Mary Peckham Magray argues that the Irish Catholic cultural revolution in the nineteenth century was effected not only by male elites, as previous scholarship has claimed, but also by the most overlooked and underestimated women in Ireland: the nuns. Once thought to be merely passive servants of the male clerical hierarchy, women's religious orders were in fact at the very centre of the creation of a devout Catholic culture in Ireland. Often well-educated, articulate, and evangelical, nuns were much more social and ambitious than traditional stereotypical views have held. They used their wealth and their authority to effect changes in both the religious practices and daily activity of the larger Irish Catholic population, and by doing so, Magray argues, deserve a far larger place in the Irish historical record than they have previously been accorded. Magray's innovative work challenges some of the most widely-held assumptions of social history in nineteenth-century Ireland. It will be of interest to scholars and students of Irish history, religious history, women's studies, and sociology.
Mary Peckham Magray is Assistant Professor of History at Wesleyan College.