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The European Culture Wars in Ireland
The Callan Schools Affair, 1868-81

Colin Barr (author)
Publication date:
29th July 2010

Author Biography

Colin Barr is Associate Professor at Ave Maria University, Florida, and the author of Paul Cullen, John Henry Newman, and the Catholic University of Ireland, 1845-65 (University of Notre Dame Press)


"The European Culture Wars in Ireland" tells the story of Father Robert O'Keeffe of Callan, County Kilkenny, and his conflict with ecclesiastical authority. O'Keeffe's serial lawsuits against his own curates, his bishop, and the cardinal archbishop of Dublin, and his consequent removal as manager of a number of national schools and chaplain of the local workhouse, commanded attention across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the world. In Callan, the town split into warring camps, and riot became a part of life for nearly ten years - the colourful local details eventually inspired two novelists. To contemporaries, Callan and O'Keeffe mattered because they seemed to be an Irish manifestation of a global Catholic-secular culture war that encompassed both the definition of papal infallibility and the German Kulturkampf. For a time, the Callan Schools dominated British political debate, and O'Keeffe secured a private meeting with Prime Minister William Gladstone. Political fury at his removal from publicly funded positions at the behest of clerical authority nearly wrecked the Irish system of national education. In May 1873, the libel trial O'Keeffe v.Cullen saw the competing claims of canon and civil law tested in spectacularly public fashion as the island's first Roman Catholic cardinal was tried before the Queen's Bench. "The European Culture Wars in Ireland" traces the Callan Schools Affair from its origins in 1868 to O'Keeffe's death in 1881. It examines not only the riotous local events and the spectacular libel trial in Dublin, but also the complex and politically charged response of the British state. A new departure in Irish historiography, the book argues that Robert O'Keeffe and his grievances could only become both cause celebre and constitutional crisis because the United Kingdom as a whole was an integral part of Europe, responsive to and influenced by continental concerns.