The Strange Career of R.S. Devane

– This is a paper I presented at the 2017 National Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies.

Where Does The Church End And The State Begin?

In 1925, Richard S. Devane, (1876-1951) a Jesuit priest, social reformer and political activist, wrote an article on ‘Indecent Literature’ for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record. In this article, Devane addressed what he saw as the need for the censorship of print publications in the Irish Free State. He placed this in a broader context of contemporary reforms in other areas of sexual morality, such as prostitution, age of consent laws, and the legal status of illegitimate children. Devane said the issue of “indecent literature” must be addressed using “our new-won powers” but also “according to Irish ideals and Catholic standards”; in other words Church and State were melded in his conception, and he drew on his own experiences as a social-reforming priest; but where Devane had lead a vigilance committee in Limerick in the previous decade that pressured Catholic shop-owners to boycott certain publications, he felt that such approaches would not work in larger and more religiously diverse cities like Cork or Dublin. Thus he argued that the State has to step in, what he called “the necessity of falling back upon the law”.[1]

Of central concern for Devane were publications that advertised or otherwise promoted the use of contraception. Devane condemned contraception on Catholic lines, identifying its “immorality” and discussing how advertisements for contraceptives educate women “in hideous forms of vice”. But he also called contraception a form of “race suicide” promoted by dangerously independent female “Malthusians”. His concerns were both sacred and secular, clerical and statist, gendered and racialised. Privileging the State over the Church, though, Devane said he had “no doubt that the Ministers of the Irish Free State, who have the custody of the Nation’s life and morals in their hands, will not hesitate to take every means necessary for the exclusion of this vile stuff [contraception], and we trust that they will have the support of every member of the Dáil and the Senate who has the moral welfare of the Nation, especially of the young, at heart, and who truly represent the mind of the Irish people.” Throughout his discussion of “indecent literature”, Devane moved between Ireland and Irish politics as it is and as he expects it to be once the State, not the Church, has enacted the proper reforms.[2]

Devane claimed in this article that, through his work with the Priests Social Guild, he had urged the then Minister for Justice, Kevin O’Higgins, to act on this issue, to “legally [strangle] this vile traffic.” This appears to be disingenuous. According to the records of the Censorship Judgements for the Jesuit Province of Ireland, Devane wrote his article on ‘Indecent Literature’ after it had been “suggested” to him by O’Higgins, “who is conscious to excite an atmosphere in advance so as to facilitate legislation”[3]. There is an important dynamic on display here; “the State”, represented by the Minister of Justice, requested that “the Church”, personified by Fr. Devane, write an article that will publicly tell “the State” what to do. The circularity of all this reveals an important conceptual problem in Irish historiography; it is rarely clear where the Church ends and the State begins in modern Ireland. Indeed, Devane ended his article by affirming that it “has been written to help to clear they way and to inform public opinion”, perhaps meaning that public opinion is to be massaged by the Church and convinced to go along with the State’s legislative agenda?

The Marxist state-theorist Nicos Poulantzas has argued against the idea that “the State” should be understood solely in terms of its formal institutions. Rather, Poulantzas contends that the State should be understood as a strategic field that blurs the boundaries between formal state institutions and civil society; the latter being the “space” in which the State acts and enforces its power.[4]   And for Poulantzas, the Church is an integral part of the State; “All the apparatuses of hegemony, including those that are legally private (ideological and cultural apparatuses, the Church, etc.), all these form part of the State”[5]. Poulantzas perhaps over-determines the power and reach of the State; the Catholic Church in Ireland, for example, was not a mere adjunct of the State. Yet his insights about how to understand the State are of great value; Devane’s short essay certainly highlights how a statist project was being carried out through the “private” machinery of the Church.

Moreover, just as understanding “the State” solely in terms of its formal institutions can be narrowly restrictive, so also “the Church” should not be perceived as a singular, coherent entity. The conceptual fuzziness of “the State” finds a parallel in that of “the Church”. Devane’s article was published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, “a monthly journal under episcopal sanction”. Devane, as a Jesuit, worked outside of the episcopal hierarchy. In addition, he regularly worked in concert what a number of lay vigilance groups. Such lay Catholic groups were often at odds with the hierarchy and certainly tended to have a different perception of the nature of the Church-State relations.[6]


R.S. Devane (1876-1951), from his obituary in the Irish Independent, 24 May 1951

This paper is a study of Devane’s political-theological work and an investigation of how Devane’s writings and activism reveal some of the important dynamics and conceptual problems of Church-State relations in the years after 1922. Devane was one of the most important figures in the legislative history of the Irish Free State, with a strong influence on the soft authoritarian world of post-1922 social reform and social control. He was present at the legislative birth of much of the socio-political order of the newly independent state. Yet his importance has been underestimated by historians; while he surfaces in a large amount of the historiographical literature on the 1920s and ‘30s, to date there has been no biography published of Devane and he has received only a small amount of direct scholarly attention.[7]

Devane was born in Limerick City in 1876, growing up in solidly bourgeois surroundings.   His father was “a well-known merchant of that city.” He studied at Mungret College and St. Munchin’s Seminary, both in Limerick, before moving to Maynooth, where he was ordained a priest in 1901. Though he would later rail against the evils of English culture and the negative presence of the “garrison”, which he claimed promoted prostitution,[8] he spent the early years of his vocation in Yorkshire as well as serving as an army chaplain for ten years in Limerick. He was the curate at St. Michael’s Parish in Limerick, “a large working class district”, from 1904 to 1918.   Already at this early point, he was involved in “rescue and vigilance work” – synonyms for proselytising among prostitutes and for censorship[9] – and in outreach to labourers that presumably aimed to protect them from the evils of atheistic socialism. He was also a force behind the early regulation of cinemas in Limerick, which received the support of Limerick Borough Council, and was involved in temperance work. In July 1918, Devane entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus College in Tullamore and was professed two years later; his joining the Jesuits was apparently a shock to many.   From 1922 to 1932, Devane was in charge of a retreat house for working men in Rathfarnham and also served in the 1930s and ‘40s as director of a retreat house in nearby Milltown Park. Fortuitously he was thus in Dublin and promoting “social Catholicism” at the founding moment of the Irish Free State, with a position that afforded him “more leisure and larger scope for his special talents.” Indeed, he may have joined the Jesuits precisely because it would give him time and space, free from parochial duties, to devote to social activism.[10]

More Cotton-Wool For Frail, Feckless Pat

The support for censorship of the press on display in Devane’s 1925 essay on ‘Indecent Literature’ was a trope that ran through much of his career. He had already been a strong advocate of “vigilance” in the 1910s, and showed a willingness to work “outside the law” up to and including seizing newspapers from trains as they arrived in Limerick and burning them.[11] He would later fondly recall this as a “memorable and effective attack on the filthy Sunday cross-Channel papers”[12]. When Devane was called as a witness to the Free State government’s Committee on Evil Literature in 1926, his testimony was primarily concerned with the “hideous literature” and “filthy pornographic matter” in which the use of contraception was promoted.[13] He also provided the Committee with examples of this published material, which he had legally purchased in Dublin; A Letter to Working Mothers by Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger’s Family Limitation (Handbook for Working Mothers) were two prominent titles. Devane’s testimony was also peppered with voyeuristic stories about various businesses in Dublin that sold contraception which Vigilance activists had surveilled or a story about a “jew” [sic] found selling contraceptives in Ballina; when the Gardaí failed to stop him, the local parish priest held an ad hoc trial and attempted to extract a £100 fine from him. “The jew paid £10 and cleared out.”[14]

Evil Literature

Evil Literature: Some Suggestions (1927)

In a 1927 pamphlet on Evil Literature, which publicised his contributions to the Committee on Evil Literature, Devane spoke of the need to make the public “sufficiently prepared” for the implementation of censorship. He felt there had been a ‘failure to create atmosphere… the Government needs an informed public opinion to facilitate its efforts in introducing legislation, and to help towards countering in advance a certain opposition which cannot be burked and which must be faced.” Devane revealed much here about the role the Church plays in shaping public opinion for the State; needless to say, he saw this article as a way to do all this.[15] In 1950, a year before his death Devane published a short pamphlet that restated his verbal assault on The Imported Press; what is perhaps most noteworthy about this pamphlet is how much it repeats Devane’s views from a quarter century earlier; on issues of censorship and the building of a correctly moral nationalist culture, he was not prone to changing his mind. It is not for nothing that Myles na gCopaleen once snapped that Devane was motivated by a desire to protect the child-like Irish people by imposing, via censorship, “more cotton-wool for frail, feckless Pat”[16]

The Imported Press

The Imported Press (1950)

An Irish Sun Was Replaced By An English Sun 

            In that late career pamphlet on The Imported Press, Devane looked back at his early years as a priest in the north of England, asserting that his experiences from that time informed his desires for press censorship. He claimed to have witnessed with unease how English workers spent their Sundays reading salacious tabloid news until the pubs opened and they could start their heavy drinking.[17]   The idea that England was a morally dangerous place, and thus that publications coming from that country must be censored, were intensified by Devane’s emotive language and turns-of-phrase; “the cross-Channel unclean press”; “the reptile press”; “cross-Channel looseness, grossness, and vulgarity that are nowadays being propagated with impunity throughout the country”; “unclean and vulgar literature”; “tainted goods”; “Advertisements of manuals of immorality, of immoral appliances, and of diabolical books, mostly written by women, are becoming quite common in what is appropriately styled the “gutter press,” which is dumped by the ton each week on the Dublin quays.” He also spoke anxiously about the dangers that Irish “girls” faced upon moving to the fleshpots of England.[18] Indeed, Devane believed that “English Standards” of legislation, which gave legal sanction to contraception, were the source of much of Ireland’s problems.[19] This moral horror in turn worked to buttress an image of Irish moral purity over and against the baseness that supposedly existed on the other side of the Irish Sea. Devane happily talked of “the clean tradition of the Irish Press”[20] and said that “The Irish people have been ever remarkable for their high appreciation of purity and chastity”[21].

There was indeed a strongly felt disgust at England and English culture running throughout Devane’s prose. In one of his oddest moments, he attacked Daylight Savings Time in a 1928 essay, describing it an insidious British importation. While other European nations – “saner” nations – have rejected the “hysteria” of Daylight Savings, “We retain it because it has been imposed on us together with Greenwich Time by Great Britain, and because we have neither the social sense nor the national spirit to reject it.”   Devane saw something important in the fact that Daylight Savings Time was imposed on Ireland just after the Easter Rising, when the nation was distracted: “Let me emphasize the fact that we were never consulted as to whether an agricultural country such as ours needed Summer Time or not; it was simply thrust on us when the nation was sorely distracted, in one of the most tragic periods of our history, and in the sole interest of Great Britain. We have had the power of removing this cruel infliction on rural Ireland for many years, but we still lie slavishly under it.” Ireland had been forced into British Time, literally and figuratively: “by a few lines of a British Act we lost our own Irish Time… an Irish sun was replaced by an English sun.”[22] Now Ireland must break out of this.

Summer Time

Summer Time (1928), signed by Devane

It would be all too easy to caricature Devane as an unthinking anglophobe. And yet there was a certain kind of respect for England, as well as perhaps a desire for England to respect Ireland, that recurs in Devane’s writings; even the notion that Ireland should prove its moral superiority over England draws on a desire for English respect. His 1927 discussion of Evil Literature: Some Suggestions was introduced with a preface by Evelyn Cecil, a Tory MP who had advocated censorship in the UK and whose work had attracted European-wide attention. In a 1931 essay on the dangers of public dancing, Devane approvingly quoted the more stringent regulations enforced in Britain and he also praised the English system of local government as a form of social organisation that could rectify “the disintegrating influences operative to-day”. With some adjustments for “our own peculiar conditions” such English-style governance would “preserve our rural traditions” and “keep our people rooted in the soil.”[23] He also maintained a correspondence with Alison Neilans, the General Secretary of the English-based Association for Moral and Social Hygiene.[24]

Indeed, Devane showed an awareness of international currents in censorship, and in moral legislation in general, that is at stark odds with the stereotypical image of Ireland as an isolated sacra insula in the years after 1922. He approvingly referenced the International Convention for the Circulation and Traffic in Obscene Publications, organised under the auspices of the League of Nations on 31 August 1923. Devane also showed himself aware of similar work being done by the New England Watch and Ward (Vigilance) Society and looked to the British Dominions of Canada and Australia for models of literary censorship worth emulating.[25] He praised the anti-dancing legislation passed in Mussolini’s Italy, in the Netherlands, and in contemporary Greece and Cuba as well as the attempt in the German state of Thuringia to ban “jazz music and negro dances” which, Devane claimed, “glorify negroism and strike a blow at German kultur.”[26] Similarly, his support for film censorship looked for inspiration to, among others, Japan, Germany, France, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and, incongruously, Soviet-era Russia.[27]

A Chivalrous And Catholic Nation

Devane’s views of sexual morality, taken as whole, reiterated the notion that a Catholic conception of individual sexual morality would make for a neat partnership with the State. This was certainly the case with his contribution to the infamous Carrigan Committee of the early 1930s.   Devane was present at the Committee’s fourth meeting, on 1 July 1930, and like Frank Duff (who had presented his evidence a week earlier, on 27 June), Devane agreed that prostitution was rife in Ireland. For Devane, it was temporary migration to England, as well as the new fashion of dance halls, which had “ruined” these “girls”. [28] Devane, like Duff, urged that prostitutes be sent to special “homes” for treatment, something the Carrigan report repeated in its recommendation that “Girl offenders” [i.e. aged 16-21] should be dealt with via a borstal system.[29] In other words, Devane was a supporter of what James Smith has aptly called Ireland’s “architecture of containment’” the institutional machinery that allowed “the decolonizing nation-state to confine aberrant citizens, rendering invisible women and children who fell foul of society’s moral proscriptions…. a national identity that privileged Catholic morality and valorized the correlation between marriage and motherhood while at the same time effacing nonconforming citizens who were institutionally confined.”[30]

The fallout from the Carrigan Committee also shows that “the Church” is not a singular or static entity. The “Catholic” input into the Carrigan Committee was from figures such as Devane or lay activists like Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, as much it came from conventional priests subject to episcopal authority.[31] And Devane and Duff’s attitudes were far closer to the extreme measures recommended in the Carrigan Report than was the Catholic Hierarchy. Indeed, the Hierarchy were themselves far closer to the Government in their shared unease about Carrigan’s findings.[32]

A year after his appearance before the Carrigan Committee, Devane returned to the perceived dangers of public dancing in an article for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record.[33] Here, he described saw dance halls as “A moral and national menace’ and claimed they were bastions of drunkenness and even worse: “Not only is drink taken by the men but girls [sic] are induced to do so. Hence the orgies one sees so often reported in the Press and which centre round the dance-halls.”   Devane spoke of dance venues as “man-traps” and physically dirty places, and notions of sanitised space were central, if subtle, elements in his thinking.[34] Fitting with his ambiguous perceptions of British society, Devane approvingly quoted the more stringent regulations enforced in Britain, whereby dance halls were more closely monitored by the authorities: “There is a spirit of discipline in all this that it would be well we should copy, if for no other reason than to teach many of our young folk a sense of restraint and discipline, of which they seem scarcely to have a rudimentary idea.” Whereas Devane saw Irish public spaces as increasingly polluted by dance halls, British authorities, he believed, had properly disciplined their public spaces. His conclusion was that “The moral health of the [Irish] Nation is not quite sound and shows signs of being gradually undermined… There is a general languor and malaise in the body corporate which seem to imply a general poisoning of the national system.” Pushing this medical metaphor, Devane urged: “Remove the source of infection and a surprising recovery will soon take place…. We need the hand of a national surgeon, of a strong Minister, to rid us of its poisoning influence and so to lead to the restoration of our normal moral health. God send it soon.”[35] Where organisations such as the Catholic Truth Society argued for a Church-led reform of Irish society, Devane saw the State as the ideal motive force.[36] He felt the State should work in a negating way, to remove the problem of public dancing, while the Church, the Home and the School would work in a positive way, to promote a better alternative morality.[37]

Devane’s sense that England was a source of moral danger played a determining role in other aspects of his views of sexuality. In a 1928 pamphlet on The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission, Devane claimed that 317 pregnant Irish women had arrived in Liverpool in 1926/27, drawing on figures supplied by the Liverpool Port and Station Work Society. Reflecting the surveillance culture of Irish sexual morality in the Free State years, Devane said that “It would be interesting to follow the careers of these 300 of our young countrywomen, stranded in a large seaport city, and to discover their fate.” It is also telling that in Devane’s prose, Irish women seem to have no free will; they are “stranded” in England, rather than emigrants.[38] This recurs throughout this piece, which moves to a discussion of age of consent laws. Devane seems to work from the premise that any sexual contact is initiated by men, with “prematurely developed girls, inexperienced and an easy prey to the seducer” being acted upon by these men.[39] He elsewhere spoke of “the insuppressible lust of men” which exists in contrast to “the independent and free and easy airs of the growing girl of to-day”. Thus, Devane concluded that there was a “greater need for protection”, to guard “girls” from both “the seduction of the designing blackguard” as well as from “her own silliness and stupidity”. Such protection was something women had a right to expect in “a chivalrous and Catholic nation.”[40]   In this mode of analysis, Devane departed sharply from the views of Frank Duff, perhaps the prominent lay Catholic social reformer of the early Free State. For Duff, sexually active girls and women were a source of danger who actively seduced otherwise innocent men[41], for Devane the dangers resided within men themselves with “girls” remaining innocent victims or, at most, foolish children. And both Church and Nation-State would need to legislate for this.

Parish Councils

A Guide for Parish Councils in Ireland (1940)

The Films Are A Grave National Menace To Our Culture

Later in life, Devane developed a keen interest in film production and the regulation of the cinema industry. He saw films as a useful means of modern mass education and also as a prophylactic against “demoralising and denationalising influences”[42]. Accentuating the need for a nationalist cinema to educate the people was Devane’s fear that Irish children’s nationalist education would be erased by the denationalising effects of commercial movies. “Will their impressionable minds be any more able to resist the seductive lessons of the screen than African primitives armed with bows and arrows can oppose a modern mechanised army with airplanes and tanks?”. He also believed that adults were just as liable to be infected by the commercial cinema. Films, he said, have the potential to be “a grave national menace to our culture”[43]

Unsurprisingly, Devane had favourable views of film censorship. He was certainly aware of the (in)famous Hays Code in the US, having learnt of it from a book entitled Decency in Motion Pictures by Martin Quigley, which he recommended to the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, in 1941.[44] On this issue, Devane returned to his regular idea that public opinion needs to be “formed” so as to support film censorship and said that the film industry is so powerful that “nothing but the State can control them”.[45] He was particularly interested in establishing a National Film Institute that could co-ordinate all this and would ameliorate the “baneful influences” of commercial cinema:[46]

“The National Film Institute should link up various organised elements of the nation and help towards awakening national consciousness as regards the propagandist, cultural and educational value of the films. It would act as a clearing house for information on all matters affecting films at home and abroad, particularly as regards education and general culture, influence public opinion to appreciate the value of films as entertainment and instruction and advice educational bodies and other organisations.”[47]

As with so much else of his proposals, Devane looked overseas for examples worth emulating, identifying the Danish Film Institute as a useful model.[48]

There was also a certain kind of fear of global capitalism here. In his contribution to The Irish Cinema Handbook (1943), Devane spoke of “our commercial exploitation by cosmopolitan adventurers” in the film industry.[49]. He claimed that Irish cinema owners worked under “oppressive conditions imposed by foreign film renters” who force Irish cinemas to take their products. He called this a “despotic invasion of authority from outside” which “should not be tolerated in a sovereign State”, though it is not clear if he was offended by the coercion itself rather than its foreign origins.[50] Confirming the idea that Devane was animated by a certain fear of capitalism, his obituary in his alma mater’s school magazine talked of how he “did not underestimate the power of paganism backed by wealth” and “he often met bitter opposition from those who made money at the cost of human souls.”[51]


Scannáin (1942)

In a preface [Brollach] he wrote for a one-off film magazine published by the short-lived fascist group Ailtirí na hAiséirghe [Architects of the Resurrection], Devane voiced his fears about the denationalising effects of the film industry, “which has all the driving power of limitless capital behind it, appealing to the taste of the ignorant and the half-educated who constitute the great majority of humanity”, thus mixing his idiosyncratic anti-capitalism with old-fashioned social snobbery. There were also nationalist concerns at work here, as he pondered “Can any people preserve for long a distinct national character, a national culture, when these huge organisations, with unlimited resources can break into and take possession of the minds of men everywhere, creating images, sensations, ideas of life which with few exceptions are cheap, vulgar and sensational?”   Anxieties about “the degeneration of culture under the impact of modernity”, as Gopal Balakrishan has observed, were one of the main “thematic prongs of the Right in the twentieth century”[52]. Devane certainly appears to have feared the fissiparous effects of the capitalist culture industry on Irish traditions. Also worth noting is the suggestion, again, that some people are passive in the face of danger (as with “girls” in the face of rapacious men); even Devane’s description of the culture industry penetrating men’s minds has a sexual tinge to it.[53]

In his views on the cinema, though, he did not find favour with Fianna Fáil. An attempt to gain an audience with Eamon de Valera, so that Devane and a group of supporters could present proposals for “a government inquiry into the use of the cinema for nationalist propaganda purposes” appears to have been received with a polite rebuttal.[54] It seems that by the mid-1930s, Devane had been sidelined by Fianna Fáil; despite his strong views on the topic, he does not appear to have been consulted in 1935 when the government was preparing the Dance Halls Act[55]. Perhaps his longstanding association with the legislative agenda of Cumann na nGaedheal put him at odds with the anti-Treayites. His contributions to the debacle of the Carrigan Committee may also have hurt his reputation in government circles. All of which raises interesting questions about how the State interacts with the Church; shifts in control of the State clearly affect which factions of the Church are consulted or allowed access to State power.   Additionally, Devane’s fascist leanings, on display from the 1930s onwards, further compounded his problem of finding a stable place within fluid Church-State relations.

Ireland Wants Neither Extremists Of The Right Nor Of The Left

By the 1930s, Devane began to flirt with continental fascism. While he appears to have been a supporter of Mussolini,[56] he reserved a special note of affection for António de Oliveira Salazar, “one of the greatest statesmen in Europe to-day”, who had expurgated “Grand Orient Masonic Liberalism”, an import from France, from Portugal. In a pamphlet in the early forties, proposing reforms in local government, and which drew on examples from across Europe, Devane held particular praise for the reforms under Salazar. Only the heads of families could vote in local elections in Portugal’s Estado Novo, a reform Devane praised for the way it made families the basic unit of society; a familial state would, he claimed, be free of internecine ideological strife. Though Devane, generously recognising the existence of female political concerns, such as welfare and school lunches, did allow that mothers, as well as fathers, should be allowed to vote.[57] Three years prior to this, Devane had used a similar vocabulary to praise de Valera’s new constitution. Breaking from ‘conventional liberalism’, with its undue focus on the individual, Devane wrote to the Taoiseach of his happiness that the family would now be the basic unit of Irish society. Fr. Devane suggested that Dev now borrow from Salazar and give votes to heads of families only in future elections. Devane’s letter leaves it diplomatically unstated, but tacitly assumed, that heads of households are generally men.[58]

In a 1938 article for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Devane reiterated his support for Salazar, praising his focus on the family, his anti-liberalism, and his “restoration of a Christian Portugal” in a state that was supposedly “poisonously anti-Catholic” prior to Salazar. Devane also boosted Portuguese education as a model for Irish schools, “a scheme of moral and civic instruction drafted by the State itself – no doubt acting in accord with the Church.”[59]

Challenge from Youth

Challenge From Youth (1942)

In the 1940s, Devane published his two longest and most ambitious works, both of which continued in this hard-right political vein. In Challenge from Youth (1942), Devane looked at various youth movements in contemporary Europe; in Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Portugal, Pétain’s France, and Britain. Much of this was a continuation of an earlier interest in adolescence as the deciding period in citizens’ religious, moral and political development.   And again, Devane showed a sharp awareness of developments elsewhere in Europe.[60] He stated that in a Christian country such as Ireland, “there can obviously be no place for State regimentation of youth and, furthermore, that religion must be the basis and formative spirit of youth training.”[61] Thus, he seemed to suggest that the Church should take an unquestioned lead in organising the nation’s youth. Devane was clearly shocked by the irreligious nature of the USSR and the Third Reich, yet he also recommended a Catholicised version of the Nazi Arbeitsdienst [Work Service] as a model to be adopted in Ireland and concluded that

“the secret of the success of Communists, Fascists and Nazis lies in one single fact, namely, that they have an intense, personal, all-consuming faith, a totalitarian faith, colouring their minds, influencing their outlook and operating in a conscious way throughout the actions of their daily lives. The question of questions for the whole of Christianity to-day, and much more of to-morrow is – “Can we Christians develop such a totalitarian Christian faith of a like white-heat intensity?””

And he spoke of his hope that the Irish could become “as consciously Christian or Catholic as the Germans are Nazi, the Russians, Communist, the Italians, Fascist”. What he thus seemed to be arguing for was a state-backed youth movement that would percolate an authoritarian and political Catholicism throughout Irish society.[62] Looking approvingly at youth labour schemes in post-1939 Britain, Devane observed that “The laissez-faire attitude of Liberal Democracy towards Youth is at last being buried in Britain; how long more will it be allowed to remain alive in Éire? There is a big job waiting to be tackled both by Church and State in Ireland… It is useless to suggest that we have too many things on hands at present; Britain, with her colossal war, can yet find time for her youth; why cannot we also?”[63] State and Church were again coterminous in his conceptualisations.

Failure of Individualism

The Failure of Individualism (1948)

Where Challenge from Youth ranged across the spaces of Europe, his next book, The Failure of Individualism (1948) manoeuvred back in time, to find the root cause of the chaos Devane felt was gripping post-war Europe. Devane described this book as a ‘Handbook of Politics and Economics’ for citizens who wish to understand ‘the present social chaos.’ And he traced this back to the post-Reformation erosion of “the organic structure of society”, replaced by individualism, atomism and an antisocial and unnatural isolation.[64] Devane identified three forms of individualism; political individualism, represented by the liberalism of Locke and Rousseau; religious individualism, embodied in the English Protestantism he believed had destroyed the unity of medieval Catholic Europe; and economic individualism, also known as capitalism. Devane drew on an eclectic range of sources for all this; the Anglo-French Catholic thinker Hilare Belloc, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Montesquieu, the Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen, the French Catholic intellectual Jacques Maritain, Max Weber, and Nicholas Berdyaev, a Russian philosopher who had moved from Marxism to an Orthodox-inflected Christian existentialism and was duly exiled by the Bolsheviks. He also critically referenced Friedrich Hayek and, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, Harold Laski.[65] When Devane turned his attention to economic individualism, he drew on Marx and Engels, “two remarkable men”. He evinced a certain sympathy for them, admitting that “Capitalism was no doubt an evil economic system” but argued that socialism and communism, by destroying private property, would be far more evil and would reduce all men to the level of the oppressed proletariat.[66] Devane’s reference points are broader and far more cosmopolitan than is generally presumed for the dour guardians of Catholic Ireland; worldliness does not necessarily equate with the “correct” form of liberal politics.

There is also a curious paradox here: as he moved further from access to power, his writings become far more in depth and far more sophisticated (if still deeply reactionary), from succinct polemical essays of the 1920s to 300-page treatises by the 1940s.[67] Moreover, that Devane went from consultant-at-large on important pieces of government legislation in the 1920s and early 30s, to an overt authoritarian-sympathiser in the following decade, had been largely ignored. Scholars like John Regan, R.M. Douglas and Kenneth Shonk have all shown how authoritarianism was by no means alien to the political culture of post-1922 Ireland.[68] The trajectory of Devane’s writings fits with this assessment. As Devane moved from being a Cumann na nGaedheal surrogate to a booster of Pétain and Salazar, there was a marked consistency across his writings. A Catholic political theology was always central to his worldview, but so also was a strong state that could enforce this social project. Devane’s clerico-fascist leanings were as much statist as they were religious. Indeed, fitting with Nicos Poultanzas’ model, it is rarely clear where the Church ends and the State begins in Devane’s politics.

Studying Devane’s voluminous writings, reveals much about the tortuous dynamics of Irish Church-State relations, about how strong an impact European politics and philosophy had on Ireland (thus countering the caricature about isolated Ireland), and how anti-capitalist notions bubbled under the surface of Irish political debate.[69] Paraphrasing Gopal Balakrishnan’s study of the legal theorist turned National Socialist ideologue, Carl Schmitt, R.S. Devane “is a difficult figure. But even people of diametrically opposite political allegiances can profit intellectually from taking him seriously, and not just with the intention of refuting everything he has to say.”[70]

[1] In one footnote to the article, Devane revealed what he means by the problem of enforcing vigilance in a religiously diverse city. He condemned one bookshop as having an Irish name ‘which is in strange conflict with that of the alien who owns it’, in what was presumably a coded reference to a Jewish-owned business.

[2] R.S. Devane. Indecent Literature: Some Legal Remedies (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1925). Reprinted from Irish Ecclesiastical Record, February 1925.

[3] Irish Jesuit Archives (IJA), ADMN12/13 (1), Note to Fr. Nicholas Tomkin, 28 November 1924

[4] Nicos Poulantzas; Timothy O’Hagan, et al, trans. Political Power and Social Classes (London: New Left Books, 1975). For an application of Poulantzas’ ideas to Irish political history, see: Richard Dunphy. The Making of Fianna Fáil Power in Ireland, 1923-48 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[5] Nicos Poulantzas; Patrick Camiller, trans. State, Power, Socialism (London: New Left Books, 1978) 36

[6] In his study of elite Catholic schools, Ciaran O’Neill touches on the similar problem of speaking of The Church in singular terms, since secular clergy, the various monastic orders, and the episcopal hierarchy are all included under this umbrella term, as are the autonomous Jesuits. Catholics of Consequence: Transnational Education, Social Mobility, and the Irish Catholic Elite, 1850-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) 14-15.

[7] To my knowledge, there has only been one academic paper on Devane: Martin Walsh, ‘Richard Devane: Social Campaigner in the Free State, 1920-51’. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 103, No. 412 (Winter, 2014/15) 562-573.

[8] Maria Luddy. Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 195; Diarmuid Ferriter. Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland (London: Profile Books, 2009) 148, 156.

[9] For the history of ‘Vigilance’ work in early twentieth-century Ireland, see: Maurice Curtis. A Challenge to Democracy: Militant Catholicism in Modern Ireland (Dublin: The History Press, 2010).

[10] Devane’s personal papers in the Irish Jesuit Archives contain little about his early life.   The biographical information presented here comes from the entry on Devane by Maurice Cronin in Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), Martin Walsh’s essay on Devane  and from the obituaries of Devane in The Mungret Annual (Limerick: Mungret College, 1952) and Irish Province News (July, 1951); both of these draw heavily on the obituary of Devane in the Irish Independent, 24 May 1951; a press cutting of that obituary is available at IJA J44/3 (2).

[11] R.S. Devane. The Imported Press: A National Menace – Some Remedies (Dublin: James Duffy, 1950) 10.

[12] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925) 4.

[13] National Archives of Ireland (NAI) JUS 7/1/1, Committee on Evil Literature, Secretary’s Correspondence with Chairman and Members of Committee, Letter from R.S. Devane to Fr. Dempsey, 21 April, 1926

[14] NAI JUS 7/2/9, Rev. Richard Devane, S.J., 24th June 1926: Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J., examined. See also: Dermot Keogh. Jews in Twentieth Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998) 80. For more on his voyeuristic knowledge of the various places one could buy contraception in Dublin, see: Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin’ (2009) 193-194.

[15] R.S. Devane. Evil Literature: Some Suggestions (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1927)

[16] IJA J44/2, Undated Cutting from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’/Irish Times

[17] Devane. ‘The Imported Press’ (1950) 8.

[18] NAI JUS 90/4/1, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1930) Minute Book ; NAI 2005/32/105, Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and Juvenile Prostitution

[19] NAI JUS 7/1/1, Committee on Evil Literature, Secretary’s Correspondence with Chairman and Members of Committee, Letter from R.S. Devane to Fr. Dempsey, 21 April, 1926

[20] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925); Aidan Beatty. Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism: 1884-1938 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) Ch. 7.

[21] R.S. Devane. ‘The Unmarried Mother: Some Legal Aspects of the Problem’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 32 (January-June 1924) 58.

[22] Summer Time: An Imposition and an Anomaly (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1939). Reprinted from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, February 1939. See also Vanessa Ogle. The Global Transformation of Time (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015) 52-53.

[23] Richard S. Devane. A Guide for the Parish Councils in Ireland: Based on Parish Councils in England, Portugal, Denmark and France (Dublin: The Kenny Press, n.d.) 8.

[24] Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin’ (2009) 145-146

[25] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925) 6, 8, 16.

[26] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194; R.S. Devane. The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1928). Devane’s positive views of anti-dancing legislation in Cuba also reiterated his deeply racist views of jazz music, Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin (2009) 179

[27] IJA J44/10, Letter from R.S. Devane to Eamon de Valera, 22 April 1937

[28] NAI JUS 90/4/1, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1930) Minute Book. See also NAI JUS 90/4/13, Memo of Evidence of Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J. These are ‘Heads of Evidence’, rough notes based on Devane’s evidence. Under the heading “Preventive Work”, Devane spoke of “Unmarried Mother; Mentally Defectives; Girls out of Control; Dance Halls…”.

[29] NAI 2005/32/105, Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and Juvenile Prostitution.

[30] Smith, ‘Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries’ (2007) 46-47. For Devane’s views of Magdalen Laundries, see: Luddy, Prostitution’(2007) 120.

[31] See: NAI JUS 90/4/2, Criminal Law Amendment Committee, List of Witnesses

[32] NAI JUS H247/41B, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1932-1933), Rough Notes made by the Minister for Justice after an interview on the 1st December, 1932, between the Bishop of Limerick, the Bishop of Ossory, the Bishop of Thasos and the Minister

[33] For the broader history of the gendered and racial history of dancing, and of moral panics surrounding it, see: Maxine Leeds Craig. Sorry I Don’t Dance: Why Men Refuse to Move (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Barbara O’Connor. ‘Ruin and Romance: Heterosexual Discourses on Irish Popular Dance, 1920-1960’. Irish Journal of Sociology, Vol. 12, No.2 (2003) 50-67.

[34] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194. One article by Devane, The Dance Hall: A National and Moral Menace, was censored by the Jesuits’ authority for the ‘province’ of Ireland, since it was felt that the earlier draft included language ‘more indelicate or suggestive than need be’, particularly in its descriptions of dances. IJA, Censorship Judgements (1924-1968), ADMN12/15 (2), Judicium Censorum Provinciae Hiberniae, 29 December 1930.

[35] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194. Devane also supplied copies of this article to the members of the Carrigan Committee, along with a contemporaneous article, also from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, on ‘The Legal Protection of Girls’. NAI JUS 90/4/13, Memo of Evidence of Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J.

[36] Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) 202. It is perhaps also the case that public dances tapped into Devane’s fears of anonymity and social control in a modern society no longer based around isolated villages: ‘[I]n lonely country places the dangers are too obvious to need description. If the dance were confined to the people of the district one could be more tolerant. But, when it is open to all and sundry who come from many miles away, and who are complete strangers, then a new element of danger becomes only too apparent.’ R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170

[37] ‘The Dance Hall’ (1931) Ibid, 194

[38] Elsewhere, though, Devane showed himself to be closer to Duff’s horror in the face of uncontrolled female sexuality. See: Luddy, ‘Prostitition’ (2007) 200, 207.

[39] R.S. Devane. The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1928). Reprinted from Irish Ecclesiastical Record, June, 1928

[40]R.S. Devane. ‘The Unmarried Mother: Some Legal Aspects of the Problem’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 32 (January-June 1924) 58-64

[41] Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) 191-196.

[42] IJA J44/14, My Suggestions for Terms of Reference for Proposed Cinema Enquiry.

[43] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]).

[44] IJA J44/22, Letter from R.S. Devane to the Archbishop of Dublin, 5 May 1941. Quigley was a devout Catholic, instrumental in the establishment of the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) and was the publisher of the Motion Picture Herald, a trade publication.

[45] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]).

[46] IJA J44/14, My Suggestions for Terms of Reference for Proposed Cinema Enquiry, n.d. [ca. 1937]

[47] R.S. Devane. ‘The Film in National Life’ Irish Cinema Handbook (Dublin: Parkside Press, 1943) 14.

[48] R.S. Devane. ‘The Film in National Life’, Irish Cinema Handbook (Dublin: Parkside Press, 1943) 18.

[49] Ibid, 13.

[50] Ibid, 16.

[51] The Mungret Annual (Limerick: Mungret College, 1952)

[52] Gopal Balakrishnan. The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 2000) 6

[53] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]). For the history of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, see: R.M. Douglas. Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist “new order” in Ireland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009).

[54] IJA J44/10, Letter from R.S. Devane to Eamon de Valera, 22 April 1937; IJA J44/11, Letter from P.S. O Muireadhaigh (de Valera’s Private Secretary) to R.S. Devane, 22 May 1937

[55] Luddy, ‘Prostitution’ (2007) 199.

[56] Douglas, ‘Architects’ (2009) 50

[57] Richard S. Devane. A Guide for the Parish Councils in Ireland: Based on Parish Councils in England, Portugal, Denmark and France (Dublin: The Kenny Press, n.d. [ca. 1940]) 13-21

[58] NAI TAOIS/ S9856, Draft Constitution, May 1937: Misc. Suggestions and Criticisms, General, Extract from a Letter dated 29/5/37 addressed to the President by Fr. R.S. Devane, S.J.

[59] R.S. Devane. ‘The Religious Revival Under Salazar’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 51 (January-June 1938) 20-41. Emphases Added.

[60] Other than the six chapters on the USSR, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, and the UK, Devane also drew on material related to Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and South Africa.

[61] R.S. Devane. Challenge from Youth: A Documented Study of Youth in Modern Youth Movements (Dublin: Browne & Nolan, 1942) xi.

[62] Devane, ‘Challenge of Youth’ (1942) 149, 168

[63] Devane, ‘Challenge of Youth’ (1942) 256

[64] R.S. Devane. The Failure of Individualism: A Documented Essay (Dublin: Browne and Nolan/The Richview Press, 1948) xi, 5.

[65] Devane, ’The Failure of Individualism’ (1948) 12, 88, 112, 140-141, 167, 285

[66] Devane, ’The Failure of Individualism’ (1948) 313. It is interesting that Devane writes about capitalism in the past tense here; it was an evil system, but presumably no longer is evil.

[67] Challenge of Youth was 297 pages. Failure of Individualism surpassed this, at 342 pages.

[68] John M. Regan. The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-1936: Treatyite Politics and Settlement in Independent Ireland (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1999); Douglas, ‘Architects’ (2009); Kenneth Shonk. ‘Ireland’s New Traditionalists: Gender and Fianna Fáil Republicanism, 1926-1938.’ Paper presented at American Conference for Irish Studies, Midwest Regional Meeting, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 9 October 2015.

[69] Indeed, drawing on the work of Nicos Poulantzas, Richard Dunphy has defined Fianna Fáil’s economics as the ‘status quo anti-capitalism’ common to the petit-bourgeoisie. Dunphy, ‘Fianna Fáil Power’ (1995) 39-40. See also, Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) Ch. 6. Devane’s writings suggest that this conservative anti-capitalism had purchase elsewhere in Irish society.

[70] Balakrishnan, ‘The Enemy’ (2000) 9


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