The reform of piety in Ireland, 1780-1920

Holmes, Janice (2013). The reform of piety in Ireland, 1780-1920. In: Jarlert, Anders ed. Piety and Modernity. The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Northern Europe, 1780-1920 (3). Leuven: Leuven University Press, pp. 65–98.



This article reviews the reform of popular piety, both Protestant and Catholic, in Ireland between 1780 and 1920. It explores the underlying factors which were driving religious change in this period as well as examining the changing nature of religious practice itself. It argues that there was a conscious effort to reform religious devotion and practice in this period, both by outsiders and insiders. For the most part, the reform of piety in this period was driven by individuals within the church, both clerical and lay, who had been influenced by new religious ideas and how the churches ought to conduct themselves.

Although the content and processes may have been very different, all Irish denominations in the long nineteenth century demonstrated a growing desire to improve their practice. Similarly, despite the wide divergence in the content and expression of Protestant and Catholic forms of piety, it is possible to detect in their understanding of God and their expression of devotion, a shared Christian heritage. Although Catholics and Protestants in Ireland moved farther apart during this period, both theologically and politically, their beliefs and practices, once shorn of the cultural context which so divided them, underwent a similar change. Religious adherence, for instance, was increasingly expected to be a reflection of a genuine internal belief. Church structures became better organised and more powerful, making them better able to influence the content of individual faith. Unsurprisingly, popular piety came increasingly to reflect these orthodox characteristics, even if the older, traditional forms were never entirely abandoned.

In order to understand the reform of piety in Ireland, this chapter will begin with a survey of the state of the churches in the late eighteenth century. It will move on to consider some of the wider cultural and theological drivers of reform and then look at the structural changes which were implemented in the years leading up to the Famine. Finally, using a thematic approach, it will explore some of the different ways piety has manifested itself in Ireland, from church architecture to Sunday worship and foreign missions.

Viewing alternatives

Item Actions