National Biography No. VII: John Lynch, R.C. Bishop of Killala

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 44, April 27, 1833

SIR--Observing in your 41st Number, in the essay on the Fine Arts, p. 326, an allusion to John Lynch, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Killala, and author of the celebrated answer to Giraldus Cambrensis's satirical and prejudiced writings concerning Ireland, I suppose it may not be unacceptable to your readers to receive a more detailed report of this worthy, learned, and pious man; and all I regret is, that my account is still so meagre, and that so little is handed down by cotemporary writers concerning a man whom all parties were forced to respect, and reverence, and to whose authority not only Roman Catholic, but Protestant writers refer with admiration and confidence. Of English extraction, he was born in the town of Galway, and educated there; in due time, he became a Secular Priest, and subsequently conducted a school in his native town; which, under his learned direction, became the most eminent seminary for the acquisition of the learned languages in the Province of Connaught. If the story be true which is recorded in your 41st Number, and if the learned Usher did attempt to oppress and silence a brother scholar, it only shews how difficult it is, for even great minds, to rise above the faults and prejudices of their time, and how sore an evil intolerance is under the sun, when it could cast its cloud over such a mind as Usher's. At the breaking out of the great rebellion of 1641, we find Lynch a Dignitary of his church, and highly respected as R. C. Archdeacon of Tuam. When the differences arose amongst the Roman Catholics, concerning the censures of the Papal Nuncio Rinuccini, he joined with those that opposed the Italian prelate, and desired to adhere to the peace made with the Marquis of Ormond, in the years 1646, and 1648. In taking this part, Archdeacon Lynch only sided with some of the worthiest and most patriotic of his time, and his name comes down to us in company with such men as Beling, Caron, Walsh, Roth, and Dease, &c. &c. Moreover, Lynch has the rare merit of always in his writings speaking in the most charitable way of those with whom he differed in politics; and even while manfully opposed to Rinuccini in his public acts, he bore unaffected testimony to the private worth of that ecclesiastic; and, therefore, it is that ail Irishmen may willingly subscribe to what Dr. Charles O'Conor says--"that Lynch ever maintained in public as in private life, the steadiness of his attachment to the Catholic faith, while the learning which he displays in all his writings, and the unbounded veneration with which his memory is regarded by his countrymen, place him beyond the reach of all vile imputations." When the cause of the Roman Catholics was ruined as much by their own disputes and divisions as by the arms of Cromwell, and when Galway surrendered to the Parliamentary army in 1652, Lynch went to France and resided at St. Maloes, where he published most of his works; there he wrote under the signature of Eudoxius Alinithologius, two treatises in answer to Richard O'Ferral, a Capuchin Friar, who endeavoured to prove that the ancient Milesian Irish were the only true Catholics of Ireland, and that the Anglo-Irish, whom he styles noviores Hiberni, were favourers of heresy, because they asserted the King of England's sovereignty over Ireland and denied the Pope's temporal power therein. This, Lynch strenuously denied; and he ably shewed that an Irishman might be a good Catholic and sound Christian without mixing up his faith with human politics, or meddling with the Pope's temporal assumptions. It would be foreign, I know, to the purpose of your non-political Journal to enter further on the merits of this able reply of Archdeacon Lynch, which is now extremely rare--indeed, so much so, that no public library in Ireland possesses a copy of it, and some years ago a mutilated copy of the last portion of it was sold at an auction in Dublin, to an English nobleman for £14.

The work by which Lynch got most fame, was his celebrated answer to Gerald Barry, commonly called Cambrensis, who, coming over here in the year 1185, as Chaplain to King John, wrote two works on Ireland, one a topography of the island, and the other what he quaintly and absurdly called a vaticinal history of its conquest.--The Welchman--though learned according to the lore of his time--was certainly very unfit to give a correct history or honest description of Ireland; because he was a person of inordinate vanity, extremely credulous in adopting the information of others, and very dishonest in wresting that information to serve his own preconceived views and theories; ever willing to sacrifice truth to produce effect, and delighting in a style full of quibbles and jingling conceits. The extent of his vanity may be measured by the display he made at Oxford, on his return from Ireland: where he not only entertained the whole University by reading for three days successively, his topography of Ireland, but also by feasting for the same period, the doctors, the scholars and the townsmen, who were perhaps as much pleased with his English cheer, as with his Irish wonders. These absurd writings of Gerald Barry, where truth is sacrificed to rhetorical flourishes, but which are at the same time extremely interesting as the first works written by a foreigner expressly on Ireland, naturally called forth the indignant reprehension of sundry natives of Ireland. Philip O'Sullivan, author of that very prejudiced but elegant piece of Latinity, the Catholic history of Ireland, took Cambrensis to task, and lashed him in a work called Zoilomastix.--Stephen White, a Jesuit, also took up his pen, and in a historical treatise, refuted the fables and gross misrepresentations of the Welchman. But with far more effect, and with infinitely greater learning and research, Archdeacon Lynch, during his banishment from his native land, defended the honor of his country, and has not only refuted Barry, but has given one of the most rational and ample accounts of the ancient state of Ireland, as to its civilization, government, and literature, that exists. It has been said of Lynch, that the prior work of the Jesuit White was in his hands, but so imperfect as to be unfit for the press, and that Lynch only enlarged on it and then adopted it as his own. This insinuation cannot now be substantiated; but it certainly is not in accordance with the upright character of our author, and perhaps it has been urged against him in revenge for the similar charge which he had brought against Cambrensis of having possessed himself of, and then destroyed, many of the ancient Annals of Ireland.--Lynch published his great work, the Cambrensis Eversus, under the feigned name of Gratianus Lucius. It is like the Alinithologia, extremely rare, and its rarity is accounted for, by its being printed in London though written at St Maloes; and immediately after the impression was struck off, the fire in London took place, and the greater part of it was consumed; a copy now very seldom comes to sale, and when it does, brings a price of from £30 to £40. In the year 1795, Mr. Theophilus O'Flanagan commenced a translation, in which he proceeded no further than the epistle dedicatory, and the two first chapters, and there, for want of encouragement, the attempt came to a close. It certainly is to be regretted, that a faithful translation has not been given of this work, which though not exactly a history of Ireland, contains an immense mass of information concerning the antiquities, learning, and the arts of the ancient Irish. If it ever should be translated, it is to be hoped, that the person attempting it, will altogether abstain from modem political remarks and angry annotations. Perhaps O'Flanagan's book failed of encouragement in consequence of his indulging in observations which marked him out as a party man. Lynch, besides the the works already quoted, wrote the following: A letter to Monsieur Boileau, proving that the Scoti who first taught in the Universities of Paris and Oxford were Irish and not Albanian Scots. This, in fact, was but an enlargement of the 17th chapter of his Cambrensis Eversus. Bishop Nicholson in his Irish Historical Library, says he saw in MS. a work of Lynch's entitled--"A Collection of Choice Flowers, gathered out of several of the most authentic annals of the kingdom, beginning at the year 1200, and continued to 1513, inclusive." Nicholson remarks, concerning this treatise, that the collector was a person of such accuracy and skill, and niceness of taste in the histories of Ireland, that the reader may rest assured that his statements are correct, and that no matter of great moment has escaped his notice. Where is this manuscript now deposited? Nicholson says that a Mr. John Conry was in possession of it and others when he compiled his Historical Library.

The only other work mentioned of Lynch's, is the life and death of D. F. Kirwan, Bishop of Killala; this was printed at St. Maloes, in the year 1669, and is equally scarce with his other works. A copy of it was in Marsh's library; but it, together with many other scarce and valuable works, was stolen out of it some years ago.

After remaining some years abroad, until Cromwell's tyranny was overpast, and until the severe laws against the Roman Catholics were relaxed by Charles the Second, the venerable Lynch returned to his native land; and as a just reward for his piety, patriotism, and learning, was nominated to the See of Killala.

We can only add, that he was an intimate friend and correspondent of Roderick O'Flaherty, author of the Ogygia, and of the celebrated Dudley M'Firbis, the last of the hereditary antiquaries of Lecan, who furnished him with much important historic matter from the writings of his ancestors, which latter circumstance proves the genuineness of the sources whence he had derived his historic information, and adds great importance to his works. It is to be lamented that so little is really known of such an excellent man. Perhaps amongst his own family, in Connaught, there may exist memorials and traditional anecdotes of him, which, this short and imperfect notice may tend to elicit--perhaps his relation, Sir Francis Lynch Blosse, may have materials for a fuller and more satisfactory life of one who does so much credit to his name; if so, it is to be hoped, that as there is no one more able, he will be equally willing to give his information to the public, and satisfy it respecting one, whom both Protestants and Roman Catholics are entitled to regard. It is said that the house in which Lynch taught humanity is still standing in Galway. If so, what a subject it would be for a wood cut.

R. Y.