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Church of Ireland
Church of Ireland logo.png
Modern logo of the Church of Ireland
Primate Alan Harper
Headquarters See House, Cathedral Close, Armagh, BT61 7EE, Northern Ireland
Territory Ireland
Members 365,000[1]

  Anglicanism Portal

The Church of Ireland (Irish: Eaglais na hÉireann)[2] is a Protestant church, an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion, operating across the island of Ireland, and the largest non-Roman Catholic religious body on the island. Like other Episcopal churches, it considers itself to be both Catholic, in that its beliefs and practices are based on a continuous tradition dating back to the early Church, and Reformed, in that it does not accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope.[3]



When the church in England broke communion from the Roman Catholic Church, all but two of the bishops of the Church in Ireland followed the Church of England,[citation needed] although almost no clergy or laity did so. The new body became the State Church, assuming possession of most Church property (and so retaining a great repository of religious architecture and other items, though some were later destroyed). The substantial majority of the population never changed adherence, remaining strongly Roman Catholic, though there were good reasons for joining the state church. Despite its numerical minority, however, the Church of Ireland remained the official state church until it was disestablished on 1 January 1871 by the Liberal government under William Ewart Gladstone.

Today the Church of Ireland is, after the Irish Catholic Church, the second-largest denomination in the island of Ireland and the largest Protestant tradition (the second-largest in Northern Ireland after Presbyterianism). It is governed by a General Synod of clergy and laity and organized into twelve dioceses. It is led by the Archbishop of Armagh (styled "Primate of All Ireland"), currently the Most Reverend Dr Alan Harper; the church's other archbishop is the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Reverend Dr. John Neill.




In 1536 during the Reformation, Henry VIII arranged to be declared head of the Church in Ireland through an Act of the Irish Parliament. When the Church of England was re-formed under Edward VI, so too was the Church of Ireland. All but two of the Irish bishops accepted the Elizabethan Settlement[citation needed], although the vast majority of priests and the church membership remained Roman Catholic. The Church of Ireland claims Apostolic succession because of the continuity in the hierarchy; however, this is disputed by the Roman Catholic Church.

The established church in Ireland underwent a period of more radical Calvinist doctrine than occurred in England. James Ussher (later Archbishop of Armagh) authored the Irish Articles, adopted in 1615. In 1634, the Irish Convocation adopted the English Thirty-Nine Articles alongside the Irish Articles. After the Restoration of 1660, it seems that the Thirty-Nine Articles took precedence; they remain the official doctrine of the Church of Ireland even after disestablishment.[4]

The Church of Ireland undertook the first publication of Scripture in Irish. The first Irish translation of the New Testament was begun by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, who worked on it until his death in 1585. The work was continued by John Kearny, his assistant, and Dr. Nehemiah Donellan, Archbishop of Tuam; it was finally completed by William O'Domhnuill (William Daniell, Archbishop of Tuam in succession to Donellan). Their work was printed in 1602. The work of translating the Old Testament was undertaken by William Bedel (1571-1642), Bishop of Kilmore, who completed his translation within the reign of Charles I, although it was not published until 1680 in a revised version by Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713), Archbishop of Dublin. William Bedell had undertaken a translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1606. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 was effected by John Richardson (1664-1747) and published in 1712.

The English-speaking minority mostly adhered to the Church of Ireland or to Presbyterianism, while the Irish-speaking majority remained faithful to the Latin liturgy of Roman Catholicism, which remained by far the majority denomination in Ireland.

Union with Great Britain

The Dublin area saw many churches like Saint Stephen's, built in the Georgian style during the 18th century.

When Ireland was incorporated in 1801 into the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Church of Ireland was also united with the Church of England to form the United Church of England and Ireland. At the same time, one archbishop and three bishops from Ireland (selected by rotation) were given seats in the House of Lords at Westminster, joining the two archbishops and twenty-four bishops from the Church of England.

In 1833, the British Government proposed the Irish Church Measure to reduce the 22 archbishops and bishops who oversaw the Anglican minority in Ireland to a total of 12 by amalgamating sees and using the revenues saved for the use of parishes. This sparked the Oxford Movement[citation needed], which was to have wide repercussions for the Anglican Communion.

As the official established church, the Church of Ireland was funded partially by tithes imposed on all Irish citizens, irrespective of the fact that it counted only a minority of the populace among its adherents; these tithes were a source of much resentment which occasionally boiled over, as in the "Tithe War" of 1831/36. Eventually, the tithes were ended, replaced with a lower levy called the tithe rentcharge.

The Irish Church Act 1869 (which took effect in 1871) finally ended the role of the Church of Ireland as state church. This terminated both state support and parliament's role in its governance, but also took into government ownership much church property. Compensation was provided to clergy, but many parishes faced great difficulty in local financing after the loss of rent-generating lands and buildings. The Church of Ireland made provision in 1870 for its own government, led by a General Synod, and with financial management by a Representative Church Body. With disestablishment, the last remnants of tithes were abolished and the Church's representation in the House of Lords also ceased.

Like other Irish churches, the Church of Ireland did not divide when Ireland was partitioned in the 1920s, and it continues to be governed on an all-Ireland basis.

The Church today

Saul church, a modern replica of an early church with a round tower, is built on the reputed spot of St Patrick's first church in Ireland.

The contemporary Church of Ireland, despite having a number of High Church (often described as Anglo-Catholic) parishes, is generally on the Low Church end of the spectrum of world Anglicanism. Historically, it had little of the difference in churchmanship between parishes characteristic of other Anglican Provinces, although a number of markedly liberal, High Church or evangelical parishes have developed in recent decades. It was the second province of the Anglican Communion after the Anglican Church of New Zealand (1857) to adopt, on its 1871 disestablishment, synodical government, and was one of the first provinces to ordain women to the priesthood (1991).

The Church of Ireland has two cathedrals in Dublin: within the walls of the old city is Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, and just outside the old walls is St. Patrick's Cathedral, which the Church designated as a National Cathedral for Ireland in 1870. Cathedrals also exist in the other dioceses. The Church operates a seminary, the Church of Ireland Theological College, in Rathgar, in the south inner suburbs of Dublin. The Church's central offices are in Rathmines, adjacent to the Church of Ireland College of Education, and the Church's library is in Rathgar.

Christ Church in Lisburn with the Union Flag flying on the left.

The Church in 1999 voted to prohibit the flying of flags other than the St Patricks Flag[5]. However, the Union Flag continues to fly on many churches in Northern Ireland.


The Church of Ireland experienced major decline during the 20th century, both in Northern Ireland, where around 65% of its members live, and in the Republic of Ireland which contains upwards of 35%. However, the Church of Ireland in the Republic has shown substantial growth in the last two national censuses; its membership is now back to the levels of sixty years ago (albeit with fewer churches as many have been closed). Church membership increased by 8.7% in the period 2002–2006, during which the population as a whole increased by only 8.2%.[6] Various reasons for this increase have been proposed. One is the relaxation of the Ne Temere regulations that stipulated that children of mixed Roman Catholic-Protestant marriages should be brought up as Roman Catholics. It is also partly explained by the number of Anglican immigrants who have moved to Ireland recently. In addition, some parishes, especially in middle-class areas of the larger cities, report significant numbers of Roman Catholics joining the Church of Ireland.[7] A number of clergy originally ordained in the Roman Catholic Church have now become Church of Ireland clergy [8] and many former Roman Catholics also put themselves forward for ordination after they had become members of the Church of Ireland. [9] [10]

The 2006 Census in the Republic of Ireland showed that the numbers of people describing themselves as members of the Church of Ireland increased in every county. The highest percentage growth was in the west (Counties Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon) and the largest numerical growth was in the mid-east region (Wicklow, Kildare, and Meath). Co Wicklow is the county with the highest proportion of Church of Ireland members (6.88%); Greystones Co. Wicklow has the highest proportion of any town (9.77%).

In 2007, twenty candidates were ordained into the Church of Ireland, 11 paid and 9 unpaid, compared with 9 Roman Catholic priests in the Republic (and an unknown number in Northern Ireland). [11]


The polity of the Church of Ireland is Episcopal church governance, which is the same as other Anglican churches. The Church maintains the traditional structure dating to pre-Reformation times, a system of geographical parishes organized into dioceses. There are twelve of these, each headed by a bishop. The leader of the five southern bishops is the Archbishop of Dublin; that of the seven northern bishops is the Archbishop of Armagh; these are styled Primate of Ireland and Primate of All Ireland, respectively, suggesting the ultimate seniority of the latter. Although he has relatively little absolute authority, the Archbishop of Armagh is respected as the Church's general leader and spokesman, and is elected in a process different from those for all other bishops.

Canon law and church policy are decided by the Church's General Synod, and changes in policy must be passed by both the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives (Clergy and Laity). Important changes, e.g., the decision to ordain female priests, must be passed by two-thirds majorities. While the House of Representatives always votes publicly, often by orders, the House of Bishops has tended to vote in private, coming to a decision before matters reach the floor of the Synod. This practice has been broken only once, when in 1999 the House of Bishops voted unanimously in public to endorse the efforts of the Archbishop of Armagh, the Diocese of Armagh, and the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in their attempts to resolve the crisis at the Church of the Ascension at Drumcree, near Portadown.

The Church of Ireland embraces three orders of ministry: deacon, priest (or presbyter), and bishop. These orders are distinct from functional titles such as rector, vicar or canon.

Worship and liturgy

Book of Common Prayer

The first translation of the Book of Common Prayer was published in 1606. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 was published in 1712.

Doctrine and practice

The centre of the Church of Ireland's teaching is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The basic teachings of the Church include:

The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way. This balance of scripture, tradition, and reason is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a sixteenth-century apologist. In Hooker's model, scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine; things stated plainly in scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason.[12]

Ecumenical relations

Like many other Anglican churches, the Church of Ireland is a member of many ecumenical bodies, including the World Council of Churches and the Irish Council of Churches. It is also a member of the Porvoo Communion.

Irish language

The Church of Ireland has its own Irish language body, Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise (the Irish Guild of the Church). This was founded in 1914 to bring together members of the Church of Ireland interested in the Irish language and Gaelic culture, and to promote the Irish language within the Church of Ireland. The Cumann aims to link its programmes with the Irish language initiatives which have been centred round Christ Church Cathedral. It holds Irish services twice a month in Irish. [13]

From 1926 to 1995, the Church had its own Irish-language teacher training college, Coláiste Moibhí.

See also


  1. ^ World Council of Churches
  2. ^ Placenames Database of Ireland - Civil parishes: in Irish and English - "na bparóistí Caitliceacha nua-aimseartha ná pharóistí Eaglais na hÉireann."
  3. ^ Protestant and Catholic, APCK Study Leaflet, 1996
  4. ^ Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds. | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  5. ^ Flags of the World: St. Patrick's Flag as flag of Church of Ireland: "The General Synod of the Church of Ireland recognises that from time to time confusion and controversy have attended the flying of flags on church buildings or within the grounds of church buildings. This Synod therefore resolves that the only flags specifically authorised to be flown on church buildings or within the church grounds of the Church of Ireland are the cross of St Patrick or, alternatively, the flag of the Anglican Communion bearing the emblem of the Compassrose. Such flags are authorised to be flown only on Holy Days and during the Octaves of Christmas, Easter, the Ascension of Our Lord, Pentecost, and on any other such day as may be recognised locally as the Dedication Day of the particular church building. Any other flag flown at any other time is not specifically authorised by this Church...."
  6. ^ Republic of Ireland Central Statistics Office, Census 2006: Principal Demographic Results.
  7. ^ Archbishop John Neill, Irish Independent, 17 October 2007. [1]
  8. ^ From Roman Catholic Priest to Church of Ireland Rector, Changing Collars, by Mark Hayden, Columba Press [2]
  9. ^ Western People newspaper, June 6th 2007 [3]
  10. ^ Irish Independent, 26 February 2008 [4]
  11. ^ Irish Times, 10 May 2008
  12. ^ Anglican Listening Detail on how scripture, tradition, and reason work to "uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way".
  13. ^ Church of Ireland Notes, page 2, Irish Times, 10 January 2009

Further reading

  • Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford: U. P.; pp. 700-701
  • Neill, Stephen (1965) Anglicanism. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books
  • MacCarthy, Robert Ancient and Modern: a short history of the Church of Ireland. Four Courts Press Ltd., 1995

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CHURCH OF. IRELAND The ancient Church of Ireland (described in the Irish Church Act 1869 by this its historic title) has a long and chequered history, which it will be interesting to trace in outline. The beginnings of Christianity in Ireland are difficult to trace, but there is no doubt that the first Christian missionary whose labours were crowned with any considerable success was Patrick (fl. c. 450), who has always been reckoned the patron saint of the country. For six centuries the Church of which he was the founder occupied a remarkable position in Western Christendom. Ireland, in virtue at once of its geographical situation and of the spirit of its people, was less affected than other countries by the movements of European thought; and thus its development, social and religious, was largely independent of foreign influences, whether Roman or English. In full communion with the Latin Church, the Irish long preserved many peculiarities, such as their monastic system and the date at which Easter was kept, which distinguished them in discipline, though not conspicuously in doctrine, from the Christians of countries more immediately under papal control (see Ireland: Early History). The incessant incursions of the Danes, who were the scourge of the land for a period of nearly three hundred years, prevented the Church from redeeming the promise of her infancy; and at the date of the English conquest of Ireland (1172) she had lost much of her ancient zeal and of her independence. By this time she had come more into line with the rest of Europe, and the Synod of Cashel put the seal to a new policy by its acknowledgment of the papal jurisdiction and by its decrees assimilating the Church, in ritual and usages, to that of England. There was no thought of a breach of continuity, but the distinctive features of Celtic Christianity gradually disappeared from this time onwards. English influence was strong only in the region round Dublin (known as the Pale); and beyond this district the Irish were not disposed to view with favour any ecclesiastical reforms which had their origin in the sister country. Thus from the days of Henry VIII. the Reformation movement was hindered in Ireland by national prejudice, and it never succeeded in gaining the allegiance of the Irish people as a whole. The policy which directed its progress was blundering and stupid, and reflects little credit on the English statesmen who were responsible for it. No attempt was made to commend the principles of the Reformation to the native Irish by conciliating national sentiment; and the policy which forbade the translation of the Prayer Book into the Irish language, and suggested that where English was not understood Latin might be used as an alternative, was doomed to failure from the beginning. And, in fact, the reformed church of Ireland is to this day the church of a small section only of the population.

The Reformation period begins with the passing of the Irish Supremacy Act 1537. As in England, the changes in religion of successive sovereigns alternately checked and promoted the progress of the movement, although in Ireland the mass of the people were less deeply affected by the religious controversies of the times than in Great Britain. At Mary's accession five bishops either abandoned, or were deprived of, their sees; but the Anglo-Irish who remained faithful to the Reformation were not subjected to persecution such as would have been their fate on the other side of the Channel. Again, under Elizabeth, while two bishops (William Walsh of Meath and Thomas Leverous of Kildare) were deprived for open resistance to the new order of things, and while stern measures were taken to suppress treasonable plotting against the constitution, the uniform policy of the government in ecclesiastical matters was one of toleration. James I. caused the Supremacy Act to be rigorously enforced, but on political rather than on religious grounds. In distant parts of Ireland, indeed, the unreformed order of service was often used without interference from the secular authority, although the bishops had openly accepted the Act of Uniformity.

The episcopal succession, then, was unbroken at the Reformation. The Marian prelates are admitted on all hands to have been the true bishops of the Church, and in every case they were followed by a line of lawful successors, leading down to the present occupants of the several sees. The rival lines of Roman Catholic titulars are not in direct succession to the Marian bishops, and cannot be regarded as continuous with the medieval Church. The question of the continuity of the preReformation Church with the Church of the Celtic period before the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland is more difficult. Ten out of eleven archbishops of Armagh who held office between 1272 and 1439 were consecrated outside Ireland, and there is no evidence forthcoming that any one of them derived his apostolic succession through bishops of the Irish Church. It may be stated with confidence that the present Church of Ireland is the direct and legitimate successor of the Church of the 14th and 15th centuries, but it cannot so clearly be demonstrated that any existing organization is continuous with the Church of St Patrick. In the reign of James I. the first Convocation of the clergy was summoned in Ireland, of which assembly the most notable act was the adoption of the "Irish Articles" (1615). These had been drawn up by Usher, and were more decidedly Calvinistic in tone than the Thirty-nine Articles, which were not adopted as standards in Ireland until 1634, when Strafford forced them on Convocation. During the Commonwealth period the bishoprics which became vacant were not filled; but on the accession of Charles II. the Church was strengthened by the translation of John Bramhall (the most learned and zealous of the prelates) from Derry to the primatial see of Armagh, and the consecration of twelve other bishops, among whom was Jeremy Taylor. The short period during which the policy of James II. prevailed in Ireland was one of disaster to the Church; but under William and Mary she regained her former position. She had now been reformed for more than Too years, but had made little progress; and the tyrannical provisions of the Penal Code introduced by the English government made her more unpopular than ever. The clergy, finding their ministrations unacceptable to the great mass of the population, were tempted to indolence and non-residence; and although bright exceptions could be named, there was much that called for reform. To William King (1650-1729), bishop of Derry, and subsequently archbishop of Dublin, it was mainly due that the work of the Church was reorganized, and the impulse which he gave it was felt all through the 18th century. His ecclesiastical influence was exerted in direct opposition to Primate Hugh Boulter and his school, who aimed at making the Established Church the instrument for the promotion of English political opinions rather than the spiritual home of the Irish people. In 1 Boo the Act of Union was passed by the Legislature; and thenceforward, until Disestablishment, there was but one "United Church of England and Ireland." Continuous agitation for the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities brought about in 1833 the passing of the Church Temporalities Act, one of the most important provisions of which was the reduction of the number of Irish archbishoprics from four to two, and of bishoprics from eighteen to ten, the funds thus released being administered by commissioners. In 1838 the Tithe Rentcharge Act, which transferred the payment of tithes from the occupiers to the owners of land, was passed, and thus a substantial grievance was removed. It became increasingly plain, however, as years passed, that all such measures of relief were inadequate to allay the dissatisfaction felt by the majority of Irishmen because of the continued existence of the Established Church. Her position had been pledged to her by the Act of Union, and she was undoubtedly the historical representative of the ancient Church of the land; but such arguments proved unavailing in view of the visible fact that she had not gained the affections of the people. The census of 1861 showed that out of a total population of 5,798,967 only 693,357 belonged to the Established Church, 4,505,265 being Roman Catholics; and once this had been made clear, the passing of the Act of Disestablishment was only a question of time. Introduced by Mr Gladstone, and passed in 1869, it became law on the 1st of January 1871.

The Church was thus suddenly thrown on her own resources, and called on to reorganize her ecclesiastical system, as well as to make provision for the maintenance of her future clergy. A convention of the bishops, clergy, and laity was summoned in 1870, and its first act was to declare the adherence of the Church of Ireland to the ancient standards, and her determination to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, while reaffirming her witness, as Protestant and Reformed, against the innovations of Rome. Under the constitution then agreed on, the supreme governing body of the Church is the General Synod, consisting of the bishops and of 208 clerical and 416 lay representatives of the several dioceses, whose local affairs are managed by subordinate Diocesan Synods. The bishops are elected as vacancies arise, and, with certain restrictions, by the Diocesan Synods, the Primate, whose see is Armagh, being chosen by the bishops out of their own number. The patronage of benefices is vested in boards of nomination, on which both the diocese and the parish are represented. The Diocesan Courts, consisting of the bishop, his chancellor, and two elected members, one clerical and the other lay, deal as courts of first instance with legal questions; but there is an appeal to the Court of the General Synod, composed of three bishops and four laymen who have held judicial office. During the years 1871 to 1878 the revision of the Prayer Book mainly occupied the attention of the General Synod; but although many far-reaching resolutions were proposed by the then predominant Evangelical party, few changes of moment were carried, and none which affected the Church's doctrinal position. A two-thirds majority of both the lay and clerical vote is necessary before any change can be made in the formularies, and an ultimate veto rests, on certain conditions, with the house of bishops.

The effects of Disestablishment have been partly good and partly evil. On the one hand, the Church has now all the benefits of autonomy and is free from the anomalies incidental to state control. Her laws are definite, and the authority of her judicial courts is recognized by all her members. The place given to the laity in her synods has quickened in them the sense of responsibility so essential to the Church's progress. And although there are few worldly inducements to men to take orders in Ireland, the clergy are, for the most part, the equals of their predecessors in social standing and in intellectual equipment, while the standard of clerical activity is higher than in pre-Disestablishment days. On the other hand, the vesting of patronage in large bodies like synods, or (as is the case in some districts) in nominators with little knowledge of the Church beyond the borders of their own parish, is not an ideal system, although it is working better as the dangers of parochialism and provinciality are becoming more generally recognized than in the early years of Disestablishment.

The finances are controlled by the Representative Church Body, to which the sum of £7,581,075, sufficient to provide life annuities for the existing clergy (2043 in number), amounting to £596,913, was handed over by the Church Temporalities Commissioners in 1870. So skilfully was this fund administered, and so generous were the contributions of clergy and laity, at and since Disestablishment, that while on 31st December 1906 only 136 annuitants were living, the total assets in the custody of the Representative Church Body amounted at that date to £8,729,941. Of this sum no less than £6,525,952 represented the free-will offerings of the members of the Church for the thirty-seven years ending 31st December 1906. Out of the interest on capital, augmented by the annual parochial assessments, which are administered by the central office, provision has to be made for two archbishops at £2500 per annum, eleven bishops, who receive about £1500 each, and over 1500 parochial clergy. Of the clergy only 338 are curates, while 1161 are incumbents, the average annual income of a benefice being about £240, with (in most cases) a house. The large majority of the clergy receive their training in the Divinity School of Trinity College, Dublin. At the census of 1901 the members of the Church of Ireland numbered 579,385 out of a total population of 4,456,546.

See R. Mant, History of the Church of Ireland (2 vols., London, 1840); Essays on the Irish Church, by various writers (Oxford, 1866); Maziere Brady, The Alleged Conversion of the Irish Bishops (London, 1877); A. T. Lee, The Irish Episcopal Succession (Dublin, 1867); G. T. Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church (London, 1888), Ireland and the Anglo-Norman Church (London, 1892), Some Worthies of the Irish Church (London, 1900); T. Olden, The Church of Ireland (London, 1892); J. T. Ball, The Reformed Church of Ireland (London, 1890); H. C. Groves, The Titular Archbishops of Ireland (Dublin, 1897); W. Lawlor, The Reformation in Ireland (London, 1906); Reports of the Representative Church Body (Dublin, 1872-1905). (J. H. BE.)

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