There are very few things that evoke the memory of an Irish home like the Sacred Heart picture with the eternal lamp, writes Liam Nolan.


I smile in mild but pleasurable disbelief when I think about the piety of the above sentiments. The lettering was allegedly printed large on banners carried at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Dublin.
That was then — now is now, and times they are a changin’, as Mr Dylan wrote and sang. Everything seems to have changed, much of it gigantically. I’m reminded of an article I recently read in the Irish Times.

It was headlined: “Where have all the religious pictures gone? You don’t want to know”. Geraldine de Brit wrote it.
Whether her tongue was partially in her cheek, or her eyes firmly focussed on the facts (incidentally, Jack Webb, as Sgt Joe Friday in the TV cop show Dragnet, never said, “Just the facts ma’am”), I can’t say. But Ms de Brit certainly selected and hit some targets.


In 1979 when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland, Ms de Brit was nine years old. She was attending a convent school and recalls “digging out rosary beads” from her private collection “to drape around the hall table…” Ireland in 1979, she wrote, “was still a deeply religious country, and homes obviously reflected that.”

She described quintessential Irish homesteads as having open fires burning in the hearths, a Sacred Heart picture hanging in one alcove, and one of John F. Kennedy hanging in another. Elsewhere there might be a crucifix, and a statue of the Child of Prague. “As a nation,” she said, “we have become more secular, and so have our homes.”

In matters religious as well as secular, comments or actions can come barrelling out of left field, posing awkward problems for those they’re directed at. Take the National Catholic Register’s headline: “The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Heart in Dublin.” The National Catholic Register is America’s biggest Catholic newspaper. The strapline to the above headline was: “Through the efforts of Dublin’s Frank Duff, the seedy Monto district was transformed and claimed for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

The paper’s U.K. correspondent, K. V. Turley, writing from London, wrote the National Catholic Register’s story. Monto (just north of the Pro-Cathedral) was the site of Europe’s largest red-light district. Some estimates suggested that as many as 1,300 prostitutes worked there, their chief clientele coming from the various army barracks around the city.
With the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 coming into effect, the British Army withdrew from the capital. The number of Monto’s paying-for-sex military customers rapidly diminished.

Continue reading in his week’s Ireland’s Own