Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Protestant Porter -- What Irish Catholics Don't Know About Guinness

"We ... are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence."

- William Butler Yeats, in a speech to the Irish Senate, 1925

Someone I work with noticed recently that I was eating meat on Friday and asked, "what kind of Catholic are you?" (I get asked questions like this every year during Lent, when Catholics are forbidden to eat meat on Fridays.) I said, "I'm not Catholic."

"You're not?," came back the confused reply.

"Protestant," I said.

"But you're Irish."

Yes, I am. But I'm not a Roman Catholic and haven't been for almost all of my adult life. I'm an Episcopalian (Anglican). And I'm Irish. And the one does not reduce or contradict the other. And I am hardly the first or only person of Irish ancestry not to be a Roman Catholic, whether by birth or by choice. Ireland has sizable numbers of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other Protestants, as well as small numbers of Jews, Muslims, and other groups.

It is always baffling to me when people seem never to have heard of such a thing as an Irish Protestant. Do you watch or read the news? Ever heard of some troubles in Northern Ireland? So every year I find myself explaining to people that being Irish and being Catholic do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

Protestants have had a powerful influence on Ireland since the early 1600s. Those who live in what is now called Northern Ireland are mainly of Scottish ancestry, tend to be Presbyterians, and are known as Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish. In the Republic of Ireland, most Protestants are Anglicans. The Church of Ireland, an Anglican church, is the second largest religious group in the Republic and is the only church in Ireland that is currently growing, both as a percentage of the population and in actual numbers. Irish Anglicans have historically been known as the Anglo-Irish. Some are of mixed English and Irish ancestry. Some are fully of English ancestry but their families have been in Ireland for hundreds of years. Some are fully Gaelic Irish by ancestry but have an ancestor or ancestors who converted to the Anglican religion any number of generations back. Some are simply anglicised Irish who have themselves adopted the Anglican faith and some other English ways. In any event, many of the most notable Irish people in history, including some current celebrities, are Anglo-Irish Protestants.

Many of Ireland's most famous writers have been Protestants. Poet/playwright William Butler Yeats, playwright George Bernard Shaw, playwright Sean O'Casey, novelist Bram Stoker (Dracula), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), and poet Samuel Beckett were all Anglo-Irish.

Two members of the band U2 -- Bono and Larry Mullen -- are Irish Protestants. So is singer Van Morrisson.

Arthur Guinness, the businessman who founded the world-famous Guinness brewery and brought us that much-celebrated black beer of the same name, was an Anglo-Irishman. In fact, the original ale made by Guinness, a precursor to the modern Guinness Stout, was called "Guinness Black Protestant Porter" and Guinness is still sometimes referred to by its "Protestant Porter" moniker. Yes, every time you lift a pint of Guinness, you are drinking a product invented by one of Ireland's most prominent Protestant families.

The first president of the Republic of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (a founder of the Gaelic League), and a subsequent president, Erskine Childers, were Protestants. The aforementioned poet/playwright William Butler Yeats was a prominent member of the Irish Senate in its early years and, in a 1925 speech opposing a law banning divorce (quoted above in part) vociferously defended the dignity of his fellow Anglo-Irish Protestants after southern Ireland achieved Home Rule and a Catholic majority came to power.

Famous Irish liberators Theobald Wolfe Tone, Roger Casement, Charles Stewart Parnell, Robert Emmet, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald were all Protestants who fought for Ireland's independence from Britain.

Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, an Anglo-Irish general who later became a British Prime Minister.

Actor Barry Fitzgerald, who played Michaeleen Flynn in The Quiet Man, was an Irish Protestant, as was his brother who played the Rev. Mr. Playfair, a Church of Ireland minister, in the same film. For those who know the movie, the chapel at which Sean attends Mass and meets Mary Kate Danagher was, in reality, a Protestant church.

The most noteworthy churches in Dublin (St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral) and Cork (St. Finbar's Cathedral) are Anglican, not Catholic.

Several presidents of the United States were of Irish Protestant heritage, including Andrew Jackson, William McKinley, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Of the thirty-odd million Americans who claim Irish ancestry, fully half are Protestant. The Scotch-Irish are particularly well-represented in the Appalachian states, particularly West Virginia.

So please don't assume that being Irish is synonymous with being Catholic just because that big Vatican flag is marched up Fifth Avenue alongside the Irish flag on St. Patrick's Day and because the parade starts in front of the Roman Catholic St. Pat's Cathedral. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish fraternal organisation that restricts its membership to Catholics, has controlled that parade for many, many years and the AOH has done its utmost to foster the notion that one cannot be truly Irish if one is not an adherent of the Roman Church. But look up the history of the New York St. Patrick's Day parade, which stretches back to about 1762, and you will find that the parade was founded by whom? Irish Protestants. Sea, sin ceart. (Yeah, that's right.)

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig! (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)


Anonymous said...

I love this article. Finally someone to shine a little light!

Anonymous said...

Disagree with the title.
Many Irish catholics did know this about Guinness. The fact that "they don't go on about it" does not mean that they did not know.

Re:"Protestants have had a powerful influence on Ireland since the early 1600s"

Yes, but they were not Irish then! And only some of their descendents chose to be Irish later. Many want to be British in Ireland.
In "the early 1600s" they came and stole the land. It is a good thing that many of their descendents were better, and wanted a non-sectarian independent Ireland.

Re: "many of the most notable Irish people in history...are Anglo-Irish Protestants"

Well, although that's reminiscient of Yeats' high self-regard, it's hardly surprising given the lack of opportunities for the native Gaelic population who the colonists first tried to put on a reservation West of the Shannon (only to be allowed back when the new estates - made up of stolen land - were economically unviable without cheap labour), and later the majority native population were discriminated against via penal laws, including lack of educational or economic opportunities. In fact, today it is embarassing to most educated Irish protestants just how much the native population were discriminated against, and they would not blow the trumpet about how brilliant their people were in the past as it begs the question as to why were they disproportionately successful - it wasn't all down to genes and doing their homework.

Anonymous said...

Just like the present Catholic State. Completely prejudiced!

Aaron Johnson said...

As if the Cromwellian "Ascendency" by Protestants in the mid-1600's was the first invasion and land disposession in Ireland! That Isle has been invaded more times than Madonna's twat, the "owners" of the land moved off, and the make-up of the former landholders watered-down to be a mishmash of many different ethnicities.

The Irish are a mongrelisation of European peoples and, if you go far enough back, of many different religions.

And there's nothing wrong with being a mutt. They're usually better loved, and get away with more mimischief, than their "betters"!

Gallowglass said...

I enjoyed the article, and it is timely considering the oftentimes blinkered and narrow view of Irishness that pervades in the Republic at times, namely that to be Irish means to be a Catholic and a Republican. Our history is also skewed, beginning as it does in 1798, then leaping forward to the Famine, and finally landing in Easter Week 1916, which the authorities and civic society are busily Disneyfying in this the centenary year. By way of example, the front windows of Arnotts department store on Dublin's Henry Street are displaying modern-day women's' fashions inspired by the uniforms of Cumann naBá doubt in a few years there'll be displays of fashions inspired the uniforms of the Black & Tans. That trivialises and makes a mockery of the whole thing. Our history is bigger and better than this.

On a point of accuracy, the Irish are the most homogenous people in Europe.

Anonymous said...

I'm Church of Ireland, Anglican and whilst not Roman Catholic I most certain am Catholic (and reformed) and find your difficulty in accepting the term strange... Do you never say the Apostles Creed in worship or the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist with their affirmations in the One, True Catholic and Apostolic Church?

Also you say you don't fast on Fridays, but every Friday (except Christmas Day, the Epiphany, the Friday's following Christmas and Easter and festivals outside of Lent) are days of self discipline and denial for all Church of Ireland members - look at page 20 of our prayer book - so I'm kinda left wondering where you are getting the idea that such observances are a Roman Catholic only thing?

Patrick Robinson said...

Also these Abstinence days were a feature of the old Church OF Ireland Prayerbook [1926 edition] (the Old "1662 B.C.P.) which until the late 1990s (???) was the book in use in the Church of Ireland. Most Irish anglican ate fish on Friday - we always did and I was at a C.of I. boarding school in the 1970s.

Jimmy said...

Of Scottish descent. Yes Scottish criminals and perverts. The IQ of both Iteland and Scotland both went up.

Peter Hynd said...

OMG the bigots are in town

Pat Booker said...

So, this article is accurate, and i am a little surprised that it is news to some. The AoH-style Irish American hostility to Irish Protestants probably stems from the fact that my Protestant neighbours have a vital, living and genuine connection to this country, whereas conservative Irish americans have a plastic culture, a twee reminiscence that harks back to the days of DeValera, and (often, though not invariably) a vast ignorance about the real Ireland. If you live in a moribund AoH daydream where Derby O'Gill and the Little People is a key cultural artifact, you need to realise that Irish Protestants are a lot more Irish than you are.

Christopher Johnson said...

Larry Mullen Jr is Catholic. Please correct your article.