A Brief History - Disestablishment (1871) - Modern Times
A Brief History Part III: Disestablishment (1871) - Modern Times:
With the growth of democratic feeling in the mid to late nineteenth century the anomalous position of the Church of Ireland as the established state church in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country came increasingly into focus. The Tithe war (1831-6) highlighted the resentment of Roman Catholics and others at the injustice of being obliged to pay tithes to support a church of which they were not members.
Inevitably, the church moved towards disestablishment, which took place on 1 January 1871, and ended both state support for the Church of Ireland and parliamentary authority over it. The Church of Ireland therefore became responsible for its own governance, led by the General Synod, with its financial management carried out by a Representative Church Body. With disestablishment, the last remnant of tithes were abolished and the church’s representation in the House of Lords at Westminster also ceased.
In Dublin, the act also saw St Patrick’s Cathedral created as a national cathedral, while the archbishop of Dublin, Richard Chenevix Trench, took the position of dean of Christ Church (later relinquished again to an independent dean in 1887). The two cathedrals had major restorations carried out during the nineteenth-century, at Christ Church carried out by the architect, George Edmund Street, who also converted the old St Michael’s church into a hall for meetings of the new General Synod. The Church of Ireland was forced to revise its self-image as an established church, particularly in a newly independent Republic of Ireland, and kept a generally low profile during much of the twentieth century. Ecumenism, particularly after the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) resulted in a considerable thawing of the previously frosty relations between the Church of Ireland and other protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church. In 1977, Kildare diocese was removed from Dublin and Glendalough and united with Meath, and with urban decay in Dublin, the subsequent decades saw an increasing amalgamation and closure of city centre parishes, and a strengthening and growth in suburban parishes.
In the twenty-first century, the united dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough has enjoyed a reinvigoration with the roar of the Celtic Tiger swelling congregations and creating new cultural synergies with immigrants, complimented by warm ecumenical relations with other denominations and traditions, including the holding of an annual shared civic service alternately in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and Christ Church. If you would like to read more about the history of the dioceses, read on.