Directors: Liam Kennedy & Professor KA Miller, University of Columbia-Missouri
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
The struggle between Northern Ireland's Unionists and Nationalists appears to be an intractable political and religious conflict. Contemporaries interpret events by reference to acts of conquest, colonization, and rebellion that occurred centuries earlier, and many scholars portray the conflict as between two enduring communal "traditions": one Protestant and "British"; the other Catholic and "Irish." In that view, Ireland's Partition in 1920, the "Troubles" of 1968-98, and today's political and religious strife seem "natural" or "inevitable" results of an historical polarization that began with the Ulster Plantation of the early 1600s.
Our preliminary research suggests that the history of Ireland – and especially of Ulster is much more complex than the "two traditions" model implies. The project interrogates the most fundamental aspects of Protestant-Catholic and intra-communal relationships in Ireland, especially in Ulster, between the Plantation and the island's Partition. These are revealed by the changing patterns of Irish religious demography, as recorded in official population counts and unofficial "censuses" between 1659 and 1926. We are collecting, comparing, and analysing the religious census data – on parish, baronial, and county levels – and correlating these with socioeconomic and other data from additional sources. The results will be the first measurements of the absolute and proportional changes in the numbers of Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians that occurred on local, regional, and national levels, and, most important, attempts the first scholarly analyses of precisely how and why the changes occurred.
This four-year project (2006-2009) builds on earlier work by Miller and Kennedy, and attaches particular significance to internal divisions within the Irish Protestant population. The project officer is Dr Brian Gurrin who has also published in the area of political and religious demography. It is proposed to use a variety of techniques of analysis: in addition to traditional historical methods, we are also employing geographic information systems and econometric time series analysis to gain insights into the dynamics of political and religious demographic change across Ireland. Almost inevitably, there is a particular focus on the contested province of Ulster, both because of its historical complexity and its contemporary resonance. There are also some cross-linkages to two other data-intensive projects within the School: Towards a History of Irish Prices and the more temporally-focused Belfast Lives: Families and Households in the Edwardian era.
Religious demographic data furnish the evidential base of this project. Prior to 1831, most information on religious affiliation is unpublished and scattered widely in archives and libraries in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain. The great challenge facing the project is locating, editing and linking together a variety of official and unofficial religious counts, all partial or fragmentary to some degree, dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The first comprehensive, and in our view reliable estimates of religious numbers come on stream with the Report of the Commission of Public Instruction (BPP, 1835) and then every ten years from 1861 through 1911 in the Irish censuses of population. Estate records, Church records, records of the Orange Order, occupational data, industrial and agricultural statistics, and a variety of parliamentary papers supplement these core source materials.
Earlier books by Kennedy and Miller (cover images below) are concerned, to varying degrees, with Irish population issues, including religious demography.
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