Sunday, 27 July 2014



In 2016, there will be extensive commemoration of the centenary of the Rising in Dublin in 1916.

No comparable commemoration is planned for an earlier centenary, that of 18 September 2014, the 100th anniversary of the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland. 

The events of Easter 1916 inaugurated an armed struggle, with many casualties, which continued until 1923.

In contrast, the enactment of Home Rule was achieved by peaceful parliamentary means, without any casualties.

As it is today, Ireland in 1914 was a divided society, with a majority (mainly of one religious tradition) favouring a large measure of independence, and a strong minority (mainly of another religious tradition) opposing this, and favouring integration in the United Kingdom.

Commemorations should be an opportunity to learn from history, not merely to celebrate one protagonist or another.


Home Rule may have been achieved by exclusively peaceful and constitutional methods, but that does not suggest that those who obtained it, the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond and John Dillon, were mild mannered and non confrontational.

Two previous attempts to obtain Home Rule had failed, one because it was defeated in the House of Commons and another because it was vetoed in the House of Lords. 

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, the Irish Parliamentary leaders had to get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously to get the British constitution changed  to remove the House of Lords power of veto. 

There was a permanent majority against Home Rule in the House of Lords, and the veto could only be removed with the consent of the House of Lords itself. Furthermore, in the House of Commons, the Liberal party, which had been committed to Home Rule under Gladstone, had moved away from that policy under Lord Rosebery and Herbert Asquith. The Liberal Party had first to be won back to a firm commitment to pass Home Rule.

In a masterly exercise of parliamentary leverage and constructive opportunism, Redmond and Dillon achieved both goals, in a very short space of time. 

They withheld support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule. They also, in effect exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their veto, under the threat of the King swamping the House of Lords with a flood of new Lords.

All this was achieved from the position of being a minority party in the House, albeit a party whose votes were needed to avoid a General Election which the Liberal Government feared they would lose. 

Considerable brinksmanship was needed, because, if the Liberals lost the election, the cause of Home Rule would also be lost. Redmond and Dillon did not have all the trump cards. They just played the cards they had very well indeed.

If commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations, this remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage, to achieve radical reform against entrenched resistance, has much greater relevance, to today’s generation of democrats, than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.

The subsequent turning away, after 1916, from constitutional methods has obscured the scale of this parliamentary achievement. There may have been a fear that too much praise of the prior constitutional achievement would  delegitimate the subsequent  blood sacrifice


I hope the commemorations in Ireland in the period 1914 to 1923 will allow us to honestly address the following  related questions......

+ Does the use of violence help resolve the problems of a divided society?
+ Were the Ulster Unionists right to threaten violence to resist Home Rule? 
+ And were the men and women of 1916 right to actually use violence to achieve their goal of a 32 county Republic? 

On 1 July this year I took part in a panel discussion with a number of historians, in the Irish Embassy in London, on the topic of the enactment on the Irish Home Rule Bill into law on 18 September 1914. 

The panel discussion was broadcast on the UK Parliament channel.

When the Home Rule Bill received the royal assent on 18 September 1914, it was the first time that a Bill granting Ireland Home rule had ever passed into law. The struggle to achieve such an outcome had gone on since the 1830’s. Neither Butt nor Parnell achieved what Redmond and Dillon achieved.

The Woodenbridge speech of John Redmond on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to join the Allied cause in the Great War that had broken out six weeks previously, must be seen in the context that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously.
Home Rule was law, but the implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

Redmond’s address to the Volunteers at Woodenbridge was not a naive gesture, but reciprocation of the passage of Home Rule. He wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule had inaugurated a new and better relationship between Ireland and its neighbouring island.

Redmond wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that things had changed. Irish men fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond and the Irish Party’s opposition to that war, so those many of those who volunteered to fight in what turned out to be the Great War, would probably have  done so anyway.

Redmond’s Woodenbridge speech was also designed to show  to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”.

If, Home Rule having been conceded, Redmond had instead still opposed recruitment, he would have handed arguments, to those who had opposed Home Rule all along, to the effect that a Dublin Government could not be trusted.

The Woodenbridge speech also stood on its own merits. The unprovoked invasion by Germany of a small neutral country, Belgium,  in order better to be able to attack France, was something that many people at the time, and since, regarded as profoundly wrong and deserving to be opposed.
The case I made in this debate in the Irish Embassy was that Ireland could have achieved better results, for all the people of the island, if it had continued to follow the successful non violent parliamentary Home Rule path, and had not embarked on the path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in Easter Week of 1916.


The use of physical force by the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in 1916 was not without context.
 In their resistance to Home Rule in the 1911 to 1914 period, Ulster Unionists, with the connivance of the Conservative Party, had armed themselves, and  threatened  to use force to resist  Home Rule from Dublin. Parts of the officer corps of the British Army, and in particular General Sir Henry Wilson, cooperated surreptitiously on the Home Rule issue with the Conservative opposition, against the duly elected Government, something that goes against all democratic and constitutional norms.

But bad example by ones opponents does not make a bad decision a good one. 
Furthermore, when the decision was made to go ahead with the armed rebellion, Home Rule was already law. It’s implementation was postponed for the duration of the war, but there was no doubt but that it would come into effect once the war was over, either for the whole of Ireland, or, more likely, for 26 or 28 counties.

The irreversibility of Home Rule is well illustrated by a comment that had been made by one of its staunchest opponents, the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law.  He had admitted
 “If Ulster, or rather any county, had the right to remain outside the Irish Parliament, for my part my objection would be met”.

Another important context in which the decision of the 1916 leaders must be judged is the Great War, in which thousands of Irish soldiers were fighting on the Allied side when the GPO was occupied by force. The 1916 leaders took the opposite side.

In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their “gallant allies in Europe”. These allies were the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Empire.  Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish Republicans went to war ,  included the French Republic, whose territory had been premptively invaded, and occupied by force, by Germany. The1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany , Turkey and Austria and said so in their own Proclamation.

I argued, in the panel discussion in the Irish Embassy, that, in all these circumstances, this decision by the IRB and the Citizen army to use violence in 1916 was a bad decision.

I said it would have been wiser to have had patience, and adhered to the Home Rule policy, and to constitutional methods.


I started by conceding that I did not believe that the Home Rule policy would have led to a United Ireland. 

The opposition to being under a Dublin Home Rule Parliament was so strong among Unionists in Ulster that, no matter how hard the Home Rulers might have tried to persuade them, at least four Ulster counties would have stayed out of the Dublin Parliament. The leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond, told the House of Commons that
 “no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government”. 

This was a sensible policy.

Attempts to coerce Northern Ireland into a United Ireland, whether by the attempted incursions across the border in 1922, by the propaganda campaign in the late 1940s, or by IRA killing campaigns in the 1950’s and from 1969 to 1998, have all failed miserably, because they were based on a faulty analysis of reality. 

John Redmond’s policy was one of attempting to persuade Unionist to accept a United Ireland, and his support for recruitment to the British army in 1914 was part of a (probably naive) attempt to persuade Unionists that they would not be sacrificing all their loyalties by taking part in Home Rule.
But, under the Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster. 

There would have been no Stormont Parliament, no “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, no B Specials, no gerrymandering of local government. Stormont was not part of the Home Rule arrangement and it  came about because of the threat posed by the nationalist violence of the  1919 to 1921 period, and because the  abstention of Sinn Fein from the Irish Convention, and of its MPs from parliament after the 1918 election created an opening for it. 

Under Home Rule, there would have been continued, but reduced, Irish representation at Westminster, so any attempts to discriminate against the minority in the excluded area of Ulster would have been  preventable in a way that they were not prevented  Stormont was left to its own devices after 1921. 

The constitutional Home Rule policy would thus have been much better for Northern Nationalists that the policy of violent separatism was to prove to be. Northern Nationalists probably sensed this, for , while the rest of Ireland was plumping for Sinn Fein in the election of December  1918, the electors of West Belfast chose  Joe Devlin of the Irish Party to represent them in preference to Eamon de Valera of  Sinn Fein.  


The Home Rule path would also have been better because it would have saved many lives throughout Ireland. People who died between 1916 and 1923 would have survived and would instead have contributed to Irish life, rather than to Irish martyrology. 

All things being equal, in my opinion, living for Ireland is better than dying (or killing) for Ireland.

I would emphasise that the waste of these lost lives need to be weighed, and weighed heavily, in the balance against any supposed advantages secured by the use of force.  

Consider the dead for a moment. 

256 Irish civilians died during the 1916 rebellion, some at the hands of the rebels and many as a result of British artillery designed to expel the rebels from the positions they had occupied. 

These civilians did not have any say in the IRB/Citizen Army action and  would all have lived if that action had not take place. We know of the rebels who died, and their deaths have been commemorated repeatedly by the Irish State. Each year the Irish army has a Mass to pray for the souls of those who “died for Ireland “ in 1916.  It is unclear to me whether this formula includes the civilians who did not decide to put their lives at risk “for Ireland”, but who were killed anyway because they were in the wrong place.
153 soldiers in UK Army uniforms were killed. Of these, 52 of the dead were Irish.

These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a Parliament, which had already granted Home Rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MP’s.  Did these men “ die for Ireland”? I would contend that they did. But their sacrifice is not commemorated, nor are their souls prayed for, in official remembrances by the Irish state. 

Consider also the dead of the War of 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the civil war of 1922 to 1923.
 1200 were killed in the war of 1919 to 1921. Many of these were civilians who had not chosen the path of war. Others were policemen, who had chosen that vocation as a service to their people, and not to become participants in a war. Yet others were supposed or actual informers on behalf of either side.

If, in response to the appeal of the “blood sacrifice” of the 1916 leaders, the Home Rule party had not been rejected by the electorate in the General Election of 1918 in favour of a policy of abstention and separatism, Home Rule would have come into effect, and all those people would have lived.

Many families of minority religions were made to feel unwelcome in Ireland as a result of the violence, and some left.  Southern Ireland became a less diverse society as a result of the policy of violence initiated by IRB and the Citizen Army at Easter of 1916.

Around 4000 Irish people were killed in the Civil War. Like those who were killed in the 1916 to 1921 period, many of these were amongst the brightest talents of their generation.  Ireland would have been a better place if the policy of violence had not caused their deaths.
Violence breeds violence. Sacrifice breeds intransigence. The dead exert an unhealthy power over the living, persuading the living to hold out for the impossible, so that the sacrifice of the dead is not perceived to have been in vain.

In that sense, the policy of violence, initiated in April 1916, led  to the Civil War of 1922/3.  The  earlier deaths of those who occupied the  General Post Office in 1916, seeking to achieve a 32 county Republic, made it harder for those, who occupied the Four courts in 1922, to accept anything less than a 32 County Republic.

Betrayal of the sacrifices of the dead is one of the most emotionally powerful, and destructive, accusations within the canon of romantic nationalism. It exercised its baleful influence in recent times in delaying the abandonment by the IRA of its failed and futile campaign to coerce and bomb Unionists into a United Ireland.  


I believe Ireland would have reached the position it is in today, an independent nation of 26 or 28 counties, if it had stuck with the Home Rule policy and if the 1916 rebellion had not taken place.
Like all counter factual historical arguments, this proposition is impossible to prove.

But, once the Ulster question had been resolved by some form of exclusion, the path towards greater independence was open. The policy of the Irish Party in the 1918 Election was Dominion Status and I believe they would have achieved that. Perhaps they would not have achieved  it by 1921, as was achieved in the Treaty of that year, but it would probably have been achieved by the end of the 1920’s, probably from a Labour Government whose policy already envisaged dominion status for Ireland.

Once Ireland had its own legislature in Dublin , it would have been able to avail of the progressive loosening of ties within the Empire, in the same way as the Irish Free State was able to do so, for example through the Statute o Westminster of 1931. 

Some might argue that security and defence considerations would have made this unlikely. I doubt that.

If a Conservative dominated Government was willing, in 1938, to hand over the Treaty ports to Eamonn de Valera who, 22 years previously had been an enemy of Britain and declared ally of Germany, it would surely have been willing to place as much trust in a Home Rule Government in Dublin, whose political antecedents had stood with Britain in its moment of greatest threat in 1914.
To say that a decision was a mistake is not to deny the heroism or sincerity of those who made the mistake. Hindsight enables one to see possibilities that were not visible at the time.  But the reality is that, in 1916, Home Rule was on the statute book and was not about to be reversed.

The “Irish Independent”, usually a severe critic of the Irish Parliamentary Party, was unfair when it described the rebellion at the time as “criminal madness”, but if the 1916 leaders had more patience, a lot of destruction could have been avoided, on the road to the same destination, at which we eventually arrived anyway.

Thursday, 3 July 2014



In June 2011, the European Commission published detailed “country specific” recommendations for structural reforms by member states to help them boost economic growth.  Similar recommendations were made in 2012, and they were stated to be designed to be implemented “within 12 to 18 months”.

The recommendations covered three areas

1.Fiscal policies,
2.Reforms to reduce imbalances between  exports and imports (macro economic imbalances) and
3.Other growth friendly reforms in labour markets, product markets etc

These recommendations were subsequently examined, and endorsed, by the 27 Heads of Government of the EU

The services of the European Parliament have just released a detailed analysis of how well European leaders and their governments have done in implementing their own recommendations . The analysis does not cover countries that were under Economic Adjustment programmes in the period (ie. Ireland, Portugal and Greece).

The findings show that EU leaders are not taking their own declarations seriously.

Of the 2011 and 2012 recommendations, only 18% have been fully implemented, 39% are being “seriously worked on”, and a very large proportion.... 43% have not been acted upon at all!

The worst performers are Slovenia and Belgium where 64%, and 63%, respectively of the recommendations have been ignored.

The best performer , by this measure ,is Italy, where only 17% of the recommendations addressed to it have not been acted upon. 

In terms of getting the job done completely, the best performer is Denmark which has fully implemented 30% of the recommendations addressed to it, as against an average of 18% for the rest of the EU countries surveyed.

Germany, which regularly preaches structural reform to other countries in the EU, has a bad record in implementing the recommendations addressed to it, and which Chancellor Merkel would have endorsed at the 2011 and 2012 EU Summits.

Nothing has been done so far on 53% of the recommendations addressed to Germany in 2011 and 2012.

For example, the survey by the secretariat of the European Parliament shows that, Germany has failed to do anything on recommendations addressed to it on

  1. Ensuring that the Lander implement EU budget rules
  2. Improving the cost effectiveness of long term care restructuring the Landesbanken
  3. Removing tax wedges that discourage work
  4. Removing entry barriers to professions and crafts (surprising given Germany’s looming labour shortage)
  5. Stimulating competition in the service sector
  6. Promoting cross border energy supply networks( a vital issue now that Russian supplies are so unreliable)

These failures must prompt fairly profound questions.

Are the Commission recommendations the right ones, and if not, why did the Heads of Government endorse them?

If the Heads of Government believe these are the right recommendations, why are they failing so miserably to get their own Ministers (who they can hire and fire) to implement them?

Given that economic growth is so important, and that Europe’s best brains have  been applied to producing these recommendations, huge gaps like this, between what its leaders do, and what they say, brings them, and EU itself, into disrepute. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

IRELAND AND EUROPE....1814, 1914, AND 2014


A commemoration can enable a society, a country, or a school  to reaffirm its separate identity. That can be good, but it can also be bad, if it makes others feel excluded or undervalued. 

The best commemorations are the ones which help us to learn what the past was really like, not just for our own ancestors, but for others, who may have had a different life experience from them, or may even have been their enemies or opponents.

Learning about others, and their life experiences, over the distance of time and geography, is a fundamental part of commemoration, and of education.

All commemoration, like all historical study, should be revisionist...even revising the revisionists themselves!

This year, 2014, is a particularly important year for commemorations.....  1914 saw the start of the Great War at the beginning of August, and the first ever passage in to law, a month later, of an Irish Home Rule Bill.

1814 was also a notable year. France was defeated by the Allies, and Napoleon had to abdicate. The Apprentice Boys were founded in Derry, there was a major fraud in the London Stock Exchange, and the Great Beer flood took place in London, when hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer escaped from a vat and drowned two people....and this old school ,Clongowes, was founded.

In some respects, 1814 and 1914 each initiated a new European order.

The Allied victory in 1814, confirmed a year later at Waterloo, brought into being, at the Congress of Vienna, a conservative inter state system, based on consultations and maintenance of a balance of power. The Revolutionary era, in which France sought to remake Europe by force, was thus ended.   Europe settled into a period of relative peace, and of small,  fairly contained, wars......and era that lasted exactly 100 years, until 1914.
The new European order initiated in July/August 1914 was very different.

A complex set of two rival alliances, designed in the early twentieth century to give participant nations security, became instead a source of massive insecurity.

The rival alliance systems of the summer of 1914 eventually drew all the major nations of Europe (except Spain) into war against one another, all over a quarrel between Austro Hungary and Serbia, in which the rest of Europe had virtually no interest. 

It was a bit like the financial crash of 2008, when complex financial instruments, designed to increase security by spreading risk, actually dragged everybody down. The risk was spread too widely, as were the alliances, and the fragility of the whole inter dependent system was exposed.

The 1914 era lasted 76 years. The Great War that started in 1914 was the source of two other wars, the Second World War, and the Cold War, wars which only unwound finally in 1990.

1814 in Ireland was  the last year of a long war, dating from 1790, in which this country had been intimately involved. A rebellion in 1798, the Act of Union, an undelivered promise of Catholic Emancipation were all outgrowths of that conflict, as was the participation of Irish soldiers in Wellingtons victory at Waterloo the following year. 40% of his “British” army were Irish.

Ireland’s economy had boomed during the war, as it did during the First World War. 

But , once the war ended, the demand for Irish exports of  woollen and cotton goods  fell, as new competitors were able to enter its markets. Bank failures were endemic in those years. Agricultural prices collapsed, and evictions were made easier by a law passed in 1816. The average rent  was £4 per acre, so the annual rent of 15 acres of land would cover the 50 guinea fee to send a boy to Clongowes for a year.  Tithes to the Established church, and other property taxes on tenant farmers, were a heavy burden.

Two years after the first boy entered Clongowes, in  1816-17, there was famine across Europe - a year without a summer- because of the environmental consequences of a major volcanic eruption in Indonesia, which caused an ash cloud across the northern hemisphere. 

Clongowes students, entering the school in 1814, would have aspired to careers in the professions - especially law, which was now open to Catholics. At this time, however, all the senior judicial posts and senior posts in the public service were filled on the basis of political preferment. Catholics could not become a Senior Counsel, or an MP, until 1829. To found the school, the Jesuits were supposed to get a licence from the Protestant Bishop.  They did not apply, but went ahead any way...natural risk takers.

Illiteracy was still very high in Ireland then, though many poor people paid small sums for their children to learn to read and write in “pay” schools - otherwise known as hedge schools.

Education was a denominational battleground, with bible societies opening free schools for the poor in the hopes of conversion; the Kildare Place Society was committed, at least in principle, to non-denominational schooling but this was breaking down, and Daniel O'Connell resigned from their boards, some years later.

So education, at the time of the founding of Clongowes, would have been a priority for the Catholic Church - and especially the creation of an educational infrastructure for those Catholics, who might previously have attended Irish colleges on the continent, as Daniel O Connell himself did. O Connell was able to send his five sons to Clongowes (despite his enormous and chronic debts!) 

Religious practice was high in Dublin and Leinster, with high mass attendance, had a reasonable infrastructure of churches and clergy, although the churches were probably too small to accommodate everybody on Sunday.

In contrast, in the west of Ireland, where the population density was higher, the church infrastructure, and educational provision, was much less. Illiteracy was still over 80% in Mayo in 1841, whereas it was under 40% in Kildare, which was better than the European average.

But it is important to stress that the motive of the Jesuit Fathers coming here 200 years ago was not primarily educational, political or economic.
 Educational, political and economic uplift for Catholics in Ireland may have been secondary goals, goals to which this school contributed enormously, but the primary goal was religious...eternal not temporal....Aeterna non bring the faith to a young generation of people who, through their example, would bring it to others.

The goals of Jesuit education were clear then, as they are assure each person that he or she is known and loved by God, ought to respond to that,  ought to come to know and understand himself or herself, and  ought to make life’s decisions from the perspective of others, particularly of the poor. 

Jesuit education was, and is, about passing on a faith that does justice in the concrete circumstances of each generation, a faith that helps young people to become men and women for others.

That was true in 1814, was true in 1914, and is true, and even more relevant, today.

The Jesuits who came here had been educated in Sicily and other European countries, and brought a continental, even  a global, perspective the education of Irish Catholics. That was true of schools, founded later by other orders, like Castleknock and Blackrock.

The wider global perspective of Jesuit education remains true today, and explains why so many Irish graduates of this, and other Jesuit schools, have contributed so much to global affairs. Freddie Boland, Paddy McGilligan, Garret FitzGerald and Peter Sutherland spring to mind.

Of course, it was not all plain sailing for Clongowes. 

When the Intermediate Certificate was introduced in 1878, it was to be the basis for state payments to schools on the strength of results in the exam. 
When the first results were published in 1879, the upstart Blackrock College got the best results in the country, followed by Tullabeg (subsequently amalgamated with Clongowes), Castleknock, the Royal College in Belfast, and Foyle College in Derry. Clongowes got an unwelcome wake up cal!

Moving forward from 1814 to 1914, we find a very different Ireland, in a very different world. Europe in 1914 was a vastly richer place. 
In the previous forty years, thanks to dramatic improvements in transport and communications, globalisation, as we would now describe it, had taken place. 

People’s fate in 1914 was dependent on decisions of people thousands of miles away, in ways that could not even have been imagined 100 years previously.
Ireland was the venue of two armed camps, the Irish Volunteers determined to achieve Home Rule, and the Ulster Volunteers determined to defy their own elected Imperial Parliament to prevent it, at least as far as the six north eastern counties were concerned.

John Redmond, who spoke here so eloquently on Union Day on the first of June 1914, was, at the time he was here, engaged in tense and very difficult negotiations to bring the Irish Volunteers under the democratic control of the elected representatives of the Irish people, and avoid an accidental sectarian civil war. He proposed to do so by nominating William Redmond MP(O.C 1873-1876), Joe Devlin MP, and Dr Michael Davitt to a new governing board of the Irish Volunteers. He succeeded in this goal two weeks later.

He was simultaneously negotiating on how Home Rule might be modified to accommodate northern Unionists. 
He succeeded, three and a half months after he spoke here, in having Home Rule passed into law, the only Irish leader to achieve that.....and without a shot having been fired.

He did not achieve a United Ireland, and he was unwilling to use coercion to that end, but those who came after him, using more destructive and coercive methods, have not achieved that goal either. But that is an argument for another time and place.

The international perspective his education here had given him may explain how Redmond saw the issues that were at stake in the First World War. He rejected the notion that the Irish people remain neutral, or try to exploit the position in which the War placed Britain, and its Allies, France and Belgium, which had been invaded. The invasion was accompanied by well documented atrocities. Redmond’s call for Irish people to volunteer in the Allied side was answered by 604 men who had attended this school, 94 of whom were killed.

As we gather here in 2014, we face a world very different to that of 1914. 
This part of Ireland is an independent sovereign nation, with an historically high standard of living. I was surprised to read recently that, despite austerity and high personal and Government debt, and despite the fact that we may not feel better off, consumer spending per head in this state was 40% higher last year than it was in 1997.
But we face a troubled world.

At a conference a week ago, I heard a former Czech Foreign Minister say that, following the forceful annexation of Crimea by Russia, Europe’s long era of peace was over. A European order based on the rule of international law was, he felt, in the process of being replaced by one dominated by spheres of influence by stronger over weaker states, not unlike the world before 1914.  But, if that is the way things go, we all will learn that power politics will be a wasteful, unreliable and dangerous way to organise a world, that is now far more interdependent than in any other historic era.

It was a pure accident, a volcano on the other side of the globe, that created the climatic conditions that caused the famine conditions in Europe two years after Clongowes was founded, in 1816/17. There was no warning, and no human action could have prevented it. 
But if Carbon emissions lead to a dramatic rise in sea levels, and in global temperatures, there will have been a warning, and it will not be will not be an unavoidable accident.

And those who will suffer most will not be those who caused the problem, but the poorest people in the world, scraping out a living in the drought prone areas of the world. That is an issue of global justice.

A distorted version of religion, a lack of a better goal in life, and a sense that religious expression is disrespected in some western countries, is leading some young European Muslims to involve themselves in sectarian civil wars in the Middle East. That also presents a different, but real threat to the trusting constitutional order we have become used to in most western countries. And the response to the threat could be as dangerous as the threat itself. 

So, rather than simply retreating into a private world of getting and spending,  I hope that it is to issues like these that today’s and tomorrow’s privileged beneficiaries of a Jesuit inspired education will turn their minds.

  • Constructing and defending a structure of peace in Europe,
  • passing on an undamaged physical environment to the next generation, 
  • reconciling faith and reason, and
  • reconciling a good preparation for the next life with tolerance  compassion and justice for others in this one, these are the challenges I see for the generation of 2014.

They are challenges that are every bit as difficult as those that faced the boys that came here in 1814, and in all the subsequent 200 years of the school.
Will Clongowes, as a Jesuit inspired Catholic school, be here in 2114? 

The buildings will, some of them, still be here for sure, but what else will still be here, of the things we value and celebrate today?
Of course that depends on economic conditions, government rules and so on. Parents will always be willing to pay for the best education they can afford for their children. That’s human nature.  Even Communism in China has not eradicated that! Nor did the secular French Revolution. But that’s not really the point.

The existence of this school, as a Catholic school, inspired by Jesuit values, will depend very much on two things

One,on vocations to the Jesuit order, and/or on the willing commitment of lay people of their lives to the values and beliefs that inspire the Order and

Two, on whether the school can  visibly and effectively contribute to  creating and maintaining in Ireland an atmosphere that reconciles faith and reason, that does not assume them to be in antipathy to one another,  and  an atmosphere that reconciles preparation for the next life, with tolerance, generosity towards, and respect for  others in this life.

Before concluding this address, I would like to acknowledge the value to me, in preparing this speech this morning, of discussions I had earlier in the week, with Professor Mary Daly of UCD, Professor Terry Dooley of NUI Maynooth, and Dr Ciaran O Neill of Trinity College, whose excellent book “Catholics of Consequence” was published by Oxford University Press last week.

I would also like to acknowledge the person who inspired my interest in history , the late Fr Woods SJ. I would also like to remember my Third Line Prefect, Fr Joe Dargan SJ, who sadly died in the last week or so.


An address delivered by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and current President of the Clongowes Union, at the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of Clongowes Wood College, the longest surviving Catholic School in Ireland, by the Jesuit Fathers on 18 May 1814