Introduction: The Irish Anomaly

  • Samantha A. Meigs
Part of the Early Modern History: Society and Culture book series

Abstract

There is a saying current in Ireland that the Irish were the ‘first to find the faith and last to lose it,’ referring to the very early and peaceful conversion of the Irish and to the continuing conservatism and traditionalism of Irish Catholicism despite the sweeping changes which have rocked the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Although the slogan implies an uninterrupted continuity in religious outlook that is clearly exaggerated, its emphasis on tradition is nonetheless justified and reveals durable aspects of Irish religiosity that are crucial to understanding the religious transformations of the early modern period.

Keywords

Europe Plague Brendan 

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Notes

  1. 4.
    Such opposition as was voiced came from the lower house of clerical proctors, who were quickly silenced. See Steven Ellis, Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community and the Conflict of Cultures, 1470–1603 (London: Longman, 1985), 194–5.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Irish historians have long debated this point, particularly the date at which one can definitely say that the Reformation had failed in Ireland. See especially Brendan Bradshaw, ‘Sword, Word and Strategy in the Reformation in Ireland,’ Historical Journal 21 (1978): 475–502;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  6. 7.
    Three studies which highlight current historiographical debates in the field of Reformation Studies are: Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991);Google Scholar
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  9. 8.
    For a now-classic discussion of the interconnections between religious and social history see Robert Scribner, ‘Is There a Social History of the Reformation?,’ Social History 4 (1976): 483–505, and the same author’s ‘Religion, Society and Culture: Reorienting the Reformation,’ History Workshop 14 (Autumn, 1982): 2–22.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    My conclusions are quite different from those of Michelle O’Riordan, The Gaelic Mind and the Collapse of the Gaelic World (Cork: Cork University Press, 1990). Her reliance on literary methodologies and failure to examine the Irish situation in a European context has, in my opinion, seriously marred her interpretations.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    My discussion of the role of the aes dána in Ireland should be placed in the overall context of current scholarship on popular culture, literacy, and intermediary groups in early modern Europe. Studies that have been particularly useful in helping provide this context are Tim Harris, ed., Popular Culture in England, c. 1500–1850 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995);Google Scholar
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  15. 12.
    Patrick Corish, The Catholic Community in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century (Dublin: Helicon, 1981)Google Scholar
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    See Bob Scribner, Roy Porter, and Mikulás Teich, eds, The Reformation in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), chapter 13.Google Scholar
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    See especially André Vauchez, The Religion of the Laity (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993) and La spiritualité du moyen age occidental (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975);Google Scholar
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    Delumeau’s controversial thesis on Christianization is most explicitly stated in his full-scale treatment, Catholicism From Luther to Voltaire (London: Burns & Oates, 1977). But see also his interesting short essay, ‘Au sujet de dechristianisation,’ Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 22 (1975): 52–60. A detailed critique of Delumeau’s thesis can be found in John Van Engen, ‘The Christian Middle Ages as a Historiographical Problem,’ American Historical Review 91, no. 3 (June 1986): 519–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 17.
    Oberman’s contributions in this field are far too numerous to cite more than a sampling. Some of his works that are most relevant to this study include: Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought, trans. Paul Nyhus (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), The Dawn of the Reformation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, Ltd., 1986), and The Impact of the Reformation (Grand Rapids, ML: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1994).Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    Other studies that have helped me situate the Irish experience in the context of European Reformation historiography include: Francis Rapp, L’Église et la vie religieuse en occident à la fin du Moyen Age (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971);Google Scholar
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  33. 20.
    Communalism as a defining issue in the acceptance of Reformation thought has a long pedigree, but the most recent debates have centered around Peter Blickle’s study, Communal Reformation: The Quest for Salvation in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1992). The issue of confessionalism as a social and cultural phenomenon was first highlighted by Ernst Zeeden, Die Entstehung der Konfessionen: Grundlagen und Formen der Konfessionsbildung im Zeitalter der Glaubenskämpfe (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1965).Google Scholar
  34. For more recent interpretations, see Heinz Schilling, Konfessionskonflikt und Statbildung: Eine Fallstudie über das Verhältris von religiösen und sozialen Wandel in der Frühneuzeit am Beispiel der Grafschaft Lippe (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1981) and idem, Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), and Wolfgang Reinhardt, especially ‘Gegenreformation als Modernisierung? Prolegomena zu einer Theorie des Konfessionalellen Zeitalters,’ Archiv für Reformationgeschichte 68 (1977): 226–52, and ‘Zwang zur Konfessionalisierung?’ Zeitschrift für historische Forschung 10 (1983): 257–77.Google Scholar
  35. 21.
    One cannot help but notice how thoroughly Ireland has been ignored in current Reformation historiography. Such foundational works as Andrew Pettegree’s The Early Reformation in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) and Robert Scribner, Roy Porter and Mikulás Teich’s collection of essays, The Reformation in National Context do not mention Ireland at all, and even the excellent coverage of Brady, Oberman and Tracy’s Handbook of European History only gives us three references to Ireland.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Samantha A. Meigs 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha A. Meigs
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IndianapolisUSA

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