“Teaching the poor of the Irish nation”: The Endeavours of the Protestant “Sons of Erin” to Educate Their Catholic “Brethren” in the Age of Catholic Agitation, 1800–1850
Keywords:Education, vernacular, nationalism, loyalism, identity, Ireland, Protestantism
In Ireland, the Protestant missionary impetus of the early 19th century, known as the 'Second Reformation', coincided with Daniel O’Connell’s movement for the emancipation of Catholics and the Repeal of the Union which concurrently met with resounding success. As the Irish nationalist movement was becoming more and more catholicised, The Irish Society for Promoting the Education of the Native Irish through the Medium of Their Own Language promoted access to the Bible in “the pure Gaelic language and the Irish character” for both the spiritual salvation of “the [poorer] sons of Erin” and “the political repose and moral amelioration of Ireland.” Even if the Second Reformation has often been considered as an attempt at anglicising the Irish through conversion, a reassessment of the reciprocal influences of Protestant missions and Irish nationalism is timely. Therefore, this paper, relying on a wide range of archival material, intends to examine how the discourse of this Protestant society disrupted the status quo of Irish and British identities. Was the Society’s redefinition of Irish identity, which combined a shared Irish culture with loyalty to the British state, perceived by O’Connell’s nationalist movement as a threat or an opportunity? This exploration of the relationship between Christianity and nationalism highlights the complex ties that can be found between several layered identities and disrupts the binaries of the vernacular being promoted by the champions of independence and of native languages being erased by the advocates of imperial rule.
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