Ireland's resistance to Reformation


Sir, – Contrary to what Dr John Scally writes (“Why did the Reformation fail to take hold in an Ireland under English rule”, Rite & Reason, October 10th), Ireland was not quite a unique exception to the rule “cujus regio, eius religio”.

The population of the northern Netherlands wished to be free to practise Calvinism. As this amounted to defiance of the Catholicism of their Spanish king, they adopted military means to overthrow his rule over their country and his religion.

In Ireland, three extensive wars (1594-1603, 1641-50 and 1690-91) can be seen as attempts to overthrow English/British rule, largely to help Catholicism resist Protestant domination. The wars brought no change in the religion of either party, but the resultant legal code (the Penal Laws), though perhaps intended to induce conversions, only made a stubborn population more than ever attached to their traditional beliefs.

As for the Reformation gaining followers in Ulster, as Dr Scally puts it, I suggest that this “gain” was achieved by planting qualified Scottish and English settlers on confiscated lands, and not by converting natives. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Stimulated by Dr John Scally’s “Why did the Reformation fail in Ireland?”, I suggest that, in the search for an explanation, another aspect worth exploring was the failure to achieve and disseminate – at an early date – a translation of the Bible into the Irish language, the language of the people. The translation of the Bible into the vernacular languages of Europe was a sine qua non (pardon the non-vernacular) for the advance and consolidation of the reformed religions in different parts of the continent.

Indeed this was the case in England: from the initial translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale in 1526 to the culmination in the King James (“Authorised”) version of the Bible in 1611. In Wales, where in 1563 “the English tongue is not understood by the greatest number of Her Majesty’s obedient subjects”, the Bible was translated into Welsh by Bishop William Morgan in 1588 and widely disseminated and read over the following centuries. In both countries the translations not only contributed immensely to the reformed religion taking root but – most significantly – to the standardisation, stability and viability of both the English and Welsh languages.

This also produces a historical “what if” thought: could a similar scenario in Ireland have led to the continuing vitality and dominance of the Irish language – within a Protestant country? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.