History of Presbyterians relative to Saint Patrick

March 3, 2014

The history, mission, and identity of Presbyterians in the context of St Patrick will form the basis of a lecture organised by Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhacha on Wednesday 12 March at the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library and Archive in Armagh. The talk, with a nineteenth century focus , will be given by Dr Andrew R. Holmes, Lecturer in Modern Irish History, at the School of History and Anthropology, Queen’s University, Belfast. He will be known to many for his role as a historical consultant  and a principal contributor to the recent three-part BBC NI series, ‘An Independent People: the Story of Ulster’s Presbyterians’.

In his exploration of the initial detachment or disinterest by Presbyterians in St Patrick, Dr Holmes, who has published extensively on the history of Presbyterianism in Ulster,  will examine how that perceived indifference progressed to one of engagement  with a recognised relevance of the saint to their particular role and cause.

Irish Presbyterians in the nineteenth century were not part of the established church.  They rejected episcopacy and apostolic succession, and traced their origins to the influx of Scottish settlers to Ulster in the seventeenth century. It is those features which suggest that they should not have been concerned with St Patrick and the early Irish Church. However from the 1830s onwards, a variety of Presbyterian writers grappled with Ireland’s patron saint  and in so doing used Patrick as a means of contributing to contemporary debates about historical scholarship, missionary activity, and identity politics.

In the informed view of Andrew Holmes, who published The Shaping of Ulster Presbyterian Belief and Practice, 1770-1840, Presbyterians were relaxed in their reading of Patrick but were also keen to demonstrate that their Patrick was different to those offered by members of the Established Church  and Irish Catholics.

The authoritative  examination of this topic by Dr Andrew Holmes, who is currently writing a book on Irish Presbyterianism between 1800 and 1930, will offer a means of assessing the multiple identities of Presbyterians and especially the balance between their origins in seventeenth- century Scottish immigration and their Irish identity.

The forthcoming lecture, at the Ó Fiaich Library in Armagh and hosted by Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, is scheduled to begin at 8pm on Wednesday 12 March with free admission to everyone. The evening concludes with light refreshments.