Penal Laws: Legal Discrimination against Catholicism in Ireland

The Three Fates' by Josef Wackerle -- St. Stephen's Green… | Flickr

When exploring St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, I felt particularly drawn to a statue entitled “The Three Fates”. The Fates, a subject of Greek mythology, are a surprise to find in a city so entangled with Catholicism and Protestantism. Evidence of a belief system which is so contrary to these monotheistic religions may, at first glance, seem odd or even outright misplaced. However, as I read Kilfeather, I learned about Penal Laws, a set of legislation set forth by the Protestant Irish parliament. This set of laws, which were birthed in the late 1600’s and reigned throughout much of the eighteenth century, were blatantly discriminatory toward Catholics in Ireland. Under these laws, Catholic clergies were banned in a thinly veiled attempt to diminish the religion’s power and allow Protestantism to become the dominant religion in Ireland. “The Three Fates” reminds me of the survival of Catholicism in Ireland despite its persecution. The depiction of an ancient Greek belief system seems to be a nod to the censorship of Catholicism. The concept of a greater power watching over the people and protecting them would have served to comfort Catholics during the time of Penal Law.

The Fates’ role of watching over man and deciding his fate seems to me the surviving thread of Irish history. Despite persistent imperial abuses, a devastating famine, and legal discrimination against a core belief system, Ireland refuses to cease her pursuit of fate. The existence of a statue that is neither Catholic nor Protestant brings to my attention the Irish people’s desire to be protected by a higher power regardless of their religion or even their nationality. Despite its creation being far later than the time of Penal Law in Ireland, I believe “The Three Fates” is a promise to the Irish people that they will survive any trial and continue to journey toward their destiny.

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