‘Why Did the Reformation Fail in Ireland?’

Wednesday, 11th December 2019
Image: why-did-the-reformation-fail-in-ireland

One of the many failures of the people of Israel was their tendency to forget their history (Psalm 78:11). This is an area where many of us likewise fail. Church history contains innumerable benefits and as Irish Baptists we ought to have a particular interest in the history of Christianity in Ireland. At the meeting of the Irish Baptist Historical Society on Thursday, 17th October, Dr David Luke examined the question of why the Reformation failed in Ireland.

In the 16th century while the Reformation was making progress in Europe, Henry VIII’s interest was in power and wealth rather than religion. After Henry’s death, religious affairs in England and Ireland fluctuated - Protestantism was established under Edward VI, Catholicism re-established under Mary and then Protestantism restored under Elizabeth I. By the end of the Tudor period, Ireland was effectively under the control of the English Crown but the Reformation of the church had not yet been fully implemented.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland became King James I of England and Ireland. James followed a policy of toleration thereby provoking Irish Protestants and stirring up stronger anti-Catholic feeling.

Rebellion in 1641, together with Pope Urban VII’s efforts to restore Catholicism in Ireland, fuelled internal divisions resulting in the arrival of Cromwell’s army in 1649. This in turn led to the confiscation of Catholic lands and the virtual destruction of the Catholic Church.

With the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, the Church of Ireland became the established church once more, Catholicism was tolerated and the infrastructure of the Catholic Church destroyed under Cromwell was quietly restored.

Under James II, Irish Catholics enjoyed some concrete advances but the defeat of James during the Williamite Wars dealt a crushing blow to Catholics from which they would not recover for over a century.

In light of this history, Dr Luke suggested ten factors that contributed to the failure of the Reformation in Ireland:

  1. The English Reformation - The protracted and conflicted nature of the English Reformation seriously undermined attempts to introduce it in Ireland.
  2. Henry’s attempts to introduce the Reformation into Ireland reflected his goals - power and wealth - rather than genuine church reform.
  3. Protestantism was a foreign faith - Protestantism was seen to have come from England and tended to be imposed along with English law.
  4. Protestantism was under siege - it took a long time for English rule to roll out over all of Ireland.
  5. Predestinarianism - leading figures in Ireland were staunch Puritans who developed a theology of double predestination. This led Protestant clergy to rationalise that Irish Catholics did not believe because they were not amongst the elect.
  6. Racism - this siege mentality and predestinarian ethic was further allied to deeply held racism. The English had embedded racist attitudes about the Irish dating back as far as the 12th century.
  7. Daily Realities - Irish people had to live in a Catholic community and they relied upon the relationships they had with their Catholic neighbours to maintain their daily existence.
  8. Counter-Reformation - while Ireland was often quiet politically the forces of the Catholic Counter Reformation were at work. Many Catholics sent their sons to train for the priesthood in Europe and they then returned to carry on their ministry in Ireland.
  9. Protestant Divisions - although Protestants were comparatively small in number and united in their mutual hatred of Catholicism they were often hopelessly divided.
  10. Violence - throughout the long Reformation in England and Ireland there was much bloodshed. Between the reign of Henry VIII and the end of the reign of William III one estimate is that there were more than 700 Irish Catholic martyrs.

Whatever the exact combination the failure of the Reformation in Ireland shaped the history of this island and helped create a stumbling block for evangelism in subsequent generations.

If you want to listen to the full lecture it can be found here:



Report by John Gault.  John is a member of the Larne Church. He serves as Secretary for the Irish Baptist Historical Society and teaches a number of College evening classes.

    Blog Archive

Let’s Read Irish Baptist College Conference (Online) From Intern to Undergraduate (Emily Middleton) Let's Read: The Hole in our Holiness — The Reason for Redemption Baptists and Revival in the Long 18th Century Second Year Placements From Intern to Undergraduate (Josh Brown) Let's Read: The Hole in our Holiness — The What and Why of Holiness Final Year During A Pandemic 2nd Year Placement Experience Friends of the College 2021 Update The Art of Reading More Books Let's Read: The Hole in our Holiness — The Real Possibility of Holiness A Basic Easter Fact The Servant King Podcast Let's Read: The Hole in our Holiness — You Are Holy Third Year Reflection Gospel Guardians: Protecting the Purity of the Gospel for Future Generations Graduation 2021 Book Review: Succeeding at Seminary Let's Read: The Hole in Our Holiness — A Work in Progress Why the Irish Baptist College is Vital to the Health of the Association A Good News Story: The Ministry Partnership Scheme Why Study the Biblical Languages? Profit in Toil: A Short Message on A Level Results Day Let's Read: Small Preaching Recognition Service Report 2021 Sin Forgiven: Nourishment for Life and Joy for Living Let’s Read: Small Preaching—The Character of the Preacher Commencement Service Report Placement Friends of the College Update God Rejoices over His People: A Meditation on Zephaniah 3:17 Let’s Read: Small Preaching—Constructing the Sermon Evangelism Teams: Newcastle and Brannockstown Evangelism Teams: Stonepark and North Belfast Christian Fellowship First Year Reflections (Reuben and Andrew) Some New Books Let’s Read: Small Preaching—The Craft of Preaching Let's Read: Small Preaching—What is God Saying? A Christmas Reflection on John 1 - ‘The coming of the light’ Christmas Reflection on John 1 - ‘Life, Light & Glory’
Time to read Genesis...again Friends of the College - January 2020 Friends of the College - January 2020 Finances Tribute to Marion Craig The Resilient Pastor: Surviving & Thriving in Ministry Just a Blow-in? What is new on the shelves at IBC? Friends of the College - February 2020 Four Reasons to Study Theology Academically From Spain to Moira Testimonial Financial Update Friends of the College – March 2020 Irish Baptist Historical Society: The Mayflower Thomas Patient: the Father of the Irish Baptist Church Testimonials The Pastors’ Conference: An Encouraging Privilege Testimonials (part-time studies) In the worst of times: COVID-19 and the Book of Ruth Friends of the College - April 2020 The Long Wait: Victory Delayed Testimonials - Preparation for Ministry and Evening Classes The Leadership Podcast Testimonials - Ladies Study Fellowship The Leadership Podcast (part 2) Friends of the College - May 2020 Reflections from the Student Chairman Why do we teach the Old Testament? Reflections on first year at IBC Friends of the College - June 2020 Why do we teach Romans? IBC Placement Is Church History a Thing of the Past? Friends of the College - July 2020 Friends of the College – August 2020 Friends of the College September 2020 Recognition and Graduation Service Introducing the Irish Baptist College’s New Logo Commencement Service Friends of the College - October 2020 Filled with the Spirit: Soundings in Luke’s Theology of the Holy Spirit The Famous Five: The Abiding Relevance of the Solas of the Reformation Friends of the College - November 2020 The Importance of Theological Training in Fulfilling the Great Commission First Year Reflections — Tim Houston Singing: The Place of Theology in Corporate Worship New Library Books Friends of the College – Unite to Pray – December Christmas Reflections
Agree and Close notice.

By continuing on our website you agree with our Privacy Policy and to the use of cookies by third party plugins. Find out more here