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.
- 'I am a most moderate and reasonable man'
- 'He is watching with the ferocity of a leopard'
- 'Irish education will probably [be] The rock on wh. we shall wreck'
- 'I would not submit if any angel of heaven told me'
- 'In the house if we were all Cicero's we should be beat'
- 'Murderer! My blood will soon cry to heaven for vengeance on your guilty soul'
'Very well served by his publisher, with an excellent index, Barr has produced a meticulously well documented, invaluable and absorbing work of outstanding scholarship. Fluently written, with an iron grip on its extensive source source-material, Barr explores the tragedy of a litigious priest, Robert O’Keeffe, who defied canon law by suing for libel his bishop, Cullen, the cardinal archbishop of Ireland, and others, so splitting his parish, causing civil unrest and generating a unique crisis in the relationships between the Catholic Church and the British state in Ireland. ...
This rich, complex and complete work, with a tale to tell, deserves the widest circulation. A vast range of disciplinary interests are covered in a detail that never clogs. Barr captures well the ebb and flow of this episode, seemingly so peripheral in Irish history, yet, in his account, so telling in what it reveals.'
Journal of Ecclesiastical History 62 (3) 2011
'As with all conflicts there were two sides to every story and differences occurred over what transpired at meetings, as on 27 October 1871 when O’Keeffe and Cullen met in an attempt to bring about a resolution to the troubles in Callan. Here Barr’s great strengths become apparent – highlighting and analysing the diverse opinions and arguments and showing up where the versions concur and contrast. Every detail is assessed and examined with no stones left unturned to cover all angles and issues, while setting the scene in the overall turbulent religious context of the period. It is a study which is masterful in its approach and scholarship, a model for any aspiring historical researcher and is highly recommended. ...
While the affair had all the features of a local issue that went out of control and not really part of the overall ideological conflict that was taking place within the continental Catholic Church, the author does indicate very convincingly that it had a significance beyond that of Callan and Ireland.'
Irish Theological Quarterly 76 (3) 2011
'[Barr] goes into some detail in recounting the twists and turns of the story including the many law suits that O’Keeffe instigated against his opponents and detractors. He sets the affair in the wider context of British rule in Ireland and the state’s relationship with the Catholic church.'
‘This is certainly a fascinating study and I can see why writers have been inspired by the Callan affair. Barr manages to take his readers through a complex series of events and to cover all facets of it well. For a time the question of church versus state was seen as the crucial issue, particularly in the light of English Protestant fears of ultramontaine Catholicism. As Barr admits there was no stomach in Britain for a kulturkampf while in Ireland different issues came into play. In the end O’Keeffe’s actions did not change the status quo and he died a broken man in 1881. However he still had the ability to raise passions and there was a riot at his funeral.’
'Impeccably researched, brilliantly imagined, impressively contextualised and elegantly written, Colin Barr’s study of the near-forgotten Callan schools controversy sheds much light on knotty issues at the heart of church-state relations in nineteenth-century Ireland. When the feisty Fr Robert O’Keefe took the mighty Paul Cardinal Cullen to court he ignited a controversy that would quickly draw in leading politicians, clerics and commentators in Britain, Europe and the British Empire, and would inspire novelists and playwrights thereafter. Barr’s study sets the controversy for the first time in its broader contexts … a notable achievement.'
Thomas Bartlett (University of Aberdeen)
Author of Ireland: A History (2010)
'Superbly researched and powerfully evocative, this is an important contribution to the history of the Kulturkampf from the co-editor of the Cullen Papers. With this analysis of the passions and politics of Victorian Ireland, Colin Barr throws new light on the world of Gladstone, Bismarck and Pius IX.'
Eugenio F. Biagini
University of Cambridge
author of British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906 (2007)
'How was it possible that an international controversy could be stirred by a local dispute over the management of some schools in a remote part of rural Ireland? Colin Barr gives us the answer in this fascinating and definitive account of the Callan schools affair. It began with a falling out between a determined local priest and his ecclesiastical superiors in the late 1860s. The British state was drawn in because of its ambiguous role in Irish education, and the whole issue became symptomatic of the tensions stirred by the First Vatican Council and Bismark’s Kulturkampf. At its heart though was the poignant figure of Robert O’Keeffe, parish priest of Callan.'
James H. Murphy
Professor of English
'[Barr’s] judicious arguments and abundant evidence make this an enlightening and convincing study.'
English Historical Review, March 2012
‘the definitive study of this fascinating episode. … European Culture Wars consolidates Barr’s position among the finest historians of nineteenth-century Ireland. The volume is meticulously researched, he writes with equal confidence about Irish and British politics and is not slow to challenge traditional historiography.'
Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 2012
'This book is an interesting and well-written account of one of the most controversial events in nineteenth-century Irish Church-state relations, which involved Robert O’Keeffe, parish priest of Callan in Co. Kilkenny. … It is this picture of O’Keeffe that makes Barr’s well-researched and very accessible study so interesting as it shows how, in a small town in Ireland, one man’s determination and obstinate refusal to accept the authority of his ecclesiastical superiors resulted in one of the most significant events in nineteenth-century Church–state relations in Ireland and Britain.'
Irish Studies Review 19 (4) 2011