Proselytisation during the Famine
The first aim of the study is to examine the contention that ‘souperism’ was in fact prevalent in these areas before and during the famine. ‘Souperism’ was the term given to the practice of Protestant clergy and landowners of trying to convert Catholics by means of granting them material gain. Fr. Patrick Lavelle of Partry, Co. Mayo gave a vivid description of the term during a court case in 1860. “a person who trafficks in religion by inducing starving creatures to abandon a creed which they believe for one which in their hearts they reprobate, and this for some temporal consideration, be that meal, or money, or soup, or possession of a house or land.” This during the famine meant feeding the starving Catholics if they converted to Protestantism. These converts were christened ‘soupers’ or ‘jumpers’ by the remaining Catholic population in the area and people were said to have ‘taken the soup’ or ‘perverted’. This study aims to investigate some of the social implications which accompanied a person ‘taking the soup’. Where they treated differently in the community? Were the Catholic population willing to allow them to carry on with their lives like before? What, if any, was the response of the Catholic Church to these ‘jumpers’?
It is important to note that the missions in Dingle and Dugort were well established by the time the famine struck Ireland, so this study will also aim to investigate how the proselytising efforts changed in these colonies. Did they attract more converts due to the famine? Did they use the famine to their advantage to bring more people in the Protestant fold? Another aspect to examine is exactly how successful were the proselytising efforts.
A final facet that deserves attention in this study is whether these Missions or colonies actually had a more positive effect on the local community then negative. Did they provide people with the opportunity to save themselves from the ravages of the famine?
In doing a study such as this, it is necessary to first outline the historical background of the subject. This means giving a short pre-famine summary of what was happening in the two areas of study, Dingle and Dugort, Achill Island. It is also vital to present a short account of the two men who were leading the proselytising efforts in the two missions. These were Rev. Charles Gayer in Dingle and Rev Edward Nangle in Dugort, Achill. It is also necessary to provide an account of the general British feeling towards Catholicism in Ireland.
The Protestant crusade in Dingle really started in earnest when Rev. Charles Gayer was appointed private chaplain to Lord Ventry in 1833. Before that there was not any serious religious conflict reported in the Dingle area, but by the time that Gayer arrived in the area the number of converts increased significantly. Over the years leading up to the famine, the Protestant presence grew in the town and surrounding areas. “Already three additions had to be made to the Protestant Church in Dingle to accommodate the new converts. Protestant Churches had been built in Ventry and Ballyferriter where there had never been any Protestant Church before. Many Protestant schools had been opened in Dingle and west of Dingle, even on the Blasket Island.” Gayer himself firmly believed that it was his duty to convert as many Catholics as possible to the Protestant cause. His work was progressing rapidly in the period leading up to the Famine. He said in 1844 “I am fully persuaded that if the people of God furnished us the means, Popery would be shaken here to its very foundations; but now is the time for exertion, while the minds of the people are so unsettled.”
In Dugort, Achill Island, the Mission was established in 1831 when Rev, Edward Nangle arrived in Achill. This colony consisted of schools, cottages, an orphanage, a small hospital, a church, a hotel and importantly a printing press. This printing press allowed Nangle to publish his own newsletter, ‘The Achill Missionary Herald’. He used this as a propaganda tool, mainly to gain more financial support for his Mission. Nangle was so committed to the cause of converting the local population that he learned how to speak in Irish and taught through the language. Like Gayer, Nangle was fully convinced that these people were in fact pagans and settled about his task of bring them into the light of true Christianity. The Mission grew and gained fame through Ireland and Britain, leading up to the outbreak of the Famine in 1845.
In Britain the Pope was seen as a great enemy and the Protestant crusade in Ireland was an attempt to dispel evil Popery from the hearts of the Irish. Gayer and indeed Nangle were firm believers in this crusade. An example of the kind of thinking emulating from Britain at the time can be found when the British MP, J.P. Plumptre, learned of a government grant to Maynooth College in 1845. “To endow Popery once more in a land that has been rescued from its yoke is madness, little short of high treason against heaven.” This sort of mentality would seem out of the ordinary today, but at the time this was the prevailing opinion of the population in Britain. People in Britain felt so strong about this that large donations were given to support the proselytisation work being done in places like Dingle and Dugort.
The structure of the study will consist of firstly an overview of the pre-existing literature which exists in relation to this subject. Some of this is contemporary primary source material and also more recent secondary material. This literature review will outline what is currently known on the topic and will also showcase some of the areas of controversy in the current debate. By considering what has already been written on the subject, allows for the formulation of questions for further research. After the literature review, the findings and analysis of the research will commence. This enables the author to systematically examine the topic and analysis the finding. The final aspect of the study will be the conclusion. This is where the author will attempt to answer the questions posed on this topic. It will highlight the main findings and discuss them in the context of the wider literature on the subject.
Article name: Proselytisation during the Famine essay, research paper, dissertation