I went to Stirling University this morning for a lecture by Professor Eugenio Biagini of Cambridge University who was speaking about my grandfather, Canon Ernest Bateman. It is a very strange thing to find people making a study of your ancestors like this. I remember Ernest as elderly, cheerful, a constant reader, an every Monday golfer with his clerical friends, very deaf – and because of his deafness a perpetual clutch-slipper and generally terrifying driver. And he remarried at the age of 82. It turns out that the eleven boxes of his sermons which are in the Church of Ireland’s library in Dublin together with his press articles and letters have become a major source for those who want to research the story of the Southern Irish Protestants – particularly in the period after Partition when they could no longer be British and were being pushed very hard by a triumphalist Catholic church.
It was a time when that community tended to be in ‘keep your head down’ mode – for fear that they might invite mistreatment as a minority. It seems that Ernest Bateman did not know about those rules.
I’ve been aware of Professor Biagini’s work for a while. While my mother was still alive, I went to Dublin with her and we read the sermons together. It was an extraordinary experience – for her to hear this voice again and for me to begin to grasp its significance and the parallels to my own experiences at that time in Northern Ireland. Those parallels left me feeling that ‘I have been here before’ – and that applies at least as much to the issues which I deal with in Scotland.
Canon Dom Ind and I sat and listened this morning as the issues unfolded in elegant academic discourse. The most obvious parallel was to the ‘English Church’ tag used of the Piskies, The Irish parallel was West Brit and we heard about the journey in which Ernest tried to express an Irishness which was not nationalistic. And I think I began to understand myself a bit better – why I do what I do and say what I say.
One piece of information was new to me – that when Eamon DeValera’s [he subsequently became President] son was killed in a riding accident in the Phoenix Park, the Garda wanted to bring a priest when they went to break the news. Ernest was the most close at hand and they brought him – the foundation of a subsequent close relationship between them.
And so it goes on. Professor Biagini now wants to read the 50 hard back notebooks of Ernest’s son my Uncle Artie’s diaries. They are written in a microscopic script. My test drillings have revealed that its going to be tough to get much out of them but time will tell. Artie worked on the sports page of the Irish Independent, was a Church of Ireland Lay Reader and had a turbulent relationship with the church in general and bishops in particular.d
Meanwhile my own biographers can make what they can of this blog, the sermons and the 80000 emails ….