12 February 2015

Anglican Studies (2014-2015) 5.1: the Church of
Ireland from the Penal Laws to Disestablishment

The West Doors of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny … legislation changing the diocesan structures and abolishing tithes were the first two legislative steps that eventually led to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 12 February 2015, 9.30 a.m.:

Anglican Studies (5.1): The Church of Ireland from the Penal Laws to Disestablishment.

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


We had left Ireland last week with Charles II on the throne and the Church of Ireland restored as the Established Church. We had looked at the Church of the Caroline Divines and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Church of Jeremy Taylor and Narcissus Marsh.

But as a Church, with close political relations with the state, this bond produced great problems during the reign of James II, for the Church found itself – in that wonderful description by Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth – “caught between a Catholic anvil and a Protestant hammer.”

James II was a professed Roman Catholic, and with his succession Anglicanism faced real dilemmas. For 25 years, the Anglican Church – both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England – had long been, effectively, the handmaiden of the state. For long, the concept of non-resistance had been regularly preached from the Anglican pulpit. What role would the Church now have with an antagonistic monarch on the throne? And how could it consider legitimately oppose any measures against its interests that were introduced by the king?

According to the Church historian Murray, with the accession of James II, “the Church of Ireland once more fell upon evil days.” The Duke of Ormond was replaced as Viceroy by the king’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Clarendon, while Richard Talbot, Earl (and later Duke) of Tyrconnell, and brother of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, became commander-in-chief of Ireland.

Matters became worse for the Church of Ireland in 1687 when Tyrconnell succeeded Clarendon, and the outlawries resulting from 1641 were reversed. Church of Ireland clergy lost their tithes, churches were seized and the Mass said in them, vacant sees – including Cashel, Clonfert, Clogher and Elphin – were not filled, and their revenues were handed over to the Roman Catholic bishops of those dioceses.

John Vesey, Archbishop of Tuam and Richard Tennison, Bishop of Killala, fled to England, followed by the Archbishop of Dublin and the bishops of Kilmore, Dromore, Kildare, Ferns and Leighlin, Cloyne, Raphoe and Derry. Those who are unkind would say they abandoned the Church of Ireland at the time, but many of them would return. And, indeed, many of the bishops remained, including the Archbishop of Armagh and the bishops of Meath, Ossory, Limerick, Cork and Ross, Killaloe and Waterford and Lismore.

Dean King, who had been left behind by Archbishop Marsh as his commissary in Dublin, said he knew of 16 or 17 clergymen who were assaulted, imprisoned and threatened with death.

In an effort to recover his throne after the Williamite revolt, James II left his exile in France in 1689, and landed in Ireland. The Irish Parliament was summoned, but few Protestants attended: apart from four bishops, four lay peers and six MPs, the rest of Parliament was made up of Roman Catholics. Those who were attainted and had their estates confiscated included Archbishop Marsh and Archbishop Vesey, and Bishops Hopkins, Sheridan, Moreton, Smith, Marsh of Ferns, Jones and Wiseman, and 83 of the clergy of the Church of Ireland.

The vacant sees were to be filled by Roman Catholics, churches were seized, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, was seized and mass was celebrated in it, part of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was used as military stables, and an order was issued, under penalty of death, forbidding more than five Protestants to meet together.

The Battle of the Boyne … fought on 1 July 1690

We can never separate the developments in the Continental Church from what was happening in the Church on this island: if the Popes saw their power and influence declining after the Peace of Westphalia, and declining in the face of the assertions of the French King and the Gallicans, then was it any wonder that – having heard that James II was ending his exile in France, and that with French support he had come to Ireland in the hope of regaining his throne – the Pope should say Mass in Rome giving thanks for the victory of William at the Boyne?

William III landed in Ireland on 1 July 1690, he defeated the forces of James at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July, and entered Dublin on 6 July, the same day a solemn service of thanksgiving was held in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and the sermon was preached by Dean King. A new era was ushered in, for both the island of Ireland, and the Church of Ireland. But there were problems for the Church of Ireland too.

The Church of Ireland after the Boyne

18th century Dublin … by 1715, the population of Dublin had risen to 89,000, and two-thirds of the people were Protestants

Between 1690 and 1714, both Ireland and the Church of Ireland went through a period of change. Dublin was the second city of the Empire and grew at an unprecedented rate after the Williamite Revolution. In 1695, Dublin had a population of 47,000, and 12 parishes, with 78% of the population living south of the River Liffey. By 1715, the population of Dublin had risen to 89,000, of whom two-thirds were Protestants.

Non-resistance and the divine right of kings had become central assumptions in the relations between Church and State for both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. There were those who had taken an oath of loyalty to the reigning monarch and who – despite the turmoils during the reign of James II – felt bound by their oath.

Those leaders who felt unable to renounce that oath, who refused to take a new oath to William and Mary, and who lost their offices, became known as the Nonjurors. They included: William Sheridan, Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, the Archdeacons of Connor (Baynard) and Dublin (John Fitzgerald), the Dean of Lismore (Barzilai Jones), the Chancellor and Treasurer of Connor (Charles Leslie and W. Jones), and Henry Dodwell and George Kelly of Trinity College Dublin.

Although this dissent was hardly as significant as the Nonjuring schism in England, it nevertheless shows that:

1, There was dissent within the Church of Ireland on the question of Church/State relations;

2, The Williamite revolution did not have complete support within the Protestant community;

3, the opposition to William within the Church of Ireland came from the core of the clergy rather than from the margins.

Archdeacon John Fitzgerald of Dublin was a brother of Bishop William Fitzgerald of Clonfert, a son of Dean John Fitzgerald of Cork, and a grandson of Archbishop Richard Boyle of Tuam. Sheridan had been Dean of Down and chaplain to the Duke of Ormond when he was Lord-Lieutenant, and his brother Patrick Sheridan was Bishop of Cloyne (1679-1682).

Sheridan and Fitzgerald moved to London, where they lived among the English Nonjurors. Leslie and Dodwell would be recognised as a theologian and an historian of importance within Anglican thought. They set an example of honesty in politics, emphasised the view that there is moral foundation for the State as well as for the Church, and that there is a sacredness of moral obligation in public life.

Apart from losing the Nonjurors, the Church of Ireland lost many leaders who had fled during the reign of James II, while others such as Hugh Gore of Waterford had died as a consequence of their suffering. As at the Restoration in 1660, the Church of Ireland once again faced the problem of reorganisation and filling vacant dioceses. In 1691 and 1692, a new archbishop and eight new bishops were appointed: Narcissus Marsh (Cashel), Fitzgerald (Clonfert – a brother of the Nonjuring Archdeacon of Dublin), Digby (Elphin), Tennison (Clogher), Vigors (Ferns and Leighlin), Lloyd (Killala), King (Derry), Foy (Waterford) and Wilson (Limerick).

Archbishop Narcissus Marsh: brought fresh vigour to the office of Archbishop in Cashel, Dublin and Armagh

Archbishop Narcissus Marsh brought a fresh vigour to his roles as Provost of TCD, Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, and then as Archbishop of Cashel (1691-1694), Dublin (1694-1703) and Armagh (1703-1714). He was regular in visitations, combating the abuses he encountered. He forbade preaching in private houses, ordered every incumbent to preach each Sunday, and to “preach upon the royal supremacy four times a year.” As archbishop, he insisted on visiting his suffragan dioceses, and he also played a part in establishing Marsh’s Library and the Dublin Philosophical Society (now the Royal Irish Academy).

The other key reforming figure in the Church at this time was William King (see below).

The bishops were regarded as tending towards “High Church” preferences or leanings, and their political loyalties were tested with the introduction of the oath of abjuration in 1697, which was opposed by all four archbishops and three of the bishops.

But the relations between Church and State were strengthened in the years that followed with an increasing political role for the bishops. The Lords Lieutenant were largely non-resident, and during their lengthy absences the island was governed by two or three Lords Justice, one of whom was inevitably either the Primate or one of the three other archbishops.

Narcissus Marsh complained that the offices of state occupied too much of his working time, and during the parliamentary recess in 1707, the Council sat no less than eight or ten hours a day, leaving him little time for study or to administer his diocese. King too complained that he was over-burdened by the affairs of state. Many bishops complained that they had to spend much of their time in the House of Lords.

The Irish-born clergy also complained about being overlooked when it came to promotions in the Church: every primate who held office between 1702 and 1800 was of English birth, and a very normal path to promotion to the bench of bishops was to come to Ireland as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant. Many of these, as Chart describes them, were “political hacks or obsequious intriguing courtiers.”

Among the clergy of the Church of Ireland, there was unease at the failure to call Convocation, which had not met since 1661, and which was not summoned again until 1703. When it was called, the bishops claimed for convocation the right to deal with all Church matters, to make ordinances and decrees that had the force of ecclesiastical canons and constitutions, while the clergy claimed the right to impose their own taxation.

The full convocation met for the first time in the chapter room of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on 11 January 1704, and met for several months. They pressed for stricter observance of the Lord’s Day, a ruling by the bishops on churchwardens’ rights to punish those who failed to attend church, and debated profane swearing, public drunkenness, travelling on Sundays, the morals and manners of stage plays, and proposals for theatre censorship.

They drew attention to the dangers of teaching philosophy in school, their worries about the ordination of unqualified men, the abuses of parochial patronage, the scandalous lifestyles of dismissed clergy, and the plight of sick curates.

They wanted at least monthly celebrations of the Holy Communion, a greater role for deans and chapters in examining candidates for ordination, and a more thorough inquiry into the ordinations of men who were received as priests and who were former Roman Catholics.

They also debated the use of First Fruits and Twentieth Part, the division and union of parishes, and raising money for church repairs.

And a major part of the debate was devoted to the conversion of Roman Catholics, and the use of the Irish language in this mission, including the use of Irish Bibles, sermons, hymnbooks and prayer books.

But Convocation also gave the incentive and initiative for a new wave of church building.

At this time, King reported, for example, that in the Diocese of Ferns, containing 131 parishes, only 32 parishes – the poorest parishes, needless to say – were in the hands of the officiating clergy. Neither the bishop, nor the dean nor the archdeacon was resident in the diocese, which was served by only 13 beneficed clergy and nine curates, with incomes at £30 to £100. Pluralism and non-residence were major problems for the Church of Ireland, and reform was proving a very slow process.

However, the historian Alan Acheson judges the calling of Convocation a pyrrhic victory for the Church of Ireland, with its meetings exposing the disunity of the Church. Convocation gradually declined in importance in the closing years of Queen Anne’s reign, leaving the Church of Ireland dependent on the secular power, and therefore on the landed interest.

Primate Marsh died in 1713. Convocation was convened for the last time at the end of that year in December 1713, and it was dissolved with the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714.

Church and State were as divided over whether the throne should pass to another member of the House of Stuart or to the German princes of the House of Hanover. With the accession of the Hanoverian monarchy in 1714, Church and State would enter a new phase. The Church of Ireland moved from being in the hands of the heirs of the Caroline tradition to being part of the new latitudinarian age. It would not escape the challenges posed for the wider Church in the decades to come by Rationalism and Deism.

The legacy of the Penal Laws

The Treaty Stone, Limerick … the Penal Laws left a legacy of bitterness

For the Roman Catholics, the new Penal Laws have left a legacy of bitterness. Were they inspired by theological antipathies or by fear of the political influence of the Pope? The historian Lecky points out that the Penal Laws were a product of the time, when church and state were inseparable, and claims they were modelled on French laws against the Huguenots.

But inherited memory among many recalls the Penal Laws as sectarian in their intent and in their impact. This memory is reinforced by the fact that the bishops of the Church of Ireland were often instrumental in enacting and in enforcing these laws.

A state paper of the time on the state of Roman Catholics on the island lists: 838 secular priests and 389 regular priests, and three bishops (Cork, Galway and Waterford). Several Roman Catholic bishops had been expelled, and those that remained lived a precarious life, depending on the shelter provided by courageous members of their flock.

Archbishop Edward Comerford of Cashel, who was living in Thurles, Co Tipperary, wrote to 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.” In fact, he was sustained by the patronage of the Mathew family, closely related to the Duke of Ormond, and remained in office, without ever being arrested, until his death in 1710.

The Lord-Lieutenant, the Duke of Portland, knew that without bishops there could be no priests, argued that if needed Roman Catholic bishops would come from the continent to continue ordinations, opening the way to what would be seen as seditious continental influences.

Meanwhile, the tracts and pamphlets of the times, and the sermons preached on 30 January, 29 May, 23 October and 5 November (the new commemorations in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), teem with references to the enormous evils of the powers claimed by the Pope.

Bishop King of Derry, a later Archbishop of Dublin, argued that the Roman Catholics must be held in subjection because of their religious views. They could not hold any office because they might betray their trust to the Pope. He conceded their rights to personal liberty – but not their political liberty and or any rights to the full benefits of citizenship.

King objected, for example, to a Roman Catholic priest in his diocese who was reported to have taken on himself to marry and divorce people and to dissolve marriages. On the other hand, King severely censured a landlord who took advantage of the Penal Laws to acquire the land of a Roman Catholic tenant for his own benefit.

Some of the bishops of the Church of Ireland advocated extreme measures: Bishop Anthony Dopping, in a sermon in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, urged that there was no moral obligation on the Government to observe the terms conceded to Roman Catholics in the Treaty of Limerick. On the other hand, on the following Sunday, Bishop Moreton of Kildare, anxious to find some accommodation, urged Roman Catholic priests to accept the authority of William III, and suggested that their bishops could be paid by the state. Even one leading figure in the Church of Ireland, Peter Manby (1638-1697), Dean of Derry, became a Roman Catholic as a consequence of reading Archbishop William King’s Answer to the Considerations.

The Convocation summoned in 1703 devoted much time to debating the Penal Laws, including prohibitions on the entry of Roman Catholic priests from abroad, the opening of a register of Roman Catholic priests in Ireland, extending the vote to Roman Catholics only if they took the oaths of abjuration and allegiance, and demanding that holders of Crown offices must first receive Holy Communion in the Church of Ireland.

In wrestling with these memories, historians of the Church of Ireland have failed to deal adequately with the real and shameful memories. A disingenuous example is provided by Murray (in Alison Philips) as late as 1933, when he writes: “At such times, however, the priest walked abroad at night and vanished in the early dawn, and when ardent Protestant neighbours came in search of arms they were apt to find pistol and corselet hidden away with pyx and chasuble” (Philips, vol 3, pp 160-161).

And yet, throughout all this time, pilgrimages were thriving – despite the Act banning them in 1702 – and especially at Lough Derg, which was owned by the Leslie family of Glaslough, who had provided generations of bishops and priests to the Church of Ireland.

Did the Penal Laws have any effect on the population? More than 40 years after the Treaty of Limerick, Roman Catholics still outnumbered Protestants in every part of Ireland, except the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry and Dublin.

An analysis of population figures calculated by using the register of hearth taxes in the 1730s shows:

Ulster: 62,624 Protestants; 38,459 Catholics; Ratio: 3:2.
Leinster: 25,241 Protestant; 92,434 Catholics; Ratio: 2:7.
Munster: 13,337 Protestants; 106,407 Catholics; Ratio: 1:8.
Connacht: 4,299 Protestants; 44,101 Catholics; Ratio: 1:10.

The Presbyterians too suffered under the Penal Laws, and also strongly resented the Sacramental Test Act. Any legislative efforts to provide relief for the Presbyterians were effectively vetoed in the House of Lords, where the bishops had a working majority. Those who were more favourable towards the Presbyterians and their plight included a Dr Wright, FTCD, who, as a consequence, found his nomination as Bishop of Cork and Ross was blocked. Instead, the vacant see was filled by Peter Brown, who was suspected of Jacobite sympathies, and who wrote a discourse attacking the practice of drinking to the “pious and immortal memory” of William III.

On the other hand, the Convocation of 1704 discussed providing the Huguenots with space in church buildings and a French version of The Book of Common Prayer, which was published in various editions in Dublin from 1715 to 1817.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin … hosted a French-speaking congregation of Huguenots (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the death of Queen Anne, the Church of Ireland – like the Church of England – was divided between those who wanted a Jacobite restoration and those who wanted the throne to pass to the House of Hanover. In 1715, in the face of the rebellion of the Old Pretender, Thomas Lindsay, Archbishop of Armagh, was reluctant to sign a covenant drawn up by the House of Lords; and eventually, when he signed it, it was said he had placed it at the end so it could be torn off in the event of a Jacobite victory.

And so the two principal archbishops – Thomas Lindsay of Armagh as a suspected Jacobite and William King of Dublin as a Lord Justice – were opposed to each other politically. King was worried that Convocation would give a voice to and an excuse for assembly to the clergy who were sympathetic to the Jacobite Pretender, and so Convocation was not called again once the Hanovers had ascended the throne.

The Bolton Library, Cashel … built to house the book collection of Archbishop Theophilus Bolton (1678-1744) and to provide a chapter house for Cashel Cathedral

The tensions continued between the English-born and Irish-born bishops and senior clergy in the Church of Ireland: King’s recommendation of Theophilus Bolton, who was born in Co Mayo, for a vacant see was turned down, although Bolton later went to Clonfert and Kilmacduagh in 1722, and later became Archbishop of Cashel in 1729. Many of the English-born clergy were more likely to be Whigs, and therefore sympathetic to legislation conceding greater liberties to the Presbyterians.

Eventually, a law was passed freeing Protestant dissenters from the penalties of the Act of Uniformity if they took the oaths of allegiance and abjuration, and made a declaration against transubstantiation.

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

Josiah Hort (ca 1674–1751), by an unknown artist, oil on canvas, Clare College, Cambridge … although King refused to consecrate him, he later became Archbishop of Tuam

Meanwhile, there were petty disputes and scandals too. King refused to consecrate Josiah Hort as Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin – supposedly because the letters patent incorrectly described him as being DD. In reality, King refused to consecrate him because of his intense personal dislike for the former nonconformist minister from Bath. Eventually, Hort was consecrated by the bishops of Meath, Kilmore, and Dromore, and went on to become Archbishop of Tuam.

William FitzGerald, who was Bishop of Clonfert until his death in 1722 at the age of 88, had been demented for his last years in office. At 76, he married a young woman who was reputed to govern her husband and his diocese; there were no glebes in the Diocese of Clonfert, half of the tithes went to laymen and a quarter to the bishop, and there were only 10 beneficed clergy, of whom half were non-resident.

The Archbishop of Dublin went to court in a dispute with the Dean and the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, over whether the archdeacon had a right to a seat in the chapter, and over the archbishop’s right of jurisdiction and visitation in the cathedral. The archbishop accused the dean and chapter of squandering their possessions, turning the chapter house into a toyshop and the vaults into wine cellars, and allowing part of the cathedral to be used for secular use as part of the law courts.

Christ Church, Oxford … Hugh Boulter was dean – and Bishop of Bristol – before becoming Archbishop of Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Archbishop Lindsay of Armagh died in 1724, and Archbishop King of Dublin, who was about to be reconciled with his Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, was not promoted to Armagh. King was the leading churchman of the land, but he was native-born, he was independent-minded, he was quarrelsome at times, he did not promise subservient co-operation with Whitehall, he opposed the Toleration Act, and he was 74. The new Primate, instead, was Hugh Boulter (1672-1742) who, before coming to Ireland, was both the Dean of Christ Church Oxford and Bishop of Bristol at one and the same time, and was a former chaplain to the Hanoverian King George I.

As Archbishop of Armagh, Boulter became unpopular as he filled top judicial, political, and ecclesiastical posts from England, due to his distrust of the Irish-born clergy and to provide more Whig bishops who would be more favourable to the government. In his own words, he set out “to break the present Dublin faction on the bench.”

Yet, despite his staunch political allegiance to England, Boulter attempted to do his best for the people of Ireland. When the harvest failed in Ulster in 1729, he bought food and supplied to help relieve hunger. He opened new schools, and forced through parliament a bill that revalued the price of gold in 1738, to the benefit of the poor. He also tried to reform clergy incomes and to improve the standards of living for the clergy, and he tried to tackle the thorny issue of pluralism.

Archbishop William King ... died in 1729 and was buried in Donnybrook under two feet of water and nine feet below the ground

Archbishop King died in 1729 and was buried in a country churchyard – Donnybrook in Dublin – reportedly under two feet of water and nine feet below the ground. His bequests included £400 to buy glebes for churches in rural parts of Dublin, and £500 to endow a lectureship in theology in Trinity College Dublin, which he had earlier endowed with another sum of £500.

King’s place as Archbishop of Dublin was filled by an Englishman – John Hoadly (1678-1746), who was translated from Ferns and Leighlin, where he was bishop (1727-1730) to Dublin and later became Archbishop of Armagh (1742-1746).

In this period, we also find the foundation of the first Protestant Charter Schools, principally through the initiatives of Bishop Henry Maule (1679-1758), with a royal charter was issued in 1730. In other fields of education at this time, John Stearne (1660-1745) endowed a printing press at TCD, which became the foundation of the University Press, and left other bequests for TCD.

New challenges, new thinking

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was, in turn, a Protestant, a Catholic and a Deist

The Church of Ireland, as was the case with the Church of England, was facing problems with the state’s control of ecclesiastical new thinking and of appointments. New challenges to traditional methods of thinking were being posed in this period by Scepticism and Deism: by David Hume (1711-1776), the Scottish philosopher with whom Scepticism in Britain begins; and in Europe, with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who was in turn a Protestant, a Catholic and a Deist; and Voltaire (1694-1778).

James Latham’s double portrait of Bishop Robert Clayton (1695-1758) and his wife Katherine (née Donnellan)

The most prominent Deist in the Church of Ireland was Robert Clayton (1695-1758), who was successively Bishop of Killala (1730-1735), Cork (1735-1745) and Clogher (1745-1758). A friend of the prominent English Arian, Samuel Clarke, Clayton became a leader of the movement for the abolition of subscription to the formularies of the Church of Ireland. In the House of Lords, he proposed that both the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed should be expunged from The Book of Common Prayer, and in a book published in 1751, he denied the doctrine of the Trinity.

Clayton’s views blocked his appointment as Archbishop of Tuam, but he repeated these views in another book in 1757. He was prosecuted, summoned to appear before the bishops in Dublin, and faced censure and possible deprivation. However, before the hearing could begin, he was seized with a nervous fever and died.

But even bishops, including the English-born bishops of Irish dioceses, often had the best wishes of the Church of Ireland at heart. When Primate Boulter died in 1742, he bequeathed the bulk of his property, worth over £30,000, for the purchase of glebes for clergy and for supplementing the income of clergy in smaller parishes. Archbishop Bolton of Cashel, who died the following year, left behind a library that still bears his name and is of cultural importance to this day.

The Roman Catholics of Ireland remained under deep suspicion of Jacobite loyalties, suspicions strengthened by the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, although they had little direct impact on Ireland. But the first stirrings towards toleration were being heard among the Bishops of the Church of Ireland.

Preaching in 1725 before the House of Commons on the anniversary of the massacres of 1641, Bishop Edward Synge condemned the persecution of religious belief as useless and improper because belief is a function of the mind and cannot be affected by external force.

Bishop Synge found two Roman Catholic doctrines subversive of the state – the power of the Pope to depose, and his power to absolve subjects from their oaths of allegiance. But he was not convinced that these doctrines were held and believed by all Roman Catholics, and argued that they should be given the opportunity to disclaim them.

However, at the same time, Boulter promoted legislation introducing tougher restrictions on Roman Catholics. It was claimed that many members of the legal profession were covert Roman Catholics, and that they had only conformed nominally to qualify for their profession and office.

Boulter’s legislation required court officers and lawyers to make a declaration against Popery; to take an oath of abjuration; imposed an initial probation of five years on converts from Roman Catholicism to the Church of Ireland being admitted to the legal profession; and required those converts to rear their children as Protestants. He also promoted an act forbidding Roman Catholics to vote at elections.

This last act marks the climax of the Penal Laws and within two years Josiah Hort, Bishop of Kilmore, was arguing for its repeal. In 1745, an act was passed making null and void any marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant or ex-Protestant if a Roman Catholic priest officiated.

Saint Mary’s Church, Mary Street, Dublin ... John Wesley preached his first sermon in Ireland here in 1747, and Wolfe Tone was baptised here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Ireland was very much in need of reform. But we should not forget that this was also a time of great cultural depth and of spiritual growth in the Church of Ireland. Jonathan Swift was a reforming Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, as well as the author of Drapier’s Letters and Gulliver’s Travels. George Berekely, the philosopher Bishop of Cloyne, was also the first missionary in the post-Reformation Church of Ireland. Other pioneering missionaries from the Church of Ireland included Charles Inglis from Donegal, a missionary in Canada who became the first Anglican bishop consecrated for North America.

This was a period that also saw the growth of many charities and charitable institutions. Bartholomew Mosse founded the Rotunda Hospital, and Jonathan Swift founded Saint Patrick’s Hospital. This was the era of the Wesley brothers, their preaching, their hymn-writing, and the Rise of Methodism; John Wesley first visited Ireland in 1747, preaching his first sermon in Saint Mary’s Church in Mary Street.

The French Revolution by Delacroix (1830) ... the 18th century is known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Revival, but was also the Age of Revolution

The Canadian church historian Gerald Cragg has described the end of the 18th century as “The Age of Reason.” But we could equally also call this “The Age of Revival” or even the “Age of Revolution.”

It is a constant debate within Church history whether the rise of Methodism and the preaching and impact of the Wesley brothers forestalled a revolution in England. So we cannot ignore the social and political impact of Methodism, nor can we ignore its impact on the Church of Ireland.

At the same time, this was the age of revolution, in which there was a clear link connecting Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue: the American Revolution had an indelible impact on the Episcopal Church and the future shape of the Anglican Communion; the French Revolution had an impact on the French Church, and more generally on the whole Christian Church; and, of course, the 1798 Rising had an impact on the Church of Ireland and the Church in Ireland.

The rise of Methodism

John Wesley preaching in the early days of Methodism

The sobriquet “Methodist” was originally given in 1729 to a group at Oxford known as the Holy Club and led by John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley traced the “first rise” of Methodism to those early years, and the second stage to 1736 when the “rudiments of a Methodist society” appeared in Georgia, where the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were missionaries with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG).

During their voyage to America, and their stay in Georgia, they were deeply influenced by the Moravians, who in turn had taken on much of the teachings and experiences of the German Pietists. Back in London, the Wesleys were in close contact with the Moravians, and within three days of each other in May 1738 John and Charles had vital Christian experiences – what John described as his heart being “strangely warmed” when a passage was being read from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

We could see this as the turning point in the Evangelical Revival on this side of the Atlantic. The Wesleys preached throughout Britain and Ireland: John Wesley’s Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789. When John Wesley found the doors of Anglican churches closed to him, he followed the example of George Whitefield, and preached in the open.

Irish Methodist missionaries Barbara Heck and Philip Embury recalled in a window in the United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first Methodist Conference met in 1744, and the first Methodist circuits were organised by 1746. Methodism gained strong positions throughout Ireland, England and Wales, but notably made slower headway in Scotland. In America, Methodism owed its beginnings to three Irish emigrants, Robert Strawbridge, Philip Embury and Barbara Heck.

The break with Anglicanism came when John Wesley ordained local preachers for areas where Methodists could not receive the sacraments. Although he hoped Methodism could stay within the boundaries of Anglicanism, and died an Anglican priest, Methodism became a separate organisation and a separate church.

The American and French Revolutions

The River Slaney at Enniscorthy ... there is a direct link between the American revolution in 1776, the French revolution in 1789, and the Wexford Rising of 1798 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After the American Revolution, many Anglicans fled New England, moving north and settling in Canada. There, Anglicanism has been strongly influenced by a steady flow of clergy and missionaries from the Church of Ireland. Those Anglicans who remained in the new United States felt isolated from the Church of England, whose bishops were unwilling or unable to provide new bishops to serve the new church.

The first American bishop was not secured for another 18 years, until 1784 – the same year American Methodists broke with Anglicanism as a consequence of John Wesley’s ordination of a superintendent or bishop for America. That same year saw the consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the nonjuring Episcopal Church of Scotland.

Although Seabury was elected Bishop of Connecticut in 1783, the bishops of the Church of England found they could not consecrate him because he could not take the Oath of Allegiance. As a consequence, the “high” liturgy of the Episcopalians of Scotland strongly influenced the Episcopal Church in America for generations.

The French Revolution was a revolution against the excesses of both church and state. The Bastille was attacked on 14 July 1789, and within a month a “Declaration on the Rights of Man” was promulgated, at the suggestion of Bishop Talleyrand (1754-1838), and Church lands were taken into public ownership in an attempt to finance the revolutionary changes taking place. Talleyrand was excommunicated in 1793, but continued to be active in politics, becoming Foreign Minister (1796), taking charge of the Provisional Government (1814), and serving as French ambassador in London (1830-1834).

The French Church was reorganised in 1790, and over the next year the number of bishops was reduced from 140 to 83, bishops and priests were to be elected by the people, and the clergy were compelled to swear allegiance to the French constitution rather than the state. Gallicanism had its victory in 1791.

But those nobles and clergy who opposed the revolution were executed summarily, and Louis XVI went to the guillotine in 1793, and when the Jacobins took the affairs of religion into their own hands, a group of deputies marched to Notre Dame Cathedral, and there enthroned a dancer of doubtful morals as “the Goddess of Reason.” From that year, France was almost continuously at war with its European neighbours, including England, which had consequences for Ireland, and for the churches in Ireland, too.

The Irish Revolution of 1798

The Battle of Ballynahinch on 13 June 1798: there is a direct chain linking the events of 1776, 1789 and 1798

I said earlier there was clear connection, linking Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue. We should not see the events in Ireland in 1798 in isolation from the events in France nine years earlier, or from events in North America 22 years earlier. Nor should we fail to put the events of 1798 into a context at home, either.

The Rising of 1798 comes as a natural sequence to a number of reforms, and unmet demands for reform throughout Ireland at this time, demands and reforms that had major impacts on the Church of Ireland and its members.

In the mid-18th century, the towns and cities of Ireland were governed and controlled by self-appointing and self-perpetuating ruling oligarchies with exclusively Church of Ireland memberships, and the greatest proportion of Irish land was in the hands of Protestants, and more particularly in the hands of members of the Church of Ireland.

By 1745, a vigorous campaign was under way in Dublin to overturn the oligarchic powers of the self-selecting aldermen who ruled the city, now with a population of 110,000. This campaign was led by two members of the Church of Ireland – Charles Lucas and James Digges La Touche. Lucas was also more open to the rights of Presbyterians, which further alienated him from many of the bishops and clergy of the Church of Ireland. But the successes of Lucas and La Touche inspired similar reforms in other cities and towns.

The Church of Ireland was also arousing increasing hostility because of the contentious tithes. Tithes were an important factor in agitation in the 1760s associated with the Hearts of Oak (drawing support from Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics) in Ulster, and the Whiteboys (mainly Catholics) in Munster. Draconian legislation was introduced in 1776, and in that year 20 Whiteboys were executed, some on the orders of magistrates who were also clergy of the Church of Ireland.

The Volunteer movement was aimed on the one-hand at controlling the Whiteboys and on the other at replacing soldiers withdrawn from Ireland to fight in America.

The next wave of agrarian unrest came with the Rightboys in the 1780s. By now, some of the gentry realised that release from the burden of tithes would quieten their tenants, and also leave them able to pay their rents more easily. This challenge provoked a famous response from Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne, who warned in 1786 that if the existing Established Church were overturned, the State would soon share its fate.

But the Roman Catholic Church was gaining in confidence, and Catholics were gaining in the extension of liberties by a government anxious to secure their loyalty, particularly in the face of threats from revolutionary France. Catholics were admitted to the legal profession in 1792, allowed to take degrees at Trinity College Dublin, in certain circumstances even allowed to bear arms or to become army officers – between 1793 and 1815 about 200,000 Irish recruits, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, entered the British army and navy. And the franchise was extended to a limited number of Roman Catholics.

The government was worried that continuing clerical training in France would provide a new generation of revolutionary priests – those trained in France at the time of the French Revolution included Father John Murphy of Boolavogue. And so, in 1795, the same year as the formation of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, government funding was used to establish the Royal College of Saint Patrick at Maynooth.

Despite the popular image of a rising led by Presbyterians in the north-east in 1798 and by Catholic priests like John Murphy in the south-east, many of the leading members of the United Irishmen and their sympathisers were prominent members of the Church of Ireland, often finding inspiration for their revolutionary ideals in their religious beliefs and maintaining close links with church life.

Saint Michan’s Church, Church Street, Dublin … the Sheares brothers were the most noteworthy of United Irishmen among the parishioners (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The founding members of the United Irishmen in 1791 included Thomas Russell, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Simon Butler, all members of the Church of Ireland. Prominent among the United Irishmen in 1798 was Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798), whose uncles and cousins included a Bishop of Cork, an Archdeacon of Ross, and a Rector of the famous Shandon church in Cork. The brothers Henry Sheares (1755-1798) and John Sheares (1766-1798) were the most noteworthy of United Irishmen among the parishioners of Saint Michan’s, Dublin – both were hanged publicly on 14 July 1798.

Other leading United Irishmen with intimate church links included Wolfe Tone, who married the granddaughter of a clergyman; Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, commander of the Wexford rebel forces, who was the grandson of two and the nephew of a third clergyman in the Diocese of Ferns; and Cornelius Grogan, a conscientious patron of the Parish of Ardamine and churchwarden of Rathaspeck, both in Co Wexford.

Looking across Wexford Harbour towards Wexford Town ... as Cornelius Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard [Archdeacon John Elgee] recite Protestant prayers”(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge, accompanied by the Rector of Wexford, Archdeacon John Elgee, it is said (by the local historian, Nicky Furlong) that “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard him recite Protestant prayers.”

In the north-east, it is often forgotten that the hero and heroine of the Battle of Ballynahinch, Henry Monroe and Betsy Gray (if she ever existed as a real historical character), were both members of the Church of Ireland.

Many of these laymen and women had been fired in their revolutionary zeal by their religious convictions, shaped and moulded in the Church of Ireland. Among those religious United Irishmen was Thomas Russell (1757-1803). Known in song and folklore as “the Man from God-knows-where,” Russell combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism, and his knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.

By 1791, he had formed his lasting attachment to radical Christianity. He contended that tyranny had endeavoured to support itself “by perverting Christianity from its purposes and debasing its purity.” He was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison, Dublin, exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:

O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

When the 20 key surviving leaders of the Rising were deported to Scotland in 1799, ten (half) of them were members of the Church of Ireland, Russell among them. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).

Russell was buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral. Henry Monroe, who shared so many of his ideals and who was executed three years earlier, is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard at Lisburn Cathedral.

The Act of Union and Disestablishment

The former Houses of Parliament in College Green, Dublin … the Act of Union not only joined the parliaments of Ireland and Britain, but also joined the Church of Ireland and the Church of England in one united church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Act of Union, which came into effect in 1801, not only joined the parliaments of Ireland and Britain, but also joined the Church of Ireland and the Church of England in one united church. Those who welcomed this included Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, who saw the Act of Union as breaking the influence of the landed aristocratic families who controlled the Church of Ireland at the higher level, the Beresfords and the Ponsonbys, and as a way of reforming a church that was over-burdened with mediaeval structures and with non-resident pluralists.

For examples, the Diocese of Kilmacduagh had a full cathedral chapter with no resident incumbents in any of the parishes, while Lord Kilmorey was the hereditary Lay Abbot of the Exempt District of Newry and Mourne. Among the landed aristocracy, the Earl of Mayo was also Archbishop of Tuam and managed to secure for his son the post of Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. But it was an era too that saw the foundation of new schools, and the growth and spread of Sunday schools.

Saint Mary’s Church, Kilkenny … the church is now closed, but on Christmas Day 1801 there were 430 communicants (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

And the church was not dead spiritually either: there were 430 Communicants in Saint Mary’s Church, Kilkenny, on Christmas Day 1801. Socially, the divisions were not always clear either: Thomas O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, had been the Rector of Longford at the same time as his brother was the Parish Priest of the town.

In the aftermath of the Act of Union, the early 19th century saw a continuation of that lively social and missionary witness within the Church of Ireland. For example, the Ossory Clerical Society, which was founded in 1800, had a number of prominent leading lights such as Peter Roe of Saint Mary’s, Kilkenny, Robert Shaw of Fiddown (Piltown, Co Kilkenny), and Henry Irwin of Castlecomer, who became involved in and inspired many social, missionary and outreach movements in the first few decades of the century.

The Hibernian Bible Society, founded in 1806, is now the National Bible Society of Ireland, which also runs the Bestseller book shop in Dawson Street, Dublin. The Sunday School Society was set up in 1809, and the Hibernian Church Missionary Society, now the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland) in 1814.

For the Church of Ireland, it was a new awakening to the wider, outside world. As the 19th century unfolded, it was the Church of Ireland that sent the first Anglican missionary to China, provided the first Anglican Archbishop of Ontario, and sent bishops and missionaries to India, Australia, the Middle East and throughout Africa.

But the rapid expansion of the cities left the crumbling parochial structures unable to cope. Privately-funded, proprietary chapels were built all over the Dublin. The most famous was the Bethesda, which some of you may remember was the Wax Museum off Parnell Square until recently and is now the Maldron Hotel in Granby Row – there is still a street called Bethesda Place behind the hotel. Trinity Church in Lower Gardiner Street became a labour exchange in the last century, but is an evangelical church once again.

Saint John’s, Sandymount … built on land provided by the Pembroke estate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Not all the proprietary chapels were evangelical: Harold’s Cross Church (now a Russian Orthodox Church) and Zion Church in Rathgar began with an evangelical flavour but were essentially parish churches for the rapidly expanding middle class and lower middle class suburbs. Saint Bartholomew’s in Clyde Road, and Saint John’s in Sandymount, built on land provided by the Pembroke estate, were both in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

But the evangelical movement received an unexpected boost from Power Le Poer Trench, who became Bishop of Waterford in 1802 as a reward for his father and brother voting for the Act of Union. While he was Bishop of Elphin he went through a conversion experience, and went on to become a powerful evangelical leader as Archbishop of Tuam (1819-1839).

Another powerful evangelical leader was Robert Daly who became Bishop of Cashel. He was a champion of segregated schooling, in opposition to Archbishop Richard Whately, and supported the National School system. Remember that the National Schools were originally set up as non-denominational schools, and the original schools lasted long after independence as the Model Schools.

Lord Plunket’s statue in Kildare Place, beside the National Museum … he was the first evangelical to become Archbishop of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first evangelical to become Archbishop of Dublin was Lord Plunket, whose statue stands in Kildare Place, off Kildare Street, close to the National Museum, on the original site of the Church of Ireland Teacher Training College.

One of the myths arising out of this “second reformation” is the myth of Souperism, which was tackled in his books by late Desmond Bowen. What is not in dispute is that at the beginning of the 19th century a large number of Roman Catholics joined the Church of Ireland – and not all of them were in the west of Ireland. Figures from the period between 1819 and 1861 show that the seven churches and 11 clergy in the Diocese of Tuam increased in number to 27 churches and 35 clergy.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort … the centre of Nangle’s mission work on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Much of the success of this evangelical mission work was due to the use of the Irish language in preaching and mission work.

On Achill Island, agricultural reform, health care, education and pier building for fisheries were introduced along with Bible classes. In fact, part of Edward Nangle’s success was possible because there had been no resident clergy of any church in Achill until he arrived. It was only in 1850s and 1860s that the Roman Catholic Archbishop Hale responded, and then he sent Italian priests who could speak neither English nor Irish – and were happy, at first anyway, merely to provide Mass in Latin.

But while the Church of England continued to claim to be the church of the majority of the people in England, the Church of Ireland could not make the same claim on this island, and the achievements of leading church figures such as Swift and Berkeley, and the zealous missionary activities of members of the Church on other continents, did little to change the attitude of the majority of Irish people to the Church of Ireland – an attitude that Dr Kenneth Milne characterises as one that “varied between indifference and resentment.”

By then, most of the penal laws had been rescinded or repealed, and the bishops no longer formed a major bloc in the House of Lord. But Roman Catholics could still not sit in parliament, and all had to pay tithes – a tax on the produce of the land – towards the maintenance of the Established Church.

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

The first of these grievances was resolved in 1829 when, due largely to the efforts of Daniel O’Connell, the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed – although they still could not hold some offices of state.

The second grievance, the collection of tithes, remained a major running sore, although tithes were often collected not by the incumbents of parishes but by middlemen known as tithe proctors, who made a neat living out of their collecting. The injustice was widely spread, for some clergy were not able to exist on the tiny portion of the tithes they received.

Two pieces of legislation moved to change the ecclesiastical climate in Ireland: the 1833 Church Temporalities Act and the 1838 Tithe Commutation Act.

Under the Church Temporalities Act, the Archbishoprics of Tuam and Cashel were reduced to bishoprics, and ten other bishoprics were suspended, being put under the care of bishops in neighbouring dioceses, so that, for example, Derry joined Raphoe, Ossory joined Ferns and Leighlin, and Kildare joined Dublin and Glendalough.

A Board of Church Commissioners was set up to administer the money saved so that churches could be repaired and built, and the incomes of clergy in small parishes could be improved.

Under the Tithe Act, the tithes were reduced, and in future they were to be paid by the tenant to the landlord, who in due course was to pass it on to the Church.

The University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford: John Keble’s Assize Sermon here in 1833 criticised legislation on changes in the Church of Ireland and marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This state legislation for the internal matters of the Church led to Oxford Movement, which begins with John Keble’s Assize Sermon in in Oxford in 1833, in which he condemned the proposals as “national apostasy.”

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

The Oxford Movement led to a revived scholarly interest in Christian origins, the Fathers of the Early Church (Patristics), and Liturgy. But it also led to some of the leading Anglicans of the day – including John Henry Newman – becoming Roman Catholics.

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

Whatever Keble, Newman and others may have hoped to achieve initially, the move was unstoppable. Gladstone was convinced, if not that the Church of Ireland was beyond reform, than that the Church of Ireland could no longer be maintained as the state church and that its established position was an obstacle to good relations between England and Ireland. In 1869 the Church of Ireland was separated from the Church of England and was disestablished under the Irish Church Act, which came into effect on 1 January 1871.

The Church of Ireland was left in possession of the cathedrals, churches and church schools then in use. But all other properties fell to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and about half the money realised, over £8 million, was distributed among various charitable and educational bodies, including Maynooth College and the Presbyterian Church.

The Church of Ireland was left with its clergy and bishops, and with enough money – the other £8 million – to pay them, but not to pay their successors.

With Disestablishment, Trench told Archbishop Tait of Canterbury that he feared the “very worst for the future” and a “very dismal catastrophe” for the Church of Ireland. In his first charge to his diocese after disestablishment, Trench expressed fears that the Church of Ireland would cut itself off from other Anglican churches, casting itself off from the rest of Catholic Christendom and splitting “first into two or three, and then probably into a thousand fragments.”

Those fears, and the worst of fears, were never realised.

Appendix: key church figures of the time:

1: Archbishop William King (1650-1729) of Dublin

Archbishop William King … found the people of Belfast “very refractory”

One of the key figures in the Church of Ireland throughout this time was William King (1650-1729). While he was, Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1688-1691), he was imprisoned on the orders of James II. After the Williamite Revolution, he became Bishop of Derry (1691-1703) and Archbishop of Dublin (1703-1729).

King was the son of James King, a Scottish miller, who had moved to Co Antrim to escape the Solemn League and Covenant in Aberdeen.

King was a “high church” bishop, supported the Penal Code and refused to support the Toleration Bill in the House of Lords. He was particularly strong in his condemnation of Quakers, and had strong words about the people of Belfast who “are very refractory” and who bury their dead without prayers, come to church without removing their hats, break their fasts, and refuse to hand over collections to the churchwardens. [Murray, in Alison Philips, vol 3, pp 165-166.]

He was a reforming bishop in both Derry and Dublin, with conspicuous success. In 1711, with the assistance of Jonathan Swift, Dean of Saint Patrick’s, he obtained the first fruits and the twentieth parts for the Church of Ireland. He was incensed when the best of his clergy were passed over and important bishoprics and other senior Church posts were given to English clergy.

He rebuilt churches, including seven in the Diocese of Derry that had not been used since the Reformation; he publicly admonished sinners; he provided services in the Irish language; and he openly challenged and debated with Dissenters.

In Dublin and Glendalough, King built (or rebuilt) Arklow, Stillorgan, Kilgobbin, Ringsend, Saint Mark’s, Saint James’s, Saint Ann’s, and Saint Luke’s, he provided glebes, and he took special care in his efforts to guard against pluralism and non-residence.

A Whig politically, he failed to receive the expected promotion to the Primacy during the High Tory ascendancy at the end of Queen Anne’s reign, but came into his own after the Hanoverian accession. An important theologian in his time, his De Origione Mali (1702, translated 1731) sought to reconcile the existence of evil with the conception of an omnipotent and beneficent God.

2, Other reforming bishops

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford … Bishop Nathaniel Foy was a reforming bishop who was jailed twice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Other reforming bishops at this time included Nathaniel Foy (1638-1707), Bishop of Waterford (1691-1707), who was jailed for strong speeches during the reign of James II, and again in 1695. He rebuilt Saint Bride’s Church in Dublin, founded Bishop Foy School in Waterford, endowed schools, but despaired over “our sinking church” which faced the prospect of ruin and needed “a persecution [to] preserve us.”

However, bishops found their voices were not heard when they protested against abuses. Smith of Limerick protested in vain when he was instructed to institute a Dr Richards into two parishes in his diocese, taking his total number of livings to 14. “The Poison breath of the Castle” was blighting the work of “the better sort of clergy,” he protested.

On the other hand, Simon Digby, Bishop of Elphin (1691-1720), was said by King to have left his diocese “in a miserable condition: churches greatly wanting, and those that are, ill supplied … only about 13 clergymen in it.”

King also described the diocese of Killaloe as being “in a miserable condition” too.

3, Scandalous bishops and clergy

And there were scandalous bishops too. These included Thomas Hackett, Bishop of Down and Dromore (1671-1694). For the greater part of his 22 years as a bishop, Hackett lived in Hammersmith in London, where he openly sold livings to the highest bidders, including Roman Catholics. He was tried by King and Dopping in 1694, found guilty of simony and other abuses, and deposed.

Other trials followed. Hackett’s archdeacon, Lemuel Mathews of Dromore, was deprived for gross neglect of nine cures and non-residence in any of them; Dean Ward of Connor was deprived for adultery; Prebendary Mylne of Kilroot was punished for adultery and drunkenness; Prebendary Armer of Connor, who was excommunicated for neglect of duty, had long been absent in England – he had committed the parish of Ballymoney to a blind man.

The courts also found that the two cathedrals in Hackett’s dioceses and most of the parish churches were out of repair, and some of the parishes were in the hands of Presbyterians.

4, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745):

Jonathan Swift ... played a key role in church and national politics

Jonathan Swift played a key role in church politics, helping to secure Marsh’s promotion to Armagh in 1703, for which Marsh thanked him. He expected a bishopric in England, but, when he was recommended for Hereford, his appointment was blocked by Archbishop Richard Sharp of York.

It is said that the levity and irreverence of the Tale of a Tub and other writings barred him from episcopal promotion in both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. As a sort of consolation, Swift was made Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1713 in succession to John Stearne.

However, for the rest of his life, Swift remained bitterly disappointed. He found 18th century Ireland too narrow, too depressed, too poor, too limited intellectually, and too much outside the mainstream of life.

And yet he made his mark as Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. During his time as dean, he wrote Drapier’s Letters, there he restored weekly Holy Communion, attended Morning and Evening Prayer each day, and preached regularly.

In his letters signed WB Drapier, Swift was protesting against the introduction of a new coinage by William Wood, “Wood’s ha’pence.” The poor were suffering particularly as result of a debased currency, but the proposed new coinage would result in extravagant profits for a Birmingham ironmaster. As a consequence of Swift’s letters, the coins were refused universally, and were eventually withdrawn in 1725.

Swift complained too to Walpole of the way Boulter was filling the higher offices in the Church of Ireland with English-born clergy, and complained that those men were using their new offices to provide positions further down the ecclesiastical ladder to family members and friends. It was said that one bishop since his translation had allotted £2,000 in benefices to Englishmen.

Swift is best remembered today as a satirist and as the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726). He died in 1745.

5, George Berkeley (1685-1753):

Bishop George Berkeley … an early missionary from the Church of Ireland

George Berkeley served the Church of Ireland both as Dean of Derry, and later as Bishop of Cloyne, but he is best remembered today as a philosopher.

Berkeley held that when we affirm material things to be real, we mean no more than that they are perceived. Material objects continue to exist when they are not perceived by us, solely because they are objects of the thought of God. The only things that exist in a primary sense are spirits, and material objects exist simply in the sense that they are perceived by spirits.

Berkeley’s views have been caricatured in Ronald Knox’s pair of limericks:

There was a young man who said, ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no-one about in the Quad.’

And the reply, according to Knox was:

Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Sincerely observed by, Yours faithfully, GOD.

In 1721, Berkeley became involved in an enterprise to establish a university in the Bermudas to train missionaries to work among the American Indians. He obtained a royal charter and sailed for America in 1728. But the scheme collapsed, and Berkeley returned home.

Berkeley became Bishop of Cloyne in 1734. In 1747, it was rumoured that he was hoping to be appointed Archbishop of Armagh. But he denied he had any desire to become Primate, declaring, “I am not in love with feats and crowds and visits, and late hours, and strange faces, and a hurry after affairs often insignificant.”

Shortly before his death, he asked to be relieved of his episcopal responsibilities and to be given a university appointment. But the king insisted that Berkeley should die a bishop, and he was still Bishop of Cloyne when he died in 1753.

His best known works include The Minute Philosopher and The Querist. He advocated the admission of Roman Catholics to TCD without the obligation to attend chapel duties, catechisings, or divinity lectures. He also advocated church services in the Irish language, he wanted to build new roads and sought to make the rivers navigable.

6, John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley preaching at his father’s grave

John Wesley was an Anglican priest and theologian who was an early leader in the Methodist movement. Methodism had three rises:

• At Oxford University with the founding of the so-called “Holy Club.”
• While Wesley was parish priest in Savannah, Georgia.
• After Wesley’s return to England.

The movement took form from its third rise in the early 1740s with Wesley, along with others, itinerant field preaching and the subsequent founding of religious societies for the formation of believers. This was the first widely successful evangelical movement in Britain. Wesley’s Methodist Connection included societies throughout these islands before spreading to other parts of the English-speaking world and beyond.

Methodists, under Wesley’s direction, became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements.

Wesley’s strength as a theologian lay in his ability to combine seemingly opposing theological stances. His greatest theological achievement was his promotion of what he termed “Christian perfection,” or holiness of heart and life. Wesley insisted that in this life, the Christian could come to a state where the love of God, or perfect love, reigned supreme in one’s heart.

His theology, especially his understanding of perfection, was firmly grounded in his sacramental theology. He continually insisted on the general use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture, meditation, Holy Communion, &c), as the means by which God transformed the believer. Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the Church of England and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of Anglicanism.

Wesley was born in Epworth Rectory, 37 km north-west of Lincoln, the fifteenth child of the Revd Samuel Wesley, a Church of England priest, and his wife Susanna Annesley. At the age of five, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind; and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a “brand plucked from the burning.”

He was ordained a deacon in 1725, was elected a fellow of Lincoln College Oxford the following year, and received his MA in 1727. He was his father’s curate for two years, and then returned to Oxford to fulfil his functions as a fellow.

Leading Wesley scholars point to 1725 as the date of Wesley’s conversion. In the year of his ordination he read and began to seek the religious truths which underlay the great revival of the 18th century. He said the reading of Christian Perfection and Serious Call by the mystic and Nonjuror William Law (1686-1761) gave him a more sublime view of the law of God; and he resolved to keep it, inwardly and outwardly, as sacredly as possible.

The year of his return to Oxford, 1729, marks the beginning of the rise of Methodism. The famous “Holy Club” was formed by John Wesley’s younger brother, Charles Wesley, and some fellow students, derisively called “Methodists” because of their methodical habits.

John Wesley left in 1735 for Savannah, Georgia. In the midst of a devastating storm on the way to Georgia, he was deeply impressed by a group of Moravians who remained calm by singing hymns. In Georgia, he built up a positive relationship with the Moravians. Some of the charges brought against him in Georgia were on account of his unusual liturgical “experiments.” A Journal entry in 1735 reports that he spent three hours “revising” The Book of Common Prayer. This indicates that Wesley’s intense reading of the Church Fathers and writers from the Eastern Orthodox Church influenced his approaches and baffled those who knew him.

But in Georgia, he had an unhappy love affair, which culminated in John’s refusal to serve communion to his prospective wife and her husband. Her husband charged John with slander for disgracing his wife’s honour. He returned to England in 1738, depressed and beaten.

It was at this point that he turned once again to the Moravians. After his Aldersgate experience of 24 May 1738, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, when he heard a reading of Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he penned the now famous lines: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” This revolutionised the character and method of his ministry.

Soon Wesley found most of the parish churches were closed to him, and he preached his first open-air sermon near Bristol in April 1739. Later that year, he formed his first Methodist Society. Similar societies were soon formed in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his friends made converts.

Wesley and the Methodists were attacked in sermons and in print and at times attacked by mobs.

As early as 1739, he approved of lay preaching and pastoral work, and his first chapel was built that year in Bristol.

As his societies multiplied, and the elements of an ecclesiastical system were gradually adopted, the breach between Wesley and the Church of England widened. But the Wesley brothers refused to leave the Church of England, believing the Anglican Church to be “with all her blemishes … nearer the Scriptural plan than any other in Europe.”

In 1746, he read Lord King on the Primitive Church, and was convinced by this that apostolic succession was a fiction, that in fact that he was “a scriptural episcopos as much as any man in England.” Some years later, Stillingfleet’s Irenicon led him to renounce the opinion that neither Christ nor his apostles prescribed any form of Church government, and to declare ordination valid when performed by a presbyter/priest. It was not until about 40 years later that he ordained by the laying on of hands, and even then only for those who would work outside England.

The Bishop of London continued to refuse to ordain a minister for the American Methodists who were without the sacraments, and so in 1784 Wesley ordained preachers for Scotland and America, with power to administer the sacraments. Although Thomas Coke was already a priest in the Church of England, Wesley consecrated him, by the laying on of hands, to be superintendent in America. He also ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as priests.

Wesley intended that Coke and Asbury (who was subsequently consecrated in America by Coke) should ordain others in the newly founded Methodist Episcopal Church. This alarmed his brother Charles Wesley, who begged him to stop before he had “quite broken down the bridge,” and not “leave an indelible blot on our memory.” Wesley replied that he had not separated from the Church, nor did he intend to, but he must and would save as many souls as he could while alive, “without being careful about what may possibly be when I die.”

Although he rejoiced that the Methodists in America were free, he advised his English followers to remain in the Church of England, and he himself died within it.

Wesley died peacefully on 2 March 1791, and is buried in a small graveyard behind Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London. Wesley is listed as Number 50 on the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons.

7, Samuel Seabury (1729-1796):

A window in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, commemorating the consecration of Samuel Seabury as bishop

Samuel Seabury was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, and the first Bishop of Connecticut.

Seabury was born in Ledyard, Groton, Connecticut, in 1729. His father, also Samuel Seabury (1706-1764), was originally a Congregationalist minister in Groton, but was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England in 1731, in 1731, and was the Rector of New London, Connecticut, from 1732 to 1743, and in Hempstead, Long Island, from 1743 until his death.

Samuel Seabury (the son) graduated from Yale in 1748. He studied theology with his father, and studied medicine in Edinburgh (1752-1753). He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln and priest by the Bishop of Carlisle (1753). He was the Rector of Christ Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1754-1757), Rector of Jamaica, New York (1757-1766), and of Rector of Saint Peter’s, Westchester (now part of the Bronx) (1766-1775).

He was one of the signers of the White Plains protest in April 1775 against all unlawful congresses and committees, and during the American Revolution was a devoted loyalist. He wrote the Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress (1774) by AW Farmer (i.e., A Westchester Farmer). This was followed by a second Farmer’s Letter, The Congress Canvassed (1774), answered by Alexander Hamilton in A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies. A third Farmer’s Letter replied to Hamilton’s View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies, in a broader and abler treatment than in the previous pamphlets. To this third pamphlet Hamilton replied with The Farmer Refuted (1775).

These three Farmer’s Letters – a fourth was advertised but apparently was never published – were forceful presentations of the pro-British claim, written in a plain, hard-headed style. Seabury claimed them in England in 1783 when he was seeking episcopal consecration. At the same time he claimed the authorship of a letter, not signed by a Westchester farmer, which under the title An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New York (1775) discussed the power of this, the only legal political body in the colony. Seabury’s clarity of style and general ease of reading would set him apart from his ecclesiastical colleagues throughout his life.

Seabury was arrested in November 1775 by a mob of Whigs, and was kept in prison in Connecticut for six weeks. He was prevented from carrying out his parochial ministry, and after some time in Long Island he took refuge in New York City, where in 1778 he was appointed chaplain to the King’s American Regiment.

On 25 March 1783, a meeting of ten Episcopal clergy in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury bishop as their second choice (their first choice declined for health reasons). There were no Anglican bishops in the Americas to consecrate him, so he sailed to London on 7 July.

In England, however, his consecration was rationalised as impossible because, as an American citizen, he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to monarchy.

Seabury then turned to the nonjuring Scottish Episcopal Church, whose bishops at that time refused to recognise the authority of George III. Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen on 14 November 1784, with the condition that he would study the Scottish Rite for the Holy Communion and work for its adoption rather than the English rite of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

To the present day, the TEC liturgy follows to the main features of the Scottish Episcopalian rite in one of its Eucharistic liturgies.

The anniversary of Seabury’s consecration is now a lesser feast day in the calendars of both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Seabury’s consecration by the Scots caused alarm in the (Whig) British government, raising fears of an entirely Jacobite church in the US. Parliament was persuaded to make provision for the consecration of foreign bishops. Seabury’s tenacity made possible a continued relationship between the American and English churches.

Seabury returned to Connecticut in 1785 and made his home in New London, Connecticut, where he was the Rector of Saint James’ Church. At first, the validity of his consecration was questioned by some, but it was recognised by the General Convention of his church in 1789.

In 1790, Seabury took charge of the Diocese of Rhode Island also. In 1792, he joined Bishop William White and Bishop Samuel Provoost, who had received English consecration in 1787, and James Madison (1749-1812), who had received English consecration in 1790, in the consecration of Thomas John Claggett as Bishop of Maryland in 1792, thus uniting the Scottish and the English successions.

Seabury played a decisive role in the evolution of Anglican liturgy in North America after the Revolution. His Communion Office (New London, 1786), was based on the Scottish Book of Common Prayer rather than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Seabury was the probably the only liturgically literate member of the House of Bishops in his day.

Seabury kept strictly his obligation to the Scots to study and quietly advocate their point of view in Eucharistic matters. His defence of the Scottish service – especially its restoration of the epiklesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit, influenced the first Book of Common Prayer adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1789. The Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England ended with the Words of Institution. But the Scottish Rite continued with a Prayer of Oblation based on the ancient classical models of Consecration Prayers found in Roman and Orthodox Christianity.

In addition to the epiklesis, Seabury argued for the restoration of another ancient custom – the weekly celebration of Holy Communion on Sundays. In An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion (New Haven, 1789), he wrote that “when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity.”

Seabury was ahead of his time. Two centuries later the custom of a weekly Eucharist was rapidly spreading through many Anglican parishes under the impact of the Liturgical Movement.

Seabury died in New London on 25 February 1796, and he was buried in a small chapel at Saint James’.

8, Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798):

Edward Delaney’s statue in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), a leading United Irishman and a member of the Church of Ireland.

Theobald Wolfe Tone was a leading figure in the United Irishmen and is regarded as the father of Irish republicans. He died from a self-inflicted wound after being sentenced to death for his part in the 1798 Rising.

He was born in Dublin in 1763, the son of a coach-maker who was a member of the Church of Ireland. He studied law at Trinity College Dublin and qualified as a barrister from the King’s Inns at the age of 26, and attended the Inns of Court in London. As a student, he eloped with Elizabeth Witherington, daughter of William Witherington, of Dublin, and his wife, Catherine Fanning, and they were married in Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin. Tone and his wife, whom he renamed Matilda, he had two sons and a daughter. She was only 16 when they married, and she lived on for 50 years after his death.

Tone submitted a scheme for founding a military colony in Hawaii, but the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, took no notice of it. Tone then turned to politics. An able pamphlet attacking the administration of the Marquess of Buckingham in 1790 brought him to the notice of the Whig Club, and in September 1791 he wrote an essay using the pseudonym of “A Northern Whig,” of which 10,000 copies were said to have been sold.

About this time, the principles of the French Revolution were being eagerly embraced in Ireland. At a meeting in Belfast two months before Tone’s essay was published, a resolution was passed calling for the abolition of religious disqualifications, “giving the first sign of political sympathy between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Whigs.” Tone’s essay and that meeting emphasised the growing breach between Whig patriots like Henry Flood and Henry Grattan, who aimed at Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform without breaking the connection with England, and those who sought a separate Irish Republic.

In October 1791, Tone, Thomas Russell (1767-1803) and James Napper Tandy – all three members of the Church of Ireland – and others joined in founding the Society of United Irishmen. In the years that followed, Tone worked closely in his plans for revolution with a Church of England priest, the Revd William Jackson, who came to Ireland to negotiate between the French Committee of Public Safety and the United Irishmen, but Jackson was arrested in April 1794. In May 1795, on the summit of Cave Hill in Belfast, Tone made the famous compact with Russell and Henry Joy McCracken, promising “Never to desist in our efforts until we subvert the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence.”

Tone was arrested on board the Hoche by an English squadron at Rathmullan on Lough Swilly on 12 October 1798. He was sentenced to be hanged on 12 November 1798. Before this sentence was carried out, he suffered a fatal neck wound, self-inflicted according to contemporaries, from which he died a week later at the age of 35 in prison in Dublin. He is buried in the former Church of Ireland churchyard in Bodenstown, Co Kildare.


The Wesley Hymns in the Church Hymnal (5th edition, the Church of Ireland):

Charles Wesley (1707-1788):

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
99, Jesus, the name high over all
104, O for a thousand tongues
119, Come thou long-expected Jesus
132, Lo, he comes with clouds descending
160, Hark! The herald angels sing
218, And can it be that I should gain
234, O Love divine, what has thou done?
266, Hail the day that sees him rise, alleluia!
277, Love’s redeeming work is done
281, Rejoice! The Lord is King!
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim
505, Peace be to this congregation
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
567, Forth, in thy name, O Lord, I go
621, O Love divine, how sweet thou art!
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
638, O for a heart to praise my God
639, O thou who camest from above

Charles Wesley the younger (1757-1834) (melody):

11, Can we but searching find our God?

This tune is known as Epworth, after the rectory that played a vital role in the Wesley family story. Charles Wesley the younger was the son of Charles Wesley and the nephew of John Wesley.

John Benjamin Wesley (1703-1791) (translator):

563, Commit your ways to God
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness

Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) (second tune):

302, Lord God the Holy Ghost

He was the youngest son of Charles Wesley, and was regarded as the greatest English organist and improviser of his day. He wrote many liturgical settings for both Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies, and did much to make JS Bach popular in England.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) (anthem, melody or tune):

17, Lead me, Lord, lead me in righteousness
327, Christ is our cornerstone
398, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
528, The Church’s one foundation
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
621, O Love divine, how sweet thou art!
639, O thou who camest from above.

An organist and composer, he was the son of Samuel Wesley and grandson of Charles Wesley. His middle name reflects his father’s passion for the music of Bach.


Understanding sectarianism and transforming societies.

6.1: Christianity and nationalisms

6.2: The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and its consequences: a reflection on the Hard Gospel Project.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture on 12 February 2015 was part of the MTh Year II course, TH8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context.

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