Rethinking Ireland

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Our colleague Tomás Finn published a new book – Tuairim, Intellectual Debate and Policy Formulation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975 (Manchester University Press) – earlier this year, for which he won an NUI Galway School of Humanities prize. In this post he tells us what the book is all about.

This book argues that the 1950s and 1960s were a transformative phase in modern Irish history. In these years a conservative society dominated by the Catholic Church, and a state which was inward-looking and distrustful of novelty, gradually opened up to fresh ideas about politics, the economy, society and religion. The book considers this change. It explores how from its formation in 1954 the intellectual movement Tuairim (‘opinion’ in Irish) was at the vanguard of the challenge to orthodoxy and conservatism.

Tuairim initiated and contributed to debates on issues as diverse as Northern Ireland, administrative and political reform, education, childcare and censorship. The society established branches throughout Ireland, including Belfast, and in London. Tuairim produced frequent critical publications on burning issues and boasted a roster of members who would go on to become luminaries in Irish and British public life; Dr Garret FitzGerald, the future Taoiseach, Donal Barrington, later a Supreme Court Judge, John Boland, the future head of the Public Trustee Office in London, Miriam Hederman O’Brien, subsequently a Chancellor in the University of Limerick and David Thornley, who became a distinguished television presenter and a Labour party TD. Until its disbandment in 1975, Tuairim occupied a unique position within contemporary debates on Ireland’s present and future. This book is concerned with the role that the society played in the modernisation of Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s. In so doing it also addresses topics of continued relevance for the Ireland of today, including the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the institutional care of children.

Broadly, this and my other work consider the role of ideas and the influence of intellectuals on the modernisation of Ireland. My next project, The influence of intellectuals in post WWII Ireland: Patrick Lynch and the Commonweal examines how the Irish state’s policy approach and the nature of public debate were transformed in the post WWII period. Specifically, it is concerned with the influence of intellectuals and the role of ideas in this, a crucial period in Ireland’s development. It examines public intellectuals such as Patrick Lynch, a civil servant and an academic. A deep thinker on the relationship between economic and social development, Lynch was involved in many policy formulation bodies and civil society organisations which led to the transformation of Ireland.

The interaction between individuals such as Lynch and civil society and the political and religious establishments is the focus of this project. It explores the extent to which ideas crossed the political spectrum and how they were disseminated. Broadly it is concerned with ideas, intellectuals and their influence in persuading governmental institutions to adopt new policies. In so doing, this project seeks to develop a greater understanding of the process by which Ireland was modernised. Using Lynch and his public career (c. 1940-1980) as a vehicle, it examines how Ireland moved from autarky and a conservative consensus of church and state to an open economy and more liberal social attitudes. It was an era when public intellectuals such as Lynch, and others like T. K. Whitaker, the pre-eminent public servant, challenged orthodox thinking and conservative attitudes. This project is concerned with the consideration such individuals gave to the ways Ireland was governed, socially, politically and economically. It seeks to ascertain the extent to which new ideas were accepted by the public and the political establishment. This, the market for ideas, how this develops, and its influence on the nature of state policy, is the subject matter with which my work is concerned.

– Tomás Finn

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