The churches and emigration from nineteenth-century Ireland

The book knits together two of the most significant themes in the social and cultural history of modern Ireland - mass emigration and religious change - and aims to provide fresh insight into both. It addresses the churches' responses to emigration, both in theory and in practice. The book also assesses how emigration impacted on the churches both in relation to their status in Ireland, and in terms of their ability to spread their influence abroad. It first deals with the theoretical positions of the clergy of each denomination in relation to emigration and how they changed over the course of the nineteenth century, as the character of emigration itself altered. It then explores the extent of practical clerical involvement in the temporal aspects of emigration. This includes attempts to prevent or limit it, a variety of facilitation services informally offered by parish clergymen, church-backed moves to safeguard emigrant welfare, clerical advice-giving and clerically planned schemes of migration. Irish monks between the fifth and eighth centuries had spread Christianity all over Europe, and should act as an inspiration to the modern cleric. Tied in with this reading of the past, of course, was a very particular view of the present: the perception that emigration represented the enactment of a providential mission to spread the faith.

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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the impact of emigration on the churches by exploring the consequences and potential consequences of mass population loss for each communion. It explores the theme of religious interpretations of the outflow by addressing a commonly referenced but only rarely scrutinised belief in emigration as a divinely dictated mission to spread Christianity across the globe, and consequent conceptions of an Irish 'spiritual empire'. The book relies for evidence on careful use of literary sources, the accounts of visitors to and travellers in Ireland, clerically authored pamphlets, parliamentary reports and manuscript material from religious archives. It surveys each of the Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic churches practical religious involvement in the lives of emigrants, and in particular, the systematic provision of clergy by the home churches to emigrant communities.

in Population, providence and empire
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The clergy and emigration in principle

This chapter assesses how members of the clergy regarded emigration as an economic principle. That Ireland's problems could be dispensed with alongside a portion of its population became a common belief in the depressed decades following the Anglo-French wars. In the 1820s and 1830s, there were both Protestant and Catholic clergy who were in principle in favour of state encouragement of emigration, though often for very different reasons. It should be noted that the Congested Districts Board, with which both Catholic and Protestant clergy closely co-operated, undertook migration and wasteland reclamation in the 1890s, but not without considerable difficulty and expense. A majority of all clergy in the 1830s believed that emigration could form part of the solution to Ireland's problems and were open to its encouragement, direction or organisation, whether by the state or by private bodies.

in Population, providence and empire
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The clergy and emigration in practice

The belief that clergymen had the power to influence individual emigration decisions had considerable currency in nineteenth-century Ireland. Radical constitutional and economic reform aside, this influence was long thought to be the best weapon in the anti-emigration armoury. A great deal of practical involvement was expected of Irish clergymen when it came to emigration from their congregations. The image of the grave featured heavily in the clergy's anti-emigration rhetoric, and in poetic laments and Catholic periodical fiction. Clergy were also apt to remind would-be emigrants that the city slums of America and Britain were already clogged with those who had gone before, their own hopeful journeys ending in misery and degradation. Worst of all, as Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto later claimed for North America, and as a private survey of England contemporaneously revealed, Irish Catholic immigrants, both male and female, tended to be over-represented in the prison population.

in Population, providence and empire
The pastoral responses of the Irish churches to emigration

From an Irish clergyman's point of view, by far the worst of the iniquities facing migrants was the perceived threat to their faith. Reports of nativist attacks on churches in the United States, for example, may have prompted 'gasconade, froth, foam and fury' in the Irish Catholic press, but the churches that had yet to be built were the real barriers to incoming migrants' religious participation. While the notion that mass emigration from Ireland began in the 1840s is certainly outmoded, it would seem that the formal, organised involvement of the Irish churches in the religious care of diaspora communities was largely a mid-nineteenth century phenomenon. Irish Anglicans who emigrated before 1815 were the best served as far as spiritual matters were concerned, benefitting from an organisation that was specifically dedicated to sending clergy to their destinations.

in Population, providence and empire
Emigration and sectarian rivalry

Partly by mining the wealth of controversial written material produced by Protestant missionaries and their Catholic counterparts, this chapter attempts to ascertain how clergy believed their churches might be impacted by the substantial loss of population which emigration represented. Historians of the earlier migrations have noted the difficulty of untangling the religious and economic motivations for emigrating, notwithstanding that religious persecution or sectarian violence were routinely considered by Protestant clergy as the root cause. The galvanising idea that 'Ireland is thus the battlefield against Popery for Britain and America and all the world' seems to have taken a firm hold in Protestant missionary circles. For all the allegations of 'souperism' that abounded during the Famine, Protestant missionaries were ultimately incapable of financially supporting and retaining in Ireland even those converts they had acquired before the Famine.

in Population, providence and empire
Emigration and the spread of Irish religious influence

The idea that mass migration from nineteenth-century Ireland created an Irish 'empire' has had enduring appeal. Yet as many historians of Ireland, its diaspora and particularly the Irish Catholic Church have noted, the existence of a peculiarly Irish 'spiritual empire' was widely spoken of even as the country's ports remained choked with emigrants. A merging of Irish migration and religious history demands a more detailed and focused treatment of what was a long-running and widespread facet of the clerical discussion of emigration. This chapter looks at the set of ideas that lay behind the concept of a special emigrants' mission. It then traces the development of its expression and any challenges to it, including parallel evocations of the concept from Irish Protestant clergy. The chapter examines some important practical consequences of emigration and the 'spiritual empire' for the Irish churches.

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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.

in Population, providence and empire