The Effects of The Reformation in Ireland

       That movement of reform, carried out principally by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth 1, added a new dimension to the trials and tribulations of the Irish people under English rule. The Irish heretofore had only been an enemy on the battlefield, now they became even more of a threat to the throne -- they were living examples of Papist thought, word and action. In other words, they were anathema to the new Church of England.

       The Act of Uniformity, which Elizabeth I ran through an obedient Parliament in 1560, decreed that only one liturgy was acceptable, that of the Church of England. The penalty for any overt objection to the new religious scheme was death, with the manner of execution varying according to the sentencer's particular creativity of mind. Most were not creative and the hanging tree became the symbol of Irish doom.

       The number of unspeakable atrocities committed in the name of the Virgin Queen will never be known, but they were carried out daily on a people whose only crime was that they despised foreign rulers and their attempts to force on them a religion they found wanting and odious. The Irish cherished freedom and the right to worship as they pleased, namely the now thousand-year-old tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

       The seizures of men and property under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I impoverished the people and Church in Ireland, but could not extinguish the spirit of either. The faith of the people remained intact and .....




Rock of Cashel, which was until 1101 a seat of Munster Kings.


By the courtesy of Time-Life Books, Inc



the Church was primarily responsible. In caves and on hillsides, by privet hedges and along the byways of Ireland, mendicant friars and priests by the hundreds preached the faith of their fathers in their fathers' tongue. Wherever they went throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, these men of God found a people more than eager to hear their words and to honor them.

       Though the English tried mightily to snuff out what they considered the last flickerings of Roman Catholicism, their efforts only served to kindle the embers of faith into a raging flame. No sooner would one priest reach the end of his earthly journey at a hanging tree, than another would appear as if by magic. As often as not, the new priest was a lad who only a few years earlier had received his catechetical instructions through a privet hedge and then slipped off to the continent to study for his holy orders.

       There were other reasons to slaughter the Irish, to be sure. Appropriating their land was one of the principal ones, but any excuse would do in a pinch. When the habitants of Munster, for instance, proved an irritant to their English landlords, the Crown, in the form of Sir William Pelham, wreaked havoc upon them. He later boasted to Elizabeth I "that the local citizenry had been reduced to the point where they now prefer death by the sword to starvation."