Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy one-name study      by Bill Jehan
   Introduction      Letters to the Editor




Letters to the Editor

by Leslie Eric Blennerhassett


Letter of c1969 to the editor of Trinity College Dublin student magazine "Liaison", from Leslie Blennerhassett, elected Student Education Officer for T.C.D. Student Union, as contribution to a discussion on Irish membership of the European Economic Community (E.E.C.) and modern Irish culture.
          In the last issue of "LIAISON" the author of "Our Heritage and the E.E.C." outlines some of the disadvantages of joining the E.E.C.  His arguments are generally valid, on the assumption that we accept explicitly the premise that the E.E.C. will be monopolised by a "capitalist technological elite". In his rather over-simplified assessment of the cultural implications he mentions the difference in the cultural orientation of the Southern and Northern Irish. The differences, as readers will no doubt realise, are due to many factors - the effect of the post 17th century influx of foreign planters with their alien religious and political loyalties; the lack of assimilation between the native Irish with their predominately Roman Catholic ethic and the Ulster Scots with their predominately Protestant, Nonconformist ethic. In spite of their differences, there has been a cross-fertilisation of ideas, customs and folklore, producing a hybrid culture analogous in many respects to the Norman-Irish type which had emerged many centuries before. The latter fusion of cultures was consummated within a comparatively short time. The Normans became "more Irish than the Irish themselves"! The fact that both Irish and Normans held common religious loyalties mirrored, no doubt, in this stabilised union. On a less relevant theme, the fact that the contemporary Pope gave Henry II official sanction may have made the native Irish more fatalistic and acquiescent about the whole affair.
          There is not the dichotomous distinction between North and South that some of the more subjective Northerners would claim. The North and the South share a common fusion of culture, a common geographic environment and a common national history. The religious minority in the South also share their common heritage. A native of Ireland is first and foremost Irish because of his fused heritage, in the same way that a native of Normandy and a native of Gascony are both French in spite of their different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
          The distinctions which now are foremost are mainly religious and economic, and these have been exacerbated by a crude and arbitrary political barrier. The main reasons for this barrier should, in time, become defunct - i.e. religious differences and the economic disparity between Ireland and Great Britain.
          Finally, Mr Cole appears to criticise those who think Gaelic culture is inferior. By culture he means, I presume, the approach to life. Some aspects of culture are obviously inferior if they are not conducive to the mental and economic well-being of the majority of its adherents. A culture, if it is to survive, must be adaptable. In this sense people are quite justified in criticising a culture which does not meet the requirements of adaptability and personal well-being. Southern Irish culture has been detrimental in many respects. Our isolationist attitude (an aspect of culture) has preserved some of the worst aspects of our foreign heritage - authoritarian, rigid attitudes in education (including compulsory Irish language) and liberal doses of physical methods of control in our schools. Religious control in our educational institutions has helped to retard cultural progress at its embryonic stage. If our politicians are not as aesthetic as they should be, can we blame them, or the people that elect them? After all, they are a product of their (inferior?) culture...  We appear to have harboured a philistine approach to life. The neglect of old age and the underprivileged is a condemnation of our culture. In Holland and Sweden begging and hunger and poverty are unheard of. They are simply not tolerated.
          By all means let us preserve our culture, but not to the detriment of another generation of our countrymen.
                         Yours, etc.
                                   Leslie Blennerhassett


Letter to the editor of The New York Review in response to a review by Hilary Mantel of "Selected Letters of Rebecca West", edited by Professor Bonnie Kime Scott (Yale University Press, 2000), published in "The New York Review of Books" issue of 29th June 2000.

14th July 2000

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the review by Hilary Mantel of Selected Letters of Rebecca West, edited by Bonnie Kime Scott, and was pleased Bonnie drew attention to Rebecca’s informative genealogy. Bonnie's detailed attention to Rebecca's family history was, however, tarnished by Mantle’s barbed comment "a ludicrous family tree going back to the Plantagenets." This reflects a lack of awareness of Rebecca’s family culture and the context of the influence of the underlying class system in British & Irish history, then very much in evidence.
Listed genealogical pedigrees are today often conveniently ignored or considered, by some who have their own agenda, to be a form of social snobbery. This displays their lack of understanding of the role of class in the context of history down through the ages. To ignore the context of family history diminishes their understanding of the psychological and social influences of early childhood. Recent eminent biographers of Rebecca such as Victoria Glendinning have no qualms in alluding to her exotic antecedents.
It is known that, from her ancestor Sir Anthony Denny and Blennerhassett forebears, that Sir Walter Raleigh was an ancestral first cousin. She could therefore claim cousinship, if more distant, with the Anglo-lrish Chapman family, who begat T. E. Lawrence, whose contemporary and exotic career she followed with great interest.
Rebecca had an Ascendancy upbringing, and was thus was opposed to Roman Catholicism and to revolutionary Irish nationalism. The opposition to revolutionary nationalism was, coincidentally, also shared by the vast majority of Irish Catholic families, who were of a similar constitutional persuasion in harmony with the stance of the Roman Church.
Rebecca West was proud of her Gaelic roots, including her lineage from King Brian Boru, last High King of lreland. This was alongside the Plantagenet ancestry she inherited from her other, English, antecedents. Referring to such ancestry is deemed archaic by some whose impaired agenda is never historical but rather ideological. The prevailing biblical culture of the day also alluded to family ancestry, such as the convoluted lineage of Jesus from King David. 

Rebecca Fairchild, her real name, was part of the Ascendancy class, as were the Castle Catholics with their mainly Norman Irish antecedents. Both held an unapologetic allegiance to the British establishment of which they were an essential part. At the turn of the 20th century such family ancestry was explicit, unapologetic and conveyed not a little pride and mystique within the limited confines of Rebecca's modest family. This Hilary would appear to traduce for reasons best known to herself.
One of Rebecca's ancestors was Catherine Swynford, sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer. Catherine was mistress, and later legal wife (after papal dispensation) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Catherine Beaufort, as she was later known, and her heirs ensured the tradition of an enhanced feminist and literary court. Lady Margaret Beufort, her pius descendent, was the formidable intellectual mother of Henry VII. She founded the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity and endowed St John's College, Cambridge, so much of the literary culture of the medieval royal court can be attributed directly to Beaufort female influence. 

It is indeed likely that Rebecca’s inherited not only her rebellious temperament but her formidable critical intellect from her "exotic” family tree!

Yours sincerely,

Leslie Eric Blennerhassett M.A. (Dublin)

to be continued...  

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