‘The Reformation In Ireland’ is the editorial in Church and State Autumn 2017:
On the 500th anniversary of Luther’s attack on mainstream European Christianity, the Irish Times asked: “at the risk of being parochial…: why did the Reformation fail in Ireland?” There is of course no risk of the Irish Times becoming parochial—not Irish parochial at any rate. It qualified its question:
“It must be said at the outset that the Reformation was not a complete failure on this island as it gained followers in Ulster and Dublin”.
Did the Reformation really gain followers in ‘Ulster? Or was it that Ulster was colonised by Reformationists? We never heard of the mass conversion of the Ulster Gaels to the theocratic rigours of Calvinism. We are sure that they had no more taste for it then than they have now.
Trinity College seems to have known more about Ireland 80 years ago than it does now. In the extensive history of the Church of Ireland that it produced (under the Editorship of Professor Alison Phillips) in response to Fianna Fail and the Eucharistic Congress, it has a chapter entitled Puritans and Planters.
The bogus English Reformation—which was only a Government institution—provoked authentic Reformationism beneath it in the form of Puritanism. And the Puritans, feeling oppressed by the Government religion in England bought freedom of religious development as Planters in territories conquered by the new English Empire that was established in conjunction with the breach with Rome. They were the people of God in the world and in their main sphere of action, North America, they laid waste all other forms of human life, and created the U. S. A.
The Reformation that came to Ulster in the form of a mass colonisation was conducted on the authority of the British Crown, but discontent with bogus English Government Reformation was not its driving force. That came from the authentic Reformation in Scotland, a few years after the British Crown was established by the succession of the Scottish Stuarts to the English (or Welsh) Tudor dynasty: the Union of Crowns in 1603.
The Plantation of Ulster—the main event in the Reformation in Ireland—began when the O’Dougherty lands were confiscated in 1608 and a large Protestant population was brought in from Scotland to fill the space that had been emptied. The Protestant presence in Ireland was increased greatly, and the new addition was soundly Protestant. It was fundamentalist, rather than merely opportunist—as so many of those who had changed their religion in the Ireland were.
Bishop Mant, in his impressive mid-19th century History Of The Church Of Ireland From The Reformation To The Revolution: With A Preliminary Survey, From the Papal Usurpation, In The 12th Century, To Its Legal Abolition In The 16th, praises James the First and Sixth for his care of the Church of Ireland, but he is in two minds about the Ulster Plantation:
“Notwithstanding… the regard… shown by the king for the well-being of the Church, and for the maintenance of the established religion, of this plantation there was one result deeply to be lamented, as disturbing to the Church’s peace, impeding her progress, and diminishing her power of promoting religious improvement. The emigrants from Scotland, who were a numerous division of the new settlers, brought with them their own peculiar prepossessions, and were attended or followed by ministers of their own, apparently sincere and zealous, though mistaken men, earnest in maintaining and disseminating their national opinions.
“These opinions for the most part consisted in hostility to the primitive and apostolical form of Church government by bishops, and a partial predilection for the Presbyterian model, recently invented by John Calvin at Geneva, and imported into Scotland by John Knox: in a rejection of that liturgical mode of worship, which has been transmitted from the earliest through all succeeding ages of Christianity, and was now continued in the British reformed churches; and in an attachment to the modern fashion of devotional aspirations, uttered under the supposed immediate dictation of the Holy Spirit; in a contempt¬uous repudiation of several decent and orderly, innocent and edifying and ancient, signs and accompaniments of divine worship, and a studied affectation of a bare, an abstract, and frigid simplicity in the service of God; in a condemnation of the aboriginal and hereditary sentiments, practice, and authority of Christ’s Catholick Church, as the interpreter of God’s holy word, and in the proposed reverence for that word alone as the guide to religious truth, not however independent of the freedom of private judgment, carried to an undue and dangerous extent, or of the system of some favourite reformer, who had acquired over their minds and opinions little less than a Papal control.
“Under the influence of such prejudices as these, congregations were formed by the new comers from Scotland in the northern counties of Ireland, opposed to the principles and provisions, and the estranged from the communion, of the Church.
“The settlement of the Scottish Presbyterians in Ireland was not agreeable to the former inhabitants, either to the earlier occupiers, or those of English extraction: and a special Act of Parliament was necessary to legalize it. For down to this period in the reign of King James, there was still in force a statute, enacted in the third and fourth years of King Phillip and Queen Mary, which prohibited the bringing in, retaining or marrying of Scots. This statute continuing part of the law of the land during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, adventurers of that nation were precluded from settling in Ireland. But, in the year 1614… this Act was repealed, and multitudes of Scots pass¬¬ed over into Ulster… At the same time there are came over three ministers from England, one a pupil of the celebrated Puritan, Cartwright, patronized by the Lord Chichester, then Lord Deputy, who had been a pupil of Cartwright also, and was a favourer and encourager of Puritans. These congregations were soon afterwards united into a system of mutual agreement and co-operation, and presbyteries formed in various districts.
“Schism was thus established among the Irish Protestants: a schism, opposed at the same time to all the principles and laws of the Church Catholick, and injurious to Christianity in general, but especially detrimental under the circumstances of Ireland, where a consentient, combined, and co-operating effort… by all the opponents of the papal errors, might have been a powerful instrument in God’s hand for correcting them; and where the want of such agreement and co-operation… served as a positive argument for confirming the Papist in his delusions” (Pages 365-368. Richard Mant was Anglican Bishop of Down & Connor. This book was not published by either Oxford University or Trinity College).
There were two Protestantism in Ireland. There was a Government one, which functioned as part of the apparatus of State and whose members live mainly by a monopoly of the professions and of land ownership and by exploitation of the dis-franchised Catholic population. And there was a religious one which was given confiscated Catholic land by the British State under its first Scottish king and which lived thereafter by its own resourcefulness.
Government Protestantism began to wither after the Act of Union as Westminster began to enact reform in the Catholic interest under pressure from the resurgent native population. The other Protestantism, not being an instrument of the State, continued.
The Anglican Church (Church of Ireland), claimed to be a continuation of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, minus the Pope. There appears to be some substance in that claim. The English conquest of Ireland by Henry the Second was authorised by the Pope for the purpose of bringing the Church of Gaelic Ireland more effectively under Roman discipline. (The Normans were the secular arm of the Papacy.) But the more Romanised Church in Ireland between the Conquest and the Reformation seems to have been confined to the Pale.
A major circumstance in the Government-directed English Reformation was the privatisation of the Monasteries. The Monasteries in England were major economic institutions. The King gained revenue by selling them off, and at the same time created a class of gentry with vested interests in the consolidation of the new anti-Roman political order. The privatisation of those monastic institutions of the feudal system was the beginning of the bourgeois revolution. But the Christianity of Gaelic Ireland was organised differently.