The Religious Condition of Ireland 1770-1850
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
OUP 70 (0-19-924238-0) Church Times Bookshop 63
All change for the better : Richard English looks back at a golden erfor Irish Churche
IN THIS scholarly study of Irish religion between 1770 and 1850, NigeYates says that, "one of the features of the Irish landscape, quickly noticeby the observant traveller, is the large number of churches which appear tdate from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries." He goes on tsay that "The programme of church building and restoration in Ireland betwee1770 and 1850 was remarkable by any standards."
Professor Yates's book explores in rich detail the complex religious historof Ireland during these years, and he ably describes the context for energetiecclesiastical renewal. He examines the religious background to the period, thleadership of Ireland's various Churches during the late 18th and early 19tcenturies, the question of pastoral care, and - above all - that oecclesiastical reform. The book's readership will be scholarly rather thageneral, but the work is full of fascinating detail, much of it culled frodiligent research at local level.
Religious-reform programmes lie at the heart of the book. Aldenominations in Ireland put greater emphasis on education and training foministry between 1770 and 1850. Much effort during these years was directetowards pastoral and other reforms; and, indeed, the various denominationengaged in similar and complementary programmes of reform, based on the holdinof more services, frequent communion, and an emphasis on personal discipline
Reform met with some real success: "There is little doubt that, from pastoral perspective, all the main Churches in Ireland were in better shape i1850 than they had been in 1770, and there is also little doubt that much othis improvement had been achieved by their own efforts, through their owreform programmes."
Yates attends primarily to the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Churchand the Presbyterians. But he does not ignore other denominations, some owhich underwent incredible change during this period. (In 1747, for examplethere were only 280 Irish Methodists, a figure that had grown to nearly 20,00by 1800, and to more than 40,000 by 40 years later.)
The book valuably compares Irish religious experience with that in Britaiand Europe, showing that much of Ireland's reform programme was echoed iBritain and on the Continent.
Much useful material and argument emerges. At the start of the periodIreland's condition was unique, in that the established Church of Ireland haonly minority support (the allegiance of between one-tenth and one-eighth othe Irish population); yet Yates paints a more positive picture of the pre-183Church of Ireland than others have previously done.
He includes some telling social realities that had an impact on Irispolitical life (of 205 students training for the Roman Catholic priesthood aMaynooth in 1808, 148 were sons of farmers - a pattern that helps to explaithe Roman Catholic Church's long association with a conservative, rural Irisnationalism focused on the farming class).
The book's central argument is that "the sectarianism with which we are alfamiliar has only really been a dominant feature of the Irish political anreligious landscape since the middle years of the nineteenth century." While the basic geography of Irish religious attachment had been established bthe early 18th century, the famously painful relations between these groupemerged only towards the end of this crucible period - a period that ProfessoYates studies in great and impressive detail.
<Richard English is Professor of Politics at Queen's University, Belfast. To order this book, email the details to Church Times Bookshop