The essays in this volume offer a variety of perspectives on the rich and colourful history of Irish confraternities and sodalities. Until the middle of the twentieth century, men, women and children attended sodality devotions, took part in processions in confraternity regalia and participated in annual excursions. Since their origin in the late middle ages in Ireland and elsewhere, these confraternal bodies fostered personal piety and devotion, extended charity to the sick and the poor, and played a part in education the young.
At different times over their long history in Ireland, the confraternities and sodalities played a role either in support of political and religious establishments, and at others, have served as focus of opposition. The dynamic between clergy and laity also changed over time. While lay men and women running the pre-Reformation bodies and Church of Ireland parish associations, for example, and priestly influence tending to dominate in the Catholic bodies from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, priestly influence tended to dominate the Catholic associations.
Framed by surveys that include both the Irish and the international context, these essays explore the role of the confraternities in the revival of the Catholic Church in the penal era, their place in the Catholic devotional upsurge in the nineteenth century, and the contribution of religious orders to their growth. Essays the devotional, charitable and social functions of these bodies in the earlier twentieth century assess the reasons why an institution that was so deeply rooted in Irish life for generations was almost totally swept away in a few short years in the 1960s.