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Protestant scholars continued throughout the eighteenth century to
celebrate the long history of autonomy enjoyed by the ancient Church of
Ireland. Cox argued that St Patrick ˜was the person that had the good
fortune to convert the body of that nation to Christianity, but he was so
far from bringing them to Popery, that they owned no jurisdiction the
Pope had over them, but diVered from the usage at Rome both in tonsure
and in celebrating the feast of Easter, and were therefore counted schis-
matics by the Romanists™.¦»¦ The English clergyman and historian, Fer-
dinando Warner, contended that Ireland™s early ecclesiastical history was
a story of autocephalous privileges from its Wrst conversion by St Patrick:
˜Indeed it does not appear from any monument of antiquity . . . that the
See of Rome pretended to exercise any spiritual or temporal jurisdiction
at this time in Ireland; or that Patrick had any powers or ensigns of a
primate conferred upon him by the Pope or by any other person. Neither
was it until seven hundred years after this that Eugenius transmitted by
his legate Papiron, four palls to Ireland, whither a pall had never before
been brought.™¦»  Mervyn Archdall (1723“91), in Monasticon Hibernicum
(1786), claimed that the ancient Irish monastic orders had not subscribed
to the Roman form of monastic rule.¦»À Bishop Hutchinson of Down and
Connor noted that the twelfth-century Irish church was ˜in schism from
the Pope. Those rugged kings would not pay him Peter-Pence, nor

”” Ibid., I, ˜An apparatus: or introductory discourse to the history of Ireland™.
¦»» Nathaniel Crouch, The history of the kingdom of Ireland (London, 1693), pp. 33“4. Cf.
Laurence Echard quoted in Smyth, ˜˜˜Like amphibious animals™™™, 790 n.; The queen an
empress, and her three kingdoms one empire (London, 1706), pp. 9“10. For earlier versions
of this argument, see HadWeld, ˜Briton and Scythian™, esp. 390, 399. For the continu-
ation of this type of argument into the later eighteenth century, see C. O™Halloran,
˜Golden ages™, pp. 130“1; John Whitaker, The history of Manchester (2 vols., London,
1771“5), I, p. 262. For Irish Protestant identiWcation with the more ˜civilised™ Belgic
Fir-Bolg, see Edward Ledwich, Antiquities of Ireland (Dublin, 1790), pp. 9, 15, 107, 137.
¦»¦ Cox, Hibernia anglicana, I, ˜Apparatus™.
¦»  Ferdinando Warner, The history of Ireland (2 vols., Dublin, 1760), II, pp. 16“17.
¦»À C. O™Halloran, ˜˜˜The island of saints and scholars™™: views of the early church and
sectarian politics in late eighteenth-century Ireland™, ECI 5 (1990), 14.
172 The three kingdoms

release their clergy from the power of his laws and courts. They kept not
their Easter at the same time, nor in the same way that the Pope did; and
by that they were known to follow the rights of the Greek church, which
kept it free from his usurpation.™¦»Ã In a similar vein, Edward Ledwich
continued the argument that Ireland had Wrst been converted to Christi-
anity not by Rome, but by missionaries from the churches of Asia Mi-
nor.¦»•
However, the twelfth century proved to be a major stress point in the
Protestant interpretation of Irish history. There was the unfortunate
coincidence between the arrival of the Old English (whose constitution
was championed by eighteenth-century Irish patriots) under the auspices
of the papal bull Laudabiliter (1155) and the corruption of the Irish
church, which at last fell into line with the papacy. The standard Protes-
tant response to this ambiguous episode, as Clare O™Halloran notes, was
to argue that the English Reformation had ˜redeemed™¦»’ the Cath-
olicising Anglo-Norman conquest of the twelfth century: ˜The battles, by
which the Pope was beaten, and his yoke was broken in Ireland, were
fought in England; for, as England had been made the instrument of
enslaving us to the Pope, God™s providence made it the instrument of our
deliverance from his bondage. The hand that smote, healed us again.™¦»“
The eighteenth-century Church of Ireland also found itself having to
fend oV an assault on its other Xank. Gaelic ecclesiastical antiquity was
used by John Toland (1670“1722), a radical Protestant convert from
Gaelic Catholicism, to launch an assault on the legitimacy of a hierarchi-
cal, disciplined and landed Church of Ireland. In the Irish section of
Nazarenus (1718), Toland questioned the historic legitimacy of Irish
adherence to both papal and episcopal forms of ecclesiastical polity.
Although Toland was himself an anticlerical heterodox extremist beyond
the pale of mainstream Protestantism, his antiquarian arguments, which,
in places, echoed the anti-episcopalian systems advanced by David Blon-
del and by the Scots presbyterian school of church history, provided
ammunition for Ireland™s penalised presbyterian community. Toland
argued not only that Gaelic Christianity had been non-papal in govern-
ment and free of such Catholic practices as auricular confession, but also
that it had been without tithes, glebes or diocesan episcopacy. Moreover,
Toland claimed that matrimony, a central area of anti-presbyterian dis-
crimination in eighteenth-century Ireland, being a ˜civil contract™, had
¦»Ã Francis Hutchinson, A defence of the antient historians: with a particular application of it to
the history of Ireland (1733: Dublin, 1734), p. 123.
¦»• C. O™Halloran, ˜Golden ages™, pp. 288“9; C. O™Halloran, ˜˜˜Island of saints and schol-
ars™™™, 13. ¦»’ C. O™Halloran, ˜˜˜Island of saints and scholars™™™, 19.
¦»“ Hutchinson, Defence of the antient historians, pp. 130“1. See Warner, History of Ireland, I,
p. 86.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 173

been the province of the magistracy, and not of the clergy. The ancient
Irish had enjoyed the full scope of ˜Christian liberty™ to diVer ˜among
themselves™ in ˜discipline™ and ˜modes of worship™.¦»“ In reply, William
Nicolson met Toland™s challenge at its most devastating point, rejecting
his arguments for an ancient presbyterian polity in the Church of Ireland.
What Toland took to be an elective form of democratic government in the
church, suggested Nicolson, had been more akin to the operations of an
English dean and chapter than it was to modern presbytery.¦»”
Churchmen had played a crucial role in fostering the Anglo-Irish
discovery of Gaeldom. Ecclesiastical antiquarians sustained the tradi-
tional identity of the historic Church of St Patrick, and, by upholding the
claim that early medieval Ireland was the insula sanctorum, nourished in
embryo a more latitudinarian conception of Hibernian patriotism.¦¦»
Then, for a few decades during the second half of the eighteenth century
the literati of the Protestant nation who had traditionally derided the
incivility of the Gaelic Irish began to explore the possibility of a broader
cultural Gaelicism. A segment “ and no more “ of the Anglo-Irish commu-
nity in the middle of the eighteenth century acknowledged the Milesian
civilisation as an integral part of its own heritage.¦¦¦
Why did this element within the Ascendancy, a body Wrmly attached to
a Gothicist identity, begin to cultivate so keen an interest in the Milesian
past? The work of Joep Leerssen provides part of the answer. During the
1720s disputes with the motherland, which appeared to disregard the

¦»“ John Toland, ˜An account of an Irish manuscript of the four Gospels; with a summary of
the ancient Irish Christianity, before the papal corruptions and usurpations: and the
reality of the Keldees (an order of lay religious) against the two last Bishops of Worces-
ter™, in Toland, Nazarenus (London, 1718); J. G. Simms, ˜John Toland (1670“1722), a
Donegal heretic™, in Simms, War and politics in Ireland 1649“1730 (ed. D. Hayton and
G. O™Brien, London, 1986), p. 44; R. Kearney, ˜John Toland: an Irish philosopher?™, in
Kearney, Postnationalist Ireland (London, 1997), esp. pp. 158“9.
¦»” Nicolson, Irish historical library, ˜Preface™, pp. xxix“xxx.
¦¦» Ecclesiastical issues were important in the emergence of a Protestant Irish identity.
Divisions over the distribution of ecclesiastical patronage led to divisions between
English- and Irish-born bishops in the Irish House of Lords: see P. McNally, ˜˜˜Irish and
English interests™™: national conXict within the Church of Ireland episcopate in the reign
of George I™, IHS 29 (1995), 295“314. For St Patrick as an icon shared by both
confessions (though, in the eighteenth century, without any point of contact between the
traditions except in symbolism), see J. Hill, ˜National festivals, the state and ˜˜protestant
ascendancy™™ in Ireland, 1790“1829™, IHS 24 (1984), 30“51. Note that the claims of
English whigs to the historic imperium of the English kingdom over Ireland (and its
parliament) were reinforced by arguments for the subordination of the Church of
Ireland to the jurisdiction of Canterbury: see William Atwood, The history and reasons of
the dependency of Ireland upon the imperial crown of the kingdom of England (London,
1698), pp. 20“3.
¦¦¦ Hill, ˜Popery and Protestantism™, 102“4; Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, p. 117. For the
political limits of Protestant Gaelicism, see R. B. McDowell, Irish public opinion 1750“
1800 (London, 1944), pp. 23“4.
174 The three kingdoms

health of the Irish economy, over issues such as Wood™s Halfpence led to
a growing sense not only of a separate Irish economic interest, but of an
interest shared by all Irishman. Not only did Swift™s ironic Modest propo-
sal, for example, display a Protestant patriot sympathy for the plight of the
impoverished Gael, but William Philips, in his play Hibernia freed (1722),
exploited the Gaelic past for patriot ends. The next few decades, accord-
ing to Leerssen, witnessed the ˜cultural osmosis of Gaelic culture into the
Anglo-Irish classes™, beginning with the antiquarian endeavours of the
Physico-Historical Society established in 1744.¦¦ 
Was a growing feeling of Protestant security, perhaps, the necessary
obverse of this heightened Irishness? With an enduring peace, a marked
Irish Catholic quiescence during the Scottish Jacobite rising of 1745“6,
and the recognition of a de facto Catholic loyalism came a loosening of
the straitjacket of beleaguered Protestantism. The Enlightenment was
not a phenomenon external and oppositional to Catholicism, but a living
and dynamic force within the church, which by the second half of the
eighteenth century was no longer the formidable Counter-Reformation
monolith of seventeenth-century Protestant caricature. The ultramon-
tane claims of the papacy faced various cisalpine challenges from within
the wider church. Gallicans who had wished for some time to limit the
authority of the pope over the French church now received theoretical
support from the inXuential German theologian Febronius. In his treatise
De statu ecclesiae (1763) Febronius advocated a decentralised Catholicism
of national churches run by synods of bishops. In the Italian peninsula
jurisdictionalists were campaigning to curtail excessive clerical powers.
The papacy itself became aware of the need to refashion the outworn
identity of the militant Counter-Reformation church, and in 1773 Pope
Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuit order.¦¦À Catholic Ireland was ex-
posed to this wave of reformism, with Archbishop Butler of Cashel
heading its cisalpine wing. Indeed, the Gallicanism of Irish Catholicism™s
French-educated higher clergy proved attractive to Gallican sympathisers
within the Anglican establishment. By the 1760s there had been a dis-
cernible relaxation and transformation of the anti-Catholicism of the
Protestant elite, both in Britain and Ireland.¦¦Ã
Not only did Ireland™s Protestant elite begin to dismantle the penal
laws, but religious tolerance was paralleled in some quarters by an interest
in Gaelic cultural projects. In 1760 the staunchly Protestant hackwriter
Henry Brooke (1703?“83), author of the anti-Jacobite Farmer™s letters
¦¦  Leerssen, Mere Irish, pp. 295“329 (quotation at p. 315). See F. G. James, ˜Historiogra-
phy and the Irish constitutional revolution of 1782™, Eire“Ireland 18 (1983), 13“16;
Leighton, Catholicism in a Protestant kingdom, p. 115. ¦¦À Bartlett, Fall and rise, ch. 5.
¦¦Ã E. O™Flaherty, ˜Ecclesiastical politics and the dismantling of the penal laws in Ireland
1774“1782™, IHS 26 (1988), 33“50; C. Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century
England (Manchester, 1993), ch. 5.
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 175

(1745), was hired to write on behalf of the Catholic movement, produc-
ing The tryal of the Roman Catholics which challenged the black legend of
1641.¦¦• In addition, Brooke™s Essay on the ancient and modern state of
Ireland (1760) reiterated the arguments of O™Conor about the glories of
ancient Milesian civilisation: ˜remote from the storms and revolutions of
the greater world, and secured by situation from its hostile incursions,
there is no doubt but the cultivation of religion, philosophy, politics,
poetry, and music, became the chief objects of popular study and applica-
tion™.¦¦’ However unconvincing one Wnds the multiple identities of Henry
Brooke, who was also the author of the Gothicist play Gustavus Vasa
(1739), his daughter Charlotte (1740“93) threw herself with tremendous
vigour into the history and culture of Gaelic Ireland. Charlotte Brooke™s
Reliques of Irish poetry (1789) stood alongside the antiquarian treatises of
Joseph Walker (1761“1810) celebrating bards and ancient Irish dress as
the most sympathetic of the new Protestant explorations of indigenous
Gaelic culture.¦¦“ Vallancey™s eccentric “ but inXuential “ philological
works lent support to the notion that Gaelic was descended from Phoe-
nician and by extension that Milesian Ireland, far from being a scene of
savagery, had been a glorious western bastion of the achievements of the
high civilisation of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.¦¦“ In 1785
the establishment of the Irish Academy (from 1786 the Royal Irish
Academy) provided a further boost to Protestant Gaelicism.¦¦”
Revisionism, however, had its limits. The self-consciously enlightened
historian Thomas Leland (1722“85), who attempted to break away from
the black narratives of traditional Protestant propaganda, ran up against
the intractable problem of producing a non-sectarian account of the
rebellion of 1641.¦ » The revived sectarianism of the 1780s encapsulated
by the agrarian Rightboy movement led to new bouts of Protestant
¦¦• Leerssen, Mere Irish, p. 314; Bartlett, Fall and rise, p. 54.
¦¦’ Henry Brooke, An essay on the ancient and modern state of Ireland (Dublin, 1760), p. 7.
¦¦“ Joseph Walker, Historical memoirs of the Irish bards (Dublin, 1786); Walker, An historical
essay on the dress of the ancient and modern Irish (Dublin, 1788). C. O™Halloran, ˜Golden
ages™, p. 223, argues that there is no evidence for the claim “ found e.g. in N. Vance,
˜Celts, Carthaginians and constitutions: Anglo-Irish literary relations 1780“1820™, IHS
22 (1981), 221 “ that the Catholic Sylvester O™Halloran was the godfather of Charlotte
Brooke.
¦¦“ Charles Vallancey, An essay on the antiquity of the Irish language (Dublin, 1772); Vallan-
cey, A vindication of the ancient history of Ireland (Dublin, 1786); Vallancey (ed.),
Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis (5 vols., Dublin, 1770“90); Vance, ˜Celts, Carthaginians
and constitutions™; J. Leerssen, ˜On the edge of Europe: Ireland in search of Oriental
roots, 1650“1850™, Comparative Criticism 8 (1986), 91“112.
¦¦” Foster, Modern Ireland, p. 184; R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the age of imperialism and
revolution 1760“1801 (Oxford, 1979), pp. 154“5.
¦ » W. Love, ˜Charles O™Conor of Belanagare and Thomas Leland™s ˜˜philosophical™™ his-
tory of Ireland™, IHS 13 (1962), 1“25; J. Liechty, ˜Testing the depth of Catholic“
Protestant conXict: the case of Thomas Leland™s History of Ireland, 1773™, Archivium
Hibernicum 42 (1987), 13“28.
176 The three kingdoms

anxiety, while Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne, produced another
inXuential bestselling classic of Protestant defensiveness which went
through numerous editions.¦ ¦ In the 1790s controversy also broke out
over the terms of Henry Flood™s will. The patriot Flood, who died in
1791, had willed the bulk of his estate to Trinity College, Dublin, for the
purchase of Gaelic manuscripts and to promote the study of the Irish
language. If Vallancey were still alive, he was to be the Wrst holder of a new
chair of Erse. This bizarre bequest was challenged by Flood™s family, and
defended by Lawrence Parsons, later second earl of Rosse, a close ally of
Flood™s in the Irish legislature, who, in a pamphlet published in 1795,
broadened the scope of his argument to vindicate the richness, signiW-
cance and high antiquity of Milesian civilisation. Parsons still felt the need
to counter Protestant suspicions of Gaeldom, which were founded on ˜the
most unjust charges of ignorance and barbarism, at a time when it was by
far more enlightened and civilized than any of the adjacent nations™.¦  
These slurs reXected badly not only on the Gaels, but on the whole island.
In the end, the family successfully contested the will. Some prominent
Protestant historians, including Edward Ledwich (1738“1823) and
Thomas Campbell (1733“95), doubted the historicity and incredible
achievements of this vaunted Milesian civilisation. Nevertheless, even
Ledwich and Campbell subscribed to elements of the dark-age history of
saints and scholars which now composed an integral part of Irish ˜Angli-
can™ identity.¦ À
By 1800 Gaelic antiquity was a palimpsest upon which could be
discerned in various hands the mythistoires of the Old Irish, the Old
English and the New English. However, this antiquarian interest in the
Gaelic past barely diluted the political identiWcation of the Anglo-Irish
community with the heritage of English liberty. The rhetoric of the
patriot revolution of 1780“2 dwelt on the perceived exclusion from the
historic liberties of Englishmen. Not even Flood exploited the Gaelic past
for political ends in his patriot oratory.¦ Ã Eighteenth-century Protestant
Gaelicism was not only of marginal political importance, it was also
short-lived. The sectarian turn taken by the rebellion of 1798 checked the
latitudinarian spirit of the Irish Enlightenment.¦ • Nevertheless, Protes-
¦ ¦ Richard Woodward, The present state of the Church of Ireland (1787: 7th edn, Dublin,
1787).
¦   Lawrence Parsons, Observations on the bequest of Henry Flood, esq. to Trinity College,
Dublin: with a defence of the ancient history of Ireland (Dublin, 1795), pp. 24“5; Leerssen,
Mere Irish, pp. 361“2.
¦ À Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the south of Ireland (London, 1777);
C. O™Halloran, ˜˜˜Island of saints and scholars™™™, 12“15; C. O™Halloran, ˜Golden ages™,
pp. 281“93. ¦ Ã See below, ch. 10.
¦ • O. MacDonagh, States of mind: two centuries of Anglo-Irish conXict, 1780“1980 (1983:

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