Chapter 4 offers a case study of the Irish Catholic home and material culture. This chapter looks further at religious iconography and Catholic artefacts. Exploring gender and consumption, it reveals that the growing power of home-based Catholicism depended on women’s consumerism and financial management. It also examines the central roles that mothers and grandmothers played in household devotions and prayers. The ways in which Irish women shaped religious experiences for themselves and their families during several key moments, such as the rosary and the station-mass, show how lay women created and maintained Catholic households and thus ensured the future of the Catholic nation.
Most historians of Catholicism have either ignored women or focused on the ways in which the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Church curtailed Irish women’s freedoms and opportunities. The Introduction to Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism suggests a different reality, establishing lay Irish Catholic women as actors, not observers or victims. It also examines the existing literature on women and Catholicism in Irish history, a literature that is scarce and suffers from the authors’ assumptions that Catholicism disempowered women. Lastly, the Introduction explains the research that has made this book possible and assesses the records that the author examined from archives in Ireland.
Catholic memoirists and diarists from the 1850s through the late twentieth century affirmed their affection and awe for their mothers, whom they depicted as self-sacrificing and martyr-like. In recent decades, however, scholars have assigned to the Irish mother a more sinister role, indicting her for colluding with priests and thus helping to instil a repressive and damaging Catholicism in future generations. Chapter 3, ‘The Irish Catholic mother’, debunks the martyr/villain trope through a detailed analysis of Irish Catholic motherhood. It compares constructions of motherhood (both contemporary and scholarly) with mothers’ real-life experiences. Mothers’ own words, particularly evident in their letters to bishops, demonstrate that they did not always work in tandem with the Catholic clergy but frequently negotiated the authority of clerics. Women asserted their autonomy within the home and over their children even as they made use of their status as mothers to demand that priests and bishops respond to their needs and wants.
Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism is the only book-length study of lay Catholic women in modern Irish history. Focusing on the pivotal century from 1850 to 1950, it analyses the roles that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women played in the evolution of Irish Catholicism and thus the creation of modern Irish identities. This project demonstrates that in an age of Church growth and renewal stretching from the aftermath of the Great Famine through the early years of the Irish Republic, lay women were essential to all aspects of Catholic devotional life, including both home-based religion and public Catholic rituals. It also reveals that women, by rejecting, negotiating, and reworking Church dictates, complicated Church and clerical authority. Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism re-evaluates the relationship between the institutional Church, the clergy, and women, positioning lay Catholic women as central actors in the making of modern Ireland. It also contests views that the increasing power of the Catholic Church caused a uniform decline in Irish women’s status after the Great Famine of the 1840s, revealing that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women fought with their priests, dominated household religion, and led parish rituals, thus proving integral to the development of a modern Irish Catholic ethos and culture.
Chapter 1 analyses the construction of nineteenth- and twentieth-century lay Irish Catholic womanhood. It demonstrates that women and girls were bombarded with messages on Catholic womanhood from an early age and reveals that the Church hierarchy’s sustained and determined attempts to define the ideal woman were linked to not only the evolution of Catholicism but also to the creation of the modern Irish nation. Chapter 1 also exposes the ideal as pervasive but essentially fragile. It demonstrates that constructions of Irish womanhood sometimes were more wishful thinking than reflective of reality and, in fact, demonstrated deep-seated anxieties about the changing roles of women in the modern world. Women themselves, meanwhile, through their writings and consumerism, did much to fashion and, in some cases, contest the Catholic model of womanhood.
Chapter 6 illuminates the relationship between lay Catholic women and priests. This chapter demonstrates that the relationship between priests and women was one of both closeness and conflict. Interactions between women and priests were complex, often defined by struggles for power and influence. Priests and lay women denounced each other at mass; meanwhile, women used oral traditions and legends in rural areas to poke fun at their priests and undermine clerical authority. By writing letters to bishops and priests in which they complained about their own parish priests’ behaviour, literate women used their words to challenge the authority of the priest.
The newly digitised Manchester Observer (1818–22) was
England’s leading radical newspaper at the time of the Peterloo meeting
of August 1819, in which it played a central role. For a time it enjoyed the
highest circulation of any provincial newspaper, holding a position comparable
to that of the Chartist Northern Star twenty years later and
pioneering dual publication in Manchester and London. Its columns provide
insights into Manchester’s notoriously secretive local government and
policing and into the labour and radical movements of its turbulent times. Rich
materials in the Home Office papers in the National Archives reveal much about
the relationship between radicals in London and in the provinces, and show how
local magistrates conspired with government to hound the radical press in the
north as prosecutions in London ran into trouble. This article also sheds new
light on the founding of the Manchester Guardian, which endured
as the Observer’s successor more by avoiding its
disasters than by following its example. Despite the imprisonment of four of its
main editors and proprietors the Manchester Observer battled on
for five years before sinking in calmer water for lack of news.
The Peterloo Massacre was more than just a Manchester event. The attendees, on
whom Manchester industry depended, came from a large spread of the wider textile
regions. The large demonstrations that followed in the autumn of 1819,
protesting against the actions of the authorities, were pan-regional and
national. The reaction to Peterloo established the massacre as firmly part of
the radical canon of martyrdom in the story of popular protest for democracy.
This article argues for the significance of Peterloo in fostering a sense of
regional and northern identities in England. Demonstrators expressed an
alternative patriotism to the anti-radical loyalism as defined by the
authorities and other opponents of mass collective action.
The role of the Home Office in the Peterloo Massacre remains contentious. This
article assesses the available evidence from the Home Office and the private
correspondence of Home Secretary Viscount Sidmouth to contest E. P.
Thompson’s claim that the Home Office ‘assented’ to the
arrest of Henry Hunt at St Peter’s Fields. Peterloo is placed within the
context of government’s response to political radicalism to show how the
Tory ministry had no clear counter-radical strategy in the months leading up to
the August event. The article further argues that although the Home Office may
not have assented to forceful intervention on the day, the event and its
aftermath were needed to justify the Six Acts which would ultimately cripple the
This chapter analyses some of the issues surrounding the identity of women religious and their authority and governance. It examines the source and nature of the authority that congregations and women religious wielded in the public sphere. Almost three-quarters of the simple-vowed congregations that made foundations in England in the nineteenth century were pontifical rite. Susan O'Brien hailed this papal form of government an 'important innovation' as it allowed a female superior general to receive her authority directly from Rome. Many bishops supported the authority of women religious to manage their congregations. In some narratives, it is the collaboration of bishops and mother superiors that resounds through the texts. Women religious, however, faced with intransigent bishops or clergy, used the tools at their disposal to manage episcopal and clerical authority.