If politics worked in the long term in the church's favour, its mission was even, arguably, assisted by the Famine, in which more than a million people died, and more than a million emigrated. This last phenomenon produced in turn further emigration and a declining population, which fell from a recorded peak in 1841 of over 8 million to under 42 million by 1921, turning a worsening ratio of religious professionals to people into an improving one, while less seriously affecting the better-off farming families who were the principal sources of recruitment for the fast-expanding convents and the clergy. Few results were achieved by the small number of Protestant ministers in the phenomenon called 'souperism', to convert starving Catholics by offering them food.
The Catholic Revival also, however, had a more purely religious dimension in improving regular Sunday mass attendance which, David Miller has estimated for 1835, was a matter of as little as 20 to 40 per cent of population in rural parishes with numerous Irish speakers, especially in the west with few priests and churches. The rates were up to 70 per cent in the towns, but this was well below the rates of 90 per cent which prevailed for most of the twentieth century.1 Indeed Sean Connolly has argued that much rural religious practice before the Famine, for large numbers, was of a premodern kind, being lay and family controlled, and based upon the home, the holy well, weddings, wakes and the 'patterns' or pilgrimages to a local saint, which could be rowdy occasions sometimes degenerating into drunkenness and violence.2 Emmet Larkin, the most prolific historian of the Irish Catholic Church, has suggested that with the eclipse of the Irish-speaking culture which was strongest among the victims ofthe Famine, a traumatised population was susceptible to a 'Devotional Revolution' encouraged by Archbishop Cullen, through the celebration of the cults of the Virgin and saints and popular devotions in English, and by an elaborate ritual in new richly decorated and appointed shrine churches, fed by new service books, prayer cards and English Catholic hymnody, and exploring the senses through candles and flowers, elaborate marble altars and precious altar furniture, coloured vestments and frontals, and the odours of beeswax and incense.3 Cullen was a strong Ultramontane, in favour of improving clerical discipline under episcopal and papal authority, and his determination to root out the ill-defined Gallican tradition in the Irish church made the institution look more Roman than Rome in the eyes of Protestants and encouraged the solidarity of Catholics against Protestants both abroad and in Ireland.
1 Miller, 'Irish Catholicism and the Great Famine'.
2 Connolly, Priests andpeople inpre-Famine Ireland.
3 Larkin, 'Devotional revolution'.
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