THE CATHOLICS OF ULSTER by Marianne Elliott

THE CATHOLICS OF ULSTER

A History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Elliott (Irish Studies/Liverpool Univ.) offers a scholarly history of Ulster Catholics, which by definition is a history of Ulster Protestants as well.

Ulster is composed of nine counties, six of them in Northern Ireland, the other three part of the Republic of Ireland. Unlike the Republic, which is around 95 percent Catholic, Northern Ireland is about two-thirds Protestant and largely of Scottish or English (rather than Irish) ancestry. Quite logically, they are pro-Union (wishing to stay united with England). The Catholic minority in Ulster, with equal logic, resents British rule and for many years refused to participate in Northern Ireland’s government, thus ensuring that a pattern of disenfranchisement and discrimination was carried out against them. To understand how this complicated business came to be, Elliott travels back to St. Patrick and his conversion of the island to Christianity, then describes a series of English invasions (making use of Scottish mercenaries) that ensued down the years. She discusses the peculiar development of Irish Catholicism, always a bit too far away for Roman dominance. Then it’s on to Scottish—and thus Protestant—domination of Ulster; early nationalism among Ulstermen (who held “Irish” and “Catholic” to be synonymous terms); the penal laws of the 18th century (which further dispossessed Ulster Catholics and established their curse of poverty); the political emergence of Catholics in the 19th century; and the 20th-century events that led to the present “troubles.” Elliott, an Ulster Catholic, treats all parties fairly, but she has a special insight into the discrimination (mainly in schooling and housing) that Ulster Catholics endure, and into the thousand (almost subliminal) codes that people who are in most respects identical invoke to keep themselves separate.

A superb local history—but in Northern Ireland, local history is of international importance.

Pub Date: March 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-465-01903-X
Page count: 599pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001