A most interesting book – for all those interested in history and genealogy in Kerry in the early half of the 19th century – was published this week.

While we are aware  of the campaign to evangelise or convert the  Irish-speaking community in Kerry, to date we have very few exact details.    This book will tell you who, what and when – the very details that we have been short on.

Bryan MacMahon tells us that ‘the work of Church of Ireland evangelicals in West Kerry between 1825 and 1845 was widely hailed as a model of a successful missionary campaign; however it evoked a passionate reaction from local Catholic priests. The missionaries wished to entice the Irish-speaking people of the Dingle peninsula away from what they saw as superstition and enthralment to Rome, while priests objected to what they saw as inducements offered to Catholics to convert. As new mission schools and churches were built, the war of words between clergymen of both persuasions was fomented by rival newspapers, reaching a climax in a notorious libel case of March 1845’.

A review in this week’s Irish Times tells us that some 800 people (including children) changed their traditional religious allegiance in west Kerry before 1845, generating a furious response from Catholic priests. It was a period when zeal turned into zealotry, passions became inflamed, language became abusive, and actions became violent. Partisan newspapers fanned the flames of religious controversy, which reached a peak when a Catholic curate named Denis Brasbie sensationally converted.

In this study, Bryan MacMahon gives a comprehensive overview of the origins and progress of the conversion campaign and the responses to it. The narrative brings the personalities such as Rev.Charles Gayer, Fr. Brasbie, Rev. Thomas Moriarty, D.P. Thompson, and the Ventry estate into vivid focus and records the long-lost voices and values of those on both sides of the bitter divide.   

Faith and Fury The Evangelical Campaign in Dingle and West Kerry 1825-45  is published by WordwellBooks.com and is also available from all good local booksellers, including in-person or online at Dingle Bookshop.

Bryan Mac Mahon’s previous books include The Great Famine in Tralee and North Kerry (2017) and Ascend or Die: Richard Crosbie, Pioneer of Balloon Flight (2010). He has a particular interest in the history of his native Co. Kerry and has published articles in a range of historical journals including History Ireland, The Irish Sword, The Kerry Magazine and Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society.