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A New Anatomy of Ireland: The Irish Protestants, 1649–1770
Yale University Press, 2003
528 pp., $50.00
Making the Grand Figure: Lives and Possessions in Ireland, 1641–1770
Yale University Press, 2004
520 pp., $65.00
Mary Noll Venables
Ireland's Forgotten Protestants
Ireland is one of the few remaining countries where it's a major news item that Catholics make up less than 90 percent of the population. According to reports last spring, the number of Protestants is edging higher while the number of Catholics is holding steady. The Church of Ireland, Ireland's largest Protestant denomination and the former established church, gained congregants for the first time in over a century. Presbyterian and Methodist memberships also increased. Meanwhile, many new non-Catholics have recently arrived in Ireland, and groups that still represent only a tiny fraction of the Irish population, such as Muslims and Orthodox Christians, are nevertheless growing rapidly relative to their numbers a decade ago. As a result, only 88.4 percent of residents in the Republic of Ireland are Catholic.1
Changing religious affiliation reflects a changing Ireland. Thanks to the "Celtic tiger" economy, Ireland has become a country that attracts, rather than sends, migrants. Its diversifying population has encouraged many, from political commentators to radio presenters, to ponder what it means to be Irish. Do you have to be born in Ireland to be Irish? Do you need to speak Irish to be Irish? And do you have to be Catholic to be Irish?
Toby Barnard's work on the often-neglected history of Irish Protestants has something to add to this contemporary discussion. A New Anatomy of Ireland: The Irish Protestants, 1648-1770 outlines who Irish Protestants were; Making the Grand Figure: Lives and Possessions in Ireland, 16491770 describes what Irish Protestants owned. Filled with detailed and careful research, Barnard's books remind us that Protestants have a long history in Ireland and that their history includes more than Oliver Cromwell's rampage in the 1650s.
In Cork my husband and I often encounter remnants of that forgotten history: a Methodist church (now a clothing store), a Quaker assembly room (now closed), and three Church of Ireland churches that have been ...