The faithful few

The Archbishops, Bishops and Priests who served in the Archdiocese of Dublin in the Eighteenth Century, by J. Anthony Gaughan (Kingdom Books, €24.00/£22.00)

With this volume Fr Gaughan brings to a close his series of books documenting the clergy of all ranks who have served in the diocese of Dublin since1600. 

For technical reasons this volume, though it appears last, is actually volume II. The main part of the text is a catalogue of the individual priests, about whom very little is known in some cases. But the book is enhanced by a long introduction on the state of the Catholic Church during what are loosely call ‘penal days’.

Real horrors

It has, however, to be emphasised that the real horrors of religious persecution belong to the days of Queen Elizabeth I and of the republican Commonwealth. Here, however, the author clearly indicates the nature of the series of laws which restricted the lives of Catholics and the operations of their priests.

Though he does not emphasise it over much the threat felt by the government in London about a Stuart invasion was very real. After all it was by a coup d’état and an invasion that the Hanoverians came to the throne. The Stuart invasions of 1715 after the death of Queen Anne and again in 1745, when Prince Charles Edward marched deep into England on the road to London, only turning back on the advice of his generals: this was frighteningly real to the Whigs.


But after Culloden that fear of invasion lapsed. The penal laws were slowly ameliorated, but remained to be invoked from time to time, often as a matter of local spite rather than government policy.

The author clearly lists these, and discusses their effects. But later observes that the real challenged to the catholic clergy lay not in the in the poverty of the people. Indeed part of his story is the emergence of a Catholic mercantile and middle class, with the wealth to support such projects as the building of the Pro-Cathedral in 1815.

Inevitably the accounts of the archbishops and the bishops of Dublin are far fuller than those of the parish clergy. The slow rise from having to operate from places of refuge to exerting influence over government policy, as with the case of Archbishop Troy, tells the story.


But caution was needed. The hierarchy supported the Act of Union, feeling that the parliament in London might be more even-handed in its treatment of the Church that would a purely local Protestant parliament in Dublin.

This was only partly true in the outcome. Nevertheless the creation of Maynooth College and the urging on the people of loyalty and respect to the Crown enabled the Church to thrive, though in later decades it laid the Church open to criticism from more radical revolutionaries, down to the present day.

But aside from matters of national interest, what emerge from the book is the growth of Dublin and the creation of new parishes. The growth of the city goes on, though the state of the Church is more ambiguous. But here again to be reminded of how the Church survived an era or repression may hearten many who despair about what they see today.

Fr Gaughan is to be congratulated on a very important piece of work, which will be of great use to all kinds of researchers; but which will also reveal to many ordinary readers something of what the ‘faith of our fathers’ really entailed.