A ‘settling’ force: Laura J. Smith, Unsettled Settlers: Irish Catholics, Irish Catholicism, and British loyalty in Upper Canada, 1819-1840, PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 2017


Abstract: This dissertation examines the role of Roman Catholicism in the process by which Irish Catholics integrated into Upper Canadian society in the first half of the nineteenth-century. For Upper Canadian Irish Catholics, Roman Catholicism was a “settling” force. In addition to providing familiar spiritual succor to individual migrants, religion provided order, organization, and focus to individual settlement and was the point upon which community-building efforts were frequently centred. But the Roman Catholicism of the Irish in Upper Canada was also “unsettling.” It was perceived by the dominant Protestant society as a key element in the inappropriate cultural baggage with which Irish Catholic migrants travelled, it was a barrier to political power and social advancement, and was believed to be at the root of violence and anti-social behaviour attributed to the Irish in the period. Despite repeated demonstrations of loyalty and good intentions in perpetuating the British connection on the part of the province’s Irish Catholic population, persistent and preexisting prejudices about Ireland and the politics, motivations, and abilities of Roman Catholic Irish, meant that population persisted as an outlier in colonial society.

The local orientation and scope of Roman Catholicism amongst Irish settlers in Upper Canada challenges the transnational emphasis in the current historiography of Irish Roman Catholicism and offers an offers an additional model to the process by which the Irish came to dominate the English-speaking Roman Catholic Church. In Upper Canada, the extra-institutional migration of clergy and lay people, and the community-oriented religious practice at the mission and parish level was vital to the progress of Catholicism in the colony. Consequently the diocese of Kingston and the Upper Canadian context demonstrate the extent to which the influence of the Irish on the progress of Catholicism in the English-speaking settler world must include the local as well as transnational contexts.

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