Artillery Row

Ireland’s modern reformation

One cannot shed a faith without adopting another

From an English point of view, most of the trouble with Ireland started around the time when the wandering eye of the eighth King Henry was caught by the younger sister of his one-time mistress, Mary Boleyn.

As readers well know, it was the pursuit of Anne, more than any other factor, that led Henry to the conclusion that the Church of Rome was past its sell-by date. Over the next 200 years, in fits and starts, England, Wales and Scotland accepted, in various guises, the central tenets of the reformation. Ireland, never did — stubbornly sticking with Catholicism through Henry’s suppression of the monasteries, refusing to bow the knee to Oliver Cromwell’s persecutions, even disputing the glory of the Glorious Revolution to the extent that it largely sided with the Stuarts at the Boyne in 1690 and at Culloden in 1746.

There’s a reasonable argument to be made that had it not been for Henry’s wandering eye, his Kingdoms would remain united to this day. The entrenched position that the Catholic Church won for itself after our independence was secured should be seen primarily, and almost entirely, as the result of centuries of Catholicism being associated with anti-Englishness — by the English and the Irish alike.

The reformation must be seen firstly as a triumph of state propaganda

How did that happen? Outside of its notable failure in Ireland, the reformation must be seen firstly and foremostly for what it was: a triumph of state propaganda. How else could monasteries be transformed in the public imagination from havens of piety and reverence in one generation, to symbols of gluttony and sloth in the next? In an era predating mass communication, how does the Pope go from Holy Father to foreign tyrant, in two decades or fewer? How does a country go from practising a faith, to persecuting the few remaining adherents of that faith with more zealotry than it had ever practised the old faith to begin with? That does not happen without the active participation and direction of those in power, which has, in the case of Henry and his Ministers, been well documented.

All of that, I submit, is relevant to the reformation in Ireland, which is finally happening now, almost five hundred years after the Act of Supremacy. That might seem a bold claim, but consider this video.

The people being assaulted in that footage, taken this week in central Dublin, are members of a rather esoteric group called “Ireland needs Fatima”. Even by the standards of Ireland’s rapidly declining Catholicism, they are fringe. They engage in the kind of street preaching that is commonplace enough in Latin countries, particularly in South America, but has never been a feature of Irish life. Their message, similarly, is revanchist: “Turn back from Transgenderism,” they shout. “Ireland needs Catholicism.” It’s not something the average Irish Catholic priest — now in his late seventies and trying to juggle the needs of four parishes — would dream of saying from the pulpit, let alone shouting aloud in the centre of a city.

Just two decades ago, the very idea of Catholic missionaries being assaulted in broad daylight in the centre of the capital city would have seemed unthinkable, though. Our transformation from being one of the most zealously Catholic countries on earth to one of the most zealously anti-Catholic has happened in a space of time that must have Ol’ Coppernose watching in bemusement from beyond the grave.

As I write this, the reaction to this assault in Ireland has been muted. It is safe to say that were it a video of a white man assaulting a darker skinned person who was doing almost anything else, this would not be the case. The Irish establishment’s fear of the “far right” is such that by now, a national conversation about racism and thuggery would be under way. A similar conversation about sectarianism and anti-Catholicism will surely not take place.

Modern Ireland has embraced the rainbow with an unmatched piety

The parallels between the reformation, and what is presently unfolding in Ireland, are too stark to ignore. As in England, the rift between Church and State has arisen primarily because of sex. Just as with Henry, it all began with divorce, the legalisation of which put the State and the Church at odds in the 1980s (when the Church won) and the 1990s (when the state finally triumphed). It has extended into a series of conflicts about gay marriage, abortion and now, in 2023, sex education. To enact liberalism, the state has had to break the power of the Church. Like Henry, it has been aided in that quest by the moral failings of the Church itself.

In and of itself, one might argue that a delayed reformation is no bad thing. Had we managed the enlightened version — a slow shift from functional theocracy into modern pluralism — one might say that the 500 year delay had been an exercise in wisdom. The problem is, as this week’s assault and other incidents like it show, it appears that one cannot shed a faith without adopting another with even more zealotry than what had come before. Ireland is still a religious place, but instead of Archbishop Cranmer’s book of common prayer, modern Ireland has embraced the rainbow with a piety that few can match.

As a result, we have a country where young people, perhaps naively preaching their faith in public, can be assaulted without much notice taken — certainly without any police intervention. Had the reverse taken place, with the religious assaulting their assailant, we would now be receiving homilies from our new priesthood on the dangers of religious extremism.

As in England, none of this has (nor could have been) accomplished without the full force of state power behind it. The new state religion is unashamedly progressivism. Not unlike every other religion, it is beset with hypocrisies: for all that Dublin is bedecked in rainbows and ads for tolerance, and diversity, and understanding, it conceals a zealotry and a hatred for Catholicism that, in many parts of the population, now verges on the fanatical.

If you doubt me, look at the assailant in the video above, and ask yourself whether such is the behaviour of a level-headed post-religious agnostic — or more akin to one of Henry’s new men, clearing out a monastery.

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