Censorship: The Cornerstone of Catholic Ireland

Anthony Keating

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    I'll tie my lips together with a string And count their misers law a little thing; And leave to God those who His gifts refuse Who blind the poets and strike dumb the muse. -An tAthair Padraigin Haicead1 This article will explore the religio-political dynamic that drove the deepening of censorship in the Irish Free State, with a particular focus upon the literary-journalistic censorship heralded in by the 1929 Censorship of Publications Act. Censorship, it will be argued, was introduced by an insecure state at the insistence of the Irish Catholic Church,2 hereafter referred to as “the church,” an institution that the Free State depended on for its very survival. The church, for its part, viewed the Free State and its people as a uniquely positioned vehicle to fulfill God's mission, a mission that the church believed was under attack from foreign influences. Additionally, Irish Catholicism will be shown to have been deeply conservative and authoritarian with an overstated pessimism regarding the people of Ireland's ability to withstand foreign vice without the application of rigid clerical discipline—a feature born of Irish Catholicism's particular theological underpinning, which led to the Irish people being viewed as “children” in need of “parental” protection and guidance by both church and Nationalist ideologues.3 Furthermore, the debates, inside and outside of the Free State legislature, regarding the passage of the censorship bill into law will be explored to illustrate the contested terrain of Irish democracy and identity. Censorship, it will be argued, ultimately contributed to the undermining of the Irish people's trust in both church and state authority because the cultural and religious protectionism it sought to impose fostered stagnation and corruption. The social control that censorship was designed to propagate was eventually overtaken by the very thing it sought to hold back, modernity, with its ever-expanding and uncontrollable ability to communicate a plurality of views, lifestyles, and religious and political philosophies, which, in turn, led to the development of social and economic aspersions that were out of step with the world view offered by Ireland's cultural and economic isolation. These conditions were viewed by ideologues as necessary to protect its people from the outside world and the realities of life within its own borders. This artcile will explore the issues thematically, beginning with an exploration of the wider social and political landscape that gave birth to the 1929 Censorship of Publications Act.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)289-309
    JournalJournal of Church and State
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2013


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