On Catholic Ireland in the Early Seventeenth Century

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On Catholic Ireland in the Early Seventeenth Century

The following documents are contemporary reports of the fidelity of the Irish (Gaelic and Old English alike) to the Roman Catholic faith, and also of the oppressions that they suffered because of this under Protestant English rule in their homeland.

SEE ALSO Politics: 1500 to 1690; Religion: 1500 to 1690

Italian Report (1613)

Sufficiency of priests in Ireland.—The population Catholic, nearly all openly professing their religion.—The English penal laws not enforced.—A comparatively small number infected with heresy in the cities.—The rural population ignorant to a large extent in matters of faith.—The nobility and gentry nearly all Catholic; hence the possibility of a large number of priests.—Estimated number of the clergy in Ireland: 800 seculars, 130 Franciscans, 20 Jesuits, a few Benedictines and Dominicans. The Franciscans always held in great esteem.—Greater learning and acquirements desirable in many of the secular clergy, the best being those educated in the Continental seminaries: at Douai, Bordeaux, Lisbon, and Salamanca.—The people have preserved the faith because naturally inclined to it; always attached to the Holy See; always hating the English; always opposed to novelty and tenacious of old customs.—Heresy introduced by violence and against their wish; externally Protestantism is in the ascendancy, all the archbishoprics and bishoprics being in the hands of the heretics.—Ireland counted 4 archbishops and 37 bishops; 9 under Armagh, 5 under Dublin, 12 under Cashel, 11 under Tuam.—No factions among the clergy.

[Original in Italian.]

Memorial Presented to the King of Spain on Behalf of the Irish Catholics (1619)

Conditions of the Catholics in Things Spiritual

Every Catholic is condemned to pay 12d. Irish if he does not attend the Protestant service—which is held in one of his own violated churches. Four times a year the judges going on circuit enquire from the parson the names of all such Catholics as do not obey this law, in order to punish them severely. . . .

No Catholic is permitted to teach anything, even grammar. The schoolmaster must be a Protestant, in order to bring the children up in heresy. If, contrary to the command of the Viceroy and Privy Council, a Catholic dare to teach Catholic children, he is fined heavily and kept in prison during the pleasure of the Viceroy; then on pretence of restoring him to liberty they banish him out of the Kingdom. Thus they force Catholics either not to teach or else to quit the country.

They forbid a Catholic, unless he has leave from the Viceroy and the Privy Council, under penalty of imprisonment for life, to go to Spain for the purpose of education; and in case anyone does go, even without the leave of his parents, they confiscate their property and imprison them until they give bail that they will bring him back and not let him go again. . . . Besides fining Catholics for not going to church, the pseudo-archbishops and bishops of Ireland excommunicate them. If after the third warning they do not conform, they are imprisoned and cruelly treated. They get no food, and if they are not to die of hunger must incur great expenses. At the present day there are many of them in prison throughout Ireland, and especially in Dublin Castle there are many gentlemen and respectable merchants who have been confined for years. . . .

When the Lord Deputy and Council have arrested a Catholic, either a layman or an ecclesiastic, they ask him whether the Pope can depose the King for his disobedience, deprive heretics of their possessions, etc., and they suggest and affirmative answer, in order to condemn him to death and to confiscate his property. . . .

Every Protestant justice of the peace has authority to arrest priests and to search for them in any house, and the fact of having such authority is publicly announced over and over again: last year (1617), a Proclamation to this effect was posted up everywhere. . . .

If a Catholic is convicted of having heard Mass; for the first offence he is fined 200 crowns and imprisoned for 6 months, for the second he is fined 400 crowns and imprisoned for a year, for the third he is fined 800 and imprisoned for life. The imprisonment may be escaped by bribery, but there is no chance of escaping the fines. . . .

No Irish Catholic can get any title or honourable employment, unless he takes the Oath of supremacy, goes to church, and swears to bring up his children Protestants: if he fails to do so, he loses his title or office and his property is confiscated.

Some cities and towns in Ireland have lost their ancient privileges because they would not elect a Protestant to be mayor or because the Catholic whom they elected would not take the Oath of Supremacy and go to church. This is the case at the present day in Waterford, where though all the Irish are Catholics, the civic offices are conferred on Protestants by the government. . . .

The Protestants have broken up all the stone altars that were in our churches and have altered the arrangement of the churches, in order that the marks of their original destination should disappear. And they compel the unfortunate Catholic inhabitants of the parish to contribute towards defraying the cost of altering the churches and of providing a wooden table and 2 silver cups for what they call Communion. . . .

No Catholic merchant, etc., can share in the rights or privileges of his town, unless he takes the Oath of Supremacy. . . .

The Protestants have taken possession of all the religious houses and of the property belonging to them; some monasteries have been thrown down in order to furnish materials for building palaces and houses; other monasteries are occupied by families; other monasteries are used as law courts where ecclesiastics are condemned to death. And the churches of the monasteries are turned into stables. . . .

Conditions of the Catholics in Things Temporal

All the government officials are English or Scotch heretics.

No Irish Catholic, however learned he may be, is permitted to plead as advocate in court, unless he first takes the Oath of Supremacy. . . . In the civil and criminal cases where Catholics are in question, some of those appointed to serve on the juries are Catholics, and if they do not act against their consciences and join the Protestant jurymen in injuring the Catholics, they are fined and imprisoned. . . .

When the officials are going on the King's business, they live luxuriously at the expense of the poor Catholics. If a Catholic refuses to admit them into his house and to supply them with food and money, they take it by force and then fine and imprison him. For these wrongs there is no hope of redress. The plantation of Ireland with English and Scottish heretics which is going on at present is effected in this way. The King commands the Catholics because they are Irish to quit their lands, and if he does give them a little land elsewhere, it is at a great distance from their old homes, in order that their very names may be forgotten there.

The Catholics whom the King dispossesses in this way are confined in prison until they give large sums of money as security that they will not sue or otherwise molest the heretics to whom their lands have been granted. . . . The above mentioned plantation of Ireland with Scotch heretics has for its object to create discord between the Irish and Scotch who from ancient times were on most friendly terms, and to prevent the Scotch from joining the Irish against the King, and to unite the Scotch and English against the Irish. . . .

Any government official may with impunity extort money from the Catholics or inflict suffering on them. If a Catholic complains to the Lord Deputy of these extortioners and persecutors, they accuse him of some crime, and the consequence is that he loses everything he possessed. . . .

If through inadvertence a Catholic say the least thing against an act of the King, either in spirituals or in temporals, it is high treason punished by death and confiscation.

It is forbidden to sell Catholic books, under pain of imprisonment.

[Original in Spanish.]

Fidelity of Ireland to the Catholic Faith (John Lynch, Cambrensis Eversus, 1662)

Of all the countries of Europe subject to heretical kings, there is not one in which a greater number of subjects have persevered in the old faith, and in obedience to the sovereign pontiff, than in Ireland. Cardinal Bentivoglio has truly observed, that the Irish would seem to have sucked in the Catholic faith with their mother's milk. In other countries smitten with heresy, the majority followed the example of the king or other governing power of the State, and renounced the old faith and supremacy of the Pope; but in Ireland, I do not hesitate to assert, that not the tenth, nor the hundredth, no nor the thousandth part, revolted from the faith of their fathers to the camp of the heretics. Orlandinus might say with perfect truth "that the Irish had preserved in heart and soul the Catholic faith in all its integrity and the most devoted obedience to the Roman pontiff." And Bozius also: "as far as we can judge from history, not one of all the northern nations has been more constant in the profession of the one faith."

Irish History from Contemporary Sources,edited by Constantia Maxwell (1923), pp. 154–158.

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