Friday 18 October 2019

Catholicism had strong hold during the Rising

Irish people's everyday lives were shaped by church teachings, writes Fergus Cassidy

Queen Mary meets the nuns at Maynooth College in Kildare during a visit in July 1911. Photo: Getty Images
Queen Mary meets the nuns at Maynooth College in Kildare during a visit in July 1911. Photo: Getty Images

In 1916 over 98pc of the island's population were members of four main religious denominations. According to the 1911 census returns, the membership of those churches was accounted for as follows: Roman Catholic 73.8pc; Church of Ireland 13.1pc, Presbyterian 10pc and Methodist 1.4pc. Once baptised, which was usually within days following birth, the other major moments of a person's life - education, marriage, and death - were shaped by the laws and teachings of their church.

Covering almost three-quarters of the population, Catholic practice centred on the parish, the church and the school. In 1911 there were 15,397 priests, nuns, monks and brothers engaged in this and other work. Those numbers were a 21pc increase from the 1901 census. Nuns managed schools, hospitals, orphanages and homes for the aged. It was a devotional culture, with practices such as the Forty Hour Adoration, Blessed Sacramentals, Novena of Grace, First Fridays, May Devotions and Stations of the Cross. Particularly popular was devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to Mary, the Mother of God. The Mass liturgy was conducted in Latin, and fasting from midnight was a requirement for receiving communion. The Knights of Columbanus, an order of Catholic laymen was founded in Belfast in 1915, and groups such as the Pioneer Total Abstinence Society had a large membership.

The Church of Ireland also campaigned on alcohol use. In 1900 the Irish Women's Temperance Union was set up expanding to 87 branches throughout the country. The following year the Church of Ireland Temperance Society was launched. The church was disestablished in 1869, ending its position as the state church, but it maintained and strengthened its numbers over the following decades. It provided Bible and Sunday School classes and set up the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and a Women's Association.

Protestant clergy numbered 2,657 in 1911. Almost two-thirds of Protestants recorded in the census lived in Ulster, with 96pc of Presbyterians lived in the northern province. The Jewish population grew from 1,500 in 1901 to 5,101 (0.1pc of population), based mainly in Dublin where a community grew up around Portobello and the South Circular Road. Many were immigrants from eastern Europe. The Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, numbered 2,480 in 1991. Members were very involved in education and business - including biscuit makers Jacobs, and the Bewley family.

Catholic children were instructed in the articles of faith based around the question and answer format of the Catechism (see panel). Canon PA Sheehan, parish priest of Doneraile, Co Cork, wrote about confession of sin in 1899: "And so the young girls and all the men go to Father Letheby's confessional. The old women and the little children come to me. They don't mind an occasional growl, which will escape me sometimes. Indeed, they say they'd rather hear one roar from the 'ould man' than if Father Letheby, 'wid his gran' accent', was preaching forever."

Relationships between the two main religious denominations became strained after 1908 following the worldwide decree on marriage issued by Pope Pius X. The Ne Temere ('not rashly') decree sought to regulate canon law on Roman Catholic marriage, which from 1785 stated that a marriage did not have to be celebrated by a Catholic priest to be recognised. Ne Temere reversed this and stated that "... a mixed marriage performed by anyone but a Catholic priest is invalid in the eyes of God and his Church". The priest was expected to be from the bride's parish and the marriage had to be witnessed.

In 1911 Cardinal Logue, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, responded to the changed situation: "If the decree Ne Temere attains one object, which is no doubt among those chiefly intended by the Holy Father, the cessation or a decrease of mixed marriages, it will confer inestimable blessing on Roman Catholics."

The burial places of the dead were also determined by religion, largely due to which church controlled a particular graveyard. As most were owned by religious organisations, preference was given first to members of that church, with many graveyards, over time, appearing to be divided in two.

Irish Independent

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