Daniel O’Connell Summer School Provokes Thought

By Breda Joy

(courtesy of the Caherdaniel Parish Newsletter)

Professors, journalists, historians, the general public and a bishop and a supreme court judge mixed in for good measure all contributed to a stimulating crucible of debate at the revived Daniel O’Connell Summer School held in Cahersiveen and Derrynane on Friday and Saturday, September 6 and 7, 2013.

The full title of the weekend, which was organised as part of The Gathering, was The O’Connell Heritage Summer School, The Worlds of Daniel O’Connell and their legacies.

Bishop William Crean challenged banks and politicians to deliver on debt relief as he recast the image of Daniel O’Connell as ‘The Liberator’ in a modern context. Bishop Crean, former parish priest of Cahersiveen, was preaching to over 700 people at a special Mass in O’Connell Memorial Church on Friday night. He said that the message of “the freedom of the children of God” struggled to find voice in Ireland to-day. “Not just our sense of spiritual freedom but also our liberty as a people in the face of new financial and political empires,” he said. “So many are in chains in Ireland today, it is truly shameful to contemplate how little relief so many can expect.”

He wondered what questions would O’Connell have asked ‘those who control the levers of power in financial institutions in Ireland and in Europe – the new emperors?’. “I suggest he would be vigorous in his outrage at the detachment of those in control from the sufferings of so many,” the Bishop said.

As the worldwide reputation of Daniel O’Connell as the founder of Ireland’s democracy and a fearless advocate of human rights everywhere through peaceful means was celebrated some speakers didn’t flinch from touching also on the weaknesses of ‘The Liberator’. “Flawed yet great – the Liberator left a deep imprint about dignity, freedom and power in the psyche of the Irish people,” Bishop Crean remarked.

This was a theme returned to by Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman on Saturday. “In the last 20 years of his life, The London Times was never finished denouncing him for what they saw as his absence of conventional morality,” Justice Hardiman said. The judge said that, although O’Connell had supported a number of democratic movements, he had not associated himself with the Temperance Movement because it would have been an ‘act of utmost hypocricy’ since, it was alleged, he was fond of ‘those three traps of wine, women and song’ through his life.

“He was a great, great man but he wasn’t a saint, and wouldn’t have wanted to be one,” Justice Hardiman said. “He was a great man who would not have claimed great sanctity.”

From branding many of the Vatican curia as ‘crooks’ to condemning ‘retarded sexual attitudes’ in Ireland, Academic, Author and Dominican Sister, Dr Margaret MacCurtain, blazed a controversial path through her address in Derrynane on Saturday. The Cork-born nun, who is in her 80s, grew up in Listowel and Tralee. “The problem with the Pope is he’s up against a curia many of whom, I’m sorry to say, are crooks,” she said. “My great grudge against the papacy in the 20th century is why was there no encyclical on the care of children,” the Dominincan said. “Not one. I’ve looked for it, searched for it, and there’s none.” “We are all responsible because of what happened to the children,” she said. “It can’t be left up to the sisters and brothers. We are in our 80s.”

Special praise for Mary O’Connor and Junior Murphy and the organising committee was delivered by Dr McCurtain who said it was not just the calibre of the speakers but the whole ambience of the weekend and the warmth of the hospitality.

Mary O’Connor, in turn, acknowledged Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, and the school’s academic director, Professor Muiris Bric, a native of Cahersiveen and a UCD lecturer, as well as everyone else who had worked so hard to make it a success.

Former Justice Minister and Attorney General Michael McDowell used his speaking time in Cahersiveen Library on Friday to argue for the retention of the Senate. “Any new Dail reform package will stand to be instantly reversed or by-passed by those who control the majority in the Dail at any time it the future just as they think it suits them,” Mr McDowell told an audience of around 200 people.

However former Independent senator, Prof John A Murphy strongly criticised Mr McDowell, saying that a revised summer school examining the legacy of Daniel O Connell was not the appropriate place to engage in a partisan argument about a current political issue.

Historian Dr Fergus O’Ferrall said that O’Connell’s pioneering commitment to the separation of church and state offers a model for church state relations today as an alternative to models based on either the politicisation or the privatisation of faith. “This model involves a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith but within a constitutional and legal framework of what is agreed to be just and fair for other faiths too,” Dr O’Ferrall said.

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said that, as a barrister, O’Connell expressed himself with “extreme freedom” both inside and out of court including once accusing the Attorney General, Saurin, of being corrupt and telling a judge he would not submit to his “dictatorship from the bench”.
GOAL Chief Executive, Barry Andrews said O’Connell’s opposition to slavery, his support for women’s rights and his central belief in the common brotherhood of man shaped his world view and played a part in shaping Ireland’s international outlook today including non-alignment and peace building.

Contributors: Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, TD, Dr Ruth Barrington, Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Prof John A Murphy, Prof Patrick Geoghan, Dr Gavin Barrett, Junior Murphy, Jerome O’Shea, Bishop William Crean, Gerry O’Connor, Dr Ríonach Uí Hogáin, Noel Whelan, Prof Fergus O’Ferrall, Joe Little, Dr Magaret MacCurtáin, Justice Hugh O’Flaherty, Prof Maurice Bric, Justice Adrian Hardiman, Barry Andrews, and Peadar Ó Riada with Ceolchoirm Cóir Chúil Aodha.