Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirteen

Ecclesiastical Politics and the Counter-
Reformation in Ireland, 1618–48
(1960)

The internal politics of the Counter-Reformation varied in accordance with the individual circumstances of each European country. Nevertheless, many of the problems raised were common to all. The reception of the Tridentine decrees, the clash of regular and secular clergy, the pressure of local, ecclesiastical, and secular interests, the influence of the Spanish monarchy, and the part played by changing conditions in the structure of the Curia itself, especially the foundation of the Congregation of Propaganda in 1622—these affected societies as disparate as the Holy Roman Empire and Ireland. Against this background, Irish ecclesiastical history is of more than parochial or diocesan interest, and its disputes during the early seventeenth century throw light, by analogy, upon wider European developments. Indeed, so far as the British Isles are concerned, the Counter-Reformation was mainly an “Irish question,” much as Catholic Emancipation was to be later, although it was to throw up no figures of the same caliber as Campion or Parsons.1

The pattern of Irish ecclesiastical history in the early seventeenth century reflected the immense importance of local ties. Even in “normal” circumstances, local affiliations were a decisive factor in the appointment of a bishop and in missionary conditions, such as obtained between 1600 and 1650, tendencies toward localism were accentuated. Only in exceptional circumstances, as during Rinuccini's nunciature,2 were local voices ever overridden, and though in theory the choice rested with Holy Office or Propaganda, local interests usually had the final say. Indeed, it was essential for a candidate for a bishopric to have the backing of the local gentry as well as the local clergy if his future path were to be smooth. For Killaloe,

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