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Wicklow Mountains National Park

Penal Times


The colonization policies implemented during the Restoration weren't able to prevent new rebellion. However, the defeat of the Jacobite forces by William III at the Battle of the Boyne in the seventeenth century, eventually led to the establishment of a Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. At the beginning of the eighteenth century a raft of anti-Catholic legislation passed through parliament, aimed at maintaining the economic, social and political supremacy of Protestantism by keeping Catholics in a state of incapacity.

The supposed aim of these Penal Laws was to eradicate Catholicism in Ireland and thus bishops and regular clergy were banished and no new priests were permitted to enter the country. Secular clergy were permitted to remain, provided they registered with the authorities. But with no bishops in situ and no priests allowed to come into Ireland, the country should theoretically have been effectively priest-free within two generations.

Catholics were disbarred from sitting in parliament. Catholics were permitted neither to purchase land nor to acquire it by marriage. They were not permitted to follow traditional inheritance patterns, known as gavelkind, whereby the lands were subdivided amongst all the sons. Rather, the land was to be inherited by the eldest son, if he converted to Protestantism. Most families, faced with the choice of conversion or dispossession, chose the former option and the proportion of land in Catholic ownership declined as the century progressed.

Catholic pilgrimages and patterns were regarded by the Protestants as occasions of sin and debauchery. To a paranoid government, they represented occasions when Catholics could come together to organise and plot a future overthrow of Protestant power. In 1714, the High Sheriff of the County, Thomas Ryves organised an expedition to Glendalough to suppress a Catholic pilgrimage. Tents, crosses, and holy wells were destroyed and a Catholic schoolmaster was jailed. Tensions between Catholics and Protestants would lead to further rebellion.

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