The Church in Ireland was a fighting church. Unlike the church in France, Spain, & Italy, it was poor & landless. It had no vested privilege & no stake in the old order. The British government had repeatedly in the early 19 th cent. offered to "establish the church with annual grants of money to each priest & bishop if Catholics would permit the government a veto over ecclesiastical appointments. The offer was consistently rejected.
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"From about 1800 Irish Catholicism emerged from a catacombic[?] existence. During the 18 th cent., though the church had preserved its organization & had continued to function, immense material losses had been sustained, & the 1 st half of the 19 th cent. was a period of reconstruction. New parish churches, large barn-like structures, replaced the small 18 th cent. chapels; cathedrals were begun in several dioceses; the parochial clergy increased in less than half a century by about 50%; Catholic schools multiplied; and three great orders, the Irish Sisters of Charity, the Irish Sisters of Mercy, and the Christian Brothers, were founded."
- The Great Famine, p. 71
During the greater part of the 18 th cent. only priests who had been registered* with the government were allowed to celebrate mass, those unregistered remaining in the country being imprisoned & sometimes put to death. Formerly Roman Catholics had not been allowed to build churches or to worship openly. But thousands of priests had remained in hiding & mass was celebrated in secret lonely places, in bogs & on islands in lakes, in the mountains. After the Catholic Relief Act of 1793, when Catholics got the vote (& even before), the faithful were allowed to build churches & worship openly.
The extraordinary religious zeal of the Irish peasant has often been noted by strangers, from Spenser to Montalembert, who made the tour of Ireland in 1830. That the priests were beloved by the people is not surprising. They had attended to their wants, listened to their grievances, soothed their misfortunes, & this, be it remembered, at the risk of their lives.
- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland (Mil. Lib.)
*Note: The conditions attached to the registration of priests were so onerous that most of the priests that remained in Ireland preferred to be free & unregistered & thus take their own risks.
Christianity, Development of
Ireland received Christianity from Britain & by the 6 th century Irish Christianity surpassed that of every other land of western Europe, not only in intensity & sanctity, but also in passionate devotion to learning & in missionary enthusiasm. The passionate enthusiasm with which the Irish devoted themselves to the study of sacred learning & the liberal arts from the 7 th cent. is without parallel in the rest of Europe... Before the 8 th cent. there were at least 50 important centers where Irish influence was dominant, ranging from Brittany on the NW to Wurzburg & Salzburg in the east, & from the English Channel to Bobbio."
- Myles Dillon & Nora Chadwick, The Celtic Realms, p. 323