Monday, September 1, 2014

Tuairim, Intellectual Debate & Policy Formation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975 | Now available in paperback

I recently had the good fortune to meet up with Dr Tomás Finn of NUIG and got to talk to him about his research interests, specifically about his book on the Irish intellectual movement known as Tuairim. His book is now available in paperback from Manchester University Press and AmazonProf Bryan Fanning has noted that 'Finn's documentation of the development of Tuarim adds to our understanding of the fifties and sixties' (Studies 102; No 406) and Sarah-Anne Buckley has described the book as 'Meticulously researched, well-written and engaging - this is a book for all of us, a book that places issues to the fore and reforms ideas about the role of the 1950s in Irish historiography' (The Journal of the Galway and Archaeological Society 65: 2013, 154). Rather than provide another review of the book, I've asked Tomás to provide a bit of background to the work to act as a basic primer for those of us, like myself, who are quite astonished to find that Ireland had an intellectual movement in the '50s. He also talks about his first time on radio and his current research project - keep an eye on this guy!

R M Chapple

*           *           *

Tuairim, Intellectual Debate & Policy Formation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975

(Tomás Finn. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2012 & 2014. xiv+272pp. ISBN 978-0-7190-8525-3 (HB) & 978-0-7190-9543-6 (PB))


My first interview on radio was both a daunting and a very enjoyable experience. The latter was mainly because of Andy O’Mahony and his easy, conversational style. Interested and interesting, he had a vast knowledge of the period with which my book, Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation: Rethinking Ireland, 1954-1975 is concerned. Equally, I was grateful for the time and space to consider how this period should be categorised. The worst and best of decades, historians have entitled the fifties as a decade of ‘malaise’, and the ‘politics of drift’, and more recently as ‘the lost decade’, while the sixties has been seen as years of freedom, liberation and affluence. Recent research makes it clear that many individuals were not swinging in the sixties and were in a difficult position; that there were many problems that needed to be addressed in the 1960s as well as the 1950s.

Perhaps it is better not to think in terms of decades; where in times of war dates are finite, there is a clear start and end point, in times of peace it seems better to think in terms of periods. If we are to follow the example provided in a recent book, The Age of Fracture, which considers the role of ideas in the last quarter of the twentieth century then maybe we should treat of 1945 to '59 as an era; this was a period in which the state faced huge challenges but, as recent research has shown, it is one in which new thinking emerged and new policies were formulated. It is in that context that the society, Tuairim (‘opinion’ in Irish) existed: it was part of a questioning culture – it was an important response to the need for a new approach to the problems facing Ireland. It was Tuairim’s contribution to the market for ideas which was particularly significant; the society provided a unique space for civic engagement, its members voiced influential arguments on issues such as Northern Ireland, economic planning, censorship and education. But it is the consideration that the organisation gave to other matters such as political reform and institutional care of children, issues where the state’s record is to be questioned which makes Tuairim of continued relevance to the Ireland of today.

My book argues that the 1950s and 1960s were a transformative phase in modern Irish history. In these years a conservative society dominated by the Catholic Church, and a state which was inward-looking and distrustful of novelty, gradually opened up to fresh ideas about politics, the economy, society and religion. The book considers this change. It explores how from its formation in 1954 the intellectual society Tuairim was at the vanguard of the challenge to orthodoxy and conservatism.

Tuairim initiated and contributed to debates on issues as diverse as Northern Ireland, administrative and political reform, education, childcare and censorship. The society established branches throughout Ireland, including Belfast, and London. Tuairim produced frequent critical publications on burning issues and boasted a roster of members who would go on to become luminaries in Irish and British public life; Dr Garret FitzGerald, the future Taoiseach, Donal Barrington, later a Supreme Court Judge, John Boland, the future head of the Public Trustee Office in London, Miriam Hederman O’Brien, subsequently a Chancellor in the University of Limerick and David Thornley, who became a distinguished television presenter and a Labour party TD. Until its disbandment in 1975, Tuairim occupied a unique position within contemporary debates on Ireland’s present and future. This book is concerned with the role that the society played in the modernisation of Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s. In so doing it also addresses topics of continuing import, including the Northern Ireland Peace Process and institutional care.

Broadly, this and my other work consider the role of ideas and the influence of intellectuals on the modernisation of Ireland. My current project, The influence of intellectuals in post WWII Ireland: Patrick Lynch and the Commonweal examines how the Irish state’s policy approach and the nature of public debate were transformed from WWII to 1990. Specifically, it is concerned with the influence of intellectuals and the role of ideas in this, a crucial period in Ireland’s development. It examines public intellectuals such as Patrick Lynch; a civil servant and an academic, he was a deep thinker on the relationship between economic and social development. Lynch was involved in many policy formulation bodies and civil society organisations which led to the transformation of Ireland.

The extent to which intellectuals influenced public policy and public opinion in Ireland is the focus of this project. Their interaction with civil society and the political and religious establishments is connected to the role of an active citizenship; the extent to which this has existed or exists in Ireland and influences public policy and the influence of state on civil society and the influence of civil society on the state are questions with which this project is concerned. It explores the extent to which ideas crossed the political spectrum and how they were disseminated. Broadly it examines ideas, intellectuals and their influence in persuading governmental institutions to adopt new policies. In so doing, this project seeks to develop a greater understanding of the process by which Ireland was modernised. Using Lynch and his public career (c. 1940-1980) as a vehicle, it examines how Ireland moved from autarky and a conservative consensus of church and state to an open economy and more liberal social attitudes. It was an era when public intellectuals such as Lynch, and others like T. K. Whitaker, the pre-eminent public servant, challenged orthodox thinking and conservative attitudes. This project is concerned with the consideration such individuals gave to the ways Ireland was governed, socially, politically and economically. It seeks to ascertain the extent to which new ideas were accepted by the public and the political establishment. This, the market for ideas, how this develops, and its influence on the nature of state policy, is the subject matter with which my work is concerned. It is hoped to thus move beyond historians’ more traditional preoccupation with political events and institutional structures and to gain a more complete understanding of the modernisation of Ireland.



Dr Tomás Finn is a lecturer in modern Irish history at National University of Ireland, Galway.

See here for RTÉ’s dialogue programme where on 4 January 2014 I discussed my book with the presenter, Andy O’Mahony.