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By Professor John Barkley
"History is about people - how they live, how they think and react, what they do, their striving, their successes and their failures. So let us look at the people of the town of Belfast and their relationships in the closing years of the eighteenth century.
Events in seventeenth century Ireland had resulted in there being three Churches - the Establishment, a Tridentine, and the Dissenters, over 98% of whom were Presbyterians. David Kennedy, St Malachy's College, Belfast, sums up the position in the 18th century as follows:
In 1704 an Act against popery had a clause added to it which made it compulsory for all office holders and members of town corporations to take the sacrament according to the Church of Ireland. Presbyterians could not conscientiously take this sacramental test so some were excluded from parliament and they lost control of many boroughs in Ulster.
In 1710 the Regium Donum was withdrawn from their ministers. More galling perhaps than these restrictions was the fact that the Presbyterian minister had no status in the eyes of the law. The Catholic priest was regarded as an enemy of the State but the State recognised that he was validly ordained and that he could validly administer the sacraments.
Before the law the Presbyterian minister was only a layman ... Consequently the marriages he performed were not valid and children of such marriages would not be recognised as legitimate. For the greater part of the century Presbyterians, like Catholics, were second-class citizens."
This article looks at the people of the town of Belfast and their relationships in the closing years of the eighteenth century.