April 13, 1829
On April 13, 1829 a significant milestone in Irish history was reached when King George IV reluctantly gave royal assent to the Roman Catholic Relief Act.
This Act effectively removed a series of laws known as Penal Laws or Popery Laws that severely limited the ability of a Catholic to do anything.
Some of the laws included:
• Forbid a Catholic from exercising his religion
• Forbid the Catholic from receiving a Catholic education
• Forbid the Catholic from entering a profession
• Forbid the Catholic from holding Public Office
• Forbid the Catholic from owning a horse worth more than 5 pounds
• Forbid the Catholic from buying or leasing land
• Forbid the Catholic from voting
• Forbid the Catholic from receiving a gift or inheritance of land from a Protestant
• Forbid the Catholic from renting any land that was worth more than thirty shillings
• Forbid the Catholic from sending their children abroad for an education
Upon receipt of the news that the Penal Laws had been struck down Bishop Thomas Scallan in St. John’s, Newfoundland declared 21st May a day of public thanksgiving. In St. John’s and other major towns throughout the island, bands, parades, and special church services evidenced the pleasure of Catholics that the penal restrictions of centuries had been lifted.
However, their joy was short-lived; by December the colony’s attorney general, James Simms, and the Supreme Court of Newfoundland had concluded that the relief bill was inoperative in the colony of Newfoundland. Catholic emancipation did not finally come to Newfoundland until the proclamation of representative government and the calling of the first elections on 26 August 1832.
It was during the years when the Penal Laws were in effect that traditions such as the Mass Rock in Renews on the Southern Shore and Pulpit Rock in the Torbay area were developed. Oral history purports that Mass Rock and Pulpit Rock were the site of secret Catholic gatherings. Disguised priests and settlers would gather to celebrate mass or say prayers while lookouts were stationed at vantage point to spot English authorities. While no official record exists of the activities at Mass Rock and Pulpit Rock , a legendary cycle regarding the sites continues to exists.
Archival Collection: To explore some of the issues that were being discussed read the Colonial Office Records (CO 194 -678-83) Governor Cochrane’s Correspondence at The Rooms Provincial Archives.
Recommended Reading: Irish In Newfoundland 1600-1900 by Michael McCarthy, Creative Book Publishing, St. John’s, 1999. This book paints a vivid picture of the Irish experience from the early days of anti-Catholic persecution in Newfoundland when a house could be burned to the ground simply because Mass had been said there.
Recommended Website: Laws in Ireland for the Suppression of POPERY commonly known as the PENAL Laws. Read More: http://library.law.umn.edu/irishlaw/index.html