Monday, September 8, 2014

A Talk on Fr F. X. Martin and the 1916 Rising

Felix M. Larkin
Our autumn lecture series this year will take as its theme the Irish priest in history and society.

The first lecture in the series will  take place at 6.30pm on Tuesday 30th September, and our speaker will be Felix Larkin. Felix will explore F. X. Martin's contribution to the historiography of the 1916 Rising.

F. X. Martin (1922-2000) was an Augustinian priest and professor of Medieval History in University College Dublin. He is today best remembered for spearheading the campaign in the late 1970s to save the Wood Quay archaeological site in Dublin. In the 1960s and early 1970s, however, he published an impressive series of books, edited collections and essays on the 1916 Rising and related issues. He claimed - correctly - that these were 'the first attempt at a cool appraisal of the Easter Rising in the context of the Ireland of its time'. His work challenged not only the conventional historical view of the Rising, but also the view of Irish history generally that Pearse and his followers had put forward in their proclamation of the republic, read out at the GPO on Easter Monday 1916 and which had subsequently taken hold of the public mind. He is accordingly regarded as one of the 'two godfathers of revisionism', to quote Pádraig Ó Snodaigh. The main purpose of Felix Larkin's paper is to review Martin's work on 1916 and to consider its continued relevance as we prepare to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Felix M. Larkin is academic director of the Parnell Summer School. A retired public servant, he now works as a historian and freelance writer. He has written extensively on the press in Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he is a founder member of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. His publications include Terror and Discord: the Shemus cartoons in the Freeman's Journal, 1920-1924 (Dublin, 2009), and, as editor, Librarians, poets and scholars: a Festschrift for Dónal Ó Luanaigh (2007). Forthcoming in 2014 is Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland, jointly edited by Felix Larkin and Mark O' Brien.

Felix is a member of the council of the Central Catholic Library, and also serves on the statutory Readers Advisory Committee of the National Library of Ireland. His is chairman of the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society, Dublin's oldest charity.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lessons from a Publisher's Emblem

One of the anthologies of French poetry held in our collection was published by Alphonse Lemerre under the title Anthologie des poëtes français depuis le XVè siècle jusqu'à nos jours. 

Lemerre was born in Normandy in 1838, and from 1860 pursued his career in Paris, becoming one of the leading literary publishers of the day. He was esteemed in particular for his editions of work by the poets of the Parnassian movement. Inspired by the "art for art's sake" thesis of Théophile Gautier, these writers viewed poetry as being primarily concerned with the celebration of beauty, rather than a medium for discussing social issues or transmitting moral values. Oscar Wilde would absorb and refract into literature in English is own interpretation of Parnassian ideas.

There is no date of publication given in our anthology, but from the evidence of the poets included, it would have come out between 1880 and 1895.  What is included on the title page is the emblem shown above: a visual and verbal hallmark which Lemerre made use of across the range of books published by his firm. The significant elements of the image are the act of digging to prepare the ground for planting, the town glimpsed in the background, and the rising sun. The Latin motto "Fac Et Spera" means "Do and Hope", and at the base of the image are Lemerre's initials, "AL".

The origin of this emblem can be traced back to collections of emblems first produced in Europe in the 16th century. Patricia Flemming has explored the "Fac Et Spera" image in particular, and her article can be read at

The emblems were designed to communicate a message: political, amorous, or religious. The original, slightly different, version of Lemerre's image first appeared in 1615. The figure digging is a woman, possibly representing Ceres, the Greek goddess of agriculture. The Hebrew word "Adonai", another name for  God, also appears in this version of the image. Fleming emphasizes that readers would have absorbed a religious message here; prosperity comes from work and from faith in God. The town is the social unit that will thrive through the working figure depicted. The sun symbolizes both prosperity and the divine presence explored through faith.

Lemerre has adapted this image; filtering it through the lens of his own political, moral and literary sympathies. He believed in the French republic, supported anti-clerical positions on both freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, and published writers for whom literature was an aesthetic, rather than a moral reality.

Yet the "Fac Et Spera" emblem, which had drifted through to him from another cultural epoch, is appropriated in order to present values which Lemerre lived by and wished to be known for: a work ethic, the moral courage of hope. The Parnassians did not teach, but there were still lessons to be learned.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pope Francis and the freedoms of literature

Fr Michael Collins
The Central Catholic Library is delighted to have Fr Michael Collins as one of the speakers for our spring 2014 lecture series. Fr Collins, who is attached to St Mary's Parish, Haddington Road in Dublin, published a biography of the newly elected pope last year, and is well know as a writer. Some of his previous books, available to borrow from the library, include The Fisherman's Net: the influence of the papacy in history (2003), and studies of Benedict XVI (2010) and John Paul II (2011). The title of his lecture, which will be take place in the library at 6.30pm on Tuesday 4th March, is The Franciscan Revolution: Pope Francis and his push for change.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Jorge Bergoglio's career is the time he spent as a teacher of literature and psychology while training for the Jesuit order in the 1960's. In his biography, Fr Michael describes how Bergoglio spent 1964-5  at the Colegio de la Imaculada, (a secondary school in Santa Fé), moving to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires in 1966. While Bergoglio found psychology easy to teach, literature posed some problems for him.

This is something Pope Francis takes up in his interview with Antonio Spadaro S.J. for the Italian Jesuit review La Civiltá Cattolica, (available in English at ). Faced with the disinterest of his young students in the required study of Spanish classics such as El Cid, Bergoglio adopted a creative approach. The boys could study their El Cid at home, while in class he would discuss with them the authors they were interested in; so allowing them to develop their tastes in a natural rather than an imposed way. He also encouraged creative writing, and sent two stories by students to the major Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who was inspired by them to contribute an introduction to a story collection by the whole class. 

Going back to Fr Michael's account, there might seem to be a discrepancy between the creative teaching strategy adopted by Bergoglio, and the recollections of his students, who, according to Fr Michael, remember both their teacher's self-discipline and his strictness with them. At its best, education leads not just to the mastery of a subject but also to the successful transmission of ethical values, and Fr Michael underlines Bergoglio's awareness of this. Yet perhaps there is no discrepancy here. Asked in the Spadaro interview about his favorite artists, the pope mentioned composers and painters but spoke also of his appreciation of fiction, in the form of both novels and films. He loves Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Manzoni, Fellini's La Strada, and the films of Rossellini; writers and directors who all, whether by word or image, explored the way we live, how we live and why. In encouraging his students' sensitivity to fiction, Bergoglio had them enter a psychological space in which ethical and human values are evoked, experimented with, explored.

As a teacher, Jorge Begoglio trusted the link between literature and life.