Decorative Initial T

hroughout Castle Richmond, which Trollope sets in the Ireland of the great famine, he depicts the prejudices of both Protestants and Roman Catholics, though by the end of the novel three very different clergymen have banded together to fight hunger and become friends. The first and fiercest of the bigoted Protestants is Letty, the aunt of Herbert Fitzgerald, the closest thing to a hero, Trollope confides to us, that will appear in this novel.

He was a great favourite too with his aunt, whose heart, however, was daily sinking into her shoes through the effect of one great terror which harassed her respecting him. She feared that he had become a Puseyite. Now that means much with some ladies in England; but with most ladies of the Protestant religion in Ireland, it means, one may almost say, the very Father of Mischief himself. In their minds, the pope, with his lady of Babylon, his college of cardinals, and all his community of pinchbeck saints, holds a sort of second head-quarters of his own at Oxford. And there his high priest is supposed to be one wicked infamous Pusey, and his worshippers are wicked infamous Puseyites. Now, Miss Letty Fitzgerald was strong on this subject, and little inklings had fallen from her nephew which robbed her of much of her peace of mind. . . .

She was not illnatured; but so strongly prejudiced on many points as to be equally disagreeable as though she were so. With her, as with the world in general, religion was the point on which those prejudices were the strongest; and the peculiar bent they took was horror and hatred of popery. As she lived in a country in which the Roman Catholic was the religion of all the poorer classes, and of very many persons who were not poor, there was ample scope in which her horror and hatred could work. She was charitable to a fault, and would exercise that charity for the good of Papists as willingly as for the good of Protestants; but in doing so she always remembered the good cause. She always clogged the flannel petticoat with some Protestant teaching, or burdened the little coat and trousers with the pains and penalties of idolatry. [Chapter 5, “The Fitzgeralds of Castle Richmond”]

Five chapters later in the novel, Trollope paints a more general picture of Irish Protestant hatred of Roman Catholicism when he introduces us, as the chapter's title informs, to “The Rector of Drumbarrow and His Wife.”

In Ireland stanch Protestantism consists too much in a hatred of Papistry—in that rather than in a hatred of those errors against which we Protestants are supposed to protest. Hence the cross—which should, I presume, be the emblem of salvation to us all—creates a feeling of dismay and often of disgust instead of love and reverence; and the very name of a saint savours in Irish Protestant ears of idolatry, although Irish Protestants on every Sunday profess to believe in a communion of such. These are the feelings rather than the opinions of the most Protestant of Irish Protestants, and it is intelligible that they should have been produced by the close vicinity of Roman Catholic worship in the minds of men who are energetic and excitable, but not always discreet or argumentative.

One of such was Mr. Townsend, and few men carried their Protestant fervour further than he did. A cross was to him what a red cloth is supposed to be to a bull; and so averse was he to the intercession of saints, that he always regarded as a wolf in sheep's clothing a certain English clergyman who had written to him a letter dated from the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. On this account Herbert Fitzgerald took upon himself to say that he regarded him as a bad clergyman: whereas, most of his Protestant neighbours looked upon this enthusiasm as his chief excellence.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Townsend is just as bigoted an anti-Catholic as her Anglican husband, and when he tells her that young Herbert Fitzgerald “has just come from Oxford, you know, . . . and at the moment Oxford is the most dangerous place to which a young man can be sent,” she responds, “When they come to crosses and candlesticks, the next step to the glory of Mary is a very easy one. I would sooner send a young man to Rome than to Oxford. At the one he might be shocked and disgusted; but at the other he is cajoled, and cheated, and ruined.”

Soon after the appearance of the Townsends Castle Richmond introduces us to his “most uncompromising foe for many years,” the Rev. Bernard M'Carthy, the local parish priest, who “ was much more a man of the world than his Protestant colleague. He did not do half so many absurd things as did Mr. Townsend, and professed to laugh at what he called the Protestant madness of the rector.” He, too, has been “eager,” even “malicious antagonist,” hating “What he called the 'souping' system of the Protestant clergyman . . . —that system by which, as he stated, the most ignorant of men were to be induced to leave their faith by the hope of soup, or other food.” He was, Trollope tells us, “as firmly convinced of the inward, heart-destroying iniquity of the parson as the parson was of that of the priest. And so these two men had learned to hate each other. And yet neither of them were bad men” (ch. 10). Immediately after showing how Townsend and M'Carthy mirror each other, Trollope's narrator adds,

I do not wish it to be understood that this sort of feeling always prevailed in Irish parishes between the priest and the parson even before the days of the famine. I myself have met a priest at a parson's table, and have known more than one parish in which the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen lived together on amicable terms. But such a feeling as that above represented was common, and was by no means held as proof that the parties themselves were quarrelsome or malicious. It was a part of their religious convictions, and who dares to interfere with the religious convictions of a clergyman? [ch. 10]

One of the more comical, ironical, or just sad effects of this fierce distrust of anything that smacks of Catholicism appears in the way Aunt Letty and Mrs. Townsend so fear the Oxford Movement that they come to suspect anything English, so when Herbert was considering whether he should seek ordination, “both those ladies were agreed that Herbert should get himself ordained as quickly as possible;—not in England, where there might be danger even in ordination, but in good, wholesome, Protestant Ireland, where a Church of England clergyman was a clergyman of the Church of England, and not a priest, slipping about in the mud half way between England and Rome” (ch. 32). Aunt Letty particularly worries because Herbert, our almost-hero, has shown worrisome signs of rational tolerance. When she praises Mrs. Townshend as a “thoroughly Protestant woman; one who cannot abide the sorceries of popery, ” Herbert sensibly responds, that she “hates them as a mad dog hates water; and with the same amount of judgment. We none of us wish to be drowned; but nevertheless there are some good qualities in water.” And when Letty energetically proclaims, “there are no good qualities in popery,” Herbert answers her with the obvious point that both religions share key beliefs: "Are there not?" said Herbert. "I should have thought that belief in Christ, belief in the Bible, belief in the doctrine of a Saviour's atonement, were good qualities.”

Aunt Letty would certainly have been horrified to learn that Carter, the Anglican clergyman from England, arrives in Ireland “with a certain conviction that the clergy of his own church there were men not to be trusted; that they were mere Irish, and little better in their habits and doctrines than under-bred dissenters” (ch. 47).


Trollope, Anthony. Castle Richmond. London & New York: 1906. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks, and revised by Rita Bailey and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.. 5 August 2013.

Last modified 11 August 2013