Registration of the Religion of Children Under the Irish Poor Law, 1838-1870

The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 107-124, 2010

Posted: 12 Jan 2011  

Mel Cousins

Trinity College (Dublin) - School of Social Work and Social Policy

Abstract

This article discusses the registration of the religion of children (of unknown religion) on admission to the workhouse under the Irish poor law. The Irish attorney-general had ruled that they should be registered in the religion of the state, that is as Protestants. However, given the demographic situation, the vast majority of such children, who appear primarily to have been illegitimate, were of Catholic parentage. Local boards of guardians often objected forcefully to registering as Protestants children whom they strongly suspected (or in many cases unofficially knew) to be Catholic. The Poor Law Commission attempted to enforce the law, but in the face of ongoing resistance and the difficulty of implementing their views, they eventually proposed legislation to address the matter. Although adopted by the House of Commons, the legislation was amended by the House of Lords. Ultimately the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland put an end to the grounds for baptising children as Protestants.

Suggested Citation

Cousins, Mel, Registration of the Religion of Children Under the Irish Poor Law, 1838-1870. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 107-124, 2010 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1738287

Mel Cousins (Contact Author)

Trinity College (Dublin) - School of Social Work and Social Policy ( email )

Dublin
Ireland

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