Fair-weather Catholics and cupla-focal speakers

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Fair-weather Catholics and cupla-focal speakers

Patricia wouldn't draw too many conclusions from the Census seeing most people are just ticking boxes

There are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics - Benjamin Disraeli declared.

But he forgot about the ‘white lie’, an art at which the Irish generally, despite all the tribunal purging of recent years, are past masters.

But then Disraeli was never properly acquainted with the genius of the Irish imagination, was he?

We all tell white lies from time to time - either to advance our own interests, to save face or to save someone else’s face – but there’s no malice in it really. Sometimes we can’t even help it because our imaginations are primed to run riot, especially when we are trying to take ourselves seriously. The ‘white lie’, or fib, as it was known in more polite circles, was only a venial sin in my young days, when the country was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. I don’t know how it is graded now in the new secular catechism, but if the media interpretations of the recently-released preliminary results of Census 2016 are to be believed, we won’t be unburdening ourselves in the confessional anyway.

The trouble is I have a problem with the Census, mainly because it makes no provision whatsoever for our propensity to tell a white lie, to project a more appealing image and to embellish our life stories if we can – especially when we have an eye to posterity. The Central Statistics people are too trusting. That’s all I can say.

If they really want to find out how many of us can speak the Irish language for instance, then I’m afraid they’re going to have to insist that all of the 1,761,420 people who replied ‘yes’ must take an oral test to prove it.

Some people I know, who only have a few words of the language, ticked the box out of sheer patriotism, which is very praiseworthy in itself, but it distorts the picture. At least a test might explain why only 73,803 of the almost two million Irish speakers speak it daily outside the education system. Otherwise, I don’t see why they should bother asking the question at all.

The test could be done very simply. The enumerators who collect the completed forms and who check if they are filled in properly, could hold a short conversation in Irish with those who have ticked ‘yes’. There should be no waivers, not even for the tongue-tied, and certainly not for those who profess to be in a mad rush out the door after saying ‘’Dia’s Muire dhuit” – or whatever Gaelic salutation applies in secular Ireland.

That’s another thing that annoys me about the Census – the way the preliminary results are being interpreted by some media analysts, who are hell bent on completing the secularisation of the country, all by themselves. Ignoring the fact that 3.7 million people out of a population of 4.76 million, declared themselves to be members of the Roman Catholic Church and thousands of others professed themselves Church of Ireland, Muslim, Hindu and Christian Orthodox, the secularists have declared a non-believers republic with just 10 per cent support. Now they want to dictate our education system and before we know it, we’ll be paying a believers’ levy, instead of the water tax.

Judging by the headlines, you’d think that the whole purpose of the Census was to gauge how close we had come in 2016 to Ruairi Quinn’s vision of a ‘post-Catholic’ Ireland. Some commentators couldn’t hide their glee when the Census returned a drop in the numbers describing themselves as Roman Catholics, but when they saw that the size of the drop was unlikely to prove much of a boost to their secular agenda, they decided that some of us had indulged in a ‘careless ticking of boxes’. We had claimed to be Roman Catholics even though many of us no longer went to Mass every week. They got that from some poll on Mass attendances taken a couple of years ago. Now, whatever faith I have in the Census, I have none at all in newspaper polls, and while Mass attendances are certainly not what they were in the past, I can’t see why fair-weather Catholics should be excluded if cupla-focal Irish speakers are accepted as legitimate.

Maybe the Census takers should have asked those who ticked ‘yes’ to Roman Catholicism, how often they went to Mass, and if they could remember the theme of last Sunday’s Gospel.

There is also a suggestion that some heads of households returned all their children as Catholics, ignoring - or unaware of - the fact that some of them had already lost the faith.

This, with all due respects to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who apparently agrees, is ridiculous. If the children were old enough to have abandoned the faith, the likelihood that they were still members of the household on the night of the Census was remote.

Finally on a personal level, I’m mad as hell over the fact that the Census people put my family in the wrong townland again for the third census in a row, after promising to correct the form each time I kicked up moonshine in the past. Whatever about my steadfast faith or my inability to speak the Irish language after all those years, I’d hate if any of our descendants came looking for their roots in a hundred years’ time, only to find that they had been transplanted. They’d be withered, for sure.