Wednesday, 20th August 2014

Review – The Furrow

We are becoming accustomed to associating the Pontificio Collegio Irlandese with impressive publications. There come to mind at once the edition of the early manuscript history of the College in 2005, or the edition and translation of Tadgh Ó Cianáin’s memoir of the epic journey of the Ulster lords from Rath Maoláin to Rome, and now the present volume of some seventeen essays on various aspects of the College’s long and eventful history. These books are, as it were, the cultural expression of the restoration and development of the College’s fabric under the able stewardship of its Rector, Mgr Liam Bergin, and his collaborators, and indeed predecessors. How gratifying it is to witness such renewal of the Alma Mater, not least to those of us who came through it in leaner times! Viewed in a wider context, it represents a worthy chapter in the revitalized destinies of the extensive network of Irish colleges which once existed throughout Europe and played no mean part in the survival of the Irish mind. Many of us who were students in the nineteen-fifties had been appalled to hear of the then recent abandonment of Salamanca, but today at least the colleges in Louvain and Paris, and of course Rome, continue to serve the Irish people, albeit in the very diverse circumstances of the twenty-first century. Only the Spanish link in the chain is missing, and if Salamanca is beyond recall, could we still cherish hopes of Alcalà?

However, to return to the matter in hand, these Roman books are not only handsomely produced but are as well works of sound scholarship, graced by respected names like Mgr John Hanly, Nollaig Ó Muraíle, Mícheál Mac Craith, Thomas O’Connor and the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich. The present volume stands in worthy comparison, assembling as it does contributions ranging from that doyen of Irish ecclesiastical historians, Patrick J. Corish, through established scholars like Charles Burns, Hugh Fenning, Michael Olden, Ambrose Macaulay, to many younger names whose essays presage well for the future of Irish Church history. While five of the collection deal with the earlier history of the College, and of men like Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi and Luke Wadding who marked its beginnings, the bulk of the material is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the involvement of the College in Irish affairs and in the wider Church, particularly under Rectors of such stature as Tobias Kirby, Michael O’Riordan and John Hagan.

The book must surely be welcomed, above all by past students, as bringing the enrichment and precision of historical scholarship to our often vague notions of the College’s past. The only twinge that this reviewer felt, and it has less to do with the present writers than the general practice of Irish historians, was at the reduction of the echoing names of Flaithrī Ó Maolchonaire and Aodh Mac Aingil and Eoghan Mac Mathūna to Florence Conry and Hugh MacCaughwell and Eugene Matthews. There lies concealed therein a cultural option and consequently a historical prejudice. After all, why not be logical and civilize Tadgh Ó Cianáin into Tim Keenan

This apart, a  great institution lives again, and lives on, in this volume. Floreat crescatque!’,