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‘from education, from duty, and from principle’: Irish Catholic loyalty in context, 1829-1874

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 March 2017

Richard A. Keogh*
University of Roehampton, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5PU, UK.


The passage of the Emancipation Act in 1829 presented an opportunity for Catholics to reimagine their loyalty as equal subjects for the first time under the union between Great Britain and Ireland. This article explores the way Catholic loyalty was conceived in the decades that followed the act of 1829 through to the mid 1870s, when there was renewed focus on the civil allegiance of Catholics following the declaration of Papal infallibility. Historians are increasingly exploring a range of social, political and religious identities in nineteenth century Ireland, beyond the rigid binary paradigm of Catholic nationalisms and Protestant loyalisms that has dominated Irish historiography. However, Catholic loyalty in particular remains an anachronism and lacks sufficient conceptual clarity. Our understanding of a specifically Catholic variant of loyalty and its public and associational expression, beyond a number of biographical studies of relatively unique individuals, remains limited. By providing an exposition of episodes in the history of Catholic loyalty in the early and mid-Victorian years this article illuminates the phenomenon. It demonstrates that Irish Catholic loyalty took on different expressive forms, which were dependent on the individuals proclaiming their loyalty, their relationship to the objects of their loyalty, and its reception by the British state and Protestant establishment.

Research Article
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2017. Published by Cambridge University Press 

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The author wishes to thank Dr Ciaran O’Neill, and the anonymous reviewers of British Catholic History for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.


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49 Hansard 3, (H.L.), vol. 100, 21 July 1848, 639.

50 Brian Jenkins makes a similar point in The Fenian Problem: Insurgency and Terrorism in a Liberal State, 1858-1874 (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2008), 10: ‘Although O’Connell was careful to assert the Repeal Association’s loyalty to the Crown, there was no disguising the large measure of national self-determination he sought. If vitriolic assaults on the “English Parliament” and bitter criticism of the “Saxon” heightened ethnic consciousness and threatened to inflame racial antipathy, this divisive rhetoric created common ground between the Liberator and a new generation of nationalists.’

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87 The Irish Republican Brotherhood grew from the failure of constitutional politics in the 1850s. For a classic account see Comerford, R. V., The Fenians in Context: Irish Politics and Society 1848-1882 (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1985)Google Scholar and more recently Jenkins, The Fenian Problem; McConnel, James and McGarry, Fearghal, eds. The Black Hand of Republicanism: Fenianism in Modern Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Gant, Jonathan, Irish Terrorism in the Atlantic Community, 1865-1922 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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94 Kelly, ‘Cullen and the Fenians’, 328; J. H. Whyte also noted that ‘Cardinal Cullen was a unionist on ecclesiastical grounds’ in ‘Bishop Moriarty on Disestablishment and the Union, 1868’, Irish Historical Studies 10 (1956): 194.

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97 Pall Mall Gazette (20 February 1867); Moriarty was similarly dismissive of the constitutional Home Rule movement in later years. Whyte, ‘Bishop Moriarty’, 193.

98 Whyte, ‘Bishop Moriarty’, 195.

99 Ibid., 198.

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112 The respective loyalties of these groups are identified concisely in Anne Kane, Constructing Irish National Identity: Discourse and Ritual During the Land War, 1879-1882 (Basingstoke, 2012), 42-4

113 Standard (28 May 1888).

114 Morning Post (29 April. 1868).

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118 Graphic (4 March 1871).

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124 Ibid., 43.

125 Ibid., 24.

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127 Manchester Guardian (12 November 1874).

128 Tablet (2 October 1875).

129 Glasgow Herald (28 November 1874).

130 Blackstock ‘Trajectories of Loyalty’, 123-4.

131 Amherst, Catholic Emancipation, 19.

132 Ibid., 13-4.

133 Keogh and McConnel, ‘Esmondes’, 284; McConnel, ‘Redmond and Irish Catholic Loyalism’; McConnel, Irish Parliamentary Party, 242-68.