1828 - 1865

The conflict within (part 6)

Clashes between classes

The attitude of the native British Catholics to the often uncomfortable presence of their Irish co-religionists was, at times, another source of conflict within the community. The two sections were separated by differences of class and culture, with the British Catholics keen to win acceptance as full political members of their state. They found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the hordes of Irish Catholics

who came amongst them in the mid-nineteenth century. O'Tuathaig explains that the British Catholics "found some of the transplanted forms of peasant piety embarrassing", while "their intellectual no less than their social snobbery was, in turn, deeply resented by the Irish". [O’Tuathaig op cit p. 170]

In Wolverhampton, the need felt by the Irish to build a church of their own, and dedicated to their patron saint, was the consequence of a cultural difference between them and the town’s native Catholics. This was underlined by the remark made by Father Patrick O’Sullivan at the ceremony in which the foundation-stone was laid. Here he explained why, even after the opening of the grand church on Snowhill in 1855, there was a need for a new chapel for the Irish of Caribee Island: "The new church was for those whose ragged clothing deterred them from attending a place of worship frequented by a congregation in rustling silk." [WC 20th June 1860]

The Roman Catholics of Wolverhampton, like those in many other parts of the country, were faced not only with a struggle against outside forces, but were often torn by internal conflicts. Leading members of the laity in the town had tried to resist the growing domination by the clergy, though the Anglo-Irish tensions within the Catholic lay body were proof that even here there was a lack of harmony.