This article explores how communities of female religious within the English sphere of influence in Ireland negotiated their survival, firstly in the aftermath of the Henrician dissolution campaigns of the late 1530s and 1540s and thereafter down to the early 1640s. It begins by examining the strategies devised by women religious in order to circumvent the state’s proscription of vocational living in the aftermath of the Henrician suppression campaigns. These ranged from clandestine continuation of conventual life to the maintenance of informal religious vows within domestic settings. It then moves on to consider the modes of migration and destinations of Irish women who, from the late sixteenth century onwards, travelled to the Continent in pursuit of religious vocations, an experience they shared with their English counterparts. Finally, it considers how the return to Ireland from Europe of Irish Poor Clare nuns in 1629 signalled the revival of monastic life for women religious on the island. The article traces the importance of familial and clerical patronage networks to the ongoing survival of Irish female religious communities and highlights their role in sustaining Catholic devotional practices, which were to prove vital to the success of the Counter-Reformation mission in seventeenth-century Ireland.
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