Archive of the Month
“Protestants of Ireland! Remember…” A Particular Response to the Irish Church Act
by Dr Susan Hood
Under the terms of the Irish Church Act (32&33 Vic. c. 42 sect. 2) of 26 July 1869, which passed into law in 1871, the union between Church and State in Ireland that had existed since the Reformation was dissolved, and the Church of Ireland ceased to be established in law, leaving it: ‘free to shape her future course, independent of state control’ (Journal of the General Convention, 1870, pp v–vi).
The legislation was desired by a very few within the Church and for most the dominant emotions were those of resentment and fear as to whether or not it would survive such change. In some cases the fears boiled over to pure anger, and one of the more unusual responses to the changing realities of the period is to be found on the title page of the combined register of baptisms, marriages and burials for the parish of Killeevan, county Monaghan and diocese of Clogher, where the Revd John Flanagan LLD served as rector 1853–1876.
Amid details of the succession of clergy in the parish, he flamboyantly penned his feelings of outrage on the passage of the Act that had disestablished his Church:
Protestants of Ireland! Remember 26th July 1869. Plundered by a tyrannical rabble in the House of Commons, Betrayed by Lord Cairns, Bishops of England and others in the House of Lords. Deserted by your Nursing Mother, the Queen, who had solemnly sworn to maintain your rights.
Initialling the entry “JF” in the context of a biographical details of clergy including his own, Flanagan revealed his deep personal upset from the legislative change that had transformed his Church from state–supported institution to free–standing private body. Flanagan’s anguished tone was likely shared by others, but he is the only cleric to have annotated a parish register in such a manner.
The published parish history compiled by V.H. Forster, A History of Killeevan Parish (Monaghan, 1958) reveals how Flanagan was responsible for the re–building of the parish church in 1858, the tablet in the church porch commemorating this, during the last great wave of church buildings before Disestablishment.
In his exiting salvo, Flanagan is clearly furious, accusing Lord Cairns in particular, but additionally the English Bishops and others in the House of Lords, for betraying the Irish Church whom it was speculated had jettisoned the Church of Ireland to safeguard the position of the Church of England. Whether totally accurate in his summation, Flanagan’s unusual annotation conveys the depth of feeling that would continue to swirl around certain quarters of the Church of Ireland for years after the passage and delivery of the Irish Church Act.
It is interesting to note that Flanagan was a prominent Orangeman and had a considerable reputation as a public speaker on political platforms – reputed to be “one of the most eloquent and outspoken churchmen of his day” according to the parish history. He had been misquoted in Parliament about his anti–Disestablishment agitation in the run up to the Act, which may have coloured his outlook and distain for the parliamentary political system.
A scholarly man, Flanagan published two books: predictably one entitled: Ireland, Her Past Glories and Trials and Probable Future (Dublin, 1882) and at an earlier phase of his life: A Discourse of the Round Towers of Ireland (Kilkenny, 1843, printed for the author by Thomas Kelly). Flanagan moved on from Killeevan in 1876, ‘on his election to Fintona’, in the parish of Donacavey in county Tyrone, where he would serve out the remainder of his ministry and his life, dying in office in 1882.
The annotated register from Killeevan parish is currently on display in the Library’s entrance foyer where visitors are most welcome to view it.
Further items from the Library’s collections documenting the Disestablishment story also form part of the Dublin & Glendalough Disestablishment exhibition currently open in the Lady Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin until April 2020. For further information about this see here