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Home Uncategorized Down on the Plantation

Down on the Plantation

Seamus Deane
Religion, Landscape and Settlement in Ireland: from Patrick to the Present, by Kevin Whelan, Four Courts Press, 284 pp, €45, ISBN: 978-1846827563 Sylvester O’Halloran, in what seems like a proto-Nietzschean moment in his Introduction to the study of the history and antiquities of Ireland (1772), wrote: The reception of Christianity was a mortal blow to the greatness of Ireland. This new religion introduced a kind of doctrine before unknown to the people. Instead of those elevated notions of military glory, of intrepidity, and independence, so much cherished by their ancestors, they were now taught patience, humility, and meekness. Christianity was bad enough for Ireland, but the reformed kind that came after was much, much worse. And worse again was the Scottish Covenanter brand, beside which the Vikings appeared of a fragile and courteous disposition. Early Christianity had merged peacefully with paganism; reformed Christianity was, for the mass of the Irish people, a catastrophe of massacre, dispossession, ruination and enslavement the like of which not even Europe before the Peace of Westphalia (1648) could match. Yet when Catholicism reasserted itself after the Famine, it too became a monstrous institution, not as violent as its Protestant predecessors but almost as hypocritical on the issue of violence and even more insidiously corrupt on many others, especially sexual abuse. But with it too, the fatal paroxysm came when it merged with the political state. O’Halloran indeed had a point. His was one of many eighteenth century appeals to a pagan past as a conciliatory alternative – almost as a healing memory – for the sectarian Christian present. They fell on deaf ears; it was the appeal to an imperial future, of the sort Lord Castlereagh offered in 1801, that won the greater support. The Union and sectarian Christianity, both allergic to enlightenment and revolution, prevailed. Only nine years before O’Halloran, Edmund Burke had written that “those miserable performances which go about under the names of Histories of Ireland” – he meant those of Sir John Temple and Clarendon – consistently lied about the Irish rebellions: “these were not produced by toleration but by persecution … the most unparalleled oppression”. In specifying the fatal linkages between the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, Burke claimed they both won adherents who belonged to different religions rather than countries; this broke bonds of national and local loyalty. This prefigured those twentieth-century attacks on the Russian Revolution, on the new…



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