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FROM THE ADMISSION OF ROMAN CATHOLICS TO THE
ENJOYMENT OF THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE TO THE UNION BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND. A.D. 1793 TO A.D. 1800.
HITHERTO many of the Irish priests had been trained in France; but the breaking out of the Revolution in that country, and the deadly hostility displayed to their religion by the party advanced to power, had led the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy to see the necessity of making some other arrangement for clerical education. In February, 1794, they accordingly presented an address to the Lord Lieutenant, stating that four hundred persons had till then been constantly maintained in France in course of instruction for the ministry of their Church in Ireland; and that, under the reign of terror, their training establishments had been recently destroyed. In this memorial the petitioners assign a most extraordinary reason for providing a separate seminary to educate aspirants to the priesthood. “Your Excellency's memorialists,” say they, “ beg leave humbly to represent that, though the mode of education practised in the University of Dublin may be well adapted to form men for the various departments of public business, it is not alike applicable to the ecclesiastics of a very ritual religion; and by no means calculated to impress upon the mind those habits of austere discipline, so indispensable in the character of a Roman Catholic clergyman, that, without them, he might become a
1 This address may be found in I lowden, ii., part i. 446-8.
very dangerous member of society.” 1 As they had been advised by counsel that the King's licence was necessary, to enable them legally to secure the funds to be appropriated for the ecclesiastical education of the youth of their communion, they conclude by praying that his Excellency may be pleased to recommend His Majesty to grant authority for the endowment of seminaries to prepare candidates for discharging the duties of Roman Catholic clergymen in the kingdom. Some steps had previously been taken in this direction, as Dr. O'Keefe, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare —who died in 1787-had founded at Carlow a college for the education of priests;and this seminary was already in operation. A favourable answer was given to the present address of the Roman Catholic dignitaries. Government soon afterwards took up the matter; and, in the session of 1795, an Act was obtained for the establishment of a College at Maynooth. A sum of nearly £40,000 was given for the erection of buildings; and a grant of £8,000 per annum was voted for the current expenditure. It was estimated that there were at this time 2,000 priests in Ireland; and, to supply vacancies created by death and otherwise, it was arranged that 200 youths were to be maintained and educated, at the public expense, in the new seminary.5
The establishment of the College of Maynooth, under the authority of an Act of Parliament, is a striking illustration of the caprice of statesmanship. Only two years before, Romanists had been restored to the ordinary privileges of citizens; and it was still deemed unsafe to admit them to the higher offices of Government. But, withal, the public funds are now to be employed in providing clergy devoted to the maintenance of their worship. The priests trained abroad were believed to have foreign sympathies; and it was expected that those educated in the new seminary would increase the loyalty of the Roman Catholic population. But the result has not justified the calculation. Since the erection of Maynooth, the Romish parts of Ireland have been more difficult to govern, and more expensive to the Imperial treasury, than they were during the eighty years preceding.
1 The meaning of this statement apparently is, that clergy, who are pledged to celibacy, must be kept under very strict discipline, otherwise the worst consequences may be anticipated.
a Fitzpatrick's Life, Times, and Correspondence of Dr. Doyle, i. 169.
3 In 1819 Dr. Doyle states that each year since the commencement of the French Revolution, Carlow College contained about one hundred students. Fitzpatrick's Doyle, i. 85. According to Brenan (p. 567) Carlow College was opened in 1793. In 1825, in his Evidence before the Select Committee on the State of Ireland, Dr. Doyle stated that seminaries similar to that in Carlow were then established in the diocese of Ossory, at Waterford, and at Tuam. Second Report from Select Committee. Minutes of Evidence, p. 200.
4 In 1806 the annual grant was raised to £13,000 ; but in 1808 it was reduced to the original sum.
5 The Act is the 35th of George III., chap. xxi.
About this time a convert from Romanism, whose history is remarkable, was promoted to an Irish bishopric. Thomas Lewis O'Beirne was born of humble parentage in County Longford in the year 1747. He was early destined for the priesthood; and was sent, with another brother, to the continent to receive his professional education. usual in those days,” he seems to have been ordained about the commencement of his ecclesiastical career. His confidence in the religion of his fathers was shaken during his residence abroad; the anxiety thus awakened probably impaired his health ; and, in consequence, he was obliged to return home. After remaining some time in Ireland, he resolved to visit London in quest of literary employment. On his way through Wales he stopped for refreshment at a small inn—where he was thrown into company with two strange gentlemen who had been among the hills on a shooting excursion, and who had been obliged to take refuge from the violence of the storm in this plain tenement. The strangers soon began to converse in French; but the young Irishman politely informed them that he was acquainted with the language ; and that, if they had any secrets to communicate, they must take care not to reveal them in his presence.1 The manner in which he conveyed this candid caution made a favourable impression; he at once supplied proof that he was familiar with the French tongue ; and his new acquaintances were at length quite fascinated by his affability and intelligence. Young O'Beirne told them that he was on his way to London, and probably gave them to understand his errand; for, when about to take their leave, one of the gentlemen handed him a card without a name, but containing directions how to find his town residence-accompanied by a request that his Hibernian friend would call on him when he reached the metropolis. Proceeding there on foot, O'Beirne, on his arrival, soon discovered the house indicated on the card ; but was astonished to see that it was a very splendid mansion; and to learn that it was occupied by one of the leading statesmen of the day. On seeking admission, he was equally surprised to hear that the servant in waiting had been expecting his arrival; and had been specially instructed by his master to secure him an audience. The noble owner welcomed him most cordially; and soon assured him of his patronage. If he had already misgivings as to the truth of the religion in which he had been brought up, the bright prospects now presented to him no doubt promoted his determination to withdraw from the Church of Rome. He was shortly afterwards introduced to Lord Howe; he accompanied that nobleman on his ill-starred expedition to America; and was eventually selected as his chaplain. In America O'Beirne was well known as a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church; and, on the occasion of a dreadful fire in New York in 1776, preached a sermon which greatly added to his reputation." On his return to England he engaged prominently in political discussions; and published several pamphlets in support of the opponents of the ministry. A change of Government soon occurred; and his services did not pass unrewarded. In 1782 he came to Ireland as private secretary to the Duke of Portland, the Lord Lieutenant : and in the year following obtained valuable livings in Northumberland and Cumberland.? In December, 1785, he is said to have clandestinely performed the ceremony of marriage between the celebrated Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales—afterwards George IV.3 In 1791 he was collated to the Irish rectory of Templemichael in the diocese of Ardagh.* His brother, the Rev. Denis O'Beirne—who was a zealous Roman Catholic priest - officiated at this period in the same parish. The rector of Templemichael became Bishop of Ossory in 1795; and in 1798 was promoted to Meath. It is a singular fact that, during the whole time he presided over the latter diocese, the Right Reverend Patrick Plunket-under whom he had studied on the continent—was the Roman Catholic Bishop of the same see.5
1 It is rather remarkable that the Rebellion of 1798 followed the erection of the College in 1795 ; and that the Rebellion of 1848 followed the increase of the grant in 1845.
2 See before, p. 291, and note (1). When thus ordained, they were enabled on the continent, “ by chaplaincies, or foundations for masses which they discharged," to defray the expenses of their education. Renehan's Collections, p. 108. Roman Catholic writers, who now deny that O'Beirne was ordained a priest in their Church, have forgotten the usage of the period.
3 Mr. (afterwards Lord) Brougham, who was evidently well acquainted with his history, stated in a speech delivered in the English House of Commons on the 6th of May, 1825, that he was originally ordained a priest ;” but “afterwards, becoming a Protestant, he was made a bishop without any further ordination."HANSARD, P. 443, vol. xiii., new series.
4 Public Characters, p. III. Dublin, 1799.
1 Fitzpatrick's Sham Squire, p. 213. Dublin, 1869.
Cotton's Fasti, ii. 288; Cogan's Diocese of Meath, ii. 187. According to one account, the regular chaplain died on the voyage to America ; and O'Beirne, without challenge, was permitted to take his place. No inquiry seems to have been afterwards made about his ordination. Romanists, who denied the fact, called him, when he became a bishop, “the mitred layman.” Cogan, ii. 186.
Dr. O'Beirne was undoubtedly a man of ability, as well as of most winning manners. His very pleasing exterior and wonderful tact contributed much to his advancement.
He was not a theologian; and to the last he remained such a High Churchman, that some of his former friends continued to cherish the hope of his return to the communion of Rome.
1 Annual Register for 1822, p. 281.
2 Cotton's Fasti, ii. 288. In November, 1783, he was married to Miss Stuart, only surviving child of the Hon. Colonel Francis Stuart, brother to the Earl of Moray. Sham Squire, p. 214. He had one son, and two daughters, neither of whom married.
3 Fitzpatrick's Sham Squire, pp. 214, 215. The fact that he had been ordained a priest is said to have recommended him on this occasion to Mrs. Fitzherbert. As to the fact of the marriage, there is no room for doubt. It took place in London. But it is not so clear that O'Beirne performed the ceremony. See Life and Times of Lord Brougham, by Himself, ii. 411.
4 Cotton, ii. 288.
Cogan, ii. 187, note.