Protestantism's failure in Ireland

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
So why did the Reformation fundamentally fail in Ireland on a popular level?

Certainly, a Protestant ruling elite was put in place artificially by British intervention and ruled for centuries, but for the most part, the Protestant population of the whole island of Ireland are the descendents of immigrants from Scotland and England who were already Protestant when they came over.

Certainly there was limited conversion of the locals(specifically in Ulster it seems) but for the most part the native population not only remained Catholic but also suffered persecution, lack of rights and social advancement opportunities, in their determination to do so.

So where did the Brits go wrong? There are examples of colonised peoples converting to Protestantism at the behest of their occupier(Sweden and Finland spring to mind) so why didn't the Irish do so, even when they had been defeated comprehensively militarily and where they were then made economically impotent for their loyalty to Catholicism?

Why did they not seize the chance to throw of the yoke of the Romish church, which according to some had sold Ireland out to the English in the first place?

Some may attribute it to the fact that the Catholic Church is the one true church and the Irish were doing what was morally right, but I don't think most of us would buy that argument. I don't think many would argue that there is anything that made Irish people inately unable to convert to Protestantism in the past.

So what are people's views?
 


St Disibod

Active member
Joined
Dec 3, 2005
Messages
113
From 'What is Europe without Christianity?' thread:

MichaelR said:
In my opinion (external, I admit) it was politics that ruined the much-needed possibility of Reformation in Ireland - a Reformation on the English bayonet was seen as worse than none at all.
I'm not at all sure what you're driving at here. Certainly, if it is going to become a debate in its own right, we should start a thread in the history section. But while I agree the Reformation in Ireland was hindered by politics, it was the politics of the English administration rather than the indigenous population.

Two dual policies, that of Reformation and Anglicanisation (that being the spread of English language and custom rather than proselytisation), were at loggerheads with one another. A major part of the Reformation process was preaching and printing in the vernacular- not for nothing are the earliest Irish prints Reformation literature- but such a policy would have driven against the strengthening of English speaking Ireland over Irish speaking Ireland, and that was the Crown's priority. The Reformation took a back seat to this policy, the authorities assuming that once the population spoke English Reformation could be driven at full throttle. But the delay resulted in counter-revolutionary forces arriving in Ireland before the Reformation ever got off the ground, thus scuppering the Reformation movement in Ireland permanently.
 

Marx

Member
Joined
Mar 5, 2004
Messages
73
Website
www.labour.ie
Language is one of the main factors. The Reformation was a success in Germany etc because the preacher spoke in the native languge of the people. This was not the case in Ireland where the Church of Ireland in particular remained strictly English. Part of the problem was the cost of printing in Irish which had lettering quiet different from the Roman alphabeth at the time. There was some attempts and it is interesting to note than the first Irish language book was a Protestant Prayer book. Wales however was a complete contrast with a mass of reformation literature available in the Welsh language.

Culture also had a lot to do with it. Protestantism was also a movement od anglicising Ireland and viewed Irish customs with suspicion. In a reformed Ireland there would be no place for the traditions such as wakes and laments. "Smells and Bells" the very public display of religion and ceremony by the Catholic Church appealed more to the people than the plain simple approach of Protestantism plus there was no serious effort to create a truly native church, in personnel, language or culture
 

jady88

Active member
Joined
Mar 25, 2006
Messages
130
Also it is important to remember that the reformation arrived rather late to Ireland. As such the contra movement was gathering pace anyway and the fact is that the association of protestantism and English made it become a nationalist issue, at least in the very early days.
 

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
jady88 said:
the association of protestantism and English made it become a nationalist issue, at least in the very early days.
That could be argued for the Gaelic Irish certainly, but not necessarily for the Old English settlers who also remained Catholic but very much loyal to England.
 

Jozer

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2006
Messages
57
The Anglican Church was elitist in Ireland. They only ever amounted to 1/6th of the population, and liked it that way. It was a badge of the ruling class.

I don't think the British Ruling Class were ever interested in mass converting Ireland to Protestantism.
 

THR

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 15, 2006
Messages
1,010
Gombeen said:
So where did the Brits go wrong? There are examples of colonised peoples converting to Protestantism at the behest of their occupier(Sweden and Finland spring to mind) so why didn't the Irish do so, even when they had been defeated comprehensively militarily and where they were then made economically impotent for their loyalty to Catholicism?

?
In fact, In Finland Sweden was the occupier which imposed protestantism on Finland. Actually, Swedes still maintain that Christianity itself came to Finland from Sweden in the 12th century. All the evidence shows that christianity came to Finland from the east much earlier. So much for the Swedish civilization!
 

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
THR said:
Gombeen said:
So where did the Brits go wrong? There are examples of colonised peoples converting to Protestantism at the behest of their occupier(Sweden and Finland spring to mind) so why didn't the Irish do so, even when they had been defeated comprehensively militarily and where they were then made economically impotent for their loyalty to Catholicism?

?
In fact, In Finland Sweden was the occupier which imposed protestantism on Finland.
That's exactly what I was referring to. Why, did you get the impression that I was suggesting that Finland occupied Sweden? No, my admittedly imcomplete understanding of Scandinavian history isn't quite that bad.
So why do you as a Finn, think that a Counter-Reformation against imposed Protestantism did not happen in Finland, as in Ireland. Was the Catholic Church always associated with Swedish rule as much as Protestantism there?
 

scotusone

Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2006
Messages
88
the tendency in the past has been to rely on the national identity issue to explain the failure of the reformation to take hold in ireland but recently it has been shown that this is ignores the chronology .by the time the identification of religon with one or other nationality th reformation had already failed .

ireland had different social relationships to england where the great gaelic families were intimately connected with the monastic churches which represented the power of the irish church rather than the secular clergy. unlike england where the dissolution led to the enrichment of many noble familes and therefore co opted them to the henrician church the great families here had little desire to see the monasteries destroyed .also
the other literate intellectual class, the bards and brehon judges were hostile to what they saw as ill founded foreign innovations in faith .

remember that the reformation in england failed to take hold with ordinary people until a generation after it had suceeded with the elite ( see the stripping of the altars) so in ireland where the elite remained unconvinced the ordinary people were not likely to embrace this strange novelty. ireland was an extremely conserative culture where the same basic forms of law church and social organisation had remained substantially unchange d for centuries
 

THR

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 15, 2006
Messages
1,010
Calm down. I got the impression from from your text that you thought that Finland AND Sweden were occupied and the occupier was someone else. Now I realise how I have misinterpreted your text, sorry!

As for the counter-reformation, I can only say that Finland being a geographically a fairly large country, there was no control by the authorities which religion the people in various parts of the country practiced but as the king of Sweden said that lutheranism was the religion of the land there was no arguing in those days.

There were a lot of border-differences between the Swedes and the Russians and The Swedes conquered large chunks of land from Russia in the peace-treaty of Stolbova in 1617. This left a lot of Finns, practicing Russian orthodox-religion, under the Swedish rule. These people were persecuted by the Swedish establishment and at the earliest opportunity they fled back to Russia.
 

Trefor

Active member
Joined
Sep 6, 2004
Messages
273
Website
oclmenai.blogspot.com
Wales was easy to convert partly because we were loyal to the Tudor dynasty. We saw them as our own. I guess that wouldn't have been the case in Ireland.

As Marx said, the State ensured that there was literature available in the Welsh language, including the Bible which was published in 1588.

I'm sure that this was largely because the State thought it important to ensure that Wales remained loyal to the Protestant crown. Perhaps they didn't attatch so much importance to Ireland, or saw it as being inherently disloyal anyway, & so didn't bother translating literature & the like.
 

scotusone

Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2006
Messages
88
materials in irish were available in elizabeths reign , remember that trinity had a school of irish from its foundation .

anyway the language question fails to explain the persistance of popery in english speaking areas like wexford and kilkenny and the failure of the new ideas with the clergy , monks and bilingual landed elites
 

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
THR said:
Calm down. I got the impression from from your text that you thought that Finland AND Sweden were occupied and the occupier was someone else. Now I realise how I have misinterpreted your text, sorry!
No worries. I wasn't angry. I just wanted to make sure we were clear on what I was saying though(I can see how you might have misinterpreted my first post). I've been interested in the similarities between the England/Ireland and Sweden/Finland stituations for a while actually. I visited Finland once earlier this year and was interested to find that the Finns attitude to Swedes was very like that of the Irish to the English.


THR said:
As for the counter-reformation, I can only say that Finland being a geographically a fairly large country, there was no control by the authorities which religion the people in various parts of the country practiced but as the king of Sweden said that lutheranism was the religion of the land there was no arguing in those days.

There were a lot of border-differences between the Swedes and the Russians and The Swedes conquered large chunks of land from Russia in the peace-treaty of Stolbova in 1617. This left a lot of Finns, practicing Russian orthodox-religion, under the Swedish rule. These people were persecuted by the Swedish establishment and at the earliest opportunity they fled back to Russia.
That's interesting. But were there not Finish Catholic clergy who rebelled against the state Protestantism? Certainly in Ireland it would have been the case that the persecution of such people actually won the CC a lot of sympathy from the Irish people.
 

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
Trefor said:
Wales was easy to convert partly because we were loyal to the Tudor dynasty. We saw them as our own. I guess that wouldn't have been the case in Ireland.

As Marx said, the State ensured that there was literature available in the Welsh language, including the Bible which was published in 1588.
The Tudor element in Wales is interesting and it's one I hadn't considered before, I must admit.


scotusone said:
materials in irish were available in elizabeths reign , remember that trinity had a school of irish from its foundation .
Certainly there was material scotusone, but if you examine the amount, it was paltry. Even when you consider the fact that the crown introduced the Irish language to printing. Actually Trinity did not set up a seat of Irish early on(to the chagrin of some Protestants). There were certainly teachers and classes, but no formal faculty.

Trefor states that the Bible was translated into Welsh in 1588 (I bow to his superior knowledge on that). Now I think we'd all agree that the Bible was the most fundamental publication to any Reformation. Yet it was not completed in Irish until the 1680s!(The New Testament was published first in the early 1600's but the Old Testament did not follow until about eighty years later) The battle for religious identity was practically over by then, and the Franciscan printing press in Louvain has been firing our large amounts of Post-Tridentine Catholic reading material in Irish, for export to Ireland since the early 1600's.

Although the language question was not the only issue(as is clear from the Catholicism of the English speaking towns that you mentioned), it certain was a very big one. You only need to read the letters of the Royal Viceroys of the time to see how much the lack of Irish language Protestant literature and Irish speaking ministers was damaging the Reformation effort. Indeed a lot of the ministers they were using were from (Gaelic-)Scotland not Ireland, and there were contemporary reports of large amounts of the Irish population not understanding them when they preached!
 

cropbeye

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 3, 2006
Messages
921
2 Merry Tudors

I've always thought that what sabotaged the ground for Protestanism for centuries was the two merry Tudor Catholic monarchs Henry VIII and
Mary I.

By destroying the Geraldine Fitzgerald powerbase and then the most important strong families in Leix and Offaly they squashed the best instrument for spreading any new policy.

I've alwyas seen the theorey of Silken Thomas' rebellion as religious as a myth. If tudors and those who came later maintained and bought off these families the population would eventually have followed suit.

The Tudors priority was centralising state power making the irish Colony pay for itself and and so success in this area unermined the other mission.
 

Marx

Member
Joined
Mar 5, 2004
Messages
73
Website
www.labour.ie
scotusone said:
materials in irish were available in elizabeths reign , remember that trinity had a school of irish from its foundation .
James I criticised Trinity for not producing Irish literature

source Ford A. (1986) ‘The Protestant Reformation in Ireland’ Ciaran Brady and Raymond Gillespie (eds.) Natives and Newcomers The Making of Irish Colonial Society (Dublin) p.62

The Irish were not going to accept a religion which abandoned old traditions. Protestantism was an attempt to supplant indigenous folk beliefs. Protestantism frowned on Irish wakes and funeral practices as well as pattern days and other observances.

The failure of the Protestant Reformation can be largely, but not completely, laid at the door of the Church of Ireland. The pre-Reformation church in Ireland was vital and popular and, in truth, so long as the counter-Reformation Catholic church could maintain some continuity of pastoral care, whether by wandering friars or parish priests, it could hold its ground.

There concludes my 1000th post
 

THR

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 15, 2006
Messages
1,010
Gombeen

Nice to know that you have visited my country. I hope you enjoyed your stay. Yes, you are right, Finns really have a deep-rooted dislike of anything Swedish and not without a reason. When Sweden was a powerful empire in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, they dried Finland almost completely out of young ablebodied men in their wars to extend the empire. It was said at the time that Sweden fights to the last Finn.

I must say that I have never heard of any rebellion in order to keep the Catholic faith in Finland. Pagan religions flourished until the 17th century in many parts of the country and many people were executed, ie burned, for practicing those beliefs.
 

Gombeen

Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2005
Messages
76
Re: Gombeen

THR said:
Nice to know that you have visited my country. I hope you enjoyed your stay.
I enjoyed Finland a lot. Of course, being a Green I have a particular affinity with your country, since the Green Party has already been in government there! :D

THR said:
I must say that I have never heard of any rebellion in order to keep the Catholic faith in Finland. Pagan religions flourished until the 17th century in many parts of the country and many people were executed, ie burned, for practicing those beliefs.
That's interesting. So Catholicism and Christianity in general probably wasn't that well established in Finland in the first place then, I suppose. Maybe you have to consider the fact that Christianity/Catholicism had about 500 more years to establish itself in Ireland before the Reformation came, than it did in Finland.
 

Catalpa

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 10, 2004
Messages
10,257
Folks:

The Irish had been a Christian People for over a thousand years before Henry VIII launched his 'Reformation'. His destruction of the Monasteries and the divorce and executions of his wives hardly singled him out as any kind of genuine religious Reformer!

The fact that Englishmen were giving the Irish and Old English a lecture on their religion that they had practised for centuries didn’t go down too well.

I’m not saying that there weren’t many genuine Protestants either – of course there were – but there were also many genuine Catholics. People really did believe in Religion in those days in way it is almost impossible for us to come to grips with now.

As for this talk about the Bible not being available in Irish that is completely beside the point. The Catholic Church used the Latin language to communicate and the Bible was available to the Holy men and women of the Church to spread the Gospel.

Irish religious writing dates back to the 6th Century – we didn’t need the English to tell us anything about Christianity.

In addition Latin was the Lingua Franca of the European Christian World until the well into the 16th Century when it is true the advent of mass printing, national identities and religious tracts in the vernacular undermined its all pervading influence.

The Irish and the Old English were content with the Catholic religion, they did not feel oppressed by the Pope or the Monasteries. They were mostly a rural people, distant from the main seats of power and their clergy were drawn from themselves.

Also as has been pointed out the English never systematically pushed the Reformation. Their policies fluctuated between persecution and reluctant toleration. In the eyes of the Catholics of Ireland the Protestant Religion became associated with foreign domination – never a good association when trying to spread new ideas!
 

scotusone

Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2006
Messages
88
Marx said:
scotusone said:
materials in irish were available in elizabeths reign , remember that trinity had a school of irish from its foundation .
James I criticised Trinity for not producing Irish literature

source Ford A. (1986) ‘The Protestant Reformation in Ireland’ Ciaran Brady and Raymond Gillespie (eds.) Natives and Newcomers The Making of Irish Colonial Society (Dublin) p.62

The Irish were not going to accept a religion which abandoned old traditions. Protestantism was an attempt to supplant indigenous folk beliefs. Protestantism frowned on Irish wakes and funeral practices as well as pattern days and other observances.

The failure of the Protestant Reformation can be largely, but not completely, laid at the door of the Church of Ireland. The pre-Reformation church in Ireland was vital and popular and, in truth, so long as the counter-Reformation Catholic church could maintain some continuity of pastoral care, whether by wandering friars or parish priests, it could hold its ground.

There concludes my 1000th post
i agree the church was vital and popular , my point is that the same can be said of the church in england . the difference between the two is that in england most (not all ) of the elites both religous and temporal were co opted by the henrician dissolution .the sense of solidarity with anglicanism as the national church is finally consolidated by attack from without in the form of the Armada and the ill advised decision to excommunicate elizabeth and disolve her subjects from any duty of obedience to the now illegitemated queen , which effectively made catholics de facto the enemy within .

popular attachment to the old religion continues up to elizabeths accession and it is only with her decisive shift to a more protestant formulation that sees the definitive decline of catholicism as the faith of the people .

in ireland the elites however were not won over . i am a loathe to accept that irish religion was any more folkish that that practiced elsewhere in europe . practices that are often given as examples of folk belief are often merely remnants of pre trent pratices that persisted in ireland longer because ireland was cut off iniatially from the counter reformation becuase of the decrees of exclusion of clergy and the suppression of the schools .

it would be a mistake to believe that reformation failed only where either powerful parties through self interest opposed it or an ill informed superstitious people would not abandon their folk beliefs .it is also possible that it failed in some places as an idea .
 


New Threads

Top