The State Religion

Patrick Weston Joyce

361. King Henry died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward VI., then a boy of nine years old. His death removed all check to the Reformation, which was now pushed forward vigorously in England. In 1551, the fifth year of Edward's reign, the chief Protestant doctrines and forms of worship were promulgated in Ireland by Sir Anthony Sentleger.

George Brown archbishop of Dublin exerted himself to forward the Reformation; but he was resolutely opposed by the archbishop of Armagh, George Dowdall, a man of the highest character; whereupon, in 1552, the lord deputy Croft deprived him of the primacy of all Ireland, which had hitherto been held by the archbishops of Armagh (188), and conferred it on Brown and his successors in the see of Dublin.

362. In this same year the venerable monastery of Clonmacnoise was plundered by the English of Athlone, who carried away everything they could lay hands on. But there was on the whole little disturbance in Ireland on the score of religion during Edward's short reign. No serious attempt was made to impose the reformed doctrines on the general body of Catholics, either of Dublin or elsewhere, and the Reformation took no hold on the country.

363. Queen Mary who succeeded Edward VI. in 1553, restored the Catholic religion in England and Ireland.

During Mary's reign Ireland was quite free from religious persecution. The Catholics were now the masters; but they showed no disposition whatever to molest the few Protestants that lived among them. Ireland indeed was regarded as such a haven of safety, that many Protestant families fled hither during the troubles of Mary's reign.

364. On the death of Mary in 1558, Elizabeth became queen. Henry VIII. had transferred the headship of the church from the Pope to himself; Edward VI. had changed the state religion from Catholic to Protestant; Mary from Protestant to Catholic; and now there was to be a fourth change, followed by results far more serious and lasting than any previously experienced.

365. A parliament was assembled in Dublin in 1560, to restore the Protestant religion; and in a few weeks the whole ecclesiastical system of Mary was reversed. The act of supremacy was revived, and all officials and clergymen were to take the oath or be dismissed. The act of uniformity was also re-introduced; i.e. an act commanding all people to use the Book of Common Prayer (the Protestant Prayer Book), and to attend the new service on Sunday under pain of censure and a fine of twelve pence for each absence—about twelve shillings of our money.

366. Wherever these new regulations were enforced, the Catholic clergy had of course to abandon their churches, for they could not hold them without taking the oath. But they went among the people, administered the rites of the church, and took good care of religion just the same as before.

367. In many places the new statute of uniformity was now brought sharply into play. In Dublin fines were inflicted on those who absented themselves from church; and to avoid the penalty many went to Mass in the morning and to church in the evening. But the church wardens tried to prevent even this by calling a roll of the parishioners at the morning service.

This compulsion prevailed however only in the Pale and in some few other places. In far the greatest part of Ireland the government had no influence, and the Catholics were not interfered with. Even within the Pale the great body of the people took no notice of proclamations, the law could not be enforced, the act of uniformity was a dead letter, and the greater number of the parishes remained in the hands of the priests.

From the time of Elizabeth Protestantism remained the religion of the state in Ireland, till the disestablishment of the church in 1869.