Have Irish Catholic values underpinned Irish austerity?

The long Irish tradition of monasticism relished simple and austere living, and that’s probably part of the collective DNA, writes Mary Kenny

The overseas commentariat has been full of praise for Ireland after the country’s exit from the famous EU-IMF bailout.

Ireland has “accepted its hair shirt with stoicism”; applied “discipline to its finances”; “buckled down to sort out its problems”. Irish fiscal prudence, restraint and seriousness in dealing with debt – and with the problem banks – have been compared favourably to some
of the more wobbley behaviour of other EU countries in financial trouble.

As I listened to gurus from the Financial Times and the Economist praise the diligence with which this country has addressed its economic problems, the thought struck me that the Catholic traditions of Irish life, which have often been much disparaged, have probably entered the national DNA sufficiently to influence these much-praised ‘stoical’ attitudes.

Discipline, austerity, penance and self-denial were, after all, the cornerstones of Irish Catholic education in times gone by, and though they are often seen now as negative, authoritarian and guilt-inducing, I suspect that they are to some degree embedded in the national psyche.

Ever since the recession has set in, I have heard many conversations within Ireland which reflect the mindset that if you ‘party’ too much, you will have to give an account of your stewardship and face the penalities for over-indulgence.

I have even sometimes thought that over-indulgence in material luxury is not something with which the Irish are entirely comfortable.

The long Irish tradition of monasticism relished simple and austere living, and that’s probably part of the collective DNA.

Not everyone agrees with austerity and there is justifiable concern that the poor pay too heavily for the self-indulgence of the wealthy.

But the international verdict is that the austerity has worked and will return Ireland to prosperity: after we have done sufficient penance for our sins!



Capuchin care

One of the most extraordinary reports that emerged this year was the story of a Yorkshire housewife, Mrs Marina Chapman, who was raised by monkeys in the jungle of South America. The story seemed so implausible that people doubted its veracity, but Mrs Chapmanís account of her jungle childhood has won over investigators, and the National Geographic organisation is to make a film about it in 2014.

Marina was living with her family in Colombia in 1954  when, at the age of 4, she was kidnapped and found herself with a tribe of weeper capuchin monkeys ñ presumably named after the Capuchin order for their colouring. She doesnít remember how this kidnapping came about, but she does remember growing up with the monkeys, who fed her guavas, brazil nuts and figs, and who treated the child as part of their family.

Eventually she was rescued, but she walked, behaved and climbed trees like a monkey. The experience made her exceptionally agile, predictably. Speaking last Sunday to BBC Radio 4, she said the monkey upbringing had taught her about the essential aspects of survival in lifeís jungle. You have to protect your family, she said, but you have to keep alert, too, against everyday dangers to yourself. You develop a ësenseí of danger.

Marina Chapman is married and has two lovely daughters: she has subsequently lived a balanced and normal life.  She also has a strong faith in God, she said: she is utterly convinced of the truth of religious faith and is thankful that it has helped her in the jungle, and coming out of it.

Did the capuchin monkeys do a better job of faith inculcation than some of our schools, I wondered.




In praise of carols

The origins of the Christmas carol are a matter of debate: some ascribe the Christmas song to St Francis of Assisi, and other monks in France, Germany and Italy in the period of the 13th Century. If St Francis was indeed the person who put the Christmas carol on the map, perhaps Pope Francis might honour that tradition by performing a sung carol service?

But there is also a recent claim that the Christmas carol started out in Kilkenny, where the monks of that region began the tradition of special songs for the Nativity.

Many others made subsequent contributions to these exquisite Christmas songs, including the Austrian Franz Gruber who provided us with the immortal Silent Night (originally sung much more jauntily than its current sombre version) and the Irish Anglican Mrs Cecil Alexander, the wife of the Bishop of Derry, who penned the inspirational Once in Royal Davidís City ñ a beautiful carol which underlines the poverty and powerlessness of the Christ child. And the indefatiable Charles Wesley composed the rousing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Iím exceptionally fond of God Rest You Merry, Gentleman ñ whose authorship is lost in the mists of time – because it underlines the reasons for a merry Christmas. Sing it and enjoy a merry Christmas indeed!