On 17 March every year many millions of people all over the world recall their family or ancestral links with Ireland. Members of the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland number under 400,000 but they relate to a much greater number among the Irish diaspora.
In the United States of America some 35 million claim Irish ancestry, and of these a majority are Protestant or from a Protestant background. This is largely because of emigration of large numbers from Ulster in the eighteenth century and the consequent multiplication of their descendants.
Most of these early immigrants were Presbyterian but some were Church of Ireland. In the nineteenth century, however, we find emigration of many more members of the Church of Ireland from both the north and south of Ireland.
One such example was Alexander Stewart from Lisburn, a Trinity graduate, who went to America in 1818 and became one of the wealthiest citizens in New York, thanks to the success of his department stores. On his death his widow paid for the construction of the Episcopalian Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York, in his memory.
Another example, and more typical of the background of a majority of these nineteenth century emigrants, was the Kearney family, including Fulmouth Kearney, from Moneygall, Co.Offaly. Members of this family of small farmers and shoemakers, all baptised in Templeharry parish church, went to America in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Fulmouth Kearney’s direct descendant, Barack Obama, U.S. President, made a state visit to Ireland in 2011.
My great uncle, David Walker, was a surgeon who went to Canada in 1863 and then to the U.S. in 1865, where he joined the American cavalry. He served for 14 years in the army in the West, including time on Alcatraz Island, California, then a military base and prison. He finally settled as a resident doctor in Portland, Oregon.
A 2006 survey from the University of Chicago showed that of those in America who described themselves as Irish, 48 per cent were Protestant, 29 per cent Roman Catholic and 23 per cent of other or no religion.
Canada was another important destination for emigrants from Ireland. In 1991 around 3.8 million Canadians claimed full or partial Irish ancestry. It has been established that approximately 55 per cent of Irish settlers in Canada were Protestant. Among the Protestants, more were from an Anglican than a Presbyterian background. While a majority came from Ulster, significant numbers also arrived from the rest of Ireland. Ontario was a favourite region for these emigrants from Ireland.
By the early twentieth century it was estimated that up to a third of the Australian population had some Irish ancestry. It is reckoned that Protestants made up about 20 per cent of total Irish immigration. Among the Protestant Irish in Australia, Anglicans were the major single element. Many came from Ulster, but also from other parts of Ireland.
Emigration from Ireland, north and south, to Great Britain has been very extensive over the last two centuries. The greater number of these emigrants came to England and Wales rather than to Scotland, although emigrants from Ireland and their descendants make up a higher proportion of the current population in the latter. It has been estimated that probably around 25 per cent of Irish emigrants to Britain in the twentieth century has been protestant.
My grandfather Samuel Mercer, second son of a farmer from Tartaraghan parish, Co.Armagh, went with my grandmother to Glasgow in the early 1900s. He worked in a department store, eventually becoming manager. My mother was born in Glasgow in 1917. She and her family worshipped in All Saints Episcopal Church, Jordanhill, Glasgow. Unusually, they returned to Northern Ireland when my grandparents retired to Bangor, Co. Down, in the 1930s.
The number of people in Britain born in Ireland peaked at 952,000 in 1971, but still stood at 753,000 in 2001. Many come from a Church of Ireland background. Two well known examples today are Graham Norton, the television personality, originally from Bandon, West Cork, and Bishop David Chillingworth, former Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, born in Dublin but brought up in Northern Ireland.
It is fair to say that most if not all readers of the Gazette will have relatives in many places outside Ireland. The examples I have given of my family could be replicated easily by others. Today, there are only some 400,000 members of the Church of Ireland in Ireland. At the same time they are part of a diaspora of members and descendants of members of their church and community world wide which numbers many millions.
Brian M.Walker is Professor Emeritus of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast. He is author of the recently published History of St George’s Church Belfast: faith, worship and music.
This article first appeared in the Church of Ireland Gazette and is used with permission.
The writer Julie Parsons spent some time at the RCB Library last year analysing little–known Church of Ireland sources – including preachers’ books, parish magazines, vestry minutes and a variety of other parish resources. She then contributed an article based on and colourfully illustrated with extracts from these sources, published last year (for the year that was in it) in a commemorative journal (Irish Archives: the journal of the Irish Society for Archives) dedicated to “Hidden Pages” of the 1916 Rising.
Irish Archives: Hidden Pages From the 1916 Rising is co–edited by Dr Susan Hood, RCB Librarian and Archivist, and Elizabeth McEvoy, Senior Archivist in the National Archives of Ireland. The concept of revealing hidden pages and dialoguing with the public was first envisaged by the ISA in 2015 in collaboration with St Patrick’s Cathedral. A seminar entitled ‘Hidden Pages from World War One’ saw archives professionals reveal their explorations of previously unknown archives to make the events of the First World War more accessible to people 100 years later. In the same spirit, a subsequent seminar was held at the beginning of 2016 to encourage nuanced debate on the complex topic of the Rising, demonstrating how hidden archives and the stories they contain can underpin a true understanding of significant historical events.
So Julie’s article, entitled “From ‘Cheerful day, good congregation’ to ‘The undiluted celt, a curse’: Responses to the Easter Rising and its Aftermath as Recorded in Church of Ireland Parish Registers, 1916–1925” draws on relatively obscure sources to bring to life the impact of events on particular Church of Ireland communities. Opening with an article published in the June 1916 edition Mariners’ parish magazine of the in Dún Laoghaire, county Dublin (or Kingstown, as it was known then), the editor apologises for its late appearance because of the Sinn Fein rebellion which disrupted life in the city centre. He then goes on to present in vivid terms the response of the Mariners’ parish to what we call the Easter Rising and its aftermath: “The Irish rebellion of Easter 1916 has brought out the worst and the best in Human nature. We do not wish to dwell further on the dark side and the horror of it.” (RCB Library, P368.25.3).
The ‘Cheerful day, good congregation’ piece appears alongside a variety of other articles providing colourful insight to other hidden aspects of events during the Rising. Colum O’Riordan, General Manager of the Irish Architectural Archive, takes the reader on a journey through the architectural legacies of 1916; Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary of An Post, uses archives at the Postal Museum in London and An Post materials in Dublin, to explore the experiences of GPO staff during Easter Week, bringing to life a thrilling sequence of stories of how the city’s communications routings came to be re–established after the seizure of the GPO; the Wexford County Archivist Gráinne Doran examines the collective effort of the men and women in county Wexford during Easter 1916 and finally, Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist at Dublin City Library and Archive, reveals reactions to the Easter Rising through the lens of Monica Roberts, the 26–year–old daughter of the Vice–Provost of Trinity College Dublin, who kept a diary of events in a 33–page Pitman exercise book.
Julie Parsons comes from a family with a long line of Church of Ireland clergymen. When she decided to research the reactions of the Church of Ireland clergy to the Easter Rising and its aftermath, using preacher’s books and vestry minutes, she sought out clergymen to whom she was related. Her article, therefore, features Canon Harry Dobbs, vicar of All Saints Blackrock, who was her stepfather Peter Dobbs’ father and the Revd Hamlet McClenaghan, rector of Dunshaughlin, her great–uncle. Both gave her valuable insights into the feelings and immediate responses to the changes which were taking place in the political, social and religious life of Ireland in the early 20th century. Her new novel The Therapy House is set in contemporary Dún Laoghaire but draws on original research which Julie conducted into the people of the Mariners’ Parish, where her grandfather, Canon George Chamberlain, was rector from 1925 until 1959.
To order your copy of the journal, including Julie’s illustrated article, at the special price of €9/£7.80+postage please click here
A few years ago I toyed with the idea of going to a coach. A short bout of illness had prompted me to re-evaluate how I wanted my future to develop. Getting the services of a coach seemed like a way to plan some new things ahead – or so I thought!
I looked around for someone whom I thought would fit the bill, without great success at first. Looking back, I realise why! What I had been looking for in a coach was not for someone to help me rethink some things. What I really wanted, without admitting it to myself, was someone to do it for me – someone to present me with the future, to do the work that I didn’t feel up to doing at that time.
Recently I listened to someone describe the role of a coach like this – it is to help a client find the resources within themselves to solve a problem or to create something new. I realised that what I had been looking for all those years ago was someone to rescue me rather than to help me find the where withal within myself to create something different.
Had I found what I was initially looking for it would certainly have been easier in the short-term, but not to my ultimate benefit. Happily, the situation was brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
A few weeks ago Senator George Mitchell visited Belfast again. His visit was a reminder of the extraordinary levels of help we have received in Northern Ireland. We have had the skills of the most talented and the attention of the most powerful as we try to make our painful journey to peace. Senator Mitchell’s visit prompted talk of who would facilitate our political leaders in negotiations after the elections.
Globally we are living in extraordinary times. One of the things we are discovering is that there is not an inexhaustible supply of international attention or energy available to be devoted to our search for lasting peace. We are glad for the attention and help we have received but recognise others have their own issues to face and future to create.
A facilitator has a job to do. It is to help our leaders to find the resources within themselves to do what they need to do. Our leaders have their own job to do. One part of that is obvious.
It is to solve immediate problems. Yet it is so much more than that. It is to create something new – a way of finding reconciliation and a better future.
Gaining political power is not for the fainthearted. Neither is the exercise of it. It is hard because our road to reconciliation means dealing with the past, present and the future.
Political leadership is something most of us have an opinion about, but a task few would envy. Yet, to paraphrase one leadership expert, “We need more in leaders than just the ability to gather a following.”
Seeking help for the task is more than reasonable.
Yet, whatever help our political leaders seek, it should not now be for someone to rescue them – to do it for them.
As with the job of a coach it is help for them to find, within themselves, the resources they need to make the hard decisions. Upon such does our future depend. It was ever thus.