Sarah Roddy
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in Population, providence and empire

From the 1830s, sets of clergy allowed a sober recognition of the economic benefits for individual emigrants to win out over any worries for the spiritual dangers they may have faced. Like Catholic clergy, Presbyterians could therefore identify significant ways in which, despite its losses, their church had profited by emigration. For many Catholic clergymen in Ireland, the much-trumpeted 'spiritual empire' was less the altruistic, divine undertaking of their 'martyr nation' than it was the opportunistic exploitation of circumstance for home benefit: an accidental (spiritual) imperialism. Fears of empty pews or of losing demographic dominance in Ireland, so prevalent among clergy during the Famine, and occasionally during later peaks of emigration, had proved entirely unfounded. In fact, although it was not openly stated very often, mass emigration had greased the wheels of the devotional revolution, helping to increase the Irish church's power and influence both at home and abroad.

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Population, providence and empire

The churches and emigration from nineteenth-century Ireland


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