19 November 2015

Anglicanism 6 (MDI, 2015-2016): Church
History, from the Act of Union to today

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)

Mater Dei Institute of Education,



Patrick Comerford,

Week 3:
19 November 2015,

5 and 6: Church History

6: Church History, From the Act of Union to today:

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 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)

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, Kildare Place, Dublin … he was the first evangelical to become Archbishop of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building” ... a cartoon image of Archbishop William Alexander (1824-1911) in ‘Vanity Fair,’ 1891

The Church of Ireland was no longer a state church, bishops no longer sat in the House of Lords, and the Church of Ireland, once again, was separated from the Church of England.

But the church moved hastily to reorganise itself. The archbishops called provincial synods, each of which agreed to meet with the other “in a general synod or council,” which agreed that “the synod is now not called upon to originate a constitution for a new communion but to repair a sudden breach in one of the most ancient churches in Christendom.”

The general convention met in 1870, approved a new constitution, set up a system of ecclesiastical courts, and arranged for the formation of a representative body, the Representative Church Body (RCB) to hold and manage the church’s property.

The constitution established government at every level of the church, from select vestries at parochial level, to diocesan synods, to general synod.

By 1880, £5.5 million of funds from the Church of Ireland had been redistributed for educational purposes, including endowments to Maynooth and to the Presbyterians for training in ministry.

Disestablishment created a number of crises for the newly independent and self-governing Church of Ireland. There was a loss of income, there was a loss of some buildings, and the Church needed to find its own system of appointing bishops and of church government. Many of the leading evangelicals of the day wanted a complete overhaul that would have provided a Presbyterian-style of government for the Church of Ireland.

All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman … an important centre for the High Church tradition in Dublin at the time of disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These controversies did not mean the Church was completely dominated by evangelicals. In Dublin, for example, new churches in the High Church tradition had been built in Ballsbridge and Sandymount, enhancing a tradition that had already found expression at All Saints’ in Grangegorman.

The Church also debated whether it needed to revise The Book of Common Prayer. The debates on liturgical reform also included the form of absolution used in visiting the sick, and there were other rows about the use of the Athanasian Creed.

The debate on the form of absolution to be used in the visitation of the sick focused on words that seemed to suggest that that the priest by virtue of his priestly authority had the power to forgive sins. Eventually, a compromise was reached by substituting the form of absolution already used at the Holy Communion.

When it came to the Athanasian Creed, Trench opposed any efforts to rephrase or edit the damnatory clauses, declaring “the creed, lopped at the beginning, lopped at the end, lopped at the middle,” reminded him of “unhappy victims of oriental cruelty.”

The differences over the Athanasian Creed were resolved by omitting the rubric regarding its use.

There were debates too about the Baptismal service, and the ordination service, although major alterations were rejected.

Two new services were also added: one of the consecration of a church, the other an order for Harvest Thanksgiving.

The West Door of Saint John’s Church, Sandymount … one of the churches that was the focus of liturgical controversies (Photographs, Patrick Comerford)

The debates also resulted in new canons, including Canon 36 prohibiting placing a cross on the altar – a moved directed pointedly against three Tractarian churches in Dublin: Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge; Saint John’s Church, Sandymount; and All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman.

The compromises that were accepted are summarised in that beautiful statement that concludes the 1878 preface to the revised Book of Common Prayer:

“And now, if some shall complain that these changes are not enough, and that we should have taken this opportunity of making this Book as perfect in all respects as they think it might be made, of if others shall say that these changes have been unnecessary or excessive, and that what was already excellent has been impaired by doing that which, in their opinion, night well have been left undone, let them, on the one side and the other, consider that men’s judgements of perfection are very various, and that what is imperfect, with peace, is often better than what is otherwise more excellent, without it.”

Eventually, the changes guaranteed the survival of the Church of Ireland in the form we find it today, and the Church of Ireland soon entered on a long period of internal peace and institutional stability.

The post-disestablishment Church

The former Synod Hall, linked to Christ Church Cathedral, was the venue for the General Synod for decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, was disestablishment a good or bad thing for the Church of Ireland?

Most of us in the Church of Ireland today would agree today that disestablishment was, by-and-large, good for the Church.


● set the Church of Ireland on a sound, independent financial footing;
● resulted in the reform of the liturgy;
● saw an overhaul of church structures with the introduction of synods at national (General Synod) and local (diocesan synod) level;
● was followed by an upsurge of lay initiative and of giving;
● freed the church of time-serving, careerists from England.

The Romanesque doorway in Kilmore Cathedral … the later Bedell Memorial Church was one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork … a triumph by William Burges, one of the greatest of the Victorian architects (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Disestablishment also led to new buildings, including:

● Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork
● Kilmore Cathedral, Co Cavan
● the rebuilding of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
● the rebuilding of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare
● Saint Luke’s Church, Cork (1873)
● Bangor Abbey, Co Down (1880)
● Saint Kevin’s Church, Dublin (1888);
● Saint Saviour’s Church, Arklow (1899).
● Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (foundation stone, 1899, consecrated 1904).

Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast … a cathedral for one city and two dioceses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In addition, in the immediate aftermath of Disestablishment:

● A new teacher training college was established in Kildare Place in 1884 (now the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines).
● Two new vibrant mission agencies were founded in Trinity College Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s – the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur.
● New mission links were established with emerging churches in Spain and Portugal.
● The Church of Ireland made immeasurable contributions to the growth of Anglicanism, particularly in Canada, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Africa.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, where three Irish missionaries were bishops … the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a sign of the vibrant new missionary life of a disestablished church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Ireland in the 20th century

Saint Kevin’s Church, built in 1888 on the site of the former Royal Portobello Gardens, closed after less than a century in 1983 ... what caused a decline in membership of the Church of Ireland over the space of a century? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If the Church of Ireland could bounce back like that at the end of the 19th century, what happened that caused a decline in numbers at the beginning of the 20th century?

Some of the factors were political. For example, after the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution, which saw imported labour, many of the skilled labourers were replaced by Irish-born Roman Catholics when they acquired those skills from the mid-19th century on. Then the Wyndham Act and the expropriation of landlords led to the decline of many of the big estates. The effects of the land acts on church finances was, in part, mitigated by the launching of the Auxiliary Fund in 1909, which raised about £250,000 for clergy stipends.

The Ne Temere decree of 1908 also took its toll on the renewal of the membership of Church of Ireland through marriage and birth, as we have already seen in previous weeks.

World War I saw not only large number of men enlist, but many of them who survived stayed away. With a declining population, there was a pressing need to reduce the number of rural incumbencies, but this was coupled with the Minimum Stipend Act (1920), which fixed stipends at £400 for an incumbent and £200 for a curate.

The War of Independence saw the move of many Protestant civil servants from the state.

The bishops of the Church of Ireland were not above politics, so that in 1912 every single one of northern bishops subscribed to the Ulster Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant, opposing Home Rule.

And yes, we have to say that there was some “ethnic cleansing” in some areas too. The Bishop of Killaloe reported this at the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War in North Co Tipperary, the Sunday Independent journalist, Eoghan Harris, has written about this in Co Cork, and recently memories have been evoked of the horrific attack on an orphanage in Galway.

But, members of the Church of Ireland were also involved in the political and cultural expressions of the movement for independence.

● Maud Gonne and Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz) were born members of the Church of Ireland.
● Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland, was a rector’s son.
● So too were the poet WB Yeats and the playwright Sean O’Casey.
● The Irish Citizens’ Army is said to have agreed on its name at a meeting in the rooms of the Revd RM Gwynn in Trinity College Dublin – he was a regular communicant in Saint Bartholomew’s, Church, Ballsbridge, intensely involved in the Irish Labour Movement, and for many years he chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM).

The grave of the Revd Professor RM Gwynn (1877-1962) in Whitechurch churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is often forgotten in GAA circles that members of the Church of Ireland continue to be honoured in the names of the Semple Stadium and the Sam Maguire Cup.

Primate and President … Archbishop John Gregg and Eamon de Valera

In 1920, the Church of Ireland agreed to allow women to be members of select vestries. Archbishop Gregg supported this initiative, although his successor, Archbishop Bernard, was opposed. Bernard was content to see the “great lady of the parish” on the select vestry … but not “the gardener’s wife.” He said: “Parochial squabbles would be trebled if they admitted women.”

In 1932, while the Roman Catholic population was celebrating the Eucharistic Congress, the Church of Ireland was vigorously celebrating what was proclaimed to be the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.

By and large, things were settling down, and Archbishop Gregg, who was assured by the new government of the place of Protestants in a new state, advised Eamon de Valera on the wording of the 1937 Constitution regarding Church of Ireland. Curiously, though, the Church in this jurisdiction retained the king’s name in the liturgy until the final declaration of a republic in 1949.

Continuing reforms

The Church of Ireland continued to reform itself, despite initial reluctance to concede structural reform.

Changes were made in the ways bishops were elected, in 1939 and again in 1945.

There were changes in mapping diocesan organisation along the way too:

● The Diocese of Clogher, which was united to Armagh from 1850, became a separate diocese once again in 1886.
● The Dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, which had been united since 1842, were separated into the Diocese of Connor and the Diocese of Down and Dromore in 1945.

Eventually, a new way of electing bishops through electoral colleges was adopted in 1959, replacing the previous system by election by diocesan synods.

However, in 1967 proposals for further reforms were rejected. These included:

● reducing the size of general synod from 648 members to 501
● the creation of a new diocese centred on Belfast
● leaving each diocese with just one cathedral and one chapter
● amalgamating diocesan synods, councils and offices
and – perhaps most significantly –
● providing for team ministries and a greater potential for mobility among the clergy.

The Dioceses of the Church of Ireland today

The only reform accepted was a reduction in the number of dioceses from 14 to 12. As a consequence:

● The Diocese of Kildare was separated from Dublin and Glendalough in 1976, and united to Meath.
● The Dioceses of Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh were united to Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1976.
● The Diocese of Emly, united to Cashel since 1569, was transferred to Limerick in 1976.
● The Diocese of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin were united to Cashel, Waterford and Lismore in 1977.

However, legislation at this time to unite Tuam and Kilmore was rescinded – and we have been reminded of the consequences of this over the past year. In more recent years too, proposals to reform the numbers, structures and method of working of general synod have continued to meet strong resistance.

The continuing failure to face the need for reform also turned to heartbreak when it came to closing many rural churches in the second half of the 20th century, because closure was often seen as cost-saving rather than part of a process of reform and change.

On the other hand, an openness to the insights of the liturgical movement in the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the 1950s and 1960s, led to new baptismal and Eucharistic rites, and eventually to a modern-language Alternative Prayer Book in 1984, supplemented by the Alternative Occasional Services in 1993.

By the 1990s, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population (Photograph: Jan Butter/ACO)

By then, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population.

Meanwhile, in 1978-1980, the long, formal links with TCD were broken, the Faculty of Theology became non-denominational, three divinity chairs fell vacant, the old course of training for clergy was abolished, and the Divinity Hostel was eventually transformed into the Church of Ireland Theological College – now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Changes in patterns of ministry were introduced with the introduction of Non-Stipendiary Ministers (NSMs) or auxiliary ministers – the first NSM in Dublin was the Revd Michael Heaney who was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977 – and the ordination of women was approved in 1990.

Bishop Pat Storey (right), the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland at a service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, marking the 300th anniversary of the mission agency Us, formerly USPG (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The legislation in 1990 provided for the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and the first woman bishop in the Church of Ireland, Bishop Pat Storey, was consecrated in Christ Cathedral, Dublin, as Bishop of Meath and Kildare two years ago on 30 November 2013.

A new Church Hymnal was published in 2000, and the new Book of Common Prayer was published in 2004.

Ecumenical encounters

Where was the Church of Ireland ecumenically as we moved through the 20th century?

Talks with the Presbyterian Church were initiated in 1931. They agreed to recognise each other’s ordinations and sacraments as a way to move towards unity. But these proposals were rejected by the House of Bishops, and the talks have never progressed.

Indeed, Archbishop Gregg openly referred to non-episcopal churches as “the deprived children of Christendom,” and he boasted that he had never appeared on a public platform with what he called a “non-conformist” minister.

The formation of the Church of South India in 1948 caused some curious and interesting problems. Indeed, an Irish Presbyterian, Donald Kennedy, and an Irish Anglican, Anthony Hanson, were among the new bishops of the new Church, and an Irish Methodist minister, Ernest Gallagher, was ordained in that church too, so that, technically, his orders were valid in the Church of Ireland when he returned to Ireland, although he returned to work in the Methodist Church.

Relations with the Methodists flowered in a more favourable climate, and we now have a covenant that pledges the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland to work together and to seek full and visible unity, and that allows for inter-changeability of ministries.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey meets Pope Paul VI

When it comes to Roman Catholics, the climate changed with visits to the Vatican by two Archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII (1960), the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the Anglican Reformation, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI, at the time of the reforms introduced by Vatican II.

The new opportunities that this created were ably seized by the late George Simms, successively Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh. He is credited with creating the climate that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, so that today it is accepted in many communities that no happening actually happens unless the rector has also been invited.

During his visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II also met the bishops of the Church of Ireland.

Archbishop Henry McAdoo … co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) (Photograph of portrait in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Patrick Comerford)

The late Archbishop Henry McAdoo, first as Bishop of Ossory and then as Archbishop of Dublin, co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), and his expertise on and love for the insights of Jeremy Taylor and the Caroline Divines and their sacramental theology helped to bring about agreed statements on the Eucharist.

It is often forgotten that those agreements were accepted by the Church of Ireland, but have remained in cold storage in the Vatican. Archbishop McAdoo’s vision of full and visible unity in 1970 was that it would happen by the end of the century: 30 years then appeared a long stretch, but full and visible church unity now seems further away than ever.

In 1996, the Porvoo Communion was formed, linking the four Anglican churches on these islands with the Episcopal Lutheran churches of Northern Europe and the Baltic countries.

In retrospect

At the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland loomed in 1868, Archbishop Trench expressed the fear that a disestablished Church would inevitably “cease to exist after a few years.” He said he preferred “instant death” at the hands of Gladstone to the “gradual starvation” by Disraeli.

George Salmon, Regius Professor in Trinity College Dublin, expressed the fear that the Church of Ireland might find itself reduced to “a local sect.”

Richard Travers Smith, one of the outspoken High Church figures of the day, expressed his fears that the Church of Ireland might become “a church of half assertions and diluted doctrines.”

But Trench’s fears of “instant death,” Salmon’s fears of becoming “a local sect,” Travers Smith’s fear of doctrinal dilution, and Alexander’s premonition of the crash of this great building were never realised. The Church of Ireland survived, and in the 140 years since disestablishment, the church has not broken intro schismatic factions, as many feared, nor have we broken communion with the Church of England or other parts of the Anglican Communion.

(Module concluded)

(Revd Canon Professor) 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 was delivered in the Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin, on 19 November 2015. Mater Dei Institute of Education (MDI) is a College of Dublin City University (DCU).

Anglicanism 5 (MDI, 2015-2016): Church History,
from the Reformation to the Act of Union

The Dormition of the Virgin, Syros (left), and The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (right) by Dom√©nikos Theotok√≥poulos (El Greco) … access to Byzantine scholarship is one of the factors in the emergence of the Reformation (Photomontage: Patrick Comerford)

Mater Dei Institute of Education,



Patrick Comerford,

Week 3:
19 November 2015,

5 and 6: Church History

5: Church History, From the Reformation to the Act of Union;

6: Church History, From the Act of Union to today:

The origins of Reformation are often summarised in theological points about the need to reform the liturgy, the demands to end clerical celibacy, the pressures to have the Bible translated into a language that made it accessible, at least to literate people.

There were other stimulants too, including corruption and division within the Papacy, the infrequency of reception of Holy Communion, the lack of expository preaching, except among the mendicant friars, and the endowment and wealth of the monastic foundations.

The invention of printing in the 1450s increased literacy among the middle classes, and with that it created a further demand for reading material, including poetry, fiction, drama, travelogues, legal works, but also the Bible and liturgical material.

The spread of literacy brought with it the spread of ideas, and the Church was not able to control this.

Meanwhile, there was an exodus of scholarship and creativity from the Byzantine world as the Ottoman Empire advanced, and eventually when Byzantium fell to the Turks.

These scholars found refuge in Italy first, and their knowledge and wisdom soon spread to other parts of Western and Northern Europe. They brought with them fresh insights. Think, for example, how El Greco’s sense of perspective, influenced by the style of icons in the Byzantine and especially the Cretan tradition, changed Western understandings of art.

They also brought with them Patristic texts, which may well have been a contributing stimulus to the Reformation as the Reformers sought to get back to a purer and more simple church from an earlier, post-Apostolic Church. Their arrival also led to a new exploration of Greek philosophy, so that the debates at the time of the Reformation might be easily categorised as debates between Platonism and Aristotelianism.

Galileo began to develop his theories by watching the swings of the bronze chandelier in the cathedral of Pisa, using his pulse as a timer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

This too was the age of exploration: the age of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), whose westward voyages (1492-1503) began as an attempt to reach the Indies; and Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), who named the Pacific Ocean, and whose expedition (1519-1522) became the first circumnavigation of the Earth. And some time later, it became the age of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who was controversial at the time for arguing that the Sun and not the Earth was at the centre of our universe.

The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein (1533) … links the Age of Exploration with the Reformation

Hans Holbein’s painting of the Ambassadors (1533) shows the ambassadors at the court of Henry VIII standing on the floor mosaic of Westminster Abbey, with not one but two globes, and Luther’s Book of Psalms.

And this is also the age that sees the emergence of the concept of the nation-state. Nation states in many ways are identified by their national language, and Martin Luther’s Bible, and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer are as much ingredients in meeting this demand as they are an attempt to meet the demands that the Bible and the Liturgy should be available in the language of the people.

At same time, as the Church was losing control of states it was also losing control of minds.

Erasmus represents the new emerging independent thinking, even among those who remained loyal to the Papacy at the Reformation. The French king secured the right to appoint in all senior Church posts in 1516, a right was later extended to kings in Scotland and England, and to the Emperor of Germany.

Was there any one single cause of Reformation? The sale of indulgences may come to mind, but all those factors are important, and they come together at a crucial moment in history.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) … nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517

Five hundred years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546), an Augustinian friar and a promising young theology professor, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. This is seen as the moment that marks the beginning of the Reformation. But we should note too that his theses are conservative, and attack none of the central dogmas taught from Rome. Luther believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and consubstantiation was still a valid theological opinion. Luther saw himself not as founding a new church but as seeking to reform the Church.

His under-girding doctrine was Justification by faith, but even that is not seen as contrary to Catholic doctrine today.

The two other key figures in the Continental Reformation were John Calvin (1509-1564), who was only little older than a child when Luther nailed his theses in Wittenberg, and whose Reformation is first associated with Geneva and French-speaking areas; and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) of Zurich, who was strongly influenced by Erasmus.

Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In England, the principal church figure in the Reformation was Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), who eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-1555), and was burned at the stake in Oxford on the orders of Mary Tudor.

Henry VIII, a portrait by Hans Holbein

At the beginning of the English Reformation, Henry VIII already controlled the Church in England. Like the kings of France and Scotland, he controlled senior church appointments, including episcopal appointments.

It would be wrong to see Henry’s demand for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to father an heir and guarantee the future of the Tudor dynasty as the main inspiration of the English Reformation. Nor was Henry unusual as a ruling monarch for seeking such a divorce – similar demands by other reigning monarchs had been acceded to in the past.

But Church leaders were an emerging who were demanding reform. Many of them part of a group that had emerged among students and lecturers in Cambridge. And in their demand for reform, they took advantage of Henry VIII’s dynastic problems.

In 1534, a year after Holbein painted his picture of the ambassadors, the Act of Supremacy was passed in England. But little changed under Henry VIII, apart from the translation of some liturgical texts into English. Indeed, the king remained opposed to the abolition of clerical celibacy and Cranmer kept his wife hidden from Henry.

Thomas Cranmer … his legacy includes The Book of Common Prayer, the Collects and the 39 Articles

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the Church of England. While he did not make many radical changes in the Church, but succeeded in publishing the first officially authorised vernacular service, the Exhortation and Litany.

After the death of Henry VIII, during the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer wrote and compiled the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the Church of England. With the help of Continental reformers, he developed new doctrinal standards in areas such as the Eucharist.

Was Cranmer a conservative or a radical? His chief concern was to design corporate worship and to encourage a lively faith, yet his 1549 Book of Common Prayer, for example, still used the term Mass.

With the accession of Mary I to the throne, Cranmer was tried for treason and heresy, and he was executed in Oxford in 1556. On the day of his execution, he dramatically withdrew his earlier recantations in court. As the flames drew around him, he placed his right hand into the heart of the fire and his dying words were: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

His legacy lives on through The Book of Common Prayer – although it is difficult to ascertain how much of is Cranmer’s own composition – and through the 39 Articles, which are part of his legacy although not his composition.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... Archbishop George Browne was the principal figure in introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, what was happening in Ireland?

In 1536, the Irish Parliament approved Royal Supremacy over the Church in Ireland. All the bishops in the House of Lords accepted the change, but unlike the turn of events in England, the dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland was a slow process.

George Browne, Archbishop of Dublin (1536-1554) and a former Augustinian Provincial and Prior, publicly burned images and relics. But many of the bishops continued on as before, although a number of bishops and clergy availed of the opportunity to marry.

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 first book to be printed in Ireland was The Book of Common Prayer in 1551. George Dowdall (1487-1558), the Archbishop of Armagh (1543-1552), left the country rather than approve its use.

John Bale (1495-1563) was, perhaps the most controversial of the Reformation bishops in Ireland. A former Carmelite friar, his crude expressions of his reforming zeal forced him to flee the England of Henry VIII after the execution of Thomas Cromwell in 1540, and to find refuge among English exiles in Germany.

He returned to England in 1551 after the accession of Edward VI, and in 1552 he was appointed Bishop of Ossory. His consecration in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 2 February 1553 became controversial when he refused to have the old rite used, although this was still the only legal rite of consecration in Ireland, and also demanded to receive a Bible instead of a crozier.

He was so provocative and controversial a bishop in Kilkenny, that he was forced to flee immediately after the death of Edward VI. After being kidnapped, imprisoned, and held captive, he eventually made his way from Dublin to Switzerland. When Mary Tudor was succeeded by Elizabeth I he still refused to return to Kilkenny.

When Mary Tudor became Queen in 1553, she did not abolish the Royal Supremacy, but she deprived many of the clergy who had taken the opportunity provided by the Reformation to marry, including Archbishop George Browne of Dublin, although he became a parish priest and a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Mary was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I at the end of 1558. By 1560, the Act of Religious Uniformity passed, and the Act of Supremacy re-enacted. Only two bishops in Ireland – William Walsh of Meath and Thomas Leverous of Kildare (also Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral) – refused to conform and to take the Oath of Supremacy, and both were deprived of their sees.

In 1566, all the Irish clergy were ordered to subscribe to a set of 12 Articles, and few refused.

The cracks only begin to show later. Peter White, who was Dean of Waterford from 1565, was only deprived in 1570 for his loyalty to Rome … and that is more than a full generation after the beginning of the Anglican Reformation in Ireland.

Many of the bishops for decades were and still are accepted as being part of the line of succession of bishops in both churches.

As examples, Patrick Walsh is accepted as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1551-1578) in both traditions. His contemporary Alexander Devereux, was Bishop of Ferns (1539-1566) through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign, in both traditions.

A well-known example is the case of the infamous Miler Magrath (ca 1523-1622), one of the most corrupt pluralists in Irish Church history.

Magrath was Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor (1565-1580), Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher (1570-1571), Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel (1571-1622), twice Church of Ireland Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1582-1589 and 1592-1608), and Bishop of Killala and Achonry (1613-1622).

At least three bishops who are recognised in both traditions attended the Council of Trent:

● The Bishop of Achonry, Eugene (Owen) O’Hart, who returned to Ireland as the Church of Ireland Bishop of Achonry, but was still recognised as the Roman Catholic bishop. He was buried at Achonry Cathedral when he died in 1603 in the hundredth year of his age, and was succeeded by Miler Magrath.

● The Bishop of Raphoe, Daniel Magonigle, a native of Killybegs, Co Donegal, who was also recognised as the Church of Ireland bishop of the diocese from 1563 until he died in 1589.

● The Bishop of Ross, Thomas O’Herlihy, who died in 1579 – he too is recognised in both the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland succession lists.

Rome continued to hope for the conversion of Elizabeth I and her return to Rome or that people loyal to Rome would stage a political coup and have her replaced as monarch. This hope lingered but was not fulfilled, yet it explains why separate Roman Catholic bishops are not appointed to many Irish bishoprics until the 1580s.

For example, Rome leaves John Bale’s former diocese in Ossory vacant until 1582. And even then, Thomas Strong, who was consecrated in 1582, only lived in Kilkenny for a year from 1583 to 1584, and then went back to the Continent, spending the rest of his days as Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago de Compostela until he died in 1602.

Despite this “wait-and-see” approach in Rome, and despite the initial support for the reformation among the older English-speaking families within the former Pale, the Anglican Reformation never seems to have taken a full hold on Ireland, and island-wise filed to attract popular support.

This is a major question for historians. Why did the Anglican Reformation fail in Ireland? After all, many of the conditions in Ireland at the time were similar to those in England. Why did popular piety continue to be expressed in Catholic devotions?

The former priory cloisters at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prior and Augustinian community of the Priory of the Holy Trinity in Dublin became the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. But why did the monastic and mendicant communities continue to survive in the towns despite the legislation for the dissolution of the monasteries?

Liber Precum Publicarum, a Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer

At first, there were few apparent differences in the liturgy in churches in the cities and towns. Priests continued to dress the same way, and even when they accepted the Reformation, they often continued to use Latin as a liturgical language, which was allowed by law – to this day it is still legal to use Latin versions of The Book of Common Prayer, Liber Precum Publicarum, in the chapels of Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor and Eton, where it was presumed both dons and students knew Latin.

Trinity College Dublin … founded in 1592, two generations after the Anglican Reformation began (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Trinity College Dublin was not founded until 1592, two generations after the beginning of the Anglican Reformation. Families that had once sent their best and brightest sons to Oxford and Cambridge to study theology and to train for the priesthood, had no place to send them in Ireland, and were now sending them to Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and the Low Countries.

No Irish-born clergy who might provide the next generation of clerical leadership were being educated in Ireland, and so English-born and English-educated bishops were imposed on dioceses. This was not just a demonstration of insensitivity, but it created a major cultural barrier for both English-speaking and Irish-speaking communities on the island.

Although the 1549 The Book of Common Prayer was the first book printed in English in Ireland, the first Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer was not produced until the 1580s, and the first Bible was not available in Irish not until 1603.

Was all this too little and too late?

And yet, the Church of Ireland was a learned church with great scholars among the bishops and archbishops.

James Ussher (1581-1656), Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, Bishop of Meath (1621-1625) and Archbishop of Armagh (1625-1656), was a Dublin-born scholar of European reputation, known for his learning in Biblical and Patristic studies. It was he who dated creation to 4004 BC; but he also rescued the Book of Kells and presented it to Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) with Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

William Bedell (1571-1642), the saintly and martyred Bishop of Kilmore (1629-1642), introduced teaching of Irish into Trinity College Dublin when he was provost (1627-1629), would only appoint Irish-speakers to parishes, held Irish services, translated prayers and also translated the Old Testament.

But by then, there was a resurgence in popular Catholicism, while Presbyterianism making major inroads in Ulster from neighbouring Scotland.

The 1641 Rebellion was traumatic for the Church of Ireland, and the subsequent victims included Bedell. In Kilkenny, for example, churches that had been held by the Church of Ireland became Roman Catholic churches, and David Rothe moved into Saint Canice’s Cathedral as Bishop of Ossory. Throughout the dioceses of Ireland, communion silver was stolen or re-appropriated, depending on your perspective, and in many cases cathedral records burned.

Oliver Cromwell’s portrait in the Hall in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

With Cromwell’s arrival, Roman Catholics and Anglicans suffered alike. The Church of Ireland forced underground, The Book of Common Prayer was banned, and the clergy and bishops, with few exceptions, were dismissed.

The lie or myth perpetuated in many places that the Church of Ireland is the Church of the Cromwellians is simply not true.

With the restoration of Charles II and the monarchy in 1660, the Church of Ireland was restored too, with its bishops and with a revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1662.

Following the experience at the hands of the Cromwellians, many on the Church of Ireland felt the real threat to its security and future came not from their Roman Catholic neighbours but from the Presbyterians, whose loyalty remained suspect, and ministers who were thought to have Presbyterian sympathies were expelled from the Church of Ireland, as from the Church of England, en masse in 1662 in what is known as the “Great Ejection.”

Jeremy Taylor … the leading Caroline Divine in the Church of Ireland

The Caroline Divines, the great Anglican theologians who provided the new leadership from the 1660s, restored much of the Catholic order, liturgy and practice in the Church of Ireland and the Church of England that had been in danger of being lost after the Reformation.

They included, most notably, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), who was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor and Vice-Provost of Trinity College Dublin 1660, and, in addition, Bishop of Dromore, in 1661. His Eucharistic theology in many ways prefigures the ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) agreements of the late 20th century, having strongly markedly the Anglican co-chair, Archbishop Henry McAdoo of Dublin.

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

But a new crisis for Anglicanism emerged in 1685 with the accession of James II to the throne. Francis Marsh (1626-1693), Archbishop of Dublin from 1681, was attainted by Parliament, and fled to England, where he was joined in exile by many other bishops of the Church of Ireland.

During the short reign of James II, the Church of Ireland was effectively disendowed. The Roman Catholic Church, which had operated clandestinely since the time of Cromwell, was in the open again. Church of Ireland churches were taken over – by 1690 20 churches in the Archdiocese of Dublin alone – and fresh appointments made to deaneries and other positions. Alexius Stafford from Wexford was appointed dean of Christ Church in place of William Moreton in 1686. The cathedral accounts show that the Church of Ireland dean and chapter were still there until 1689, but a Catholic altar was set up and Mass was celebrated in the cathedral.

The Battle of the Boyne … fought on 1 July 1690

The defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 brought many of the Church of Ireland bishops and clergy back from exile, and secured the establishment of the Church of Ireland.

And just as the Battle of the Boyne was not fought on 12 July, the battle-lines at the Boyne were not drawn along a clear Catholic, Protestant divide. We know that the Pope prayed for William III, for James was an ally of the King of France, who posed a greater threat to the independence of the Papacy. On the other hand, a considerable minority of Anglican clergy refused the new oaths, were deprived, and became the Nonjurors. They include: William Sheridan (1637-1711), Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh; Thomas Otway (1616-1693), Archdeacon of Armagh; the Archdeacon of Connor, John Baynard (ca 1645-post 1689); the Chancellor of Connor, Chares Leslie (1650-1722); the Treasurer of Connor, William Jones (ca 1654-post 1692), William Jones; the Archdeacon of Dublin, John Fitzgerald (1643-post 1701); the Dean of Lismore, Barzillai Jones (ca 1654-post 1708); and a leading Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, Henry Dodwell (1641-1711).

After the Battle of the Boyne and the Treaty of Limerick, there was still a lingering suspicion in some political quarters that many of the bishops and senior clergy of the Church of Ireland retained some lingering Jacobite sympathies.

As the 18th century unfolded, the Georgian era saw an even closer identity of Church and State. But corruption was rife among clergy and bishops and the bench of bishops as often packed with English-born favourites. The bishops often provided a working majority in the House of Lords in Dublin, and at a local level some rectors were also magistrates.

So it became a popular perception in some places that the Penal Laws were enacted by the bishops and enforced by the local clergy, while there was a growing resentment in the rural areas that the tithes collected from farm produce was being used to maintain the clergy of the Church of Ireland.

Of course, we should also remember that the Penal Laws were as much resented by Presbyterians as they were by Roman Catholics.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin ... Jonathan Swift was Dean from 1713 to 1745 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But we should not pain a monochrome picture of the Church of Ireland at this time, and it was only a minority of church leaders who were careerists and non-resident pluralists. For the Church of Ireland at this time was also the Church of great thinkers such as the writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who was Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin (1713-1745), and the philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), who was Bishop of Cloyne (1734-1753).

The Penal Laws began to be relaxed around the time of the American War of Independence (1776), with an extension of the rights to enter professions and education. The paradox of Church of Ireland identity and the place of members of the Church in Irish political society is perhaps exemplified in the person of Henry Grattan, who led the demand in Grattan’s Parliament for Irish autonomy and independence.

As the 18th century drew to a close, both the Orange Order and Maynooth were established in 1795, and it should be remembered that Maynooth was founded by royal charter as the Royal College of Saint Patrick at Maynooth.

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)

In 1798, many of the key rebel leaders of the United Irishmen were members of the Church of Ireland, including Lord Edward FitzGerald, Theobald Wolfe Tone, Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Henry Monroe, Betsy Grey, and, in Co Wexford, the Grogans, the Bagenalls, the Boxwells and John Kelly ‘the Boy from Killane.’

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)

The Act of Union in 1800 united the Parliaments of Westminster and Dublin, bur also united the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. It was welcomed by many who had previously been sympathetic to Grattan. For example, Thomas Lewis O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, saw the Act of Union as breaking the influence of landed aristocratic families, including the Beresfords and the Ponsonbys, and as a way of reforming the Church of Ireland.

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 Beresfords and Ponsonbys must have appeared to have used the Church as a good alternative career path for many of their younger sons who became bishops. But they were not alone. Lord Kilmorey had no bishop to check his ecclesiastical rule in tiny Exempt district of Newry and Mourne, squeezed between the Dioceses of Dromore and Armagh. Among the landed aristocracy: the Earl of Mayo who was also Archbishop of Tuam, and secured for his son the post of Dean of Saint Canice’s, Kilkenny.

At the Act of Union, the structures of the Church of Ireland were badly in need of reform and the bishops were incapable of or unwilling to introduce that reform. At the end of the 18th century, the Church of Ireland was served by four archbishops and 18 bishops. For its bishop, the See of Derry was worth £7,000 a year, more than any of the archbishoprics, except Armagh at £8,000, while the bishops of Ossory and Dromore had a mere £2,000 each. And yet in some of the dioceses – including the Diocese of Kildare and the Diocese of Down – the bishop had no fixed, official residence.

The cathedral system was cumbersome, over-burdening the Church and providing titles for absentee clergy who performed no services for the Church of Ireland.

In some instances, there were dioceses where there was no cathedral. One of these was the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, covering most of Co Kerry. Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert, outside Tralee, was burned down in 1641, and would only be restored briefly in 1871, to be abandoned almost immediately once again. Despite its name, Aghadoe Cathedral, outside Killarney, never had been a cathedral. Yet, at the end of the 18th century, the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe had a full panoply of cathedral dignitaries, including a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer and two archdeacons, one each for Ardfert and Aghadoe.

The Diocese of Kilmacduagh was extremely small, being less than 30 km long and less than 20 km wide. Saint Colman’s Cathedral, outside Gort, Co Galway, had been in ruins since the 1650s, and the parish church in Gort served as the cathedral church for this miniature diocese, which had few parishes and which had been united to the Diocese of Clonfert since 1602. Yet the tithes of this tiny part of south Co Galway were used to pay a Dean of Kilmacduagh, a provost, a chancellor, an archdeacon and two prebendaries, who continued to be installed in their dignities on top of tombstones and nettles in the roofless cathedral building until at least 1874.

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

But we should not forget that this was also a time of intellectual and spiritual growth too, producing missionaries such as George Berekely, the philosopher bishop who had also been a missionary, and Charles Inglis from Co Doneal, who was the first Anglican bishop consecrated for North America.

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)

It was a time that was witnessing the growth of many charities and charitable institutions, including the Rotunda Hospital and Saint Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin. It was a time that saw the Wesley brothers John and Charles visiting Ireland frequently and preaching regularly in Church of Ireland churches at the early stages in the Rise of Methodism – John Wesley first visited Ireland in 1747. It was a period that saw the foundation of schools, Sunday schools and charities.


6: Church History, From the Act of Union to today.

(Revd Canon Professor) 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 was delivered in the Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin, on 19 November 2015. Mater Dei Institute of Education (MDI) is a College of Dublin City University (DCU).