Vol. 9 No. 9 (2019): Whose Homelands? Fictions, Facts and Questions of the Irish Diaspora

Where Does the State End and the Church Begin? The Strange Career of Richard S. Devane

Aidan Beatty
Laboratorio editoriale OA / Dip. LILSI
Published June 12, 2019
How to Cite
Beatty, A. (2019). Where Does the State End and the Church Begin? The Strange Career of Richard S. Devane. Studi Irlandesi. A Journal of Irish Studies, 9(9), 443-464. https://doi.org/10.13128/SIJIS-2239-3978-25524


Richard S. Devane (1876-1951) was a Jesuit priest, a campaigner on a variety of social issues and a prolific author. He was also a key figure in the legislative landscape of post-1922 Ireland. He was invited as an expert witness to the Committee on Evil Literature in 1926 which enshrined a regime of literary censorship in the newly independent Ireland and he was the only witness personally invited to submit evidence to the Carrigan Committee in 1932, the infamous government commission that helped lay the groundwork for the Criminal Law Amendment Act that banned the sale, manufacture or importation of contraception in Ireland. In both his presence as a witness and in his voluminous journalistic writings on social issues, Devane provided a politico-theological legitimacy for this kind of draconian legislation. Drawing on Devane’s published works, his collected papers in the Irish Jesuit Archive and government papers in the National Archives of Ireland, this biographical paper analyses Devane’s central role in the Irish Free State’s project of social control and raises questions about the borders dividing Church and State in the period after 1922. Moreover, I trace Devane’s later political development in the 1930s and ‘40s; by this period, Devane had far less input in the State’s legislative agenda but was producing far more detailed political writings; his two later books, Challenge from Youth (1942) and The Failure of Individualism (1948), as well as showing a clear Fascist influence also highlight the soft authoritarianism inherent to the politics of post-1922 Ireland.


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