Jesuit historian on Learning Lessons of past

June 5, 2012 in 2007

Church of Ireland Archbishop Alan Harper and Catholic Archbishop Sean Brady, jointly launched Brian MacCuarta SJ’s book, Catholic Revival in the North of Ireland 1603-41 (Four Courts Press, 2007), in the O’Fiaich Library, Armagh, on Saturday 17 November 2007. Setting an ecumenical tone, Fr. Brian commented: “The presence of the two primates, Archbishop Alan Harper, and Archbishop Sean Brady, exemplifies the churches’ commitment to the slow, patient and long-term healing of hurts and divisions in our society.”

The old adage “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” was evident with all the speakers referring to the present situation in the North of Ireland, where the entrenched views and partial readings of history have caused much conflict.  According to Archbishop Harper, “Brian Mac Cuarta’s study is a gift to everyone, inviting a fresh engagement with a period of the past which is of huge contemporary significance. …ownership of the past is a prerequisite for an advance towards personal and community maturity.”

Fr. Mac Cuarta noted that, in relation to ecumenical dialogue, the various religious traditions in the North have interacted with each other for four hundred years. His book marks the start of that relationship, around the time of the Flight of the Earls and the Ulster Plantation and it is a key theme in the book. 

On the surface ‘Catholic Revival’, is a story of ruined abbeys and roofless churches, but at a deeper level it is about new life emerging from the ashes of a previous era.  In the early 1600’s, Northern Irish resentment of the structures of the Church of Ireland and the state’s religious coercion, prompted a subsequent Catholic revival in plantation Ulster. Continentally-trained priests were central to the revival, but not without a lot of resistance from traditionalist clergy. But the Catholic Church, far from repressing the internal tension between older and newer strands, was able to creatively use it to adopt a more vibrant and assertive role.

In his speech of thanks, Brian Mac Cuarta noted, “Any new beginning here will be built on sand, if we don’t face up to the legacy of the past. Otherwise we fail to understand the deep feelings which the various communities carry. We don’t want to live in the past. Yet if we ignore the burden of our own and others’ history, we are crippled in our desire to enter into new and more life-giving ways of living together.”

17 Nov 2007