Catholicism and Fascism in Interwar Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The interwar era saw the collapse of liberal democracy and the rise of anti-democratic authoritarian movements and states throughout much of Europe. Parliamentary or liberal democracy proved especially vulnerable in countries with large Catholic populations and ‘successor states’ – those states that achieved independence following the Great War. Despite meeting both criteria, the democratic structures of the Irish Free State – established in 1922 following a revolutionary struggle against British rule – proved remarkably resilient: indeed, it was arguably the only successor state to remain fully democratic by 1939 This outcome appears all the more striking given the formation of the state amidst a civil war, a form of conflict that frequently prevented the successful emergence of democracy. This is an article about the dog that didn’t bark: why did the kind of authoritarian political movements that flourished in many other parts of interwar Europe attract negligible support in the Irish Free State, and what does this have to tell us about the relationship between Catholicism and authoritarian politics? It begins by surveying the Irish Catholic Church’s attitudes to far-right politics in Continental Europe, and assessing how ‘official’ Catholic attitudes shaped popular perceptions of fascism and clerical authoritarianism within Ireland. It then explores the extent to which Ireland’s only significant fascistic movement – the Blueshirts – was influenced by, and sought to exploit, Catholicism. It concludes by questioning whether the immense influence of the Catholic Church and Catholic values within Irish political culture and society facilitated or hindered the cause of authoritarian politics in Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCatholicism and Fascism in Europe 1918 - 1945
EditorsJan Nelis, Anne Morelli, Danny Praet
Place of PublicationHildesheim
PublisherGeorg Olms Verlag
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-487-42127-8
ISBN (Print)978-3-487-15243-1
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameHistorische Texte und Studien

Bibliographical note

The papers presented in this volume analyse the many ways in which the Vatican, national Churches and individual catholics dealt with the rise of the extreme right in Europe throughout the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s, from the end of the First World War, arguably one of the main catalysts of European interwar fascism, to the conclusion and immediate aftermath of the Second World War. While a number of papers focus primarily on theoretical, methodological issues pertaining to the book’s general theme, the majority of papers focus on either a country or region where a fascist movement or regime flourished between the wars and during the Second World War, and where there was a significant catholic presence in society. The various chapters cover almost the entire European continent – an endeavour that is unprecedented –, and they explore a wide range of relevant contexts and methodologies, thus further contributing to the general development of an interpretive ‘cluster’ model that incorporates a series of investigative matrixes, and that will hopefully inspire future research.


  • Catholicism
  • Fascism
  • Interwar Europe

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