Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2009
This book was prompted by an important, but inconclusive, historiographical debate on the failure of the Reformation in Ireland, which took place in the 1970s. Prior to that exchange, virtually all studies of the subject were hopelessly symmetrical. Characterised by parti pris, and afflicted by a deterministic vision, the majority of them contended that the Tudor state failed immediately and irreversibly to win the allegiance of the indigenous population to its religious dictates, mainly because of the inherently conservative character of the island's inhabitants. The only significant differences displayed by such studies were their use of opposing confessional models to interpret and explain the nature and significance of Ireland's religious conservatism. For Catholic writers, native conservatism represented a deep-seated and laudable attachment to the ancestral faith of Ireland, which found expression in the people's valiant, and ultimately successful, struggle to preserve the faith in an unsullied form during the Reformation. Protestant writers, in contrast, saw it as a collective character defect, an unremitting force built upon an ingrained and wilful ignorance, which was impervious to the ‘true’ religion advanced by the ‘godly’ reformers of the sixteenth century.
In the late 1960s and 1970s this cycle of crude deterministic writing was broken by Brendan Bradshaw, whose pioneering work applied what was, in Irish terms, a fresh series of intellectual templates for the exploration of the Reformation.