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This article was written by Norman Moore and was published in 1893
John MacHale (M'Hale), archbishop of Tuam, fifth son of Patrick MacHale, an innkeeper, and his wife, Mary Mulkieran, was born at Tobbernavine, in the district of Tirawley, co. Mayo, on 6 March 1791, and was baptised in his father's house three days later by Andrew Conry, a priest afterwards hanged in the rebellion of 1798. He received his first education at a small local school in the parish of Leathardan. The instruction was given in Irish, and his grandmother objected to his learning the English alphabet. He went to school barefooted, and there is a story well known in Connaught that when he was an archbishop he one day reproved a parish priest for driving an unshod horse along the road. ‘My lord,’ said the priest, ‘neither you nor I had a shoe to our foot till we were twice his age.’
In 1807 he was sent to the college of Maynooth, and in 1814, after his ordination as priest, was appointed lecturer on theology there on 30 August. On 29 January 1820 he published the first of a series of letters, signed ‘Hierophilos,’ against the education together of Roman catholics and protestants. He was appointed bishop of Maronia in partibus infidelium on 8 March 1825, was consecrated on 5 June, and proceeded to undertake the duties of coadjutor bishop of Killala, being at the same time presented to the parish of Crossmolina. In 1831 he wrote to Lord Grey on the state of Ireland, and proposed denominational education, abolition of tithes, tenant right, and repeal as remedies for its disturbed condition.
In November 1831 he visited Rome, and preached at the church of Gesù e Maria, and on 17 March 1832 in St. Isidore's on St. Patrick. In spite of opposition on the part of the government he was made archbishop of Tuam in 1834, and in that position consistently upheld the views he had always expressed in opposition to mixed schools and colleges, nor did the assent of three archbishops and fifteen bishops to the scheme for creating national schools alter his conduct in the matter. His command of the Irish language and the vehemence of his eloquence added to the influence which his inflexible devotion to his principles would of itself have obtained for him. Another characteristic which increased his popularity with a large section of the nation was his honest, unalterable aversion to everything English. ‘Buadh agus treis ig clainne Gaedhel ar clainne Gall’ (victory and success to the Irish race over the English race) was an Irish saying often in his mouth and always in his thoughts. He became the most popular public man after O'Connell, who called him ‘the lion of St. Jarlath's,’ a sobriquet which he liked to retain. St. Jarlath's was his college and residence and cathedral in Tuam.
The appointment in 1835, through his influence, of Dr. O'Finan as bishop of Killala led to a controversy between MacHale and this bishop on the subject of certain ecclesiastical dues. Dean Lyons of Killala supported the bishop, and after the English government and nation, he and Cardinal Barnabo, prefect of the Propaganda, were regarded through life by the archbishop as the deadliest of his enemies. He was victorious, and Bishop O'Finan, a Dominican, had to retire into a monastery of his order in Rome. MacHale had a newspaper controversy with Lords Clifford and Shrewsbury on education in 1835, and in general thought the English Roman Catholics not thorough enough; but he admired Charles Waterton, who on his part had a kindness for the uncompromising archbishop. When Newman came to Ireland, MacHale openly opposed him, on the ground that an Englishman was not wanted in a university in Dublin, and he quarrelled with Archbishop Cullen about the catholic university. They continued to be opponents throughout life.
In 1854 he visited Rome for the second time, and presented to the Pope a poem in Irish on ‘The Immaculate Conception,’ and a translation of it into English verse, but the visit ended in a serious disagreement with Barnabo. MacHale returned to his province, beyond which his ecclesiastical influence gradually diminished as that of Cullen grew. The Connaught men, however, understood him, admired his preaching, shared his prejudices, and sought his blessing. He translated the Pentateuch into Irish, as part of ‘An Irish Translation of the Holy Bible,’ Dublin, 1861, and prepared a diocesan catechism in the same language, as well as a devotional work, ‘Craobh Urnaighe Craibhthighe,’ Dublin, 1866. In 1841 he published an Irish translation of several of Moore's ‘Melodies;’ a new edition appeared in 1871.
In 1844 he issued a translation of the first book of the ‘Iliad’ into Irish verse; the second appeared in 1846. The preface to the third book, which was published in 1851, gives his views on the famine: ‘I cannot help thinking that were the people of Ireland not Catholics, the [prime] Minister would not have suffered them to perish from the land in such numbers.’ The fourth book was issued in 1857, the fifth and sixth in 1860, the seventh in 1869, and the eighth, which concluded his translation, in 1871. The translations of the ‘Melodies’ and the ‘Homer’ are often ingenious, and show a thorough knowledge of the vernacular of Connaught, but very little acquaintance with Irish poetry, or conformity to its measures. A short poem on ‘Grania Waale’ in Irish, with an English verse translation, is printed (p. 407) in Monsignor O'Reilly's ‘Life’ of MacHale. In 1854 he published in Irish ‘Toras na Croiche’ (‘The Way of the Cross’) of St. Alfonso Liguori. His occasional letters, sometimes printed in newspapers, were numerous, and he published in 1825 one theological book in English, ‘The Evidences and Doctrine of the Catholic Church.’ He is said to have copied out long passages of Gibbon, in order to acquire a good English prose style suitable for this work, but he never attained this, and most of his English writings are turgid and violent, without being forcible. Where, however, he has expressed himself in Irish prose, his sentences are idiomatic and to the point. He died on 7 Nov. 1881 at Tuam, and was there buried. He was a tall man, with well-marked features, rose early, and was capable of much physical exertion. When he travelled he always conversed in Irish with the ecclesiastic who attended him.
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