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Cooke, Henry

Cooke, Henry

Henry Cooke (1788–1868), Irish Presbyterian minister, champion of trinitarian orthodoxy and evangelicalism in religion and of conservatism and unionism in politics, was born near Maghera, Co. Londonderry, on 11 May 1788 and educated at Glasgow University. Cooke personified and led the nineteenth-century Irish Presbyterians' reaction against their eighteenth-century radicalism, which had involved them in the United Irish national and reform movements and the rebellion of 1798. The first target of his polemics was the Academical Institution, which provided higher education in rapidly growing Belfast, and whose founders had United Irish associations. Cooke denounced it as a "seminary of Arianism," endangering the faith of its Presbyterian ordinand students. Arianism rejected the full divinity of Christ and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. Harnessing the rising forces of Orangeism and Evangelicalism, he forced the Arian, antitrinitarian minority in the Synod of Ulster to withdraw to form a separate synod, opening the way for the Synod of Ulster to unite with the ultra-orthodox Secession Synod to form the numerically strong Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Following his victory in the Synod of Ulster Cooke enjoyed enormous popularity and prestige, but many Presbyterians disapproved of his increasing identification with the Protestant Ascendancy in politics and his opposition to Catholic Emancipation, the tenant-right movement, and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Few Presbyterians shared his Toryism, but many approved of his resistance to O'Connell's campaign to repeal the Union, and he was hailed as "the Cook who dish'd Dan" when O'Connell declined his challenge to debate the repeal question in Belfast in 1841 on the grounds that he did not want to appear opposed to the Presbyterians of Ulster. In death, as in life, Cooke, whose statue stands in the center of Belfast, remains a hero to some Irish Presbyterians and a villain to others.

SEE ALSO Presbyterianism


Porter, J. L. Life and Times of Henry Cooke. 1875.

Holmes, R. F. Henry Cooke. 1981.

Finlay Holmes

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