Ireland and the European Reformation

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1999), Letters, Letters, Volume 7

Sir,—With reference to Karl Bottigheimer and Ute Lotz-Heumann’sarticle, ‘Ireland and the European Reformation’ (HI Winter 1998), Ibelieve that Ireland is still unique in resisting the ProtestantReformation in Northern Europe. The people of the two states of Germanyquoted, although they resisted conversion from Lutheranism toCalvinism, had not previously resisted conversion to Lutheranism,therefore the similarity between these states and Ireland is more inthe nature of the stubborn faith of the ordinary people. Although theauthors do indeed make this point it struck me that, in the case of theGerman people, it may have been the option offered them, Calvinism,which, at least early on, had so much in common with Lutheranism thatthere was little point in changing. This may be especially so when themain difference between the two Reformers was Calvin’s belief inpredestination. In which case, since the decision that one is saved ornot saved is made by God from before the beginning of time, there wouldbe little point in changing.
An interesting effect of Ireland’s resistance to the Reformation isthe lack of involvement in Ireland in the persecution of so-calledwitches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although there waslittle in the way of witch-hunting before the Reformation, witchcraftbecame a crime in Ireland in 1586 and that act was not repealed until1829. Thus one would have expected more cases to have been made,especially as those in authority during Penal times were Protestant.One cannot suggest that there were no witches in Ireland as even acursory look at Irish folk tales reveals their nefarious practices.However, perhaps those folk tales that illustrate the ingenuity of thepeople in tracing and catching witches shows a lack of need for anymore authoritative initiatives.—Yours etc.,


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