The Society for Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics, 1849-1950, by Miriam Moffitt, Manchester University Press, 320 pp, £60, ISBN: 978-0719078798
Ideology matters to everyone, though they may not call it by that name. Systems of thought give meaning to life and to death and what happens in between. Belief systems may encourage people to change their conditions of life and become autonomous social actors. They may also induce fear of the consequences of confronting agents and agencies of power. Ideologies are experienced, constructed and contested though interaction with powerful competing social forces.
Religion is a form of ideology, the belief in a power that governs the forces and laws of nature and therefore the destiny of humanity. In the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, Christianity moved from a position where it was the status quo to one of adjunct to the secular power of capitalism, its belief in progress based on economic growth and subordination to the rhythms of industrial life and work. The great split in Christianity, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, reflected this revolutionary change in outlook in which the latter was both an adaptation to changing power relations and a reflection of the emergence of the nation state. Passivity in the face of an all-powerful nature was superseded by acceptance of the laws of the market as the arbiter of human social relations. The fate of the emergence into history and society of the isolated individual was, it was argued, in his or her own hands. People compensated for all-powerful and impersonal economic relationships by engaging in a personal one with God, mediated only by contemplation of His word in the Book. To be educated, to read, was to be in a position to directly experience the God of the Bible.
Protestantism seemed advanced, in the spirit of the age, in comparison to the pre-capitalist and idolatrous traditions of Roman Catholicism. It also claimed authenticity through direct unmediated insistence on literal biblical truth. The project faltered however once scientific inquiry, that other by-product of the Age of Enlightenment, demonstrated that the Book of Genesis account of creation was simply an imaginative fable. One tradition, which we know today as evangelical or sometimes fundamentalist Protestantism, and which believes in the literal truth of the Bible, was unfazed ‑ since the truth cannot be contradicted. In 1916 the theologian and evangelical activist Revd TC Hammond, denied that “Protestantism substituted an infallible book for an infallible Church”. Literal pedantry such as this had, as we shall see, a political usefulness that Hammond pursued in Ireland and Australia during the twentieth century.
This system of thought and action worked well enough in industrialising societies that were becoming richer, but not so well where the laws of the market resulted in disastrous stagnation and which justified the consequences. That was the fate of outlying possessions of major industrialising powers and became the fate of the oldest surviving colony, Ireland.
For Ireland the nineteenth century, which began with the Act of Union creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was catastrophic. Economic historian Joel Mokyr (1985) established that in two years during the late 1840s over one million starved to death or succumbed to famine-related illnesses. In addition, as emigration took root, during the inter-censal period 1842-61 the population fell from over eight to six million and by a further two million in the next hundred years. Moykr’s estimation is, if anything, conservative. The Famine and its consequences fed the outlook of later Fenian leaders and social agitators such as John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Michael Davitt, who witnessed the death or eviction of parents during the Famine period. The event clarified fault lines in Irish society that affected subsequent opposition to British rule. For Irish nationalists it established a requirement for economic as well as political resistance. The formation of the Land League and the Land War of the 1880s prevented a later recurrence of Famine. They also presaged the eventual collapse of the hated semi-feudal landlord system.
Mass starvation and emigration created pressure for politically led reform of a bankrupt economic and political system. Reform was conceded reluctantly in order to circumscribe the demand for political separation, but also facilitated its development. The popular imagination established that the economic was part and parcel of the colonial system. It appeared that imperial ideology, some of it unashamedly Protestant, justified death and disease on a mass scale. On the other hand, the supposed backwardness of the Irish, a feature first of Anglo-Norman and later of British views, evolved into a post-Reformation belief that resistance to Protestantism’s civilising mission was at the root of Irish problems. Attempts during the seventeenth century to supplant recalcitrant Irish Catholics with loyal Anglican and Presbyterian settlers created a substantial loyalist garrison. However, northern Irish Presbyterians showed signs of transferring allegiance to separatist revolutionary republican ideas in alliance with the Catholic majority in the late eighteenth century.
The unsuccessful and brutally suppressed 1798 rebellion, coming after the French and American revolutions, led to the Act of Union of 1800. It was designed to integrate Ireland, like Scotland before, into the British state. Alleviation of discrimination against Roman Catholics should have been the quid pro quo. That came eventually, though belatedly, in response to mounting pressure, and therefore too late, in 1829. While a significant strain of Anglican and Presbyterian republicanism lived on, Presbyterians concentrated in the North of Ireland were integrated into a reinvigorated system of sectarian privilege that had been an Anglican preserve. As Belfast and its environs industrialised and prospered, sectarian discrimination based on loyalty to a Protestant crown became a useful tool in preventing the emergence of a united radicalised working class. It also led to the formation of the state of Northern Ireland in 1920 and therefore to partition.
Miriam Moffitt’s book The Society of Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics, 1849-1950 (ICM for short), examines what happened in the mainly Catholic South. This general history follows from Moffitt’s Soupers and Jumpers (2008), an examination of the evangelical Anglican organisation’s formidable but failed attempt to convert the West during and after the Famine. She demonstrates considerable mastery of archival sources, integrating them with published material in a clear and concise style. Moffitt’s work is important, as it fleshes out underlying tensions between Catholics and Protestants before and after Irish independence. These were intertwined, sometimes deliberately, sometimes reluctantly, though inevitably, with the clash between Irish nationalism and British imperialism. Moffitt lays out the evidence for the reader, while noting an absence of treatment of this organisation in studies that might have recognised its importance. For instance Bowen’s Souperism, Myth or Reality (1970) on the Famine years concentrated on an area with no ICM activity, whereas McDowell’s centenary study, The Church of Ireland, 1869-1969 (1975), mentions it not at all. Bowen’s later The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1870 (1978) does deal with the ICM and its founder, Alexander Dallas, but does not evaluate its largely fraudulent “advertised successes”, or detail its decline.
Moffitt points out the continuing political as well as religious relevance of the organisation in the post-Famine years in the West and in Dublin, to which it retreated in the later part of the century. She points to its continued operation in post-independence Ireland. However, the work tends to concentrate on the earlier period, when the ICM was a larger, more confident, and notably controversial organisation. The analysis thins out for the later period. The first five of seven chapters take us to 1919, while the later period is confined to chapter six, “The later Years of Mission, 1870-1950”. There is more to be mined here for the inquisitive student of Irish social and political history. Moffitt’s pioneering research is invaluable, however, in that it indicates where and indeed why to look further.
The ICM originated from a tradition of British anti-Catholicism after the late eighteenth century traumas of the French and American Revolutions and 1798. The Protestant Crusade, or the Second Reformation, began in Britain after the Napoleonic War and spread to Ireland in 1820. For the British, deference, duty and obedience toward a Protestant monarchy framed the liberties of conscience and freedoms of action its existence was said to create. In Britain proper, the problem of dissent from Anglican orthodoxy was considered initially to be the more serious issue. In Ireland the Crusade was ideally suited to identify the twin foreign evils of Roman Catholicism and continental republicanism.
Irish Anglicanism faced a particular problem, it was a minority religion pressed by a not much smaller body of Presbyterians in a much larger sea of Roman Catholics. It was part and parcel of the landed aristocracy, the beneficiary of compulsory tithing from non-believers and in receipt of state subsidies. It expressed British Protestant and imperial might and rectitude, as opposed to Roman Catholic error and superstition. Its privileges, entirely dependent on British state support, were identified as the nineteenth century progressed as part and parcel of Irish society’s growing economic and political deficit. It proclaimed itself “the Irish church”, but was in fact a minority pursuit with an imperial ideology which saw most Irish inhabitants as backward.
Irish Anglicanism was therefore under pressure to gain more adherents. In an inaugural sermon in 1820, Bishop Mant of Killaloe issued his call to extend “the knowledge of pure religion” and to remove “the errors of the Romish church from the minds of our parishioners”. Conversion en masse was the object that was reinforced by Bishops Elrington and Magee two years later. In this project schooling was important but education secondary. The purpose was, in the words of Ridden (2007), “to make Irish children good Anglicans”. Control of education was therefore essential and subversion of the non-denominational intent of the 1832 National School system logical. The London Hibernian Society, followed by the Kildare Place Society, set up schools in opposition to the state system. The latter had the initial support of a Roman Catholic hierarchy that had yet to flex muscles based on numerical superiority. The Catholic Church was encouraged, or rather provoked, by its richer Anglican competitor to drive deeper and deeper into involvement and potential control of Irish civil society.
It was not as though these consequences were not foreseen and attention drawn to them by other more liberal Irish Anglicans, initially in private correspondence and later publicly. Eight months after Mant’s sermon, his colleague Bishop Jebb of Limerick observed that at the outset evangelicals “may, and probably will for a time, fill their churches … but such revivals are followed almost invariably by deadly collapses”. Jebb also warned of a Catholic backlash, particularly in the use of schools “as an instrument of proselytism”. This would “involve the South of Ireland in flames” (in Ridden). Evangelical efforts from 1820 to the 1850s established and then effectively discredited politicised Protestantism in the period after Catholic Emancipation in 1829, before Anglican disestablishment in 1869. In particular, the period of the Famine confirmed this verdict. The Famine period also saw a reinvigoration of attempted mass conversion. This had consequences lasting into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and on through the period after southern Irish independence in 1922.
The initial effort was funded largely (as later was the ICM) by private English donations driven by propaganda reports of conversion success in Ireland. Those directing the missionary effort, the Irish Society of London (founded in 1818), saw the Famine period as one of fortuitous opportunity. A member explained: “The famine … has softened the hearts of the Irish people generally – humbled and broken them.” It freed the people, from the “chains by which they were bound in slavery to the priest”. The Irish Society’s job was, “to rend the tottering walls of Romanism. Rush in to the breach and plant the standards of the Gospel on the ruins.”
Patrick Hickey’s extensive local study Famine in West Cork (2002) notes a pamphlet by the Anglican curate of Ballycotton entitled The Blessing of the Blight. The Irish Society in London commented in 1848 that it, “left the heart and mind of the remnant of Irishmen open for the reception of the Truth, proffered to them by Protestant England [during] the remarkable and encouraging crisis”.
According to Hickey, “the Protestant missionary movement had vast resources” and used food as a proselytising instrument. The ICM, officially founded in 1849, was if anything more aggressive in its pursuit of these aims. For instance, it rejected the Irish Society’s use of Roman Catholic scripture readers. Only those first converting were acceptable in such a position, said the ICM. It is in this context that Moffitt refers to the Irish Society’s comparatively “softly softly” approach.
The English millenarian clergyman and ICM founder Revd Alexander Dallas began to take an interest in Ireland after attending a meeting in Dublin in 1839 on the closely associated subject of converting Jews. He began actively converting Catholics from 1845. He noted that the “awful Famine and its attendant horrors … worked wonderfully”. It brought the starving into contact with ICM agents and acted as a basis for raising funds in England to feed and preach to the converted and them alone ‑ the feeding being conditional on the conversion. Dallas observed of the starving Irish peasant, often referred to generically as a somewhat baffled “Paddy”: “as the priests had cursed the food which God had provided for his soul, God had withdrawn his blessing from that which he usually provided for his body”.
For Edward Nangle of the Achill Mission it was “a great seed time”, a crisis which, “by the blessings of God, will raise her sons to the happy condition of a Protestant people”. The British government’s minimalist intervention policies were justified on the same basis. Edward Trevelyan, permanent secretary to the treasury, who was in charge of Famine relief, referred to “a direct stoke of an all wise and all-merciful providence” (Moffitt), and “the judgement of God on an indolent people”, (Kinealy, 1997). The home secretary, Sir James Graham, observed that “Pestilence and the Famine are instruments of his displeasure”, while “the canker worm and the locust are his armies”. He concluded: “doubtless there is a God who judgeth the Earth” (Moffitt).
This God was an economist of the Malthusian sort, clearing away by Famine the surplus population. Contemporary revisionist historians have used Trevelyan’s 1848 interpretation in an attempt to undermine research that places blame for the disaster squarely on the British administration and the landlord system. Thus Roy Foster in Modern Ireland, 1600-1972, called it “a Malthusian apocalypse” (though, as Tomas Bartlett has pointed out, Foster revised his initial view that it was a “holocaust”, preferring in later editions to silently excise the h-word in favour of “catastrophe”). Without any observable hint of irony, in “We are all Revisionists Now” Foster styled the author of The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham Smyth, a “zealous convert”. She was one of the first to expose the role of Trevelyan and that of other evangelical political economists.
Kinealy suggests that, “historians [today] are more than willing to acknowledge the contribution of Woodham Smyth”. They acknowledged her contribution prior to Foster’s re-assessment. Conor cruise O’Brien observed,
Historians have tended to treat [the] traditional [Irish] view as unduly bitter and extreme. It is difficult, however, to read The Great Hunger without coming to the conclusion that the traditional view, in its broad outlines, is right. (The Guardian, November 16th, 1962)
O’Brien was later, post 1969 and the emergence of the northern ‘Troubles’, to supplant the non-sectarian notion of a ‘traditional view’ with an invented category of ‘Catholic nationalism’. He disowned (by ignoring them) previous interpretations and paved the way for Foster and his many acolytes.
The Fenian John Mitchell, a Presbyterian, observed, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine”. In the evangelical Protestant view, he had sent both. The prerogatives of this apparently all-merciless God overturned Karl Marx’s perceptive understanding of the consolation forms of religious belief usually afforded believers:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
The ICM offered no hint of protest against the sea of suffering surrounding its mission stations; it effectively justified it. ICM enthusiasts did write up the harrowing effects of starvation, though in efforts to solicit funds to feed more converts. The ICM undoubtedly saved lives, a considerable number, especially those of children it targeted. Moffitt places these efforts in a positive light. However, the sword is two-edged. By the same logic the organisation was responsible for condemning to a fairly miserable death anyone who refused to accept preconditions for food. While the ICM rejected criticism based on its policy of linking food and faith, Moffitt convincingly demonstrates that the two were often inseparable.
The ICM affected to believe that insulting the beliefs of the majority was not also an insult to those who held them. It is difficult to envisage how the authors of sentiments such as these thought they might succeed with a message to starving Catholics stating, in effect, join us or die. It is not surprising that in these circumstances the ICM faced the sometimes violent opposition itemised by Moffitt. The ICM’s was a fatuous distinction clear to the increasing number of Protestants who opposed its methods. Moffitt (and Jennifer Ridden on the Protestant Crusade) note a liberal Protestant constituency permanently and publicly at odds with aggressive proselytism.
ICM missionaries set up numerous colonies aimed at bringing superstitious Roman Catholics, “a band of savages”, into proximity with The Word ‑ to teach them literacy so that they could read the Bible. It was an exercise that would also, of necessity, teach Protestant “habits” of cleanliness, sobriety and industriousness that would have political consequences: “Ireland won for Christ will mean blessings untold for England”.
The millenarian predilections of Alexander Dallas blinded ICM supporters. In 1857 Revd Archdall, later Bishop of Killaloe, proclaimed: “The time is coming. The light is becoming too strong … This will be a protestant land – may I live to see it.” In 1868, after the utterly demoralising census of 1861 revealing the Church of Ireland population at 11 per cent of the total, the ICM stated its view that “the war, which has lasted more than twelve centuries between the Church of Christ and the Antichristian confederacy of Rome seems to be drawing to its final issue”.
If so, the war was not going well. These efforts helped to frame the Irish Catholic-Protestant distinction in the modern era. As Moffitt explains, after the Famine evangelically-minded Irish Protestants attempted to stave off the emergence of Irish democracy, because it meant that Roman Catholics would be in a political majority. As British rule had been based on Protestant privilege, they could not conceive of Irish rule as being based other than on the Catholic kind and perhaps feared retribution.
As Moffitt points out, the project failed in almost everything it set out to achieve. In fact it helped to produce or rather to provoke what it set out to destroy, Catholic social organisation and organisations, as well as Catholicism’s self identification with Irish popular culture. As Jebb had foretold in 1820, mass conversions became mass reversions after the Famine.
The ICM was out of step. Catholic emancipation was won in 1829, grants to Maynooth were increased in 1845, while the Roman Catholic hierarchy was restored in Britain in 1851. Conversely, tithes to the Established Church were abolished in 1841 and the numerically declining Church of Ireland was itself disestablished in 1870. But that did not mean that those who enjoyed sectarian privilege gave it up.
On all rungs of the socio-economic ladder Protestants were on top and so feared the emergence of majority rule from below. They feared erosion of the minority’s superior standard of living, one they believed was based on and justified by Protestant virtues. The Church of Ireland was itself immensely wealthy, relying on annual subsidies of £700,000 in the 1860s and ownership of property worth £16 million (Shields, 2007). The stage was set for actively sectarian politics, driven by those Irish who benefited from sectarian inequality and eventually supported by British politicians concerned about the effect of Irish separatism on Britain and its Empire.
Those benefiting from discrimination opposed democratic reform, while those who suffered supported it. As the historian John Dorney (2011) explains:
In a colonial situation, a minority group rules a country, exercising power at the expense of a majority. However, even within the ruling minority there are usually hierarchies of class and wealth. Those lower down the social order are usually bound to the ruling class by giving them small privileges over the majority – access to political rights for example.
So it was in Ireland in the eighteenth century, where the “Protestant Ascendancy” extended to poor Protestants’ voting rights and access to political and economic power denied to the Catholic majority. But if you are in this “marginally privileged” group, what do you do when the system begins to be reformed and you risk being dragged down to the ranks of the previously despised majority? What people often do is form militant groups, opposed to reform, who espouse the state’s former ideology even more insistently than the actual ruling class. There are examples of this among poor Afrikaners in South Africa in the 1980s and 90s, in the southern states of America faced with black civil rights in the 1960s and elements of Ulster loyalism during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
One such group in 1840s Ireland was the Dublin Protestant Operative Association. This was created by an evangelical Church of Ireland minister named Tresham Gregg in early 1841 to, “reverse the decline of the Protestant cause, reverse the concessions to Popery and to defend the Union between Ireland and Britain”. It wound itself up in 1848, merging with the Orange Order.
Protestant churches resisted democracy and equality through internal structures that were relatively democratic, that facilitated expressions of politicised sectarian anxiety. On the other hand the Catholic Church, from within increasingly powerful authoritarian structures, supported equality in Irish society (up to a point), while claiming its share of sectarian spoils, particularly in health and education. Religious reformers supported reaction while ostensible reactionaries favoured political reform. Material interests and experiences framed each side’s stance.
It is one of the reasons why the Church of Ireland was a “Low” church with High Church traditions that by the late nineteenth Century eschewed Anglo-Catholic rites tolerated in the Church of England. In his highly perceptive “Church or Protestant Sect” (1998) Peter Nockles established that the emergence and decline of High Church tendencies in the C of I, including by many involved in the Protestant Crusade, were related to its relationship with Irish Catholicism, its sense of (perhaps sensitivity toward) its place in Irish history, and its contemporary political standing in Irish society. Preserving distance from Irish separatism could be achieved by magnifying separation from the rites of Irish Catholicism, while also claiming a linear descent from St Patrick. In championing the ultimately Low Church end of this theological continuum the ICM fought Romanism, real and imagined, from within and from without.
Institutional Protestantism remained identifiably unionist while, at a hierarchical level, Catholicism tended towards a conservative nationalism in opposition to its more secular variants, particularly republicanism. While unionism aggressively pursued a sectarian identity, nationalism could sometimes do so enthusiastically but also opposed it, especially within the republican tradition. Nationalism was a more diverse and pluralist phenomenon that retained an identifiable Protestant nationalist and Protestant republican constituency.
The ICM’s attempt to bring enlightenment and truth to the peasantry was framed by a sectarian narrow-mindedness that lived on in the twentieth century. The Revd Ian Paisley founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and a staunch critic of Anglican ecumenism in the 1960s, paid tribute to the ICM and its leaders, particularly the Cork-born Revd Thomas Chatterton (TC) Hammond, who led the organisation from 1919 to 1935. I was disappointed not to read more on someone as important to the twentieth century history of the ICM as its founder had been in the nineteenth, not least since he served through the transition from pre- to post-independence Ireland. Hammond served as not only Dublin but also general superintendent of the ICM, before departing in 1935 to become head of Moore Theological College in Australia. In that capacity his mastery of politics, procedure and scripture produced a long-lasting rout of liberal Anglicanism in the Sydney diocese.
The author of the ICM’s “Hundred Texts” and “In Understanding be Men” was a leader also of the Orange Order, who advised them in 1916 to be bigots for God. It was an enthusiasm he pursued in Australia, to the disappointment of his otherwise highly sympathetic biographer, Warren Nelson (1994). Hammond was formidable in promotion of his cause in various guises, of which the ICM was the most prominent. He was the honorary secretary of the Irish Church Union and a leader of the Anti-Ritualistic Association, in which capacity he supported church prosecutions of those engaging in suspicious “Romish” practices, such as facing the wrong way at religious service, putting a cross or candles on an altar or religious images on walls. He continued this work in Australia in the 1940s. In 1947, in the famous “Red Book” case, four evangelical clerics took a case in open court against a prayer book written by the Bishop of Sydney (Teale, 1982). Hammond “took up the case with vigour”. It was not long before he was accused of inheriting from his homeland
an obviously anti-Roman Catholic complex and tends to find something Romish in everything he can. His evidence is not dispassionate but full of contentions . . . [he has] gone to fantastic lengths to suggest that the Red Book showed a belief in Transubstantiation.
The clerics won a limited victory, banning the book from twenty churches in the diocese of Bathurst, much to Hammond’s disappointment as he had hoped to pursue the matter all over the state. Ironically one reason why Hammond was legally circumscribed in New South Wales was because
Richard Bourke (governor of New South Wales, 1831–37) used his power … and his strong liberal-Whig connections in London to achieve in the colony what could not be achieved by his colleagues in Britain or Ireland. From the moment of his arrival in New South Wales he campaigned in the colony and lobbied the Colonial Office in order to prevent the Anglican Church from becoming established.’ (Ridden, 2007)
In Ireland in the 1820s Bourke had been a leading vocal opponent in Limerick of the Protestant Crusade. He thought that “limits must be set on the Church of Ireland’s attempts to convert Catholics”, which was not only unnecessary but was also sowing “the seeds of lasting animosity between Protestants and Roman Catholics of the rising generation”. This, in turn, undermined all attempts to develop an organic and peaceful Christian society in Ireland (Ridden).
In Australia, the “Red Book” was no more. However, the bishop republished it under green covers and no one bothered to enter further tedious proceedings against it. Hammond went on to carve out a radio career giving talks under such headings as “Why We Reject Transubstantiation” and “Blunders of the Pope”.
Prior to this, back in Ireland, Hammond was, amongst many other things, editor of “The Catholic” and chairman of the equally anti-Catholic Connellan Mission. In this latter capacity he featured as a defendant in a 1921 case where photographic agencies sought to prevent distribution of a Protestant Truth Society tract distributed by the Connellan Mission called “Rome Behind Sinn Fein” (1921). It was argued that photographs published were the property of the agencies. It is not known how the case turned out. The highly imaginative work, a companion volume to “Rome Behind the Great War”, was later republished with a foreword by Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland in 2000.
The ICM’s activities during the 1916-21 period are lightly touched upon and those of Hammond hardly at all. This may be because the ICM’s internal archival record is thin. Of interest is evangelical conduct and commentary during the period. In 1916 Revd JW Tristram summed up his early thoughts in The C of I’s Irish Church Quarterly in opposition to “The late Rebellion”:
When Irish people learn to rise early, tell the truth, use soap and water more freely, think more modestly of themselves and exercise individual independence in thought, speech and action, there may be some hope for the country, but certainly not before.
While these sentiments were expressed in a scholarly journal and apt to go unnoticed, Hammond and the ICM featured in notable newspaper articles, as when during World War One German Catholicism was accused of being responsible for German militarism. Newspapers also reported an ICM claim in 1917 that there were too many Catholic chaplains in the British Army who were “not wanted” and who were there to spirit away the Protestant convictions of dying soldiers before they were spirited away. The matter was raised in the British House of Commons and the claim denounced in the Unionist Cork Constitution newspaper. An impression during this period of the ICM and of Hammond as a thoroughgoing irritable nuisance, increasingly out of step with southern Protestant opinion and the needs of the British state, is confirmed by the mauling of a motion Hammond put to a Dublin diocesan synod in October 1920, during the War of Independence. Hammond moved to “reaffirm loyalty” to King George and to deplore the
unhappy campaign of murder and terrorism which has deprived loyal citizens in the South and West of Ireland of the support and sanction of the ordinary law; and hereby calls upon the general Synod to take such steps as may appear to it desirable to secure protection for the lives and property of Churchmen who are subjected to injury and intimidation for their political and religious opinions.
There were initial attempts to rule the motion out of order. In an effort to save his text, Hammond retreated. He did not wish to imply that “acts of violence” were confined to any particular section of the population and conceded
It was a matter of very deep regret to many of them that associated with the campaign of terror there were some, happily only a few, who regarded themselves as members of the Church of Ireland.
After this significant admission Hammond then claimed that the motion’s “loyal citizens” included members of “the Church that had secured the allegiance of the majority of the people”. But even that was not enough.
There followed a series of backtracking amendments, but as this would have ruled the motion out on a technicality, it was suggested instead to “deplore the unhappy campaign of murder and terrorism in the South and West of Ireland”. A Brigadier-General Crosbie could not accept this “invidious distinction” and “objected to the aspersion that was cast upon the South and West of Ireland”, where he came from. “The North is far worse than the South and West,” he said. The Earl of Belmore interjected: “Not the North-West, but the North East”, where anti Catholic pogroms had commenced in Belfast in July 1920. Eventually, a motion deploring the “unhappy campaign of murder and terrorism in Ireland” was passed. The resulting pledge of allegiance to the monarch could have been interpreted as including condemnation of those who acted in his name and/or in his service, principally the counterinsurgency “Black and Tans” whose activities included burning a substantial number of Protestant owned businesses. (Meehan 2010, b)
The tenor of Hammond’s motion was in line with the propaganda needs of Ulster unionism but out of step with Southern Protestant experience. This brings us to a subject of interest to this reviewer. Accusations of IRA mistreatment of Southern Protestants during the War of Independence have been swirling around history departments and newspaper commentary since Peter Hart alleged it in The IRA and it Enemies in 1998. If this had occurred the ICM might have been the first to take note. It appears they did not, perhaps because it did not occur. The organisation certainly huffed and puffed quite a bit. After the Sinn Féin electoral landslide in 1918 the ICM demanded that “Great Britain must re-conquer Ireland”. Protestants must not be “ruled by the Empire’s bitterest enemies”. By 1921 the organisation called, yet again, for Protestant churches to do what they had never done properly, evangelise Ireland. It was a proposal most thinking Protestants considered tired and dated, as were claims that priests were behind it all, and behind them the pope. During the 1922-3 Civil War property belonging to the ICM in the West was destroyed. The ICM’s Ballyconree Boys Orphanage in Galway was burned in June 1922. The precise reason has not been elucidated, though Edward Carson raised the matter in parliament with accusations of generalised anti-Protestantism. However, requiring the boys to salute the Union Jack each morning and marching them to church behind it each week can’t have created a favourable local impression, particularly as hostilities centred on the legitimacy of this emblem. Its occupants were relocated first to London and then transported permanently to Australia, just like almost 130,000 British children transported to the former colonies up to 1967, largely without parental knowledge or consent (Humphries, 1995). The ICM’s “Banner of Truth” summed up the orphanage’s work as follows:
hundreds of [Ballyconree] boys … are now worthy sons of the British Empire in different parts of the World.
The organisation’s inability to conceive of Protestantism as other than pro-British was probably the main reason why it was a failure. While conversion figures were exaggerated, individual success such as that concerning an “ardent Sinn Feiner” who converted was celebrated. The same individual is noted in AE Hugh’s centenary celebration of the ICM, Lift up a Standard (1948) as being a “Sinn Feiner” in 1916 and a member of the British army in 1918. The organisation boasted regularly during World War One about how many former orphans in its own and the associated Smyly’s Homes died for king and country. This was the natural order of things Protestant. On the other hand, in Hammond’s words, Protestants supporting the IRA merely “regarded themselves as members of the Church of Ireland”. If Catholics considered Protestantism per se pro-British, they were not entirely to blame since the ICM agreed wholeheartedly that it was so. The extra step towards considering such versions of Protestantism anti-Irish, as in against the interests of Irish people, was but a small one.
The ICM linked its right to insult Catholic beliefs to perceived Catholic threats to Protestantism in general. The organisation provoked riots in street-preaching activity from the1890s onward so as to claim that Catholics were too intolerant to be allowed to run the country, but complained also when nationalist politicians advised their supporters to leave the ardent evangelists alone. The organisation that supported British law supported UVF law-breaking during the third Home Rule crisis from 1911-14. The ICM’s loyalty, like that of the Orange Order, was conditional on the British monarch resisting the encroachment of Romanism. Were Home Rule to be carried with the king’s assent in 1912, then unionists were content, many asserted, to transfer allegiance to the king’s Protestant cousin, the Kaiser. Against such mass sectarian political pedantry, the British government capitulated and Irish nationalists despaired. The imposition of partition from 1920-22 gave extreme unionists a state set up on principles the ICM approved of, though of course they would have preferred them applied to the island as a whole.
Nationalists were forced to accept twenty-six counties, with more conservative elements consolidating an extensive though circumscribed form of political independence after civil war in 1922-3. They accepted confessional control of civil society as a cheap alternative to the state taking on responsibility. This created space for Catholic dominance but also plenty of space for Protestants to continue on as before, in control of significant health, welfare and educational provision. This included the ICM engaging in poaching activities, squabbling with Catholic rivals over possession of children and intervening in child custody disputes between mixed marriage couples in favour of the Protestant party. This also included, up until his departure, Hammond continuing to make waves in meetings that advertised, for instance, “reception of converts, including ex-priest”.
Hammond set up the Children’s Fold orphanage for Catholics in 1920, and sat on the managing committee of the evangelical Bethany Home for unmarried mothers, their children, prostitutes and petty criminals, from 1922-35. The ICM-associated Smyly’s “Bird’s Nest” orphanage continued to emphasise its aim of providing a refuge for children of Catholic and of mixed marriages. Moffitt points out that inevitably, given the declining Protestant demographic, combined with Roman Catholic vigilance, these institutions catered increasingly for Protestant children. In 1950 the ICM’s ruling London headquarters, on which body little is adduced, insisted that the Fold revert to its original purpose, admission and conversion of Catholic children. Perhaps this accounts for why in 1949 the then ICM superintendent forced a newly married Church of Ireland couple in Sligo to take back from the Fold an unwanted female child the wife conceived out of wedlock (a child the husband disowned as not his), who was murdered two months later. The child’s mother was charged with the crime but was found innocent after five minutes’ deliberation by a jury. Possibly they saw behind the evidence to a heartless Irish world, that could be as much rector- as it could also be priest-ridden (Meehan 2010, a).
Moffitt refers to the organisation as engaging in pan-Protestant defence in reaction to the dominant Catholic ethos of the Free State government’s post 1922. The problem was that the ICM could not represent an alternative pole of attraction in southern society. This was pretty much recognised by many southern Protestants. At least one of their number was on hand usually to issue a stinging rebuke through the letters columns of The Irish Times when an ICM clergyman came south to extol the position of Catholics in Northern Ireland, or went North to bemoan the position of southern Protestants.
The Orange Order’s 1920s association with the ICM was augmented in the 1960s through then Dublin superintendent, Revd RJ Coates. In 1964 he participated with the combined Dublin and Wicklow Lodge in that year’s July 12th Battle of the Boyne celebrations. In the Orange Order service in St Patrick’s Newry Revd Coates was the “special preacher”. He said: “the Orange Order is an order of high ideals” and asserted that the Republic, after “40 years of total control by the Roman Catholic Church”, “was worse off than even in the days of the famine”. He did not indicate whether this afforded his organisation the opportunity of a second coming. However, the 1960s was an era that witnessed liberal reform of the South’s overly Catholic ethos, lead by dissatisfied Catholics. The North witnessed sectarian retrenchment by unionist organisations, not least the Orange Order, that resisted changes to the sectarian anti-Catholic character of the Northern state. The South veered leftwards in a manner the ICM did not appreciate, while the North stood fast on principles with which it agreed. The Irish Church Missions’ specific mission to Roman Catholics ended in 2002, though the organisation continues as a disaffected part of Irish Anglicanism, accusing it of being a Protestant Church without a Protestant message. From a position where in the 1930s all C of I bishops were patrons, today none are.
Moffitt concludes by wondering whether the negative legacy left by proselytism was kept alive by a manipulative and continuingly negative Catholic reaction. She cites the response of one Catholic priest’s middle class congregation to Eoghan Harris’s Souper Sullivan play in 1985. She wonders whether this is evidence of a “depth of [Catholic] bitterness”, irrespective of the veracity of the dramatic depiction during the Famine in West Cork of a Protestant clergyman saving lives and of a Catholic priest abandoning his flock. It may also be of interest as an example of an attempt to turn the history of the period on its head that in this case fell on its face. The already mentioned research by Hickey (2002) demonstrated that the play’s plot line, concerning Revd William Fisher, was at variance with the evidence. Reportedly, Fisher explained why priests were excluded from a famine relief committee in Kilmoe, West Cork
… had English contributors known that a Popish priest sat on the same seat as himself, sooner would they have cast it away than give a single shilling to relieve those whose religion he himself had sworn to be idolatrous, etc, and which he, in common with English contributors, believed to be the sole cause of blight, disease, death, etc. (Hickey)
Fisher spent charity donations on building a Protestant church. He explained that money raised for famine relief gave rise to the “difficulty of giving relief without injuring the recipients”. The solution was found in the Bible: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” It was from this principle that Fisher gained converts. The Kilmoe Relief Committee, nominated by Lord Bandon demanded “strictest observance – especially to not giving any relief except in return for work”. Fisher observed that “during the famine scarcely any persons perished in the hamlets near the church, who were made to work for what they got; whilst in other portions of this district, where a larger amount of alms were bestowed, gratuitously given, many died”. Unfortunately, “the majority was exhausted … Because the starving and dyeing were unable to work they did not qualify for relief according to the original terms of the relief committee, so the priest wanted to organise another way helping them.” (Hickey, 2002; Walsh, The Irish Times, October 3rd, 1985).
In other words, Fisher’s committee built a C of I church with charitable proceeds, giving relief only to those who worked for it. In the circumstances local Catholic clergy set up another committee and raised money for those too exhausted by starvation or not inclined by conviction to build a church for Revd Fisher.
The 1985 incident is of interest today in that it was an attempt at popular revisionism that the play’s author then began championing with the support of Conor Cruise O’Brien and continues to noisily advance alongside Roy Foster and others to the present day. It would be difficult to state definitively whether large numbers of Irish people in 1985 had reserves of bitterness going back two centuries. It is open to us to observe that the priest in question, Father Christy Walsh, in his Irish Times article on the subject, conveyed a knowledge of archival sources that the play’s author ignored in his response. The latter referred to “the brutal terror tactic of smashing a plaque” and similar observations (October 3rd, 1985).
Certainly, the Catholic Church made the most of the provocations offered by the ICM and its flock was motivated to organise against it too. Undoubtedly, this could make life uncomfortable for Protestants generally since the ICM give the impression that its caricature of southern Irish Protestant thought was a majority standpoint. As Moffitt produces evidence of Protestant condemnations of the ICM and its legacy, the Catholic Church can be accused of opportunism. The Catholic church was not motivated by anti-Protestantism in its reaction; it was motivated by attempts to preserve conservative clerical control of most Catholics, an amorphous mass that often looked like making a break from Catholic piety. Eventually, it did.
The negative legacy of the ICM was generated largely by a politicisation of proselytism and the ICM did most of that all by itself. The evidence adduced by Moffitt tells us how and why.
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Niall Meehan is Head of the Journalism and Media Faculty in Griffith College Dublin. He is researching attempts to re-frame the War of Independence as a pre-enactment of the Northern Ireland conflict post 1968.