Ruaírí Ó Domhnaill reviews The Philosophy of Irish Ireland by D P Moran (ed. Patrick Maume), UCD Press, Classics of Irish History, ISBN 978-1-904558-74-3 €20/ £13.95
FOR MANY, David Patrick Moran may be a name confined to passing remarks, lists and footnotes: one leading historian inadvertently renamed him "Denis" - in a footnote. To another, Moran was "the most important (and vicious) philosopher of Irish Irelandism".
On the evidence presented here, Moran was neither. He appears to have been (in his own words) "a tinker of thought", who rarely alluded to philosophy although the perceptive Dr Maume affirms that the term "wall of brass" was a reference to Berkeley.
This work is polemical - more blustering than "vicious". Pádraig Ó Fearail is less emotive in his assessment: Moran expressed the Gaelic League's "message in a pungent, popular style."
Maume, an authority on D P Moran, notes that his
"comments often show insights which went undeveloped through his blustering pretensions to omniscience, his biting complacent sarcasm helped to poison Irish discourse deterring discussion as much as they advanced it."
On first reading, Moran's sarcasm (or irony) and verbosity are, frankly, less than helpful.
Famously, Moran dismissed the United Irishmen, including Wolfe Tone, Young Ireland and the Fenians as "Pale Movements." He also asserted: "Let us be as Irish as the lowland Scotch (i.e. Sassenachs) are Scotch" that "… hundreds of Irish boys, out of the National and Christian Brothers' Schools, would rise to the front ranks of Empire-makers…."
He advocated the Gaeil be more competitive "to get the greatest net amount of energy out of any community," neglecting to define the nature and effects of this energy. He also chose the "Dunlop Tyre" as the only Irish invention of 19th century.
While deploring racial hatred, Moran indulged in racist and elitist asides - "dreamy Spaniards" and what must be a unique racist affront "the shock-headed Swiss"; and "… the Gael are ignorant peasants"; "… the sediment of the race," "self-distrusting mongrels"; "The people are not used to the burden of carrying their own brains."
Moran fails to mention that for centuries the only Gaeil to engage in an unremitting struggle against landlords, the British government and its ally, the Vatican, were these unattractive, "ignorant peasants".
UDC Press has chosen a fascinating addition to its Classics of Irish History series. Its style differs markedly from recent publications - profoundly from that of the meticulous Joseph Johnston. Moran's values were normally antithetical to those of Connolly. Unfortunately his principles seem to have attracted a larger public; his weekly paper, The Leader, was published for over seventy years, until 1971.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Ruaírí Ó Domhnaill