CHAPTER THREE . CLOUNTREEM.
Father Ricard Meagher was in bed. Beside him his boyfriend Benedict Thompson mumbled, ”Why did you become a priest?”
The porky 48 year old priest sat up and thought for a moment as he stroked the 25 year old athelete’s hair. The plump priest had tight pale red curls and a very round face. His skin had light brown freckles and his large mandibles were naturally smiley.
”Good question Benedict” said the chubby priest ”It was a mother’s vocation to some extent. You know growing up on a farm in Leitrim was not ideal for a bookish and dreamy boy like me. I was at the national school – three years ahead of myself. I wanted to go on to the secondary school. My father could not afford a bicycle and I could not walk 10 miles there and back to school every day. Thank goodness I got a scholarship to the diocesan college. I was never attracted to girls so that was no barrier. They say God calls you. Well I wanted an education. That was the only way to get it. So I was an altar boy and attentive to the parish priest. I got to the diocesan college and then to Maynooth. Then there was a year in Rome – splendid year. Then it was back to Maynooth to be a scholar priest. ” Fr Meagher spoke in a melodious camp timbre.
”So only for a career – not for God” said the young man sitting up. Benedict Thompson had chestnut hair and was broad shouldered. He was very muscular and 5’8”. He was very masculine and almost ugly in his unsophisticated looks. Benedict’s thighs were like tree trunks and he was hairy.
”Benedict” said Fr Meagher ”I believe in God at the time. It was only after I was ordained I lost my faith.”
”But God exists – everyone knows that. How can you not believe in God.?”
”Reason – a relentless process of logic. I also read the Golden Bough. The really amazing thing about the Vatican is I had access to every book on the Index of Prohibited Books. I read them all. My canon!”, he laughed camply.
”Well you should not be a priest if you do not believe. There you are preaching at mass”
”There are certain things we have to say in life. The noble lie such as I really liked the Christmas present. There are certain things we must never say – such as I love a man.”
”But is this love – can this really be love?”
”Yes of course it can. It is from my side” said Meagher looking hurt
”When I was a schoolboy there were some other boys I fancied. I did not do much. But I have danced with girls and kissed girls. What we are doing. It is sodomy. Isn’t it wrong?”
”No it is not. Just because society say it is a bad thing does not mean that it really is a bad thing. It has always existed even in Ancient Egypt”
”My father says that sodomy was invented by the English. They brought it to Ireland. Their soldiers raped Irish boys to turn them against nature.”
”nonsense. I am not saying that no English soldier ever did that. I never heard of a case though” he said in his Irish Midlands accent.
”How did you come to be down here in the countryside if you hate it so much?”
”It was going very well at Maynooth – lecturing in Philosophy. I was in the frame to be a professor. There was this beautiful seminarian – aged 21. A bit younger than what I normally go for. He and I had a fling. Turned out a bishop had the hots for him too. The bishop found out and became jealous. Now I am exiled to the countryside. Anyway I make the best of it. Until you came along it was like the dark side of the moon. There were occasional escapades when I went to Cork or Limerick. I know where to meet men of my bent. Certain parks of public conveniences. You would never guess what sort of men you meet there. The most normal seeming men. Married men with children. Not just sailors. Sometimes I met policemen there who were seeking a bit of diversion. But sometimes the police raid these places. But I was terrified of arrest. I actually got arrested twice. I managed to talk my way out of it – I persuaded them I was a priest. I had them fetched priests who are friends of mine who vouched for me that I really am a priest. Once they knew I was a priest I was released. The RIC wuld never charge a priest with gross indecency. It is not the RIC I am afraid of so much. It is if the bishop gets word of it. He might send mr tyo Equatorial Africa. I applied to go to lands with Napoleonic law like France or Italy”
”Napoleonic Law what is that?”
”You know the Code Napoleon. He set up a new system o f law. The crucial thing is he aboloshed the law against sodomy. Maybe because his brother Louise was a Ganymede.”
”So in France manly love is legal.”
”It is and in Italy. But then you came along and I wanted to stay here. There were a few men in the parish I sensed might be of my persuasion. But I dare not approach them in case I was wrong. Then in confession you told me of your urges and well – here we are!”
”Were you not afraid of disease when you met all those men in public conveniences and parks ? I mean syphilis?”
”No, I was not. There is something I have only done with you and one other man I loved. As for the other thing – I am not too worried by a skin irritation. So I want to be here with you. And if you desert me then move to France.”
”Oh well could be fun.”
”Why are you stepping out with Assumpta Mullins?”
”Well she is a nice girl – decent family. Pleasant – fair of face.”
”Oh you are not going to marry her are you?”
”I might do”
”Oh please don’t leave me?”
”Why would I need to do that even if I do get married?”
”Well good point. You vow to swear off other women when you wed – not to swear off men.”
”But she might be suspicious. When I am going back to my parents well sometimes I saw 3 miles is too far to walk home from work so I spend the night with you”
”Yes, how charitable of me to let a young man stay over. I shelter the sojoruner. Corporal works of mercy and all that!”
”She might grow a bit suspicious of me sharing a room with you and even a bed.”
”Only in Ireland is this not seen as evidence that one is homosexial”
”What is homosexual? Would you tell me what is that?”
”That is a new word a German doctor invented. No more sodomite and catimite. These are opprobrious”
”Homosexual” he said quizzically.
The priest answered patiently ”It is from the Greek. Homo is same and sexual – well you know. It is a man who feels romantic love for other men. It could apply to a woman who feels romantic love for women.’
”What? I know there are men like us. But no women love women in a romantic way.”
”I can tell you that they do.”
”I never heard of that before.”
”You would not believe how often I have heard it in the confession box. Not just teenage girls who are unsure of themselves. It is called Sapphism. They usually grow out of it. More than a few nuns feel this way – they do not understand what they are feeling. They unburden themselves to me. Then there are married women who feel love for other women. They often feel wracked by guilt. They are disgusted with themselves – in dismay.”
”What do you tell them?”
”That it is perfectly natural. That they may do as they please. God created them this way.”
”How can you talk of God when you have lost your faith?”
”It is what I am paid to do. I am this far in I cannot retreat. I have to pretend to believe. Many people do such things. I know it is self serving. But I also do good by stealth. I tell others not to be filled with self loathing. When I am conducting a child’s funeral saying we are in sure and certain hope of resurrection I am not about to then say actually it is all bollocks and your child is dead as a door nail and not going to heaven. What good would that do? Only cause more grief. God is whatever we imagine him to be – him or her. We had goddesses in Ireland once. So let’s imagine him as benign and not judgemental.”
”Why do you not believe? Did the English make you atheist? It is that Englishman Darwin turned you atheist.”
”I do believe in Darwin’s findings. Any rational man does. Evolution can be compatible with faith. As it happens I do not believe in the super natural. It is all bunkum I am afraid. They whole thing is a hoax. But we are conditioned to believe it. Indoctrinated.If I was surrounded by Buddhism all my childhood I would believe in that. Hundreds of religions have existed – some are not forgotten. We are told all but one faith are false. We happen to be fortunate enough to have been brought up in the one true faith. What are the chances of that? Just fancy that? Mohammedans believe the same. It is arrant nonsense. But a lot of clever men believe it. It also suits them in their career. They believe for psychological treasons. Confirmation bias. Constantly reinforcing belief and suppressing doubt. We discourage questioning. We are not as bad as extreme Protestants. The published hose books the fundamentals. wE CAN believe in evolution because we do not believe in the verbal inerrancy of the Bible . We do not emphasise the Bible. I sometimes thought of being a Protestant. Liberal Protestantism is the least irrational creed but it would upset my mother too much. Would the Church of Ireland take me anyway?”
”Why are you not republican?”
”Nationalism is distasteful. Home Rule might be good for us. But there is no need to split from England. The connection has not been all bad. Of every pound of trade we do 19 shillings is with the British Empire. If we have Home Rule will this lead to total separation? If we had that an Great Britain put up tariff barriers that would ruin us.”
”That Michael Collins says we will be a rich neutral agricultural country like Denmark” said Benedict.
”If we go become a republic I hope he is right. By the way republics and the Catholic Church do not get on. You need only look at France There are Catholic republics – banana republics. Look at Latin America. Is that what we want? Coups and civil wars? Cesarism populaire?” said Meagher
”What is that will you tell me?” Benedict inquired.
”This ludicrous cult of the personality. The press builds the president up into a titanic figure. They think he is larger than life. He embodies all that is best in the nation. He is the messiah. He alone represents salvation. People adulate him and vote him dictatorial powers. All very infantile. A bit like the papacy” he tittered naughtily. ”Now we must get up darling” he said ”Father Downy will be wondering what is keeping us.” said Meagher.
As they dressed Fr Meagher said to Benedict ”You have your faith. That can be a good thing – a compass. So long as you are not obsessive. I have to deal with so many people who are loonies for religion.”
The two men got up and dressed. They went down to the breakfast table in the small but well furnished dining room. A white table cloth lay over the wooden table. There were unpolished wooden floorboards. A wooden cupboard contained crockery. The bare white walls were hung with holy pictures – images of saints, the sacred heart of Jesus, the pieta, a portrait of the Pope Benedict XV and so forth
Fr William Downy was already seated at the table. He wore his black priestly clothes complete with a white dog collar. He was an athletic man of 24 – slim and not muscular. He had dark brown hair – just slightly curly. His skin was pale but not unhealthily so. He had a few dark, round, precise freckles. He was a sunny character but a man of categorial opinions.
”Good morning Father Meagher” Fr Downy said curtly – rising to greet the parish priest.
”Good morning” said Ricard Meagher shaking his hand. ”Shall we not tu toyer instead of vous voyer now?” said Fr Meagher.
”I am sorry I do not understand”, said Fr Downy knitting his brow.
”You have been here 6 months now. Can we not dispense with this Father business and I just be Ricard and you be William?” said Meagher.
”I think we should keep it father” said Fr Downy.
”All right then” Meagher looked away and sighed.
”Good morning Benedict” said Fr Downy shaking his hand.
”Good morning” said Benedict shaking his hand.
They sat down. The housekeeper came out. She was a short and obese woman in her 50s. She was sallow skinned and buck toothed. Beauty had given her a miss even in her youth.
”There is toast for ye fathers and Benedict” she said laying down a plate of it. They got to work smearing on butter and marmalade.
”Ye were very noisy last night” said Fr Downy ”What was going on”
Benedict and Fr Meagher struggled not to laugh?
”Oh nothing I think he had a bad dream” said Ricard
”Don’t worry I slept well” said Benedict ”I will have energy for the football practice later today”
”Oh good me too.” said Fr Downy ”Now we should insist that anyone who wants to play must come to mass not just on Sunday but at least once mid week too.”
”I see Father – I do not think that will go down well.”
”I don’t care but as I am on the team and chaplain that will be the rule. Remember the Gaelic Athletic Association is Irish culture which is Catholicism which is republicanism. Never let anyone tell you any different. We are all engaged in a struggle against the English, their Protestant allies, against garrison sports and against laxity in religion. There are some fellows who were slacking off their feasts of obligation. They become indifferent. They are then prey to English propaganda. A man must keep his faith” said Fr Downy who then took a bite of toast.
The housekeeper returned a minute later carrying a plate of sausages
”Gentlemen as I was coming here today I met someone. He told me that IRA was sniping at the RIC barracks last night.” said the woman.
”Any of the police killed?” Downy asked excitedly.
”No none hit” said the woman.
”Ah well better luck next time God bless their guns” said Fr Downy blessing himself.
”Now now – we will have none of that. We are all God’s children”, said Fr Meagher ,”We do not pray for people to be killed.”
”This is a war between Catholicism and Protestantism”, said Fr Downy.
”Top up?” Benedict offered the teapot. Meagher nodded silently and Benedict poured him more tea.
”No it is not. There is no war. There is conflict but no government has declared war on another. Read St Augustine on a just war. There must be a rightful authority to declare war. Even then an independent and united Ireland has never existed.” said Meagher
”There is a right authority. Dail Eireann” said Downy.
”Which did not even declare war. Those Sinn Feiners were elected to Westminster. ANyway they cheated like made in the election. They intimidated the Home Rule Party into not standing here. They stuffed the ballot boxes, they voted the dead, they had children vote, they broke up Home Rule Party meetings where they were held at all. No, it was not a fair election.” said Meagher.
”Sinn Fein did not cheat that much. Anyway this is war. The Home Rule Party is weak – they are semi English and semi Protestant. This is about IRISH Ireland against English Ireland. We must be fully and properly Irish. No English sports, no English dancing, no filthy English culture, no English alcoholism, no English Army, no English immorality. The English invented divorce. They want to break up the Irish family. They want our women to use things not to have children. That is genocide. It is like another famine All merciful God cannot forgive the English – accursed race. Perfidious Albion. Never trust the word of an Englishman.” said Downy.
”Please Father Downy you do get carried away sometimes. All the vices you mention exist amongst the English but not as much as you pretend. They exist among our people too. It really is distasteful your chauvinism – over emphasising Irishness. I am Irish and that is enough. I speak Irish with perfect correctness and you do not. That proves that we do not need the Irish language to know that we are Irish.” said Meagher
”Only when our people have been corrupted by the English and their insiduous propaganda. England is a monster. Germans had it right in the war praying – God punish England.” said Downy.
”The English are not all bad and we are not all good. We are not that different”, said Fr Meagher.
”Yes we are. Absolutely different. ” said Downy.
”Father Downy your mother’s maiden name is Perkins is it not?”
”Yes it is. She is Irish and a fervent a Catholic as anyone” said Downy defensively.
”I know she is but that is an English surname. We mostly have English ancestry or Scots or Welsh. They often have Irish ancestry.” said Meagher
”Perkins is not an English name” said Downy
”I am afraid that it is.” said Meagher.
”It is not – well how about you. Have you English blood in you?” said Downy.
”Well yes I do. My grandmother’s maiden name was Marsh. You do not get a more English name than that” said Meagher/
”Ah that explains it. You are not really Irish. That is why you have those traitor’s views. ” said Downy.
”I do not have traitor’s views. An Irishman is entitled to any view he wants. We are a free country contrary to what you may claim. By the way some unionists would say you are te traitor for being disloyal to the king – so two can play at that game of name calling” said Meagher
”You are downplaying your Irishness. You are not proud of being Irish.” said Downy.
”That is not so. I am Irish and I am not downplaying the historic fact that like most Irishmen I have some English forbears. ” said Meagher.
”An Irishman is not entitled to views. We are a Catholic people. Anti Catholic views are unacceptable. Especially in time of war!” the blood was up in Fr Downy now.
”Father Downy please calm yourself,” said Fr Meagher.
”And as for your friend – Thompson. I thought you were a good Irishman in the GAA. But your surname is English. Are you English? Did he get these opinions from you?” said Fr Downy
”Oh no I am Irish through and through. All right I might have an English ancestor centuries ago but that does not matter now. I am a Catholic and as true a republican as you are.” said Benedict feeling very gauche about the row.
Fr Downy then took a bite of food.
”Many people in Ireland have surnames that show that they have Scots and Welsh ancestors.” said Meagher.
”That does not mean they are not Irish!” said Fr Downy.
”I did not impute that it meant they were not Irish. I am merely pointing out that to be Irish means to be Welsh, Scots and English too. Same as for our neighbours – they are all a bit Irish. It is foolish to be so dogmatic – so keen to divide people and to separate ourselves from our kith and kin” said Fr Meagher. ”The Scots were an Irish tribe. We invaded Scotland. That is why they speak Irish or Gaelic as they call it.”
”The Scotch will have freedom yet!” said Fr Downy
”If by freedom you mean separation from England you are dead wrong. That is republican fantasy. There are Home Rule MPs and Sinn Feiners in Ireland. There is not a single Home Rule MP in Scotland or Wales. Hardly a parliamentary candidate. They want to be united with England. The Scots are as loyalist as it gets. No doubt about it. 100 years from now Scotland and England will still be united.” said Meagher.
The meal was concluded in silence. Fr Downy then headed out ”I am going to give extreme unction to Mrs Kennedy” he said.
As the door almost slammed Benedict said ”Is is always like this? ”
”Well we have not got on very well since he arrived. How he will last 2 years here I do not know. He is wet behind the ears from Maynooth. I would swear the bishop sent me this fellow to annoy me. Fr Downy is a man of very strident views. He is also brilliant in the GAA as you know. It helps evangelise among the youth I know. He and I could not be more different. He is not at all deferential. I am the parish priest – he is a curate. He ought to show me some respect. Odd thing is he is a scriptural literalist. Thinks the world was made in six days then the omnipotent God got tired and rested. The all powerful does not get tired. Anyway I think he would be better off as a fundamentalist Protestant sometimes. I do not tell him that obviously. He and the extreme Prods have more in common than either would care to admit.” said Meagher.
Fr Meagher was dressed in jupes and a beretta. ”Oh how I wish I were a cardinal. A cerise silk habit would be very heaven.”
They set out on the horse and cart. Fr Meagher drove himself and his paramour into town along the unmetalled road.
”Ricard”, said Benedict ”Do you not think that the Orange Order is evil?”
”Well some of them are. Some of them are members of the Ulster Protestant Association. Now the UPA as such really is a murder gang. The Orange Order as such? No. It is not something I approve of. I know it is a charity too and does some good work. Not just for its members. You know they all pay in like a friendly society. They help each other out if they are unemployed, ill or disabled. They pay for the widows and orphans. Of course since Lloyd George set up pensions, sickness insurance and unemployment insurance there is not quite such an accute need for that. The Orangemen – the criticise the Catholic Church. Some of what they say about the prelates living in luxury even I agree with. Some of what they say I disagree with but is still reasonable. SOme of it is barking mad like the pope being the whore of babylon” said Fr Meagher
”But they are all anti Catholic” said Benedict Thompson.
”They are not. They disagree with our religious dogma as we disagree with us. They do not hate us as people. I know it is a distinction lost on the most dunder headed Orangemen but they are not all bad. An Orangeman who was a doctor saved my sister’s life”, said Meagher
”That is because she paid him” said Benedict smugly.
”It was not. It was a charity hospital. He would not take a penny from her because she is poor. My cousin worked on a farm owned by an Orangeman in Fermanagh – said he was all right. Promoted my cousin foreman over some Protestants”, said Fr Meagher.
”Well I see what you mean. Actually my cousin was in the Royal Irish Rifles. He had some comrades who were Orangemen. He said it was a bit awkward for the first week but they soon got on well. His sergeant was an Orangeman and a nice fellow like” said Benedict.
”It is never so straightforward. There are bad Orangemen. I know their rhetoric is incendiary. We have our own lot of that. Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish National Foresters” said Fr Meagher
”But did the Orange Order not start out as an anti Catholic force?” Benedict asked.
”Difficult to say. There were so many organisations with Orange in the name in the 1790s it is hard to say which one became the Orange Order. Some of them were anti Catholic as the Defenders and so one were anti Protestants. It is impossible to say who started it. Does it matter? I hate hatred. All this tribal thinking. The idea of loyalty to a cause or a community – it is the enemy of free thought and fairness” said Meagher
”But you are a Home Ruler aren’t you?” Benedict sought assurance.
”I am – kind of. Most people here want Home Rule. No doubt about it. So might as well have it. How it would improve things I am not sure. No Home Ruler ever told me they would make such and such a law that would be different to what we have now. People want it because they want it. We are a small island beside an island with 10 times the population. Of course we are going to be dominated by them – not by malice but by numbers” said Meagher pensively.
”But did they not starve us in the famine?” Benedict asked.
”They fed us in the famine but not enough. I know food was leaving Irish ports too. If we had been totally independent would we have had the famine? I think we would because we mainly grow the potato. It was a natural disaster but the Union maybe exacerbated it. People say it was down to landlordism. But if we had been independent would we not have had a landlord class anyway like every other country? Like we did before the English came.? Of course we would have” said Fr Meagher
”Are we not exploited?” Benedict asked.
”We are not. The government spends more on us than it gets out. Our life expectancy is longer than in England. And if we are to be exploited why not conscript us in the war? Surely if they do not care about us and see us as cannon fodder they would conscript us when they desperately needed men for the front” said Meagher.
”How about South Africa. Weren’t republicans right to fight beside the Boers?” Benedict asked.
”Not all Boers were anti British. Some were broaded minded enough and brave enough to fight for the British. I know the Brits treat the black people badly but the Boers are even worse. It was perfectly ludicrous for republicans here to claim that the English are anti Catholic and then republicans fight for the Boer republics who deny Catholics the vote. Republicans believe in nothing but anglophobia.” said Meagher
”But this Home Rule thing. It was passed but it has not happened. Are we to have it?” said Benedict.
”Well for the three southern provinces surely. For some of Ulster. The Home Rule majority counties – Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh and so on” said Meagher
”The Unionists are trying to keep Fermangah and Tyrone despite a Home Rule majority” said Benedict.
”They will never do that” said Fr Meagher urbanely. ”Now tell me Benedict – you are a Sinn Feiner now. But you are not in the Irish Volunteers” Fr Meagher sought reassurance.
”Irish Volunteers – is Sinn Fein not the same thing? The lads are saying we are the Sinn Fein Volunteers. The IRA like. Sinn Fein, IRA, Irish Volunteers – all the same thing so far as I am concerned” said Benedict.
”Sinn Fein is a political party. Not my cup of tea but if that is your politics all right. But the Irish Volunteers or IRA as they are saying now. That is different. That is a fighting organisation. Please do not join them darling. If you are in please leave. DO not get yourself hurt for my sake. I could not live without you.” said Meagher
”But all the other fellows in the GAA club joined. Decent bunch of lads. War is like a sport.” said Benedict.
”War is no game. I have never been to war thank God. I have spoken to enough who have. You can forget about sportsmanship in war. Please for my sake leave the IRA.” said Meagher
”I cannot let the team down” said Benedict.
”But you do not believe in all that republican claptrap?” Meagher asked him.
”Well I kind of do. You make me have doubts.” said Benedict.
”If you think Home Rule would solve all our problems you are wrong. It might solve some but create others. If we had a republic that would be even more upheaval. I am not saying things are perfect. Our problem is poverty. That is not all England’s fault. People have too many children and we have no natural resources no coal, no oil, no precious metals few non precious metals. None of that can be blamed on England. The English make a very convenient scapegoat. If we are to have a republic that means fighting – a lot of it. Thousands must die maybe tens of thousands. How many buildings would be destroyed. That will deepen our poverty. How long will it take to recover?” Meagher asked rhetorically.
”But come on the English led us into a war against Germany and 50 000 Irishmen died then” said Benedict.
”I agree that was a colossal error. Nonetheless the government had the right to do it. Belgium had been invaded but was hypocritical because the English invaded places in Africa. I would have just protested about Belgium. But Germany might have invaded if they had not been fought. And if we were a republic we could very easily be conquered by Germany or France or Spain. Both France and Spain tried it. Don’t imagine the French or Spanish attacked Ireland to liberate us. Like they had no wish to conquer us – they had conquered their own ethnic minorities. I am telling you a republic is no panacea. It will not be a paradise” said Meagher.
”Twould be a nice feeling though. Is there any other priest thinks like you?” Benedict asked.
”There is one professor at Maynooth – Walter MacDonald. He wrote that the government had the right to conscript us. ” said Meagher.
”But we have our own language. We should be independent” said Benedict.
”Many countries are mutli lingual. Irish is already gaining status like for entry to the National University of Ireland. We can perform in Irish and print in Irish as much as we like. No need to be a separate country for that. Not all who speak Irish are republican and most republicans cannot speak Irish. It is hilarious when republicans say the language is a reason for us to break away – a language these IRA men cannot speak. We are lucky to speak the world language. Helps us get jobs in America. What a huge advantage. Languages come and go. Irish is not the original language of Ireland anyway – there was another Celtic language before that.” said Meagher
”Do you believe in anything?” said Benedict.
”I try to stay detached. Take the emotion out of it. Arrive at a cool judgment. Not easy I know. I dislike the notion of loyalty. I am not to sure of my beliefs. I could be wrong. We are all such fools. Wisdom is recognising that. I detest chauvinism and nationalism. We have too much nationalism in the world. Republicans say the Great War was bad so let’s have another war. Where is the logic in that.” said Meagher.
Benedict said ”How can you think any connection with England is acceptable? They discriminate against us?”
”We have had Prime Ministers of Britain such as Lord Landsdowne, George Canning, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston, Bonar Law.” said Meagher
”Ah some of these were not born in Ireland.” said Benedict. ”You count American presidents of Irish blood as Irish.?”
”Yes, I do.” Meagher answered.
”Well then it makes no sense to exclude Englishmen of Irish blood. Are you accept de Valera as Irish – he was born half Irish in America. But you do not accept Bonar Law who was born half Irish in Canada.” said Meagher
”Ah but they are Protestants.” said Benedict.
”So Prods are not Irish? How about Wolfe Tone, Parnell, Robert Emmet, Thomas Davis.” said Meagher
”Ah well that is different. The men you are mentioning are upper class.” said Benedict.
”We Irish are not just upper class. Yes, it is true till Lloyd George the Prime Ministers were all upper class. That is class discrimination and not anti Irish discrimination. Where is the prejudice? In the republican mind. Not in the English behaviour. I am not disputing that there is some anti Irish sentiment in England but it is exaggerated.” said Meagher
”We are going to rebel against them because they are against us.” said Benedict.
”Here we go again – the chicken or the egg. Are some of them prejudiced against us because some of us rebel or do some of us rebel because some of them are prejudiced against us? It is impossible to disentangle the two factors. Both factors are mututally reinforcing. The only thing to do is to break the cycle. No more rebellion and no more prejudice. Maybe we cannot stop either immediately. We can gradually reduce both.” said Meagher.
”I am not anti Protestant.” said Benedict. ”By the way one of the reasons some Protestants are prejudiced against us is because of republican priests like Fr Downy. My last curate here – Fr Bolton – he was in Sinn Fein. He chaired the party locally – helped to pick their parliamentary candidate. Protestant ministers never get involved in political parties. It is because of Fr Bolton and Fr Downy’s sort of behaviour that some Protestants say that the Catholic Church is propagandising for Sinn Fein.”
”You certainly sound like it sometimes. You are a typical republican. The Protestants are Irish when it suits your argument and they are not Irish when it suits your argument. You try to have it both ways.” said Meagher.
”But the English do discriminate against Catholics and Prods discriminate against us. So few of us are in the high ranks in the army or the police or as judges or in the civil service.” said Benedict.
”Fewer of us are rich and promotion tends to go to the wealthy and well connected. Just like in the Catholic Church. Yes, there is some discrimination. Not as much as is claimed. Not many of us can afford the expensive education. Fewer of us join the army or navy than the Protestants do. But you then say that anyone who works for the government is a traitor” said Meagher. ”You cannot have it both ways. Complaining that we do not get enough promotion in government and then complaining when people go into government service.”
”Well yes a castle Catholic. Lick spittles who will do anything for promotion.” said Benedict.
”There you go again. You cannot have it both ways. Is working for the government acceptable or not? If it is then stop calling them traitors. If it is not then stop complaining about discrimination. You want us to be discriminated against. You want a problem to complain about. If there were none you would invent it. We are not entirely trusted by the Protestants and English because of the likes of you.” said Meagher.
”Are you pro Protestant?” asked Thompson in a tone approaching horror.
”No not exactly. I admire latitutidinarianism in Anglicanism. But their worship is bland sometimes. I like the pomp and theatricality of our church. Mass is beautitful but it is plain daft to have mass in Latin when most people have not a notion what is being said. It ought to be in the vernacular. Some of the Bible bashers in the Church of Ireland put me off. As for the Presbyterians – they are so puritan. I like our church because it has room for asceticism for those who want that and splendour for those who like that. I owe the church a lot. It gave me so many life chances. Got me out of that one horse dorp. Now I end up here. But you never tell the others this” said Meagher. He continued : ”Benedict you know how it is. Dishonesty is the best policy. There are many lies we have to tell in this life. The noble lie. There are other things which are not lies but just truths which must never be told. Only with you – the man I love – I can speak freely. If I am to keep the congregation coming to mass I have to tell them what they want to hear. I dare not challenge their prejudices overmuch. Courage is always a terrible mistake. I have been brave a few times and lived to rue the day.”
”If only I were a bit more clever I could be a solicitor. When I joined as boy clerk I thought they would have me take articles. But they say I am not bright enough so I have to stay as a clerk all my life. I am a follower and not a leader. ” said Benedict
”That is just fine so long as you are happy to follow. People always take about equality. SOme people are happy being subordinate.” said Meagher.
Finally they reached town. Fr Meagher drew up the carriage beside the solicitor’s office where Benedict worked. ”What will you do now?” asked Benedict?
”I shall go to church. I have to arrange a funeral. Then do the rounds – visit a few people. Might get time to read for fun.” he chuckled and his belly wobbled.
Fr Meagher settled down to some stories by Saki. H H Munro is so drily cynical. Such wry social commentary – it thrilled him to giggles. He contented himself with the thought that Benedict was developing a capacity for lateral thought. The poor mixed up young man was at least asking the right questions. It was hard for him not to go along with his friends.
Meagher was dispirited though. A raging firefight last night – how long before more men were killed. A few men had been killed in the Great War – some fighting the Germans, some the Austrians in Italy and a few fighting the Ottomans. Maybe he could quietly change men’s minds – turn them away from violence. Trouble was that Downy was undoing all his good work – preaching a Gospel of hate with all the subtlety of a charging elephant. Meagher realised that he was too reasonable to succeed. He offered too many caveats for his views. His opinions were not black and white. The situation was much more complicated than Downy or his loyalist mirror images would allow. People wanted simplicity and moral clarity when in fact there was none. All Meagher’s explanations seemed to convoluted but that is the way truth is he reflected.