Do you Remember Capuchin Annuals?

A Feature on the Capuchin Annual 1967 by Frances Devlin-Glass

If you do remember Capuchin Annuals, you probably belong to an older generation, and Tinteán would love to hear what you made of them. Do you have any? Are you moved to write about them?

Capuchin Annual 69

Brendan Mc Manus’s much-loved Capuchin Annual

Recently, I was lent four copies (1967, 1968, 1969 and 1971) by the daughter of Bernard McManus, who arrived in the 1950s from Fermanagh, and they were a revelation. On heavy glossy paper, the volumes are in great condition, with the binding still intact after years of being loved. The production values were high but the most astonishing thing is the quality, and enduring interest, of what’s between the covers. The most valuable and sought-after of these was the 1967 issue, and since it is topical (for reasons I’ll elaborate), that’s the one I’ll examine.

I can imagine the excitement of one of these publications landing in a diasporic household in Australia. To get a copy, it seems you might have needed to subscribe, or in the magazine’s parlance, to become a Foundation Life-member for £35 (in 1967), or for less outlay and on a sliding scale, a Life Member, or Six-Year Member, or Annual Member (£6). A single issue bears the advertised price of $5 (presumably US). Members were generally Irish, but also came from the US and very occasionally Australia.

Founded by Irish Franciscan Capuchins, the magazine ran from 1930 -1977, and it featured many prominent Irish writers (Aodh de Blacam, Benedict Kiely, Francis Stuart), photographers (of the calibre of the Jesuit, Fr Brown), cartoonists and theologians, but it has to be said it was an omnibus style of magazine – articles on Lourdes and Existentialism (this one by Fr Brendan, the very young professor of Philosophy at University College Cork) sat beside heavy-duty nationalist pieces and whimsical cartoons about Capuchins.

The 50 prefatory pages of advertisements alone warrant a social historian’s gaze and a suite of theses – everything from Fermoy Loretto advertising for boarders, amplification systems for churches, and bread for workers, to Palomino Sherry.

A typical page of ads

A typical page of ads

The cover of these annuals is consistent and very Franciscan. It features (see above) what I take to be St Francis with a small hound whom he is fondling, with some wee birds looking on. It is a touching image by S. O’Sullivan RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy), a Dublin-born artist and printmaker who trained in London. Interspersed with the ads is a series of whimsical cartoons, ‘Sketches of Capuchin Life’ by Grace Perry, which I imagine were designed for the kids in the family, often featuring naughty children (using a Capuchin beard as a paint brush while its elderly owner slept) or Capuchins doing arty things – like creating poetry or painting while the other friars are toiling away to produce his dinner. There’s also a delightful story, ‘Jemser Daly and the Phooka’, about a talking, drinking, prize-winning race-horse. It too is in the Franciscan spirit as the new owner is rewarded by the wily horse for saving him from the knackery. There are also devotional pages about how to build and make local (with characters in Irish dress) your own crib, or to meditate on the joyful mysteries of the rosary. While it is true to say that there was much for every member of the family, it was wide-ranging and mainly pitched at serious adult readers and had bigger fish to fry than my description to this point might suggest. The Capuchin Annual clearly aimed to be up-to-the-minute, but while its tenor was ethical, it perhaps would not have raised as many clerical eyebrows as our own beloved Eureka Street.

1967 was a bumper issue at 558 pages. Two big issues dominated its pages: Ecumenism and the Easter Rising. There were thirteen articles on the Ecumenical Movement and analyses of how Methodists and Presbyterians, and even more exotically, the Orthodox (Russian, Greek and Turkish), sects (like Quakers), differed from Catholics. There were a series of superb photos, the most striking of these being one of Pope Paul taking off his personal ring and putting it on the finger of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey in 1966. The photos are unhappily not credited, but there is much in the articles to educate a monocultural Catholic reader, especially an Irish one. Difference is raised respectfully and in a matter-of-fact manner, eschewing sectarianism. This coverage represents quite a direct confrontation with exclusivist versions of one- true-church thinking. It was also a reminder to me of the fervour and sophistication of the ’60s post-Vatican II zeitgeist, and how that ferment was lost, the pill encyclical, which came only a few years after this publication, being perhaps the pivot.

What probably makes the 1967 issue the most sought-after of the 38 (were two issues in some years rolled into one?) annuals is its coverage of the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising. The Centrepiece is undoubtedly two sets of photos, one of them, by then archival, photos embodying ‘The Spirit of 1917 captured in Contemporary Picturers [sic]’ and the other more recent, of the Golden Jubilee commemorations all over Ireland and even in Trafalgar Square in 1966. The former suite, and less so the latter, speak volumes, urgently, stridently:

  • There is the poster protesting about 121 Irishmen in Lewes Jail, which refers to Hunger Strikers and twelve suffering from ‘Glandular trouble of a Tubercular nature’;
  • A poem featuring a rifleman with gun at shoulder, and the title’ A Felon of our Land’ and at the bottom: VOTE FOR COSGRAVE;
  • The text of a letter from the impassioned Bishop of Killaloe with its inflammatory rhetoric about how hunger strikers are being treated (this probably amounted to a treasonable utterance in 1917 when Ireland was under martial law prohibiting all forms of incendiarism);
  • Count Plunkett, father of the executed Joseph Mary, addressing a huge gathering hoisted on the shoulders of others, and about to be arrested, and a policeman (accidentally?) killed in a stoush with a hurley stick;
  • Thomas Ashe, young at 31, handsome, a farmer in his prime, towering a full head above his British captors in Mountjoy Jail, clearly before he began the Hunger Strike during which he would be killed in a force-feeding episode;
  • The image of the 200 priests who preceded Ashe’s hearse to Glasnevin Cemetery and a photograph of the Irish Volunteers who, in defiance of General John Maxwell’s martial law, fired what was possibly a 21-gun salute over his grave;
  • There are shots and drawings from within the prisons that housed the Easter Rising prisoners – North Camp, Frongoch, Dartmoor Prison, Pentonville;
  • There are images too of hundreds of people welcoming prisoners home, including one of Countess Markievicz in a white coat with the widest victory smile, and similarly Eamon de Valera, thin, broadly grinning and raising his homberg;
  • And very tellingly: the 24 members of the Dáil Éireann almost doubles between January and April 1919 and the average age drops at least a decade. They also look respectable, relaxed and ‘arrived’, despite the conflicts swirling around them.

In the 1966 photos, there is a phalanx of photos of militaria – tanks and guns, army inspections, naval men.  It’s a display that is reminiscent of Russian and Korean shows of might, though of course on a small scale. Was the irony lost on the organisers? The victory was a moral one rather than a military one, or is that to impose on it a more modern reading? In the age of Vietnam, I don’t think so. It’s to be hoped that there will be less of this in 2016.

There are more touching photos of the last post being played in the Stonebreakers’ Yard at Kilmainham, the site of many of the executions of the signatories. Women are not forgotten: the Cumann

Survivors and relatives of the signatories of the Rising Proclamation

Survivors and relatives of the signatories of the Rising Proclamation

na mBan ladies of Clare, and some of the surviving relatives of the signatories of the proclamation, apparently had LL.D.degrees conferred on them,  including Senator Margaret Pearse, sister of Willie and Padraig and the wife of Tom Clarke, feature in other photos. The women look strong in their frailty. Loss must have been a too familiar lineament of their lives.

One wonders what kind of coverage of the Easter Rising the 1966 annual gave, but the coverage of 1917 and the aftermath of the Rising is superb. There are ten articles, including the photographic essay referred to above. The essays have a theme, that of rebuilding the  Nation, or as the title of the section optimistically puts it, ‘EVENTS of 1917 CREATE A PEOPLE WITH HOPE OF FREEDOM’. It’s quite clearly a nation-building suite of information/opinion pieces. There is a stirring piece by the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett about their father’s galvanisation at the age of 66, as the result of the death of his son, and his election in North Roscommon. Upon election, he and three other Irish members refused to sit in the House of Commons in Westminster. It was a courageous act and began the process by which the Republic proclaimed at the Rising the year before in 1916 was progressively realised.

Three of the articles in the post-Rising suite give grainy pictures (two of them written by political prisoners themselves) of life inside British prisons for those several thousand who were interned, often in camps occupied by German prisoners of war. The hard-core prisoners (sometimes under life sentences) went to Dartmoor, and 2000 to Frongoch, from which some went to Reading Jail. Although they may be guilty of airbrushing the realities, these accounts by Seamus Fitzgerald, Michael W. O’Reilly, a doctor who was aide de camp to Commandant Plunkett, actually suggest that imprisoning the men was exactly what was needed to build solidarity between them, and cement the discipline of the Irish Volunteers. If the military organisation of the Rising had been diminished by its territorial schisms (for example, Cork versus Dublin, and other schisms, like Redmondites against the radicals), then the camp allowed men from different parts of Ireland to get the bigger all-Ireland picture and build networks. These were men whom for whom jail hardened their commitment to the cause, and provided the leisure to learn from one another. The Volunteers were often well-educated and there are accounts of evenings spent after dark in bed saying the Rosary communally in dorms, singing rebel songs and recitations, reading and talking. Oliver Snoddy writes about the autograph books that also became an insurrectionist currency of great value, which made talk of ‘blood sacrifice’ generative, literally. Most of the prisoners were free by December 1916 and Dubliners came out to welcome them home in large numbers, a hugely different scenario from the one pertaining at Easter 1916.

Seán Ó Lúing’s paper on Thomas Ashe is moving, with its appealing images of Ashe as a young piper in kilt and its talk of his language work as part of the Gaelic League and his popular local success, a play, An Puncán, about an American returning to Ireland. It seems he may have had much to give his country. He died because he refused to be treated like a criminal and demanded the rights and privileges of a political prisoner, a prisoner of war. Apart from executions, the tragic death of Thomas Ashe as a result of force-feeding (a tube was inserted into his lungs and he was dead within 24 hours) was the only lethal outcome of these imprisonments, and of course, it became a powerful turning point for public opinion, as the images of the photos of his burial make clear.

Professor Thomas Dillon (husband of Plunkett’s sister) is another player in the drama of 1916 who gets a voice in this suite of essays. A scientist appointed to University College Dublin in 1909, he was arrested in 1918 for his part in the ‘German Plot’ and spent time in Gloucester Jail until March 1919. He writes about the ‘hot and strong’ debates at the Ard Fheis at the Mansion House in 1917 and his perception of how Sinn Féin and the Volunteers morphed during 1917 into the government. It seems that the chief credentials needed to be significant in such discussions were participation in the Rising, and that as early as 1917.

Those who were on the Redmondite side of politics and had committed to the war effort in France and Flanders as British soldiers were also covered in this suite of essays. Beda Herbert, who is described as a frequent contributor to the Capuchin Annual, did the honours for Tom Kettle who at 36 died on 9 September 1916. She is a writer with strong credentials, and in her biography we see the Capuchins (or was it Beda/Mrs Brophy?) bending over backwards to be a little bit feminist. She is pictured in her MA robes from University College Dublin and her maiden name is her preferred writer’s name; however, full-blown feminism is a step too far, and the biography makes much  of her both as Mrs Brophy, mother of four and doctor’s wife, but also as part-time teacher, writer and adjudicator at feiseanna. The article is not only a warm tribute to Kettle, a brilliant exposition of his role as a thinker about economics and nationalism, and it boasts a foresighted grasp of his understanding of the need for Ireland to be enmeshed in European perspectives. It is curious that such a piece was possible in 1967 and that his contribution could be seen in the broader context in which German imperialism was understood to be a greater threat to peace in both Europe and Ireland than the British variety. The Rising boasts many poets, and poems to loved ones that the combatants knew they would be leaving, and she would argue that his voice should be enrolled with the victims of the Rising as a true patriot. Let me finish with a stanza addressed to his baby daughter, Betty:

So here while the mad guns curse overhead
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor king, nor Emperor,
But for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret scripture of the poor.

The last three lines are to be found on the memorial to him in Stephen’s Green and have been most recently invoked by Sebastian Barry, another advocate for this group of patriotic dead. It is a base note that sounds often in this quite astonishingly ecumenical edition of the Capuchin Annual.

From what I can glean, these magazines seems to have been digitised and are available in some American libraries, but for copyright reasons (we can thank Disney) won’t be available for online use until 2037. This is crazy.

Frances Devlin-Glass

Frances is a member of the Tinteán editorial collective. She is currently preparing for two 1916 Rising commemorative events, Bloomsday in Melbourne’s rehearsed reading of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (on 24 Feb. 2016) and for ‘A Terrible Beauty’, a reading of poems by Rising Poets and their close friends (on 15 April 2016). These will be mounted in conjunction with the Cultural Heritage Committee of the Celtic Club.