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Land of Saints & Scholars

by Tim Madigan

“The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world.” – Michael D. Higgins.

Tim Madigan
Tim Madigan visiting W.B. Yeat’s grave in Sligo.
© Chelsea Marshall 2024

In 2017 Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina launched the Young Irish Philosopher Awards, the purpose of which is to invite students from throughout that country to reflect on thought-provoking questions and partake in philosophical thinking and discussion (see youngphilosopherawards.ucd.ie for details). The words above are taken from President Higgins’ inaugural presentation. In 2023 over 500 young thinkers came together at University College Dublin for the sixth annual gathering. The grand prize winner was Seán Radcliffe from Cork, for his essay ‘Has Plato’s allegory of the cave been warning us of social media for 2,500 years?’ And speaking of Plato, in 2022 an award-winning documentary film entitled Young Plato received international accolades. It focuses on how Kevin McArevey, the headmaster of a primary school in Belfast’s Ardoyne housing estates, uses critical thinking techniques to empower young children to look beyond the boundaries of their environment and to question the mythologies of war and violence (For more, see YoungPlato.com). As one can see, philosophy is alive and well in both the Republic of Ireland and the UK constituent country of Northern Ireland.

Peter Stone
Our contributor Peter Stone (read his article) with Irish President Michael D. Higgins in Dublin in 2023.
© Áras An Uachtaráin 2024

Ireland has traditionally been known as the Land of Saints and Scholars (although it’s had more than its fair share of Sinners and Scoundrels, too!). In this edition of Philosophy Now we’ll cast a cold eye on the state of philosophy past, present and future in the Emerald Isle, with a focus on Thomas Duddy’s claim, in his book A History of Irish Thought, that such an exploration must be both prosaic and poetic.

This issue is dedicated to my late friend Seán Moran, a Philosophy Now columnist and a modern Irish sage whom I met in Waterford many years ago, and whose wit, charm, and graciousness enriched my life. Like Tom Duddy, Seán died much too young. He demonstrated to me the true meaning of William Butler Yeats’s closing words from his poem ‘The Municipal Gallery Revisited’:

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends.”

Prof. Timothy J. Madigan, St John Fisher University

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