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Issue 16 – Easter 2023

Arts and Letters

Immovable Bones

Saint Dymphna: the Tragedy of an Irish Princess

National Gallery of Ireland 

January 28 – May 28


In recent years, the Irish state, once criticized as excessively deferential to the Church, has run in the opposite direction. Now it undercuts all remaining Catholic institutions, values, and traditions. National celebrations are the most prominent battlegrounds. Saint Patrick’s Day, which used to be celebrated as a real feast day, has been hollowed out into a secular Mardi Gras, an orgy of dressing up and drinking to celebrate the Irish Diaspora. For ninety years, Irish pubs closed on Good Friday. Since 2018, they remain open. This, we’re assured, by the same worthies who imposed price controls last year to curb binge drinking, is progress.

While Saint Brigid’s Day was made a national holiday in Ireland this year, it was only because of a weak appeal to gender balance. Indeed, Herstory, the organization which has been campaigning for the holiday since 2019, has some dubious notions about Saint Brigid. She is, according to Laura Murphy, Herstory’s Poet in Residence, a “Celtic goddess, Christian saint, and a symbol of feminine power and compassion, who transcends religion or spirituality, making her inclusive and appealing for all faiths and none.” Of course, this inclusiveness rigorously excludes traditional Catholic values: “Ireland’s matron saint,” the organization claims, “is our first recorded abortionist, compassionately ‘restoring a nun’s chastity,’ as recorded by early Christian monks in The Annals. She was also a lesbian, ‘sharing her bed with a woman.’” Admittedly, sources on the early Irish church are patchy and largely hagiographic, but this is bunk. Saint Brigid is being recast as a champion for liberal values. This kind of clumsy pandering has become pervasive in Ireland.

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About the author

Aidan Harte

Aidan Harte is a writer and sculptor who lives in Ireland.