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A minority experience… July 19, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This piece here in the IT from months back by Ida Milne references a book of essays edited by her and Ian d’Alton about how ‘Protestants tried to fit into their communities in the newly independent Ireland from 1922’. It sounds like a very useful endeavour. And her own experience about growing up in Wexford in the 1960s and how integrated it was in terms of religion and culture is fascinating.

I’ve a slightly different angle on Protestantism, since my experience came from the CofI due to my grandparent and great-grandparent arriving from the UK in the 1960s and engaging with that church, and taking me to service on weekends when I didn’t go to Mass. On a personal level I found it useful, having an in to both RC and CofI, but religion was worn very lightly in the family on all sides, as was inevitable with a Catholic convert, an ex-Catholic avowed atheist and two members of the CofI amongst the adults. The English dimension certainly offered a certain detachment but also a familiarity. But what also struck me as a regular reader of the CofI Gazette as I grew older was how different the Protestant experience on the island north and south was.

One key point Milne makes is:

Protestant communities are not homogenous: they each have unique features, depending on the reason for settlement, the community in which they are located, and ‘events’, those tense periods in history where ‘things happened’.

That rings true with me. What of others?


1. EWI - July 19, 2019

My CoI antecedents were Republican activists in the revolution, and later converted. Mileage may vary (there’s clearly a unionist element down south still, hostile to Irish Catholics and their aspiration for independence, as evidenced by one I. Yates).


WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2019

Some but most CofI I know are quietly patriotic to the state.


EWI - July 19, 2019

Some but most CofI I know are quietly patriotic to the state

It’s a widely varied experience, as you say, and the most conservative Irish Catholic set in this country – FG, private Catholic schooling and rugby – have notably displayed their own loyalist sympathies over the past century.


WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2019

In some ways more so – I’ve always thought a part of that was a cultural cringe of massive proportions – can’t imagine Brexit isn’t changing that tho probably changed for many across last two decades ( tho as you say not all )


2. John Goodwillie - July 19, 2019

Haven’t read Ida Milne’s book, but recently read a book in the same area, ‘Outside the glow : Protestants and Irishness in independent Ireland’ by Heather K. Crawford, and was struck by the dissimilarity of experiences. It was not just a question of urban/rural, middle-class/working-class. My own experience (middle-class, outer limits of commuting) often failed to coincide with the experience described.


WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2019

Yes, there’s no single Protestant experience on the island or north and south – it is fascinating


WorldbyStorm - July 19, 2019

Just as an aside living in the house I did with the mix that was there what struck me was how in the early to mid 70s there was still a pressure or an expectation of regular mass/service attendance but by 79 that had fallen away really. Mentioned before there was no question of attending the Popes visit – that was a non starter. In retrospect I wonder is that because the concert converted in a very Vatican II milieu and rather than going to an illiberal extreme the opposite occurred (or perhaps they kept the more liberal aspects of their original religious home).


3. rockroots - July 21, 2019

Clearly there’s a big gap between the small farmers in the countryside and the barristers of Blackrock whose only common link is mumbling the same prayers on a Sunday. That’s as true for Protestants as Catholics. And as you say, WbS, a very different outlook north and south as well (for one thing, the prayer for the queen becomes the prayer for the president once you cross the border).

I can’t say I ever met a Prod in the midlands who expressed unionist sympathies, it was universally 26-county patriotism, but that again might come down to circumstances. Such a thinly spread minority were hardly likely to invite any kind of animosity upon themselves.

There really does seem to be a recent breakthrough, though, in recognising that we’ve never been a homogenous nation, or even two homogenous communities. I’ve been reading through a series of booklets looking at the Orange order in various southern counties pre-independence (County Clare, FFS!) – not my particular preference, but I love to see that historic diversity brought in from the cold.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2019



4. carigeen - July 21, 2019

I grew up in a rural area of county Sligo in the 1960’s.

The protestant church in Gurteen was just across the valley from home.
At 4pm on a Sunday afternoon a small black car would make it’s way up to it, the bell would ring and three elderly people would walk up to the church. As the years went by the three became two and then the bell rang no more. The church roof fell in and now the ruins are floodlight to give a bit
of architectural interest to an otherwise undistinguished village.

I did not realise it at the time but I was watching the end act to a tragedy. In the 1880s there was a sizable minority protestant community in Gurteen, like their neighbours small farmers and craftsmen. They were reasonably well organised, had a church, a school and a full-time rector.
The church was built by the beautifully-named Board of First Fruits in the 1820’s.

The rectory is now a farmer’s house and the remains of the school is now a barn.
They were liked, respected and trusted by their neighbours, at least there are no stories of conflict that have been preserved. Mariages took place reasonably regularly with the convention being that boys were raised in the father’s religion, girls in the mother’s.

The Vatican issued the Ne Temere decree on marriage in 1908. In itself it was fairly inoccous, introducing the requirement that marriages be recorded, witnessed and performed by a priest that knew the parties getting married.

The RC hierarchy was not content with a 90% majority in the population, they wanted 100%. They immediately started to use Ne Temere in what can only be described as a colonial war against the protestant population. The RC church refused to marry people unless the protestant partner gave a
written promise to bring up the children as catholics.

The protestant communities in Ulster had the numbers not to be seriously affected by this. Similarly the protestant middle-classes in the towns had the education, money and contacts to import wives from Belfast when necessary.

The small farmers and craftspeople of the west had neither the
numbers or the money and they were eliminated in two generations.

Young protestant adults faced a very difficult choice, celibacy, emigration or conversion and took the various options in about equal numbers. There were quite a few catholic families with protestant names, like the Powells, when I was growing up.

I have great difficulty in beliving that these people suddenly came to the consideration that transubstantiation was true and consubstantiation false!

There was also a ban on catholics attending non-catholic services. It operated so strongly that government ministers could not bring themselves to attend the funeral service of the first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. They hung around the door of St. Patrick’s cathedral until the cortege emerged!

In the 1950’s one of the protestant Broder brothers died and there were not enough men left in the family to carry his coffin from the church.

My father, with remarkable courage, broke the ban to carry his old friend’s coffin. He was told that this was a mortal sin and refused absolution locally.

He had to cycle a total of 30 miles to make his confession directly to the bishop. Theft, drunkenness, wife and child abuse could of course be forgiven locally, in fact they were hardly sins at all.

Carrying a friend’s coffin in defiance of a priest’s order was a very serious sin!

Seamus Heaney wrote about it in
Clearances In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984:
A cobble thrown a hundred years ago
Keeps coming at me, the first stone
Aimed at a great-grandmother’s turncoat brow.
The pony jerks and the riot’s on.
She’s couched low in the trap
Running the gauntlet that first Sunday
Down the brae to Mass at a panicked gallop.
He whips on through the town to cries of ‘Lundy!’
Call her ‘The Convert.’ ‘The Exogamous Bride.’
Anyhow, it is a genre piece
Inherited on my mother’s side
And mine to dispose with now she’s gone.
Instead of silver and Victorian lace
the exonerating, exonerated stone.

Liked by 3 people

WorldbyStorm - July 21, 2019

Without dismissing the idea that class and other pressures functioned within denominations Ne Temere certainly had a significant effect.


John Goodwillie - July 21, 2019

For the decline to closure in another parish, see this: https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/8028/a-bolt-from-the-blue (Ettagh, Co. Offaly).


EWI - July 21, 2019

They were reasonably well organised, had a church, a school and a full-time rector.
The church was built by the beautifully-named Board of First Fruits in the 1820’s.

If CoI then this was built off the backs of their neigbours via tithes.

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pettyburgess - July 22, 2019

If it was built by the Board of First Fruits, it was of course CofI. Tithes to the state church were a great injustice, but there’s a certain tribal oversimplification in declaring that CofI churches were just “built off the backs of their neighbors”.

State churches in that period were usually heavily subsidized by the relevant state, which means they were subsidized by everyone’s taxes, including the taxes of non believers. The Board of First Fruits and its successors were funded from two main sources, firstly grants from the state (ie from general taxation) and secondly taxes on clerical incomes. Clerical incomes were in significant part paid from tithes, so a portion of tithes indirectly ended up providing a portion of BFF funds. The tithes had been levied on farming incomes, so farmers paid them irrespective of religion and others did not, again irrespective of religion.

The CofI would probably have been better off with its whole of its external income directly coming from general taxation. That would have been just as unfair on the majority of the population, and more unfair on non CofI non farmers, but it would have presented a less obvious focus for resentment.

One of the odder things about Ireland in the 19thC at the end of the 18thC was that the Catholic Church was also subsidized by the state, though to a lesser degree. This was a pragmatic concession to the state church’s minority status, and was intended to encourage the training of priests in Maynooth rather than France. As this subsidy also came from general taxation, meaning Protestants paid for it too, it was a subject of great controversy. Particularly after the Union when English Protestants were paying for it.

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5. Daniel Rayner O'Connor - July 22, 2019

As EWI has remarked, Catholic support for Ne Temere (which could not have operated otherwise) was partly in the spirit of ‘playback time’; in the circumstances, childish but real..
Some further pints on the Protestant decline:
1 Ne temere was imposed under the parliamentary union, with little protest from the parties outside the backwoods of Ulster Unionism (and then, later, due to a specific application of it).
2. It applied to the whole state area. In Wales, a member of a family known to me made a mixed marriage but its child was taken by their protestant grandmother children to be baptised as protestant. There was a court case and the agreement was upheld against her. This was before the Tilson case in the republic where the Supreme Court gave a similar decision. Mind you, the Welsh case did not go to the House of lords and, in any case, in laodicean Protestant Britain, the effect of Ne Temere could not have the same catastrophic effect as it did in Ireland.
2. Ne Temere was only one strand among the causes of Protestant decline. Others include World War I, where Irish Protestant participation and deaths were disproportionately high, and the after-effects of the Treaty, where, in many cases, small protestant economies had flourished in British garrison towns, only to wither and their members disperse when Oglaich na hEireann took over.
3. Catholic Church hubris has been punished in recent times when many baptised Catholics gave their referenda decisions against their baptisers.
$. The immediate task is to struggle for an inclusive secular democratic education system.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2019

A single education system is key.


benmadigan - July 22, 2019

“the after-effects of the Treaty” also included many protestants who had worked for the british administration, soldiers, policemen etc with their wives, families and servants preferring to transfer to jobs in Britain rather than staying in Ireland


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