Friday, 14 November 2014

Catholic Emancipation and it's influence

Emancipation and its influence on the Irish.

Written on September 20th 2014

The Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1829 (the Catholic Emancipation Act) was passed in the House of Commons with the support of the Liberals, the Whigs and a few Tories. It was opposed by other Tories, by the House of Lords and particularly by King George 4th.  It allowed Catholics in Britain and Ireland to join the House of Commons and to become members of local authorities and other political bodies. Daniel O’Connell in his later years had a major influence in pressing for Catholic emancipation and for the acceptance of Catholics as normal members of the population. Lord Wellesley who was the brother of the Duke of Wellington and who had been the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland from 1821 to 1828, had, like the Duke, worked tirelessly to have the emancipation bill passed.

Bishop John Milner
What is not known to us in Ireland is that there was a priest in England who was called Bishop John Milner, who in the early 1800s played a very large part in pushing Catholic emancipation.  He died shortly after it was successfully passed by parliament.  The Protestants in the North were powerfully opposed to the Act but when eventually it was passed, the opposition was divided there along class lines. The aristocracy were indifferent to the change but the lower classes and the workers were opposed which provoked much of the later sectarianism in the province manifested by the marches on the 12th of July and other evidence of opposition to the Catholic community. And these were the northerners who joined with the Catholics in the 1798 Rebellion and who were bought off by Pitt when he promised to provide a regular income for their impoverished clerics at the time of the Union. The Catholic clerics refused his offer.

Some restrictions were included in the Act. Catholic clergy could not use titles such as Archbishop or Bishop and Catholics were entitled to vote only if they satisfied certain standards in terms of property. The restriction on titles by the Church was ignored and these and other restrictions were eventually deleted from the Act between 1851 and 1871.

The Irish Ireland rebellion of 1847 and the Fenian rebellion of 1867 were the only protests in arms during the rest of the century.  They were poorly organised and easily dealt with by the authorities, not to mention the rebels own incompetence.  There were no executions and the rebels were either imprisoned or banished to Australia or other countries abroad, unlike the executions after 1916 which caused such a nationalist reaction and contributed to the War of Independence and to the Civil War.

Church of St. Nicholas of Myra (without) - 1829
Emancipation was followed in Dublin by an extraordinary degree of church building activity in the city and the outer suburbs.  Oddly enough, the same interest in church building was evident amongst Protestants in the city as well. Their churches were smaller and perhaps more acceptable from the architectural and devotional points of view.

I had a particular interest in writing this essay about the Catholic Emancipation Act. The subsequent spread of secondary education had a profound effect on Catholics and particularly on my paternal and maternal parents. The establishment of many Catholic secondary schools, particularly among the Ursuline, Loreto, Dominican and Mercy orders for women and the Christian Brothers for men over the next half century created a Catholic middle class which reached the same standard of education and the same social fabric as their Protestant brethren. This and the entry of Catholics into local and national politics and into management made it inevitable that the large Catholic majority would eventually dominate the affairs of the country. And it is clear that the great Celtic revival movement on the late 19th century, initiated largely by the Protestant minority, was gradually joined by Catholic scholars and writers as education became available to the masses

Church of St. Francis Xavier, Dublin.
As regards political influence, The Treaty between England and Ireland included a provision that the Protestant minority would not be victimised by an Irish Parliament. In fact, the first Irish governments were more than generous to them by including a large number of Protestants in its Senate. Otherwise, Protestants have shown little interest in the country’s politics and its proceedings since 1922, with a few notable exceptions. However, despite the amity between Catholics and Protestants in the South, it appears that the 10% of Protestants existing in the 26 Counties in the 1920s have diminished in recent times.

Patrick and Elizabeth Mulcahy with their three eldest children
Perhaps the most remarkable feature about my two families was the emphasis on education at the turn of the 19h and 20th centuries, particularly among the girls.   There were eight children in my father’s family, five girls and three boys.  Their father was postmaster in Thurles and later in Ennis in Co. Clare. Four of the five girls were sent up to Dublin to do university degrees and to take part in the secondary teaching profession.  Three of them became nuns within the Ursuline teaching order.  The fifth girl remained at home to look after the younger boys because of the death of their mother at an early stage. She subsequently joined the Sisters of Charity as a nun and hospital administrator.

The three boys were treated differently by their father. Despite the fact that my father, Richard, the eldest boy, got one of the first places in the Intermediate examination in Ireland, his father insisted that he must leave school and join the Post Office as a learner before he had entered his last two years in school.  He had won an exhibition of 20 pounds a year for the last two years of his education but his father was in need of the money because of debt incurred by his family. My father went as a post office learner to Bantry in West Cork where he was close to Ballingeary, this centre of the West Cork gaelteacht. He learned to speak excellent Irish and he spent much of his spare time with the local people and their various social and cultural activities.  Bantry was ten miles from Ballingeary but not infrequently he walked the distance between the two villages.

Paddy and Dad, standing. Kitty, Sam and Senan, seated.
After two years in Wexford, he arrived in Dublin in 1907 at the gage of 21. He spent the six years attending the recently opened third level schools in Bolton Street and Kevin Street in Dublin where he studied languages, science and mostly matters in relation to telegraphy.  He became a fairly senior member of the telegraphy staff in Dublin by 1916 when he became, rather accidentally, involved in the 1916 Rebellion and was subsequently imprisoned and sacked from his post office career. He returned to Dublin with the intention of doing medicine but soon got involved in the building up of the Irish Volunteers and became their first Chief of Staff in March 1918 because of his military exploits in Easter Week. He remained in that position until 1922, after the Treaty had been ratified and he was then appointed Minister for Defence. 

He retired from the Army in January 1922 but immediately re-joined as Chief of Staff at the end of June with the start of the Civil War.  He remained Chief of Staff until the end of the Civil War and then spent the rest of his life as a politician.

Despite my father’s early departure from school, he remained all his life passionate about learning; he became a fluent Irish speaker and read much French and French poetry. Among these and other aspects of learning, he was an inveterate reader all his life, particularly on the history of the country during the late 19th and early 20th century, an interest which is evident by the large library of books of the period which are still in my library.

His brother, Paddy, joined the British army when he was underage and after his return from three years as a sapper in the trenches to Ireland he joined the IRA during the War of Independence and subsequently remained in the National Army. He became chief of staff in the 1950s, more than 30 years after my father had been in that role. My other uncle, Sam, the youngest boy, was born just shortly before his mother’s death.  He became a priest, joined the Cistercian monastery and school in Roscrea and subsequently travelled to Mid-Lothian in Scotland in 1946 where he set up the first post-reformation Catholic monastery in Scotland; Perhaps unexpectedly he was successful in being welcomed by the strong Presbyterian population at the time and of becoming intimate with the head of the Church of Scotland in terms of ecumenical activity and of friendship.

My mother Min (top right) with parents, siblings and aunt.
There were twelve siblings in my mother’s family who were born in a farming community in Taghmon in County Wexford.  There were eight girls and four boys.  Surprisingly, six of the girls were sent to Dublin after their secondary education with the Loreto order in Gorey.  In Dublin they attended the old Royal University and subsequently University College Dublin.  One became a teacher in the Loreto order, another qualified as a scientist and the other four became secondary teachers until they got married.  They taught not only in Ireland but also in England and in Europe.  It was the custom for them to spend a year or two teaching in convents in Germany, Belgium, England, Scotland and France. Two of the eight girls remained in the household on the Wexford farm, one of whom, Nell, was active in local politics.

Mother, perhaps passing on some advice to a newly qualified doctor!
Mary Josephine ‘’Min’’ married my father. Agnes married Denis McCullough who was a prominent IRA man in the North and unsuccessfully attempted to reach the 1916 rebellion from the North.  Two of my Aunts, Mary Kate and Phyllis married Sean T. O’Kelly who was a leading politician during the troubled times and who joined de Valera as a close colleague after the split created by the Treaty settlement  His first wife died in 1934 and his second wife Phyllis, outlived him, having married about 1940.  A further sister joined Professor Michael O’Malley who was the leading surgeon in Galway and who played an important part in advancing the medical services of that city.

Two of the four boys, Jack and Michael, remained farmers in Tomcoole where they had an extensive holding of about 600 acres by the 1930s. Jim became a doctor qualifying in University College in Dublin. He attended the GPO as a medical student looking after the occupants during the 1916 Rebellion.  The fourth boy, Martin, became a priest, qualified in Wexford and was in a parish there when he died young from blood poisoning.

The Ryan family was seriously divided by the Treaty settlement, particularly Jim who was to remain a close associate of de Valera and both Kate and Phyllis who had been influenced by Seán T. O’Kelly who was active in Sinn Féin and who  too remained faithful to de Valera. Nell who had remained in Wexford was fervently anti-Treaty. She was imprisoned and went on hunger strike while my father was head of the army during the Civil War. He refused her release despite pressure from some of her siblings! The strike, which she shared with others, was to last 30 days until they were induced to abandon their suffering, and not thanks to my father! The split among the Ryan siblings was a disaster at the time but the worst aspect of the bitterness had diminished after a few years and subsequent generations of the family were not touched by their differences. 

My father’s family had no specific interest in politics and dad’s involvement in 1916 was not approved of initially by his family. His father’s reaction to 1916 was said to be ‘’He had much to thank the British for appointing him postmaster of Ennis’’.

The Ryan sisters were not particularly active during the rebellion as individuals apart from my mother who was a member of Cumman na mBan. She established a branch of the Cumann in London while teaching there. She was closely associated with Seán McDermott, who was one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation and who was executed subsequently. She, with her youngest sister, Phyllis, acted as messengers to the GPO during Easter Week.  McDermott would have married my mother if he had survived, instead of which she met Richard Mulcahy in 1917, after his return from prison. They were married in 1919. The Ryans, including my mother, tended to distance themselves from politics and political contact once they became married and acquired children.

1 comment:

  1. I must take exception to the bald statement that Protestants have shown no interesting the country's politics and its proceedings since 1922. This implies that there is a sort of apolitical Protestant class in Ireland that is very contrary to my long association with Christ Church Cathedral. I might begin by pointing out that the Church of Ireland celebrates citizenship Sunday each year, which brings together representatives of the political, diplomatic and social agencies in society. A practice I would commend to other denominations.
    But more generally, I have never encountered a sense that the Protestant community in Ireland had opted out of politics. Certainly, the silent but remorseless pressure on their faith and culture has contributed greatly to the decline in numbers since independence, but I, for one, did not detect a lack of interest or participation in politics, as evidenced by being well-informed and exercising the right to vote.