Short Title

The Battle for Impoverished Souls in Ireland, 1853-1885

Document Type



A world history analysis, this paper examines the struggle between Protestant governmental and Catholic private philanthropy in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland, exploring how each side waged a war of political and religious misunderstanding in an effort to gain control over the Catholic Irish poor. Ireland’s philanthropic scene in this period became a battleground on which the British government fought for political control and Catholics for religious control; however, neither group understood what the other fought for, waging a war of cross-purposes. Through an examination of this battle for control, this paper depicts the emergence of modern Irish welfare from the famine era and identifies the key areas of disharmony in Anglo-Irish philanthropic relations that slowed the process of welfare modernization in Ireland. Although past historians have closely studied the Irish Poor Law and religious philanthropies in Ireland, few have linked Catholic charities and the Protestant British government in further extrapolating the history of Irish welfare. Maria Luddy, a key figure in the field, has herself worked on conflicts between Catholic Irish and the British government in terms of welfare, but primarily with religious sisters in workhouse hospitals. While important, these hospitals formed only one part of Irish philanthropy in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland, leaving a clear gap in Anglo-Irish philanthropic historiography. This paper begins with historical overview of Irish charity, from the introduction of Christianity into Ireland to the end of the Irish famine, a major test for the parliamentary Irish Poor Law. It then branches into two key battlegrounds of post-famine Irish philanthropy in the nineteenth century: education and medicine. In order to analyze post-famine Irish philanthropy, information primarily derives from primary sources between 1853 and 1885, from the years beginning the philanthropic war into the commencement of cooperation between the British government and Catholic charities. These sources include pamphlets and papers written by such period actors as Catholic Irish lawyer W. Neilson Hancock and Mayor of Cork John Arnott, and the British government features in the form of parliamentary papers and debates. Women additionally appear, particularly Dublin philanthropic activist Margaret Aylward, whose letters regarding St. Brigid’s Orphanage identify a non-governmental voice in the battle over the Irish poor. Through this research, a new type of holy war developed between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. However, this holy war was one-sided, as only the Catholic Irish believed the British government sought to continue a centuries-long forced proselytization in Ireland; the British government rather believed they fought for a new kind of political control on the island, one in which religion played a mere small part, if at all. This paper thus changes the way historians approach Victorian Irish philanthropy, introducing a new methodology for examining a little researched subject.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.