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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 305-306

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Book Review

History of the Catholic Diocese of Dublin

History of the Catholic Diocese of Dublin. Edited by James Kelly and Dáire Keogh. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distributed in the U.S. by ISBS, Portland, Oregon. Pp. x, 390. $55.00.)

Ireland is a small country with a vibrant nationalist past. Largely as a result, discussion of its history long remained dominated by an exclusive focus on nation-wide trends. Recent years, however, have seen a welcome discovery of the importance of the local and regional. Kelly and Keogh's fine collection, the first of its kind, is an equally welcome extension of that trend to the history of Irish religion. Drawing on an expanding body of secondary writing, and for the later period on what are now accessible and well organized diocesan archives, its sixteen chapters bring together an extensive body of new material. There is one marked chronological gap: three chapters on the medieval diocese end in 1271, while a fourth chapter takes up the story in the early sixteenth century. Thus we are denied an analysis of the practical working out, in late medieval Dublin and its rural hinterland, of the institutionalized ethnic divide between English and Irish clergy. Such a study might usefully have complemented recent work on the same themes in relation to the province of Armagh. In all other respects, however, this is an impressively comprehensive volume ranging from early Christian times to the mid-twentieth century.

The essays fall into two main groups. The first is a series of biographical studies. Hugh Fenning's account of the archbishops who ruled the diocese between 1693 and 1786 is a useful survey, marred only by unnecessary swipes at unnamed authors who supposedly deny that the penal laws were ever seriously enforced. Fenning's account, along with a complementary essay by James Kelly, confirms that there was indeed significant repression. But the complexity of relationships during the "penal era" is nevertheless exemplified in Fenning's own [End Page 304] account of one incident around 1740, when the law was invoked to close down a chapel in the city. The Protestant plaintiff turns out to have acted in reprisal after his brother, a priest, had failed to be appointed to the parish concerned (p. 190). Dáire Keogh and Donal Kerr rescue the reputations of two later archbishops, John Thomas Troy (1786-1823) and Daniel Murray (1823-1852), both denigrated in nationalist folklore as "Castle bishops" but presented here as pragmatic yet committed defenders of Catholic interests. Deirdre McMahon's careful assessment of John Charles McQuaid, archbishop from 1940 to 1972, acknowledges the uncompromising hostility to mixed education, ecumenism, and secular liberalism that made him, for many, the epitome of authoritarian clerical reaction. At the same time she also brings out both the breadth of his intellectual interests and his contribution to the development of Catholic social services.

A second group of essays focuses on issues of religious belief and practice. Three essays bear on the disputed question of the relative importance, in Ireland's rejection of the Reformation, of survivalism and of Tridentine Catholicism. James Murray emphasizes the part played by a different influence: the persistence among the clergy of the diocese of a corporate identity based on the twelfth-century papal grant of Ireland to the English crown. Colm Lennon emphasizes the extent to which Catholicism took shape round a network of gentry and merchant households, rather than a Tridentine parochial system. Raymond Gillespie suggests the presence of two distinct subcultures: a popular religion based on local communities and legitimated by tradition, and a new, interiorized piety based on the printed word. The two, he suggests, were nevertheless linked by a common recognition of the primacy of the Eucharist. However, his own account of the confused descriptions of the host given by parishioners in rural parts of the diocese as late as the 1660's (p. 138) suggests that this appealing formulation may be just a little too tidy. Later phases in...


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