The fact that many ‘native Irish’ became Protestants is well illustrated by the Hearth Money Rolls for the Presbyterian parishes of Stranorlar and Leck in Donegal for the year 1665, as well as by the presence of such old Cruthinic or Pretanic families as Rooney, Lowry, Macartan and Maguinness in the records of the Episcopalian Diocese of Dromore in South and West Down. Representatives of well-known Gaelic families also abound. Murphys, Maguires, Kellys, Carrolls, Lynchs, Lennons, Reillys, Doghertys and many others are quite numerous. In this Diocese of Dromore and the immediately surrounding districts the Church of Ireland bears a larger proportion numerically to the total population than perhaps in any other part of Ireland of the same area. In North Down, where 17th century settlement from Scotland was most successful, Brendan Adams has stated that “a large part of the native population became absorbed into the Protestant Church.” Thus in a book listing subscribers to church funds in the Presbyterian church in Saintfield, County Down, at least 20% of the names were native, pre-17th century names like Dugan, Donnan, Hanvey and Kelly.
Ussher’s Discourse of the Religion anciently professed by the Irish (London 1631) also shows that many Protestants in the 17th century felt that several important points of doctrine and discipline in the early Irish Church were closer to their own religious views than those of contemporary Roman Catholicism. These sentiments continued to be expressed by prominent Protestants down to modern times, notably by the Presbyterian historian James Seaton Reid in his History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1833) and by the Gaelic scholar Nigel Mac Neill in his Literature of the Highlanders (1892). A great lover of the Bangor Antiphonary Mac Neill described the early Irish Church as “the primitive Free Church”. For him there was no doubt that “The Gaels of Ireland and Scotland were the same people, having the same language and music; and all the elements of civilisation about them were the common property of both. At the same time there are evidences that the Gaels of the North of Ireland stood in closer relationship to those of Scotland than those in the South of Ireland. And this holds true even to this very day.”
To be continued