Through the cumulative effect of the Penal Laws the small Catholic community became a Church mainly of the poor, landless and uneducated, a covert Church without influence. Treated as a criminal under-class, it learned to adopt the tactics of those who live beyond the Law, conducting its business in secret and using a clandestine system of communication known only to those on the inside.
By the end of the sixteenth century the priests who had remained true to the Old Faith were either dead or banished. But a trickle of new younger men were beginning to slip into the country to replace them. They were few in number, and all from the religious orders – first Jesuits, then later Irish Franciscans, Vincentians and others.