Conference paper: Michael Ramsey and the Troubles in Ulster, 1968-74

With a sigh of relief, I’m now putting the finishing touches to my paper for this week’s conference on Protestant-Catholic conflict, at Stranmillis College in Belfast. (More details in a previous post.)

Here’s my conclusion:

“The complexities of the archbishop of Canterbury’s position in relation to Ulster are a microcosm of his wider predicament. Amongst moderate elements, he was seen as an honest broker at the centre of power, able to create a neutral space in which political schemes to end the Troubles might be able to grow. His own public interventions in relation of issues of human rights abroad caused others to see him as a friend of victims of perceived injustice. However, the bulk of the calls upon him to intervene to end the violence were based on either naivety, a lack of information about what was already being done, or a misunderstanding of the powers of Canterbury over the independent Church of Ireland.

“In Protestant eyes, however, there was an inescapable contradiction between Ramsey’s constitutional role as head of a Protestant state church born at the Reformation, and his own fervent commitment to the ecumenical movement and to closer relations with Rome in particular. In this Ramsey was caught between genuine ecumenical enthusiasm within his own church and within the Irish churches on the one hand, and residual anti-Catholic sentiment in the nation at large on the other. The 1960s were a period in which the relationship between the Church of England and the nation was being renegotiated, in relation to the moral law and to conceptions of national identity. Those negotiations, never easy, were intractable to the point of impossibility in an Irish context.

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