Wednesday 27 March 2013 at 8.00pm

The function of symbols within communities is considered an important question among anthropologists, sociologists and historians. The search for the hidden power that symbols appeared to exercise in both primitive and modern societies has long been a preoccupation of the social scientist but increasingly has signalled the interest of cultural historians seeking to understand how symbols shaped communal identity and reinforced societal structures. As one of the most powerful symbols existing in Western Europe, the Eucharist has been given considerable attention. This attention is well deserved given the complex nature of Eucharistic theologies, the powerful emotions it has evoked among communities and its persistence as both a symbol of unity and division within the Christian experience. Eucharistic symbolism has been identified as an area of cultural history which, by virtue of its persistence, is an avenue of enquiry likely to yield rich rewards in the understanding of how societies operated and how they composed themselves into distinct groups with specific symbols to express their identity.

This paper explores the Eucharist in Ireland in the post-Restoration era. During this period three denominations were contending to safeguard their own particular Eucharistic celebrations. The Church of Ireland sought to consolidate religious practice among its adherents after the uncertainty of the Cromwellian period and from the 1690s attempted to establish the rite of Holy Communion as the primary indicator of religious and political loyalty. In the face of this program of reform and pressure from the official church, Catholics and Presbyterians sought to protect their own Eucharistic practices. Catholics, influenced by the renewal of the Counter-reformation, defended the Mass as the central component of their belief system. Presbyterians, relatively recent settlers in Ireland, sought to protect what was a unique type of Eucharistic tradition, born of the particular circumstances of the Ulster settlement. Drawing on local examples as well as the broader historical environment the paper explores how the Eucharist was celebrated in different Christian communities in Ireland after 1660. 

Evie Monaghan is a postgraduate student at the Department of History, NUI Maynooth. She is currently undertaking doctoral research on the Eucharist in Ireland between 1660 and 1740 under the supervision of Prof. Raymond Gillespie. Her thesis examines the Eucharistic practices and beliefs of three major denominations in a comparative study. Her research interests lie mainly in the field of religious and cultural history in the early modern period. In September 2010 she was granted funding for her project by the Irish Research Council. In June 2012 she was awarded a research fellowship at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris where she undertook a project on the early modern controversial texts in the collection of the  Old Library and Archives of the Centre. She is currently working in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.