Church of Ireland

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The Church of Ireland ( Irish: Eaglais na hÉireann) is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion, operating seamlessly across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is the largest Protestant Church in the Republic of Ireland but is second in size to the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland.

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When the Church of England broke with the Pope and communion with the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic Church in Ireland underwent reformation. The Church of Ireland, in its cathedrals and churches and property, retains much of the island's heritage of the medieval occupation. The Catholic Church was and is the church of the vast majority of the populace; nevertheless, the Church of Ireland was imposed as the state church until 1869 when it was disestablished.


The Church of Ireland traces its origins back to the missions of Saint Patrick.

A monastically-centred institution, the early Celtic Church of Ireland had a unique calendar and usages, but was a full part of the wider Western Church, remaining in communion with Rome. In 1166, basing his action on the disputed Papal Bull Laudabiliter, which is claimed to have given him lordship over Ireland, the french-born Henry II of England came to Ireland and in 1171 made himself "Overlord" of Ireland.

In 1536 Henry VIII had the Irish Parliament declare him head of the Irish Church. When the Church of England travelled in a more Protestant direction under Edward VI so too did the Church of Ireland. All but two of the Irish bishops accepted the Elizabethan Settlement and there is therefore continuity and Apostolic succession in the Church of Ireland, separate from that of the Church of England and the doubts raised by the consecration of Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury.

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, and remain the official doctrine of the Church of Ireland even after disestablishment.

The reformed 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 untimely death in 1585. The work was continued by John Kearny, his assistant, and Dr. Nehemiah Donellan, Archbishop of Tuam, and 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 the First, however 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.

However, the delay in providing scripture and liturgy in the vernacular of the majority of the population, caused a rift between the English-speaking minority who mostly adhered to the reformed church or to presbyterianism and the Irish-speaking majority who remained faithful to the Latin liturgy of Catholicism which thus remained the majority denomination in Ireland.

As before the Reformation, some clergymen of the Church of Ireland sat as Lords Spiritual in the Irish House of Lords; under the provisions of the Act of Union 1800, one archbishop and the three bishops chosen by rotation would be Lords Spiritual in the newly united United Kingdom House of Lords in Westminster, joining the two archbishops (Canterbury and York) and the 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 to use the revenues saved for the use of parishes. This sparked the Tractarian movement and wider repercussions in the Anglican communion.

Though the religion of a minority of Irish people at the time, it remained the official, "established" religion of Ireland, until its disestablishment by an 1869 Act of Parliament, which came into effect in 1871.

Up to this, it had been funded by tithes. Tithes were tax-like payments paid in Ireland by members of other faiths as well as its own adherents to maintain and fund the Anglican Church of Ireland, to which only a small minority of the population belonged. The collection of tithes was violently resisted by the Catholic majority in the period 1831-36, known as the Tithe War. With the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, tithes were abolished. To deal with its new situation, it made provision in 1870 for its own government (General Synod) and financial management (Representative Church Body).

The representation of the Church of Ireland in the House of Lords also ceased.

Like other Irish churches, it did not divide when Ireland was partitioned in 1920, and continues to be governed on an all-island basis, with twelve dioceses organized as two provinces ( Armagh and Dublin).

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.
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 Protestant 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, in 1991.

The church is structured on a model inherited from pre- Reformation times. The Primate of All Ireland is the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland), whose seat is the medieval Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh.

The Church is organised on diocesan or bishopric lines. The Archbishop of Dublin, like his Catholic counterpart, is called the Primate of Ireland.

Canon law and church policy are decided by its 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 current Archbishop of Armagh is Archbishop Robin Eames, who is due to retire at the end of 2006. (He is also called Lord Eames, having been appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer). The Archbishop of Dublin is Archbishop John Neill.

The Church of Ireland experienced major decline during the 20th Century, both in Northern Ireland, where 75% of its members live, and in the Republic of Ireland. However, recent censuses shown an unexpected increase in Church membership, the first in almost a century. This is largely explained by the great number of Anglican immigrants who moved to Ireland, particularly ex-colonists from Africa; but some parishes, especially in middle-class areas of the larger cities, report some former Catholics joining. There are a number of clergy originally ordained for the Catholic Church who have now become Church of Ireland clergy.

The church has two cathedrals in Dublin: within the walls of the old city is Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop, and just outside the old walls is St. Patrick's Cathedral, the church's National Cathedral of Ireland.

Current bishops


  • The Most Rev. Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland (retiring effective Jan. 1, 2007)
  • The Most Rev. John Neill, Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop of Glendalough, Primate of Ireland


  • The Most Rev. Richard Clarke, Meath and Kildare
  • The Right Rev. Michael Geoffrey St Aubyn Jackson, Clogher
  • The Right Rev. Paul Colton, Cork, Cloyne and Ross
  • The Right Rev. Ken Good, Derry and Raphoe
  • The Right Rev. Harold Miller, Down and Dromore
  • The Right Rev. Alan Harper, Connor
  • The Right Rev. Ken Clarke, Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh
  • The Right Rev. Michael Mayes, Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe, Killaloe, Kilmacduagh and Emly
  • The Right Rev. Richard Henderson, Tuam, Killala and Achonry
  • The Right Rev. Michael Burrows, Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin

Irish Anglicans

Members of the Church of Ireland include or have included:

  • John Millar Andrews (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland)
  • Rt Rev Alexander Arbuthnot, Bishop of Killaloe
  • Samuel Beckett, playwright and Nobel Prize laureate
  • Heidi Bedell, Irish Green Party councillor. Married to Trevor Sargent and first cousin of U2 bassist, Adam Clayton
  • William Bedell Stanford, former member of the Irish Senate (1948), Regius Professor of Greek in TCD from 1940-1980, and Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1982-1984.
  • Thekla Beere, first woman secretary of the newly established Department of Transport and Power (1959) and chairwoman of the new Commission on the Status of Women (1979)
  • George Berkeley, philosopher
  • Jack Boothman, the first member of the Church of Ireland to have been elected president of the GAA
  • Sir Basil Brooke (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland)
  • Phyllis Browne, author of "Thanks for the Tea, Mrs Browne", published by New Island Books. Married to the late Noel Browne, the Minister for Health famously remembered for the Mother and Child showdown of 1951
  • Edmund Burke, statesman and philosopher
  • Robert Malachy Burke, contested Dail elections in Galway for the Irish Labour Party from 1933-1948 when he was elected to the Upper House. Donated Toghermore House to the State, originally as a rehabilitation centre for TB patients.
  • Ernest Blythe, Minister for Finance in W.T. Cosgrave's pro-Treaty government. Served as managing director of the Abbey Theatre 1941-67
  • Edward Carson, Dublin-born Unionist - political leader and lawyer
  • Roger Casement, Irish republican leader
  • Erskine Hamilton Childers, fourth President of Ireland
  • Hazel Blair, mother to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. She was born in ancient coastal town of Ballyshannon, Donegal, in 1923 (two years after partition kept it in the South)
  • Countess of Wicklow, Irish Labour Party Senator (1948-52) and member of the Irish delegation which helped to draft the statute of the Council of Europe. Although very critical about the partition of Ireland, she was one of the founders and first chairman of the Glencree Reconciliation Centre and she joined hands with the Peace Movement in NI in the mid-1970s.
  • James Craig, (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland)
  • Susan Denham, the second most senior Supreme Court judge in Ireland (in terms of years served)
  • Robert Dowds, Irish Labour Party county councillor
  • Myles Dungan, RTE broadcaster and convert to the Church of Ireland
  • Robert Emmet, Irish republican leader
  • George Fitzmaurice, writer
  • Arlene Foster, Democratic Unionist politician in Northern Ireland
  • Roy Foster, Professor of Irish history at Oxford University
  • Johnny Fox, Former TD - father of Mildred Fox, currently an Independent TD for Wicklow
  • Douglas Gageby, Former editor of the Irish Times
  • Alan Gillis, former president of the Irish Farmers' Association and former Fine Gael MEP. Among one of the very few MEPs to have spent time in prison, as a result of his involvement in the farmers' rights struggle of 1966.
  • Henry Grattan, defender of Irish parliamentary independence
  • Alice Stopford Green, historian
  • Arthur Guinness, (Brewer)
  • TC Hammond, evangelist, later Principal Moore Theological College, Sydney
  • Rainsford Hendy, Fine Gael county councillor
  • Mary Henry, Senator for the University of Dublin
  • Paul Hewson ( Bono), lead singer of Irish Rock Band U2
  • Alison Hewson, Bono's Wife
  • Maurice Hewson, former judge and former District Commissioner and member of the Colonial Administration of the Gold Coast, West Africa . Distant relative of Bono and son of Gilbert Hewson, the Independent TD who represented Limerick in the 5th Dail.
  • Rev Stephen Hilliard, Irish Times journalist and alleged IRA member, killed by intruder in Rathdrum rectory
  • Rev. R.M. "Bob" Hilliard, the colourful Irish Republican Army member who opposed the Treaty and later joined the Communist Party of Ireland. Hilliard fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. He was killed fighting during the Battle of Jarama on 14 February 1937. His bravery was remembered by both Christy Moore and Luke Kelly in their respective versions of Vive La Quinte Brigada.
  • Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland
  • Lady Valerie Goulding, Fianna Fáil Senator and founder of the Dublin Remedial Clinic, which provided physiotherapy for children who had been disabled by polio. Converted to Catholicism in 1962
  • Jennifer Johnston, Award-Winning Novelist
  • Seán Lester, Director of Publicity at the Department of External Affairs (1924), Diplomat at the League of Nations, serving as its last secretary-general
  • C.S. Lewis Belfast-born scholar and author of The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Louis MacNeice, Poet
  • Catherine McGuinness, a former independent senator who came to the Bar in middle age. Served as a judge of the Circuit Court (1994) and High Court (1996) before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2000. Dublin & Glendalough Diocesan Chancellor of the Church of Ireland
  • Sam Maguire Irish Republican and Gaelic Footballer
  • Martin Mansergh, Fianna Fáil Senator
  • Van Morrison, Belfast born singer
  • James Molyneaux leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (1979-95) and now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Molyneaux of Killead.
  • Joe Neville, Fianna Fáil county councillor and Peace Commissioner
  • David Norris, Senator and gay rights campaigner
  • Graham Norton, comedian
  • Seán O'Casey, playwright
  • Terence O'Neill (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland)
  • Jan O'Sullivan, Irish Labour Party TD and daughter of the late Ted Gale, (the well-known Limerick Leader journalist, and former treasurer of the National Union of Journalists)
  • Charles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist leader
  • Howard Robinson, a successful businessman and banker, he created the City of Dublin Bank (commonly known today as the Anglo-Irish Bank), Father-in-law to Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland
  • Trevor Sargent, leader of the Irish Green Party
  • William Sheldon, had the distinction of being the Independent TD on whom Éamon de Valera depended for an overall majority during the minority Fianna Fáil government of 1951-1954.
  • Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright
  • Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula
  • Jonathan Swift, writer (who served as Dean of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin)
  • Julie Parsons, novelist and former RTE producer. Married to John Caden, a lifetime producer of the Gay Byrne radio show.
  • George Plant, Tipperary IRA man who was given a state execution in controversial circumstances, in 1942
  • Theobald Wolfe Tone, eighteenth century revolutionary
  • Canon George Townsend, Church of Ireland clergyman who became the first Irish convert to the Bahá'í Faith in 1917
  • Hilda Tweedy, founding member of the Irish Housewives' Association, an influential pressure group that spoke out about injustices and the needs of Irish women, inside and outside the home. Held high office in the IHA and the CSW (now the Women's National Council of Ireland). In 1975, International Women's Year, she led the Irish delegation to the UN meeting in Mexico and was a board member of the International Alliance of Women.
  • James Ussher, scholar, Archbishop of Armagh
  • Oscar Wilde, writer, but converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.
  • Ivan Yates, Owner of Celtic Bookmakers and former Fine Gael cabinet member
  • William Butler Yeats, poet and Nobel Prize laureate
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