Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirwan, Walter Blake

KIRWAN, WALTER BLAKE (1754–1805), dean of Killala, was born at Gortha, co. Galway, in 1754. His father being a Roman catholic, he was sent for education in early youth to the jesuit college at St. Omer. At the age of seventeen he went to St. Croix in the West Indies, along with a relative who had large property in that island. The climate did not suit him, the cruelty which he witnessed disgusted him, and after six years' residence he returned to Europe, and went to the university of Louvain, where he took orders, and was appointed professor of natural and moral philosophy. In 1778 he became chaplain to the Neapolitan ambassador at the British court, and the eloquence of the sermons which he preached in London in this capacity attracted marked attention. In 1787 he left the Roman catholic church, and on 24 June of that year preached his first sermon to a protestant congregation in St. Peter's Church, Dublin, where for some time he continued to officiate every Sunday, immediately taking rank as a pulpit orator of singular power. His services were eagerly sought for charity sermons, and the churches in which he preached had to be defended against the pressure of the crowds by guards and palisades. It was not uncommon for collections amounting to 1,000l. or 1,200l. to be taken up on such occasions, jewellery and gold watches being frequently laid upon the plates. In 1789 Kirwan was collated by the Archbishop of Dublin to the prebend of Howth, and was in the same year preferred to the living of St. Nicholas Without in the city of Dublin. In 1800 he was appointed dean of Killala. He died at his house, Mount Pleasant, near Dublin, on 27 Oct. 1805. His wife, Wilhelmina, youngest daughter of Goddard Richards of Grange, co. Wexford, whom he had married 22 Sept. 1798, survived him, with two sons—one of whom, Antony la Touche Kirwan, became afterwards dean of Limerick—and two daughters. His widow was granted by the crown a pension of 300l. per annum for life, with reversion to her daughters.

A volume of Kirwan's sermons was published posthumously, London, 1816.

[Memoir prefixed to Sermons.]

T. H.