Irish Catholics were much more laid back about their religion before the Great Hunger, according to an RTÉ documentary.
Rome V Republic has been created by RTE to take a look at the history of religion in Ireland, and its influence on people’s lives.
It reveals that the Great Hunger played a major part in the strength of the Church in Ireland.
Rome V Republic is presented by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
Dr Sarah Roddy of Manchester University was one of the expert consultants for the documentary.
She said: “We know people wouldn’t have gone to mass every Sunday but this is not to say they weren’t religious in their own way.
“But I suppose the church might have seen as a kind of unorthodox religion which combined going to mass every now and then but also doing things which had ancient pagan roots as well.”
Professor Daly from UCD was another contributor to the documentary. She explained that the Catholic Church was unable to get the religious influence across to the Irish public before the Great Hunger.
However, when the population significantly fell, there were enough priests to spread the message.
Professor Daly also highlights an interesting trend in religion and class in Ireland during the time.
She said: “The reality about religion pre-famine, it’s not like the place as full of atheists, it’s just that in many areas there aren’t enough priests.
“Basically the Catholic Church in 1841 did not have the manpower to really look the six million-odd Catholics in Ireland at the time.
“A lot of the population loss occurred in the poor and very poor people who were not regular Sunday mass goers, who would have practiced a different form of Catholicism based around a good mixture of superstition and folk belief with Catholicism. They are removed from the scene.
“The people who really come through are the farmers. They are not the dominant group, publicly, socially, the church is very heavily dependent on a rising middle class. shop keepers, merchants in town.
“They were the people who would have educated their children, they would be God-fearing, respectable is the word worth using.
“Many would have aspired in time to send a son into the priesthood, so the Catholic Church is in a stronger position, absolutely.”
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