fr Piaras Ó Duill, who was in the 1950s’ IRA, chaired the National H Block Campaign where Fr Brian McCreesh, brother of hunger striker Ray McCreesh, was particularly active. As Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney is the nephew of leading Vatican diplomat Archbishop Patrick Coveney, there is no need to labour the point that the Redmondites and conservative Catholic Church elements worked closely together, as did De Valera and firebrands like Archbishop Daniel Mannix.
As Cork nuns and all-Ireland winning Mayo priests were packed off to fortify the faith of the Philippines’ poor, Catholicism stayed superficially strong in Ireland. In so far as Catholic dogma was reflected in our pre-EU laws, that was a reflection of Catholicism’s Gallicanist and Jansenist tendencies worming into every stratum of Irish society that had no other overarching belief system.
Although the late Sr Kevin could have traced her Catholic related influences back through her father and great grandfather as well as through controversial Crown-related in-laws like Tim Healy, crucially, there was nothing particularly intellectual or politically radical in any of this and Kevin O’Higgins said just that when he remarked on how history’s most conservative rebels wrote the empty poetry of the First Dáil that today’s pretend radicals like to endlessly wax about.
This slipshod Catholic social conservatism became successive government policy up to and including the reign of Charles J Haughey, whose brother, Eoghan, was an Oblate priest. Crucially, however, there was no abstract ideology in any of this, just as there was no real secular ideology in the various South Dublin convents Sr Kevin spent her adult years in.
The Ireland Kevin O’Higgins built and Sr Kevin O’Higgins forsook was the applied Catholic corporatist one that underwrote both the 1937 Constitution and most opposition to it. Those ideas had earlier been spelt out in Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno and in Pope Leo XIII’s earlier Rerum Novarum, neither of which were particularly poetic but both of which envisaged a stable society that contrasted with the anarchistic alternatives radicals then offered.
As corporate Catholicism and its ideological antitheses are both no more, we are left only with the nihilistic anarchy of Fintan Warfield, David Norris, Gerry Buttimer, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Roderic O’Gorman, as well as the gulls who faithfully vote for them, just as they voted for other eloquent chancers in days gone by. As all of these are devoid of any coherent social vision and none of them epitomises economic or social stability, rockier days, without the option to retreat to a Carmelite convent, lie ahead.
Although the corruption, which Joe McGrath, the shenanigans of the 1930s Land Commission, the endless Tribunals, the PIRA and GUBU years all epitomised will continue, the suppression of Catholic ideology ensures the culprits, former anti-Catholic government ministers like Katherine Zappone and their collaborators included, believe they’ll never be held to account.
The flaw in their reasoning can be traced back far beyond Sr Kevin’s Carmelite convents to the concealed convents of Dublin’s Liberties during the Penal Times. Those convents, in the alleyways off Francis and Meath Streets, helped turn what then seemed like an insurmountable tide of oppression into what must have seemed, by comparison, the unbridled joy of Catholic Emancipation.Ireland today needs another, not unrelated form of emancipation, to be finally free from those over-paid liberals who ponce off the public purse. Despite their censorship, anti-Catholicism, Hibernophobia and war-mongering, Maslov’s hierarchy of needs ensures tides do change and the free rides of Zappone, Varadkar, Ryan, McDonald, Martin and their flunkeys will eventually end, just as Rome’s perverted Emperors and the British Empire’s own overlords faded, when their cosy cartel and the sectarian nihilism that underwrites it are morally, intellectually and practically holed beneath the bough and they are given no convent, cushy sinecure or other hidey-hole to cower in.