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"The Reformation" in Ireland

Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1852

Art. II. — 1. The Life of the Rt. Rev. Francis Kirwan, Bishop of Killala. Translated from the Latin of Gratianus Lucius, by the Rev. C. P. Mkehan. Dublin: Duffy.    1847.
2.   Life of Most Rev. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh. By the lie v. George Choly, of Maynooth College.    Dublin : Dully.    1850.
3.   The Annals of the Four Masters. Translated from the Original Irish, by John O'Donovan, LL. D. Dublin : Hodges cV Smith.    1846-50.    3 vols.    4to.

In the year of grace 1535, Henry the Eighth of England issued a proclamation, in which he ordered that " the name of the Bishop of Home should be struck from every liturgical book " ; in which he placed the clergy under the inspection of the sheriffs of counties, and declared it treason to deny that " the jurisdiction, title, and qualification of Supreme Head of the Church belonged to the King alone." This paper marks the date of the formal schism of England. Six years afterwards, in "a great court," or Parliament, at Dublin, certain Milesian-Irish chiefs and Anglo-Irish barons elected this Henry King of Ireland. The crown was presented to him at Greenwich Palace, and accepted ; the harp was quartered in the royal shield ; a new seal was struck, and the English ambassadors were instructed to have the additional title recognized and respected abroad.
By the election of such a king, that principle of confusion was introduced into Irish politics which has pervaded all subsequent Irish history. The Parliament of 1541 had not the excuse of ignorance for their choice of an odious schismatic as the head of their new dynasty: The divorce of Queen Catharine, the proclamation of 1535, the martyrdom of Fisher, More, and the Carthusians, must needs be towntalk at Dublin. True, Catholic princes and even the Holy Father entertained some hopes of Henry's repentance ; true, his six articles of faith were all forms of Catholic doctrines ; true, previous to 1541 his representatives at Dublin were all Catholics ; true, the disorganized Celtic constitution needed the insertion of authority and unity, and could only get them from without: yet, with all due allowance for the electors, we must still condemn them. They sacrificed duty to expediency, the eternal interests of religion to local, and, in some cases, merely personal purposes. To make their responsibility the greater, the election was the work of one order alone, the lay nobility. The clergy and the commons had nothing to do with it. The clergy looked on in silent apprehension of the visitations to come ; the people, ill-informed as to events in England, seem to have manifested a good deal of indifference to the Dublin ceremonial. With what horror those who understood the political consequences of the election must have regarded it, may be inferred from the entry in the Annals of Donegal Convent (called usually " The Annals of the Four Masters") of the first appearance of the English schism.

We insert the passage from the Book of Obits and Martyrology, published by the Irish Archaeological Society in 1844.

" A, D. 1537. A heresy and a new error broke out in England, the effects of pride, vainglory, avarice, sensual desire, and the prevalence of a variety of scientific and philosophical speculations, so that the people of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. At the same time they followed a variety of opinions, and the old Law of Moses, after the manner of the Jewish people, and they gave the title of Head of the Church of God to the King. There were enacted by the King and Council new laws and statutes after their own will. They ruined the Orders who were permitted to hold worldly possessions, viz. monks, canons, nuns, and brethren of the Cross ; and the four mendicant orders, viz. the Minors, the Preachers, Carmelites, and Augustinians. The possessions and living of all these were taken up for the king. They broke the monasteries. They sold their roofs and bells, so that there was not a monastery from Arann of the Saints to the Iccian Sea that was not broken and shattered, except only a few in Ireland, which escaped the notice and attention of the English. They further burned and broke the famous images, shrines, and relics of Ireland and England. After that they burned in like manner the celebrated image of Mary, which was at Ath-Truim.....
and the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, performing miracles from the time of Patrick down to that time, and which was in the hand of Christ while he was among men. They also made archbishops and sub-bishops for themselves ; and although great was the persecution of the Roman Emperors against the Church, it is not probable that ever so great a persecution as this ever came from Rome hither.    So that it is impossible to tell or narrate its description, unless it should be told by him who saw it."__pp. xvii., xviii.

Though in the outset many supposed the divorce question to be a merely diplomatic dispute with Rome, others, more wise, foresaw in it the fruitful seeds of heresy. Shane O'Neil, Prince of Ulster, took alarm at the proclamation of 1535. Marching to Dublin with his forces, he asked and received solemn assurances of the ulterior Catholic intentions of King Henry, and was accompanied on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Trim by the Lord Deputy Grey, who, " kneeling before her, heard three or four masses very devoutly." The Deputy's devotion and assurances deceived for a time the excited Catholics. But every arrival from Chester or Bristol brought over fresh reports of the progress of the revolts against Rome, and soon a faction favorable to the new doctrines was formed at Dublin under the leadership of Archbishop George Browne, Cran-mer's friend and correspondent. This unhappy prelate was full of zeal for the new doctrines, but, previous to Henry's election, was constrained to dissemble. In 1538, he writes to Cranmer that a rumor having spread of his intention to destroy the " ymages and ydoles," he had contradicted it, though his heart well enough inclined him so to purge the land; the same year he was reproved by Henry for burning a relic of Ht. Patrick, the famous Baculus Jesus. Alter the act of election, by virtue of a commission which he said was dated two years earlier, he began to rifle the churches of his own diocese, whence he remitted to the royal treasury " gold, silver, and precious stones valued at £ 326 2s. ID/., other 'studs of superstition ' worth £ 1710 2s. ()<:/., and one thousand pounds of wax tapers, valued at £ 20." During the short remainder of King Henry's reign, very few conversions were made in Ireland. Agard, a Dublin oflicial, writes to Secretary Cromwell, that, "except the Archbishoppe of Dublin, only Lord Butler, the Master of ye Rolls, Mr. Theasurer, and 2 or 3 mo of small repy-taciones, none may abide the herrynge of it (the king's supremacy) either spirituals as they call them, or temporals." In vain the spoils of live hundred religious houses and twice as many churches were olfered as prizes of conversion ; in vain the pride and passions of the townsmen were appealed to.   The spoils of the Church were left to foreign adventurers, "the younger sons of good families out of England," the Chichesters, Croftons, and Kings, founders of the most cruel landlord class that ever a nation suffered under. Among the receivers there are not half a dozen native names. Archbishop Browne and the apostate Bishops of Meath, Kildare, and Limerick were English by birth, and nominees of Henry; the Butler family, and Mielcr Ma-grath, apostate Archbishop of Cashel, are the only notable exceptions to the general rule of Irish fidelity.
The expedition of Henry to France after his election, and the bodily sufferings of his last days, as well as the doubt, in which he kept his ministers till the last, of his ultimate views, preserved Ireland during his time from every formidable attack of the Reformation. The first systematic attempt was made in the reign of Edward the Sixth, under the directing genius of Cranmer. Browne was declared Primate, and a new hierarchy was ordered in Council. One Goodacre was by Cranmer ordained Archbishop of Armagh, a Dr. Lancaster was ordained Bishop of Kildare, and a Dr. Bale, Bishop of Ossory. Sir Edward Bellingham, "with 600 horse and 400 foot," was sent to support these nominations, and to assist in stripping the shrines hitherto unplundered. The Catholic populace now began very clearly to comprehend the nature of the new religion. In Cashel they rose and drove the apostate Archbishop out of his see, suffering him to escape to England, where he lived and died a pensioner of the crown ; in Kilkenny, Dr. Bale " preached very peaceably," (as they did not understand him,) " until he ordered some of his people to pull down pictures and statues and burn mass-books and vestments," when, as he reports it, the citizens " rose up, slew five of my servants, and barely suffered me to escape with life." Dr. Goodacre, admonished by these; tidings, never ventured to Armagh, while the other heretical prelates assumed their functions only in garrison, or rode on occasional pastoral visitations accompanied by troops of horse. Edward's short and Queen Mary's still shorter reign left " the Reformation " as powerless, in Ireland, when Elizabeth ascended the throne, as when Agard wrote to Cromwell, twenty years before, that they could not abide the hearing of it. The Catholics were rather forewarned than intimidated. The acts of Henry, the attempt of Cranmer, and the sudden death of Mary, were to them so many warnings to recruit their strength and perfect their defences. From the first year of Elizabeth's reign, it was evident that the Protestant policy was to present but one alternative, confiscation or conformity. Her deputy, the Earl of Sussex, summoned a Parliament at Dublin, in 1559, which was very slimly attended. At this Parliament a majority of those present adopted the oaths of abjuration and supremacy, and made it treason to refuse them. None but peers were exempt from being so sworn, and the form of words used made the declaration retrospective as well as prospective; compelled Catholics to swear that their religion was an idolatry, that the Sovereign Pontiff had no power over their consciences, but that their sovereign lady, the Queen, was alone the possessor of "the title, jurisdiction, and style of Supreme Head of the Church." The attempts to proselytize by pains and penalties began with Queen Elizabeth, and ended with Queen Anne. The policy of Protestantism changed at the accession of the present dynasty to the throne, in 1714. Since then, perversion by education has been the favorite scheme of every successive government, from Lord Bute's to Lord John Russell's. Each system has been tried a century and a half, with most diabolical energy and perseverance, and each has signally and totally failed. A summary of the facts of each attempt, of the experiments in each policy, will be the best service we can render to this subject.

The confiscation of Church property in Ireland was soon followed by the confiscation of the property of the Catholic laity, who refused the oaths of abjuration and supremacy. The Earl of Desmond in the South, and the O'Neil family in the North, were prominent chiefs of the Catholic nobility. Having both refused to take the oaths, their immense estates and those of all their kinsmen and allies were confiscated; Desmond's by Elizabeth, in 1575, and O'Neil's by James the First, in 1610. By the first confiscation the entire province of Munster was partitioned among Protestant adventurers from England, and a few native apostates; by the second, the whole province of Ulster was vested in the London Companies and the Scotch Presbyterians. Leinster, being chiefly in the hands of the Butlers, the Fitzgeralds of Kildare, and other apostates, did not undergo the horrors of a wholesale confiscation ; but Connaught, under Strafford's viceroyalty, in 1638, shared the fate of its neighbors, and a dozen years after was reconfiscatcd by Cromwell. In one short century the entire soil of the island changed masters. Every title which could insure possession, every evidence of legal proprietorship, the very principle of property itself, was systematically violated, on a scale limited only by the limits of the kingdom. The grandsons of an old, unquestioned proprietary were homeless wanderers, obliged to sell their souls to England, or their swords to the Continental kings. A new aristocracy was lodged in the castles of the banished Catholics; an aristocracy without one common feeling with the people ; an aristocracy whose; merit was their heresy, and whose tenure was to remain anti-Irish. In the mouldering ruins of convents, and the ashes of villages consumed in war, their genealogies took root, and growing from such a soil, what could they produce but that they have produced, — warfare, disloyalty, famine, and death? Whoever wants to understand the causes of the present misery of Ireland will find them in the four confiscations of the island which Reformed Parliaments and sovereigns decreed, each of which was carried out by a war as cruel and devastating as the principle upon which it was undertaken. The Desmonds were in arms against Elizabeth from 1575 until the last heirs of the name were lost in the shipwrecked Armada; the O'Neils and their allies were in arms against the confiscation of their province from 1585 until 1602; the Catholics throughout the country rose almost unanimously against the Puritan Lords Justices, Borlase and Parsons, in 1641, and remained in arms till the surrender of Gal way in 1652. After the restoration of the Stuarts, the acts of settlement and explanation confirmed all the previous confiscations, including even the grants of Cromwell to regicides. Yet in 1685, the Catholics enlisted for King James and their Church, and remained in arms until the surrender of Limerick, six years later, when thirty-nine thousand of them were permitted by treaty to transport themselves to France. Four religious wars within one century attest the virulent energy with which the policy of force was followed up, while estates remained to be plundered, or a Catholic nobility to be exterminated. After Elizabeth's confiscation, Edmund Spenser found Munster " a heap of carcasses and ashes"; after the " crowning mercies " of the Puritan invasion, not " a soul escaped " of the garrisons of Drogheda and Wexford ; after the Williamite war, Parson Story, who traversed the five counties watered by the Shannon, pronounced that district " a fine country, if it had inhabitants." To sum up the cost in human life of these wars, it is only necessary to know that the Irish population at Queen Elizabeth's accession was estimated at 2,300,000, and at Queen Anne's, 1,700,000.

The violation of all law which marked these confiscations, both of personal and ecclesiastical property, further involved the violation of three express conventions, securing liberty of worship to Catholics. Henry the Seventh, on taking possession of his lordship in Ireland, had expressly and solemnly undertaken, among other engagements, «that the Church of Ireland shall be free and enjoy all its accustomed privileges." This stipulation was confirmed by Henry the Eighth, at his election as king, and was flagrantly violated by the same Henry, by Edward, Elizabeth, and the succeeding sovereigns. Charles the Second, in his declaration at Breda, had expressly guarantied the freedom of the Irish Church, which at and alter his restoration he as expressly invaded. Having requested a synod of the Irish clergy, in 1666, he submitted to them the Gallican propositions, adopted by the University of Paris three years before; the Irish prelates, refusing to purchase toleration at such a price, were imprisoned, or found safety in exile. Of the entire number, but three bishops were allowed to remain in the kingdom, two of whom were bedridden from old age. Again, in 1691, by the first six articles of the treaty of Limerick, liberty of worship was guarantied in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, and sanctioned by the sign manual of the king; yet the treaty was not three years old when' an act of explanation was passed, exempting from its provisions all who refused to take an oath more offensive than the oaths of Elizabeth,— that is, all who were included in it at first.

Of the illustrious martyrs of the Irish Church, under the six persecutions, it would be almost impossible to abridge the record. Among them, most illustrious for station and heroism, were O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, burned to death in Dublin; O'Kelly, Archbishop of Tuam, murdered in his carriage at Sligo by Puritan soldiers-O'Brien, Bishop of Emly, executed by Ireton; McEgan, Bishop of Cloyne, executed by Ireton; Oliver Plunkett, Primate of all Ireland, executed at Tyburn in 1678; Peter Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, who died in prison; Shane O'Neil, assassinated by Elizabeth's order; the last Earl of Desmond, assassinated by Elizabeth's order; Lord Connor Maguire, executed at Tyburn, under Charles the First; Lord Burke of Brittas, executed under Charles the Second; Sir Phelim O'Neil, executed by order of Cromwell at Dublin; Redmond, Count Hanlon, assassinated by order of Orinond; Father Richard Molony, executed in 1694, for being found in Wales without "a registered certificate." Each Regular Order has its own martyrology in Irish history since the Reformation. The Dominicans count over sixty of their brethren who died gloriously for the faith, during Cromwell's wars, and the Franciscans, who were still more numerous, were equally afllicted and equally heroic. Of the number who died in battle and in exile, only the recording angel has the full account.

The last generation that experienced the horrors of open, undisguised persecution was that which lived under Queen Anne.     Her  penal laws  have  been  justly described  by Burke as "ferocious."    By the second Parliament of her reign it was enacted that a son becoming Protestant might make his Catholic father tenant for life, and seize the fee simple and rental of the estate to his own use; a Catholic inheriting property and  refusing to  conform, by the same statute, was set aside in favor of " the next Protestant heir."   By another act of the same year (2 Anne, cap. 3, sec. 7), if an unregistered priest was found at large, a heavy fine was levied upon the country, and paid over to the informer.    This last act gave rise to the pursuit called " priest-hunting," in which   several  fortunes were  made. By the 8th of Anne, a tariff of rewards was fixed: for an archbishop, bishop, or other superior, £ 50; for other ecclesiastics, £ 20 per head.   A Portuguese Jew, named Garcia, was one of the most infamous detectives during this reign. In 1718 he arrested seven unregistered priests, " for whose; detection he had a sum equal to two or three thousand pounds   of  our  money."     A contemporary writer  says: " He sometimes put on the mien of a priest, for he affected to be one, and, thus worming himself into the good graces of some confiding Catholic, got a clew to the whereabouts of the clergy."    The excesses of infamy to which this law carried the informers was the apparent cause of the reaction against the whole code which set in a few years later. During these persecutions the resources displayed by the Irish  Church were admirable and miraculous.     In 1666, notwithstanding the penalties which hung over their heads, there were 1100 of the regular clergy and 780 seculars on the Irish mission.    Twenty years afterwards the regulars had increased to about 2,000.    After the violation of the treaty of  Limerick, between  the  years  1692 and  1696, 495 seculars and 424 regulars were transported from the kingdom.     Even  the poor nuns were banished,  and  at Ypres, Antwerp, and Lisbon the dispersed communities of Dublin, Watcrford, and Limerick found refuge.    The majority of the  Irish sees were for many years  administered by vicars, the bishops being easily detected and expelled.    A Bishop of llaphoe contrived, in the disguise of a shepherd, to watch over his people from the uplands of Derry and Donegal; DeBurgo, the learned Bishop of Ossory, disguised as a common sailor, found his way into his diocese, and contrived to remain.    Missionary priests in mechanical attire would frequent the taverns in cities, gather a few Catholics together, retire as if to carouse, and then administer the  sacraments   in   secret and in haste. One of the churches of Dublin is popularly called " Adam and  Eve's   Chapel,"  from  a neighboring tavern  of  that name, in which the parishioners were obliged to meet their pastors in those trying times.    The Irish colleges founded on the Continent, at the instigation of the exiles, by the Catholic princes, the Popes, and the illustrious Barberini and Ludovisian families, poured a constant suppy of missionaries, catechisms, and books of devotion into Ireland. To the Irish press at Paris, Louvain, and Rome may be partly attributed that general knowledge of the principles of our holy religion which the poor Irish peasantry have never lost.

We placed the era of proselytism by education at the accession of the house of Hanover to the throne. At this point a separate narrative in the history of the Anglican schism opens ; for which, we regret to say, the materials are very difficult of access. The clever episcopal memoirs, and the learned annals, quoted at the head of the present article, are confined to events of the seventeenth and previous centuries.    The struggles of the Irish Church with
the corrupt and seducing policy of the state, in the last century, are less known, though surely not less important to be known.    A proselyting policy had been urged at an early period by the  Anglican Archbishops Usher of Armagh, and  Daniel of Tuam, and  by  Bedell, Bishop   of Dromore.    Upon their theory Usher collected " the Epistles of the Irish Saints," to prove that antiquity was for, and not against them ;* and Daniel and Bedell had their Bibles in Irish published.    So long, however, as there was a  Catholic proprietary to  be confiscated, or a  Catholic hierarchy to be destroyed, arms and force were preferred to antiquarian arguments and Celtic translations.    Hugh Boulter, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, and leader of "the Castle party" in the Irish House of Lords during part of the reign of the first two Georges, was the restorer of Usher's theory.    By the 2d and 3d George I., the Established clergy were   ordered  to  provide a free  school for young   Papists  in   every   parish;   but  these  good,  easy men  allowed  the  act to  lie  as a dead letter.    In 1733, Boulter  obtained  the endowment  by Parliament of an "Incorporated Society" to do what the parsons neglected, — " to educate the Popish and other natives."    In his correspondence with the  English Privy Council, he puts his design in a few clear words.    " One of the most lilcely methods we can think of," he writes, " is, if possible, instructing and converting the young generation ;  for, instead of converting those that are adult, we are daily losing many of our meaner people, who go ofF to Popery." The  Establishment was, at this time, sorely in need of recruits.    " A great part of the churches,"  says  Boulter, "are  neglected and going to ruin"; so that "it became necessary to give as many as six or seven parishes to one incumbent to enable him to live."    Under this energetic heretic and his successor, Dr. Stone, the " Charter Schools" certainly  could   not complain  of any scarcity  of funds. Their Parliamentary grants were equal to  £ 80,000 per year; a German baron bequeathed them £ 56,000, and an Irish Earl £ 40,000.    The Hibernia Schools, founded by George the Third, for similar purposes, were equally well endowed : up to 1826, they had received of public money £ 240,356,  about   a   million   and  a  quarter   of dollars. The " Blue  Coat" and other charity schools sprung up about the same time ; finally, " the Kildare Street Society's Schools" were founded, which gave way to the present " national system of education."

Here surely was a vantage-ground and crowning mercy for Protestantism. There were no other schools tolerated but their own, and their own had the public treasury for a revenue. If ever the Irish were to be converted, this was the time, and these were the means. But what was the result? The system not only failed, but in its failure demonstrated anew the utter hollowness and heartlessness of the Anglican schism. It escaped for a time unexposed. A Protestant Parliament voted the supplies, ordered the reports to be printed, and took no further interest in the matter. At length a great philanthropist, the humane Howard, visited Ireland on his " circumnavigation of charity." The committees of Parliament received him with respect, and many improvements in prisons and hospitals were made at his suggestion. He brought the subject of the Charter Schools to the attention of Parliament. In 1787, they ordered an inquiry, and found that, of 2,100 scholars reported, only 1,400 could be produced. Howard and Sir Jeremiah Pitzpatrick, Inspector of Prisons, served on the commission, and were examined. Both stated that the children "were in general filthy and ill-clothed"; that "the diet was insufficient for the support of their delicate frames " ; that many of the schools " were going to ruin "; that many of the scholars " were without shifts or shirts, and in such a condition as was indecent to look on." Howard concluded his evidence by asserting that " the children in general were sickly, pale, and such miserable objects that they were a disgrace to all society, and their reading had been neglected for the purpose of making them work for their masters." This was the ripe result of Dr. Boulter's schools, which, however, lived on in their rottenness and pretences for half a century longer. The selfsame design, in a less obnoxious, but more insidious spirit, actuates the present state schools founded in 1834, and the Queen's Colleges recently erected.

With the state schools partial toleration had its rise. The Irish Catholics having withheld, as a body, from the Jacobite attempts of 1715 and 1745, they began to be considered by the new dynasty as not entirely deserving of perpetual persecution. At the date of Charles Edward's invasion, Lord Chesterfield was Viceroy at Dublin, where he flattered himself he could govern by exquisitely turned compliments. An accident, by which many Catholics who assembled to hear a mass by stealth in an old Dublin building were killed, gave him an opportunity of permitting the erection of an unostentatious chapel. From this date the oppressed began to breathe more freely. In 1757, some Catholic gentlemen, of whom the principals were Mr. Wyse, a Waterford merchant, Charles O'Connor, a country gentleman and antiquary, and Dr. Curry, a Dublin physician, formed the first Catholic Association, for the purpose of petitioning Parliament. After twenty years of desultory effort, they obtained the first Relief Bill, enabling Papists to lease real property, to take apprentices, and to vote at elections. Content with this miserable toleration, they rested from their labors. Somewhat later, John Keogh, a wealthy Dublin merchant, founded the second Catholic Association, which obtained the Relief Bill of 1793. By this concession, Catholics were permitted to sit on juries, to enter the learned professions without taking the oath of supremacy, to hold real property in fee, and to establish schools and colleges. Maynooth and Carlow Colleges sprung up on the enlarged prospect thus opened, and the Catholic merchants and aristocracy began to feel themselves of some account in civil life. It is unnecessary to enlarge this notice of the slow growth of mere toleration by detailing the promises made by Pitt in 1800 and never fulfilled, or to dwell upon the merits of the last Relief Bill, obtained in 1829 by the third Catholic Association, under the leadership of Daniel ()'Council. A century of agitation was just closing, in which the ablest intellects of Ireland and England had used their greatest efforts in the cause of toleration, when we wake as from a dream, and, rubbing our eyes in "the middle of the nineteenth century," find a new penal enactment placed on the British statute-book, and another Catholic Association sitting at Dublin !

Such is a summary view of the attempts by armed force, and by false education, to establish the abominable principles of the Reformation in Ireland. How glorious to the Church is the result! How humiliating to the pride and self-love of heresy ! Were ever combatants apparently more unequal ? Was ever contest, except that of the early Church against Pagan Rome, so mysteriously prolonged, and so unexpectedly ended in the victory of the weak ? In the one camp is arrayed all the power of England,— her immense revenue, her masterly diplomacy, her conquering armies ; the wealth of India is at her hand, and the thunders of annihilation wait but her word. In the other camp we find a simple peasantry, at first following, but soon losing, their disunited nobles; we find them without adequate resources, institutions, or leaders for such a contest, with such an enemy. Yet we see how it stands with both at the end of three centuries. We see Ireland at this very hour as resolutely Catholic as ever before, and England, richer, mightier, more despotic than ever, unable to enforce her last law against the passive hierarchy of the Irish Church. The more we know of the facts of this contest, the more we reflect upon the causes of these things, the more we are forced to exclaim, " The hand of God is here ! "