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Chesterton’s Love Affair with the Irish

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Tamara Isabell - Regina Magazine - published on 06/19/14 - updated on 06/08/17

An interview with Dale Ahlquist, Head of the American Chesterton Society

“Most Irish consider G.K. Chesterton to be an Irishman and George Bernard Shaw to be an Englishman.”

Dale Ahlquist, the intrepid head of the American Chesterton Society, visited Dublin to talk with the Chestertonians there about their favorite author. Here, Dale tells Regina Magazine’s Tamara Isabell about his trip, the Irish, and Chesterton.

So, what brought you to Ireland? Is there much interest in Chesterton there?
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"The G.K. Chesterton Society of Ireland invited me. I gave talks in both Dublin and Limerick, but I did more listening than speaking. "

Thanks to your work, GK is becoming better known in Catholic circles, but he still is overlooked in our schools. Is it the same in Ireland? Do they study his works there?

During Chesterton’s lifetime, every school child would have been familiar with his poems, such as The Battle of Lepanto and The White Horse, as well as his essays. University students would have read his philosophical works (Orthodoxy), his social commentary (What’s Wrong with the World), and his novels (The Man Who Was Thursday). But after his death, the reading of Chesterton faded slowly from the classroom.

The resurgence of interest in his writings has come mostly from outside academia. At the university level, students now are discovering Chesterton by themselves. Today, we are seeing graduate students doing their master’s or doctoral theses on Chesterton. The problem for most of them is finding professors who know anything about Chesterton.

I had tea with the former chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin, one of the greatest universities in the world. He knew Chesterton’s works, but admitted that Chesterton is not taught at Trinity.

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DUBLIN DOORWAYS NEAR TRINITY COLLEGE: "Today, we are seeing graduate students doing their master’s or doctoral theses on Chesterton. The problem for most of them is finding professors who know anything about Chesterton."

How did Chesterton feel about the Irish? 
Chesterton was a great champion of the Irish, and they knew it and loved him for it. The Irish poet Maurice Leahy said that most Irish consider G.K. Chesterton to be an Irishman and George Bernard Shaw to be an Englishman.

Chesterton always argued for Irish home rule, and admired the Irish for their wit, resilience, and love for faith and family. The people of Ireland honored Chesterton by donating the church bell for the bell tower in Chesterton’s church in Beaconsfield, England, as a memorial to him.

GKC Prayer Card-page1-1

"Chesterton always argued for Irish home rule, and admired the Irish for their wit, resilience, and love for faith and family."

How did his fellow Englishmen respond to his Irish sentiments?

I would say that most English intellectuals knew Chesterton was right, but they kept quiet about it. No one ever stepped forward to argue with him about his position on Ireland, as they would argue with him on economics or religion.

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"Politicians, however, had to make an effort to studiously ignore Chesterton, who was their most faithful critic."

So many of GK’s writings have not only stood the test of time, but also have proven prophetic in many ways. Is this true of his writings about the Irish, as well?

Chesterton says that the Irish national spirit is always living because it is always dying. That sounds timely. And although it is not specifically a prophecy about the Irish, Chesterton was talking about Ireland when he said that every political question is ultimately a religious question.

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"Although it is not specifically a prophecy about the Irish, Chesterton was talking about Ireland when he said that every political question is ultimately a religious question."

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BooksGK ChestertonIreland

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