IrelandAn island comprising the Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire; and Northern Ireland, or the Six Counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone, and the Parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry) with a separate Parliament and executive government.

Saint Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, was sent there by Pope Celestine in 432. Arriving in a pagan land he first preached to the leaders, realizing that when they converted the people would follow. He laboured in practically every part of Ireland, built 365 churches, consecrated as many bishops, ordained native priests, founded convents and schools, held councils, and made Christianity the predominant religion. As early as 450 a college had been erected at Armagh, and schools at Kildare, Noendrum, and Louth, where priests were trained. In the 6th century many monastic establishments arose, notably Clonard, founded by Saint Finian, Clonfert by Saint Brendan, Bangor by Saint Comgall, Clonmacnoise by Saint Kiernan, Arran by Saint Enda; and in the 7th century, Lismore by Saint Carthage and Glendalough by Saint Kevin. By the 7th century paganism had for the most part disappeared and the monastic schools flourished. Labouring with Saint Patrick were many holy bishops, monks, anchorites, and nuns. Among the latter, the names of Saint Brigid, Saint Ita, and Saint Fanchea are famous for their lives of sanctity and sacrifice and the number of convents they founded. Saint Columba, who founded the monastery of Iona, Scotland, and numerous other missionaries were natives of Ireland who went to Scotland to spread the true faith. Aidan and his Irish colleagues went into England to surpass the zeal of the Roman missionaries under Saint Augustine and to evangelize Northumbria, Mercia, and Essex. About 590 Saint Columbanus with twelve companions went to France, where they established the monastery of Luxeuil, later laboured at Bregenz, Switzerland, and finally built the monastery of Bobbio, long the most prominent in northern Italy. Meanwhile Saint Gall was labouring in Switzerland, Saint Fridolin along the Rhine, Saint Fiacre near Meaux, Saint Killan at Würzburg, Saint Livinius in Brabant, Saint Fursey on the Marne, and Saint Cataldus in southern Italy.

When the Danes invaded Ireland they sacked and plundered churches and monasteries, desecrated the altars, and killed priests and monks. Under the Anglo-Norman rulers the Irish were oppressed, their churches and schools were neglected, and their culture ignored. With the accession of Henry VIII conditions grew worse; the king proclaimed himself head of the Church, the clergy were deprived of the right of voting, church property and the monasteries were confiscated. The people, however, could not be won from their faith and refused to accept the apostate clerics and the heretical tenets which Henry offered. His successor, Edward VI, endeavored to make Ireland Protestant, but all traces of his efforts were wiped out by the Catholic Queen Mary, so that at Elizabeth‘s succession all Ireland was Catholic. Under her, persecution was revived and many holy persons were tortured for their religious beliefs. Intolerance continued under James I; the clergy were banished from the kingdom, Bishop O’Devany of Down and others were put to death, and the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were rigorously enforced. Charles I followed the policy of his predecessor. In August 1649, Oliver Cromwell came to Ireland with 10,000 men; there was no opposition to his landing and no attempt made to relieve Drogheda. It was soon captured by Cromwell, and its inhabitants and garrison cruelly massacred; a month later the same fate befell Wexford. When Cromwell left Ireland in May 1650, Munster and Leinster were in his hands, and within two years his successors reduced the remaining provinces. Cromwell‘s death in 1658 was welcome news to Ireland, all the more so because Charles II was restored. The Irish had suffered much for attachment to the cause of Charles, and felt assured that the recovery of their property and homes was at hand. By the Act of Settlement, 600 Catholics were restored to their lands, and more would have been restored if the court of claims had continued its sittings, but through the influence of the Marquis of Ormond, who hated the Catholics, it closed its doors with 3,000 cases untried. One of Charles’s last acts was to dismiss him from office as an enemy to toleration. He was succeeded by James II, a staunch Catholic. When he ascended the throne, he appointed Catholics to high positions, opened the corporations and universities to them, had a papal nuncio at his court, and suspended the penal laws. This good fortune was only temporary, however, for James was forced to flee and leave the throne to William of Orange, under whom Protestant ascendancy was secured. King William’s Parliament formed new and more drastic penal laws, yet the Catholics clung to their faith and Catholicity progressed. About the middle of the 18th century the Catholics showed such loyalty in supporting Grattan in his fight for legislative independence, and subscribing money to equip a volunteer force to protect Ireland against invasion, that religious toleration was favored and penal legislation ceased. In 1771 Catholics were allowed to hold reclaimed bog under lease; the oath of allegiance was substituted for the oath of supremacy in 1774; in 1778 Catholics were permitted to hold all lands under lease; and in 1782 they became free to build Catholic schools and to assist at Mass. Parliamentary and municipal franchise was granted to Catholics by the Act of 1793, admitting them to the universities and civil and military positions and removing all restrictions in regard to the tenure of land. By the Catholic Relief Bill of 1829 legal proscription ceased for the Catholic Church and Catholics were placed on a level with other denominations and admitted within the pale of the constitution.

The operation of the Home Rule Act, agitated for so many years, was delayed by the outbreak of the World War. In 1916 the Easter Rebellion roused the national consciousness and the Sinn Fein movement began to spread rapidly. The Republicans, in 1918, established a Parliament of their own, the Dail Eireann, electing Eamonn de Valera president of the Irish Republic. After two years of uprisings and widespread guerilla warfare between British and Irish, a truce was finally declared in 1921. On 6 December 1921, an agreement was signed by a few Republicans and Lloyd George by which an Irish Free State was established, with northeast Ulster remaining a separate state. The following year the Free State was formally constituted a dominion and a constitution was formed by which Ireland is ruled by a governor-general appointed by Britain, an executive council, and a legislature of two houses. The Irish government controls the constabulary, army, education, taxes, excise, post-office, telegraph, and telephone; the British government is permitted the use of certain Irish ports for naval purposes and sites for airplane stations. The members of the Irish Parliament swear allegiance to the Irish Free State as by (British) law established and fidelity to the king. The present condition of the Irish Free State is peaceful and prosperous; its government is imbued with the spirit of the best Catholic rulers of the past, and conserves the moral as well as the material welfare of the people.

Ecclesiastically, Ireland is governed by the archdioceses of

and the dioceses of

see also

profiled people born in Ireland

profiled people who died in Ireland

MLA Citation

  • “Ireland”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 March 2012. Web. 14 June 2021. <>