John Lanigan

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

« Sir Oliver Lambert | Index | Dionysius Lardner »

Lanigan, John, D.D., ecclesiastical historian, was born at Cashel in 1758, the eldest of sixteen children — the youngest of whom (Anne) survived until 30th October 1860. At sixteen, after receiving the education of a Cashel school, he started for the Irish College, Rome, to pursue his studies for the priesthood. He sailed from Cork to London, where he was robbed of everything by a fellow-passenger; but fortunately a clergyman took him into his house until funds were sent him from home to enable him to reach Italy. His progress at college was brilliant and rapid; he received ordination at an early age, and was soon afterwards induced by his friend Tamburini to settle at Pavia, where he was appointed to the chairs of Hebrew, Ecclesiastical History, and Divinity, at the University. Here he published his Prolegomena to the Holy Scriptures, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, "unrivalled for erudition and lucid arrangement;.. elaborate and critical."

In 1786,"smelling mischief," he declined attending the Synod of Pistoja, held under the presidency of Scipio Ricci. Its proceedings are now regarded as schismatical. In 1794 he was granted a doctor's degree, in recognition of his labours and numerous writings, well known, at least amongst the alumni of Pavia, if not throughout Italy. In 1796 Napoleon's Italian successes broke up the University, and Lanigan hastily returned home, leaving behind many valuable books and MSS. He embarked at Genoa for Cork, and set foot in Ireland after an absence of twenty-two years. He was but coldly received by his brother clergy, as the suspicion of his friend Tamburini's heresy hung about him; and he was obliged to proceed on foot to his friends in Cashel, where he took up his residence and rested for a time. Through the influence of a college friend he was attached in a clerical capacity to the old Francis-street chapel in Dublin; where he was hardly settled, when he was invited to take, at Maynooth, the chair of Scripture and Hebrew, for which he was especially qualified. Suspicions regarding his orthodoxy again intervened; while declaring that he was no Jansenist, he declined to make any such disavowal in writing, and was consequently obliged to vacate the position just entered upon.

In May 1799 he was appointed sub-librarian at the Royal Dublin Society at a salary of thirty shillings a week, never raised beyond £150 a year, and with the exception of periods of illness, he held the post until incapacitated for further work. We find his name intimately associated with the literary doings of the time in Dublin. His wit, learning, liberal Catholicism, and the dignity and suavity of his continental manners, were a ready passport to the best society. We find him editing Alban Butler's posthumous meditations and discourses, and occasionally contributing articles on ecclesiastical history to the Dublin papers, under the signature of "Irenseus." From the time of his appointment he appears to have been privately and steadily working at his Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, from the First Introduction of Christianity among the Irish to the beginning of the Thirteenth Century, which was brought out by subscription in 1822, in 4 vols. 8vo. It was many years after his death before this great work was fully appreciated, as at present, for its wonderful research and its striving after truth. On some questions, such as the origin of the round towers, it does not, nor have we any right to expect that it should, come up to the later discoveries of Petrie, O'Curry, and O'Donovan.

Rev. John O'Hanlon says Lanigan's work "may be considered a chronological arrangement of our principal saints' biographies, with their acts necessarily abridged, while, for the most part, their recorded miracles have been suppressed. .. Dr. Lanigan has contrived to present a clear, consecutive, and recondite history."[192] Premonitions of insanity appeared in 1813, and he was granted leave of absence and tenderly cared for by his sisters at Cashel. Though for a time enabled to resume work, and even to superintend the removal of the Royal Dublin Society's library from Hawkins-street to Kildare-street, softening of the brain gradually settled down on him, and he ultimately became a permanent patient at Dr. Harty's asylum at Finglas. He died 7th July 1828, aged about 70, and was interred in Finglas churchyard, where thirty-three years afterwards a suitable monument was erected to his memory. During the latter years of his life he was so far forgotten that many readers of his History were even ignorant whether he was alive or dead. At one time of a portly form, somewhat resembling Scott in features, he became in his latter years thin, shrivelled, and wasted.

Sources

192. Irish Saints, Life of the: Rev. John O'Hanlon, vol. i. Dublin, N.D.

208. Lanigan, Dr., and Irish Wits and Worthies: William J. FitzPatrick, LL.D. Dublin, 1873.
Lanigan, Rev. John, see No. 119.

« Sir Oliver Lambert | Index | Dionysius Lardner »