The Supernatural in Catholic Ireland in the Long Nineteenth-century, 1821-1921

  • Jodie Shevlin

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis, the first study dedicated to Catholic supernatural belief, explores popular and elite mentalities in relation to various aspects of supernatural belief including demonic possession, fairies, miraculous cures, fortune-telling, folk-healing and ghosts in Catholic Ireland in an era of revival and reform (1821-1921). Previous historiography suggests that the erosion of Irish Catholic supernatural belief was accelerated by a series of reforms within Catholicism and by the social changes in consequence of the Great Famine. In addition, the unprecedented expansion of the Catholic Church following Catholic Emancipation in 1829, and the transformations in Irish Catholic piety since the 1850s that were characterised by increased mass attendance and increased observance of devotions, has given rise to the ‘devotional revolution’ theory.

This thesis challenges previous assumptions that popular Catholic supernatural beliefs and practices declined in the post-Famine period and demonstrates that recourse to the supernatural prevailed in rural and urban Ireland throughout the nineteenth and in the early decades of the twentieth century. Furthermore, this study will also argue that contrary to the concept of a ‘devotional revolution,’ the reforms implemented by Catholic hierarchy were evolutional and inconsistent in nature, particularly in rural areas. This thesis demonstrates that by selecting singular aspects of Irish popular supernatural beliefs which they wished to reform, the Irish Catholic hierarchy inadvertently encouraged belief in and recourse to a substantial body supernatural beliefs and practices both within and outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church.
Date of AwardAug 2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKyle Hughes (Supervisor) & Andrew Sneddon (Supervisor)


  • Fairy
  • Ghost
  • Miracle
  • Fortune-telling
  • Exorcism

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