Early Modern Europe -- Catholicism in Ulster, 1603-1983 by Oliver P. Rafferty

Article excerpt

Catholicism in Ulster; 1603-1983. By Oliver P. Rafferty. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. 1994. Pp. xiv, 306. $39.95.)

"Ulster," as is well known, is an ambiguous term. The historic province of Ulster was shired into nine counties, but since 1920 the name is often used of the six partitioned from the rest of Ireland. In this book the word is used in the narrower sense in describing events since partition, but in the broader sense for events before it.

The author is a Jesuit priest with his roots very much in the "Ulster" of the twentieth century. His work is a courageous, and to a great extent successful, attempt at panoramic history. He begins with the surrender of the chiefs of Gaelic Ulster in 1603. This, and even more the Plantation which followed it, is taken as the crucial point in the distinctiveness of the Ulster Catholic experience, though, as he himself says "a note of caution should be sounded when using the term 'Ulster Catholicism.'" In some ways is not easy to pin down what separated Ulster Catholics from their social equals elsewhere in Ireland, whether they came from the poor areas of Donegal or the Sperrin Mountains in County Derry, or from certain parts of County Down, where even at the worst of times some Catholics managed a comparatively comfortable existence. In fact, "Ulster" is neither homogeneous nor altogether distinctive. It would seem arguable that the "Ulster Catholics" are a substantially separate community only since the foundation of the state of Northern Ireland in 1920, and that what marks them off from other Irish Catholics is political as well as religious and cultural. …