Kirwan, Francis (DNB00)


KIRWAN, FRANCIS (1589–1661), bishop of Killala, the son of Matthew Kirwan and Juliana Lynch, was born at Galway in 1589, and educated there at a school kept by his maternal uncle, Arthur Lynch. He afterwards studied at Lisbon, and was ordained priest in Ireland in 1614. Next year he went to France, and taught philosophy at Dieppe. He returned to Ireland in 1620 with a commission as vicar-general from Florence Conry, archbishop of Tuam, and remained in charge of his diocese for nine years, during which he laboured incessantly, not only in the more settled districts, but in the wild Connaught mountains and in the oceanic islands. He was often accompanied by jesuits, and became much attached to the society. Conry died in 1629, but his successor, Malachy O'Queely, retained Kirwan as his vicar. In 1637 or 1638 he went again to France, spending some time at Rennes, Rouen, and Caen, and at Paris, where he became intimate with St. Vincent de Paul, but he did not escape abuse from some Irish students, whom he vainly endeavoured to organise for a mission to their own country. The nolo episcopari was genuine in his mouth, but even in his own despite he was consecrated bishop of Killala at St. Lazaire on 7 May 1645. Thirteen bishops, fifteen abbots, and thirty doctors of the Sorbonne were present. Kirwan's books and altar furniture were captured by pirates, but he himself reached Ireland safely and made his way to Kilkenny, where Rinuccini was then resident as nuncio, and took possession of his own see on 5 Oct. 1646. He joined Rinuccini in rejecting Ormonde's peace (June 1646), which left the future position of the Roman catholics mainly dependent on the king's will; but in the nuncio's later struggle with the supreme council—virtually one between the Celtic and the Anglo-Irish party—he sided with the latter and with Archbishop De Burgo of Tuam, who during the interdict forced a passage through the roof of the collegiate church at Galway, ‘and himself, with the Bishop of Killala, celebrated mass there’ (Rinuccini, Embassy in Ireland, Engl. transl. p. 468). Kirwan was afterwards sorry for his resistance to papal or quasi-papal authority, and sued for absolution, which was readily given (Cardinal Moran, Spicilegium Ossoriense, ii. 175). He took an active part in the last struggles of the Irish in Connaught, and in the abortive negotiations with the Duke of Lorraine (Ponce, Vindiciæ Eversæ, Paris, 1653), and was on intimate terms with Clanricarde. He also worked in his own diocese from 1649 to 1652, in which year he became a fugitive, and underwent great hardships. Fearing to bring trouble on those who sheltered him, he surrendered in 1654, and after fourteen months' imprisonment was allowed to retire to France. He reached Nantes in August 1655, and spent the remainder of his life in Brittany, where charitable people, and even the provincial states, provided for the Irish exiles. He died at Rennes on 27 Aug. 1661, and was buried with great pomp in the jesuit church there, having been allowed to enrol himself in the society when at the point of death. His relics were long believed to have worked miracles. Kirwan was a thorough ascetic, never sparing himself either in purse or person, and self-condemned to the scourge and the horsehair shirt, but cheerful and pleasant nevertheless. He loved to make peace among those committed to his charge, and some of his awards show considerable humour. A man who had put away his wife called upon the bishop to confirm the arrangement, but Kirwan found her innocent, and ordered him to take her back on pain of eternal damnation. ‘I can,’ said the man, ‘bear the flames of hell better than my wife's company.’ The bishop told him to begin by putting his hand into the candle; but a few seconds of this foretaste sufficed, and the couple were reconciled. Finding many gamblers among the priests, Kirwan ordered them to restore all they had won, at the same time forbidding other winners to make restitution to them. His opponents respected him, his people loved him, and he made friends wherever he went.

[A life of Kirwan by his nephew, John Lynch, archdeacon of Tuam, and author of Cambrensis Eversus, was published at St. Malo in 1669, under the title of Pii antistitis Icon, &c. This was reprinted at Dublin in 1848, with a translation and notes by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, who published a second edition (much improved) in 1884. See also a Contemporary Hist. of Affairs in Ireland, and a Hist. of the Confederation and War in Ireland, both edited by Mr. J. T. Gilbert, and the three books mentioned above.]

R. B-l.