The West Doors of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny … legislation changing the diocesan structures and abolishing tithes were the first two legislative steps that eventually led to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context
Friday 11 January 2013:
3.2: The Church of Ireland from the Penal Laws to Disestablishment, Independence and Partition.
Part 1: The Church of Ireland from the Penal Laws to Disestablishment.
James II … his accession raised many dilemmas for the Church of Ireland
After our last weekend, and our teleconferences last week, we left Ireland with Charles II on the throne and the Church of Ireland restored as the Established Church. We had looked at the Church of the Caroline Divines and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Church of Jeremy Taylor and Narcissus Marsh.
But as a Church, with close political relations with the state, this bond produced great problems during the reign of James II, for the Church found itself – in that wonderful description by Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth – “caught between a Catholic anvil and a Protestant hammer.”
James II was a professed Roman Catholic, and with his succession Anglicanism faced real dilemmas. For 25 years, the Anglican Church – both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England – had long been, effectively, the handmaiden of the state. For long, the concept of non-resistance had been regularly preached from the Anglican pulpit. What role would the Church now have with an antagonistic monarch on the throne? And how could it consider legitimately oppose any measures against its interests that were introduced by the king?
According to the Church historian Murray, with the accession of James II, “the Church of Ireland once more fell upon evil days.” The Duke of Ormond was replaced as Viceroy by the king’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Clarendon, while Richard Talbot, Earl (and later Duke) of Tyrconnell, and brother of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, became commander-in-chief of Ireland.
Matters became worse for the Church of Ireland in 1687 when Tyrconnell succeeded Clarendon, and the outlawries resulting from 1641 were reversed. Church of Ireland clergy lost their tithes, churches were seized and the Mass said in them, vacant sees – including Cashel, Clonfert, Clogher and Elphin – were not filled, and their revenues were handed over to the Roman Catholic bishops of those dioceses.
John Vesey, Archbishop of Tuam and Richard Tennison, Bishop of Killala, fled to England, followed by the Archbishop of Dublin and the bishops of Kilmore, Dromore, Kildare, Ferns and Leighlin, Cloyne, Raphoe and Derry. Those who are unkind would say they abandoned the Church of Ireland at the time, but many of them would return. And, indeed, many of the bishops remained, including the Archbishop of Armagh and the bishops of Meath, Ossory, Limerick, Cork and Ross, Killaloe and Waterford and Lismore.
Dean King, who had been left behind by Archbishop Marsh as his commissary in Dublin, said he knew of 16 or 17 clergymen who were assaulted, imprisoned and threatened with death.
In an effort to recover his throne after the Williamite revolt, James II left his exile in France in 1689, and landed in Ireland. The Irish Parliament was summoned, but few Protestants attended: apart from four bishops, four lay peers and six MPs, the rest of Parliament was made up of Roman Catholics. Those who were attainted and had their estates confiscated included Archbishop Marsh and Archbishop Vesey, and Bishops Hopkins, Sheridan, Moreton, Smith, Marsh of Ferns, Jones and Wiseman, and 83 of the clergy of the Church of Ireland.
The vacant sees were to be filled by Roman Catholics, churches were seized, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, was seized and mass was celebrated in it, part of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was used as military stables, and an order was issued, under penalty of death, forbidding more than five Protestants to meet together.
The Battle of the Boyne … fought on 1 July 1690
We can never separate the developments in the Continental Church from what was happening in the Church on this island: if the Popes saw their power and influence declining after the Peace of Westphalia, and declining in the face of the assertions of the French King and the Gallicans, then was it any wonder that – having heard that James II was ending his exile in France, and that with French support he had come to Ireland in the hope of regaining his throne – the Pope should say Mass in Rome giving thanks for the victory of William at the Boyne?
William III landed in Ireland on 1 July 1690, he defeated the forces of James at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July, and entered Dublin on 6 July, the same day a solemn service of thanksgiving was held in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and the sermon was preached by Dean King. A new era was ushered in, for both the island of Ireland, and the Church of Ireland. But there were problems for the Church of Ireland too.
The Church of Ireland after the Boyne
18th century Dublin … by 1715, the population of Dublin had risen to 89,000, and two-thirds of the people were Protestants
Between 1690 and 1714, both Ireland and the Church of Ireland went through a period of change. Dublin was the second city of the Empire and grew at an unprecedented rate after the Williamite Revolution. In 1695, Dublin had a population of 47,000, and 12 parishes, with 78% of the population living south of the River Liffey. By 1715, the population of Dublin had risen to 89,000, of whom two-thirds were Protestants.
Non-resistance and the divine right of kings had become central assumptions in the relations between Church and State for both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. There were those who had taken an oath of loyalty to the reigning monarch and who – despite the turmoils during the reign of James II – felt bound by their oath.
Those leaders who felt unable to renounce that oath, who refused to take a new oath to William and Mary, and who lost their offices, became known as the Nonjurors. They included: William Sheridan, Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, the Archdeacons of Connor (Baynard) and Dublin (John Fitzgerald), the Dean of Lismore (Barzilai Jones), the Chancellor and Treasurer of Connor (Charles Leslie and W. Jones), and Henry Dodwell and George Kelly of Trinity College Dublin.
Although this dissent was hardly as significant as the Nonjuring schism in England, it nevertheless shows that:
1, There was dissent within the Church of Ireland on the question of Church/State relations;
2, The Williamite revolution did not have complete support within the Protestant community;
3, the opposition to William within the Church of Ireland came from the core of the clergy rather than from the margins.
Archdeacon John Fitzgerald of Dublin was a brother of Bishop William Fitzgerald of Clonfert, a son of Dean John Fitzgerald of Cork, and a grandson of Archbishop Richard Boyle of Tuam. Sheridan had been Dean of Down and chaplain to the Duke of Ormond when he was Lord-Lieutenant, and his brother Patrick Sheridan was Bishop of Cloyne (1679-1682).
Sheridan and Fitzgerald moved to London, where they lived among the English Nonjurors. Leslie and Dodwell would be recognised as a theologian and an historian of importance within Anglican thought. They set an example of honesty in politics, emphasised the view that there is moral foundation for the State as well as for the Church, and that there is a sacredness of moral obligation in public life.
Apart from losing the Nonjurors, the Church of Ireland lost many leaders who had fled during the reign of James II, while others such as Hugh Gore of Waterford had died as a consequence of their suffering. As at the Restoration in 1660, the Church of Ireland once again faced the problem of reorganisation and filling vacant dioceses. In 1691 and 1692, a new archbishop and eight new bishops were appointed: Narcissus Marsh (Cashel), Fitzgerald (Clonfert – a brother of the Nonjuring Archdeacon of Dublin), Digby (Elphin), Tennison (Clogher), Vigors (Ferns and Leighlin), Lloyd (Killala), King (Derry), Foy (Waterford) and Wilson (Limerick).
Archbishop Narcissus Marsh: brought fresh vigour to the office of Archbishop in Cashel, Dublin and Armagh
Archbishop Narcissus Marsh brought a fresh vigour to his roles as Provost of TCD, Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, and then as Archbishop of Cashel (1691-1694), Dublin (1694-1703) and Armagh (1703-1714). He was regular in visitations, combating the abuses he encountered. He forbade preaching in private houses, ordered every incumbent to preach each Sunday, and to “preach upon the royal supremacy four times a year.” As archbishop, he insisted on visiting his suffragan dioceses, and he also played a part in establishing Marsh’s Library and the Dublin Philosophical Society (now the Royal Irish Academy).
The other key reforming figure in the Church at this time was William King (see below).
The bishops were regarded as tending towards “High Church” preferences or leanings, and their political loyalties were tested with the introduction of the oath of abjuration in 1697, which was opposed by all four archbishops and three of the bishops.
But the relations between Church and State were strengthened in the years that followed with an increasing political role for the bishops. The Lords Lieutenant were largely non-resident, and during their lengthy absences the island was governed by two or three Lords Justice, one of whom was inevitably either the Primate or one of the three other archbishops.
Narcissus Marsh complained that the offices of state occupied too much of his working time, and during the parliamentary recess in 1707, the Council sat no less than eight or ten hours a day, leaving him little time for study or to administer his diocese. King too complained that he was over-burdened by the affairs of state. Many bishops complained that they had to spend much of their time in the House of Lords.
The Irish-born clergy also complained about being overlooked when it came to promotions in the Church: every primate who held office between 1702 and 1800 was of English birth, and a very normal path to promotion to the bench of bishops was to come to Ireland as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant. Many of these, as Chart describes them, were “political hacks or obsequious intriguing courtiers.”
Among the clergy of the Church of Ireland, there was unease at the failure to call Convocation, which had not met since 1661, and which was not summoned again until 1703. When it was called, the bishops claimed for convocation the right to deal with all Church matters, to make ordinances and decrees that had the force of ecclesiastical canons and constitutions, while the clergy claimed the right to impose their own taxation.
The full convocation met for the first time in the chapter room of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on 11 January 1704, and met for several months. They pressed for stricter observance of the Lord’s Day, a ruling by the bishops on churchwardens’ rights to punish those who failed to attend church, and debated profane swearing, public drunkenness, travelling on Sundays, the morals and manners of stage plays, and proposals for theatre censorship.
They drew attention to the dangers of teaching philosophy in school, their worries about the ordination of unqualified men, the abuses of parochial patronage, the scandalous lifestyles of dismissed clergy, and the plight of sick curates.
They wanted at least monthly celebrations of the Holy Communion, a greater role for deans and chapters in examining candidates for ordination, and a more thorough inquiry into the ordinations of men who were received as priests and who were former Roman Catholics.
They also debated the use of First Fruits and Twentieth Part, the division and union of parishes, and raising money for church repairs.
And a major part of the debate was devoted to the conversion of Roman Catholics, and the use of the Irish language in this mission, including the use of Irish Bibles, sermons, hymnbooks and prayer books.
But Convocation also gave the incentive and initiative for a new wave of church building.
At this time, King reported, for example, that in the Diocese of Ferns, containing 131 parishes, only 32 parishes – the poorest parishes, needless to say – were in the hands of the officiating clergy. Neither the bishop, nor the dean nor the archdeacon was resident in the diocese, which was served by only 13 beneficed clergy and nine curates, with incomes at £30 to £100. Pluralism and non-residence were major problems for the Church of Ireland, and reform was proving a very slow process.
However, Alan Acheson judges the calling of Convocation a pyrrhic victory for the Church of Ireland, with its meetings exposing the disunity of the Church. Convocation gradually declined in importance in the closing years of Queen Anne’s reign, leaving the Church of Ireland dependent on the secular power, and therefore on the landed interest.
Primate Marsh died in 1713. Convocation was convened for the last time at the end of that year in December 1713, and it was dissolved with the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714.
Church and State were as divided over whether the throne should pass to another member of the House of Stuart or to the German princes of the House of Hanover. With the accession of the Hanoverian monarchy in 1714, Church and State would enter a new phase. The Church of Ireland moved from being in the hands of the heirs of the Caroline tradition to being part of the new latitudinarian age. It would not escape the challenges posed for the wider Church in the decades to come by Rationalism and Deism.
The legacy of the Penal Laws
The Treaty Stone, Limerick … the Penal Laws left a legacy of bitterness
For the Roman Catholics, the new Penal Laws have left a legacy of bitterness. Were they inspired by theological antipathies or by fear of the political influence of the Pope? The historian Lecky points out that the Penal Laws were a product of the time, when church and state were inseparable, and claims they were modelled on French laws against the Huguenots.
But inherited memory among many recalls the Penal Laws as sectarian in their intent and in their impact. This memory is reinforced by the fact that the bishops of the Church of Ireland were often instrumental in enacting and in enforcing these laws.
A state paper of the time on the state of Roman Catholics on the island lists: 838 secular priests and 389 regular priests, and three bishops (Cork, Galway and Waterford). Several Roman Catholic bishops had been expelled, and those that remained lived a precarious life, depending on the shelter provided by courageous members of their flock.
Archbishop Edward Comerford of Cashel, who was living in Thurles, Co Tipperary, wrote to the Pope, Innocent XII, in 1698: “Several of our brethren have stayed, hiding in cisterns, in mountains, caves and holes. I am sustained by the bread of tribulation and the water of scarcity, but I have not given up my office and will not do so.” He remained in office until his death in 1710.
But the Lord-Lieutenant, the Duke of Portland, knowing that without bishops there could be no priests, argued that if needed Roman Catholic bishops would have to come from the continent to continue ordinations.
Meanwhile, the tracts and pamphlets of the times, and the sermons preached on 30 January, 29 May, 23 October and 5 November (the new commemorations in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), teem with references to the enormous evils of the powers claimed by the Pope.
Bishop King of Derry, a later Archbishop of Dublin, argued that the Roman Catholics must be held in subjection because of their religious views. They could not hold any office because they might betray their trust to the Pope. He conceded their rights to personal liberty – but not their political liberty and or any rights to the full benefits of citizenship.
King objected, for example, to a Roman Catholic priest in his diocese who was reported to have taken on himself to marry and divorce people and to dissolve marriages. On the other hand, King severely censured a landlord who took advantage of the Penal Laws to acquire the land of a Roman Catholic tenant for his own benefit.
Some of the bishops of the Church of Ireland advocated extreme measures: Bishop Anthony Dopping, in a sermon in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, urged that there was no moral obligation on the Government to observe the terms conceded to Roman Catholics in the Treaty of Limerick. On the other hand, on the following Sunday, Bishop Moreton of Kildare, anxious to find some accommodation, urged Roman Catholic priests to accept the authority of William III, and suggested that their bishops could be paid by the state. Even one leading figure in the Church of Ireland, Peter Manby (1638-1697), Dean of Derry, became a Roman Catholic as a consequence of reading Archbishop William King’s Answer to the Considerations.
The Convocation summoned in 1703 devoted much time to debating the Penal Laws, including prohibitions on the entry of Roman Catholic priests from abroad, the opening of a register of Roman Catholic priests in Ireland, extending the vote to Roman Catholics only if they took the oaths of abjuration and allegiance, and demanding that holders of Crown offices must first receive Holy Communion in the Church of Ireland.
In wrestling with these memories, historians of the Church of Ireland have failed to deal adequately with the real and shameful memories. A disingenuous example is provided by Murray (in Alison Philips) as late as 1933, when he writes: “At such times, however, the priest walked abroad at night and vanished in the early dawn, and when ardent Protestant neighbours came in search of arms they were apt to find pistol and corselet hidden away with pyx and chasuble” (Philips, vol 3, pp 160-161).
And yet, throughout all this time, pilgrimages were thriving – despite the Act banning them in 1702 – and especially at Lough Derg, which was owned by the Leslie family of Glaslough, who had provided generations of bishops and priests to the Church of Ireland.
Did the Penal Laws have any effect on the population? More than 40 years after the Treaty of Limerick, Roman Catholics still outnumbered Protestants in every part of Ireland, except the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry and Dublin.
An analysis of population figures calculated by using the register of hearth taxes in the 1730s shows:
Ulster: 62,624 Protestants; 38,459 Catholics; Ratio: 3:2.
Leinster: 25,241 Protestant; 92,434 Catholics; Ratio: 2:7.
Munster: 13,337 Protestants; 106,407 Catholics; Ratio: 1:8.
Connacht: 4,299 Protestants; 44,101 Catholics; Ratio: 1:10.
The Presbyterians too suffered under the Penal Laws, and also strongly resented the Sacramental Test Act. Any legislative efforts to provide relief for the Presbyterians were effectively vetoed in the House of Lords, where the bishops had a working majority. Those who were more favourable towards the Presbyterians and their plight included a Dr Wright, FTCD, who, as a consequence, found his nomination as Bishop of Cork and Ross was blocked. Instead, the vacant see was filled by Peter Brown, who was suspected of Jacobite sympathies, and who wrote a discourse attacking the practice of drinking to the “pious and immortal memory” of William III.
On the other hand, the Convocation of 1704 discussed providing the Huguenots with space in church buildings and a French version of The Book of Common Prayer, which was published in various editions in Dublin from 1715 to 1817.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin … hosted a French-speaking congregation of Huguenots (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
At the death of Queen Anne, the Church of Ireland – like the Church of England – was divided between those who wanted a Jacobite restoration and those who wanted the throne to pass to the House of Hanover. In 1715, in the face of the rebellion of the Old Pretender, Thomas Lindsay, Archbishop of Armagh, was reluctant to sign a covenant drawn up by the House of Lords; and eventually, when he signed it, it was said he had placed it at the end so it could be torn off in the event of a Jacobite victory.
And so the two principal archbishops – Thomas Lindsay of Armagh as a suspected Jacobite and William King of Dublin as a Lord Justice – were opposed to each other politically. King was worried that Convocation would give a voice to and an excuse for assembly to the clergy who were sympathetic to the Jacobite Pretender, and so Convocation was not called again once the Hanovers had ascended the throne.
The Bolton Library, Cashel … built to house the book collection of Archbishop Theophilus Bolton (1678-1744) and to provide a chapter house for Cashel Cathedral
The tensions continued between the English-born and Irish-born bishops and senior clergy in the Church of Ireland: King’s recommendation of Theophilus Bolton, who was born in Co Mayo, for a vacant see was turned down, although Bolton later went to Clonfert and Kilmacduagh in 1722, and later became Archbishop of Cashel in 1729. Many of the English-born clergy were more likely to be Whigs, and therefore sympathetic to legislation conceding greater liberties to the Presbyterians.
Eventually, a law was passed freeing Protestant dissenters from the penalties of the Act of Uniformity if they took the oaths of allegiance and abjuration, and made a declaration against transubstantiation.
Eventually King fell out of favour with the Government, and in 1719 he was omitted from the list of Lords Justice.
Meanwhile, there were petty disputes and scandals too. King refused to consecrate Josiah Hort (1674-1751) as Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin – supposedly because the letters patent incorrectly described him as being DD. Hort had been a nonconformist minister in England, and after conforming to the Church of England spent about a year at Clare College, Cambridge (1704-1705), but he received no degree. In reality, King refused to consecrate him because of his intense personal dislike for the former nonconformist minister from Bath. Eventually, Hort was consecrated by the bishops of Meath, Kilmore, and Dromore in 1722, and went on to become Bishop of Kilmore (1727) and Archbishop of Tuam (1742).
William FitzGerald, who was Bishop of Clonfert until his death in 1722 at the age of 88, had been demented for his last years in office. At 76, he married a young woman who was reputed to govern her husband and his diocese; there were no glebes in the Diocese of Clonfert, half of the tithes went to laymen and a quarter to the bishop, and there were only 10 beneficed clergy, of whom half were non-resident.
The Archbishop of Dublin went to court in a dispute with the Dean and the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, over whether the archdeacon had a right to a seat in the chapter, and over the archbishop’s right of jurisdiction and visitation in the cathedral. The archbishop accused the dean and chapter of squandering their possessions, turning the chapter house into a toyshop and the vaults into wine cellars, and allowing part of the cathedral to be used for secular use as part of the law courts.
Christ Church, Oxford … Hugh Boulter was dean – and Bishop of Bristol – before becoming Archbishop of Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Archbishop Lindsay of Armagh died in 1724, and Archbishop King of Dublin, who was about to be reconciled with his Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, was not promoted to Armagh. King was the leading churchman of the land, but he was native-born, he was independent-minded, he was quarrelsome at times, he did not promise subservient co-operation with Whitehall, he opposed the Toleration Act, and he was 74. The new Primate, instead, was Hugh Boulter (1672-1742) who, before coming to Ireland, was both the Dean of Christ Church Oxford and Bishop of Bristol at one and the same time, and was a former chaplain to the Hanoverian King George I.
As Archbishop of Armagh, Boulter became unpopular as he filled top judicial, political, and ecclesiastical posts from England, due to his distrust of the Irish-born clergy and to provide more Whig bishops who would be more favourable to the government. In his own words, he set out “to break the present Dublin faction on the bench.”
Yet, despite his staunch political allegiance to England, Boulter attempted to do his best for the people of Ireland. When the harvest failed in Ulster in 1729, he bought food and supplied to help relieve hunger. He opened new schools, and forced through parliament a bill that revalued the price of gold in 1738, to the benefit of the poor. He also tried to reform clergy incomes and to improve the standards of living for the clergy, and he tried to tackle the thorny issue of pluralism.
Archbishop William King ... died in 1729 and was buried in Donnybrook under two feet of water and nine feet below the ground
Archbishop King died in 1729 and was buried in a country churchyard – Donnybrook in Dublin – reportedly under two feet of water and nine feet below the ground. His bequests included £400 to buy glebes for churches in rural parts of Dublin, and £500 to endow a lectureship in theology in Trinity College Dublin, which he had earlier endowed with another sum of £500.
King’s place as Archbishop of Dublin was filled by an Englishman – John Hoadly (1678-1746), who was translated from Ferns and Leighlin, where he was bishop (1727-1730) to Dublin and later became Archbishop of Armagh (1742-1746).
In this period, we also find the foundation of the first Protestant Charter Schools, principally through the initiatives of Bishop Henry Maule (1679-1758), with a royal charter was issued in 1730. In other fields of education at this time, John Stearne (1660-1745) endowed a printing press at TCD, which became the foundation of the University Press, and left other bequests for TCD.
New challenges, new thinking
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was, in turn, a Protestant, a Catholic and a Deist
The Church of Ireland, as was the case with the Church of England, was facing problems with the state’s control of ecclesiastical new thinking and of appointments. New challenges to traditional methods of thinking were being posed in this period by Scepticism and Deism: by David Hume (1711-1776), the Scottish philosopher with whom Scepticism in Britain begins; and in Europe, with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who was in turn a Protestant, a Catholic and a Deist; and Voltaire (1694-1778).
James Latham’s double portrait of Bishop Robert Clayton (1695-1758) and his wife Katherine (née Donnellan)
The most prominent Deist in the Church of Ireland was Robert Clayton (1695-1758), who was successively Bishop of Killala (1730-1735), Cork (1735-1745) and Clogher (1745-1758). A friend of the prominent English Arian, Samuel Clarke, Clayton became a leader of the movement for the abolition of subscription to the formularies of the Church of Ireland. In the House of Lords, he proposed that both the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed should be expunged from The Book of Common Prayer, and in a book published in 1751, he denied the doctrine of the Trinity.
Clayton’s views blocked his appointment as Archbishop of Tuam, but he repeated these views in another book in 1757. He was prosecuted, summoned to appear before the bishops in Dublin, and faced censure and possible deprivation. However, before the hearing could begin, he was seized with a nervous fever and died.
But even bishops, including the English-born bishops of Irish dioceses, often had the best wishes of the Church of Ireland at heart. When Primate Boulter died in 1742, he bequeathed the bulk of his property, worth over £30,000, for the purchase of glebes for clergy and for supplementing the income of clergy in smaller parishes. Archbishop Bolton of Cashel, who died the following year, left behind a library that still bears his name and is of cultural importance to this day.
The Roman Catholics of Ireland remained under deep suspicion of Jacobite loyalties, suspicions strengthened by the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, although they had little direct impact on Ireland. But the first stirrings towards toleration were being heard among the Bishops of the Church of Ireland.
Preaching in 1725 before the House of Commons on the anniversary of the massacres of 1641, Bishop Edward Synge condemned the persecution of religious belief as useless and improper because belief is a function of the mind and cannot be affected by external force.
Bishop Synge found two Roman Catholic doctrines subversive of the state – the power of the Pope to depose, and his power to absolve subjects from their oaths of allegiance. But he was not convinced that these doctrines were held and believed by all Roman Catholics, and argued that they should be given the opportunity to disclaim them.
However, at the same time, Boulter promoted legislation introducing tougher restrictions on Roman Catholics. It was claimed that many members of the legal profession were covert Roman Catholics, and that they had only conformed nominally to qualify for their profession and office.
Boulter’s legislation required court officers and lawyers to make a declaration against Popery; to take an oath of abjuration; imposed an initial probation of five years on converts from Roman Catholicism to the Church of Ireland being admitted to the legal profession; and required those converts to rear their children as Protestants. He also promoted an act forbidding Roman Catholics to vote at elections.
This last act marks the climax of the Penal Laws and within two years Josiah Hort, Bishop of Kilmore, was arguing for its repeal. In 1745, an act was passed making null and void any marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant or ex-Protestant if a Roman Catholic priest officiated.
Saint Mary’s Church, Mary Street, Dublin ... John Wesley preached his first sermon in Ireland here in 1747, and Wolfe Tone was baptised here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)
The Church of Ireland was very much in need of reform. But we should not forget that this was also a time of great cultural depth and of spiritual growth in the Church of Ireland. Jonathan Swift was a reforming Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, as well as the author of Drapier’s Letters and Gulliver’s Travels. George Berekely, the philosopher Bishop of Cloyne, was also the first missionary in the post-Reformation Church of Ireland. Other pioneering missionaries from the Church of Ireland included Charles Inglis from Donegal, a missionary in Canada who became the first Anglican bishop consecrated for North America.
This was a period that also saw the growth of many charities and charitable institutions. Bartholomew Mosse founded the Rotunda Hospital, and Jonathan Swift founded Saint Patrick’s Hospital. This was the era of the Wesley brothers, their preaching, their hymn-writing, and the Rise of Methodism; John Wesley first visited Ireland in 1747, preaching his first sermon in Saint Mary’s Church in Mary Street.
The French Revolution by Delacroix (1830) ... the 18th century is known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Revival, but was also the Age of Revolution
The Canadian church historian Gerald Cragg has described the end of the 18th century as “The Age of Reason.” But we could equally also call this “The Age of Revival” or even the “Age of Revolution.”
It is a constant debate within Church history whether the rise of Methodism and the preaching and impact of the Wesley brothers forestalled a revolution in England. So we cannot ignore the social and political impact of Methodism, nor can we ignore its impact on the Church of Ireland.
At the same time, this was the age of revolution, in which there was a clear link connecting Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue: the American Revolution had an indelible impact on the Episcopal Church and the future shape of the Anglican Communion; the French Revolution had an impact on the French Church, and more generally on the whole Christian Church; and, of course, the 1798 Rising had an impact on the Church of Ireland and the Church in Ireland.
The rise of Methodism
John Wesley preaching in the early days of Methodism
The sobriquet “Methodist” was originally given in 1729 to a group at Oxford known as the Holy Club and led by John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley traced the “first rise” of Methodism to those early years, and the second stage to 1736 when the “rudiments of a Methodist society” appeared in Georgia, where the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were missionaries with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG).
During their voyage to America, and their stay in Georgia, they were deeply influenced by the Moravians, who in turn had taken on much of the teachings and experiences of the German Pietists. Back in London, the Wesleys were in close contact with the Moravians, and within three days of each other in May 1738 John and Charles had vital Christian experiences – what John described as his heart being “strangely warmed” when a passage was being read from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.
We could see this as the turning point in the Evangelical Revival on this side of the Atlantic. The Wesleys preached throughout Britain and Ireland: John Wesley’s Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789. When John Wesley found the doors of Anglican churches closed to him, he followed the example of George Whitefield, and preached in the open.
Irish Methodist missionaries Barbara Heck and Philip Embury recalled in a window in the United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
The first Methodist Conference met in 1744, and the first Methodist circuits were organised by 1746. Methodism gained strong positions throughout Ireland, England and Wales, but notably made slower headway in Scotland. In America, Methodism owed its beginnings to three Irish emigrants, Robert Strawbridge, Philip Embury and Barbara Heck.
The break with Anglicanism came when John Wesley ordained local preachers for areas where Methodists could not receive the sacraments. Although he hoped Methodism could stay within the boundaries of Anglicanism, and died an Anglican priest, Methodism became a separate organisation and a separate church.
The American and French Revolutions
The River Slaney at Enniscorthy ... there is a direct link between the American revolution in 1776, the French revolution in 1789, and the Wexford Rising of 1798 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)
After the American Revolution, many Anglicans fled New England, moving north and settling in Canada. There, Anglicanism has been strongly influenced by a steady flow of clergy and missionaries from the Church of Ireland. Those Anglicans who remained in the new United States felt isolated from the Church of England, whose bishops were unwilling or unable to provide new bishops to serve the new church.
The first American bishop was not secured for another 18 years, until 1784 – the same year American Methodists broke with Anglicanism as a consequence of John Wesley’s ordination of a superintendent or bishop for America. That same year saw the consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the nonjuring Episcopal Church of Scotland.
Although Seabury was elected Bishop of Connecticut in 1783, the bishops of the Church of England found they could not consecrate him because he could not take the Oath of Allegiance. As a consequence, the “high” liturgy of the Episcopalians of Scotland strongly influenced the Episcopal Church in America for generations.
The Irish Revolution of 1798
The Battle of Ballynahinch on 13 June 1798: there is a direct chain linking the events of 1776, 1789 and 1798
I said earlier there was clear connection, linking Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue. We should not see the events in Ireland in 1798 in isolation from the events in France nine years earlier, or from events in North America 22 years earlier. Nor should we fail to put the events of 1798 into a context at home, either.
The Rising of 1798 comes as a natural sequence to a number of reforms, and unmet demands for reform throughout Ireland at this time, demands and reforms that had major impacts on the Church of Ireland and its members.
In the mid-18th century, the towns and cities of Ireland were governed and controlled by self-appointing and self-perpetuating ruling oligarchies with exclusively Church of Ireland memberships, and the greatest proportion of Irish land was in the hands of Protestants, and more particularly in the hands of members of the Church of Ireland.
By 1745, a vigorous campaign was under way in Dublin to overturn the oligarchic powers of the self-selecting aldermen who ruled the city, now with a population of 110,000. This campaign was led by two members of the Church of Ireland – Charles Lucas and James Digges La Touche. Lucas was also more open to the rights of Presbyterians, which further alienated him from many of the bishops and clergy of the Church of Ireland. But the successes of Lucas and La Touche inspired similar reforms in other cities and towns.
The Church of Ireland was also arousing increasing hostility because of the contentious tithes. Tithes were an important factor in agitation in the 1760s associated with the Hearts of Oak (drawing support from Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics) in Ulster, and the Whiteboys (mainly Catholics) in Munster. Draconian legislation was introduced in 1776, and in that year 20 Whiteboys were executed, some on the orders of magistrates who were also clergy of the Church of Ireland.
The Volunteer movement was aimed on the one-hand at controlling the Whiteboys and on the other at replacing soldiers withdrawn from Ireland to fight in America.
The next wave of agrarian unrest came with the Rightboys in the 1780s. By now, some of the gentry realised that release from the burden of tithes would quieten their tenants, and also leave them able to pay their rents more easily. This challenge provoked a famous response from Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne, who warned in 1786 that if the existing Established Church were overturned, the State would soon share its fate.
But the Roman Catholic Church was gaining in confidence, and Catholics were gaining in the extension of liberties by a government anxious to secure their loyalty, particularly in the face of threats from revolutionary France. Catholics were admitted to the legal profession in 1792, allowed to take degrees at Trinity College Dublin, in certain circumstances even allowed to bear arms or to become army officers – between 1793 and 1815 about 200,000 Irish recruits, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, entered the British army and navy. And the franchise was extended to a limited number of Roman Catholics.
The government was worried that continuing clerical training in France would provide a new generation of revolutionary priests – those trained in France at the time of the French Revolution included Father John Murphy of Boolavogue. And so, in 1795, the same year as the formation of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, government funding was used to establish the Royal College of Saint Patrick at Maynooth.
Despite the popular image of a rising led by Presbyterians in the north-east in 1798 and by Catholic priests like John Murphy in the south-east, many of the leading members of the United Irishmen and their sympathisers were prominent members of the Church of Ireland, often finding inspiration for their revolutionary ideals in their religious beliefs and maintaining close links with church life.
Saint Michan’s Church, Church Street, Dublin … the Sheares brothers were the most noteworthy of United Irishmen among the parishioners (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The founding members of the United Irishmen in 1791 included Thomas Russell, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Simon Butler, all members of the Church of Ireland. Prominent among the United Irishmen in 1798 was Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798), whose uncles and cousins included a Bishop of Cork, an Archdeacon of Ross, and a Rector of the famous Shandon church in Cork. The brothers Henry Sheares (1755-1798) and John Sheares (1766-1798) were the most noteworthy of United Irishmen among the parishioners of Saint Michan’s, Dublin – both were hanged publicly on 14 July 1798.
Other leading United Irishmen with intimate church links included Wolfe Tone, who married the granddaughter of a clergyman; Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, commander of the Wexford rebel forces, who was the grandson of two and the nephew of a third clergyman in the Diocese of Ferns; and Cornelius Grogan, a conscientious patron of the Parish of Ardamine and churchwarden of Rathaspeck, both in Co Wexford.
Looking across Wexford Harbour towards Wexford Town ... as Cornelius Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard [Archdeacon John Elgee] recite Protestant prayers”(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
As Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge, accompanied by the Rector of Wexford, Archdeacon John Elgee, it is said (by the local historian, Nicky Furlong) that “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard him recite Protestant prayers.”
In the north-east, it is often forgotten that the hero and heroine of the Battle of Ballynahinch, Henry Monroe and Betsy Gray (if she ever existed as a real historical character), were both members of the Church of Ireland.
Many of these laymen and women had been fired in their revolutionary zeal by their religious convictions, shaped and moulded in the Church of Ireland. Among those religious United Irishmen was Thomas Russell (1757-1803). Known in song and folklore as “the Man from God-knows-where,” Russell combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism, and his knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.
By 1791, he had formed his lasting attachment to radical Christianity. He contended that tyranny had endeavoured to support itself “by perverting Christianity from its purposes and debasing its purity.” He was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison, Dublin, exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:
O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When the 20 key surviving leaders of the Rising were deported to Scotland in 1799, ten (half) of them were members of the Church of Ireland, Russell among them. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).
Russell was buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral. Henry Monroe, who shared so many of his ideals and who was executed three years earlier, is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard at Lisburn Cathedral.
The Act of Union and Disestablishment
The former Houses of Parliament in College Green, Dublin … the Act of Union not only joined the parliaments of Ireland and Britain, but also joined the Church of Ireland and the Church of England in one united church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Act of Union, which came into effect in 1801, not only joined the parliaments of Ireland and Britain, but also joined the Church of Ireland and the Church of England in one united church. Those who welcomed this included Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, who saw the Act of Union as breaking the influence of the landed aristocratic families who controlled the Church of Ireland at the higher level, the Beresfords and the Ponsonbys, and as a way of reforming a church that was over-burdened with mediaeval structures and with non-resident pluralists.
● the Diocese of Kilmacduagh had a full cathedral chapter with no resident incumbents in any of the parishes;
● Lord Kilmorey was the hereditary lay abbot of the Exempt District of Newry and Mourne.
● Among the landed aristocracy, the Earl of Mayo was also Archbishop of Tuam and managed to secure for his son the post of Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.
Saint Mary’s Church, Kilkenny … the church is now closed, but on Christmas Day 1801 there were 430 communicants (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)
But it was an era too that saw the foundation of new schools, and the growth and spread of Sunday schools, and the church was not dead spiritually either. There were 430 Communicants in Saint Mary’s Church, Kilkenny, on Christmas Day 1801. Socially, the divisions were not always clear either: Thomas O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, had been the Rector of Longford at the same time as his brother was the Parish Priest of the town.
In the aftermath of the Act of Union, the early 19th century saw a continuation of that lively social and missionary witness within the Church of Ireland. For example, the Ossory Clerical Society, which was founded in 1800, had a number of prominent leading lights such as Peter Roe of Saint Mary’s, Kilkenny, Robert Shaw of Fiddown (Piltown, Co Kilkenny), and Henry Irwin of Castlecomer, who became involved in and inspired many social, missionary and outreach movements in the first few decades of the century.
The Hibernian Bible Society, founded in 1806, is now the National Bible Society of Ireland, which also runs the Bestseller book shop in Dawson Street, Dublin. The Sunday School Society was set up in 1809, and the Hibernian Church Missionary Society, now the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland) in 1814.
For the Church of Ireland, it was a new awakening to the wider, outside world. As the 19th century unfolded, it was the Church of Ireland that sent the first Anglican missionary to China, provided the first Anglican Archbishop of Ontario, and sent bishops and missionaries to India, Australia, the Middle East and throughout Africa.
But the rapid expansion of the cities left the crumbling parochial structures unable to cope. Privately-funded, proprietary chapels were built all over the Dublin. The most famous was the Bethesda, which some of you may remember was the Wax Museum off Parnell Square until recently and is now the Maldron Hotel in Granby Row – there is still a street called Bethesda Place behind the hotel. Trinity Church in Lower Gardiner Street became a labour exchange in the last century, but is an evangelical church once again.
Saint John’s, Sandymount … built on land provided by the Pembroke estate (Photograph © Patrick Comerford 2008)
Not all the proprietary chapels were evangelical: Harold’s Cross Church (now a Russian Orthodox Church) and Zion Church in Rathgar began with an evangelical flavour but were essentially parish churches for the rapidly expanding middle class and lower middle class suburbs. Saint Bartholomew’s in Clyde Road, and Saint John’s in Sandymount, built on land provided by the Pembroke estate, were both in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
But the evangelical movement received an unexpected boost from Power Le Poer Trench, who became Bishop of Waterford in 1802 as a reward for his father and brother voting for the Act of Union. While he was Bishop of Elphin he went through a conversion experience, and went on to become a powerful evangelical leader as Archbishop of Tuam (1819-1839).
Another powerful evangelical leader was Robert Daly who became Bishop of Cashel. He was a champion of segregated schooling, in opposition to Archbishop Richard Whately, and supported the National School system. Remember that the National Schools were originally set up as non-denominational schools, and the original schools lasted long after independence as the Model Schools.
Lord Plunket’s statue in Kildare Place, beside the National Museum … he was the first evangelical to become Archbishop of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The first evangelical to become Archbishop of Dublin was Lord Plunket, whose statue stands in Kildare Place, off Kildare Street, close to the National Museum, on the original site of the Church of Ireland Teacher Training College.
One of the myths arising out of this “second reformation” is the myth of Souperism, which was tackled in his books by late Desmond Bowen. What is not in dispute is that at the beginning of the 19th century a large number of Roman Catholics joined the Church of Ireland – and not all of them were in the west of Ireland. Figures from the period between 1819 and 1861 show that the seven churches and 11 clergy in the Diocese of Tuam increased in number to 27 churches and 35 clergy.
Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort … the centre of Nangle’s mission work on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Much of the success of this evangelical mission work was due to the use of the Irish language in preaching and mission work.
On Achill Island, agricultural reform, health care, education and pier building for fisheries were introduced along with Bible classes. In fact, part of Edward Nangle’s success was possible because there had been no resident clergy of any church in Achill until he arrived. It was only in 1850s and 1860s that the Roman Catholic Archbishop Hale responded, and then he sent Italian priests who could speak neither English nor Irish – and were happy, at first anyway, merely to provide Mass in Latin.
But while the Church of England continued to claim to be the church of the majority of the people in England, the Church of Ireland could not make the same claim on this island, and the achievements of leading church figures such as Swift and Berkeley, and the zealous missionary activities of members of the Church on other continents, did little to change the attitude of the majority of Irish people to the Church of Ireland – an attitude that Dr Kenneth Milne characterises as one that “varied between indifference and resentment.”
By then, most of the penal laws had been rescinded or repealed, and the bishops no longer formed a major bloc in the House of Lord. But Roman Catholics could still not sit in parliament, and all had to pay tithes – a tax on the produce of the land – towards the maintenance of the Established Church.
James Comerford’s stucco figure of Daniel O’Connell from The Irish House in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The first of these grievances was resolved in 1829 when, due largely to the efforts of Daniel O’Connell, the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed – although they still could not hold some offices of state.
The second grievance, the collection of tithes, remained a major running sore, although tithes were often collected not by the incumbents of parishes but by middlemen known as tithe proctors, who made a neat living out of their collecting. The injustice was widely spread, for some clergy were not able to exist on the tiny portion of the tithes they received.
Two pieces of legislation moved to change the ecclesiastical climate in Ireland: the 1833 Church Temporalities Act and the 1838 Tithe Commutation Act.
Under the Church Temporalities Act, the Archbishoprics of Tuam and Cashel were reduced to bishoprics, and ten other bishoprics were suspended, being put under the care of bishops in neighbouring dioceses, so that, for example, Derry joined Raphoe, Ossory joined Ferns and Leighlin, and Kildare joined Dublin and Glendalough.
A Board of Church Commissioners was set up to administer the money saved so that churches could be repaired and built, and the incomes of clergy in small parishes could be improved.
Under the Tithe Act, the tithes were reduced, and in future they were to be paid by the tenant to the landlord, who in due course was to pass it on to the Church.
The University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford: John Keble’s Assize Sermon here in 1833 criticised legislation on changes in the Church of Ireland and marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement (Photograph © Patrick Comerford)
This state legislation for the internal matters of the Church led to Oxford Movement, which begins with John Keble’s Assize Sermon in in Oxford in 1833, in which he condemned the proposals as “national apostasy.”
John Henry Newman ... he spent much time in Dublin after leaving behind his Tractarian friends
The Oxford Movement led to a revived scholarly interest in Christian origins, the Fathers of the Early Church (Patristics), and Liturgy. But it also led to some of the leading Anglicans of the day – including John Henry Newman – becoming Roman Catholics.
Archbishop Richard Trench (1807-1886) … he was Archbishop of Dublin (1864-1884) at the time of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland
Whatever Keble, Newman and others may have hoped to achieve initially, the move was unstoppable. Gladstone was convinced, if not that the Church of Ireland was beyond reform, than that the Church of Ireland could no longer be maintained as the state church and that its established position was an obstacle to good relations between England and Ireland. In 1869 the Church of Ireland was separated from the Church of England and was disestablished under the Irish Church Act, which came into effect on 1 January 1871.
The Church of Ireland was left in possession of the cathedrals, churches and church schools then in use. But all other properties fell to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and about half the money realised, over £8 million, was distributed among various charitable and educational bodies, including Maynooth College and the Presbyterian Church.
The Church of Ireland was left with its clergy and bishops, and with enough money – the other £8 million – to pay them, but not to pay their successors.
With Disestablishment, Trench told Archbishop Tait of Canterbury that he feared the “very worst for the future” and a “very dismal catastrophe” for the Church of Ireland. In his first charge to his diocese after disestablishment, Trench expressed fears that the Church of Ireland would cut itself off from other Anglican churches, casting itself off from the rest of Catholic Christendom and splitting “first into two or three, and then probably into a thousand fragments.”
Those fears, and the worst of fears, were never realised.
“I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building” ... a cartoon image of Archbishop William Alexander (1824-1911) in Vanity Fair, 1891
Part 2: Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The pressures for further reforms of the Church of Ireland continued. Eventually, in 1869, Gladstone introduced the legislation that brought about the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871.
Archbishop William Alexander – then Bishop of Derry and the last Church of Ireland bishop to sit in the House of Lords – later recalled leaving the House of Lords after the late night vote that passed the second stage of the legislation enacting disestablishment: “I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building.”
The Church of Ireland would no longer be a state church, bishops would no longer sit in the House of Lords, and the Church of Ireland, once again, was separated from the Church of England.
But the Church moved hastily to reorganise itself. The archbishops called provincial synods, each of which agreed to meet with the other “in a general synod or council,” which agreed that “the synod is now not called upon to originate a constitution for a new communion but to repair a sudden breach in one of the most ancient churches in Christendom.”
The general convention met in 1870, approved a new constitution, set up a system of ecclesiastical courts, and arranged for the formation of a representative body, the Representative Church Body (RCB) to hold and manage the church’s property.
The constitution established government at every level of the church, from select vestries at parochial level, to diocesan synods, to general synod.
By 1880, £5.5 million of funds from the Church of Ireland had been redistributed for educational purposes, including endowments to Maynooth and to the Presbyterians for training in ministry.
Disestablishment created a number of crises for the newly independent and self-governing Church of Ireland. There was a loss of income, there was a loss of some buildings, and the Church needed to find its own system of appointing bishops and of church government. Many of the leading evangelicals of the day wanted a complete overhaul that would have provided a Presbyterian-style of government for the Church of Ireland.
All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman … an important centre for the High Church tradition in Dublin at the time of disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
These controversies did not mean the Church was completely dominated by evangelicals. In Dublin, for example, new churches in the High Church tradition had been built in Ballsbridge and Sandymount, enhancing a tradition that had already found expression at All Saints’ in Grangegorman.
The Church also debated whether it needed to revise The Book of Common Prayer. The debates on liturgical reform also included the form of absolution used in visiting the sick, and there were other rows about the use of the Athanasian Creed.
The debate on the form of absolution to be used in the visitation of the sick focused on words that seemed to suggest that that the priest by virtue of his priestly authority had the power to forgive sins. Eventually, a compromise was reached by substituting the form of absolution already used at the Holy Communion.
When it came to the Athanasian Creed, Trench opposed any efforts to rephrase or edit the damnatory clauses, declaring “the creed, lopped at the beginning, lopped at the end, lopped at the middle,” reminded him of “unhappy victims of oriental cruelty.”
The differences over the Athanasian Creed were resolved by omitting the rubric regarding its use.
There were debates too about the Baptismal service, and the ordination service, although major alterations were rejected.
Two new services were also added: one of the consecration of a church, the other an order for Harvest Thanksgiving.
The West Door of Saint John’s Church, Sandymount … one of the churches that was the focus of liturgical controversies (Photographs, Patrick Comerford)
The debates also resulted in new canons, including Canon 36 prohibiting placing a cross on the altar – a moved directed pointedly against three Tractarian churches in Dublin: Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge; Saint John’s Church, Sandymount; and All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman.
The compromises that were accepted are summarised in that beautiful statement that concludes the 1878 preface to the revised Book of Common Prayer:
“And now, if some shall complain that these changes are not enough, and that we should have taken this opportunity of making this Book as perfect in all respects as they think it might be made, of if others shall say that these changes have been unnecessary or excessive, and that what was already excellent has been impaired by doing that which, in their opinion, night well have been left undone, let them, on the one side and the other, consider that men’s judgements of perfection are very various, and that what is imperfect, with peace, is often better than what is otherwise more excellent, without it.”
Eventually, the changes guaranteed the survival of the Church of Ireland in the form we find it today, and the Church of Ireland soon entered on a long period of internal peace and institutional stability.
The post-disestablishment Church
The former Synod Hall, linked to Christ Church Cathedral, was the venue for the General Synod for decades (Photograph: Donaldytong)
So, was disestablishment a good or bad thing for the Church of Ireland?
Most of us would agree today that disestablishment was, by-and-large, good for the Church of Ireland.
● set the Church of Ireland on a sound, independent financial footing;
● resulted in the reform of the liturgy;
● saw an overhaul of church structures with the introduction of synods at national (General Synod) and local (diocesan synod) level;
● was followed by an upsurge of lay initiative and of giving;
● freed the church of time-serving, careerists from England.
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork ... one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph: Charlie Cravero)
Disestablishment also led to new buildings, including:
● Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork
● Kilmore Cathedral, Co Cavan
● the rebuilding of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
● the rebuilding of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare
● Saint Luke’s Church, Cork (1873)
● Bangor Abbey, Co Down (1880)
● Saint Kevin’s Church, Dublin (1888);
● Saint Saviour’s Church, Arklow (1899).
● Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (foundation stone, 1899, consecrated 1904).
Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast … a post-disestablishment cathedral (Photograph © Brian Shaw)
In addition, in the immediate aftermath of Disestablishment:
● A new teacher training college was established in Kildare Place in 1884 (now the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines).
● Two new vibrant mission agencies were founded in Trinity College Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s – the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur.
● New mission links were established with emerging churches in Spain and Portugal.
● The Church of Ireland made immeasurable contributions to the growth of Anglicanism, particularly in Canada, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Africa.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, where three Irish missionaries were bishops … the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a sign of the vibrant new missionary life of a disestablished church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Church of Ireland in the 20th century
Saint Kevin’s Church, built in 1888 on the site of the former Royal Portobello Gardens, closed after less than a century in 1983 ... what caused a decline in membership of the Church of Ireland over the space of a century? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
If the Church of Ireland could bounce back like that at the end of the 19th century, what happened that caused a decline in numbers at the beginning of the 20th century?
Some of the factors were political. For example, after the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution, which saw imported labour, many of the skilled labourers were replaced by Irish-born Roman Catholics when they acquired those skills from the mid-19th century on. Then the Wyndham Act and the expropriation of landlords led to the decline of many of the big estates. The effects of the land acts on church finances was, in part, mitigated by the launching of the Auxiliary Fund in 1909, which raised about £250,000 for clergy stipends.
The Ne Temere decree of 1908 also took its toll on the renewal of the membership of Church of Ireland through marriage and birth, as we have already seen in previous weeks.
World War I saw not only large number of men enlist, but many of them who survived stayed away. With a declining population, there was a pressing need to reduce the number of rural incumbencies, but this was coupled with the Minimum Stipend Act (1920), which fixed stipends at £400 for an incumbent and £200 for a curate.
The War of Independence saw the move of many Protestant civil servants from the state.
The bishops of the Church of Ireland were not above politics, so that in 1912 every single one of northern bishops subscribed to the Ulster Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant, opposing Home Rule.
And yes, we have to say that there was some “ethnic cleansing” in some areas too. The Bishop of Killaloe reported this at the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War in North Co Tipperary, the Sunday Independent journalist, Eoghan Harris, has written about this in Co Cork, and recently memories have been evoked of the horrific attack on an orphanage in Galway.
But, members of the Church of Ireland were also involved in the political and cultural expressions of the movement for independence.
● Maud Gonne and Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz) were born members of the Church of Ireland.
● Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland, was a rector’s son.
● So too were the poet WB Yeats and the playwright Sean O’Casey.
● The Irish Citizens’ Army is said to have agreed on its name at a meeting in the rooms of the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn in Trinity College Dublin – he was a regular communicant in Saint Bartholomew’s, Church, Ballsbridge, intensely involved in the Irish Labour Movement, and for many years he chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM).
Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge … the Revd RM Gwynn of the Irish Labour Movement and the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a regular communicant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
It is often forgotten in GAA circles that members of the Church of Ireland continue to be honoured in the names of the Semple Stadium and the Sam Maguire Cup.
Primate and President … Archbishop John Gregg and Eamon de Valera
In 1920, the Church of Ireland agreed to allow women to be members of select vestries. Archbishop Gregg supported this initiative, although his successor, Archbishop Bernard, was opposed. Bernard was content to see the “great lady of the parish” on the select vestry … but not “the gardener’s wife.” He said: “Parochial squabbles would be trebled if they admitted women.”
In 1932, while the Roman Catholic population was celebrating the Eucharistic Congress, the Church of Ireland was vigorously celebrating what was proclaimed to be the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.
By and large, things were settling down, and Archbishop Gregg, who was assured by the new government of the place of Protestants in a new state, advised Eamon de Valera on the wording of the 1937 Constitution regarding Church of Ireland. Curiously, though, the Church in this jurisdiction retained the king’s name in the liturgy until the final declaration of a republic in 1949.
The Church of Ireland continued to reform itself, despite initial reluctance to concede structural reform.
Changes were made in the ways bishops were elected, in 1939 and again in 1945.
There were changes in mapping diocesan organisation along the way too:
● The Diocese of Clogher, which was united to Armagh from 1850, became a separate diocese once again in 1886.
● The Dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, which had been united since 1842, were separated into the Diocese of Connor and the Diocese of Down and Dromore in 1945.
Eventually, a new way of electing bishops through electoral colleges was adopted in 1959, replacing the previous system by election by diocesan synods.
However, in 1967 proposals for further reforms were rejected. These included:
● reducing the size of general synod from 648 members to 501
● the creation of a new diocese centred on Belfast
● leaving each diocese with just one cathedral and one chapter
● amalgamating diocesan synods, councils and offices
and – perhaps most significantly –
● providing for team ministries and a greater potential for mobility among the clergy.
The Dioceses of the Church of Ireland today
The only reform accepted was a reduction in the number of dioceses from 14 to 12. As a consequence:
● The Diocese of Kildare was separated from Dublin and Glendalough in 1976, and united to Meath.
● The Dioceses of Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh were united to Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1976.
● The Diocese of Emly, united to Cashel since 1569, was transferred to Limerick in 1976.
● The Diocese of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin were united to Cashel, Waterford and Lismore in 1977.
However, legislation at this time to unite Tuam and Kilmore was rescinded – and we have been reminded of the consequences of this in recent years. In more recent years too, proposals to reform the numbers, structures and method of working of general synod have continued to meet strong resistance.
The continuing failure to face the need for reform also turned to heartbreak when it came to closing many rural churches in the second half of the 20th century, because closure was often seen as cost-saving rather than part of a process of reform and change.
On the other hand, an openness to the insights of the liturgical movement in the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the 1950s and 1960s, led to new baptismal and Eucharistic rites, and eventually to a modern-language Alternative Prayer Book in 1984, supplemented by the Alternative Occasional Services in 1993.
By the 1990s, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population (Photograph: Jan Butter/ACO)
By then, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population.
Meanwhile, in 1978-1980, the long, formal links with TCD were broken, the Faculty of Theology became non-denominational, three divinity chairs fell vacant, the old course of training for clergy was abolished, and the Divinity Hostel was eventually transformed into the Church of Ireland Theological College – now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
Changes in patterns of ministry were introduced with the introduction of Non-Stipendiary Ministers (NSMs) or auxiliary ministers – the first NSM in Dublin was the Revd Michael Heaney who was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977 – and the ordination of women was approved in 1990.
The legislation in 1990 provided for the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but to date, more than 20 years later, no woman has yet been elected a bishop in the Church of Ireland.
A new Church Hymnal was published in 2000, and the new Book of Common Prayer was published in 2004.
Where was the Church of Ireland ecumenically as we moved through the 20th century?
Talks with the Presbyterian Church were initiated in 1931. They agreed to recognise each other’s ordinations and sacraments as a way to move towards unity. But these proposals were rejected by the House of Bishops, and the talks have never progressed.
Indeed, Archbishop Gregg openly referred to non-episcopal churches as “the deprived children of Christendom,” and he boasted that he had never appeared on a public platform with what he called a “non-conformist” minister.
The formation of the Church of South India in 1948 caused some curious and interesting problems. Indeed, an Irish Presbyterian, Donald Kennedy, and an Irish Anglican, Anthony Hanson, were among the new bishops of the new Church, and an Irish Methodist minister, Ernest Gallagher, was ordained in that church too, so that, technically, his orders were valid in the Church of Ireland when he returned to Ireland, although he returned to work in the Methodist Church.
Relations with the Methodists flowered in a more favourable climate, and we now have a covenant that pledges the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland to work together and to seek unity.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey meets Pope Paul VI
When it comes to Roman Catholics, the climate changed with visits to the Vatican by two Archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII (1960), the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the Anglican Reformation, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI, at the time of the reforms introduced by Vatican II.
The new opportunities that this created were ably seized by the late George Simms, successively Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh. He is credited with creating the climate that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, so that today it is accepted in many communities that no happening actually happens unless the rector has also been invited.
During his visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II also met the bishops of the Church of Ireland.
Archbishop Henry McAdoo … co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) (Photograph of portrait in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Patrick Comerford)
The late Archbishop Henry McAdoo, first as Bishop of Ossory and then as Archbishop of Dublin, co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), and his expertise on and love for the insights of Jeremy Taylor and the Caroline Divines and their sacramental theology helped to bring about agreed statements on the Eucharist.
It is often forgotten that those agreements were accepted by the Church of Ireland, but have remained in cold storage in the Vatican. Archbishop McAdoo’s vision of full and visible unity in 1970 was that it would happen by the end of the century: 30 years then appeared a long stretch, but full and visible church unity now seems further away than ever.
In 1996, the Porvoo Communion was formed, linking the four Anglican churches on these islands with the Episcopal Lutheran churches of Northern Europe and the Baltic countries.
At the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland loomed in 1868, Archbishop Trench expressed the fear that a disestablished Church would inevitably “cease to exist after a few years.” He said he preferred “instant death” at the hands of Gladstone to the “gradual starvation” by Disraeli.
George Salmon, Regius Professor in Trinity College Dublin, expressed the fear that the Church of Ireland might find itself reduced to “a local sect.”
Richard Travers Smith, one of the outspoken high church figures of the day, expressed his fears that the Church of Ireland might become “a church of half assertions and diluted doctrines.”
But Trench’s fears of “instant death,” Salmon’s fears of becoming “a local sect,” Travers Smith’s fear of doctrinal dilution, and Alexander’s premonition of the crash of this great building were never realised. The Church of Ireland survived, and in the 140 years since disestablishment, the church has not broken intro schismatic factions, as many feared, nor have we broken communion with the Church of England or other parts of the Anglican Communion.
● What does the future hold for the Church of Ireland?
● What do you think are the major issues facing the Church of Ireland in the future
● The election and consecration of the first woman bishop?
● The unity of the churches on these islands?
● The unity of the Anglican Communion?
● The debate within Anglicanism on sexuality?
● The integration of immigrants and their families?
● The future of the covenant with the Methodist Church
● Economic and financial collapse?
● Emigration and immigration?
● The environment?
Next: (Tomorrow, Saturday 12 January 2013):
4.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of the Anglican Communion; mission, ecumenical engagement and the debates today.
4.2: Is there a way of talking about an ‘Anglican Culture’?
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture on 16 February 2012 was part of the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context.