Catholic Churchmen and the Celtic Revival in Ireland, 1848-1916

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Catholic Churchmen and the Celtic Revival in Ireland, 1848-1916. By Kevin Collins. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distributed in the United States by ISBS, Portland, Oregon. 2002. Pp. 203. $50.00.)

Historical accounts of the Celtic, or Gaelic, cultural revival in Ireland, which occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have generally emphasized the significance of secular organizations, such as the Gaelic Athletic Association (founded in 1884) and the Gaelic League (1893), while suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church was, despite the participation of many priests in the movement, largely indifferent and, at times, even hostile to the cause of preserving traditional Gaelic culture and reviving the Irish language. Such narratives tend to locate the origins of Irish cultural nationalism in Thomas Davis, who as one of the leaders of the non-sectarian Young Ireland movement of the 1840's coupled advocacy of Irish political independence with calls for preserving the Irish language. Kevin Collins's useful and lucidly written study convincingly establishes a central and ongoing role in all phases of the Celtic revival for the Catholic clergy, including many prominent bishops, and argues that an unbreakable bond between Gaelic culture and the Catholic faith began to emerge in the writings of the historian Geoffrey Keating and other post-Reformation Irish Catholics as early as the seventeenth century.

Despite continuing differences about political tactics, the Irish Catholic clergy and revolutionary nationalists had come, by the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, to conceive the Irish nation as being necessarily rooted in Gaelic cultural traditions and also inherently Catholic. Collins argues convincingly that clerical involvement in the Celtic revival was decisive and that, ultimately, the activities of Catholic bishops and priests were far more influential in instilling a sense of pride in the national cultural heritage among the masses of Irish people than such elite movements as the Anglo-Irish literary vival. Rather than following the familiar line of descent for the ideal of an "Irish Ireland," which runs from Davis through Douglas Hyde and D. P. Moran and culminates in Padraic Pearse, one of the martyrs of 1916, Collins details contributions of equal or even greater significance made by such Catholic priests as Father John Lanigan (1758-1828), Canon Ulick Bourke (1829-1887), Father Peter O'Leary (1839-1920), Father Patrick Dinneen (1860-1934), Father Michael O'Hickey (1861-1917), and Father Eugene O'Growney (1863-1899). While Lanigan was an antiquarian and church historian of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the others were all active in the Irish language movement during the Celtic revival. …


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