Rev. Philip Skelton

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Skelton, Philip, Rev., author and philanthropist, was born in the parish of Derryaghy, near Lisburn, in February 1706-'7. His father was a farmer, gunsmith, and tanner. Philip entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar, under Dr. Delany, in 1724, passed through his course with credit, commenced Bachelor of Arts in 1728, and was shortly afterwards ordained on being nominated to a curacy at Drummully, near Newtownbutler. In addition to the duties of the cure, he taught the children of his rector, Dr. Samuel Madden, known as "Premium Madden." In 1732 he obtained a curacy at Monaghan, at £40 a year; in 1750 was given the vicarage of Pettigo, a remote and then very uncivilized parish in Donegal; in 1759 he was removed to the parish of Devenish, near Enniskillen, worth £300 a year; and in 1766 made his last change to Fintona, in the County of Tyrone. Mr. Skelton was never married. He was the author of numerous sermons which had a large circulation, and of Deism Revealed, an important work, published in London in 1749. He had previously published Some Proposals for the Revival of Christianity, which was attributed to Swift. His sermons were warmly commended by Wesley and other divines, and were as eagerly listened to by London audiences as by his own simple parishioners.

Clapham says: "In his reasoning he is as clear as Sherlock, in his warnings as solemn as Seeker, in his piety as engaging as Porteus, and in his exhortations as vehement as Demosthenes." One who heard him at St. Werburgh's, Dublin, tells how he was made to "shiver in his place," at his description of the torments of hell. He was bitterly opposed to all dissent, yet was the friend of Wesley when he visited Ireland to preach. In character he was simple and chivalrously honest. In manners he was outspoken, if not uncouth and rude, and he was careless in his dress. His biographer says, "he was of large gigantic size." He was an adept at cudgels and the use of his fists, and was not backward in the use of either when he considered occasion required — whether to chastise the insolence of a young officer, to protect the property of his parishioners, or to pretend to destroy an evil spirit about which a sick old woman consulted him. His whole life was one of self-devotion. He lived on the sparest diet. Even when he had but £40 a year, he devoted a large part of his stipend to the relief of the suffering poor. His books were almost his sole amusement; yet he sold them to relieve the poor in a period of famine, and when an admirer sent him money to buy them back he devoted it also to the purchase of food for those in want. He was extremely fond of flowers, and would send twenty miles for a curious specimen. Philip Skelton died in Dublin (whither he had gone on account of a painful ailment), 4th May 1787, aged 80, and was buried in St. Peter's churchyard. His Life by Samuel Burdy, is a most entertaining work, illustrative of the semi-civilized condition of parts of Ireland during the eighteenth century.

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

305a. Skelton, Rev. Philip, Memoirs: Samuel Burdy, A.B. London, 1816.

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