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18 September 2014
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Wars and Conflict - The Plantation of Ulster

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the local Irish chieftain gave him a guard of honour at his funeral...

There was, however, one Church of Ireland Bishop who sought to bridge the gulf between Protestant settlers and the Catholic Irish – the saintly William Bedell. A skilful linguist, Bedell was appointed Bishop of Kilmore in 1629, and he came to his diocese in Cavan determined to win over the native population. He dealt gently with them, learned Irish, set about translating the Old Testament, and insisted that his clergy resided in their benefices and were able to preach in Irish. Bedell won the respect and even the love of the local people, though not, it seems, many converts. During the 1641 rising in Cavan, however, he was spared, and when he died in 1642 (of natural causes) the local Irish chieftain gave him a guard of honour at his funeral which fired a volley over his grave whilst uttering the words, ‘Rest in peace, last of the English!’.

The Plantation in Ulster sowed the seeds of future religious division and sectarian bitterness ...

There is no doubt that Bedell made a considerable impact both locally and nationally: his tomb remains in Kilmore, along with a tree he reputedly planted and he was the subject of no less than three 17th-century biographies. But the real significance of Bedell is that he was an heroic failure who demonstrated the difficulties faced by the Church of Ireland in bridging the ever widening cultural, political and religious chasm between Protestant and Catholic in 17th century Ulster

The Plantation in Ulster, then, far from resolving the religious problem by converting the province to Protestantism, instead sowed the seeds of future religious division and sectarian bitterness by creating three main rival religious groupings, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians and the Roman Catholic church. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Bramhall became Archbishop of Armagh, and the Church of Ireland in Ulster sought to reassert what it saw as its rightful position as the established church, regaining control over the diocesan and parochial structure and resources, with its bishops and clergy assuming the position of social and political leaders. Though its hold was periodically threatened, for example by the events of the reign of King James II, the Church of Ireland fought hard to retain its position of privilege, opposing efforts to make it share its power with what it saw as disloyal Catholics and dangerous nonconformists.

the Church of Ireland fought hard to retain its position of privilege...

It was not until 1870 when the Church of Ireland was finally disestablished that it had to review its assumptions about its natural place in Irish society. After disestablishment, the Church of Ireland in Ulster remained part of the all-Ireland Anglican church, with the Archbishop of Armagh retaining the title Primate of All Ireland. By the time of the 1991 census there were 279,280 people who claimed to be members of the Church of Ireland in Ulster, compared to 336,891 Presbyterians and 605,639 Roman Catholics.
 

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