Welcome to my website!
For more than twenty years, I have taught and written philosophy, been a commentator on political and cultural affairs and, for the past decade, a proud father of three wonderful boys. You can trace the course of my academic, journalistic and writing career by looking at my CV. If, however, I were to define myself I would simply say that I am someone who believes passionately in the redeeming power of philosophy, religion, art and family life. In a world so dedicated to distraction, I try to re-root people to beauty, love and virtue at a time when they are routinely forgotten.
I began life in a world very different to ours. It was one in which family, friends and neighbours mattered, one where the absent spirit of our ancestors was made present through the Church, culture and the gentle routines of domestic life. Growing up in Dublin, we were certain of who we were and what we stood for. We were secure in our identity and proud of our history and traditions. Thanks to the Christian Brothers, my education was steeped in the cultural glories of our civilisation. That is why when, in 1988, I embarked upon my undergraduate studies at University College Dublin I chose to study philosophy and history. It seemed to me that these subjects served as the foundation stones of my cultural inheritance. They provided me with a path to selfhood.
By the time I began studying for a Masters degree in philosophy in 1991, I had already started questioning many of the assumptions which sustained my worldview. However, I remained committed to the belief that no society could survive the loss of religion and culture. Thus began my long journey with the great Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard taught me how to question without sacrificing one’s attachment to home and one’s sacred source. This he did by showing how it was possible to remain religious having renounced religious institutions. My interest in Kierkegaard coincided with the beginning of the crisis within the Catholic Church in Ireland. My grandparents had immersed me in everything that is beautiful in the Catholic faith. I was a devoted altar boy and recognised the power of this institution to heal and save. Hence, the clerical abuse crisis caused deep pain and shock.
In writing on Kierkegaard and subsequently the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, I found a way of questioning my faith without losing it. This explains the title of my book Questioning God. Throughout the 1990s, I befriended Derrida and American philosophers John D. Caputo and Richard Rorty. With grace, wisdom and enormous kindness, these men put me in touch with the human heart. Along with Irish philosopher Richard Kearney, whose influence on my early work was incalculable, they taught me to write in tears. Only in doing so, I learned, could you touch someone’s soul. They also taught me that, in order to be effective, philosophers must take their message to the streets. They must have the courage of their convictions and become public intellectuals.
That is why, in 2002, I began writing for Ireland’s best-selling newspaper, the Sunday Independent. For the next three years, I would pen a weekly column on foreign affairs. Often controversial and contentious, it established me as a presence in Irish public life. It was during this time that I was approached by a group of moderate Muslims living in Dublin. They asked me to expose the extremist elements in their community, something which led to threats and intimidation. This, and regular TV debates with high-profile journalists like Robert Fisk, enabled me to make the case for moderate Islam and the necessity of integration. It also proved to me why, instead of rejecting our identity and inheritance, we must safeguard and sustain it. It was then that I clearly saw the fundamental necessity of protecting those institutions which preserve that inheritance. This led me to Roger Scruton, the English philosopher who, as I say in my forthcoming book, brought me home. I had encountered Scruton when he came to UCD to deliver the Agnes Cuming Lectures in the early Nineties. However, reading him in the immediate wake of my postmodern pilgrimage proved to me that, if I were to be true to myself, I would henceforth have to plough a very different furrow.
In 2006, I accepted a lectureship in the Philosophy Faculty at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, home to the Ireland’s National Seminary. Soon after my arrival, I began to receive reports from seminarians of a culture of disobedience at the highest clerical levels. I would eventually publish the essence of those reports in a series of articles in the Irish Daily Mail, to which I had moved as a columnist in 2006. The result was that my position at Maynooth was terminated in 2010. My disclosures did, however, shine a spotlight on Ireland’s seminaries and set the scene for the subsequent Apostolic Visitation ordered by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.
During my time at Maynooth, I published the first major works on Roger Scruton. My intellectual biography Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach appeared in 2009, and was quickly followed by The Roger Scruton Reader which was reissued in paperback in 2011. Also in 2011, I published Why Be a Catholic?, a work which tells of my journey back to the Church and which catalogues my revelations regarding the seminaries. It is a deeply personal book which charts my journey home. In 2009, I was invited by my editors at the Irish Daily Mail to begin a new weekly column entitled ‘Moral Matters’. As the years progressed, this column (which I make available here) has become the story of my life and of those things which matter to me.
After all the twists and turns of the past twenty years, I now find myself back where I started: a man defined in and through his family, his faith, his love of country, home and settlement. I am someone who looks upon our cyber world with deep suspicion, knowing the dangers it poses to children, their innocence and sense of self. That is why my principal task has become that of seeking to reattach people to those things which endure beyond the fleeting moments of our earthly sojourn. I have come to see that where love, laughter, beauty and joy no longer exist we simply cannot flourish. My new book Moral Matters. A Philosophy of Homecoming, due for publication in early 2015, suggests ways of moving from loss to love.
Such is the story of my life, a life that was made whole and complete by my wonderful wife and our three boys. A life whose causes have not often been easy, but then again what good cause ever is? A life that owes more than I can express to my grandparents for steeping me in the sacred, and to my parents for giving me my chances at school, in the show jumping arena and at university. A life shaped by Kierkegaard, Derrida, Scruton and all those who taught me to use my pen in the service of something greater than myself. A life that, in the end, is worth only as much as the joy it can bring to others.
I hope that during the time you spend with me here you may experience some of that joy. After all, what better task for the philosopher in a world of pain than to help people smile? Discovering that truth has brought me to where I now I stand, to this place that is called home and from which I shall never again stray.