The Irish church
The Irish church
The "Irish church" mentioned in Ulysses is
the Protestant denomination known officially as the Church of
Ireland. It is identical in all important doctrinal and
liturgical respects to the Church of England and part of that
faith's worldwide Anglican Communion. Until the passage of the
Irish Church Act of 1869 it had been funded by "tithes"
imposed on all Irish subjects, causing angry Catholics to
agitate for its "disestablishment."
To this outsider's ears, few phrases sound more ironic than
"the Irish church," since few things in Ireland are more
English. After Henry VIII broke with the Pope, seized Catholic
churches and monasteries, and established the Church of
England with himself at its head in 1534, the Irish Parliament
followed suit in 1536, seizing structures like Dublin's St.
Patrick's cathedral and Christ Church cathedral and placing
church government in the hands of the English king. In 1800
the Act of Union not only
abolished the Irish parliament but made the two churches one.
Like the English state church, the Irish one charted a middle
course between conservatism and reform, viewing itself not as
a new institution but as the inheritor of a "catholic"
tradition, unbroken since the time of Christ, that had nothing
to do with the Pope in Rome. Both churches retained the old
church's episcopal structure of government and some of its
venerable liturgical practices. Both saw the growth of "high"
(more Catholic-like) and "low" (more Reformist) factions. Both
have struggled with the consequences of being founded by fiat.
(Today there are about 60,000 active baptised members of the
Church of Ireland. Irish Catholics number about 3.7 million.)
But for a long time that unpopularity was easy to bear for a
ruling-class church funded by taxes on laborers.
In Ithaca readers learn that during his high school
years Bloom expressed "disbelief in the tenets of the Irish
(protestant) church" in which he was raised,
subsequently converting to
Catholicism. This seems to be common knowledge, because
in Hades Tom Kernan,
who followed a similar course and like Bloom never became
fully sold on Catholicism, tries to engage him in covert
criticism of the funeral mass they have just attended:
— The reverend gentleman read the service too quickly, don't you think? Mr Kernan said with reproof.
Mr Bloom nodded gravely looking in the quick bloodshot eyes. Secret eyes, secretsearching eyes. Mason, I think: not sure. Beside him again. We are the last. In the same boat. Hope he'll say something else.
Mr Kernan added:
— The service of the Irish church used in Mount Jerome is simpler, more impressive I must say.
Mr Bloom gave prudent assent.
Kernan's longing for a kindred spirit, displayed in his "secretsearching eyes," mirrors the moment in Calypso when the Jewish butcher thanks Bloom with "A speck of eager fire from foxeyes." In the Irish Catholic world of Ulysses, sympathy for Jews or Anglicans is something to express very cautiously.