Sile: What is it about the Maamtrasna murders that warrants the attention of criminologists?
Seamus: I suspect it is because it is one of the most extraordinary criminal events in the nineteenth century. It is an awkward, contrary, case. And if it is nowhere disinteresting, it is everywhere ungraspable.
Sile: Maybe we should begin by giving something of its details for those who are interested ? I have read two accounts of it and I have to say I felt there was much padding in each.
Seamus: Go ahead!
Sile: I read (Fr.) Jarlath Waldron’s account and then I read the contemporary account by a chap called Tim Harrington. I looked at the papers and the archival file and found the second account somewhat repetitive of the first (or was it vice versa?) – not completely, of course, but substantially so. I felt that while Waldron’s account claims to differ from Harrington’s, it was very similar to it but for the padding.
Seamus: That's probably because as far as the facts of Maamtrasna are concerned, they are not in dispute: they never were. Ever since the facts of the case, as they were reported and published in the Freeman’s Journal, there were never in dispute. Much is said about what was included in the trials, what was left out, what was emphasized, and what was not, etc. ; but the facts from this point of view were never in issue. So, in a way, the account in the Freeman's Journal lays the foundation of what went on in court and it forms an Appendix to Harrington’s political Impeachment Of The Trials. These trial facts, if I May call them that, have been more or less accepted and repeated. So, when you say the accounts are similar, are you referring to this basic account of the murder trials?
Sile: Yes. I suppose I am. And I agree these court facts, save for the most minor observations, are nowhere in contention. But if the court facts are not disputed , the truth of evidence presented is everywhere in dispute. In this respect, there never has been a case so much in dispute. Jarlath Waldron, for example, is of the opinion that the real cause of the murders is the dead granny; in this regard, he falls back on the same tack that as Harrington. But then… Harrington…. Look, without having read these accounts in detail the nuances are apt to get lost.
Sean: Well, apart from the analysis, can you say why the case fascinates you?
Sile: Well, that’s my point. I didn’t find the case that fascinating – and , if the truth be told, I still don’t find the case that interesting at all. I was hoping that your enthusiasm for Maamtrasna might rub off on me.
Seamus: Do you know who committed the crime?
Sile: I think I do, but it isn’t easy. I suppose, in this superficial sense, it is a whacking great ‘whodunit?’ But I’m not sure that that aspect should be its main attraction?
Seamus: So, who do you think did the crime? The Approver? Which of them?
Sile: I’d rather not say who I think did it. It has a touch of the fascination of the who-dun-nit about it. I wouldn’t want to spoil that Agatha Christie fascination.
Seamus: I’m sure you’re right not to. But it is hardly the reason for recommending the book?
Sile: Maybe not. I’m just saying that one shouldn’t write off that kind of interest either.
Sean: When one talks about ‘whodunits’ one can’t help reflecting upon Agatha Christie’s famous Mousetrap . It ran for ages in the West End on this very ‘whodunit’ point. And what was every bit as interesting as the plot, was the scheme by which the stage manager engaged the audience not to tell the public who the culprit was. After the drama was over, the manager was careful to address the audience and invited them to enter a conspiracy of silence concerning the guilty party, thereby making it possible to resell the play to another unsuspecting audience. As a whodunit-drama, it was great -- but imagine having to rely upon such a device to keep up the interest in the plot! And, of course, it worked, which, as I said, was every bit as amazing to me as the play itself. Before I ever went to see it, several people spoke to me about it. Each conspirator was careful to inform me that they would not ‘ruin it for me by telling me who did the murder.’ Isn’t that remarkable!
Sile: I can’t see how you are so amazed by that little story. Dubliners have for years been conspiratorial about such things.
Seamus: How do you mean?
Sile: I mean , if you were ever in Leason Street late at night , say, about twenty years ago, you would have found that most of the after-hour wineries had no license to sell wine. This, however, did not stop them from charging exorbitant prices on their plonk. Patrons were enlisted in a game of self-deception -- a ridiculous conspiracy that made for a true description of the social neurosis paralyzing adult Irish life at the time in Dublin city.
Seamus: How was that?
Sile: Well, you know that Leason Street was Ireland’s answer to Soho. No; I’m wrong. Leason Street at that time was Ireland’s answer to Benediction. Ever since the Riordans -- the TV program -- I think we all knew that the Holy Family was so engrafted onto the Irish psyche, that there was literally no place -- nowhere at all , outside the Church and the Pub-- in which adult Irish people not soaked in the Holy Family could meet. The inner psyche was reflected in the outer social space. Leason Street presented a place -- the only place in urban Dublin (and Ireland) -- where adults , after pub-hours, could meet. And it had all the markings of its own guilt-ridden ensemble. It was invariably under-ground, the bouncers looked you over as if they gave a cabaiste about your moral bearing, only cheap plonk on sale, and the prices were enormous. The exploitation of the Irish male had reached a high point -- the high point being that we -- the Irish -- could not invent a social space in which to express our sexual preferences within the wider environment colonized by Holy celibate Church. Anyway, they would sell you the plonk, and they no sooner sold it to you, than the busies would appear, and everyone had to go through the motions of handing back the plonk before the busies were allowed in the door. When the Gardai , after a suitable delay, entered, everyone assured them that there was no drink, that every one was drinking water and orange juice. And when they left? Well, you were lucky if you got anything back at all. Or worse, you forfeited an expensive bottle of plonk champagne and you got back the dregs of someone else’s wine. It was utterly dreadful -- but it was so Irish! It was harder on the men than the women. The women were encouraged to enter these denizens to decorate the place as well as to act as an attraction for the men.
Sean: What’s your point?
Sile: My point is that we entered a conspiracy of silence against our short term interests in order to serve our longer term interests, upon a matter concerning sexual and social space which monkeys had organized better than we had .
Sean: You're beginning to show your age. That wasn't twenty years ago. It was more like forty years ago. And what’s the point about Agatha Christie’s Whodunit?
Seamus: The first point demonstrates the attraction that the whodunit has in plots.
Sile: I know what you mean. It’s a bit like music that wanders from tonic to dominant and then after the dominant it never seems to return to the tonic until the piece is over.
Seamus: As a genre, the whodunit keeps the question uppermost in the mind of the audience just as the Mousetrap did. The second point is that this aspect of quizzicality has entered drama as a most desirable thing: its anticipatory aspect being uppermost in its success – especially where the Hollywood Film of late is concerned. But here it is pronounced to such an extent that it has replaced the plot totally. And this Hollywood conspiracy to replace plot with quizzical gimmickry, has destroyed story telling as an art form. You will see it very particularly in the Da Vinci Code, a story so contrived (by Hollywood) that it becomes incredible as well as ridiculous. The overemphasis on quizzicality gives way to endless and repetitive contrivances that spoil any vestige of the narrative’s connection with verisimilitude.
Sile: Maybe it's about one's age. Maybe the young don't mind the endless contrivances that go to make up a Hollywood plot. Someone should write the history of gullibility -- or is that the same as the history of civilization?
Sean: You’re right. I saw the same thing in Fatal Attraction.
Sile: So what if Hollywood now casts films in the same way as Gilbert and Sullivan staged musicals. What you call the death of drama is, in my opinion, the beginning of a new form thereof.
Sean: How do you mean?
Sile: The argument runs something like this.
As we all know, there has to be Heaven and Hell, Good and Bad, Crime and Punishment. Above all, there has to be punishment. All these films – like Christianity, whose paradigm they echo on the screen -- are essentially about a penal punishment. And since the punishment must square with Biblical or Christian notions, the repentance part is totally excised. The reason for this is because when the opportunity to repent and make recompense is removed, the film director can go straight to where the Inquisitors went – to the naked coup de gras. Justice masquerades as revenge and revenge masquerades as Justice. So ,to prolong the so-called work of art (film), delaying stratagems are introduced. This allows the director to act out more masochistic episodes and , thus, more rewarding 'works of art'. The execution of punishment is the inner essential, but it has to be couched in terms of comeuppance, of condign revenge – and this, methinks, is the sole theme and raison d’etre of the film. In order, therefore, to deliver the coup de gras and, at the same time, retain one’s Christian’s balance of propriety, the culprit must really get up the nose of the audience.
By making the bad guy (or gal) so obnoxious, by visibly making him such a hate-figure, the punishment , however horrific, is packaged as ‘justice’. And no matter how wicked the end punishment, it is meant morally as a just thing to do, a good ending to the film. The moral is inquisitorial : the wicked shall be punished but in this film look how punished the wicked are!.
So, for example, in Fatal Attraction, there’s going to be a final reckoning. Someone therefore has to perform the bitch and elicit the sympathies of the audience in preparation of the savage end. The story is ever the same. In Fatal Attraction the bitch of control, played by Glenda Close, has to be killed, because she wont take ‘no’ for an answer. She wants to destroy Michael Douglas’s happy if no holy family (not to mention his pet rabbit), that is, ‘happy’ in an acceptably unhappy modern way. Anyway, they kill Glenda with knives and water. But the feeling is renewed like an old cadence from The Pirates of Penzance. They want to execute Glenda more than once. One killing does not exhaust the sense of hatred hitherto created throughout the film. The usual thing is to delay the anxiety of the final blow as well as the agony of the end itself. But they can’t delay her death. So, they do the next best thing. They get her to revive herself after her death by water and then she is re-executed -- but this time by the wife, the protectress of the paterfamilias (even if pater has been doing a Bill bit-on-the-side Clinton ) and by way of firing several bullets into her body. Hollywood has always had such respect for Guns and Bullets – not to mention the modern woman and her six-pack! So , when someone has to be really executed, the only proper way in the American mind, is to kill the by bullet female. Hollywood knows how final guns and bullets can be, as can the female of the species. But, even still, there is nothing like a repeat performance, a re-staged comeback, for which the public is ever ready.
Sean: So, where does that leave us?
Sile: It leaves us with two things. One is that there is a lot to be said for jigsaw puzzles, after the fashion of either Da Vinci, The Mousetrap or, indeed, Harry Potter. Audiences love a puzzle, a riddle, whether of cross words or of words that cross. And the second point is that the engrossment of puzzles into contrived plots has worked its way to great effect into the art of story telling. If the Plot has been taken over by the cinematography of gimmickry and cinematography itself, then so be it. We can’t always expect to have a Hamlet-like plot. Maybe it is sufficient just to stay on, to look at the pictures. But you don’t agree with that?
Seamus: Did you ever consider the possibility that each year the cinema-going public’s taste gets more juvenile, more and more simple, approximating sometimes, a bad version of Jungle Book or a bad repeat of South Pacific, where we all feel that no one can compare with Ezio Pinza? Is that an age thing disguising itself as a better standards thing? Or , is it just the assertion that my times are more something-or-other than your times! Everything appears to be not only consumable downwards but is aimed at titillating the un-titillatable -- the teenager who is both infant and infantile! In any event, how does this apply to Maamtrasna?
Sile: Well, if you take the points that you have made, you will find that they are all present in Maamtrasna. In a way, Maamtrasna is itself a contrivance. The contrivances are not simply those of a one-dimensional agent like Hollywood – an agent that controls the narrative. The contrivances in Maamtrasna are the real people in the story. You see Maamtrasna is radically different from ay other murder-account in that we presume most murderers want to remain silent. So the difficulty is to find someone to sing, someone on the inside. Maamtrasna it the perfect opposite to that. Everyone claims to have been there, everyone has his own version of who is to blame, and practically everyone who relates their story to the world exonerates himself in the process. The contrivances, therefore, from the revelations of the ‘independent witnesses’ to the‘ Crown Approvers’ to the Politicians (Irish and British), as well as the role of the clergy, to the story-tellers – they are all part of some great contrivance that is quite difficult to unravel. But my point is that this great whodunit, and its contrivances, is part of the murder, not part of its outside narrative.
Maam Trasna as Narrative
Seamus: There is another important point I would like to make and it is this. In studying murder, as either a narrative, or as a criminological event, the object, surely, is to learn from it. Whether art teaches or entertains – or whether these categories are mutually exclusive – is an argument that we are not going into here but one which nevertheless resonates (aphoristically at any rate) in the writings of Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and indeed, every bit as seriously in the works of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce. Is art meant to edify or entertain?
Croce (in his 1893 Essay) much depended upon whether history should be conceived as a science, as it had lately been conceived by the Germans, or as an art form. Although Croce was inclined to reject most of the theories then prevalent and opt for art as an individually intuitive matter -- a vision of anarchic proportions --, he contrasted the nominalism of art with science as a construction of general concepts and their interrelationships.
Sile: But we are hardly interested here in the philosophic arguments. Are we not more concerned with Maam Trasna as a social phenomenon?
Seamus: Of course, but how do we relate such social phenomena, as narrative, if not as science, or as art?
Sean: I see what you mean.
Sile: Maybe, like the Aes Dana or the Blessed Trinity of art, science and history -- all three leafs of the same Trinitarian shamrock! And even if we can’t resolve the matter here, let it be known that our purpose in dealing with accounts of murder is to be edified by the analysis of the history of our experiential past, and by our examination and assessment of it. To pour it into a biblical or a common-law lawyer’s phial, and thereby freeze it forever, is positively the last thing we want to do. Why? Because it is the least beneficial way to learn from it. The Bible has all the answers for the religious faithful, who are happy to live vicariously off the experiences of the Jewish tribes long ago and far away. The common law has all the answers for those who are happy to live vicariously off the experiences of the English people long ago and far away and continuing. But only Irish history according to the non-Roman and non-English historians (possibly an eccentric residue of historians) can answer what happened in Ireland. And yet this is what we do all the time. In this sense, there is an atrocious incapacity to learn – to learn from our experience. So, with the Irish, the novel idea that they should learn from their own experience antedates any argument as to whether art imitates experience or whether in general it entertains or edifies. These distinctions and arguments come after the establishment of a discourse that is not overwhelmed by either the pulpit or the judicial bench. This non-discourse is an index of the disconnection between experience and any art forms it pretends to engender.
Sean: Methinks we are, in this respect, too attentive to Hollywood. Maybe they overcame us too early with the camera and the cinema, and we have never analyzed either the arts or ourselves properly.
Seamus: I don’t follow.
Sean: Sile thinks that the narrative should edify. To do so, a commitment to the social phenomena – in this case, the social phenomena of Maamtrasna – is imperative. But Hollywood has no such ambition. As social phenomena, Hollywood- narratives are not necessarily connected or inspired by social experience in the ordinary way. Their main appeal at present is to stimulate the dominion of the imagination in children. Its purpose and its end is to‘ play with’, rather than to teach or entertain – which need not be bad in any moral sense – but which may be somewhat tedious in the long term. It also, in some ways, spells out the worrying disjuncture between social experience and social concern.
Sile: Surely you don’t need reminding that that biblical narrative is not based on social phenomena, or, if it is, it is certainly never analyzed or conveyed as social phenomena. Like Hollywood, it presumes the roots and then plays upon the abstractions that those roots develop. It is a way to become rich.
Sean: How rich?
Sile: Elsewhere, hasn’t it already been explained that all you need to do is to re:travel the imperialised trails of the great Christian conquest. Write a book or a tune evocative of Jesus and his Blessed Mother, and they will play in every conquered hick hut from here to Uganda. The priesthood through the pulpits will feed it through the schools to ‘leetle cheeldren’, the ‘leetle cheeldren’ to the Holy Families, the Holy Families to the parishes, the parishes will feed it to the communities, the communities will feed it back to the schools, and so on, and so on. By the time it reaches the the mothers, they will even go without flowers on the table or contraceptives in the bedroom -- just to give their darlings the message of the Lord and at least an equal if not a better chance in life. Every mother knows that being on the Church’s team is being on the State’s team and, as against those anarchists who are on neither the Church's nor the State’s team, theirs stands a more than average chance of extreme privilege. For this they don’t even mind being exploited by some ‘Father figure’, a ‘Father This’ or a ‘Father That’.
Sean: You are awful, sometimes! And yes. I remember the account. But what I meant was, it should be connected and understood in terms of each community’s own history, each community’s own experiences.
Sile: But that is the point of imperialism. We both through the Christian spectacle as well as through the Hollywood spectacle know all their experiences – as all our experiences –. Or, put another way, their experience has become our experience and our perceived reality.
Sean: Jesus! The way you talk about it, one would think that we are all dummies, moronic pieces of consumable Christian and Hollywood propaganda.
Sile: Jesus! Precisely!
Seamus: Jesus! Precisely!
Sean: O, my God! Are you saying that Maamtrasna has been fed to us in the same way?
Sile: Well, if we are informed of everything else in the same fashion as we have been informed of our 'history' and of Jesus and the Christian conquest -- which runs in parallel reinforcement with how murder, war, and justice are portrayed in Hollywood, then the answer must be’ yes.’
We are, I am sure, all aware of the great increase in the incidence of murder in Ireland in recent times. It is unfortunate that accounts of these events never seem to be related either to any historical or to any social event. (For a further airing of this criticism See 10.e. Bk. 13: A Short History of Capital Punishment in Ireland: Vol. 4: Infanticide Or The Mercy Miracle. ) Most Irish murder-talk seems to go no further than the event itself or by reference to a rather bankrupt Christian morality, or some idea of police or criminal ‘science’ that is invariably couched in the same or similar terms, and little else besides.
Sean: But we cannot blame Hollywood for such shallowness, no more than we can blame Rome for the shallowness that proceeds from the practice and content of religion and its homogeneous references to Bible and Scripture.
Sile: I don't know who you blame -- if blame , indeed, is relevant. For the churches to control social matters is like stifling both the social sciences as well as the propensity to speculate. In truth , religion and the religious way of looking at things, is so inferior to the work of the social sciences that its pre-eminence is a tribute to the totalitarianism of Christianity. It is as if, at the highest levels of clerical comprehension, religion has lost all credibility. It just governs from RTE in the most fickle manner while, in exquisite Irish relief , the late Dermot Morgen's Father Ted is replayed a quarter of a century later. Even in its obsolescence, real analysis has to take second place to the Church’s hoary old make-believe.
Seamus: But surely you overlook the real issue of murder today?
Sile: Which is?
Seamus: These days I feel that murder, its management and its portrayal, is actually part of Christian morality. In comparison with what’s on television as news, the Seventh Commandment is just ridiculous. It’s like preaching from Castel Gondolpho about the virtue of being born in a stable — and without the slightest hint of irony! Who’s kidding whom? I suppose to bridge this gap they made the oft-quoted if ridiculous phrase , from cabin to White House , meaning, of course, from stable in Bethlehem to Pharaoh in Vatican!
Sile: And we know who Superman is , don’t we?
Sean: And what about the Incredible Hulk?
Sile: And I bet, you did not even intend that as a funny!
Sean: Yes: I’m even funny when I don’t even know it! By overlooking the real issue, you mean the reports by RTE on the daily murders in Ireland?
Seamus: That’s part of it, of course. But I mean the way we and our children, as with families all over the world, are called upon to attest to US forces murdering people on our television. It’s done with the same enthusiasm as a soccer game. We are even expected to cheer when the US or its allies kill people. It’s like "Israel deux point, Palestine nil; America a direct hit, ten people dead, and a few more unintended ones – and the terrorists NIL." Even if you give a gander at the equally tired old GAA, you'll find the same ugly mix of moneyed mountains, violence before ,during and after play, the family silver retained by the most pious relatives, and a growing incurable alienation between play and public. The GAA is no different to the Benedict/Ahern/Blair/ Bush government of the New Order. Violence is the name of the New World Order!
Sean: But was Maamtrasna that brutal in the scheme of things?
Seamus: What scheme of things?
Sile: In terms of nineteenth century murder?
Seamus: Maamtrasna was a gruesome crime by whatever standards you care to mention. But when compared with others – like The Phoenix Park Murders or, worse still, The Burning of the Sheas, or some of the other nineteenth century murders, Gaslight or Agrarian, it loses its notoriety. It is also true that when compared to the war-zones of France/Austria, the Boer War, the Fenian effort, etc. It is as nothing. What is the life of a peasant family in the greater scheme of things? No; the worth of the Maamtrasna murders does not ly in the horror of the act itself as much as in its resistance to all explanations except a cultural one. In this , Maamtrasna, the murders and the circumstances of the murders, have the principle purpose of educating those who would be educated about their country, its true history and its culture. Understanding Maamtrasna has parallels with the Kyteler trial and the case of Mary Daly. Where Kyteler calls attention to the first building blocks in the body politic of the Christian conquest, Mary Daly, in the same way, affirms the fact of that conquest and exposes the role of the Holy Family in perpetuating that politic, and Maamtrasna confirms the fact of the conquest yet again and informs us of the cultural price of the Christian conquest. Maamtrasna cannot be explained outside of an understanding of Irish history and culture. That’s its importance; that is its significance.
Sean: What price? What, in other words -- and in your opinion -- makes Maamtrasna so irresistible as an Irish murder?
Seamus: Ireland's history is the reason. I say that the real history of the Christian conquest in Ireland remains to be unpacked, but in the meantime, and for our immediate purposes here, can be seen as obtaining between two simple events.
I shall say it again.
In 1327/8, three years after the trial of Alice Kyteler for Church heresy, the native Druid, Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill was burned at the stake by the Christian conquistadors. His crime was the defense of his people in tribal and pagan Ireland from the Mediterranean Myth, the truths of which he flatly denied. He was defending Ireland no less that Brian Boru was defending it from the pagan Northmen. The only difference is that the Romans did not want anybody to know of Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill, because he identified the foreign Roman Christian as the real enemy of Ireland (pagan Ireland) whereas Boru was presented as fighting pagan heretic on their behalf.
Further, the execution was unconstitutional and contrary to international law at the time. Even if one accepted the substance of the Donation of Constantine , giving the Pope authority over Ireland, and if one further accepted that it was not a forgery (which it was), it never grounded the Papacy’s right over Gaelic Ireland -- not least because Gaelic Ireland had never come under Roman rule, upon which the Donation relied for its justification. Secondly, even if one accepted these constitutional, jurisdictional and legal deficiencies , the further alienation of Ireland under the Bull Laudabiliter suffered from even greater flaws. In giving away Gaelic land without consulting the Gaelic secular Chieftains (and Druids),the Papacy behaved illegally; for even Gaels could not alienate tribal land without recourse to their successors and he tribes they represented.
These days , of course, millions of people are beginning to say the same things as Adam Dubh O' Tuathaill said centuries ago. O'Tuathaill was the first true patriot in Ireland. And what he said was no different than what the nineteenth century German scholars had discovered, or what modern scholars are currently saying about the actual history of the Christian church. Ever since 1947 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, much that is said in scholarship coincides amazingly with the scepticism of the first heretics, men like Adam Dubh O’Tuathaill.
One can hardly pick up a book but there are new revelations concerning the true rebellion between the tribes of Judah and the Roman imperial yoke. The parallels between the tribes of Israel and the Gaelic tribes, vis-a-vis the greed of Rome , is yet another fertile area to be studied in the light of the new sense of history. But if their is a new secular enthusiasm for the truth of history, the Church has used its old exorbitant wealth and power, international and financial ,to suppress some of the findings in the middle east, or to gain an advantage or to do down some worthy or other who opposes them.
After Jeffrey Archer’s latest release -- the Gospels according to Judas -- one is not quite sure that anyone in the Vatican actually believes the Jesus-story as they give it to the people. One doesn’t hear the clergy preaching about the miraculous `Jesus any more. Indeed, they don’t know what to make of modern historical scholarship and Jesus. All, it seems, is contrivance. In the meantime they perpetuate the myth to retain power, they suppress truth to remain rich and powerful, and they interfere incessantly and without warrant,openly and secretly, with the secular powers, promoting the mediocrity of the religious bodies in every sphere of secular government, thereby subverting our liberties and the politics of the people. These days , Churchmen assemble more behind Opus Dei lawyers and Judges and behind Opus Dei accountants than anyone else.
Sean: But Adam Dubh O’ Tuathaill was a once off, don’t you think? And the fact about Mammoths is that they have been rather than they are.
Sile : How bloody enlightening!
Seamus : Equally enlightening is the fact that humans are not mammoths.
Sean: Of course, but you know what I mean. The Gaels and the Mammoths were; they are now gone.
Sile: This is too much enlightenment in one day! Mammoths don’t have history! We do!
Sean: Very well, but you are not Gaelic. And you never were! Let’s face it we’re all Norman stock. Martin MacGuinness might be different. All the Os and the Macs may have a Gaelic stump… but the rest of us are of the very conquistadors-stock that we are decrying.
Sile: So, I am not responsible for who my mother slept with. She could have slept with a Fine Gaeler or a ratlined Nazi for all I know. And her grannies could have slept with Cromwellian roundheads, Scottish gallowglasses or sheep-stealers, what does it matter? We’re talking culture , not genetics.
Sean: Ah, but these days, the Genome says the one is the other. What do you say to that?
Seamus: I say Padraigh Pearse to that. A thousand years after Adam Dubh O’Tuathaill , Padraigh Pearse appears. He is neither of the Os nor the Macs. And yet he sees in the significance of the Gaelic language the utter treachery of the participants in Irish history.
Sean: Yes but Pearse doesn’t blame the church.
Sile: That’s because he is not a sociologist.
Sean: And how do you explain the fact that James Joyce rejected what Pearse saw and stood for.
Sile: That’s easy. Pearse blamed the British. Joyce blamed the Church. Joyce knew that Pearse had fallen for the Church’s British-baiting exercise. And that’s why Joyce would not remain on to learn Irish. According to Joyce, Pearse never saw who was pulling his strings. Indeed, if anyone should have know how hateful the native pagan heretics were to the Church of Rome, it was Pearse. Some say he was homosexual. But maybe, like Casement, he never knew what it was like to wait on Banna Strand, and never know when no one turned up. I bet the Church knew why no one ever turned up. Maybe Pearse was naive as to what the new Ireland would , under the Holy Romans, do to homosexuals. On this , I genuinely don’t know. But I feel that Joyce’s stand was infinitely more insightful, even if it was people like Pearse who delivered the Saorstat, Holy Roman warts and all.
Sean: Ah! A Republican at last! Now, I suppose you’re going to sing ‘Don’t get me wrong! Don’t get me wrong!’
Sile: Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of your Church-cowed national-front Republicans! If I die ,it won’t be by killing Protestants, who have already fought the bloody Romans to a standstill in every Northern country in Europe. They have even presented liberty to the Irish, who can’t inhale it. They want to run back to their medieval chains ...Awe, what’s the use?…..
Seamus: In any event, Pearse makes the same or a similar sacrifice to that made by Adam Dubh O'Tuathaill. The parties (Rome, London and native Gaelic interests) are the same, but that there are no native Gaels, just people who like to think they would like to be Gaels. In other words, the governing power relations that first operated in Ossory in the fourteenth century are present when Padraigh Pearse takes up the role of the conquered Gael. The conquest has to be re:done in order to put Pearse in his place. And even when Pearse and the Republicans win out adjacent the secular British, who by this time are not anti-Irish or anti-Gaelic or even anti-Catholic -- when the Republicans win back their Saorstat, the real hidden Ireland emerges to claim its hegemony, and we are back with the medieval church again; for there is no way that the Irish , on their own, could lay a hand on the church. The mongrel Irish are the very creation of the Holy Romans; the Irish could not fart without Holy Roman permission.
So, the initial ancient issue has a modern face. No sooner was Pearse dead, than the Irish language issue was dead as well. It isn’t the annihilation of the old Gaelic tribes of pagans (heretics to the Holy Romans) or the destruction of their belief-system that is presented to view. It is rather the death, the final whimper, of its container, the Gaelic language, that Pearse refuses to live without. Personally , I can see nothing -- absolutely nothing -- flowing from the death of Pearse, that has not been confiscated by the RC Church. The Church doesn’t mind useless sacrifice; it rather promotes it. Their real enemy,the pagan Gaels have been gone for centuries, to accommodate which, the Irish, without a notion of their own status or the history of those they destroyed for mother church, cannot even figure out the succession of things Irish, much less their mongrel role in the Christian conquest. Joyce, not Pearse , therefore, had the other half of the truth, which, if put together, might have made Irishmen whole.
And do you know what is the funniest thing of all is? Do you know what makes one laugh and cry simultaneously? They -- this horrid Church of celibate and calculating me and these mongrel Irish --- they want the children to learn Gaelic! The Holy Romans smell more money and more power by giving back to the people the language they robbed from them fifteen hundred years ago. How could any self-respecting person voluntarily belong to such a culture! How could any mindful person bend a knee or find repose in such a church! Joyce, like Luther, could do no other than proclaim: Non Serviam! Non Serviam! Ireland is a country in spontaneous combustion. Look out, Holy Roman!
Sean: It’s hard to take it all in. But I begin to understand what you see. You see Maamtrasna as the incorporation of all these truths. You see the Christian conquest writ large on the whole episode, the place, the poverty, the crime, the treachery that reduced a noble race to a squirming reservation of sheep-stealers.
You see in broad sweep the reason for it all. In this you see first the hapless culture of Gaelic Maamtrasna, busying itself from day to day with little mundane tasks within a culture that has been dead for centuries. It’s a bit like Mairtin Ua Cadhain’s Cre na Cille. They live in an encased culture that is either dead or denying. This is the first circle you describe.
Then there are two competing powers, Rome and London, the conquerors and definers of the state of Maamtrasna. Rome and its bishops and priests are purely moral or spiritual being and have no temporal responsibility whatsoever. By choice they remain unmarried, they stay celibate for life and nowhere do they contemplate the reproduction of their kind or the maintenance of their own or any one else’s family. They are , in a word, governors with maximum spin.
The government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ,however, is a secular body which treats people as citizens and whose laws are applicable equally across the frontiers of their territorial conquest. They are responsible and answerable to Parliament on a constant basis as to the laws they enact ,the wealth they produce and distribute, and the management of the affairs of the nation. As an intrinsic part of the temporal and accountable domain, the notion of justice aims at being as equitably applicable as is the law. In the practical management of these everyday affairs the language used is English and the government of Maamtrasna , as well as the government of London, necessarily includes the induction of moral and legal values.
The conquering morality of the outer world of Gaelic Maamtrasna, then , is made up of two competing and adversary systems of Christianity, the one subversive of the other. The one being Catholic, English-speaking and urban-international, deriving from the Pope in Rome, and being medieval in spirit and outlook, and the other being Irish/English, Protestant, English-speaking and national, and deriving from a modern Post-Reformation Parliamentary democracy, siting for all to-see at Westminster. The antagonisms that resided between Rome and London has been the right to advancement of the English and British people, their right not to be Catholic or to be otherwise organized in their own nation by anyone but their own royal succession, and least of all by a foreign Pope. And since the Papacy had used it’s favors with the Gaelic and Irish people against the English, they had to respond in kind upon the Irish people, and notwithstanding their military inferiority Rome never failed to put the Irish on the line. So messianic is the Papacy that , as with the Italians themselves when they sought to unify their country, the cry was Roma o Morte: death or Rome.
As one might imagine , since the Reformation the main Irish drive was for Catholic Emancipation -- not the revival of Gaelic culture or the conservation of a Gaelic-speaking island under the British. It had to be ‘Catholic’ emancipation, nothing less would do Rome.
These universal and messianic ambitions of the Catholic Church for Ireland, whether under Daniel O’Connell, or the Young Irelanders, or the Fenians, or Parnell were primarily that the English-speaking part of the diaspora would bring the faith to America and the English-speaking world, while, at the same time, making inroads into the re-conversion of Britain to Catholicism.
It is a sideline of Irish history, but the Holy Romans, since they had to abandon the Papal States, always used some other secular power to do its fighting, to beat down whomsoever they didn’t like, usually anyone who differed with the Popes. They used Constantine, for example, to beat the pagans, the Christians to beat up on Islam, the Austrians to beat the Germans, the Germans to beat the French, the Normans to beat the Moors and whomsoever got in the way of the spread of Christianity, they used the French to beat the Italians constantly , right up to the use of Napoleon the 111 to defeat Garibaldi, they used the Anglici and Norman-French to beat the Gaels, the British to beat the Irish, they used the Croats to beat the Yugoslavians, the Americans to beat the Russians, the Vietnamese, and every one in South Americas, they used a mixum gatherum , including Australia, to beat up Indonesia, the use their world-wide Christian and Opus Dei network,their banks and confraternities, to infiltrate and spy and document everyone who might possibly get in the way or world domination or who simply don’t wish to adore either Mr or Mrs Christ, and they use everyone to beat the Jews all the time.
Sean: But they have no use for the Irish?
Sile: They most certainly have use the Irish. With their new-found English, the Irish can beat up the poor and the ignorant of the third world, they can give off all that smarmy-charmy-catholic-ooze, while back at the Vatican shack they plan the total submission of Philippines, Brazilians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Iraqis. They call it education, but the Popes had them out beating the crap out of blacks and asians and poor conquered people already conquered by the Christian depositors of nuclear weaponry, the kind of gun that only the holy fingers of the Christian can touch. And the totally conquered Irish? The Irish are out there doing what they always did -- telling people that they (the Irish) know better what wis good for them and their families and communities, than their own Seanchaithe know. You know about the Golden Age of the Irish? What it meant ,and all that? After the great European plague -- the same that dropped Friar Clynn of Ossory , as he stood there making final entries in his diary.
Sean: What? What did the Popes do?
Sile: I’m sorry; I can’t help finding it funny. Here stood this poor Friar . He’s entering his last words. All of Kilkenny is dropping dead about him from the plague, as if it was raining cats and dogs. The place must be in bedlam. He’s about to die and he knows it, and the Statutes of Kilkenny a few years declare that no one is allowed to hurl a god-damn sliotair up or down the village green.
Sean: Feck this! You’re making a mockery of Friar Clynn’s final entries…
Seamus: Didn’t the Jesuits use the Irish-Americans to deny the rightful honour due to Garibaldi -- they who could never produce a Garibaldi.
Sile: If I was Italian I think I should hate Irish-Americans. Come to think of it, if I wasn’t Irish, I wouldn’t be here. So, what was it like to live in Gaelic Maamtrasna in the nineteenth century?
Seamus: I think it is impossible to imagine. It is by permission of these two negotiated cultures, English and Latin -- and defined by them -- that Gaelic Maamtrasna lives in a kind of a dead pool. It cannot batten on this outer culture without becoming English-speaking , and it cannot move into an urban environment by virtue of the terms of the original conquest and its contrived destiny for the Gaelic masses, and, at the same time, it cannot quite adhere to the old pagan tribal values that gave meaning to its spoken word, because the RC Church has replaced them for centuries past. Maamtrasna ,therefore, is an unimaginable Limbo; it is the lot of Gaelic Ireland in 1882.
Sile: But there was plenty of interaction of a kind?
Sean: There were the trials. So, there had to be interaction with the body of policemen, the lawyers, and the judges.
Seamus: Yes, but peculiarly, one sees this body of legal men as one set of cogs doing their necessary duties in a social setting that has nothing to do with the Gaelic culture in which the murders took place.
Sile: Well, there were the locals and the outsiders from Galway, from Dublin, from Britain.
Seamus: It’s like so many layers of knowledge and of civilization have been caked upon each other. Men acting bona fides , but yet have nothing in common with Gaelic Maamtrasna, even when they are connected with Dublin Castle or the United Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. But you don’t stop at these layers of the cake, you then see a further layer in the Roman Catholic Church and their role-playing throughout the case, and a further layer in the secular British in London coming to bear on the English-speaking Irish handling the case. Indeed, the whole distrust engendered by the Church’s interference at several levels, conspires to exploit the whole affair and converts it into something it never aspired to be. The whole focus of the case, regardless of the murders committed, become refocused on the injustice done by the British, notably, in the mistake they made in hanging Myles Joyce. This injustice , if , according to the mores of the times, it ever was an injustice,becomes the whole focus of the case, simply because it is a rod with which to beat the Parliamentary British.
It’s first presumption comes some two years after the case and claims that religion can identify the real murderers. This rehashing of the confessions of an Approver who has been the most prodigious lier throughout the case and throughout his life. It seizes upon the execution of Myles Joyce, determines, with the help and assistance of the same approver who caused his execution, to drive this matter, on foot of the new confession, right through British Parliament. The death of Myles Joyce now becomes a sacrifice -- which the Church is great at. The slaughtered family back in Maamtrasna are suitably forgotten -- if,indeed, they were at all necessary in the Church’s exploits to embarrass the English. The Church uses the Maamtrasna murders and the trial and execution of Myles Joyce as a payback for the Reformation. It isn’t that the English imperialists have done wrong in Ireland, or to the Irish, but that they have done wrong to the Church. They rejected Rome. That is their big sin. It’s the song of the whole case; and yet one can find very little that is premeditatedly wrong.
I think it is an example , par excellence, of Church manipulation and of denial of its own treachery in Ireland.
The British have a full session in Parliament about the case, but little focus remains on the Irish side of things. And here we have it. There is no Irish side of things. The Irish do not have an ‘ego’, national or otherwise. They are as they were ,when they were first conquered by Christians, a horde of people , unable to create either a set of secular values or a history for themselves. Their ego is the Church’s ego, their history is the Church’s chronology, their government is neither tribal, which they once knew, nor Norman, which was appropriated by Rome and London. Whatever sense of government they have is mediated to them by Rome and London. And their sense of justice is overborne with sentiment for what has happened and paralyzed by what is to happen: in neither event is there an ego which motivates life, but merely which promotes blame and points up failure.
The Irish have no character that is their character. The Maamtrasna murders prove it; and the trials and tribulations created by the Roman Church in its aftermath , particularly in its attitude to the secular English State demonstrate it.
Between the gearings of the Roman value system and the London legal system, upon the remnants of a defunct but existing Gaelic society, there is much to be learned.
The Maamtrasna murders arise out of circumstances which necessarily call for analysis of the cultural milieu in which the occur. It is reminiscent of cases like Kyteler (fourteenth century) and Mary Daly (1902/3) in that Kyteler and Maamtrasna occur on the occasions of an uprising or a social agitation , in any event when there is a simultaneous confrontation between the three claimants to the hearts and minds of the Irish people -- which confrontations always reveal the intentions of the respective parties. In the instant case, there is still (mirabile dictu!) the Gaelic native population , whose ancestral language , after centuries of abuse, survived to clothe the little lives of those who survived the Christian conquest. In this they had to change their inner values outwards, for those of their ancestors who spoke Gaelic were pagan and Druid- rather than priest-orientated. Such people were dead, vanquished and vanished from the earth. The natives who lived in Maamtrasna did so only in cultural memory. The had to live like trespassers on the reservations of the Christian borders from where ,whether they liked it or not, they were summoned into the meascan mearai of the outer ongoing agrarian turmoil between Catholic tenant and Protestant Landlord. This outer turmoil is the turmoil of the Christian conquistadores , the first Anglici Catholics and Protestants , the very first traitors who betrayed the Gaels and made Ireland Christian and Irish. What adds to the interest of Maamtrasna is the argument for the higher moral ground between 'the middle nation' or rather the church that manipulated this a-historical Anglici , now called 'The Irish', and the British people who had long since left the Holy Roman Church, the Reformation behind them for the secular Empire of humanism and science
Sean: Sounds as if the Gaels got the same treatment as the Molly Maguires, or rather vice versa. But not all murders have the same social import, surely?
Sile: Maybe not, but all murders have unique features. And even if the Invincibles sound like something authored by Baader Meinhof a century later, any analysis of the facts and the circumstances will reveal their unmistakable Irish identity. Murders are like a fingerprint, some socially telling, others insignificant, but all unmistakably cultural.
Seamus: Maamtrasna has an intriguing continuity in Irish history. Indeed, if understood in a proper context, it points unmistakably, I believe, to some of the most unique features of Irish life . Not only that, but these features also strike one with an extraordinariness that forces us to push back the boundaries of our simplicities in explaining murder.
Sean: What kind of features?
Sile: Yes. What features do you have in mind?
Seamus: Would you not accept that you can only appreciate the features of a culture after you have become familiar with all the facts of a case. In other words, is it not futile to talk of characters or situations or structures (social or criminal) without first reciting the story, concerning the facts of which, might I say, all commentators are in agreement?
Sean: Of course. Why, then, was the crime committed?
Sile: I suppose that’s the fascination with Maamtrasna :why the crime was committed in the first place. And this , in turn, is connected with who did the murders.
Seamus: But you are satisfied who did the murders, and why they were done?
Sean: Can I ask you, did the Priests contribute to your understanding of the murders? Or , more importantly, did the debate in the Westminster Parliament have anything to do with identifying the guilty party.
Sile: No. But the role of the Roman Clergy in Ireland, as well as the part played by the nineteenth century UK-Parliament, is most revealing.
Sean: How do you mean?
Sile: Well, isn’t that what the murders are about? The conquering duo of Rome and London, begun fado fado, but now brought down to the nineteenth century. They do their best to disguise their ancient hatreds and their contemporary struggle for the hearts and minds ; but their enduring hatreds are all there. You asked what was fascinating about the case: that’s what’s fascinating about it: in their Christiaity they confirm their joint conquest over Gaelic Ireland and, at the same time, exhibit both the benefits and jealousies of their post-Reformation rivalries and antagonisms
Sean: Surely you can mention one feature, which is unique to this murder without having to recite all the details?
Seamus: Most of those involved spoke Gaelic. Of itself, isn’t that unique?
Sile: It’s so Irish! Sorry, Gaelic!
Sean: What is?
Sile: That someone back in 1882 , under the bad rule of the British, should only be speaking the First Official language of the Republic, when a hundred years later, with a hundred years of Irish freedom, no one can speak a blessed word of decent Gaelic, least of all at our so-called third level institutions. Anyway, what’s the story about?
Seamus: Why don’t you read it and see?
Sile: Why don't you finish it -- and I will.