The Penal Laws in Ireland

The Penal Laws were in force from the time of Henry VIII, 1535, until 1829. The Treaty of Limerick, 1691, having been no sooner made than broken, new Penal Laws were enacted and all the old one reaffirmed.

In all official documents Catholicism was referred to as popery, a Catholic was a papist. A papist was forbidden to receive an education, to educate his child himself, to send his child to a Catholic teacher or employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.

The hedge schoolmaster, like the priest, was banned and hunted with bloodhounds. The papist could not vote. He could not enter a profession, hold office, engage in trade or commerce, or live in a town or within five miles of a town. He could not own a horse worth more than five pounds.

He could not purchase or lease land. He could not receive a gift of land or inherit land or any other thing from a Protestant. (Daniel O'Connell's patrimony was held by a Protestant who secretly enabled his family to educate him.)

No land worth more than thirty shillings a year could be rented by a papist. Under penalty of fine, imprisonment, pillory, or public whipping, he could not have a gun or any other weapon of offense or defense.

Death was the penalty for any papist in possession of an Irish manuscript - man, woman, or child. In no school of Ireland could Irish history be taught or studied, then, or until the 1920's. The British traveler Arthur Young in the late 18th century tells that the gentry for little or no reason lashed with a horsewhip or cane, or broke the bones of the papists and killed "without apprehension of judge or jury."

Homeless, cold and hungry, and hunted like animals, five pounds for the head of a priest or a wolf and as high as fifty pounds for the head of a bishop, the Irish people clung to their Catholic faith and knelt in snow and rain and damp about Mass rocks in glens, only to be often discovered by bloodhounds and murdered then and there. Ireland's devotion to the Mass has been called one of the miracles of history.