Crotty Schism and Birr
Religious schisms would appear to be a more global than
local phenomenon, but in Birr in the 1830's, just such
an incident occurred.
The story of the famous Crotty cousins and the church named
after the two Roman Catholic priests of that name is well
However, an interesting contemporaneous account of the intriguing
vignette in church and social history in South Offaly is
provided by Baptist Wriothesley Noel, in his account, published
in 1837 and entitled Notes of a short tour though
the Midland Counties of Ireland in the Summer of 1836, with
observations on the condition of the peasantry.
The publication is interesting in its own right as one of
the few accounts of evangelical Protestantism in Offaly
in the years before the famine. However, it is particularly
so in its depiction of the Crotty incident.
The section of the Crotty schism begins with the author
explaining that he had been keen to make the acquaintance
of the Crottys, who, he says, without formally joining any
Protestant church were now preaching the Gospel to their
former Roman Catholic congregation.
The elder of the Crottys, Michael had been made curate of
Birr in 1820 which situation he continued till,
a vacancy then occurring, he was chosen parish priest by
one party of the parishioners.
The account continues: Meanwhile Mr. Kennedy was named
by another party and the latter choice was confirmed by
the Roman Catholic bishop. Endeavouring, in possession of
the splendid new chapel at Birr, which had been partly built
by his adherents, Mr.Crotty found himself excluded by policemen,
with fixed bayonets.
Since that time he has been preaching in a temporary chapel
to a considerable congregation, chiefly of poor persons.
Before this he had begun to attack the errors of Popery,
but now the process became more rapid and complete. The
two cousins have circulated some hundreds of copies of the
Bible Testament among their people; they proclaim the word
of God to be the only rule of faith; they administer the
cup to the laity; they read a selection of prayers from
the Roman Missal in English; and they preach salvation through
the atonement made by Christ.
Almost all the profane additions and superstitions
of the Christ of Rome they had discarded. The sacrifice
of the mass they have denounced, and now profess to offer
it alone in remembrance of the death of Christ. They found
the people accustomed to pay clay money, that consecrated
clay being put into their coffins might save their dead
bodies from being polluted by contact with heretics; that
superstition they have taught their people to despise.
They found them worshippers of the Virgin Mary, of
saints and angels, and even images, they have taught them
exclusively to worship God. They found them confiding in
priestly absolution for the pardon of their sins; they told
them to expect pardon only through sincere repentance and
faith in the blood of Christ.
Later, Noel continues: They found them cherishing
the doctrine that the salvation is to be found in the Roman
Church alone; they have led them to hate that unchristian
and anti-social bigotry.
About one thousand persons are still attached to the
ministry. But they much want a new chapel. Their hearers
are mostly poor and they wish therefore to raise funds elsewhere
for the building, he says.
Noel explains that six hundred pounds had been collected
by the time of his visit and the foundations of the chapel,
to be 64 feet by 32 feet, were laid.
The author states that it is his earnest hope that ample
funds would be obtained to accomplish the final design as
it seems of great importance to Ireland that their ministry
should be supported.
They have stood a fierce persecution for some years:
and if they can bring a whole congregation once Roman Catholics
to hear and love the truth, and pay for its maintenance,
it will be a most animating example to every priest in Ireland,
on whom the chain of Papal falsehood sits heavy. But should
they be driven from Birr, what other priest will dare to
follow their example?
They are both intelligent men, and I believe, a perfectly
sincere, but they want more meekness. Converts have often
a keen temper. Our most violent Churchmen are converted
Dissenters, our most bitter Dissenters are lapsed Churchmen.
Few Catholics are so hot and eager as Mr. Spencer, and some
others I could name; and possibly, the Messrs. Crotty, just
emerging from the cauldron of popery, may feel their blood
still boiling in the recollection of it. But the wrath
of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Already they
have boldly grappled with error, and may God give them grace
become his devoted ministers, patient and forgiving their
enemies, zealous for the salvation of the people committed
to their charge, faithful expositors of the New Testament,
and the means of external life to many persons in their
town and neighbourhood.
The Crotty schism petered out by 1841 - 42. The best short
account is that of Ignatius Murphy in the Diocese of Killaloe,
1800-1850. the old church still stands in Castle Street.
Noels account, although shaped by his own religious
beliefs, nonetheless, provides a fascinating glimpse into
the sort of evangelical fervour of the times as well as
shedding light on the famous Crotty schism.
Courtesy of the Midland Tribune