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A look at books - the Magdalene Laundries, Reverend Ian Paisley and the Irish Diaspora

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It Doesn’t Ring a Bell
By Racer Lynch

It hasn’t been two decades since the last Magdalene Laundry in Ireland closed in 1996. That’s well within the living memory of young adults. The question is, what to do with all that suffering now that its come to light?

Even now most would prefer to look the other way, exactly the way they used to when these unpaid gulags were in operation. The Irish government had to be browbeaten for years by a group of committed former inmates and their offspring before finally offering a full apology. That apology was offered in February 2013, by the way, just two months ago.

So the Irish reluctance to face up to the legacy of widespread physical and sexual abuse has been one of the most remarkable aspects of the now three decade long crisis in the Catholic Church.  Instead of principled stock taking, denial, defensiveness and even blaming the victims have been the standard responses.

So what happens to the nation that fails to confront its own traumas? Does it hand them and their legacy on to the next generation without comment?

What is the best way, culturally and spiritually, to recall the wrong roads taken, to discuss the lessons learned?

Fiction has long been one of the most reflexive fields for the Irish to consider their history and what it has made of them. In It Doesn’t Ring a Bell, author Racer Lynch quietly paints a picture of a different aspect of convent life in Ireland in the days before the outraged Magdalene headlines.

Based on factual stories, Lynch reminds us that life for the postulants training to become nuns could be every bit a dehumanizing and traumatic as the lives experienced by the banished women they would eventually minister to.

Set mostly in the 1940s and 1950s, the era when Ireland’s theocracy was at its zenith, Lynch paints a picture of a dysfunctional and out of control culture where bullying and oppression were the norm and protests of any kind were suppressed, often with tragic consequences.

It Doesn’t Ring a Bell makes for disturbing but important reading, and provides a cultural context for the abuses that have come to light in more recent times.

PublishAmerica, $22.46

The Second Coming of Paisley
By Richard Lawrence Jordan

In the 1970s the Reverend Ian Paisley had twin obsessions. The first was to save Ulster from popery and the second was to save it from sodomy.

You can judge for yourself how successful he was at either enterprise, but the time has come to study the relationship between his brand of militant evangelical fundamentalism and similar brands he encountered in the U.S. in the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s.

In his absorbing new study The Second Coming of Paisley, author Richard Lawrence Jordan traces how the exposure to the idea of leaders of the American Christian right such as Carl McIntire and Billy James Hargis enabled Paisley to develop a toxic militant brand of highly politicized religious fundamentalism to successfully bock the advance of civil rights for the north’s Catholic population.

Fascinatingly, Jordan also demonstrates that this cross-fertilization didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact it happened in the context of centuries of interaction between Ulster and America. Paisley, the author claims, used a religious culture imported from the U.S. to shake up religion and politics in the north.

Syracuse, $39.95

Other People’s Diasporas
By Sinead Moynihan

Ireland has long seen itself as a land of emigrants, so what happens when it is asked to welcome immigrants? In her new book Sinead Moynihan, a lecturer in 20th century Irish literature at the University of Exeter, asks what happens when other nation’s diasporas converge on the homeland of a diasporic people?

These are provocative questions and ones that will clearly reflect on what we have learned as a culture in our travels.  Moynihan plunders the literature of Ireland since 1998 to explore the representations of developing race relations on the island, and she points to the ways contemporary Irish culture looks to the history of Irish American and African American relations in an effort to understand its own immigrant communities.

It turns out the centuries long tradition of Irish emigration to the U.S. has much to say about prevalent trends in contemporary immigration. This dialogue has been going on in a one sided way for hundreds of years, but the good news is the Irish in Ireland are finding a new language to greet immigrants with the lessons they learned over the centuries themselves.

Syracuse, $39.95

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