Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. II.—: Of the Causes that prevented Ireland from becoming Protestant. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Sect. II.—: Of the Causes that prevented Ireland from becoming Protestant. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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Of the Causes that prevented Ireland from becoming Protestant.
After the long night of the middle ages, light had suddenly sprung up amongst all the nations of Europe, and society had made rapid progress everywhere, except in Ireland, where the civil strife of the conquest having been perpetuated, everything remained stationary.
In the midst of a political chaos and a moral anarchy, faith in the Catholic and Romish church had alone remained in the creed of the Irish people. This faith reigned in absolute sovereignty over their minds, without any other idea to divide its empire.* Whilst the successive efforts of a philosophical spirit prepared Europe for religious reform, Ireland, in a remote corner of the world, distant from every intellectual movement, was still safe from doubt; she had learned nothing of Wycliffe or Huss; she had not heard the mutterings that preceded the eruption of the volcano; she had seen none of the brilliant flashes which heralded the great conflagration of the sixteenth century.
Of all European countries, Ireland was consequently the most attached to its ancient creed, and the least capable of comprehending the new religion which the English wished to establish.
It must be added, that had these dispositions been different, the Reformation presented itself under such circumstances that it could not be accepted.
Who, in fact, brought to Ireland a creed which the country neither desired nor comprehended? It was brought by a people with whom the country had been at war for four hundred years, by a people whom it hated as a mortal foe, and from whose yoke it still hoped to escape. It might be said with confidence, that if the Irish were inclined to reform their faith, this attempt of England would have prevented them; under existing circumstances, it would only be an additional motive to combat an adversary, who not only wished to conquer the country, but to impose upon it a religion.
Besides, when the monarchs of England invited the Irish to shake off the yoke of Rome, they found themselves in a dilemna, which must have invited the Irish to resistance, if they had not been impelled by more serious motives. It was from the pope that the English monarch had originally received his rights; how then could he contest the power from which he held his sovereignty? how throw doubt on the spiritual authority of the pope, whose temporal power had not been contested when it was exerted to bestow a kingdom?
The enterprise of England was clearly impossible. Thus the despotism of the Tudors, which established the Anglican church in England, only revolted Ireland. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth seized all the monasteries, greedily confiscated all ecclesiastical wealth, commanded the use of the Anglican ritual in all the Catholic churches,* subjected to severe penalties those who absented themselves from church, and made the oath of supremacy necessary for sharing in all acts of social and political life. They had acted the same way in England, but the two countries were in a different position. After the sanguinary wars of the Roses, the English wished, at all hazards, to give their monarchs power, which indeed they were capable of taking by force. Religious supremacy could not be refused to Henry VIII. without diminishing his royal authority, of which it formed a part, and to this the English people had no inclination. It was quite the contrary with the Irish, who, far from seeking to strengthen the power of the English monarch, were eager to escape from it, and eagerly seized an additional reason for detesting it. Thus, while Henry VIII. and Elizabeth established the reformed faith in England, according to their will and pleasure, all their efforts to fix it in Ireland terminated in three or four insurrections against England, to which, without doubt, the national sentiment was no stranger, but which, nevertheless, were principally derived from the new source of hatred springing from religion.*
Ireland was, in truth, subdued by Elizabeth.† This princess, in less than ten years, spent three millions and a half of money, an immense sum for the sixteenth century; and lost an incalculable number of her bravest soldiers in effecting this conquest. But the result of the submission of Ireland was the cessation of the war, not the adoption of the Anglican worship. Perhaps it might have been foreseen that the Irish, whilst submitting to civil and political laws, would retain their religious creed and worship; for it is the natural disposition of man, when he undergoes physical violence, to take refuge in his soul, and proclaim himself free there, while his body is loaded with chains.
The first efforts of despotism had been vain; the Irish retained only the recollection of the tyranny; they remembered that, to conquer them and change their worship, Elizabeth had waged a cruel war, followed by frightful famine and destructive plague.*
The Stuarts ascended the throne of England; the English became more protestant, because they suspected that their rulers were not so. The Irish, on the contrary, believing the Stuarts Catholics, were encouraged to remain such. This is the reason why, after Charles I, the Irish, who hated the English, generally loved the king of England. The fear of fines, the dread of confiscation, the terror of imprisonment, often produced external conformity to the English worship in the towns; all those who executed any public, even a municipal office, were obliged under heavy penalties to comply with the English ritual;* finally, there was always a current of new comers from England, who were Protestants when they arrived, and remained what they were. Nevertheless, in consequence of political events, the English government which imposed this worship lost its power in Ireland; the English settlers, as well as the Irish natives, abandoned the Anglican church, and spontaneously returned to the Catholic religion. This happened after the death of Elizabeth, to whom James I. succeeded, a monarch believed in Ireland favourable to catholicism.† It was the same under Charles I. in 1642, when the population believed it possible to take up arms against the English parliament, and at the same time remain faithful to the king. Even during the periods of tranquillity and submission, observance of the Anglican worship was with difficulty obtained from the English inhabitants of the towns themselves. During Elizabeth’s reign, the greatest persecution of the Catholics was the prohibition of their own ritual; no serious efforts were made to enforce the adoption of that of England. James I. was more enterprising without being more fortunate. During his reign it once happened that the town of Galway could not find a mayor willing to take the oath of supremacy;* and Chichester, viceroy of Ireland,† giving an account of the vain efforts he had made to bring over some leading personages to the Anglican church, whose conversion was eagerly desired, depicted very accurately the state of the country when he declared that the atmosphere and even “the soil of Ireland were tainted with popery.”
Such was the state of affairs in Ireland, that the reformed religion could not be supported by a regular and durable persecution. Circumstances necessarily and suddenly led to a general war. In England it was a struggle of parties so nearly balanced, that one was ultimately the master of the other; in Ireland it was an entire Catholic population driven to revolt when its religion was assailed.
[*]It must also be added, that the native Irish clergy won the affections of their flocks by frequently interfering to check the oppressions of the oligarchy; the Irish, therefore, valued their religious system as the only institution which afforded them any protection from the tyranny of the aristocracy.—Tr.
[*]It was a ridiculous but a very mischievous blunder of the English rulers, that they did not cause the Prayer-book to be translated into Irish; for to the mass of the people English was as much an unknown tongue as Latin. This violation of the very first principle of the Reformation, which required that prayers should be offered in a language understood by the people, excited hostility and ridicule. It was, of course, fair game for a satirist like Ward, and his attack on it is far the most pungent part of his Hudibrastic History of the Reformation.
[*]The Irish Juvenal, written in the beginning of the last century, but for some unknown reason never published, says,
[†]The semi-official history of the conquest was called Hibernia Pacata.—Tr.
[*]More than one half of the population perished by the sword, famine, or pestilence. “The country,” says Hollinshed, a cotemporary writer, “which was before rich, fertile, populous, abounding in pasturages, harvest-lands, and cattle, is now deserted and barren; no fruit or corn grows in its fields, no cattle is found in its pasturages; there are no birds in the air, no fish in the streams; in a word, the vengeance of Heaven is so heavy on the land, that it may be traversed from one end to the other almost without meeting man, woman, or child.”—Hol. 460. It was on this occasion that the principal woods of Ireland were destroyed, and several bogs formed by the decay of the falling timber and the stoppage of the mountain streams.—Tr.
[*]The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity (2 Eliz.) obliged all public functionaries, from the highest to the lowest, to take the oath of supremacy.
[†]James I. was obliged to issue a proclamation to disabuse his Irish subjects of the notion that he was disposed to grant liberty of conscience. The proclamation is too long for insertion, but is in its way a perfect curiosity.—Tr.
[*]Hardiman’s Galway, pp. 212, 213.
[†]See his letters in the collection of State-papers. Chichester’s honesty may be doubted; he was anxious to make a fortune by trafficking in Irish confiscations, and the reconciliation of the Irish owners to the English church would have impeded his designs. He finally acquired immense estates in Ulster, and bequeathed to his posterity a princely fortune and a detested name.—Tr.