Irish Legal Heritage: Penal Laws and Mass Rocks in Ireland

Irish Legal Heritage: Penal Laws and Mass Rocks in Ireland

The first two Irish penal laws of 1695, for disarming papists and prohibiting ‘foreign education’, were acts which propagated the repression of Catholicism in Ireland.

An Act for the better securing the government, by disarming papists 1695 directed Irish Catholics to deliver up “all their arms and ammunition, notwithstanding any licence for keeping the same heretofore granted”, and allowed for the search and seizure of the same. Also prohibited, was the keeping of “…any horse, gelding or mare of five pounds value”, which were seen as being horses of a military capacity.

The overriding motivation behind the Irish penal laws was “the fear for the safety of the Protestant interest in Ireland” (McGrath, 1996) – interest which was secured by imposing penalties on “popish inhabitants” of Ireland and essentially drove Catholic worship underground.

Mass was forbidden in Ireland during the penal times, however this did not stop it from being held in secret. In isolated parts of the countryside, Mass rocks were erected to be used as altars, and Catholics would congregate at these sites despite the danger of being caught. Mass rocks can be found throughout the country, and are still regarded as sacred ground.

Seosamh Gráinséir

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