DR WILLIAMS’S CENTRE FOR DISSENTING STUDIES
The Lecture Hall
Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR.
All are welcome.
Wednesday 22 April 2015 5.15 to 6.45 pm
David Hayton (Ulster University)
‘Dissenters at the polls in Ireland, 1692–1760’
The social and political profile of Dissent in eighteenth-century Ireland was shaped by the heavy immigration of Presbyterians into Ulster during the preceding hundred years, and especially in the 1690s. This created a situation in which Dissenters constituted a majority of Protestants in some northern counties, and a substantial minority in others, while in the other three provinces they were dispersed and, with the exception of Dublin, unimportant politically. The concentration of Dissenters in Ulster aroused fear and antagonism among the clergy and laity of the established church, and led to the introduction for the first time in Ireland in 1703 of a sacramental test, which applied to crown and municipal office-holders and had an immediate effect on Presbyterians in some parliamentary boroughs. It is often stated, erroneously, that Dissenters were disenfranchised by the Test, but this was not true either in theory or in practice. In Ulster, however, the effect of the Test was twofold, to weaken Presbyterian representation among the social elite, many of whom began to conform in consequence, but to maintain a sense of grievance which kept Presbyterians together in some constituencies as a coherent political force. This paper will try to determine the reality of Dissenting electoral influence in the half-century after the passage of the Test, and its importance in providing the backbone of the ‘patriot’ movement of the 1750s and 1760s, which paved the way for political reform