Rome Rule

Rome Rule

"Rome Rule" was a term used by Irish Unionists and Socialists to describe the belief that the Roman Catholic Church would gain political control over their interests with the passage of a Home Rule Bill. [Robert Kee, "The Green Flag Vol.II: The Bold Fenian Men", Penguin Books, London, 1972, p.64] The slogan was coined by the Radical MP and Quaker John Bright [G. R. Searle, "A New England? Peace and War 1886-1918" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), p. 142.] during the Home Rule crisis in the late 19th century.


The term has been documented as used in the House of Commons as early as 12 July 1871. The Times; "Parliamentary Intelligence. House Of Commons, Wednesday, July 12"; 13 Jul 1871; pg6 col F] The Local and Personal Act (Ireland) Bill had been proposed by Denis Caulfield Heron, MP for Tipperary. The Nationalist MP for Westmeath, Patrick James Smyth, rose to second the Bill and used his speech to advocate repeal of the Union The Times; "Parliamentary Intelligence. House Of Commons, Wednesday, July 12"; 13 Jul 1871; pg.6 col F] . In reply John Vance stated "The constituents of the honourable member for Westmeath would not be satisfied with the homeopathic dose of "home rule" embodied in the present bill" and his own opinion was that "home rule" in Ireland would prove to be "Rome rule" The Times; "Parliamentary Intelligence. House Of Commons, Wednesday, July 12"; 13 Jul 1871; pg6 col F] .

Traditionally anti-catholicism amongst the Protestant population remained latent since the end of the 18th century:

"Most Irish Protestants were deeply afraid of a repetition of the events of 1798 and the years just before.
They tended to consider Roman Catholicism and possible rebellion as almost identical terms.
To keep things as they were in Church and State seemed the guarantee of safety" [Tony Gray, "The Orange Order" Bodley Head, London, 1972, p.87 ISBN 0 370 01340 9] .

Ensuing out of the anti-‘Catholic landowner’ slogan "To Hell or Connaught" after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795 [Tony Gray, "The Orange Order" Bodley Head, London, 1972, p.50-52 ISBN 0 370 01340 9] , the "No Popery" [ originated from the solemn League and Covenant of 1643, which was a formal agreement to reform religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland and to "endeavour the extirpation of popery, prelacy . . . . superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness and what ever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness":
Goeffrey Lewis, "Carson - the Man who divided Ireland", p.103, hamaledon continuum (2006) ISBN 1-85285-570-3
] slogan prior to [Tony Gray, "The Orange Order" Bodley Head, London, 1972, p.103 ISBN 0 370 01340 9] Catholic Emancipation becoming law in 1829 – an event the Protestant Orangemen had long dreaded [Tony Gray, "The Orange Order" Bodley Head, London, 1972, p.105 ISBN 0 370 01340 9] , their sentiments continued to be aroused by such writings as the Rev. Thomas Drew’s, one pamphlet reading:

"I learn by the doctrines, history and practices of the Church of Rome that the lives of Protestants are endangered,
the laws of England set at nought, and the crown of England subordinated to the dictates of an Italian bishop" [Tony Gray, "The Orange Order" Bodley Head, London, 1972, p.150 ISBN 0 370 01340 9] .

The 1885 Home Rule Bill

After the collapse of the 1798 United Irish rebellion and the passing of the Act of Union in 1801 the Orange Order was stronger than ever before, but began to decline and fell into disrepute towards the middle of the century. However from 1882 Charles Stewart Parnell turned his attention from Irish land reform to pursuing Home Rule. As his National League grew, so did the Irish Protestants' fear of Home Rule M.E. Collins "Ireland 1868-1966" Ch. X: The Emergence of the Unionist Party and the defeat of Home Rule p.107, Edco Press Dublin (1993) ISBN 0-8616-7305-0] .

When Gladstone made known his conversion to Home Rule in 1885 and introduced the First Home Rule Bill the Order experienced a dramatic revival, became highly respectable and a very powerful political organisation working for the maintenance of the Union. [A. T. Q. Stewart "The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912-14", Faber and Faber, London, (1967), (1979), p.31 ISBN 0 571 08066 9] Ironically some leaders of the Irish Nationalist movement such as Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell were not Roman Catholics, but the majority of their supporters were.

While southern Ireland was clamouring for repeal of the Union with Britain, Ulster came round to the view that Union with Britain suited her better than any form of self-government for Ireland. For one thing she saw that the Union was to her economic advantage, since she was far more industrialised than the agricultural south, and her future clearly depended on the continuance of friendly trade with Britain. Due to the industrial revolution Belfast had grown bigger than Dublin. Ulstermen were proud of their achievements and would have seen them as proof of the Weberian theory of the "Protestant work ethic". Religious faith combined with business acumen to arise in Ulster a fixed opposition to Home Rule, which was later expressed in the popular slogan, "Home Rule means Rome Rule" Edgar Holt "Protest in Arms" Ch. III Orange Drums, pp.32-33, Putnam London (1960)] .

Her Protestant majority became fearful of one day finding herself dominated by a Roman Catholic Parliament in Dublin:
* They saw Catholic priests playing a big role in the pro-Home Rule IPP branches.
* Would Home Rule, they wondered, become "Rome Rule", with Catholic bishops telling Catholic MPs how to vote?
* Might Irish Protestants not thereby lose their civil and religious liberty? M.E. Collins "Movements for reform" Ch. 5.2 How Unionists responded to the success of Parnell, p.71, Edco Press Dublin (2004) ISBN 1-845360-03-6]

This was the background against which the English Conservative Party played the "Orange Card". Lord Randolph Churchill played it with gusto. In 1886, the year of Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill, Churchill crossed to Belfast to make an inflammatory anti-Home Rule speech in the Ulster Hall, and a little later, coined the memorable phrase, "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right" .

Parnell's political opponents pointed out that he was the only non-Catholic MP in his party. To avoid further accusations about Rome Rule he nominated 6 other non-Catholics for safe seats (out of the IPP's new total of 85 MPs) in the 1886 election.

Other elements

As the Irish nationalist movement recovered in the 1890s from the division caused by Parnell's relationship with Mrs O'Shea, it embraced Gaelic games and a growing Irish language revival movement, which were often encouraged by the Catholic church for the good of its parishioners, but which also alienated Irish Protestants. The fate of Bridget Cleary in 1895 suggested that many rural Irish Catholics were still unduly superstitious. An "Irish-Ireland" ideology of nationalism was developed by David Moran, who stated in 1905 that it was essential to be Catholic to be Irish. The resurgent Church's dogma on the Syllabus of Errors, Papal infallibility and "Ne temere" were unattractive. In 1907 Modernism was proscribed in "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" and [ "Lamentabile Sane"] , indicating that no Protestant, being a heretic, could ever be well regarded by a Catholic-led government.

ocialist theorists on Rome Rule

The English socialist organizer Harry Quelch wrote in his 1902 essay, "Home Rule and Rome Rule":
*"It is not too much to say that from the time that a Pope of Rome formally sold Ireland to an English King, the Church of Rome has been the persistent, unrelenting enemy of Ireland and the Irish people."
*"A Roman Catholic writer, Mr. Michael J. F. McCarthy, in a book on “Priests and People in Ireland,” makes a vigorous and uncompromising attack on the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. He ascribes the ills of Ireland mainly to a single cause, that is sacerdotalism. In his opinion it is the priesthood which is keeping Celtic Ireland “poor, miserable, depressed, unprogressive.” Mr. Frank Hugh O'Donnell, himself a Roman Catholic and an Irish Nationalist, declares that notwithstanding the appalling poverty of masses of the Irish people, large sums are obtained by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland. He says that:- “All over Ireland urgent wants of the lay Catholic community are left unattended. All over Ireland, not even wants, but mere caprices of the clergy are the excuse for costly outlay. All over Ireland, and outside of Ireland, the sight of collecting priests on all sorts of mendicant missions is an abiding vision. Sometimes it is to construct a sumptuous cathedral in a hamlet of grog-shops and hovels. Sometimes it is to raise a memorial church of marble at a cost of £80,000 on an uninhabited hillside in Kerry out of respect to the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell. Sometimes it is to defray the mistake of an architect. Sometimes it is to defray the bill of a Jew purveyor of decorative monstrosities. Never is it to endow the most crying needs of a Catholic university."
*"We hear from time to time that the Irish people are determined to formulate their own politics, and not to take them from Rome; but events constantly demonstrate that not only the religion but the politics of Ireland are those of the Church of Rome, and that the Irish people are still being exploited in the interest of clericalism and for the proselytising of England. The question is: How long will the people of Ireland permit themselves to be used in this way, and to constitute one of the most effectual barriers to Irish independence by the suspicion that Home Rule only means Rome Rule?" [ [ H Quelch essay 1902] ]

The Irish socialist and nationalist James Connolly wrote much about religion and politics, but did not consider the insecurities of Irish loyalists. His optimistic view in 1910 was that the Catholic Church would accommodate itself with an Irish "Workers' Republic", and so Rome Rule could never occur:
*"North and the South will again clasp hands, again will it be demonstrated, as in ’98, that the pressure of a common exploitation can make enthusiastic rebels out of a Protestant working class, earnest champions of civil and religious liberty out of Catholics, and out of both a united Social democracy." [ [ James Conolly 1910 chapter] ]


The Protestants’ fears about a Dublin Parliament may have been exaggerated, and the history of Ireland since independence has, on the whole, tended to suggest that they were, but they did not think so at the time, and it was upon that belief that they acted. "Home Rule", they declared, "would be Rome Rule, and that was all there was to it". "It may seem strange to you and me," Bonar Law told Lord Riddell, "but it is a religious question. Those people are . . . . prepared to die for their convictions" [A. T. Q. Stewart "The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912-14", Faber and Faber, London, 1967, 1979, p.44 ISBN 0 571 08066 9] .

Indeed, occasional speeches by leading Nationalists designed to allay Liberal fears that "Home Rule really would be Rome Rule", were in 1911 clearly making some Catholic churchmen anxious. The end and the reward of Home Rule commanded the sympathy of all of us, but the question is: Are they not as likely, or more likely, to have as their reward Secularism in the Schools? [David W. Miller, "Church, State and Nation in Ireland 1898-1921, Home Rule Politics", Gill & Macmillan, 1973, p.268-269 ISBN 0 7171 0645 4]

The nationalist view was also indicatively divergent:

"Our home was a Catholic household; all the children were at Catholic schools and the Catholic University, so all the children’s friends were Catholics, and all my grandmother’s subtle match-making and her ambition’s pre-supposed Catholic dynasties. "Home Rule means Rome Rule" said the Ulster Protestant slogan. Not at all. . . . . . . It was 'our people', neither Rome nor the Protestant ascendancy, who should rule in Ireland. 'Our people', through an élite, sprung from it, trained for its service, . . . . . . The Jesuits were helping to train such an élite" [Conor Cruise O'Brien’’ States of Ireland, pp.63-64, Hutchinson of London (1972) ISBN 0-09-113100-6] .

The envisaged threat from both Home Rule and Rome was expressed in an angry poem by Rudyard Kipling "Ulster 1912’’ 4th verse:

’’We know the war prepared
On every peaceful home,
We know the hells declared
For such as serve not Rome –-" [A. T. Q. Stewart "The Ulster Crisis, Resistance to Home Rule, 1912-14", Faber and Faber, London, 1967, 1979, p.56 ISBN 0 571 08066 9]

Loyalists were unspecific about the likely effect of "Rome Rule", but it became an effective slogan in maintaining the loyalty of the Protestant working class, and contributed to the lack of trust which caused the near-civil war prior to the 1914 Third Home Rule Act and the Partition of Ireland during 1914-25. From the Easter Rising in 1916 on a number of prominent Nationalist Protestants or lapsed Catholics even felt the need to conform to be considered fully involved in the nationalist movement.

After 1922 Rome Rule was occasionally used as a disparaging term by anti-clerical socialists in Ireland who opposed the Church's views on social policy. [ [ Fourthwrite article] ]

Outburst in 1988

The slogan continued to be used for decades in unionist politics in Northern Ireland, and explains the visceral outburst by Ian Paisley in the European Parliament against the presence of Pope John Paul II on 12 October 1988. [Paisley's intervention can be found on YouTube.] Paisley's intended audience was not the parliament but his constituents; he was portraying the Pope's presence as a guest as a modern-day attempt at Rome Rule.


* [ Harry Quelch in 1902]
* [ Hocking 1912 ref.]

Other links

*Roman Catholicism in Ireland


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