During were no Catholics in a position
During the eighteenth century many Protestant leaders in Ireland became increasingly nervous about the gradually augmenting wealth and power of the Catholics who inhabited Ireland. In an attempt to cease the growth of the Catholics and in truth, try to convert as many Catholics into Protestantsthe Penal Laws were created. The Penal Laws were a collection of laws set up by the Irish parliament between the years of 1691 and 1794.
The object of the Penal Laws was threefold; to deprive the Catholics of all civil life. To reduce them to a condition of the most extreme and brutal ignorance, and finally, to dissociate them from the soil. (———)These laws greatly reduced the rights of those Catholics living in Ireland at the time and in a sense created even larger barriers between the Catholics and the Protestant’s. The Penal Laws however, were destined to fail from the very beginning, even with the complete support of both the English and the Irish parliaments.
The Penal Laws were developed slowly over a span of one hundred and three years as several desperate attempts to abolish the Catholics from Ireland. The first penal law was implemented into the Irish community on December 24, 1691 when William and Mary made an Anti Catholic declaration for the oath of supremacy. The oath banned all Catholics from becoming members of the parliament or any other position of power. Catholics could not practice law, run for office, purchase land or own land, vote, enter any profession, hold arms, guard a child or educated his/her child. The purpose of setting up such laws was to lessen the overall power of the catholic people in society.
The Irish parliament believed that if there were no Catholics in a position of power then people would no longer accept the religion of Catholicism. However this was not so. This law did not work as originally planned, and the catholic religion still flourished. This upset the Protestants in parliament to great degrees, they quickly tries to create and implement more penal laws that they hoped would be more effective, long lasting and impressionable then the first laws set in place. However these laws were thought up and developed in such haste and disorganization that they were destined to fail just as the first one had.The next major law that was set by the Irish parliament was the ” Horse Law” in 1695. This law restricted all Catholics from owning a horse that was worth more then five pounds.
The rational behind this law was that the Irish parliament did not want the Catholics to own possessions of any great value. During this time horses were extremely valuable and well sought after. Horses were key to farmers and families that depended on them for an efficient means of plowing as well as transportation to and from town.
This law however, made very little sense and was very easy for Catholics to bypass and refrain from being financially hurt from. One way that the Catholics evaded this law was to have Protestants sublet “Protestant Horses” to Catholics. This meant that whenever a Catholic was question about why he owned a horse that was worth more then five pounds the he would respond by saying that the horse was not his. In truth the horse was in all probability his, but he would say that he was subletting the horse from a Protestant farmer.In 1697 another Penal Law was created.
The law became quickly known as the Banishment Act. It required all Catholic bishops, deans, and vicar’s general and regular clergy to leave Ireland by May 1 1698. The law failed since many of the Catholic leaders refused to leave Ireland. Instead many of these people would live with families as they traveled from town to town giving mass and hearing confessions secretly. The Catholic educational system was outlawed as well, Catholics rebelled by engaging in “underground” education where Catholics were educated by priest under extreme secrecy. This law backfired on the Protestants and brought the Catholic community of Ireland closer together.
The Catholic town’s people who helped the fugitives evade the law felt extremely close to the church after they helped the priest and their alliances from persecution. In 1704 the Penal Laws took another approach in suppressing the Catholics. Now the Irish parliament wanted to stop the common Catholic man from owning the land. This law prohibited Catholics from buying the land or acting as the guardian of the land.
This law was the most successful of all the penal laws. It prevented the further growth of property ownership, which were exactly what the penal laws intended to do. “The effect of the Penal Laws was intended to fall most decisively on land ownership and it did.” (Foster p.211) Although the Catholics made up roughly seventy five percent of the population in Ireland at the time it was calculated that they only showed proven ownership of five percent of the land in 1776. (Foster.
P. 211) This lack of ownership of land made the Catholics almost powerless, regardless of their dominating population size. At this point in time land was to the people in Ireland as gold was to the people in the United Statespriceless. Regardless of the success of this one penal law, the Protestant leaders were not satisfied and wanted to create more Penal Laws. The result the Protestants hoped for, was the complete abolishment of the Catholic Church from Ireland. .
Other Penal Laws were soon carried out in the community. One of which, stated that all of the Catholic clergy had to register with clerks of peace at the next quarters session. On other was the Amending Act of 1709, which said that all registered priests were required to take an oath of adjuration.The final Penal Law was implemented several years later.
This law was titled the Banishment Act of 1719. This law stated that any priest found to be unregistered in Ireland after May 1, 1720 shall be branded on the cheek. At this point in time the Penal Laws had as much control over the Catholic people as they would ever have. The number of Catholics in the community started to diminish due to the stricter laws and the bounty hunters that were on a constant search for practicing Catholics and priests.”The rewards offered for the seizure and conviction of unregistered priests, friars, and persons exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction induced some in the country to embrace the new calling of priest hunter.”(Wall pg.
29)However, this collection of Penal Laws soon failed. Many Protestants living in Ireland paid little attention to the reward placed on priest’s heads. In fact Protestants and Catholics townspeople alike grew to accept illegal clergymen. This drew the people closer to the catholic religion.
Most of the people did not want to see these priests banished from Ireland, so the people assisted the priests by hiding them in their homes.Another reason why the Penal Laws failed was that they were never consistently enforced. At the time the middle class Catholics had a lot of control over Irelands wealth and they were the primary reason that Ireland prospered and the wealth of the country flourished for so long. Without the Catholic money the Irish economy would have failed. “The Penal laws succeeded by mid-century in decimating the catholic landowning classes, but even the strictures like the prohibition upon holding mortgages did not prevent sizable fortunes being made by Catholics who acted as money lenders.”(Foster pg.
205)The Penal Laws were created, however if they were enforced with the power and dominance that parliament had hoped them to be, in essence Ireland would have been committing economical and financial suicide. The Irish Parliament had narrowed themselves into a very unusual and difficult predicament. The country needed the Catholics to assist the country financial, however the Catholic religion was adamantly appeased. The Irish parliament dealt with this matter in such a way, that they created the penal laws with the intention of using and enforcing them, however when the country needed something, primarily money from the Catholic church, they did not hesitate to ask for it or take it.
Although the Penal Laws appeared to be strict and demeaning on paper, they were seldom executed. Since the penal laws were never taken seriously by the people there was no way that the laws would ever be able to abolish the Catholic religion from Ireland. The Penal Laws were successful in converting some Catholics into Protestants, but the laws were never organized well enough to, “convert Catholics in large numbers-at least, not in any meaningful way.
“(Foster, pg. 206) One of the main reasons why the Penal laws were destined to fail from the beginning, is that it is almost impossible to change a persons moral, ethical and religious beliefs simply by enforcing new laws upon them. It would take a miracle or some form of memory lapse in order for the people to forget who they are and what religion they were born into; the Penal Laws were simply not the answer. Not all Protestants wished to persecute the Catholic’s. There were some Protestants whom believed in certain inherent and equal rights for all people.
Daniel O’Connel, was a prominent figure in the involvement of Irish affairs, O’Connel was also a key player in the catholic emancipation and eventual freedom from the absurdities burdened upon them by the English and Irish parliaments.