Irish Society and Catholicism in the 1940s and ’50s: An Austrian Perspective
Posted by shane
Despite the prevailing (and extremely inaccurate) conception of Irish society in the 1940s and ’50s as closed and insular, the Irish Catholic press in that era always kept up an intense interest in their foreign counterparts. In The Furrow’s regular roundup of the continental Catholic reviews, Fr. Seán O’Riordan C.Ss.R. made note (February, 1950) of two articles about Ireland published in its Austrian namesake. The following is an extract:
Actually, Die Furche published two articles about Ireland in the early months of 1948 by two Austrians who had been here on a visit independently of each other. What then did they say about us? Nice things? Alas, much too nice!
Frida Hajek began her article (“Erin,” April 10, 1948) almost as if she were going to write a fairy-tale. “On the edge of Europe, on the edge of our world, beyond England, lies an island: Ireland. There are many people who know a good deal about England; there are a good many people who know next to nothing about Ireland. Except perhaps that she has again sent tons of foodstuffs to Austria or some other famine-sticken region in Central Europe.”
Those tons of foodstuffs were obviously good propaganda. Miss Hajek needed no propaganda to make her conscious of Ireland; she had been there.
“I do not believe that any European has ever visited Ireland and been able to forget her. I do not believe that any European has ever lived in Ireland and not learned to love her with his whole heart. And yet Ireland is a poor, a very poor country, if we measure wealth by raw materials; oil, coal, iron, cotton, grain. The wonderful thing about Ireland, her riches, the source of all her giving, is the spirit of her people, their nature, their outlook. It is something that has grown out of this gentle land beside the Gulf Stream, blossomed out of St. Patrick’s teaching, been nurtured by the mystical power of an age-old indigenous Catholic way of life.”
Miss Hajek, who describes herself as “a busy, bothered Central European,” was at first puzzled and then fascinated by certain qualities of Irish life: our refusal to be hurried, our refusal to take things too seriously, and of course our hospitality. She thinks she can put her finger on the mainspring of the Irish way of life: its “sense of eternity.” Der Begriff der Ewigkeit: the quality which, in its theological and prophetical expression, fascinates the Germans in Newman.
She concludes: “Since the days when St. Patrick lodged the Christian sense of eternity in the hearts of the Irish people as in a living shrine, Ireland and the Irish constitute an unchanging unity. The Patrician age is still near, still living for the people of to-day. Nearer and more living than our present age of wars and conferences.”
Fr. Franz König saw Ireland from the point of view of an Austrian priest during the autumn of 1947. The unforgettable experience for him was a big game at Croke Park [named after the GAA’s first patron, Archbishop Thomas Croke of Cashel – shane] during which he was less interested in the match than in the close fellowship between priests and people all round him. “I saw priests everywhere,” he wrote (Die Furche, February 28, 1948): “there were priests young and old in front of me and behind me, mixing and talking with the crowd. The young chaplain in front of me and the two older men behind me knew all the names of the players; they were just as well up as the two Dublin clerks on my right and the road worker on my left.” The ball was thrown in by a bishop; two other bishops and an archbishop were among the spectators. Fr König points out for his Austrian readers:
“The Irish clergy live in the closest contact with their people. During the centuries of subjection to England they were the leaders of the people for economic, national and religious freedom. To-day it is still the glory of every Irish family to have a son ordained to the priesthood…
I could not help feeling rather sorry for ‘Catholic Austria’.”
Posted on June 2, 2011, in Bishops' Pastorals, Catholic Social Teaching, International Ethics, Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Media Archives, The Furrow, Traditionalism. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.