Plantation to the United Irishmen: 1600–1799
Anti-Catholicism in Ireland has its genesis in the social structure of Irish society, which was itself conditioned by the colonial relationship between Britain and Ireland.1 The final colonisation of Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was achieved in large measure by an alliance between England and loyal Protestants in Ireland, all of whom had recent origins in England or Scotland, many in the plantation. English, and later, British control of Ireland required Protestant control in Ireland, and Ireland’s social structure reflected the dominance of Protestants. Theological differences in Ireland obtained their saliency therefore because they corresponded to all the major patterns of structural differentiation in society, such as ethnic and cultural status, social class, ownership of property and land, economic wealth, employment, education and political power. Colonisation proceeded on the basis of neutering the remnants of Gaelic and Catholic wealth and power by the ascendancy of Protestantism, linking this form of theology forever after with political loyalty, economic privilege and cultural superiority. Anti-Catholicism played a major part in this process. It was a key resource in the ideological construction of Irish society into two groups in a zero-sum competition, which begins with the plantation but was not finally accomplished until the nineteenth century. It was also an important rationalisation for the flagrant structural inequalities between the protagonists in the zero-sum game. The alliance between Britain and Irish Protestants thus became a ‘holy’ alliance because theology played its part in both constructing and legitimising it.
KeywordsEighteenth Century English Government Irish Society Secret Society Catholic Bishop
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