Maureen Wall


Irish historian; author of extensive works in 18th century Irish history; regarded as pioneer of modern studies of the Penal Laws with her short book on subject in the Dublin Historical Society series (Dundalgan 1961); her essays were collected with an introduction by George O’Brien as Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (London: Geography 1989).

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  • ‘Catholic Loyality to King and Pope in Eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Proceedings of the Irish Catholic Historical Committee, 1960 (Dublin: Gill 1961), pp.17-24;
  • The Penal Laws, 1691-1760 [Dublin Historical Assoc.] (Dundalk 1961), 72pp. and Do. [rep.] (Dundalk: 1967), 68pp.;
  • ‘The United Irish Movement’, in Historical Studies V, ed. J. L. McCracken (Routledge & KP 1965), pp.122-40.
  • ‘Partition: the Ulster Question’, in The Irish Struggle, 1916-1926, ed. T. D. Williams (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1966), pp.79-93;
  • ‘The Age of the Penal Laws, 1691-1778’, in The Course of Irish History, ed. T. W. Moody & F. X. Martin (Cork: Mercier 1967), pp.37-51 [see extract];
  • The Background of the Rising from 1914 until the issue of the Countermanding Order on Easter Saturday 1916’, in The Making of the Rising, ed. K. B. Nowlan (Dublin 1969), pp.157-97;
  • ‘The Plans and the Countermand: The Country and Dublin’, in The Making of the Rising, ed. K. B. Nowlan (Dublin 1969), pp.201-51;
  • intro. John T[homas]. Gilbert, Documents Relating to Ireland, 1795-1804 (IUP 1970, rep. of 1893 1st ed.), xvii+250pp.;
  • ‘The Whiteboys’ in Secret Societies in Ireland, ed. T. D. Williams (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1973), pp.13-25;
  • Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century: Collected Essays of Maureen Wall, ed. George O’Brien (Dublin: Geography Publications 1989) [see extract].

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L. M. Cullen, ‘Catholics under the Penal Laws’, in Eighteenth-Century Ireland / Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 1 (1986), pp.23-36: ‘Maureen Wall's little book, The Penal Laws, in 1961, was the first real insight into them; re-reading it is a reminder how much that now seems obvious and incontrovertible wa still obscured by muth in 1961, and the book has not been followed by any further study narrowly focussed on the acts and their impact on catholics.’ [For longer extract, see under Cullen, supra.]

George O’Brien: ‘Maureen Wall’s 1952 thesis a decisive break ... refusal to accept uncritically that all the actions of 18th c. Catholics were naturally good, wholesome, and above reproach ... the first scientific enquiry into the numbers and types of Catholics ... emerge from her writings not as an amorphous mass of down-trodden victims ... but as a group of socially-mobile indidviduals who struggled not only against civil disabilities but also among themselves.’ Further: ‘One noticeable weakness perhaps inevitably in the light of her Free State early educational experience … apparent inability to extend … same objectivity to … Lord lieutenants and ministers … [who] tend to remain as anonymous beings … regarded as “corrupt” or “misguided”.’ [ii] (Introduction to Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, Geography Publications 1989) [n.p.]

Oliver Rafferty, Catholicism in Ulster 1903-1983: An Interpretative History (S. Caroline UP 1994) - ‘The penal laws: an explanation?’ [being the 1st sect. of Chap. 2: ‘The Eighteenth-century Experience’]: ‘[...] Maureen Wall typifies the view prevalent in some historical circles that it was not the intention of the legislators [of the penal laws] to secure the conversion of all Irish catholics to protestantism. Like Dr Brady she argued that such a contingency would have undermined the position of the ruling protestant élite, since it presumed that the latter would thereby have been forced to share its privileges with Irish catholic converts to the state religion. S. J. Connolly has rather harshly characterised such an analyis as the union of “conservative Catholic tradition and schoolboy Marxism”. He right points out that the whole of European society was based on ruling élites and from this viewpoint Ireland was no different from any other contemporary society. Irish protestants would not have been at a disadvantage had the general populace gone over to the state religion; the ruling élite would still have maintained its status as an élite. Elsewhere he concludes that “the real flaw in the structure of eighteenth-century Irish society was not that it excluded a large section of the population from democratic freedoms. It was rather that it debarred them from taking on as fully as they might otherwise have done the role of deferential subordinates.” He is further convinced that the purpose of the popery laws was ostensibly what they claimed to be, the means of destroying catholicism in Ireland. / However, the “schoolboy marxist” approach cannot be entirely dismissed. It is clearly the case that élites by their very nature are closely contained. Itis in the interests of the elitre to restrict access to its privileges ... The controlling élite was protestant ... Had all classes conformed, the elite would not have survived as such.’ (pp.57-58.)

Footnote cites S. J. Connolly, ‘Religion and History’, in Irish Economic and Social history, 10 (1983), p.77; Religion, Law and Power: The Making of the Protestant Ireland, 1600-1760 (Oxford 1992), p.43, & ibid., p.290; John Brady and Patrick J. Corish, ‘The Church under the Penal Code’, in A History of Irish Catholicism, Vol. 14 (Dublin 1971), and Corish, The Irish Catholic Experience (Dublin 1985). Also quotes Robert E. Burns who writes that the Penal Laws ‘comprised one of the most persistent legislative efforts ever undertaken by a western European state to change a people’ (‘The Irish Popery Laws: A Study of Eighteenth-century Legislation and Behaviour’, in The Review of Politics, Vol. 26 (1962), p.485; here p.57, n.)

Elizabethanne Boran & Crawford Gribben, Enforcing Reformation in Ireland and Scotland, 1550-1700 (2006): ‘Were the penal laws to achieve their supposed effect, [93] of converting Ireland's Catholics, then the privileged position of the protestant ascendancy would be destroyed. As the pioneering historian, Maureen Wall, argued in 1960: “It is generally accepted that the penal laws ... were primarily aimed at maintaining the absolute ascendancy of the members of the established church and at securing the land settlement.” (‘Catholic Loyality to King and Pope in Eighteenth-century Ireland’, in [Wall,] Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, ed. George O'Brien, Dublin 1989, p.107.) Certainly the statistics of land ownership, when placed side by side with the official records of conversions, would strongly support this interpretation. [...] And, indeed, the most recent analysis of the 1690s concludes that ‘the overriding motivation behind them was fear for the safety of the protestant interest in Ireland.’ [C. I. McGrath, ‘Securing the Protestant Interest: The Origins and Purposes of the Penal Laws of 1695’, in Irish Historical Studies, 30, 117, 1996, p.33.) [...] But this legislation is but a second flowering of a much earlier impulse, which can be traced to the sixteenth century, to the Elizabethan Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, and the first Act of Supremacy, passed by Henry VIII. These deeper origins of penal legislation in Ireland were, it is true, recognized at an early stage by one of the pioneers of modern Irish historiography, [Robert] Dudley Edwards [...].' Author refers to his doctoral degree, as cited under R. D. Edwards, supra.] (pp.93-94.) Further: ‘[...] the end of the Nine Years War and the accession of James I in 1603 marks a new beginning in the enforcement of penal legislation in Ireland’ (p.95.)

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Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (1989): ‘The Pope recognised James III as legitimate King of England making the path of the Catholic Church in England and in Ireland more difficult [...] When the Pope refused to recognise Charles Edward as King of England on the death of James III in 1766 the Stuart nomination of Irish bishops ceased and this ground of suspicion against Catholics in England and Ireland was removed. But up to that time this suspicion, often exaggerated in order to justify the actions of the Irish Parliament, remained a constant source of difficulty for the Catholics of Ireland.’ (pp.14-15; see also extended extracts, in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > History” - via index or direct.]

Penals Laws: ‘However much Irish members of Parliament might resent the fact that the kingdom of Ireland was being treated as a colony, they realised that they were an isolated minority, surrounded by a potentially hostile Catholic population, and dependent on the military strength of the mother country for protection against invasion by a foreign foe, or rebellion by the Catholic majority in which they could lose everything.’ Further, ‘It is not surprsiing [...] that members of an all-Protestant Parliament should have done everything in their power to maintain their privileged position. Ruling minorities have done the same before and since in many parts of the world. Of course the persecution of protestants in France, Spain and the Empire was cited to justify the savage laws now passed against the Irish Cathoics, but in these countries the members of the persecuted sects formed only a minority, while Ireland is unique in Western Europe in that the persecuted formed the majority of the population’. (‘The Age of the Penal Laws, 1691-1778’, in T. W. Moody & F. X. Martin, eds., The Course of Irish History, Mercier Press 1987, pp.127-18; quoted in Pauline Holland, PhD. diss., UU 2004.)

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