Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Butler and Geraldine, O’Neill and O’Donnell, continued to spill each other’s blood, but the feudal and tribal systems were alike doomed. In the names of these Tudor deputies and other officers we see the origin of many great Irish families—Skeffington, Brabazon, St Leger, Fitzwilliam, Wingfield, Bellingham, Carew, Bingham, Loftus and others. Nor were the Celts overlooked. O’Neill and O’Brien went to London to be invested as earls of Tyrone and Thomond respectively. O’Donnell, whose descendants became earls of Tyrconnel, went to court and was well received. The pseudo-chief MacWilliam became earl of Clanricarde, and others reached lower steps in the peerage, or were knighted by the king’s own hand. All were encouraged to look to the crown for redress of grievances, and thus the old order slowly gave place to the new.

The moment when Protestantism and Ultramontanism are about to begin their still unfinished struggle is a fit time to notice the chief points in medieval Irish church history. Less than two years before Strongbow’s arrival Pope The Irish Church. Eugenius had established an ecclesiastical constitution in Ireland depending on Rome, but the annexation was very imperfectly carried out, and the hope of fully asserting the Petrine claims was a main cause of Adrian’s gift to Henry II. Hitherto the Scandinavian section of the church in Ireland had been most decidedly inclined to receive the hierarchical and diocesan as distinguished from the monastic and quasi-tribal system. The bishops or abbots of Dublin derived their succession from Canterbury from 1038 to 1162, and the bishops of Waterford and Limerick also sought consecration there. But both Celt and Northman acknowledged the polity of Eugenius, and it was chiefly in the matters of tithe, Peter’s pence, canonical degrees and the observance of festivals that Rome had still victories to gain. Between churchmen of Irish and English race there was bitter rivalry; but the theory that the ancient Celtic church remained independent, and as it were Protestant, while the English colony submitted to the Vatican, is a mere controversial figment. The crown was weak and papal aggression made rapid progress. It was in the Irish church, about the middle of the 13th century, that the system of giving jurisdiction to the bishops “in temporalibus” was adopted by Innocent IV. The vigour of Edward I. obtained a renunciation in particular cases, but the practice continued unabated. The system of provisions was soon introduced at the expense of free election, and was acknowledged by the statute of Kilkenny. In the more remote districts it must have been almost a matter of necessity. Many Irish parishes grew out of primitive monasteries, but other early settlements remained monastic, and were compelled by the popes to adopt the rule of authorized orders, generally that of the Augustinian canons. That order became much the most numerous in Ireland, having not less than three hundred houses. Of other sedentary orders the Cistercians were the most important, and the mendicants were very numerous. Both Celtic chiefs and Norman nobles founded convents after Henry II. ’s time, but the latter being wealthier were most distinguished in this way. Religious houses were useful as abodes of peace in a turbulent country, and the lands attached were better cultivated than those of lay proprietors. Attempts to found a university at Dublin (1311) or Drogheda (1465) failed for want of funds. The work of education was partially done by the great abbeys, boys of good family being brought up by the Cistercians of Dublin and Jerpoint, and by the Augustinians of Dublin, Kells and Connel, and girls by the canonesses of Gracedieu. A strong effort was made to save these six houses, but Henry VIII. would not hear of it, and there was no Irish Wolsey partially to supply the king’s omissions.

Ample evidence exists that the Irish church was full of abuses before the movement under Henry VIII. We have detailed accounts of three sees—Clonmacnoise, Enaghdune and Ardagh. Ross, also in a wild district, was in rather better case. But even in Dublin strange things happened; thus the archiepiscopal crozier was in pawn for eighty years from 1449. The morals of the clergy were no better than in other countries, and we have evidence of many scandalous irregularities. But perhaps the most severe condemnation is that of the report to Henry VIII. in 1515. “There is,” says the document, “no archbishop, ne bishop, abbot, ne prior, parson, ne vicar, ne any other person of the church, high or low, great or small, English or Irish, that useth to preach the word of God, saving the poor friars beggars ... the church of this land use not to learn any other science, but the law of canon, for covetise of lucre transitory.” Where his hand reached Henry had little difficulty in suppressing the monasteries or taking their lands, which Irish chiefs swallowed as greedily as men of English blood. But the friars, though pretty generally turned out of doors, were themselves beyond Henry’s power, and continued to preach everywhere among the people. Their devotion and energy may be freely admitted; but the mendicant orders, especially the Carmelites, were not uniformly distinguished for morality. Monasticism was momentarily suppressed under Oliver Cromwell, but the Restoration brought the monks back to their old haunts. The Jesuits, placed by Paul III. under the protection of Conn O’Neill, “prince of the Irish of Ulster,” came to Ireland towards the end of Henry’s reign, and helped to keep alive the Roman tradition. Anglicanism was regarded as a symbol of conquest and intrusion. The Four Masters thus describes the Reformation: “A heresy and new error arising in England, through pride, vain glory, avarice, and lust, and through many strange sciences, so that the men of England went into opposition to the pope and to Rome.” The destruction of relics and images and the establishment of a schismatic hierarchy is thus recorded: “Though great was the persecution of the Roman emperors against the church, scarcely had there ever come so great a persecution from Rome as this.”

The able opportunist Sir Anthony St Leger, who was accused by one party of opposing the Reformation and by the other of lampooning the Sacrament, continued to rule during the early days of Edward VI. To him succeeded Edward VI. (1547-1553). Sir Edward Bellingham, a Puritan soldier whose hand was heavy on all who disobeyed the king. He bridled Connaught by a castle at Athlone, and Munster by a garrison at Leighlin Bridge. The O’Mores and O’Connors were brought low, and forts erected where Maryborough and Philipstown now stand. Both chiefs and nobles were forced to respect the king’s representative, but Bellingham was not wont to flatter those in power, and his administration found little favour in England. Sir Francis Bryan, Henry VIII.’s favourite, succeeded him, and on his death St Leger was again appointed. Neither St Leger nor his successor Sir James Croft could do anything with Ulster, where the papal primate Wauchop, a Scot by birth, stirred up rebellion among the natives and among the Hebridean invaders. But little was done under Edward VI. to advance the power of the crown, and that little was done by Bellingham.

The English government long hesitated about the official establishment of Protestantism, and the royal order to that effect was withheld until 1551. Copies of the new liturgy were sent over, and St Leger had the communion The Reformation. service translated into Latin, for the use of priests and others who could read, but not in English. The popular feeling was strong against innovation, as Edward Staples, bishop of Meath, found to his cost. The opinions of Staples, like those of Cranmer, advanced gradually until at last he went to Dublin and preached boldly against the mass. He saw men shrink from him on all sides. “My lord,” said a beneficed priest, whom he had himself promoted, and who wept as he spoke, “before ye went last to Dublin ye were the best beloved man in your diocese that ever came in it, now ye are the worst beloved. . . . Ye have preached against the sacrament of the altar and the saints, and will make us worse than Jews. . . . The country folk would eat you. . . . Ye have more curses than ye have hairs of your head, and I advise you for Christ’s sake not to preach at Navan.” Staples answered that preaching was his duty, and that he would not fail; but he feared for his life. On the same prelate fell the task of conducting a public controversy with the archbishop of Armagh, George Dowdall, which of course ended in the conversion