CEMS Seminar Series, 26th November: Dr Bronagh Ann McShane (NUIG)



The third CEMS seminar this autumn semester will be delivered by Dr Bronagh Ann McShane (NUIG). Dr McShane will speak on “Irish Women in Religious Orders during the Early Modern Period,” and the seminar takes place in G08, Foundation Building, Mary Immaculate College, at 5.30pm on November 26th. All welcome.

Dr McShane is a social historian specialising in the history of women, religion and confessionalisation in early modern Ireland and Europe. She completed her PhD (Irish Research Council-funded) at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth in 2015. She has published articles on aspects of her research in leading peer-reviewed journals in the fields of religious and digital history, including British Catholic History, Archivium Hibernicum and the Journal of Historical Network Research. Between 2016 and 2018 Bronagh was employed as a postdoctoral researcher on the European Research Council-funded project ‘RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700’, directed by Professor Marie-Louise Coolahan at the National University of Ireland, Galway. From 2018-2019, Bronagh is conducting a study of early modern Irish women religious, funded by the National University of Ireland.


On the eve of the Henrician dissolution campaigns in 1539, no less than thirty houses of women religious were in operation in Ireland, the vast majority of them following the Augustinian rule. By 1542, following a systematic visitation of religious houses and the resignation of heads and communities (who were pensioned off), the majority of these houses had been formally dissolved. Yet, despite official proscription, religious lifestyles for women in Ireland were not wholly eradicated but continued throughout the later Elizabethan and Stuart era, albeit in less formal manners. At the same time, the presence of Irish born women in indigenous European and English convents on the Continent from the early seventeenth century onwards demonstrated the ongoing commitment of élite Catholic families to supporting conventual lifestyles for their female members. This paper explores the lives and experiences of Irish-born women who joined or were associated with religious orders both in Ireland and abroad during the later sixteenth and seventeenth century. It reveals the importance of familial and clerical patronage networks in facilitating access to conventual lifestyles for women and highlights the role of Irish women religious in sustaining Catholic devotional practices which were to prove vital to the success of the Counter-Reformation mission in early modern Ireland.