The Protestant Reformation that swept Europe in the 16th century was marked by Royal intrigues over control of the Roman Church’s wealth, and conflicts over which religion could be practiced. Violence erupted in many countries. Elizabeth I declared the Church of England to be the State religion, and considered Ireland part of her state. Most Irish did not agree. The Papacy launched a counter-reformation and Ireland became a battlefield between the two forces as the Irish, who embraced the Church introduced by St. Patrick, became the target of a campaign to reduce Rome’s power by converting the masses to Protestantism. The persistence with which the Irish clung to their religion drove the English to extremes in repression. Penal laws disenfranchised Irish Catholics from the political, social, and economic life of their own country, and with their religion outlawed and their clergy on the run, they became an underground society practicing their religion in secret.
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