A popular claims among Protestants, particularly Scottish and Ulster Scots Presbyterians, is that the Irish Church prior to arrival of the Normans in 1171-1172 wasn’t Catholic but, a separate, non-Catholic church which didn’t acknowledge the papacy and, allegedly, had “many differences” from the Roman Church. One site which promotes this idea makes the following claims
When King Henry II of England landed with an army of 4,000 at Waterford in October 1171, he came at the Pope’s behest and carrying as his authority the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, by which the Roman Pontiff claimed the right to bestow Ireland as a gift to the English King on condition that he suppressed the ancient Celtic or Culdee Church, and brought the island and its people into submission to Rome. Pope Adrian’s successor Alexander III wrote to the Bishops of Ireland calling on them to submit to King Henry:
“Understanding that our dear son in Christ, Henry, illustrious King of England stirred by divine inspiration and with his united forces has subjected to his dominion, that people a barbarous one, uncivilized and ignorant of the Divine Law - we command and enjoin upon you that you will diligently and manfully assist the above said King to maintain and preserve that land and to extirpate the filthiness of such great abominations. And if any of the Kings, Princes or persons of the land shall rashly attempt to go against his due oath and fealty pledged to the said King you shall lay ecclesiastical censure on such a one.”
In a similar vein Pope Alexander addressed these words to the Princes of Ireland:
“Whereas you have received our dear son in Christ, Henry, illustrious King of England as your king and Lord and have sworn fealty to him … we ward and admonish your noble order to strive to preserve the fealty which by solemn oath you have made.”
The same Roman Pontiff in a letter congratulating Henry on his conquest of Ireland wrote:
“We have been assured how you have wonderfully triumphed over the people of Ireland and over a Kingdom which the Roman Emperors, the conquerors of the world left untouched, and you have extended the power of your majesty over the same people, a race uncivilized and undisciplined. We understand that you, collecting your splendid naval and land forces have set your mind upon subjugating that people … so we exhort and beseech your majesty and enjoin upon you that you will even more intently and strenuously continue … and earnestly enjoin upon your majesty that you will carefully seek to preserve the rights of the See of St. Peter.”
This was indeed what King Henry did and one of his first acts was to call the Council of Cashel in 1172 at which the ancient Celtic Church of Ireland was brought into submission to Rome. As for the Papal insults that the Irish were a rude, ignorant, uncivilized people, had not the missionaries of Patrick’s Celtic Church brought the Gospel not only to the rest of the British Isles but to Europe? Was it a savage people who produced such beautifully illuminated Christian manuscripts as the Book of Kells, and who preserved the primitive Christian faith in their communities even under Viking attack, whilst Papal Rome was sunk in the depths of vice?
The Roman Catholic writer, John O’Driscoll, Esq., admits:
“The Christian Church of Ireland was founded by St. Patrick, existed for many centuries free and unshackled … and differed on many points from Rome. From the days of Patrick to the Council of Cashel was a bright and glorious career for Ireland. From the sitting of that Council to our own times the lot of Ireland has been unmixed evil and all her history a tale of woe.” Views of Ireland: Moral, Political, and Religious, Vol. 2, Page 84.
It was only when the rest of the British Isles and the British Monarchy embraced Protestantism at the Reformation, that the Papacy changed its policy and began to pose as the champion of Irish freedom.