Thursday, October 10, 2019


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Sharon Tighe-Mooney

It is worth setting this book in context from the outset in case I lose the run of myself with one of my hobbyhorses later on.
'What About Me? Women and the Catholic Church' is an exploration by an ordinary woman, born into the Catholic faith of the arguments given to exclude her from ministry.

Using her research skills, Sharon examines the New Testament, Christian writings and Papal documents. It is a personal quest to shed light on the story of women in the Christian movement from its earliest days to the present.

The objective of the book is to explore, inform, speculate and question and it should appeal to a general audience.

The context of the book is the 2010 move by Pope Benedict XVI to elevate the ‘crime’ of ordaining women to Catholic ministry and the subsequent censoring of religious personnel who questioned this edict. This book details a quest to find out where the strong antipathy towards women in the Roman Catholic Church's institutional mindset comes from.

No Wimmin

That's me, the male altar boy on the left, around 1960. On the right, out of the picture, behind a high railings is a community of nuns. They have dedicated their lives to Christ. But they are not allowed to serve on the altar because they are female.

The male priest on the altar, who has just consecrated the host and wine, is a serial child sex abuser. According to a reliable source, he is the worst abuser ever. The Dublin diocese protected him, shifting him around parishes, for nearly half a century.

At one point he was vice-postulator in the causes of Edel Quinn and Matt Talbot and a diocesan administrator. When the Guards finally caught up with him they had to penetrate a battery of civil and canonical lawyers to get him into court.

This man could say mass, hear confessions and lay down the law. These women were not allowed to even serve on the altar.

I hope you are suitably shocked.

Well, you'll be more shocked when I tell you whats in this book - how an all male ministry conned the faithful into believing that God did not want women to be priests, period.

The Gospels and other fairy tales

The headings in this piece are mine and mine alone. I am also responsible for choosing the illustrations. In exoneration I'll have to plead that the book's great cover set me off.

This is probably the best place to mention that, in the absence of an index, Sharon has been generous with chapter and section headings so the book is easy to navigate and refer back to.

Sharon takes you on a journey through the gospels and early church writings pinpointing the real role of women in the evolution of Christian communities and eventually the Church itself.

She shows how the suppression of a significant body of early writings and the wilful misinterpretation of the rest has facilitated the evolution of a celibate male clergy. Once in power this group went to any lengths needed to hang in there.

Messing around with Mary and Mary Magdalene was de rigeur. Any significant involvement by women in Jesus's mission or legacy had to be downplayed or exceptionalised. They were not part of the action. How many Popes does it take to get this message across?

It's a fabulous journey and one I'm sure that will convince you that there is a more than thousand year wrong out there just waiting to be righted.

Ex Cathedra

My favourite Ex-Cathedra picture

I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly authority on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Page 84
This statement by the then Pope, John Paul II, is as near as you are going to get to an ex cathedra statement from any pope in modern times. The last such statement that I remember was from Pius XII on the Assumption. Safe enough you might think.

Mind you, there has been much discussion about the degree of authority attaching to Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, some arguing that it carried the cachet of infallibility. And look where that led.

If I may digress for a moment. The Catholic Church I grew up in was a closed system, intellectually speaking. There was no way to break out of their mind control once you got trapped inside it. Two examples should illustrate this, one from way back and one, unfortunately still with us.

Connie Lucey was the longstanding Bishop of Cork in my day. He was the Gatekeeper of religious orthodoxy. I quoted him in a paper I gave to the UCD L&H in the heady days of 1967 when, with Vatican II, we thought we'd left this stuff behind us.
Dr. Lucey, Bishop of Cork, while defending freedom of the press as a Good Thing, defined a free press as one
free to print what it is morally justified in printing. ... And who is to decide what views are fit for publication? The answer is that the Church is entitled to decide when the views are views on faith and morals.
My second example of the closed system involves Vincent Twomey and the informed conscience.

The Catholic Church has signed up to the primacy of conscience. But, of course, there's a catch, they mean an informed conscience. And how do you know your conscience is sufficiently informed. Well, as Vincent informs us that the Church can teach no wrong, you'll know you've hit the G spot when your conscience and the Church are in agreement. QED.

Now, Seán Fagan would have settled for best efforts, and, of course he'd be right. But he wasn't around in my day.

However Paul VI came to my rescue. His Humanae Vitae, and Pius XII's Vatican Roulette, were such blatant rubbish that they proved to me that the Church can teach wrong and grievously so.

Mary McAleese has likened this closed system to an area surrounded by a wall which is not to be breached. Well those two popes gave me the means to vault over it.

If all this is getting a bit heavy for you, and you're not yet totally put off by any word associated with Brexit, you might enjoy the Carthaginian Monolithic Church, Michael Freyn's "withdrawal" poke at the Church in 1964.

The Last Male Circus

The International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin in 2012, gave the Church the opportunity to show it was serious about reform. The about-to-be-silenced priest, Tony Flannery, made an interesting suggestion. Why not replace the mitres and shiney vestments with attire more resembling sackcloth and ashes as a gesture of humility and repentance.

Did they? NOT!

Instead they commissioned a vast wardrobe of new flashy gear.

These guys are tough.

Sex and the Eucharist

After some discussion of the Bride of Christ stuff, which most of us managed to live with without blowing a fuse, Sharon now throws us in the deep end at the aptly numbered Page #101.
There is more. If you think sex is excluded from all of the above, you would be wrong. And despite my well-developed Catholic sense of embarrassment about discussing this topic, I am going to tell you about it anyway.

Believe it or not, the male seed is dominant in many aspects of the theological discussion. For example, if the representative of Christ on the cross can only be a man, then giving up the body to death becomes an act of coitus, as does, in turn, the symbolic function of the male priest on the altar presiding over the Eucharist.

Here is what Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, a member of the Papal Theological Commission, and Pope John Paul II's favourite theological advisor had to say in 1965. In Wer ist die Kirche? Vier Skizzen (Who is the Church? Four Sketches), the Cardinal wrote:
The priestly ministry and the sacrament are means of passing on seed. They are a male preserve. They aim at inducing in the Bride her function as a woman.
Unfortunately he did not stop there but went on to ask:
What else is his Eucharist but, at a higher level, an endless act of fruitful outpouring of his whole flesh, such as a man can only achieve for a moment with a limited organ of his body?
In one fell swoop, Christ's death, wherein he identified with human death, is now all about male ejaculation. Sheer mortification prevents me from discussing this further, but I am quite sure readers feel that I do not need to say any more.

This clearly runs deeper in the psyche than I realised.

But let's have some fun and take it a little further.

So, if the consecration is ejaculation (never-ending) for the male, what would it be for the ordained female?

Why, an orgasm, of course.

And what if we were to have a mass concelebrated by a male and a female?

You see where this is going?

Pure Communio, coming together, in all possible meanings of that phrase.

Now you see the problem!

Rush to judgement

We saw above how it was the Vatican elevating the ordination of women to the sin status of child sex abuse that sparked Sharon into looking closer at this whole area.
The Congregation for the doctrine of the faith has been very active in this regard. Indeed, it has been amazingly swift in addressing and investigating dissidence with regard to female ordination, which, in light of their previous reluctance to deal with child abuse investigations, is striking.

Page 192
Look at it this way. How long did it take to silence Tony Flannery once he questioned the origins of the priesthood? For how many years did Morgan Costello abuse children while under the protection of the Dublin diocese? QED.

I'm running out of steam now. I hope I haven't given you too many spoilers and that they turn out to be teasers and tempt you to buy and read the book. It really will open your eyes and boil your blood.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


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I had the impression over recent times from the Association of Catholic Priests' (ACP) website that they might be running out of steam, at least a little bit. Then, all of a sudden they pop up with this provocative conference with its star-studded cast.

While the issue of women's role and status in the Roman Catholic Church has been on the boil for decades, I have the impression that we are now nearing the point where the whole lid blows off the pressure cooker. So this conference was timely.

Gerry O'Connor & Roy Donovan

Gerry did MC, prior to his later interviewing Mary McAleese. He welcomed us all on behalf of the ACP. I really felt it is we who should be welcoming him, having seen him tweeting around 10am that he was leaving Limerick and heading for the Big Smoke.

It fell to Roy to give the formal address of welcome. And no better man.

He has been loudly and publicly supporting women's role in the church for a good few years now. He is among an increasing number of clerics calling for full participation of women in the ministry of the church and that includes ordination to the priesthood. People may remember John Paul II's edict that women would never be ordained and that the subject was permanetly off limits even for discussion.

John Paul II is now, inexplicably, a Saint and wandering around the Lord's many mansions. Let's hope that when he finds himself at one of Mary Magdalene's dinner parties she gives it to him full blast.

Anyway, that edict has effectively gone out the window and the subject is now up for grabs.

Sharon Tighe-Mooney

Sharon has delved into the appearance, non-appearance, and agency of women in the bible.

Her conclusion is that the role of women has been downplayed and misinterpreted and when you look at the whole thing from a woman's perspective a very different picture emerges from the one we were brought up on.

Sharon highlighted the condescension applied to women by envisaging a little role reversal and applying to men the phrases currently applied to women. Totally unacceptable.

I've got a copy of her recent book on women and the church and will report back when I've gone through it.

Mary McAleese

Mary has become a sort of public standard bearer for reformers. The betrayal of Vatican II figures high on her agenda, as it does for Sister Ben.

However Mary has the public profile as a former two-term President of Ireland. Before that she was an academic of high standing within the Catholic church. And going further back she came out of the cauldron that was the Ardoyne, an area she reminded us that had the highest rate of killings during the troubles.

Like myself, she's steeped in Catholic tradition and theology from an early age and is not put off by the pretentious rubbish spouted by many in high office within the church.

Given her prominence, she has also become a lightening conductor for opposition and even abuse as we'll see below.

Some may be aware that she was banned from speaking at a recent conference in Rome on women in the church.

While not sponsored by the Vatican the conference was to take place within its precincts. Mary's holy passport was revoked/refused by none other than Dubliner Cardinal Farrell.

He was at the time entrusted with organising the Pope's trip to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which I think Mary saw as a double slap in the face. The Cardinal is in charge of the Vatican department dealing with the family, goodness knows why.

Mary admitted to having been hurt by the ban and recounted her joy when subsequently a priest at a mass she was attending in the Vatican came halfway down the aisle to give her a big hug. (enaisled - private Joycean joke)

Anyway, the conference story had a more than happy ending. The organisers snubbed Cardinal Farrell and, quite late in the day, moved the conference to a neutral venue, out of the clutches of the Vatican, and Mary got to say her piece. Well done.

So let's move on to the man embracing woman crap

I made a huge discovery about myself at this conference. Glad I came.

I was an Acolyte and all these years I remained in deep ignorance of this fact. Fancy that.

This, I gather, is the current gender neutral term for altar boys and altar girls.

Mary reminded us that Vatican II opened the door to altar girls. I will do a separate post on this thorny subject sometime. But, for now, let's just carry on.

The position, apparently, was that despite this huge concession to the girls, a bishop could ban the practice in his diocese, and, failing that a PP could impose a ban at parish level.

Now the "concession" coincided with a change in what was, I gather, a widespread belief that the sanctuary was a sort of mini minor-seminary and that altar boys were seen as what we used to know as ábhar sagart or potential cannon fodder for, or a step towards, the priesthood.

I was not aware of this connection in my day, when being an altar boy in itself conferred a certain status and an opportunity to perform on stage, so to speak, and in public.

Anyway, post Vatican II, my understanding appeared to have become the official line. Altar boyship was an end in itself and no further assumptions were entertained.

And the altar girls? Well, there were some, and happily there still are. But in many parts of the country the ban was invoked, and the reason given? Well, they might get notions (ie that this was a step towards women's ordination). Schrödinger's Acolytes, hello!

Tina Beattie encountered the same sort of crap, as she recounted to WACI recently.

Mary picked up on a theme she had spoken on just two nights previously at the launch of Angela Hanleys (& Seán Fagan's) book What happened to Fr. Seán Fagan? in Glasnevin Cemetery.

This is the limits to inquiry and dissent imposed by the Magisterium (CDF?) on questioners, researchers and academics.

She envisaged the known universe of knowledge bordered by a wall. The researcher should be obliged to poke at the wall and see what lies beyond it. This could then be evaluated for truth, utility and so forth. This is how progress in all fields happens. If nobody challenged the limits of current knowledge and the conventional wisdom, where would we be now? Back in the cave waiting for the cock to crow to make the sun rise?

Anyway, she pointed out that the current edict from the CDF is that you must turn your back to the wall and then you can explore whatever you like.

I am tempted here to refer to three significant opportunities for progress in the past that were missed as backs were turned to the wall: the Reformation, the Modernists, and Vatican II.


The Q&A developed along predictable lines until one man, somewhere in the audience behind me, started into a rant which increased in volume and vehemence and culminated in babies being ripped out of women's wombs. Well, it didn't quite culminate there, it was followed by sporadic interruptions from the same quarter.

Shortly afterwards another, also male, member of the audience critised Mary McAleese's constant sharp words about the church and suggested she leave it for a more conducive spiritual home. This intervener was eventually reduced to shouting "hypocrite" over attempts by the chair to continue the Q&A in a civilised manner.

Clearly people are entitled to their views but not to indulge in personal abuse or shouting down others.

I accept it must be difficult for some to see more than a thousand years of theological certainty challenged in public by two mere lay women but, unfortunately, due to the spiritual cowardice of men over that period, that's where we find ourselves today.

There were various references to standing up for what is right from within the church rather than just leaving it. This was the path chosen by Mary and Tony Flannery and Angela Hanley, for example. It was not my path but I can understand it and empathise with those who take it.

This discussion brought one of my own heroes from the sixties to mind. As she also happened to be a woman I thought it would be nice to give her a mention at this event, which I did.

She was a Catholic doctor in Liverpool who set up a birth control clinic despite church opposition. She stood up to her critics to the point of facing down Archbishop (as the then was) Heenan at the altar rails in Westminster Cathedral. Her name was Anne Bieźanek.

Tony Flannery

I was glad to meet Tony Flannery at last. I have been following his story since I read in the Irish Catholic in 2012 that he had been silenced by the CDF. He gave the Seán Fagan line of compliance a try for a while but it didn't make a lot of sense for him in his case and he unsilenced himself.

I brought along my copy of his book for him to sign as I had missed its launch a good while back.

I know he is very active these days, including on the role of women in the church, and it would be good to have his silencing lifted. As he has said, this is now effectively in the hands of the Redemptorist order itself, if it ever finds the courage to pop its head above the parapet.

I also met Brendan Hoban, PP of Moygownagh, whose writings and activism via the ACP I have long admired. He knew my late cousin Columban priest, Brendan Fahey. We both shared the same positive view of Brendan, RIP.

I also met Roy Donovan who I have referred to above.

And I found out that a man I had earlier conversations with at meetings of We Are Church Ireland (WACI) was actually the co-founder with his wife of Concern Worldwide, John O'Loughlin-Kennedy. That was in 1968 at the time of the Biafran famine.

When I arrived, a little on the early side, I was the first and only member of the audience in this magnificent lecture theatre. No panic. But as it drew to about ten minutes to zero hour the audience remained sparse. There had been some worries about how few might turn up despite the event having been advertised on, for example, the ACP website and the WACI Facebook page.

It was not only a free, but also a non-booking, event so they had no idea how many to expect. In addition, I gather that Mary McAleese, while popular with many reformers, can be a divisive figure among some religious.

They needn't have worried. I'm sure many frantic prayers were being said at that point and they appear to have been answered as the multitudes swept through the doors at the last minute. A Real Presence.

This post is not intended to be a comprehensive report of the conference. It is just hitting it in spots that particularly resonated with me, and not even all of those or we'd be here all night.

The conference was recorded so if you are sufficiently interested you should soon be able to get this on CD from the ACP or, I think, Columba Press.

Saturday, October 5, 2019


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This was a book launch in a cemetery where a dead man spoke through a living medium.

I had been to one book launch here before. That book was by two living authors, both of whom were present. Today's book was, effectively, by two authors - one of whom, Angela, was present while the other was Resting In Peace a mere block away.

So let me explain.

Fr. Seán Fagan was a renowned theologian and a good man. He was a Marist priest who loved his church but was not impressed by its bureaucratic and fossilised dogmatic overlay.

He was going back to basics, to human values in their proper religious context, such as primacy of conscience. Unfortunately he ran foul of the Inquisition, or to put it another way got complained to the CDF which eventually silenced him and hit him with a super gag order. This meant he could not reveal his silencing to anyone on pain of expulsion from the priesthood.

He obeyed this stricture, for a variety of reasons, but he entrusted the documentation to his friend Angela, and asked her to "spill the beans" after his death.

The book now being launched is the spilling of the beans.

I have previously posted on Fr. Seán and his book What happened to sin, a copy of which I secured through the Dublin City Library Service.

Garry O'Sullivan

Garry introduced the evening. He is the owner of the Irish Catholic newspaper and Columba Press. He took over Columba when it went bankrupt so the title continued and it is the publisher of this book.

As an aside I gather Garry is currently in talks with Seán's nemesis, Vincent Twomey. In a strange twist of fate, Vincent is responsible for me coming across Seán in the first place.

I was having a go at Vincent's wobbly theology on the informed conscience when my attention was drawn by Patsy McGarry to a rapier of a letter from Seán to the Irish Times (29/12/2007) whipping the carpet out from under Vincent's theological gumboots.

Angela Hanley

Angela told us how she, initially reluctantly, got involved in correspondence with Seán, how this blossomed into a friendship, and how Seán entrusted her with spilling the beans, after his death, on how he was "spiritually abused" by the CDF.

It was not an easy book to write. Seán was a positive and optimistic person until the CDF got him in its clutches and reduced him to wishing the Lord would call time on his earthly stay.

Reading the book makes your blood boil at least every few pages.

After Seán's death (15/7/2016) Angela set about preparations for writing the book. She had a lot on her plate but she persisted and finally got the book written.

It clearly illustrates the cowardly and venemous modus operandi of the CDF.

Cowardly because they never have the courage to face their victims. They will not engage directly with them thereby denying them the opportunity to adequately defend themselves. They prefer to operate through the victim's superior and let them carry the can. Angela recounts how the CDF threatened to depose the Marist's Provincial, though they had no authority to do so. They also refuse to reveal the identity of a complainant, which also circumscribes an adequate defence.

Venemous because they set out to destroy their victims. And they often succeeded. They appear to have damaged Seán Fagan beyond repair.

Mary McAleese

For those not up to speed, Mary is a former two-term President of Ireland who has got herself a doctorate in Canon Law. She is currently campaigning to reform the church for its own good.

She was recently banned from speaking within the Vatican's holy precincts. The organisers immediately moved the conference, on women and the church, out of the Vatican rather than forego Mary as a speaker.

So she's a heavy hitter.

Mary made a plea directly to Pope Francis on Seán's behalf in 2013. Following this, and many other pleas through various channels, a minimum concession was made and the threat to his priesthood was removed. All other restrictions remained.

I'm not sure what this concession meant. Perhaps it meant that he would not be removed from the priesthood no matter what sanctions he broke. But what would the punishment then be? Excommunication? An excommunicated priest?

In the context of human rights and consent she pointed out that one is not born a Catholic but conscripted at Baptism.

She also reminded us that the Vatican (as a State) has signed up (internationally) to all sorts of human rights (eg free speech, due process) which (as a religion) it flouts.

My own view is that the Vatican (a religion) has no moral claim to statehood in the first place. It abuses this status, acting as a State one minute and not a state another, according as this suits its agenda.

Having looked at some of the good people let's check out some villains.

Charles Brown

Prime among these is Charlie Brown. As Seán/Angela reveal he was Cardinal Levada's sidekick in the CDF's dealings with the Marists. He was complicit, to say the least, in the bullying of the Marist's Provincial.

Was he then sent to Ireland, as Nuncio, to keep an eye on the situation here? Most likely. Otherwise he was just a waste of space. He refused to meet ACP and took refuge in making holy exhortations at a safe distance in Knock in the West. Following in the Pius XII mariolitrist tradition he was.

[Update 7/10/2019: I heard, over the weekend, that he had his eye on London after Dublin. That would indeed have been a fairly prestigious assignment - Court of St. James's, no less?. He would have been following in the footsteps of Archbishop O'Hara (Nuncio: Ireland 1951-54, Britain 1954-63) though the representation has been upgraded to Ambassador status since O'Hara's day. Note that the Holy See Ambassador is accredited to Great Britain and not UK.

Well, all this might just have come to pass but for the change of régime in the Vatican. Pope Francis has sent him to Albania for his sins. Catholics are about 10% of Albania's population which is 57% Muslim.]

Vincent Twomey

Vincent is a retired professor of moral theology whose theology of conscience is fatally flawed but no doubt pleasing to his mentors, particularly his teacher, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger. He was also a member of Benedict XVI's Schulerkreise.

He is at the opposite end of the scale from Seán. Nuff said.

I asked Angela to sign my book and mentioned that it was an already read copy. She was clearly listening. And it will be even more well read as I go back and consult bits of it in writing this post.

Then I saw someone getting Mary McAleese to sign their copy. What a good idea, I thought, she is, after all, a part of the story.

Seán's motive, and Angela's mandate, in having his story told:
Spill the beans in public on what really went on, to shame our sinful church in the hope that it might prevent further repetitions.

Strong words, and this is what Angela has done. Bless her.

Click on image for a larger version

I'll finish as I started with the book cover. I thought it was brilliant. But that wasn't the whole of it. It was pointed out to me that the design continued across the spine to the back cover. Neat.

Incidentally, when you've read Angela's and Seán's book you might reinforce the experience by reading, the not so silenced, Tony Flannery's book, published in his lifetime.

Monday, August 26, 2019


I launched my religious blog just one year into the papacy of Benedict XVI, hence my moniker Benny. The Bridgebuilder bit comes from the Pope's latin title Pontifex Maximus, the Great Bridge Builder.

I wanted to comment on religious matters but wanted to keep this separate from my main blog to avoid offending some readers there.

I had been raised a Catholic in the repressive era of Pius XII (more repressive perhaps in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe). I had seen the flag of progress raised by Vatican II, in the reign of John XXXIII, and was encouraged, though I had more or less abandoned ship by then.

Then the conservatives re-asserted control leading up to the cowardly surrender by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. After a very brief interlude with the untested Luciani Peter Sellers lookalike, John Paul I, who departed in a sudden and unexpected manner, we had a long innings with the theologically and dogmatically reactionary Polish actor, John Paul II. If that wasn't enough he was followed by the dogmatically rigid and fearful former head of the Inquisition, Benedict XVI.

So I thought it was finally time to put pen to paper, and I set up a blog called Bulls. This title was meant to convey something between a Papal Bull and the sort of speech we have today come to expect from Boris Johnson, or Bojo de Piffle as I prefer to call him.

I was gently put-putting along with Bulls when, on 18 January 2012, I was notified by Blogger that my blog had been deleted. That saga is a long story and if you're interested in technical details you can check it out here. The blog had been deleted but Benny was still in business. So I set up another blog hoping it would be temporary until I could get Bulls back.

What to call the new blog. Well, as a former altar boy I had the phrase Dominus Vobiscum ring in my ears from time to time, and as the International Eucharistic Congress was to be held in Dublin some months later I was conscious of the Holy Biscuit. So I did a mash and here we are.

Shortly afterwards Bulls was restored and I then had two holy blogs. But I had fallen for the latter, more up to date, template and decided to discontinue posting on Bulls and continue on Dominusvobiscuit.

Having lived with the name Benny the Bridgebuilder I decided to keep it.

Over time I became irritated by my crap avatar, a very fuzzy papal arms lifted off the Vatican website way back. I recently decided to do something about it but not being able to find a suitable replacement I changed tack entirely and used one of my mashups from a Dominusvobiscuit post. It was at that point that I thought I should explain the derivation of the various names. Hence this post.

If you have interests outside the religious sphere my other blogs are listed on my website.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


"The Breadline, 1916" by Muriel Brandt

This is the picture that Margaret Mac Curtain chose for the cover of the book, which would honour her lifetime of writings and which was launched at the celebration of her ninetieth birthday this year.

I'm sure she could have found a respectable painting of a Dominican nun in prayerful contemplation. She is, after all, a member of that community. But that would have missed the point. I'm sure she says her prayers. But that's not what she is known, or will be remembered, for. She is an activist, a doer, and has campaigned all her life for women's rights. But she has also been an academic, a prioress, and, as was clear at this weekend's celebration a mentor and a sympathetic ear.

Margaret Mac Curtain

I met her on our way into Poetry Ireland for the celebration. I nearly didn't recognise her, she looked so well. I first met her when she gave a provocative talk on the betrayal of Vatican II in St. Mary's, Haddington Road, in 2012. She has always bucked the party line and, like Jesus, has railed against the establishment, always in a constructive way. I'll bet she gave John Charles a few sleepless nights in his day.

Theo Dorgan & Margaret Kelleher

The occasion was organised by poet Theo Dorgan and UCD academic and author Margaret Kelleher.

I first met Theo at the Irish launch of Olivier Litvine's translation of Joyce's Chamber Music in the Alliance Française in 2017. Today was my first time meeting Margaret in person though I sort of felt I knew her from her wonderful book The Maamtrasna Murders and from subsequent online correspondence.

Theo kicked off the proceedings, welcoming the overflowing crowd. The place was packed, itself a tribute to Margaret, never mind the powerful words that were to follow.

He reminded us that Margaret was not only compassionate to those in need, but a tough lady when required to stand up against oppression and to encourage others to do so.

Margaret then gave a brief appreciation of her namesake's career and why it was appropriate to honour her on this occasion.

I couldn't help being struck by the pentecostal image on the wall. I didn't know what the full picture represented but it increasingly irritated me as the afternoon wore on.

Cormac played what looked to me like a treble recorder. He played a selection of Spanish tunes, linking to Margaret's work in Spanish archives for her thesis and later book on Dominic O'Daly.

I thought to myself, this guy is good, whoever he is.

It was only afterward that I got the full impact and significance of his presence. And it was more than appropriate and very much on topic. He is brother of Osgur and son of Deasún.

Check out this TG4 (Dia leo) documentary (52 mins) on the miscarriage (too polite a word) of justice on Osgur and its lasting effect on the whole family. Osgur is still seeking an apology and an admission that the confession was beaten out of him. This all happened in the 1970s when standing up to the Establishment was no small matter.

Now that I think of it, I had Cormac's father Deasún in my Welsh class in Aungier St. for a brief period.

I think it was Angela who told the story that she had been friendly with Margaret and shared confidences with her only to find out at a late stage that Margaret was a nun. "I had told her everything and she was a NUN!" That sort of brought the house down.

Moya Cannon

Moya spoke about being a former student of Margaret's and read her poem 'Kilcolman', a response to Edmund Spenser, the English poet, who wanted Ireland starved into civility.

She wonders how one should look on the poetry when the poet is a gobshite [my words, not hers. She puts it more elegantly]
How hard, even still, to love the well-turned verse,
whose felicities were turned on such a lathe.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

I think Nuala mentioned family connections with Margaret and went on to read an English language translation of a poem followed by the Irish language original.

I translated a poem of Nuala's once. My cousin Carmel, a former teacher, asked me to do it. Someone she knew had done one and she wanted to compare the two versions. I've no idea how that worked out. This is my version.

Diarmaid Ferriter

Diarmaid repeated most of what he says in his introduction to the book. But that gives me the excuse to retell here the much repeated story from 1971. This is as Diarmaid tells it in the book.
At a debate in UCD in 1971, Margaret shared a lecture theatre platform with Mary Anderson and Nell McCafferty. Anderson suggested that each of them make a short opening statement about the personal difficulties under which they laboured as women.
Anderson said, "I am a bastard".
McCafferty said, "I am a lesbian".
Margaret said, "I am a nun".
As recalled by McCafferty, "The audience erupted in yells of pure unadulterated pleasure. The exchanges that evening were a runaway train of untrammelled speech."

Lucy spoke about St Gobnait's Well and held the saint up as a model of female independence in the early Christian world.

I wonder was she once let down by PowerPoint as she had brought along millions of copies of a page of text and pictures. Very wise, I thought. One for everyone in the audience.

Paula Meehan

Paula took exception to the idea that Amergin, the male Milesian, was the first "Irish" poet, so she invented a female predecessor and entertained us with a long poem from this new source.

Well done.

Ailbhe Smyth

Ailbhe spoke about the institution of women's studies in UCD. "Margaret was 150% in. It simply could not have been done without her. Without her scholarship, without the respect people had for her, her incredible political sense." Margaret, and some others, watched her back and it was only much later that she realised how much that meant.

She shared a moment with us, which she said recalling it still filled her with emotion, and that was very clear to us watching her tell it. Margaret had given her reassurance and good advice at a very traumatic moment in her life. I'm sure Ailbhe's story is one of many that could be told about Margaret.

Michael D

Michael D was with us in spirit but with a degree of incarnation on the wall. He paid a lively and clearly heartfelt tribute to Margaret and this was much appreciated by all present.

Mary Robinson also sent greetings.

Alan Hayes

Then came the launch of the book.

Alan Hayes spoke about his publishing house Arlen House. They seem to have played a blinder over the years, but, as he said, without any grant from the Arts Council. The Council apparently hold the view that "there is no need for Arlen House".

Well, today's tribute to Margaret, a collection of her essays over the years, is 500 pages long and retails for a mere €25.

Maureen was lavish in her praise of the book and laid great stress on the idea of communities both in the study of history and advancing the cause.

She was most forceful in her presentation and you can briefly see her in full flight on one of her favourite subjects here.

Margaret Mac Curtain

For all her physical frailty, she doesn't give up and you could feel the strength of her and the audience's respect and affection for her when she rose to speak.

As I said, I first met her when she gave a talk on the suppression of the legacy of Vatican II in St. Mary's Haddington Road in the excellent Patrick Finn Lecture series.

And shortly afterwards at the launch of an issue of Studies in Newman House where we had a long conversation and where it became clear to me why she enjoyed such widely held respect.

It was not long after this that the CDF embarked on yet another orgy of repression and I took down the post I had done on her Haddington Road talk lest it draw unwanted attention to her in those dangerous times. I'm not foolish enough to count the CDF among my admiring followers but there is always Google, as much at the service of the evil ones as that of the good.

She had a particular thank you to Arlen House with which she had a special relationship over the years.

There is no doubt that there were lots of nuns in the audience. Margaret thanked them for turning out. I figure some of these nuns were quite old and their having made the effort was a great tribute to Margaret.

When I arrived I was sure there were nuns among those coming in and I thought I'd play a little game and see if I could guess who was a nun. I gave that up fairly quickly when I mistook one of my neighbours from home, whom I actually know well, for a nun. The mind is a funny thing. I was expecting nuns and then seeing them everywhere.

She was proud of what had been accomplished over the years, not just by herself, but by all who laboured in the vineyard. She had no illusions though, there was still a lot to be done.

When she finished speaking the audience rose to their feet in a spontaneous, enthusiastic, and noisy standing ovation. Powerful stuff.

This was not just about history. It was a piece of history itself. I am so thrilled to have been there.

Some other photos

Margaret & Nell

Nell McCafferty

I happened to see this woman in front of me who looked familiar. I wondered if she might be Nell McCafferty, but then she could have been another one of the thousands of nuns in the room.

Are you Nell McCafferty? sez I.

My name is Nell, says she.

Now that only got us half way there. Why didn't she just say yes or no. Sounds like the Nell we all know.

Nell McCafferty from Derry? sez I.

Yes, says she.

So we're there at last.

I told her I thought her portrait behind the curtain in the Little Museum was great.

Why have they covered it up? sez she. For the children?

I explained to her the intricacies of the curtain, how you could pull the ropes and they opened, and the inscription that went with it. I think we were only half connecting and I gathered that both her sight and her hearing were not the best.

Suddenly she says: You're fly is open.

Jesus, I thought, her sight can't be all that bad. I promptly zipped it up.

You should go and see it, sez I.

I couldn't climb the stairs, sez she.

It's on the ground floor, sez I.

That went down well until I remembered the outside steps, so we'll see. Anyway I was glad to have met this legend of womanhood. A bonus.

[Update 9/8/2019: I checked it out yesterday and it's actually on the first floor, so that's 10 steps outside and 30 more to the first floor. So that's that, I guess.]

Ailbhe was having trouble with the mic on the stand. Eventually Theo went over to help and finally suggested she hold the mic in her hand. Ailbhe, good humouredly, referred to the incongruity of being helped by a man. Thank you man, sez she.

The interesting thing is that she did hold it in her hand, steady, and not too close to her mouth, and came across with the best sound of the day.

This is Lucy's distributed PowerPoint substitute.

Margaret & Anngret Simms

Theo: All Hands on Deck

Margaret's Grand Entry

Selling The Book

All the World's a Stage

Cody Sanders

Cody is from Houston, Texas. His family emigrated to the USA in famine times. He is doing a masters with Margaret Kelleher. On this occasion he was Mr Sound&Vision man. He did a very good job on the sound which was required not only in the main room but in the overflow room.

When it came to the visuals, playing Michael D on the wall, the crowd was so packed that the projector was blocked. So Cody held the projector, shoulder high, for the duration. Full marks.

I had a conversation with Paula in the course of which I complimented her on her enunciation - she finished all her words. She put that down to being careful with her Dublin accent. She's Seán McDermott Street and my people are James's Street. So I gave her the test. What did she think the thing was that was pronounced "throw"? Got it in one. A first for me. It's the kitchen sink, usually the big delphy one, and it's spelled "trough".

And as for the irritating image on the wall, I thought it might have referred to WB Yeats parachuting down to his Lake Isle for a weekend break. But then I remembered that, unlike me, he never actually lived on the Island. I heard him admit this myself.

On researching the item I find, thanks to Dublin Airport's Twitter stream, that:
Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney is honoured in Terminal 2 @DublinAirport with the tapestry 'Out of the Marvellous', created by the artist Peter Sis & featuring lines from Lightenings viii