"A Nation of Beggars"? Priests, People, and Politics in Famine Ireland, 1846-1852

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"A Nation of Beggars"? Priests, People, and Politics in Famine Ireland, 1846-1852. By Donal A. Kerr. (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 1994. Pp. xiv, 370. $65.00.)

This sequel to the author's Peel, Priests and Politics: Sir Robert Peel's Administration and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, 1841-1846, might alternative have been entitled Russell, Priests and Politics. It is essentially a study of the Irish hierarchy's politics during the administration of Lord John Russell. For Kerr, Russell is a tragic figure who looked upon his accession to the premiership in 1846 as an opportunity to make the Irish equal citizens within the United Kingdom through a well-thought strategy which included a generous minded plan to endow the Catholic Church without the usual demand for a government role in episcopal appointments. This Initiative could hardly have come at a worse juncture in the whole history of the Anglo-Irish relationship.

The empirical core of the work is a careful reconstruction from correspondence in ecclesiastical archives of the process by which the victory of the ultranationalist Archbishop MacHale of Tuam over the conciliatory Archbishop Murray of Dublin was consummated in the appointment of the ultramontane Paul Cullen first as Archbishop of Armagh and then as successor to Murray upon the latter's death in 1852. It is hard to imagine anything Russell might have done to avert this outcome, which by itself would have been fatal to his hopes. Perhaps more central to Kerr's evaluation of Russell are two developments in which Russell's agency is more clearly at stake: the Famine and the "papal aggression" controversy. …