Divided Loyalties: The Question of an Oath for Irish Catholics in the Eighteenth Century

By Fenning, Hugh | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Divided Loyalties: The Question of an Oath for Irish Catholics in the Eighteenth Century


Fenning, Hugh, The Catholic Historical Review


Divided Loyalties: The Question of an Oath for Irish Catholics in the Eighteenth Century. By Patrick Fagan. (Dublin, Four Courts Press. Distributed in the U.S. by International Specialized Book Services, Inc., Portland, Oregon. 1997. Pp. 202. $45.00.)

For more than a century now, much has been written on the penal laws inflicted on Irish Catholics from 1691 to 1829, and on the sporadic attempts made to abrogate them. Each successive scholar to take up the question, if one excepts Maureen Wall, was interested in some particular aspect or episode to the exclusion of others. As often as not, their work appeared in obscure journals or booklets not easily found. The merit of Patrick Fagan's book is that he takes a basic point, namely, the various oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and supremacy, and uses their gradual evolution to provide a solid framework for a study of the laws as a whole. He comes well equipped for the task, having already written biographies of Cornelius Nary (d. 1738) and Sylvester Lloyd, Bishop of Killaloe (d. 1747), both early spokesmen on the Catholic side, and edited in two volumes the Irish material among the Stuart Papers now at Windsor Castle. His familiarity with the published and unpublished writings of Charles O'Conor of Belanagare (d. 1791) greatly enriches this account.

One could say that Fagan's chief interest is in the period before 1778 when Luke Gardiner's parliamentary bill,"a watershed in history," enabled Catholics to take long leases and put paid both to "discoverers" of Catholic property and to the"gavelling act,which broke up their small estates. For the period after 1778, one should also read Thomas Bartlett, The Fall and Rise of the Irish Nation:The Catholic Question, 1690-1830 (1992), which, though it says little of the early eighteenth century, offers a rich panorama of later decades from a purely political point of view. …

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