Friday, 8 March 2013

Church History (full-time): 10.3, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

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)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 8 March 2013:

11 a.m., 10.3
, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

The Churches and the Act of Union

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.

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 in the 18th century, such as Jonathan Swift and George 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By the time the Act of Union was passed, most of the penal laws had been rescinded or repealed, and the bishops no longer formed a major bloc in the House of Lord.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.

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.

During the first decades of the 19th century, the Church of Ireland engaged in a series of administrative improvements, redeploying its assets and reasserting its authority. By 1830, the Province of Armagh could boast of 79 new benefices since 1782, while the number of glebe houses had increased to 93% of all parishes. These improvements brought an increase in the number of resident clergy, church services, and communicants.

The 1831 Census shows the overwhelming majority of the population in Ireland was Roman Catholic (80.3 per cent), followed by the Church of Ireland (10.7 per cent), and the Presbyterians (8.1 per cent).

However, Church membership was not evenly distributed across the island. Antrim, Down, Armagh and Londonderry/Derry had Catholic minorities, while Fermanagh and Tyrone had almost equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants. Every other Irish county had a substantial Catholic majority. In addition, 96 per cent of all Irish Presbyterians were living in Ulster, and over half the members of the Church of Ireland (56 per cent) were in the north-east.

By the early 1830s, however, internal reform was no longer enough to satisfy the critics of the Church. 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. In all, the number of bishoprics was reduced from 22 to 12.

The Act also established a new body, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of Ireland, to administer the money saved so that churches could be repaired and built, and the incomes of clergy in small parishes could be improved.

The controversial issue of tithes was also resolved by government intervention in 1838. Under the Tithes 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)

However, 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.”

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.

During the Famine of the 1840s, many evangelicals in the Church of Ireland became a target for accusations of “souperism,” or the use of food as bribery to win converts. These accusations were particularly levied against the Revd Edward Nangle and his mission on Achill Island.

But the real evangelical revival came a decade or more later with the ‘Second Great Awakening’ in Ulster in 1859. Through this movement, evangelicalism became part of mainstream Church life for Presbyterians, Methodists and Anglicans.

Archbishop Richard Trench (1807-1886) … he was Archbishop of Dublin (1864-1884) at the time of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland

At the same time as evangelical zeal was alive in the Church of Ireland, however, and despite what Keble, Newman and others may have hoped to achieve initially, Disestablishment or the separation of church and state was being introduced by the Liberal Government and the move was unstoppable.

The Prime Minister, WE Gladstone was convinced that the Church of Ireland was 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, the Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Trench, told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait, 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. Instead, it could be argued that the constitutional withdrawal of the British Government from church affairs in Ireland left the churches free to focus on their pastoral and spiritual mission.

Catholic Emancipation and resurgence

James Comerford’s stucco figure of Daniel O’Connell from The Irish House in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, the 19th century was a period of progress and reform for the Roman Catholic Church following the removal of almost all of the legal obstacles from the Penal Laws in the 18th century. Catholic Emancipation – especially the right to sit in Parliament – remained the only obstacle to full participation in political life by Roman Catholics.

Of course, some Roman Catholics already had the vote, long before the Act of Union, when the Catholic Relief Act extended the franchise in 1793 to all freeholders with property worth 40 shillings or more.

As far as the Roman Catholic Church was concerned, though, there was not enough adequate church buildings, nor was there a sufficient number of priests to care for the large and scattered congregations. In 1800 the ratio of priests to parishioners was about 1 to 2,100, it is estimated that.

The first quarter of the 19th century was a period of unrequited hope. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Troy, (1786-1823), who had been a strong advocate of the Act of Union, persuaded nine of his fellow bishops to concede a veto on episcopal appointments – which, we ought to remember, was not uncommon in European monarchies.

In return, Troy wanted Catholic Emancipation linked with the Act of Union. The influential Irish-born statesman, Robert Stewart (1769-1822), Lord Castlereagh, who was Foreign Secretary and leader of the Commons, was not averse to this principle. However, the Prime Minister, William Pitt (1759-1806), was publicly non-committal and vague, although the Catholic Unionists had no doubt that he favoured linking concession with the passage of the Act of Union, so creating a totally new dispensation for a United Kingdom.

Disappointment ensued when nothing was done in the first session of the United Parliament, and it increased when Pitt resigned office in 1801 and was succeeded by Henry Addington. However, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Cornwallis, assured Troy that Pitt had resigned, unable to overcome the reluctance of King George III, who believed Catholic Emancipation contravened the Act of Settlement, and his coronation oath.

Pitt declared that he would never again take office if emancipation were not conceded. In spite of this, he became Prime Minister again in 1804, no longer an advocate of emancipation having pledged never again to raise the question in Parliament during the lifetime of the king. To this pledge he was as faithful as he had been false to his former assurances.

When the reformer, Charles James Fox, presented the Catholic petition in 1805, Pitt opposed it. After 1806, when both Pitt and Fox died, the Catholic champion was Henry Grattan, who had entered the British Parliament in 1805. In 1808, Troy and the senior Catholic bishops agreed to the veto as a concession. But other bishops were unwilling, and rejected the offer of a state-paid clergy or state-appointed bishops.

The debate over the veto continued for many years, and distracted attention from the demands for Catholic Emancipation. This debate was further complicated arose when the Prefect of the Propaganda, Cardinal Quarantotti, issued a rescript in 1814 favouring the veto. However, he was acting outside his brief in the absence of Pope Pius VII, who was in France, under the thumb of Napoleon. When the Pope returned to Rome, after the fall of Napoleon, the rescript was disavowed.

Henry Grattan died in 1820, and Catholic Emancipation had not yet been introduced. Lord Plunket’s Bill, which conceded the veto, was passed in the House of Commons but was defeated in the House of Lords in 1821.

With these setbacks, Daniel O’Connell, a barrister and orator who had taken a prominent part in Catholic committees, emerged as the political leader for Irish Catholics. O’Connell and Richard Lalor Sheil founded the Catholic Association in 1823. It soon gained the support of Daniel Murray, who had succeeded Troy as Archbishop of Dublin, and James Warren Doyle, ‘JKL,’ Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Other bishops gave their support too, and when the association was suppressed in 1825 by Act of Parliament, O’Connell merely changed the name to the New Catholic Association.

The strength of these freeholders was galvanised by O’Connell and elections in Waterford, Louth, Meath, and other constituencies, where they voted for Protestant candidates supported by the Catholic Association. The ‘Protestant Ascendancy’ realised the winds of change were blowing through Ireland.

When O’Connell was elected MP for Clare in 1828, he was unable to take his seat. Hastily, two Tory ministers, the Dublin-born Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, steered the Catholic Relief Bill of 1829 through the Lords and the Commons in 1829. However, some provisions remained in force excluding Roman Catholics from some of the higher civil and military offices, prohibiting priests from wearing vestments outside their churches, bishops from assuming the titles of their sees, and clergy from obtaining charitable bequests. In many other ways, though, Roman Catholics now had the same civil standing and rights as the members of other denominations, including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers.

O’Connell continued to pursue his reform campaign, turning his attention towards the repeal of the Act of Union. His main tactic was the monster rallies that attracted hundreds of thousands of people eager to hear the ‘Liberator’ speak. But O’Connell was unwilling to go outside the law, and when the government ordered the cancellation of one of his rallies, he meekly stood down and thereby gave up his most potent weapon of resistance.

O’Connell’s apparent failure was seen as a terrible capitulation as Ireland was in the midst of the Famine. And yet, for many Protestants, the election of Daniel O’Connell and the granting of Catholic Emancipation, provoked fears for the future. Their anxiety was increased by the Government’s educational policies, which had been designed to put an end to the religious competition in schools.

The National System of Education was introduced in 1831, aimed at bringing all children together for general literary instruction while separating them for religious doctrine. However, the idea of providing inter-denominational education served mainly to increase denominational rivalry, and the hostility of both Catholic and Protestant clergy forced the government to compromise its principles. The Churches’ control of schooling was not so easily given up.

Meanwhile, in the pre-Famine era, some important building work also began and a new generation of reforming bishops brought their influence to bear on the lower clergy through regular conferences, retreats, and visitations.

While priests were encouraged to improve their preaching and pastoral work, regulations were introduced to address personal standards of behaviour. However, the rapid growth in population made any improvement in the ratio of priests to people impossible to achieve.

Bishops also introduced measures to regulate the behaviour of the wider Catholic community, particularly in regard to the rituals of faith. The Penal Laws in the previous century had led to a wide variety of religious practice, with popular folk customs merged with Christian events, such as wakes and “patterns,” marked by drinking, dancing and games. In many places, the funeral Mass, as well as baptisms and marriages took place in family homes.

The Dublin Diocesan Statutes of 1831 stipulated that funeral Masses should be said in the church, and under Archbishop Paul Cullen the administration of the sacraments was transferred from home to church.

At the same time, as temperance societies were gaining ground among Protestants, Father Theobald Mathew began the tee-total movement in 1838, which became a popular Roman Catholic crusade against “all intoxicating liquors.”

Its medals, speeches, bands and banners provided a lively alternative to pub-based culture. Around five million people are said to have taken the “pledge” in the first five years of Father Mathew’s movement.

The Famine and the Roman Catholic Church:

The Famine brought dramatic changes for all the Churches, particularly for the Roman Catholic Church, which suffered the greatest losses in the numbers. The 1861 Census shows the population as 77.7% Catholic, 12% Anglican and 9% Presbyterian, with Catholics largely concentrated in the west and south. Smaller religious group included Baptists, Congregationalists, Plymouth Brethren, Quakers and Methodists.

The Famine greatly accelerated social changes already under way. It would appear that the initial Catholic folk interpretation of the Famine was in terms of a supernatural judgement, God’s wrath and divine punishment of the people’s sins, a view that was apparently encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church.

The loss of around two million of the poorest people through death and emigration ensured that the Roman Catholic Church emerged from the period of famine in a stronger position to carry out its pastoral role.

After the Famine, following a period of reform and the loss of its poorest members, the Roman Catholic Church was marked by religious renewal and a more public display of faith. The post-Famine period from 1855 to 1875 as been identified by Emmet Larkin as two decades of “devotional revolution” in which the Irish people became virtually practising Roman Catholics within a generation.

Cardinal Paul Cullen … the major figure in reforming the Roman Catholic Church in post-Famine Ireland

A major factor in shaping the Roman Church in these years was the leadership of Cardinal Paul Cullen. He returned to Ireland from Rome in 1850 as the papal delegate and Archbishop of Armagh, became the Archbishop of Dublin in 1852, and became Ireland’s first cardinal in 1866.

As a reformer and a Church politician, it could be said Cardinal Cullen created the modern Irish Catholic Church, regulated its clergy and its practices, and bound it closely to Rome. His work benefited from the progress made in the first half of the 19th century, and the changed conditions following the Famine.

Cullen strengthened the relationship between a more devout people and their more disciplined clergy. The Synod of Thurles, called by Cullen in 1850, marked the beginning of a more tightly controlled religious system. The ratio of priests to people had been reduced to 1:1,250. An increased Government grant to Maynooth after 1845 meant many of these priests were more likely to be from the lower social ranks in Catholic society.

Cardinal Cullen’s leadership was Rome-centred (Ultramontanist) and he was keenly aware of the danger of an Irish-based nationalistic Catholicism imitating French Gallicanism, of which John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam, was a volatile and outspoken advocate. But, as a skilled diplomat, Cullen easily outplayed McHale.

Cullen was deeply hostile to the use of violence in Irish nationalism, and strongly condemned the Fenian movement. However, his focus was on reforming his Church. He was deeply committed to the Papacy and anxious to make the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland conform fully to the Roman model.

The Roman Catholic Church grew in economic, political and social power in Ireland in the 19th century. By the end of the century:

● new cathedrals, churches, schools and convents had been built throughout the island;
● the celebration of the sacraments in the home had become a rare occurrence;
● Confession and Communion were much more frequent;
● Sunday sermons increased in number;
● more people than ever before were attending Mass;
● new Roman-style devotions were flourishing;
● the religious orders were organising parish retreats and missions;
● a proliferation of confraternities and sodalities was encouraging lay piety and renewal.

With this came a marked increase in the numbers of religious orders who influenced all levels of Catholic social life and religious practice. Teaching orders of brothers, particularly the Irish Christian Brothers, expanded rapidly. The number of nuns rose from 120 in 1800 to 3,700 by 1870. Through these nuns and brothers and their work in schools in particular, the Roman Catholic Church acquired a powerful influence on young people and these orders and their schools did much to ensure the dominance of a strict Catholic ethos.

The Government’s plans to establish provincial non-sectarian colleges in Cork, Galway and Belfast in 1848 also failed to meet religious demands. The Queen’s Colleges, which two years after their formation were linked as constituent colleges of Queen’s University, were dismissed as being ‘godless’ by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

John Henry Newman ... he spent much time in Dublin after leaving behind his Tractarian friends

The Roman Catholic bishops founded an alternative Catholic University in Dublin in 1854, with Cardinal John Henry Newman, the former Oxford Tractarian, as its head, but it struggled to survive. The “University Question” remained largely unresolved until the early 20th century.

Another consequences of the increased control of its people by the Roman Catholic Church was the sexually conservative nature of Ireland by the late 19th century Ireland, especially among the middle classes.

In addition, the 19th century Roman Catholic Church in Ireland came to play an important role throughout the entire English-speaking world. Extending beyond the Roman Catholic Church in England and Scotland, the developing values and mores of Irish Catholicism strongly influenced the Roman Catholic Church in the US and many other English-speaking countries, and in the process acquired considerable power.

Additional reading:

John R Bartlett and Stuart D Kinsella (eds), Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Ireland (Dublin: Columba Press, 2006).
Brendan Bradshaw and Dáire Keogh (eds), Christianity in Ireland: Revisiting the story (Dublin: Columba Press, 2002).
Nicholas Canny, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixtenth Century (Cambridge, 1979).
Patrick J. Corish (ed), A history of Irish Catholicism, general editor (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1970 &c, multi-volume).
Emmet Larkin, The Historical Dimensions of Irish Catholicism (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1976, 1984, 1997).


Week 9 (13 March 2013) Field-trip: Field trip to Kilkenny: Freshford, Kilkenny Cathedral and Saint John’s, Kilkenny.

Week 10 (22 March):

11.1, From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism: rethinking and reshaping Christianity.
11.2, Slaves, soldiers and women: new challenges that shaped new priorities.
11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 8 March 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History (full-time) 10.2: The Boyne and the Penal Laws

James II … his accession raised many dilemmas for the Church of Ireland

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 8 March 2013:

10 a.m., 10.2
, The Boyne and the Penal Laws


We have just discussed how the course of the Reformation was settled by the time James I ascended the throne in 1603 … before the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible was published; and before The Book of Common Prayer and the Bible were translated into Irish.

Indeed, the course of the Reformation had been decided in most European countries by the beginning of the 17th century. Yet, throughout the 17th century, both the Government and the Church of Ireland continued to indicate that the island could still be won over to the cause of the Reformation.

This may have been one of the driving forces behind Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland. It certainly was the hope of John Bramhall, Jeremy Taylor and the Caroline Divines at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. It was a hope that was revived after the defeat of James II at the Boyne in 1690. And it was hope that continued to be used to justify the Penal laws for much of the 18th century.

The Church of Ireland in the 17th century

A monument to Charles II outside Lichfield Cathedral … the restoration of the monarchy brought with it the restoration of the episcopacy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The restoration of Charles II was accompanied by the restoration of episcopacy in both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. It marked the end of a period of great turbulence both in Church and State on these islands, and the introduction of a period of relative calm that would last for the best part of 25 years.

In this sense, these islands were catching up on the state of affairs that was unfolding throughout many parts of Europe. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) had already brought an end to a generation of war and a century of strife, and marked the end, not only of the 30 Years War, but also of religious wars in general.

By 1660, the impetus of the Puritan revolution had run its course. It had produced no leader to replace Cromwell, and it had no policy to enable it to continue to hold political power.

At the time of the restoration of the monarchy and the Episcopal model of the Church, the population of Ireland was about 1.1 million, of whom probably 800,000 were Roman Catholics and 300,000 Protestants.

Of those 300,000 Protestants, more than half were members of the Church of Ireland, with the rest mainly Presbyterians concentrated in Ulster – many of them Covenanters driven from Scotland by persecution.

The population of Dublin was probably 32,000, and the majority were members of the Church of Ireland. So, what was the state of the Church of Ireland in 1660 as it recovered its episcopal structures and reintroduced its defining, Anglican liturgy?

We must remember that under Cromwell, while it suffered gravely, the Church of Ireland had not been disestablished.

Nevertheless, during the Cromwellian era, vacant bishoprics had not been filled; the parish system had been suspended; instead the church was served by 376 “ministers of the Gospel.” They might be Congregationalists (or Independents, probably the majority), Presbyterians (67), Baptists and Anabaptists, and we must remember that at least 65 of those clergy were Episcopalians of the Church of Ireland.

In some instances, the clergy of the Church of Ireland had remained in their parishes, officiating without salary, as was the case of Diggory Holman, Rector of Magheralin and Precentor of Dromore. Others had co-operated openly with and supported the Commonwealth: Henry Jones, Bishop of Clogher, was Scoutmaster-General to Cromwell. But the use of The Book of Common Prayer had been banned; there were no church courts or synods, church laws, &c.

These changes, issues and personalities raised questions not just about law and order within the Church in Ireland, but raised fundamental questions of ecclesiology, the theology of the church:

What was the nature of the Church in Ireland, who had authority, how was that authority to be exercised, and what force did it have, what were the visible symbols and signs of office? Who could hold office in the Church, and how was authority to be shared and delegated?

In those days, those questions could not be resolved without some consideration by the civil powers. But who exercised civil power in Ireland in the aftermath of the Cromwellian Commonwealth before the king had been restored legally? There was a king, at least in theory. But he had not been proclaimed king legally by the beginning of 1660, and there was no parliament to legislate in his name. In January 1660, three people were appointed Commissioners for Government and Management of Affairs in Ireland. Instead of a parliament, a General Convention met and this also had the oversight of ecclesiastical affairs.

At the time, clergy numbers were estimated at about 500. A petition from Church of Ireland clergy from Co Cork for their tithes indicated the Episcopal clergy were ready to return and, slowly, the clergy began to recover their parishes.

The Restoration and the Church of Ireland

In May 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne, and he was proclaimed king in Dublin on 14 May. Despite the restoration, in Scotland there was still a debate about the form the new establishment should take: should it be Presbyterian or Episcopalian? Charles II had signed the covenant, the Presbyterians had played an important part in the Restoration, and so Presbyterians felt their hopes were well-founded in both Ireland and Scotland, and they had some hopes for a greater role in church and state affairs in England. A deputation of Presbyterian ministers arrived in Dublin to petition the General Council, only to find the majority were “prelatical.”

Lord Charlemont deemed the Presbyterians the “most dangerous” faction, saying they “preach up the authority of the kirk to be above that of the crown and our dread sovereign,” and that “the kirk hath power to excommunicate their kings.”

And so, from the beginning, questions of ecclesiology were also questions of politics, and church/state relations were inseparable. Preparations quickly began for the re-establishment of the Episcopal Church of Ireland.

Eight Irish bishops survived the Cromwellian era: John Bramhall, Derry; Henry Jones, Clogher; Henry Leslie, Down; John Leslie, Raphoe; Robert Maxwell, Kilmore; Griffith Williams, Ossory; Thomas Fulwar, Ardfert; and William Baylie, Clonfert. But there were 16 vacant dioceses in 1660, including the four archbishoprics: Armagh, Meath, Ardagh, Dromore, Tuam, Killala, Elphin, Dublin, Kildare, Ferns, Cashel, Waterford, Cork, Cloyne, Limerick and Killaloe.

Consider the names of those eight remaining bishops: at least four were of Scots birth or descent: Leslie of Down, Leslie of Raphoe, Maxwell of Kilmore and Baylie of Clonfert, and a fifth, Williams of Ossory, was of Welsh descent. This alone challenges the myth that the Ulster-Scots heritage is the preserve of Northern Presbyterians, or the image conveyed by some that the Church of Ireland was merely a transplant of the Church of England.

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in the snow last year: Archbishop John Bramhall of Armagh was an undergraduate here in the early 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In August 1660, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry was nominated as Archbishop of Armagh.

Declarations and Instructions issued by the King on 30 November 1660 formed the basis for the later Act of Settlement. Lands held by the Church in 1641 were to be restored, a glebe was to be provided for every parish, there were new provisions for the two cathedrals in Dublin, and provision was made for church endowments. But the doctrine and discipline of the church were not yet settled.

On 18 January 1661, Bramhall was formally appointed Archbishop of Armagh. Without waiting for Parliament to sit, he threw himself into reorganising the dioceses: Parker of Elphin became Archbishop of Tuam; Fulwar of Ardfert became Archbishop of Cashel; Henry Leslie moved from Down to Meath, but soon died and was replaced by Jones who moved from Clogher to Meath, and would be replaced in Clogher by John Leslie, who had been consecrated for Raphoe; Robert Leslie moved from Dromore to Raphoe; Maxwell remained in Kilmore, to which Ardagh was united; and Cloyne was united to Cork.

John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh ...portrait in the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Bramhall also moved ahead to fill the ranks of the depleted episcopate: on 27 January 1661, more than three months before Parliament met, two new archbishops and ten new bishops were consecrated in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The new archbishops were James Margetson of Dublin and Samuel Pullen of Tuam. The new bishops were: Michael Boyle (Cork and Ross); John Parker (Elphin); Robert Price (Ferns and Leighlin); Henry Hall (Killala); George Baker (Waterford and Lismore); Edward Synge (Limerick); Edward Worth (Killaloe); Robert Leslie (Raphoe); George Wild (Derry); and the saintly Jeremy Taylor (Down and Connor). The five consecrating bishops were Bramhall of Armagh, Maxwell of Kilmore, Williams of Ossory, Leslie of Raphoe, and Jones of Clogher. Some weeks later, Thomas Price was consecrated for Kildare, giving the Church of Ireland a complement of four archbishops and 17 bishops. And these diocesan structures were, more or less, retained unchanged for the next 170 years.

The attendance of church, university, state and civic officials at the large consecration in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral provided a striking demonstration of the unity of church and state.

William Fuller, Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and later Bishop of Limerick, composed a special anthem, Quam denuo exaltavit Dominus coronam, with the opening lines:

Now that the Lord hath re-advanced the Crown;
Which Thirst of Spoyl, and frantick zeal threw down:
Now that the Lord the Miter restored
Which, with the Crown, lay in the dust abhor’d:
Praise him ye Kings,
Praise him ye Priests.

Jeremy Taylor … preached at opening of the Restoration Parliament in Dublin

It was not until 8 May 1661 that Parliament met in Dublin, with one of the newly-consecrated bishops, Jeremy Taylor, preaching at its opening. Taylor argued for a state composed of none but those who accept the Apostles’ Creed, and that “tenderness of conscience” could not be pleaded against the law of the land.

Membership of the new parliament was overwhelmingly Protestant, with only one Roman Catholic MP. Archbishop Bramhall of Armagh presided in the House of Lords, where the bishops would often form the working majority.

By the beginning of June, Bramhall could claim victory: “We have established the liturgy, doctrines and disciplines of the Church. We have condemned the Covenant engagement.”

At the same time as Parliament met, the Convocation – the equivalent of a National Synod – met. This consisted of two houses: the archbishops and bishops formed the upper house, and the Lower House was composed of the archdeacons, deans and “proctors” of the clergy. It continued sitting until 1666, but from 1666 to 1692 there was neither Parliament nor Convocation, and although Parliament would meet again in 1692, convocation did not meet again until 1703.

In 1662, the Act of Settlement restored and protected much, though not all, of the property of the Church of Ireland. But in the north-east, particularly in Jeremy Taylor’s diocese, the clergy of the Church of Ireland found it difficult to assert their claims against the Presbyterians, with many Presbyterian ministers remaining in place.

Bramhall also wanted to exclude from the Church of Ireland those clergy who had served during the Commonwealth. He insisted on episcopal ordination and refused to accept Presbyterian ordinations, even when these had been legal in the past.

Church and State

The 1662 revision of The Book of Common Prayer brought with it the introduction of special services for 30 January, 29 May, 23 October and (later) 5 November. These four special commemorations cemented the links between Church and State, and reinforced the established nature of the Church of Ireland:

● 30 January: The martyrdom of Charles I (commemorated in the dedication of the chapel at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham);
● 29 May: The anniversary of the Restoration;
● 23 October: The anniversary of the massacre of 1641;
● 5 November: The anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

Meanwhile, many of the bishops also held high office in the state, and this also supplemented their income. In 1668, Primate Margetson had over £3,500 a year, including his fees as Prerogative Judge and King’s Almoner; Archbishop Boyle of Dublin had £1,200 a year, and was Lord Chancellor; Robert Mossom of Derry was the best paid bishop with £1,800 a year; of the rest, 12 had incomes ranging from £1,600 to £1,000, and five between £1,000 and £600. The poorest bishoprics were Clonfert (£400) and Kildare (£200).

The end of an era

Perhaps the end of an era came in 1671 with the death of John Leslie, Bishop of Clogher: he had been consecrated in Scotland in 1628, and at the time of his death is reputed to have been the oldest bishop in the world. In a way we could say that his death marked not only an end of the personal links that bridged the Jacobite or even the Tudor and Elizabethan church with the Church of the restoration, but also symbolised the shift in thinking that was taking place in the Church and throughout Europe.

The restoration era was distinguished by far-reaching intellectual changes. Evidences of a new spirit had started to appear with the Cambridge Platonists, who turned from the way in which religious problems had been conceived and debated. With the Puritans, the prevailing theology had become dogmatic and theoretical; the Cambridge Platonists showed that a broader and simpler system was necessary. They believed that preoccupation with abstruse doctrines did more harm than good. They sought a middle way between the Laudians and the Calvinists, and adopted a mediating position.

Nor should we should be in any doubt that the church was still in need of reform.

In 1678, the new Primate was Michael Boyle, who came from a family that might appear to have been a line of hereditary bishops: his father had been Archbishop of Tuam and his uncle Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. When he was Bishop of Cork he held six other benefices until his kinsman, the Earl of Orrery, as President of Munster, forced him to resign them.

Boyle was the last prelate to fill the office of Lord Chancellor. But as Primate his biggest challenge was the change in religious culture throughout the land with the accession of James II in 1685.

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 become worse for the Church of Ireland in 1687 when Tyrconnell succeeded Clarendon, and the outlawries resulting from the events of 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.

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, 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?

John Vesey, Archbishop of Tuam, and Richard Tennison, Bishop of Killala, fled to England, and were soon 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 were in attendance: 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 Bishop 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, Archbishop of Dublin.

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.

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, and was protected by his kinsmen, the Matthew family and the Butlers of Kilcash, 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.

William King, Bishop of Derry and 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.

Archbishop King finally fell out of favour with the Government, and in 1719 he was omitted from the list of Lords Justice.

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.

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.

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.

Dáire Keogh asks whether the Penal Laws were a draconian code, or merely “reasonable inconvenices,” as has been suggested by Sean Connolly and other recent historians.

The Age of Revolution would rock thrones and change the world: America in 1776, France in 1789, and Ireland in 1798. In Dublin and London, 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.

The effect of the Penal Laws on the Roman Catholic majority were being eased with successive relief acts that owed much to revolution in the American colonies, the growth of a patriotic spirit among Irish Protestants, and the obvious loyalty of the majority of Catholics in Ireland during the American Revolution.

As Keogh says, the story of the Roman Catholic community in the 18th century is more one of “endurance and emergence” than of blanket persecution as was previously accepted.
What were the consequences of this period for both the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church? We shall try to deal with this question in our next session.

Additional reading:

John R Bartlett and Stuart D Kinsella (eds), Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Ireland (Dublin: Columba Press, 2006).
Brendan Bradshaw and Dáire Keogh (eds), Christianity in Ireland: Revisiting the story (Dublin: Columba Press, 2002).
Nicholas Canny, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 1979).
SJ Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, The Making of Protestant Ireland 1660-1760 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).
Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Frankfurt am Main 1985).


10.3, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

Week 9 (13 March 2013) Field-trip: Field trip to Kilkenny: Freshford, Kilkenny Cathedral and Saint John’s, Kilkenny.

Week 10 (22 March):

11.1, From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism: rethinking and reshaping Christianity.
11.2, Slaves, soldiers and women: new challenges that shaped new priorities.
11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 8 March 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History (full-time) 10.1, Why did the Reformation fail?

Adam Loftus (1533-1605), the Elizabethan Archbishop of Dublin and first Provost of Trinity College Dublin … but why did the Reformation fail in Ireland?

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 8 March 2013, 9 .a.m. to 12 noon:

9 a.m., 10.1
, Why did the Reformation fail?

10 a.m., 10.2, The Boyne and the Penal Laws

11 a.m., 10.3, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

9 a.m., 10.1, Why did the Reformation fail?


The Reformation in Ireland presents us with perplexing questions and complex problems. Here are some questions to consider:

● Was this a truly Irish Reformation or an English Protestant Reformation, imposed from above and by statute, within the larger context of Tudor expansion and colonisation, dispossession and consolidation?

● Why did the Reformation eventually fail in Ireland, at a time when political and military conquests appear to have been effective?

● Why and when precisely did this Reformation fail, particularly in the Pale?

● Can such terms as “success” and “failure” ever be used to describe the religious policies in the 16th century?

● What role did political figures play in shaping religious policy?

In the last half century years, historians of early modern Ireland, including Brendan Bradshaw, James Murray, Alan Ford, Nicholas Canny, Raymond Gillespie, Colm Lennon and others, have debated these questions, often with contentious, contested and different results.

The Reformation in Ireland was supported by both legislation and by a Protestant ruling class. Yet, reason and persuasion, legislation and coercion, and the Established status of the Church of Ireland failed to win the hearts and minds of the majority of people on this island.

There was limited conformity among the Gaelic Irish and those families known as “Old English.” But for the most part, people from those families not only remained Catholic but also were soon denied opportunities for social advancement and were penalised in law.

We could compare this to the very different situation, for example, in Wales, or in Finland, where the Finns under Swedish rule accepted the Lutheran Reformation.

● Why did something similar not happen in Ireland?

● If the Gaelic Irish and “Old English” families felt oppressed, why did they not also seek to throw off what might have been seen as “the yoke of Rome”?

● How do we explain why the Reformation failed to take hold in much of Ireland at a popular level?

The failure of the Reformation to take root in Ireland stands in contrast to the situation in England. Brendan Bradshaw has shown that the impact of the Reformation under Henry VIII in English Ireland was not altogether different from its impact on outlying parts of England, and he has identified the existence of a native reform movement among the English-speaking community in Ireland.

1, Introducing the Reformation to Ireland

The ruins of Maynooth Castle ... the FitzGerald rebellion in 1534-1535 explains many of the later responses to the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to Dr Brendan Bradshaw of Queens’ College, Cambridge, the reigns of Edward VI and Mary Tudor mark a transitional phase in Tudor policy in Ireland. The gradual introduction under Edward VI of the Anglican settlement was met with an increasingly equivocal response from the local community.

But the antagonism that would develop towards the Reformation might have been expected in the political developments in the decades immediately before its unfolding.

Historians view mid-Tudor developments as central to the failure of the Reformation in Ireland.

A key to understanding how the “Old English” families were alienated from government and reformation, from church and state, is found in the Tudor policies in governance even before the Reformation. From 1496 on, the Tudors relied for government in Ireland on the FitzGerald family, Earls of Kildare, who monopolised the office of Deputy, and who were able to govern Ireland in the King’s name without subventions from English revenue.

This comparative stability meant Ireland neither presented a sufficient threat nor promised ample enough rewards to justify direct intervention, but was also left without any reforms in government, leaving a large degree of independence for the Earls of Kildare as they exercised their governmental functions.

All this changed with the revolt of the Kildare heir, “Silken Thomas,” in 1534 in order to show the indispensability of the FitzGeralds to the crown and to regain the office of Governor for the family. Greater disorder spread in Ireland, and a determined effort was made to solve the problem of governing Ireland without dependence on the Earls of Kildare. Dr Steve Ellis of NUI Galway and Dr Brendan Bradshaw of Cambridge have shown that the Rebellion of Silken Thomas was a response to the introduction of centralising policies.

Shortly after the rebellion began, Silken Thomas’s adherents were claiming they were “of the pope’s sect and band, and him will they serve against the king and all his partakers; saying further that the king is accursed and as many as take his part, and shall be openly accursed.”

This support for the papacy against Henry VIII linked the rebels with opposition to the Reformation. By playing the religious card, Silken transformed the struggle into a rebellion of international significance with the initial prospect of Spanish assistance.

Henry VIII called Kildare’s bluff, and in October 1534, Sir William Skeffington landed with 2,300 men, the largest English army seen in Ireland since 1399 in the reign of Richard II. A rebellion that began as a protest became a war about English rule in Ireland, with Thomas relying on Gaelic Irish support in Ireland and hoping for Catholic aid from outside. The Kildare stronghold in Maynooth fell in March 1535; by August, Silken Thomas had surrendered.

The suppression of the rebellion marks a turning point in Irish history. It spelt the end of that Kildare dominance and ushered in significant changes in Ireland significant changes in English attitudes to Ireland. No longer would the government of Ireland be delegated to leading members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, English officials would head the Irish executive under direction from London, and an army from England would enforce his authority.

The official Reformation campaign received a setback when tensions developed into a deep division between those who advocated of persuasion and those who favoured coercion. At the same time, another political rift opened between the “Old English” and the “New English” politicians and families.

Thomas Cromwell’s programme for Ireland in 1534 had included the introduction of the Reformation. The rebellion set back plans to introduce the necessary legislation in the Irish parliament. But in 1536-1537, the Irish parliament accepted measures rejecting the Pope’s authority and recognising the king as the supreme head of the Irish Church.

In 1536, the Irish Parliament declared that Henry VIII was “the only supreme head in earth of the whole Church of Ireland.”

In Ireland, as in England, Henry VIII was concerned less with doctrine and theology than with authority. The changes introduced by the Irish parliament of 1536 were directed primarily at replacing the power of the Pope with the power of the King. But there were no dramatic changes in the worship or religious observance.

There was little overt opposition to these mild changes. But we need to remember the legislation had been preceded by the crushing of a rebellion in which those who were prepared to fight for the papal cause had already shown their hand and had paid the price.

But, while the association between fidelity to Catholicism and treasonable rebellion was enough to deter resistance to the reformation measures, there was little enthusiasm, even within the Pale, for the new order.

An attempt to introduce liturgical reforms in Edward VI’s reign was short-lived, and the calm transition to a Catholic established church under Mary I indicates the failure of the first phases of the Reformation to take deep roots in Ireland.

When Roman Catholicism was restored as the state Church under Mary Tudor, the Counter Reformation, which we were looking at a few weeks ago, had an opportunity to take a foothold in Ireland.

At the accession of Elizabeth in 1558, the Reformation was undertaken again. The first steps were legislative:

● the Act of Supremacy in 1560 restored royal authority, and made provision for the ecclesiastical commission to oversee the reform of the Church;
● the Act of Uniformity in 1560 ordered attendance at the parish church on pain of fine, provided for the use of The Book of Common Prayer, but allowed that clergy who could not speak English could use in Latin.

By the 1570s, when the Elizabethan government was consolidating its hold in England, the “Old English” in Ireland had become firmly identified with the Roman Catholic cause.

2, Failing to finance the Reformation:

The ruins of the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Trim, Co Meath … only the dioceses of Dublin and Meath had the financial resources needed to equal the Reformation campaign in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In theory, the Church of Ireland inherited the ministry, property and patronage of the mediaeval church. In practice, it inherited a ramshackle institution which suffered during the century from still further decay. The resources and incomes of the church had declined substantially in the 15th century. The dissolution of the monasteries transferred a considerable amount of Church property to lay hands, local lords preyed on church benefices, tithes, and property, and few of these figures were genuinely interested in the cure of souls or the training of clergy.

A major source on the wealth and structure of the Tudor Church in England and Wales in the early Reformation period was the Valor Ecclesiasticus, compiled in response to the administrative needs created by the Act for First Fruits and Tenths (26 Henry VIII, cap 3 ), which effectively transferred to the Crown the old Papal tax of annates on the income of major benefices, broadened into a tax of the first year’s income of all benefices, and added a continuing tax of a tenth of each subsequent year’s income. The Valor provides a systematic survey of clerical income, and lists the value of each benefice in each diocese in England and Wales.

When the Irish Reformation Parliament met in May 1536, the government introduced similar bills for the Church in Ireland. An Act of First Fruits was passed that month, but opposition eventually led to a modified Act of the Twentieth Part, which was passed in October 1537, reducing the English tenth was reduced to one twentieth in Ireland.

However, there was still a need for a survey similar to that in England and Wales, and the Valor Beneficiorum Ecclesiasticorum in Hibernia was compiled in Ireland.

The entries cover:

● Armagh (inter Anglicos, plus the rectory of Carrickfergus),
● Meath,
● Dublin,
● Kildare (excluding 14 benefices in Irish territory),
● Ossory,
● Ferns;
● half of Leighlin (excluding the Gaelic Lordship of Leix or Laois);
● Cashel;
● Waterford;
● five benefices on the borders of Co Meath, but in the Diocese of Kilmore and Ardagh;
● nine benefices in the Diocese of Waterford;
● about half the benefices in Limerick, but not the bishopric itself.

Over time, other valuations were added, so that most of Tuam was assessed in 1585-1586.

The ability of the Government to enforce the Reformation in parishes was often determined by the value of the livings and the size of the parishes. Where benefices were rich enough to attract well-educated clergy, and where parishes were comparatively small, control and conformity were much easier to determine. But where parishes were poorer and larger, the ability to enforce or demand conformity was reduced.

About £13 a year was the minimum for a rector or vicar to subsist comfortably. But the Irish Valor suggests that in English Ireland, 85% of the livings were worth only IR£15 (£10) or less. In many parts of England and Wales, the poverty of livings was a major cause of the ignorance of the clergy. This means the situation in Ireland was more serious.

Before the Reformation, priests were expected only to say Mass and administer the sacraments. But in a period of rapid change, when the literacy requirements became a new need, and higher levels of literacy were expected, recruiting highly-educated clergy who had the capacity to introduce reform in their parishes was more difficult.

In England, the valuations ranged from £411.0.11 in Rochester to £3,880 in Winchester. Compare these figures with those for Ireland and Wales.

The contrast between the dioceses of Dublin and Meath suggests that even where endowments were adequate, unsympathetic patrons could still thwart the reform campaign by appointing ill-qualified ministers to livings.

The Valor shows that in the 22 diocese for which we have valuations, only 19 benefices, including nine bishoprics, were worth £30 or more a year. In other words, by 1603, little more than 100 livings in the Church of Ireland could support resident clergy.

In most cases, the only way of providing ministers with an adequate income was to accept pluralism on a large scale, uniting two or three benefices. We could say this allowed the Church of Ireland to opt for quality rather than quantity, and this resulted, for example, in a 21% increase in the number of clergy in the south and west between 1615 and 1634.

The incomplete returns for the visitations of 1615 and 1622 suggest that in 1615 the Church of Ireland had 800 clergy to serve 2,492 parishes.

The creation and provision of qualified clergy in this period becomes a signal achievement. Yet, the Church of Ireland continued to be without an effective presence in many parts of Ireland.

Only two dioceses – Dublin and Meath – had the financial resources needed to equal the Reformation campaign in the Church of England. But these two dioceses suffered disproportionately from the monastic dissolutions.

The Church authorities still failed to make the best use of available resources. Lay impropriators were permitted to strip the Church of its wealth and to appoint inadequately-trained clergy to the livings, so that far too few clergy were available to promote the Reformation in Ireland.

3, Over-cumbersome structures:

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert ... so small and so remote it is hard to imagine this was the centre of a cathedral city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We must ask too whether the structures of the Church were too cumbersome.

The Church in pre-Reformation Ireland had 32 dioceses. Compare this with England, which was much larger, wealthier and more populous, and had only 17 dioceses, and with Wales, which had only four dioceses.

Despite the legislation for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the failure to introduce institutional reforms as well as reforms to liturgy, and reforms in other areas, indicated a failure to think through the theoretical aspect of the Reformation, and later allowed careerists to take a grip on the Church and on its income.

4, Political and Social Failures:

The attitude of the leading families in the Pale was vital in determining the eventual responses to the Tudor Reformation

Under Henry VIII, the Reformation was confined to the English-speaking parts of Ireland, where the government could appeal to loyalty and deference to support the Reformation.

So the attitude of the local leading families was vital in determining the eventual responses to the Tudor Reformation. But political relations between the Dublin administration and the “Old English” families in Ireland became increasingly strained after the mid-16th century, reducing the level of local support and co-operation.

The Church of Ireland faced even more difficult problems in Gaelic Ireland, where the Reformation campaign was closely associated with military conquest.

The urgent need to politically control Gaelic Ireland distracted the Dublin administration from the task of enforcing the Reformation in English-speaking parts. But this does not explain why the “Old English” were the earliest champions of port-Tridentine Catholicism in Ireland.

However, the evidence suggests that post-Tridentine Catholicism was established more firmly and at an earlier date in the English Pale and towns that had traditionally provided the backbone of English rule in Ireland. Its main supporters were the “Old English” merchants, nobles and gentry, so that the children and the grandchildren of those who had supported and profited from the Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII were among the leading Catholics in the reign of Elizabeth I.

This shows that both Church and State were inadequate in introducing the Reformation in English-speaking Ireland – despite the fact that English-speaking Ireland was more susceptible to government pressure than Gaelic Ireland.

There is also a significant urban factor to consider. The towns played a major role exercised a major role in moulding public opinion. One early Tudor official described towns as “the anchors of the state.” Many of the seaport towns had strong trading links with France, Spain and Portugal.

The gentry and the leading merchant families in the towns of the Pale could afford to support Catholic priests. By the mid-1560s, the leading merchants of Waterford were sending relatives abroad to train in continental seminaries.

Nor did the Irish Ireland Parliament pass an act to dissolve the chantries, which were integrally linked with the mediaeval guilds in the towns. Their revenue continued to be used to maintain Catholic priests and liturgies.

Because church endowments in the Church of Ireland were inadequate, and because of the a growing alienation of the “Old English” from government the way was paved for leading merchant and gentry to families to counter the Reformation campaign of State and Church. Their growing political alienation from government after 1547 provided the agents of the Counter-Reformation with a receptive and influential base.

6, Literacy and learning:

Trinity College Dublin, founded in 1592 … too little and too late? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another contributing factor was the low levels of literacy and learning among the clergy. Accepting the Reformation involved a shift from a visual presentation of religion, centred on the Mass, to a Bible-focused presentation of faith, based on Bible readings and sermons. But this meant that impact of the Reformation was blunted among the less educated and non-literate sections of the population.

In both Wales and English-speaking Ireland, opponents of change sought to portray the Tudor reformation not simply as a novelty but as an English and implant.

From the outset, there was a vigorous campaign to make prayer books available in Welsh. In addition, people in Wales were aware of the Tudors’ Welsh origins. By 1552 at least six books had appeared in Welsh, including translations of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Epistles and Gospels for The Book of Common Prayer, and full translations of The Book of Common Prayer and the New Testament followed in 1567. This helps to explain why the Reformation was soon accepted in Wales as an indigenous, home-grown movement.

The 1549 Book of Common Prayer, printed in London ... this edition of the Book of Common Prayer was first used in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day 1551 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The expectation that the Reformation would be spread in Ireland by English-speaking clergy, with an English liturgy, was a major mistake in promoting a reform movement that emphasised the language of the people. To seek to win Ireland for the Reformation, while stressing the use of English, automatically limited its appeal and linked it closely with the Dublin government.

In time, English and Protestant became synonyms in Ireland. Meanwhile, the “Old English” were increasingly excluded under Elizabeth from positions of influence in Dublin while adventurers from England were preferred.

By the time Trinity College Dublin was established in 1592, with the purpose of training and providing a literate and educated clergy for the Church of Ireland, the Counter-Reformation had taken a lasting grip on the towns and on the “Old English” families. Meanwhile, it would take generations of endeavours to educate those training in TCD in the Irish language and to provide Irish-language translations of the Bible and of The Book of Common Prayer.

7, No ‘joined-up writing’

Dublin Castle … was there enough ‘joined-up writing’ in Government policy on enforcing or encouraging the Reformation? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Beyond the Pale, the extension of the Reformation to the rest of Ireland depended on the Crown’s ability to establish its authority. And the disappearance of the defeat of the FitzGeralds of Kildare removed both a buffer and a mediator between the Government and the Gaelic Irish lords.

But the size and strength of the army in Ireland was reduced in 1537. A policy of piecemeal campaigning, adopted under the Lord Deputy, Leonard Gray, brought few lasting benefits. Gray was unable to consolidate his victories and alienated many of the Gaelic Irish leaders.

Sir Anthony St Leger arrived in July 1540 as Lord Deputy, and he planned a system of government that incorporated the Gaelic Irish. In 1541, the mediaeval lordship of Ireland came to an end and the king’s title changed from “Lord of Ireland,” which dates from Henry II’s links with the Pope in the 12th century, to “King of Ireland.” Any impression that the Pope still delegated sovereignty over Ireland was removed, and the Gaelic Irish were asked to give their loyalty to the King.

At the time, Church and State were closely linked throughout Europe, and it was assumed the civil authorities had a vital role in rooting out heresy and imposing conformity. But the link with the state in Ireland was particularly awkward for the church, because of the weakness of the Dublin government and political climate in Ireland. In those large swathes of Ulster and Connacht outside the royal writ, the Church of Ireland had only a nominal presence.

The Dublin administration was anxious not to put additional strains on government and not to test the loyalty of subjects when rebellion was constantly on the horizon.

8, Resistance among the clergy to the Reformation:

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin … the ‘nerve centre’ and ‘most potent symbol’ of the ‘Old English’ elite among the clergy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Murray points out that – with the exception of the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558) – the Reformation in Ireland needs to be viewed against the background of the struggle between reforming archbishops and a clerical conservative elite.

Within the Pale, the “Old English” elite among the clergy, who were “Catholic and English to the core,” claimed Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, as its “nerve centre” and “most potent symbol,” and assiduously upholding the principles of the papal bull Laudabiliter (1155), which was used to justify the conquest of Ireland by the English Crown.

The Pale community had preserved English Church practices and traditions up to the Reformation.

Murray argues that when the break with Rome came, it was not the assertion of the royal supremacy that was opposed so much as the Crown’s “disregard for the independence and liberties of the clerical estate, [which] undermined or threatened to destroy virtually every element of the clerical elite’s ethos, including the political basis of the Laudabiliter settlement, the intellectual and legal foundations of their cherished notions of canonical correctness, and even their own hallowed position in Pale society.

The difficulties facing the Archbishop of Dublin, George Browne, included a concerted clerical opposition, “the fitful nature of the king’s and Cromwell’s interest in Ireland,” and a general mistrust between Crown and the Irish-based ruling class, that got off to a bad start with the Kildare revolt in 1534.

Browne’s policies ensured clerical obedience and conformity, at least in the Pale. The suppression of the monasteries allowed him to further weaken the resistance of the clergy, so that the Reformation made significant headway that was interrupted only by the fall of Thomas Cromwell in 1540.

Cromwell’s death was followed by the appointment of Anthony St. Leger as Lord Deputy. Browne was married but St Leger introduced a renewed campaign against incontinent priests.

St Leger merged political and ecclesiastical reform, represented by Henry VIII being proclaimed King in 1541, abandoning the title of “Lord of Ireland” that was associated with Papal supremacy and Laudabiliter in 1541.

The reforms of the 1540s emphasised accommodation, even compromise, from both ends of the ecclesiastical spectrum.

The settlement of 1542 was reinforced with St. Leger instigating various property giveaways that “lured many of Dublin’s most senior clergymen into the web of economic and social relationships.” So much so, that a period of religious consensus and tranquillity lasted until 1546.

St Leger’s reforms extended even to Gaelic Ulster, with the support of the Archbishop of Armagh, George Dowdall of Armagh.

Murray argues that the restoration of Catholicism in the reign of Mary was not prompted by any “groundswell of popular affection for traditional religion,” nor an ideological Counter-Reformation upsurge, but because Dowdall and other “Old English” figures wanted to return to traditional values, to defend the English political and socio-cultural order, and to impose a “standard of civility” on the “wild Irish.”

Hugh Curwen, who became Archbishop of Dublin in 1555, supported the Marian restoration but with the accession of Elizabeth accepted the new oath of supremacy. But he undercut the Elizabethan settlement at almost every turn, baulking at enforcing many of the primary tenets of the Elizabethan settlement.

Curwen’s outward conformity succeeded in protecting the community of the Diocese of Dublin, safeguarding local and customary attachment to the “old religion.”

Murray suggests the failure of the Reformation in the Diocese of Dublin was finally consolidated by the religiously involved policies of the Lord Deputy, Henry Sidney, despite attempts of the new archbishop, Adam Loftus and his lord chancellor, Robert Weston, to effect a “carefully modulated” and “less coercive approach to enforcement” of Reformation.

Murray may be suggesting that despite Curwen’s legacy of sustaining Catholicism under Mary, the Reformation might have been somewhat successful with the “conciliatory and gradualist approach” of Loftus and Weston, were it not for the harsh policies of Sidney, the outbreak of more revolts, and eventually the increasingly hardline stance of Loftus himself, which “decisively alienated the Pale community.” St Leger’s attempts to downgrade Christ Church Cathedral were abandoned after agitated opposition from the leading and loyal citizens of Dublin.

9, No rowing back:

King James I ascended the throne in 1603 … by then the ‘Old English’ had shifted from grudging conformity to open Catholicism

By the 1570s, therefore, at a time when the Elizabethan settlement was consolidating its hold in England, the attitude of the Old English in Ireland was “firmly fixed in recusancy.”

There are some who see the Reformation as an extended process that spanned several centuries, and that the outcome was still in the balance until the 18th or even the 19th century. This attitude is reflected in the debates about the Penal Laws, Catholic Emancipation, the abolition of the tithes and eventually the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

However, this would mean accepting that the Irish Reformation was very different than the Tudor Reformation in England, or the Reformations in other parts of Europe, where the issues were, by-and large, decided by 1600.

By the end of Tudor era in 1603, when James I became king, the divisions in Ireland had become irretractable. The “Old English” had shifted from grudging conformity to open Catholicism. James I, who was interested in conformity in England and who devoted great energy to producing the King James Version or Authorised Version of the Bible, had little interest in Ireland’s religious complexities, and even less to addressing the need to reendow the Church of Ireland.

Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) with Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College … Bedell translated the Old Testament and the Book of Common Prayer into Irish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first Irish translation of the New Testament was begun by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, who worked on it until he was murdered in 1585. The work was continued by John Kearny, his assistant, and Dr Nehemiah Donellan, Archbishop of Tuam. It was finally completed by William O Domhnuill (William Daniell), Archbishop of Tuam in succession to Nehemiah Donellan. Their Irish translation of the New Testament was printed in 1602.

The Old Testament was translated into Irish by William Bedel (1571–1642), Bishop of Kilmore, during the reign of Charles I, but it was not published until 1680 in a revised version by Narcissus Marsh (1638–1713), Archbishop of Dublin. Bedell had undertaken a translation of The Book of Common Prayer in 1606. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer was translated into Irish by John Richardson (1664–1747) and was published in 1712.

But the foundation of Trinity College Dublin and the translations of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer came too late for the Reformation in Ireland, and no Caroline settlement in the 17th century or Code of Penal Laws in the 18th century could turn back the tide.

The Book of Common Prayer in the Irish language, published in 1608 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional reading:

John R Bartlett and Stuart D Kinsella (eds), Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Ireland (Dublin: Columba Press, 2006).
Brendan Bradshaw, The Dissolution of the Religious Orders in Ireland under Henry VIII (Cambridge, 1974).
Brendan Bradshaw, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 1979).
Brendan Bradshaw and Dáire Keogh (eds), Christianity in Ireland: Revisiting the story (Dublin: Columba Press, 2002).
Nicholas Canny, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 1979).
Steven G Ellis, ‘Economic Problems of the Church: Why the Reformation Failed in Ireland,’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 41/2 (April 1990), pp 239-265.
Alan Ford, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Frankfurt am Main 1985).
Alan Ford, ‘The Protestant Reformation in Ireland’, in C Brady and R Gillespie (eds), Natives and Newcomers: the making of Irish colonial society (Dublin, 1985).
Colm Lennon, ‘The Counter-Reformation in Ireland,’ in Gillespie and Brady (eds).
James Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland: Clerical Resistance and Political Conflict in the Diocese of Dublin, 1534-1590 (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History Series, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).


10.2, The Boyne and the Penal Laws

10.3, Disestablishment and the Ultramontane triumph

Week 9 (13 March 2013) Field-trip: Field trip to Kilkenny: Freshford, Kilkenny Cathedral and Saint John’s, Kilkenny.

Week 10 (22 March):

11.1, From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism: rethinking and reshaping Christianity.
11.2, Slaves, soldiers and women: new challenges that shaped new priorities.
11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 8 March 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.