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America in the Doldrums

America in the DoldrumsGerry OShea
All countries have their ups and downs, their times of elation and depression. Think of Germany in the last century, losing two world wars and promoting the despicable Nazi ideology but then turning into the 21st century as the most powerful and successful country in Europe. Despite their history of promoting the baseless idea of a superior Germanic race hostile to foreigners, their leader, Angela Merkel, almost alone in Europe, extended a welcoming hand to millions of unfortunate refugees from wars in the Middle East.

Or consider Great Britain which in 1900 was ruling so many countries that the sun never set on its far-flung empire. It was the most successful of all the colonial powers and, militarily, the British navy ruled the waves. They also led the winning coalition of forces in two world wars that saved Europe from the clicking heel of German tyranny.

Now, in a fit of spleen and nostalgia for past glories, they have left the European Union, losin…
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Hierarchy and the Catholic Church

Hierarchy in the Catholic ChurchGerry OShea
The Catholic Church with an approximate membership of 1.2 billion, operates on a hierarchical model of governance. A suitable analogy would compare it to a large pyramid, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. The laity comprise 99% of the members and fit into the various layers below the apex.

However, the top 1% - or thereabouts - have very different responsibilities and status from the rest of the membership. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the aging character, Polonius, while dishing out some advice to his son, Laertes, points to the importance of the clothes he wears because the apparel oft proclaims the man. This is hardly profound advice, but in the world of the Catholic clergy the clothes they wear often bespeak their importance in the governing structure.

Above the regular priests dressed usually in a black cassock and Roman collar, comes the monsignor who gets to wear distinguishing purple clothes but not the pectoral cross or the traditi…

The 19th Century in Ireland and Beyond

The 19th Century in Ireland and BeyondGerry OShea
Most historians agree that the two Revolutions at the end of the 18th century ushered in the modern era.

The Americans sent the British home and put the first nail in the colonial coffin. The powerful empire operating from London did not go easily because the leaders there realized that other colonies would surely seek to emulate George Washington and his revolutionaries.

In addition, the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, a hugely radical statement for those times that, even though, disgracefully, excluding black people, it remained a revolutionary concept, contrary to all the conventional wisdom of that age. It was a cry for freedom that stirred thoughts of new possibilities among subject peoples all over the world.

The other revolution in France, which took place fourteen years later in 1789 was greatly influenced by the events in America. It was another bloody affair culminating with the be…

Percy French

Percy FrenchGerry OShea
Every culture needs a place and time for masks and costumes, rituals and pageantry. The Indian tribes, the original Americans, revealed their changing moods with feathers and multi-colored paints, and English people love their monarchs not because of their political beliefs or oratorical prowess, but because their crowns and robes and resplendent palaces represent a glamorous lifestyle unattainable to mere commoners.

In the town of Kenmare, the place where I grew up, the Catholic church provided an abundance of rituals and pageantry at a time – back in the 1950’s and 1960’s – when most people had to settle for a very humdrum existence. High masses with thuribles and incense, Corpus Christi parades and late-evening benedictions and holy hours met the ceremonial needs of the people.

The other powerful organization in the town, the Gaelic Athletic Association, was also an important cultural force. The Fr. Breen Park, known to us youngsters simply as “the field,” prov…

Irish Elections Past and Present

Irish Elections Then and NowGerry OShea
Fianna Fail(FF) was founded in 1926 by Eamon De Valera, better known just as Dev, after he led a split from the Sinn Fein(SF) Party when it decided at its annual convention to reject his motion to end the policy of abstention from the Dail.SF leaders at the time argued that to enter parliament would be a betrayal of their solemn pledge of fealty to the 32-county Irish republic – a noble aspiration but a chimerical, unrealizable notion in those days.

The clause in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, negotiated by Michael Collins and his team, that obliged all TD’s to take an Oath of Allegiance to the English monarch was seen as a serious compromise of basic principles by many Republicans. Dev repudiated the Treaty mainly because of this clause, but in 1927 he led the FF deputies into Leinster House claiming that the abhorrent oath that they signed should be seen as “an empty formula.”

We are likely to hear much more about the history of those momentous years as…

The Sanders Candidacy

The Sanders CandidacyGerry OShea
The Sanders political phenomenon is astonishing. We are talking about an unprepossessing 78-year old Jewish man, a recent survivor of a heart attack, a declared socialist from the small state of Vermont, who is one of two candidates – with former vice-president Joe Biden - most likely to win the nomination of the Democratic Party for president, even though he is not even a member of that party.

The bulk of his support comes from young people who have volunteered in droves to help their man win the nomination. In addition, his fundraising is far more successful so far than any of his opponents – a strong indication of a thriving grassroots candidacy. The senator’s treasury is flowing over from small contributions of $50 or less. He does not take Political Action Committee money and makes no effort to solicit donations from the affluent.

Explaining the voter attraction of a patriarchal figure like Bernie Sanders- especially for people in their 20’s and 30’s…

Religion and the Presidential Election

Religion and the American Presidential ElectionGerry OShea
America is a very religious country. More than 40% of the population attend church services at least once a month, and about half report that they pray every day. By comparison, in most countries in western Europe, attendance at church on Sunday hovers around 10%.

Surprisingly, we have heard very little from the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidency about their religious convictions. Mayor Buttigieg has spoken very movingly about the importance of his Christian faith as a married gay man. Nearly all the Christian denominations look askance at the homosexual lifestyle, but he attends an Episcopalian church where he and his husband, Chasten, received a full church blessing when they got married.

Joe Biden is a practicing Catholic but, because he supports the Roe v Wade decision which gives a woman the right to choose on the abortion issue, he was refused communion in a church a few months ago. He argues that h…