Freedom and the Fifth Commandment

Catholic priests and political violence in Ireland, 1919-21

Author: Brian Heffernan

The guerrilla war waged between the IRA and the crown forces from 1919 to 1921 was a pivotal episode in the modern history of Ireland. This book addresses the War of Independence from a new perspective by focusing on the attitude of a powerful social elite: the Catholic clergy. The close relationship between Irish nationalism and Catholicism was put to the test when a pugnacious new republicanism emerged after the 1916 Easter rising. When the IRA and the crown forces became involved in a guerrilla war from 1919 onwards, priests had to define their position anew. Using a wealth of source material, much of it new, this book assesses the clergy’s response to political violence. It describes how the image of shared victimhood at the hands of the British helped to contain tensions between the clergy and the republican movement, and shows how the links between Catholicism and Irish nationalism were sustained.

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‘A riveting publication.'
Thomas FitzGerald is an Irish research council scholar at Trinity College Dublin
Dublin Review of Books
December 2016

‘Hugely impressive, illuminating and excellently researched book. Heffernan has vividly filled a large gap in historical knowledge about how priests navigated exceptionally difficult circumstances and volatile times, and the book deserves wide readership.'
Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at UCD
Irish Times
January 2016

‘This year has seen an abundant crop of books on the Irish revolutionary period, of varying quality. One that stands out is Brian Heffernan's Freedom and the Fifth Commandment (Manchester University Press), which expertly chronicles the relationship between Catholic priests and violence in Ireland from 1919 to 1921. Heffernan has vividly filled a large gap in historical knowledge about how priests navigated exceptionally difficult circumstances and volatile times.'
The Irish Times
January 2016

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