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The Society of Friends in Ireland and the Crimean War, 1854–56

From: Quaker History
Volume 102, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 1-11 | 10.1353/qkh.2013.0008

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


According to Orlando Figes in his book Crimea: The Last Crusade, religion was at the very heart of the Crimean War; from the original dispute over the Holy Sepulchre in 1853 to the mass plantations of Christians in the Crimea after 1856. Yet in his study, which analyses the place and role of religion in Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Russia before, during and after the Crimean War, the place of Ireland and its religious response as part of the United Kingdom is completely overlooked. As well as this, several Irish historical studies have addressed the issue of Ireland and the Crimean War since 1964, and even though four of them have addressed the issue of religion during the war, two being lengthy narratives on the Roman Catholic element, the Society of Friends in Ireland has received minimal attention. To date only Brian Griffin’s article in Irish Sword has addressed this issue, but only in passing. On the other hand the Society of Friends in Britain during the Crimean War has been the subject of two substantial articles by Stephen Frick. The latter of these only contained two brief references to Ireland and when coupled with the several Irish studies on the war, which together contain only one reference to the denomination, one might wrongly assume that the Society of Friends in Ireland did not respond to the war to any great degree.

Yet this article will show that the Society of Friends in Ireland did respond in every year of the war from 1854-6; this it did through both its Meetings and through individuals and through active and passive means. It will also be shown that in spite of the Ninth Query, and the attempts of the Yearly Meetings to reinforce it, three distinct infractions did occur in Ireland. In spite of the Catholic Church’s initial hesitations, its criticisms and its failure to properly observe the National Days of Humiliation and the later National Day of Celebration, the Society of Friends was the only Irish denomination to actively oppose the conflict. All the other denominations in Ireland supported the war, with the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches all providing chaplains (and nursing sisters in the case of the Catholics) to care for the soldiers in the Crimea. Although the Society is primarily remembered today in Irish ‘folk memory’ for its response to the Great Famine, its response to the Crimean War only a decade later is of equal interest, and forms an integral part of Ireland’s response to the war as a whole, and the Society’s global historiography.

The Crimean War was a war which initially broke out between the Russian and Ottoman Empires in August 1853 when Russia invaded the Danubian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, vassal states of the Sultan. As the conflict in the East drew on, the public in both the United Kingdom and France became increasingly eager to intervene. This eagerness was bolstered by the writings of the contemporary press and the failure of continued political efforts, and led to the declaration of war by Britain and France on 28 and 29 March 1854. As in Britain, the various religious denominations in Ireland responded differently and in varying degrees to the Crimean War and its issues.

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One of a number of images produced by the satirical magazine Punch in the first year of the war, during which British Quakers actively endeavoured to avert a war with Russia. Punch, xxvi, no. 667 (22 Apr. 1854), p. 162.

An analysis of contemporary Presbyterian journals as well as the papers of the Sisters of Mercy, the Jesuits and the Archbishop of Dublin clearly illustrate the enthusiasm felt for the war by those two denominations, but more so the sense of opportunity which it provided for both churches. Although their respective chaplains had been legitimated within the Army two decades earlier, the financial constraints on the British military post-Waterloo meant that they had not been able to put them in the field to show their worth or to tend to their adherents. The Crimean War provided that opportunity. During the three years of the war...

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