Archbishop of tuam and Irish patriot; b. Tubberna-vine, County Mayo, March 6, 1791; d. Tuam, County Galway, Nov. 4, 1881. He was the son of Patrick MacHale, a tenant farmer and innkeeper of Tirawley, County Mayo, and Mary (Mulchiarian) Mac-Hale. His native tongue was Gaelic and his primary education was at the local hedge school. The uprising of 1798 in Ireland, particularly the execution of Andrew Conroy, the priest who had baptized him, fired young MacHale's patriotism. After studying at the preparatory school in Castlebar (1803–07), he was granted a scholarship at St. Patrick's College, maynooth, the national seminary. MacHale excelled in theology and languages and lectured in theology while still a subdeacon. He was ordained in 1814 and then taught theology at Maynooth as an assistant and later as a professor (1814–25).
In 1820 he began a series of letters that appeared in various newspapers. Under the pseudonym "Hieropolis" he articulated the discontent of many Irish Catholics concerning the established Church of Ireland and the system of vestry taxes and tithes paid by Catholics to support its clergy and church edifices. MacHale appealed for Catholic emancipation and the repeal of the political union of Great Britain and Ireland. This series of letters attracted the notice of Daniel o'connell; soon MacHale became one of his most prominent allies. In 1825 MacHale became coadjutor bishop of Killala, but he continued to participate in the agitation for emancipation. He was instrumental in breaking the stranglehold of a Tory family, the Brownes, on the political life of County Mayo (1826). MacHale was constantly involved in controversies over the Protestant Bible societies and proselytism among the tenant farmers. In 1830 he wrote open letters to Charles Grey, the prime minister, seeking famine relief and describing the hardships inflicted by the decline of the linen trade and by the exorbitant rents paid by Irish tenant farmers. He also joined a delegation to impress upon the prime minister the urgency of conditions in western Ireland.
MacHale began the construction of a cathedral in Ballina (1827), but in 1831 poor health compelled him to reside in Rome, where he won the friendship and confidence of Pope Gregory XVI. He became bishop of Killala (May 1834), but in July he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Tuam, despite strong governmental opposition because of his fiery nationalism. His vigorous denunciations of London's neglect and maladministration of Ireland and his enthusiastic advocacy of Irish culture and the use of the Irish language gave some credibility to beliefs that he was anti-English. The English Catholic Lords Clifford and Shrewsbury engaged in a bitter newspaper controversy with him over the fairness of his criticisms (1835). Although MacHale disagreed with O'Connell on many points, he approved the latter's agitation for repeal of the Act of Union of 1801 and for the establishment of an Irish parliament in Dublin. However, MacHale disapproved of the violent methods of Young Ireland. During the terrible famine of 1847 he was indefatigable in seeking relief for his starving flock by appealing abroad for assistance and by urging the government to more effective measures. His episcopal residence became a center for distributing food. This experience strengthened his interest in the tenants right movement and in the Irish Land League as means of alleviating the situation.
MacHale's persistent opposition to any system of education that mixed Catholic with Protestant children and that excluded the teaching of religion led to the rejection by the Irish hierarchy of the plans for national schools and queen's colleges as advocated by the governments of Robert Peel and John Russell (1847–50). Within his own archdiocese, MacHale laid the foundation for a Catholic school system by utilizing the Irish Christian Brothers, Third Order Regulars of St. Francis, and Sisters of Mercy. MacHale's views prevailed in Rome, although they did not have the assent of all the Irish bishops. At the Synod of Thurles (1850) MacHale joined forces with Paul cullen, Archbishop of Armagh (later of Dublin), to win a majority of one vote in favor of rejecting the government's educational system and forbidding Catholic attendance and cooperation. In 1869 the Irish hierarchy formally condemned the system of mixed education, and Pius IX ratified their decision. MacHale also approved the projected Catholic University in Dublin, but his opposition to the selection of John Henry newman as first rector and to Newman's management was in good part responsible for the failure of the plan.
After 1854 MacHale's influence on the Irish hierarchy and in Rome declined as Cullen's grew. The archbishop of Tuam was considered too independent and too immoderate. In his declining years, he withdrew completely from political controversy. At vatican council i he was among the minority of bishops who considered a solemn definition of papal primacy and infallibility inopportune, but he accepted the conciliar decisions without difficulty.
Among the Irish-speaking people of Connaught, MacHale was cherished for his kindness, charity, and zeal for their spiritual and material welfare. His practice each Sunday was to preach in Gaelic, and he used this language regularly in addressing his flock. He published poems, textbooks, catechisms, prayerbooks, and devotional works in Gaelic; but his most significant publications were his translations of the Pentateuch (1861) and Homer's Iliad (1841–71). The archbishop was austere, energetic, and industrious. Not until 1879, when he was 88 years old, did he receive a coadjutor to aid him in administering the see. At the age of 90 he preached regularly at Sunday Mass.
Bibliography: u. j. bourke, The Life and Times of the Most Rev. John MacHale (Baltimore 1882). o. j. burke, The History of the Catholic Archbishops of Tuam (Dublin 1882). b. o'reilly, John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, 2 v. (New York 1890). e. a. d'alton, History of the Archdiocese of Tuam, 2 v. (Dublin 1928). n. costello, John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam (Dublin 1939), lists MacHale's pubs. in the Irish lang. j. f. broderick, "The Holy See and the Irish Movement for the Repeal of the Union with England," Analecta Gregoriana 55 (1951). n. moore, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900) 12:550–552.
[p. k. egan]
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