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Scalan and the Penal Laws

Scalan’s circumstances mirrored those of the Catholic Church as a whole in Scotland at this time. Its very existence as a place of education was in theory illegal. The Master took the same precautions as every priest on the Mission, engaging trusted runners to deliver his letters, and in those letters using false addresses, aliases and code words to obscure their meaning and prevent identification.

Probably we should call the College semi-secret, for its neighbours and even the authorities further afield were aware of it. Yet for much of its life, and progressively as the years went by, its little community were generally tolerated so long as they went about their business discreetly. In this, again, it reflected the position of the wider Church: the Penal Laws were draconian, and had they been implemented strictly both the Church and College must have perished. But in fact in ‘normal’ years they were only loosely enforced. Only when the State seemed threatened – notably after the ’15 and ’45 Risings – were they applied with full rigour.

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