The Catholic Church and the Northern Irish Troubles

“The Catholic Church and the Northern Irish Troubles”

Maggie Scull

King’s College London

My research focuses on the response of the Catholic Church to the Northern Irish Troubles, from the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, formally known as the Belfast Agreement. When Naomi and I began talking about a four nations approaches conference to modern British history, I didn’t think this framework applied to me. Too entrenched in my current chapter on the prison protests and subsequent hunger strikes in Maze/Long Kesh prison from 1976-1981, I felt applying a four nations framework would clutter an already uneasy chapter.

However, after further thought, I realised my paper can fit within this framework. It’s not a perfect match by any means, but rarely can any methodology or theory completely apply to every project. The Catholic Church reacts very differently to events in Northern Ireland compared with Scotland, Wales or England during this period. Further, the English and Welsh Catholic Church openly disagreed with the Irish Catholic Church on the theological implications of hunger striking as a form of suicide.

With the 1981 hunger strikes for example, Pope John Paul II sends his personal envoy Fr John Magee to meet with hunger striker Bobby Sands, late in his fast in April 1981. Yet the Pope doesn’t make any public statements about the hunger strike.

One year later when he visits England and Wales during the Falklands War, he makes an unplanned trip to largely Catholic Argentina immediately afterwards. Further, the Pope spends many of his homilies in both countries denouncing violence and praying for peace. What do these varying reactions of the Vatican to countries within the ‘four nations’ suggest about Vatican diplomacy during the Troubles, if anything? Does the Vatican ‘agenda’ differ from the Irish or English and Welsh Catholic Churches?

Even if your work, like mine, may not fit perfectly into a four nations framework, I encourage you to spend some time questioning why this isn’t the case. Our soon to be published CFP asks scholars to consider a wide variety of topics on all four nations as well as individual nations within this framework. If studying an individual nation, possibly compare what is happening in the other three at that time for context. As for me, I’m about to move on to a new chapter focusing on the Troubles from October 1968 until the end of the IRA ceasefire in 1972. Check this space and I’ll (hopefully) give an update in a few months. Thanks for reading!

Maggie Scull is a first year PhD student at King’s College London supervised by Professor Ian McBride. She co-founded the Four Nations History Network with Naomi Lloyd-Jones.  Her thesis analyses the Catholic Church as an institution in the Northern Irish Troubles, from the end of the Second Vatican Council to the Good Friday Agreement. For more information follow her on twitter @MaggieMScull or visit her page 


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