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22 Jun

Blended with Catholics

The youth of the Kingdom too, they who in a few years must determine this question, they have decided for the emancipation, with a liberality which is natural to youth, and a sagacity which is peculiar to years — and they will sit soon in these seats, blended with Catholics, while we, blended with Catholics, shall repose in the dust. Another age shall laugh at all this.

In 1793 the Catholic Relief Act was passed, allowing Catholics who took an oath and fulfilled the other criteria to vote. This was the latest step in a long slow process eroding the Penal Laws. However it still fell a great deal short of what Tone had argued for in his Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland.

On 4th May 1795 Henry Grattan proposed “A bill for the relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects”. This would have allowed Catholic MPs. The young that Grattan refers to are the students of Trinity, who presented an address in favour of Catholic emancipation. The bill was rejected 155 to 84.

Full Catholic Emancipation had to wait until 1829, nine years after Grattan’s death.

20 Jun

Wolfe Tone’s Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland

Theobald Wolfe Tone and the frontispiece of "Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland"

Theobald Wolfe Tone and the frontispiece of “Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland”

In 1724 Swift asked in the Drapier Letters, “Were not the People of Ireland born as Free as those of England?”  In 1791 Theobald Wolfe Tone answered, “We are free in theory, but slaves in fact.”

Theobald Wolfe Tone was born in Dublin 250 years ago (on 20th June, 1763). He is not an original thinker, nor a systematic one. But he does act as a “lightning conductor” (as Thomas Duddy puts it), bringing together ideas about liberty, independence and popular sovereignty and applying them to the Irish situation. These ideas picked up over time were incorporated in pamphlets, writings and finally in Wolfe Tone’s actions. He died in prison in Dublin, after arrest for his part in the failed 1798 Rising, on 19th November, 1798.

Tone’s best argued piece is probably Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, published in 1791. It is an argument based on justice, liberty and the rights of man. In the preface To the Reader he appeals directly to the work of Thomas Paine. Tone does not, he says, make an argument about “the abstract right of the people to reform their legislature; for after PAINE, who will, or who need, be heard on the subject?”
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18 Jun

Swift Crowned

Swift Crowned

This year (2013) marks the 300th anniversary of Swift becoming Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral (he was installed on 13th June, 1713). The picture above is from the title page to Jonathan Swift’s Works of 1735. Beneath Swift’s feet lies a figure, probably Mr. Wood, with his brass half-pennies strewn below. Ireland kneels before Swift to thank him. The Latin inscription, from Horace, says, “I have made a monument more lasting than brass.” This all refers to Swift’s work that combines political philosophy with rhetoric, the Drapier Letters,

Drapier’s Letters were a series of pamphlets, supposedly written by a Mr. Drapier, a draper by trade. They were written in response to the decision in 1722 to allow Mr Wood to create new copper coinage for Ireland up to the value of £180,000, a right obtainedafter payment of £100,000 as a bribe to the Duchess of Kendal, mistress to King George I. New coinage was needed in Ireland but this measure was imposed on Ireland without the consultation or control of the Irish government.

The first Drapier’s Letter was A Letter to the shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers and the common people of Ireland concerning the brass halfpence coined by Mr. Woods (1724) . His analysis of the faults of the inferior coinage and its probable effects on the Irish economy due to hoarding of good quality coinage triggered an enquiry, which advised reducing the number of coins. It also produced a report by Isaac Newton, head of the Mint arguing that the coins were good.

Swift continued on the offensive, however. In  A Letter to Mr. Harding the printer, he criticised the assay process and urged that the Irish people should refuse the coins. Mr Wood, “Drapier” says, will force the coins onto a nation who do not want them, and profit greatly thereby. Who “with the figure of a man can think with patience of being devoured alive by a rat?” In this way, Swift widened the field of the controversy: the question of the patent is framed by the wider question of the lack of freedom of the Irish, whose indifference “Drapier” can scarcely credit. As a result of this letter, a group comprising bankers, merchants and tradesmen gathered together to declare they would not accept Wood’s coins. However Walpole’s government pressed on with the plan, despite a noticeable lack of support from the Irish parliament.
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16 Jun

Nothingness of Bloomsday

It is fitting, then, that every 16 June the Irish should commemorate a day on which nothing much happened. Like many modernist works, Ulysses revolves on a botched revelation or bungled epiphany, as Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus finally meet to no momentous effect. Nothingness is a traditional topic of Irish writing, all the way from the negative theology of the great medieval schoolman John Scottus Eriugena to the vision of hell of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. It is true that nothing, like something, happens anywhere, but it tends to happen more in a down-at-heel colony (‘an afterthought of Europe’, Joyce scornfully called it) than it does on Wall Street or in Whitehall. Riba’s parental home strikes him as ‘more and more Irish’ precisely because nothing ever happens there. It is full of ghosts, as indeed Dublinesque is as a whole. Ireland, too, is haunted by a history which is dead but won’t lie down.

Quoted from “Irishness is for other people”, LRB. A review by Terry Eagleton of Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey

15 Jun

In Memoriam: Thomas Duddy

Thomas Duddy, philosopher, teacher and poet, died on this day last year (15th June, 2012), aged 62.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that Dr Tom Duddy is something of a patron saint of this site. His Dictionary of Irish Philosophers (2004) is used both for selection and information purposes. Within its pages are many forgotten thinkers, some deservedly, some rewarding a second look. His History of Irish Thought(2002), described as “strikingly original and sorely needed” by Terry Eagleton, is a wonderful survey of Irish thought and thinkers from the 7th to the 20th century. He also edited two important anthologies of Irish writing on philosophical questions, Irish Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2002) and The Irish Response to Darwinism (2003).

Born in Ramolin near Shrule, Co Mayo, he studied English and philosophy in University College Galway (now National University of Ireland, Galway). His graduate studies in philosophy focused on philosophy of mind, publishing Mind, Self and Interiority, “a critique of the indiscriminate anti-Cartesianism of contemporary philosophy of mind” in 1995. As well as his work in Irish philosophy, he also wrote on the question of morality and the environment, and on the visual arts. He was senior lecturer in the department of philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
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13 Jun

Yeats: Self and anti-self

The 13th of June is Yeats Day, the anniversary of Yeats’ birth. Best known as a poet, Yeats had philosophic interests. He admired idealism, and was well known for reading neoPlatonists such as Plotinus. In his essay Bishop Berkeley, he extols the imagination that underlay philosophy from Spinoza to Hegel.

Yeats was not a pure idealist (a term that to him evoked Kant, rather than Berkeley who was “idealist and realist alike”.) Yeats also rejected “the new naturalism that leaves man helpless before the contents of his own mind”, quoting Nietzsche’s Zarathustra “Am I a barrel of memories to give you my reasons?” (Bishop Berkeley).

As mentioned previously, Yeats and Wilde knew each other and Wilde made a strong impression on Yeats. In The Parting of the Veil (1922) Yeats tells of Wilde’s attempts to copy (wear a mask) opposite to the natural self or the natural world.

By 1918 in Arnica Silentia Lunare Yeats has developed his view and says,

The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality.

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12 Jun

Wilde About Yeats

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

Tomorrow is Yeats Day, marking the birth of William Butler Yeats (13th June 1865). (Thanks to Annie West for permission to use the picture above. Her website, chock full of pictures of the incidents of his life Yeats would prefer to forget, is here).

Yeats Day is relevant to this blog because William Butler Yeats had philosophic interests (and is listed in DIP), which went beyond his habit of reading Plotinus to dutchesses. He developed a philosophic system regarding the self and anti-self, and these reflections on the self have parallels to Wilde’s thought (hence the picture above). The occasions Yeats met Wilde made a strong impression on him.
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07 Jun

We Are Double

When one returns to the first home, one’s eyes have been doubled and one sees the same thing differently. One sees the home in a doubled way, in a redoubled way. There is no simple univocal home ever more. Again the great task is to find a way of being-at-home in this not being-at-home. I think this is coincident with the metaphysical destiny of being human. We are native to the world/we are strangers in the world. We are at home with being/we can never be completely at home with being. We are double.

William Desmond on the experience of returning to Ireland after seven years in the US.

From Perplexity and Ultimacy (1995), pp. 19-20

06 Jun

Irish Student notebook from 1722

Maynooth Notebook

I wish my lecture notes looked this good!  This notebook relating to philosophy studies is from the Irish College in Salamanca. It is signed by Richardus Lincolne [Richard Lincoln] and dated 1722. Lincoln went on to become the Archbishop of Dublin.

The diagram on the right hand page is a Tree of Porphyry: a series of definitions outlined in diagrammatic form. A more modern version of the diagram is here; more on Porphyry’s tree (“The Earliest Metaphorical Tree of Knowledge”) here.

From Irish Students in Europe: celebrating 350 years of scholarship through the collections of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and NUI Maynooth, a small exhibition of notebooks (17th and 18th century; one each from Paris, Louvain, Glasgow, Salamanca and Seville, all from the Maynooth archives) and secondary literature relating to Irish students in Europe. The exhibition is on in the John Paul II Library in Maynooth and is open to the 21st June.

05 Jun

Toland: Irishman abroad

In any case, there was undeniably a pervasive and powerful continental influence in the forming of Toland’s deism. Crucial to his development as a thinker were his long sojourns in the Netherlands and Germany; starting with his stay in Leiden in 1692-3. Still more pivotally formative were the years 1699-1702, when he spent much time, in part as a diplomatic messenger, in both those countries[…]

Toland was not as facile and unoriginal as many detractors alleged. Indeed his more significant writings, such as his “Letters to Serena”, “Adeisdaemon”, “Origines Judicae”, and his astounding quasi-theological project, the “Nazarenus” (1718), in which he seeks to dechristianize Christianity and remodel it as a republican civic religion designed only to teach the common people morality, demonstrate his original, creative side and some depth. Moreover, he had an exceptionally strong consciousness of the public sphere and the need, on republican grounds, not just for an ‘entire library of conscience’ but a robustly constructed civic religion based on a ‘purified Christianity’ (i.e. dechristianized civic religion) which would provide political society with ‘rules for virtue and religion’. His contribution to the development of the Radical Enlightenment was in fact rather substantial.

From Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, by Jonathan I. Israel. The first paragraph is taken from page 610, the second from page 613. Double quotes replace the italics in the original text.