The Presbyterian response to the famine years 1845 to 1855 within Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland

Stephen, John Rothney (2011) The Presbyterian response to the famine years 1845 to 1855 within Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The aim of this research is to determine the extent to which the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and its historical offshoot, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, responded to the challenge presented by the humanitarian catastrophe that arose to variable extents from the social, economic and political conditions prevalent in both countries during the famine crisis period from 1845 until 1855. The major victims were the landless unemployed existing at subsistence level or below. The prime method of research has been to focus upon surviving Church records covering sample parishes within the two geographical areas, namely, the Scottish Highlands and Islands and the four provinces of Ireland: Ulster, Leinster, Connaught and Munster. Each area will be shown to exhibit broadly divergent social and economic structures overlaid by devotional differences. Apart from the plethora of original Church and civil materials available in national archives, libraries and regional museums, research has been focussed on conventional sources for the church historian. These include the Acts of the General Assemblies, synod, presbytery and Kirk session records, statistical accounts, decennial census returns, contemporary national and local press reports, emigrant-ship passenger lists, memoirs, letters, published diaries, parish local histories and general literature. A debt is owed to earlier chroniclers and where resort has been made to published sources these have been acknowledged in chapter feet-notes. Religion played a significant role in shaping both private and public responses to the relief of the destitute. Yet, the conclusion must remain that the Presbyterian Churches were just one of the relief agencies that met the challenge of debilitating effects resulting from acute material scarcity within parishes from 1845, responding with vigour and compassion from the outset. Within the Scottish Highlands, for example, the Free Church of Scotland was foremost, providing both spiritual and material support to the population until civil authorities assumed the latter role. Thereafter, the Church remained an instrument of supervision and control over material distribution in conjunction with statutory local committees. In the long term, the spiritual and material support the Presbyterian Church afforded to impoverished families of all denominations and none, burdened with malnutrition, contagious disease, death and emigration, was an outstanding example of Christian service that proved assured at home and transportable with the dispossessed emigrants to their new abode overseas. The suggestion is that the strength of Presbyterian endeavour during the challenging famine years of the mid-nineteenth-century lay not just in external piety, but also in the committed Christian faith and practical witness of its communicants.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Great famine, potato famine in Ireland and Highlands of Scotland, Presbyterian response to potato famine, churches' response to potato famine, church history, Irish history, Presbyterian history
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Hazlett, Professor Ian
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Dr John Stephen
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-3311
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2012
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2019 08:07

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