The goal of this project was to collect and analyze historical data (official and unofficial) on the numbers of Irish Catholics and Protestants (the latter divided between Anglicans and Dissenters), who inhabited Ireland’s various administrative and census districts (townlands, parishes, baronies, counties, and provinces), to better understand how and why their geographical and demographic relationships changed between the mid-17th and early 20th centuries. My collaborators—Professor Liam Kennedy of the Queen’s University of Belfast and Dr. Brian Gurrin of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth—and I have found that:
(1) The demographic experiences of the Anglicans and Presbyterians in Ulster, Ireland’s only northern province (most of which now comprises Northern Ireland) were significantly and often dramatically different, at least from the early 1700s through the 1880s. In various, fundamental ways, these findings challenge the notion that Irish history is the story of only two [different and antagonistic] traditions—one homogenously Protestant, the other Catholic—particularly since the Ulster Presbyterian experiences of mass emigration (and even susceptibility to the Great Famine of 1845–52) often appear to be much more similar to those of Ireland’s Catholics than to those of the members of the Church of Ireland (the island’s legally established religion until 1869).
These findings challenge the notion that Irish history is the story of only two [different and antagonistic] traditions—one homogenously Protestant, the other Catholic.
(2) the demographic data from Ireland’s three southern provinces (Leinster, Munster, and Connacht) indicate that the proportional and even the absolute sizes of their Protestant populations (overwhelmingly Anglican) declined in the mid-18th century. These findings challenge the argument that the decline of the southern Irish Protestant population was related directly to the rise of Irish Catholic nationalism, which was not pronounced until the early 19th century.
Because of its immense size and complexity, this is an ongoing project. Only a small proportion of our findings have been published to date (March, 2011). However, one book and several major articles are now in progress; and we anticipate many more to follow.