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The Grail of Catholic Emancipation

[The Grail of Catholic Emancipation Copyright 2002 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

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This book describes the struggle of the Irish Catholics to achieve the restoration of complete civil rights which had been taken from the at the time of the Protestant Reformation. At that time authorities both in Europe and the Americas imposed a state religion, and dissenters suffered various penalties at times including execution. More common were deprivation of property and the loss of civil rights.

        By 1793 many of the rights had been restored in Great Britain and Ireland, but Catholics were still excluded from the higher offices of state and particularly from membership of Parliament. There was at the same time a movement seeking the emancipation of negro slaves, so the struggle to gain access to Parliament and the highest civil and military offices became know as Catholic Emancipation, though the name is misleading.

    The Catholic Relief Act (1793) was very comprehensive and removed most of the disabilities imposed on Catholics by the religious Penal Laws. But to retain a 'certain Protestant ascendancy' or control in the kingdom of Ireland Catholics were excluded from the higher civil and military offices. In particular they could not become members of parliament. By the Catholic Relief Act (1829) Catholics were admitted to all but a handful of offices. It should be noted in passing that women were not admitted to these offices until 1918-19).

    Though efforts were made shortly after 1793 to get further reliefs for the Catholics the struggle was prolonged for various reasons until 1829. It was played out against the background of the Napoleonic Wars and is a fascinating story.




Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.