O'Beirne, Thomas Lewis (DNB00)


O'BEIRNE, THOMAS LEWIS (1748?–1823), divine and pamphleteer, born at Farnagh, co. Longford, about 1748, received his first education at the diocesan school of Ardagh. His father, a Roman catholic farmer, then sent him with his brother John to St. Omer to complete his training for the priesthood. John remained in the paternal creed, but Thomas adopted protestant views; and it is said that the two brothers, with their opposite forms of belief, afterwards ministered in the same Irish parish. In 1776 O'Beirne was appointed chaplain in the fleet under Lord Howe. While with the fleet in America he preached a striking discourse at St. Paul's, New York, the only church which was preserved from the flames during the calamitous fire of September 1776. On his return to England, when the conduct of the brothers Howe was condemned, O'Beirne vindicated their proceedings in ‘A Candid and Impartial Narrative of the Transactions of the Fleet under Lord Howe. By an Officer then serving in the Fleet, 1779.’ About this time he became acquainted with some of the whig leaders, and wrote in their interest in the journals of the day. George Croly, in the ‘Personal History of George IV,’ i. 156, &c., attributes the connection to a chance meeting of O'Beirne with the Duke of Portland and Fox in a country inn. In the early months of 1780 he contributed to a daily newspaper a series of articles as ‘a country gentleman’ against Lord North. The first six were reprinted in a pamphlet, and an abstract of the others was inserted in Almon's ‘Anecdotes,’ iii. 53–107, 116–22 (cf. Almon, iii. 108–16).

At this time the pen of O'Beirne was never idle. He supported the cause of the whigs in three anonymous pamphlets: (1) ‘A Short History of the Last Session of Parliament,’ 1780; (2) ‘Considerations on the Late Disturbances, by a Consistent Whig,’ 1780; (3) ‘Considerations on the Principles of Naval Discipline and Courts-martial, in which the Doctrines of the House of Commons and the Conduct of the Courts-martial on Admiral Keppel and Sir Hugh Palliser are compared,’ 1781. For the theatre of Drury Lane he adapted from the French play of the ‘Dissipateur,’ by Destouches, a comedy entitled ‘The Generous Impostor,’ which was acted at Drury Lane for seven nights from 22 Nov. 1780, and printed in 1781 with a dedication to the whig beauties, Mrs. Greville and Mrs. Crewe (Genest, English Stage, vi. 177–8). He assisted the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire in translating and adapting for the English stage two dramas from the French; but they met with no success. He was also the author of an ‘Ode’ to Lord Northampton, and of some of the minor contributions to the ‘Rolliad,’ the chief of which was the fourteenth ‘Probationary Ode.’

In 1782 O'Beirne attended the Duke of Portland, the viceroy of Ireland, as chaplain and private secretary, and he held the post of private secretary to the duke in 1783, when that statesman became the first lord of the treasury. On his last day of office the duke gave him two valuable livings, one in Northumberland and the other in Cumberland, both of which he resigned in 1791, on obtaining from the Archbishop of Tuam, through the ducal interest, the rich benefices of Temple-Michael and Mohill. The degree of B.D. was conferred upon him from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1783; but there is no information about him in the college books, although, according to Rose's ‘Biographical Dictionary,’ he dwelt there for some time under the tutorship of Watson, afterwards bishop of Llandaff. He is said to have held the college living of Grendon, and to have received from the lord chancellor the rectory of West Deeping in Lincolnshire.

On the defeat of the Portland ministry O'Beirne withdrew to France, and dwelt for a time at Aubigny, the Duke of Richmond's seat. But in 1785 he again rushed into English politics, with an anonymous pamphlet called ‘A Gleam of Comfort to this Distracted Empire, in despite of Faction, Violence, and Cunning.’ When Pitt attempted to establish a commercial system with Ireland, a pamphlet on ‘The Proposed System of Trade with Ireland Explained,’ which was attributed to George Rose, was answered by O'Beirne in ‘A Reply to the Treasury Pamphlet,’ 1785. His whig friends did not forget his services, and in December 1794 he accompanied Lord Fitzwilliam to Ireland as his first chaplain and private secretary, being rewarded by the bishopric of Ossory, to which he was consecrated at Christ Church, Dublin, on 1 Feb. 1795. When Fitzwilliam ceased to be the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, his conduct was defended by O'Beirne in the Irish House of Peers in a speech which was highly applauded. By patent dated 18 Dec. 1798 he was translated to the see of Meath, and remained there until his death. He made an admirable prelate, appointing to vacant benefices on the ground of merit, enforcing personal residence, aiding in the revival of the office of rural deans, and insisting upon the stricter examination of candidates for ordination (Mant, History of Church of Ireland, ii. 736–41). Numerous letters to and from him in the earlier volumes of the ‘Castlereagh Correspondence’ mainly relate to projects for more closely uniting the churches of England and Ireland, or for controlling the education of the Roman catholic clergy.

The bishop died at Lee House, Ardbraccan, Navan, on 17 Feb. 1823, aged 75, and was buried in Ardbraccan churchyard, in the same vault with Bishop Pococke (Cogan, Meath Diocese, ii. 259). During his episcopacy of Meath fifty-seven churches and seventy-two glebe-houses were built. He married, at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 1 Nov. 1783, Jane, only surviving child of the Hon. Francis Stuart, third son of the seventh Earl of Moray, and had issue one son and two daughters.

Very high praise is given by Edward Mangin [q. v.] in ‘Piozziana,’ pp. 137–9, to the bishop's style of preaching, both for matter and manner. His voice was of exquisite modulation, and the effect was heightened by a ‘pale and penetrating face, with long flowing snow-white locks. O'Beirne's poem on ‘The Crucifixion,’ 1776, did not augment his reputation. He also issued many single sermons, addresses, and episcopal charges. Three volumes of his collected sermons were published—the first in 1799, the second in 1813, and the last in 1821. So long as his vigour lasted the bishop continued the issue of controversial tracts. Among them were: 1. ‘A Letter to Dr. Troy, titular Archbishop of Dublin, on the Coronation of Bonaparte by Pope Pius the Seventh,’ 1805, which was signed Melanchthon. 2. ‘A Letter from an Irish Dignitary to an English Clergyman on the subject of Tithes in Ireland’ (anon.), 1807; reprinted 1822. 3. A letter to Canning on his proposed motion for catholic emancipation (anon.), 1812. 4. ‘A Letter to the Earl of Fingal, by the Author of the Letter to Mr. Canning’ (anon.), 1813.

[Gent. Mag. 1783 pt. ii. p. 978, 1822 pt. i. p. 471, 1823 pt. i. p. 276; Cotton's Fasti Eccl. Hib. ii. 288–9, iii. 123–4, v. 159; Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 417–18; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. vii. 55; Cogan's Meath Diocese, iii. 355–7; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 129–30; Webb's Irish Biography; Beloe's Sexagenarian, ii. 170–4; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 242, iii. 130–1; Almon's Anecdotes, i. 95–100; Halkett and Laing's Anon. Literature, i. 484, 487, 1004, 1016, 1355, 1394, 2369; Georgian Era, i. 516–518.]

W. P. C.