Another splendid day at Cardinal Allen's Foundation, now long departed from Douay and lodged on the site of S Thomas More's house in Chelsea. Allen Hall is well equipped with portraits recalling its distinguished past; upon seeing them, my undisciplined memory jumped to a House in County Kerry, Derrynane, ancestral residence of Daniel O'Connell the Liberator. There the portraits of bewhiskered old gents in military uniforms look much like those you would expect to find in any English stately home ... until you realise that their uniforms all betoken the French or Austrian service. On the walls of Derrynane and Allen Hall, one sees, in effect, the Alternative History of these islands. I once, too, got nattering with a woman who was cataloguing the Library in a Scottish Jacobite house called Traquair; she had been surprised by the fact that the books those Scottish Catholics were reading, around the time they went Out to support the Prince Regent in the affair of 1745, tempore Jacobi VIII*, showed them to be more in the mainstream of continental European culture than were the Whig oligarchs and the Hannover rats. Does the Allen Hall library retain any books from its Douay period?
Incidentally, I wonder whether Cardinal Allen's Alma Mater in Oxford, Oriel College, now sports a portrait of its distinguished alumnus on its walls. The painting of him which greets one in Chelsea suggests a man with whom it would be unwise to tangle ... after all, he was a Proctor of this University as well as being a sort of ecclesiastical equivalent of Ian Fleming's 'M'.
We had a most gracious address from the Rector, Mgr Mark O'Toole (one of the Co Wicklow O'Tooles?), in which he negotiated with immense intelligence and sensitivity the question of our status ... the man is clearly no fool. He then assured us that the dark decades when seminaries were less than totally in tune with Catholic Tradition were now just about over. This reassured many of us a great deal; I had dreaded, after the sour decades in the Church of England, having again to steel myself to argue and to fight for the Faith. I doubt if there will be any need for that. Fr Mark is clearly One Of Us.
The seminarians are both very well-informed and immensely friendly; I think it is they, poor things, who do the washing up after we have wolfed down the lunch (which is better than any institutional food I have ever encountered except, just possibly, in the SCR at Christ Church) ... so I can't think of any reason, apart from the pure Grace of God, why they should be so chummy. I wonder how we can recompense them for this contribution to our bellies and our 'Formation', all the more kind for being so banausic. Is there a Junior Common Room Wine Fund?
One suggestion will I make. Fr Mark does a deft line in humorous anecdotes; my instinct is that they may be Irish (call me a sceptic if you like, but the one about the aged peasant with the twelve chickens who lived the other side of the mountain ... with its punch-line "Not the whole bl**dy bucket" ... did not seem to me to carry the authentic markers of a sitz im leben within the English Home Counties). So why does he not deliver them in a reassuringly West-of-Ireland accent? That would make me feel really at home. I bet he could do it if he tried.
*I was a tiny bit surprised not to see any Jacobite pictures in Allen Hall, not even the weeniest engraving of the Cardinal King. Perhaps I missed them ... or perhaps ...