The ‘United Church of England and Ireland’, established by the Act of Union ‘for ever’ as ‘an essential and fundamental part of the Union’, survived less than seventy years. N. D. Emerson, in his 1933 essay on the church in this period, presented the history of the church in the first half of the nineteenth century as ‘the history of many separate interests and movements’; he suggested a thesis of fundamental importance in the historiography of the Church of Ireland:
Beneath the externals of a worldly Establishment, and behind the pomp of a Protestant ascendancy, was the real Church of Ireland, possessed of a pure and reformed faith more consciously grasped as the century advanced and labouring to present its message in the face of apathy and discouragement, as well as of more active and hostile opposition.
Recent historical work has begun to trace the ‘many separate interests and movements’ and to explore in detail both the ‘worldly Establishment’ and the increasingly predominant evangelical influence of the Church of Ireland during the post-union period. The main topics investigated have been the structure of the church, the political relationships of the church, the evangelical movement, the mentalities of various social groups (drawing upon literary sources), and local or regional studies. The numerous gaps in the research and in our knowledge which exist seem now all the starker given the high quality of so many recent studies concerning the Church of Ireland in this period.