‘Exemplary piece of humane scholarship’

February 13, 2023 in Featured News, News

Crowds listening to a preacher on the Aran Islands in the 1610s; detailed accounts of exorcisms; school drama, and Protestant and Catholic boys at school together, in the 1660s and 1670s; a powerful noblewoman who supported Jesuit activities, eulogized as ‘the mother of the Society in Ireland’: these are among the many topics covered in a new book on Jesuit ministries in early modern Ireland, edited by Mary Ann Lyons (Maynooth U.) and Brian Mac Cuarta SJ.

The collection, published by Four Courts Press, features 11 essays by established and early career scholars, exploring multiple dimensions to the Jesuit mission in early modern Ireland. It was launched in the beautifully-restored Woodlock Hall Library at DCU, where books from the Jesuit collection are on display. Dublin City University President Daire Keogh welcomed the guests.

Queens University Belfast historian Mary O’Dowd outlined the book’s value for historians, praising its attention to the role of women in the Jesuit mission. While setting the book in a wider Jesuit context, John McCafferty, chair, Irish Manuscripts Commission, spoke of the Roman Jesuit visitor’s shock on meeting Irish confreres in 1649; they paid great attention to their watches, he reported, and they greeted women friends and relations with a kiss.

Themes in the book include the correspondence of William Good SJ and the Jesuit mission in Elizabethan Ireland, 1564–c.1570 (Alexander De Witt SJ and Thomas McCoog SJ), the mission of the Jesuits in the cities in early seventeenth-century Ireland (Colm Lennon), Jesuit schooling in Ireland, 1660–90 (Martin Foerster), Jesuit conversions in Wentworth’s Ireland: the Slingsby family, Co. Cork (Brian Mac Cuarta), women and Jesuit ministry in seventeenth-century Ireland (Mary Ann Lyons), the Jesuits and music in early modern Ireland (Raymond Gillespie), and Jesuit involvement in exorcisms in seventeenth-century Ireland (Alma O’Donnell).

Speaking on behalf of the co-editors, Brian Mac Cuarta (see photo) noted: ‘This essay collection was possible because of the Province’s generosity in making available the letters from the Jesuit Mission, 16th to 18th centuries, ably edited (with translation) by Vera Moynes. May these essays bring Jesuit activities, in success and failure, to the attention of readers and students of early modern Ireland; and may it contribute an Irish angle to the huge and growing literature on Jesuit studies.’

In his review of the book in the January 2023 edition of The Tablet, Patrick Hudson wrote:”The Irish mission was not one of the plum gigs in the early years of the Society of Jesus. The Englishman William Good SJ (in many ways a heroic missionary) spent much of his time there from 1564 begging his superiors to bring him back to the Continent.”

Hudson also notes that to contemporaries, early modern Ireland was “an alarmingly untidy prospect even when it was not explicitly perilous, and he suggests that historians might sympathise with this view.

Hudson describes the book as “an agreeable eclectic volume of essays” which “looks at this inhospitable period through the depository of evidence left by the Irish mission from 1560 until the Society’s suppression two centuries later – specifically the Litterae Annuae.”

The Litterae Annuae were letters that every Jesuit mission were obliged to write to Rome every year. These letters were then sent out to other provinces and missions.

The editors, Mary Ann Lyons and Brian Mac Cuarta SJ, “present the collection not as an exhaustive analysis, but rather as a tasting menu of scholarly possibilities,” Hudson explains, adding that “Although the mission rarely had more than 40 members over the period, and normally fewer than 20, this proved enough to have a Jesuitical finger in most Irish pies.”

Hudson is of the view that the book excels, “when authors approach the evidence at a slight angle.” And as an example of this, he cites mary Ann Lyons’s contribution which explores the role of women in the developing Jesuit mission at the time.

The Tablet review refers to the interesting study of “poor old” William Good’s letters by Alexander De Witt SJ and Thomas McCoog SJ who reconstructed the story of the Jesuit mission in the 1560s, showing that Jesuit methods of education frequently descended into fights.

Concluding his review of The Jesuit Mission in Early Modern Ireland (1560-1760), Patrick Hudson writes:

“If not quite ‘Adventures from History’, this is nevertheless an exemplary piece of humane and therefore comprehendible scholarship. Besides their undoubted academic merit, these 11 glimpses of early modern Ireland through a Jesuit prism are hearteningly illuminating if (like me) you have been too often baffled by the period.”

The Jesuit Mission in Early Modern Ireland, Four Courts Press. 272pp. Ills. Hardback. 978-1-80151-025-7 €55.00 is available now.
You can purchase a copy you can do so by ringing Four Courts Press directly or by clicking on this link »