That Old Colonial Cringe

Posted By: March 29, 2013

The Irish Echo is to be congratulated for it’s Editorial, ” Celebrating the Rising” (February 15 -21) in which it, oh so refreshingly, stated: “One of the best things about Irish Americans is their self-confidenceŠ Irish-Americans rarely suffer from the inferiority complex that still exists in Ireland. The “post-colonial cringe” is a stranger here. Š That is why the current debate in Ireland about whether it is appropriate for the Irish government to celebrate the 1916 Easter Rising seems almost amusing from this side of the Atlantic.”

I love that phrase ” post-colonial cringe”.
Some years ago, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in an article in the NY Daily News reminded us that theorists of colonialism point out that it can take up to three hundred years for oppressed people to shake off what the oppressor had brain-washed them with — the oppressed can subconsciously internalize the demeaning lies of the oppressor (which may be the worst part of oppression).

I just thought it was rather ironic for Moynihan to be pointing this out, as I always saw him as a perfect example of the ” post-colonial cringe”. That is why, while essentially agreeing with your statement, “Irish-Americans rarely suffer from the inferiority complex that still exists in Ireland”, I would , based on my experience, have to add, ‘ except for some Irish Members of the Congress and some Irish members of the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy, especially at the beginnings of The Troubles.’

Cringing Members of Congress
When I came to the United States in October 1972 and started lobbying Irish Members of Congress and Irish members of the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy (which I naively thought would be the two most obvious ” constituencies”). I was stopped in my tracks, set back on my heels, by the ” colonial cringe”. Apart from some honorable exceptions, many of these folks did not want to know. They were fearless on many other international issues, but when it came to ” Mother England” they were silent. Now admittedly the shameful stance of the Dublin governments in those early years made it easier for them to be silent.”Father Sean, how can I be more patriotic than the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic” was Tip O’Neill’s favorite dodge. ” That wouldn’t be hard”, was always my response to him. However, it must be said that Tip was never as bad as Moynihan. Some of the obvious Irish names in Congress were blackmailed into silence lest in criticizing the British they would be cast as IRA supporters

That is why in the early days we had to reach out to the non-Irish Members of Congress — to Biaggi, Fish, Gilman, etc. God bless them. And of the three named here, only Biaggi was Catholic.Thank God for the Black, Jewish and Protestant Members of Congress.

Cringing Bishops
And the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy might as well have been a bunch of heretics because they simply, in practice, ignored the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding justice and peace, when it came to Northern Ireland. To remind you, the Church teaches: ” Action on behalf of justice Š is a CONSTITUTIVE DIMENSION OF THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL’. (Justice in the World. World Synod of Bishops. November 30, 1971).

There were, however, honorable exceptions: the late Bishop Thomas Drury of Corpus Christi, Texas; Bishop Mark Hurly, Santa Rosa, Ca.; and Cardinal O’Connor of New York, to name some. (Cardinal O’Connor famously refused to be silenced by the pro-British lobbying of Garret FitzGerald).

Here, too, it must be admitted, the shameful position of the Irish Hierarchy ( Cardinal O’Fiaich excepted)regarding British injustice in Northern Ireland made it easier for the U.S. Bishops to dodge the issue.
Let me give an example that perfectly illustrates this point:

In August 1979, the Irish National Caucus led a successful campaign to have a ban put on the sale of U.S. weapons to the RUC. Later on in January 1981 a delegation of top Bishops met President Reagan to urge him to continue the ban on military aid to El Salvador.
I wrote to them, urging them to also urge President Reagan to continue the ban on the sale of US weapons to the RUC. They responded: “Š We have known of your position [on the RUC] for some timeŠ In the case of El Salvador, we have been encouraged to take what action we have taken by the local hierarchy. We have not, at this time, received such encouragement from the Irish hierarchy on the subject you have brought to our attentionŠ”

Needless to say, the Bishops took no action… It was enough to make a man become Protestant!

Father Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus
P.O. Box 15128
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20003-0849