The early 19th century witnessed a resurgence in the Irish Catholic Church, characterized by a cathedral-building boom, rising numbers of clergy, and an accompanying ‘devotional’ revolution. The turnaround began with the phased removal of the anti Catholic Penal Laws (1778–93), and an important engine was Maynooth Seminary, north of Dublin, founded with Crown funding (1795). The process was not entirely smooth; the French-backed Irish uprising (1798) stalled Emancipation negotiations – among the rebels were ten Wexford priests ‘notorious for drinking and fighting’. But Maynooth produced the first generation of home-grown priests and the Christian Brothers (established in 1802) were a congregation dedicated exclusively to teaching. The Dominicans and Franciscans benefited from their own internal reforms, and the Loreto Sisters (1821) were one of several new female orders. Dublin’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1815–25), the most expensive in the British Isles since Wren’s St Paul’s, epitomized the new self-confidence, crowned by Catholic Emancipation (1829).
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