Matthew Archdeacon (?1800-53)

Commentary


Life
b. Castlebar, Co. Mayo; became schoolteacher and lived in Castlebar, author of four novels about historical life in Connaught, set predominantly in the eighteenth-century, and involving the activities of Dublin priesthunters viz., Legends of Connaught, Tales (1829), Connaught, A Tale of 1798 (1830), both anonymously;
 
issued Everard, An Irish Tale of 19th century (1835), published by subscription, dealing with Ribbonmen in Connaught during Tithe War and in particular young man of good family who comes down in the world, inveigled into the secret movement by Connor Coleman for the veneer of respectability; he wrote Shawn na Soggarth, The Priest-Hunter (1844), reprinted by Duffy as The Priest Hunter (1844), being a sectarian tragedy enjoining ‘mutual forbearance’;
 
Archdeacon appears to have been a protegé of Lady Morgan but died ‘in destitute circumstances’, 7 Sept. 1853; also issued fugitive verse, some of which is preserved in parts of the novels themselves. IF MKA RAF SUTH OCIL PI DIL

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Works

  • Legends of Connaught, Tales (Dublin: J. Cumming 1829), pp. xv. 406, 8°.;
  • Connaught: A Tale of 1798 (Dublin: J. Taafe for M. Archdeacon 1830), pp.394 [but see details, infra];
  • Everard: An Irish Tale of 19th Century, 3 vols. (Dublin: J. Taafe for M. Archdeacon 1835), 442pp.;
  • Shawn na Soggarth: The Priest-Hunter (Dublin: M. Archdeacon 1844), and Do., rep. as The Priest Hunter (Dublin: James Duffy & Sons 1844; reprinted 1862).

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Bibliographical details
Connaught: A Tale of 1798 (Dublin: Printed for M. Archdeacon, and sold by all Booksellers, 1830), 394p. 8°; incls. 2pp. Prefatory note in which author expresses gratitude for the support received for ‘my first essay at publication’ from his ‘native county’: ‘This will be evident by a glance at the following list of Subscribers, among whom, I am proud to say, there is scarcely a family of any respectability […] one member or more of which is not to be seen. From the humbler classes, too, I have received equal support, with, in many cases, a warmer zeal for my success.’ Lists c.290 ‘Subscribers Names’ on 4pp. Preface dated ‘Castlebar, June 12, 1830' precedes narrative proper; no specific printer information found; collates in fours. [Source: English Novels 1830-36: A Bibliography of British Fiction, at CEIR Cardiff online.]

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Everard: An Irish Tale of the Nineteenth Century. By the Author of Connaught: A Tale of 1798. In Two Volumes (Dublin: Printed for M. Archdeacon, by J. Taaffe, 17, Fownes’s-Street, and sold by all the Booksellers, 1835), Vol. I: iv, 234pp.; Vol. II: 235–422pp., 8°. Copies in BL and TCD Lib. NSTC lists an 1830 edn. in the Bodleian Library but no such edn. has been discovered. ‘List of Subscribers’ (6pp.) at beginning of Vol. 1 incls. 528 names. Preface occupies pp.[i]–iv, and is dated ‘Castlebar, March 3, 1835.’ [Source: English Novels 1830-36: A Bibliography of British Fiction, at CEIR Cardiff online.]

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Commentary
Daithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985): ‘There was, indeed, no lack of romantic and sentimental novels in nineteenth-century Ireland, but the writers on the whole showed little creative talent - opting for either close historical fact or events entirely of their own imagination. The folk image of the her does intrude with beneficial effect in some cases, however. The hunted priest appears in Matthew Archdeacon’s Shawn na Soggarth, braving his bloodthirsty pursuers and suffering martyrdom for his readiness to administer the sacraments.’ (p.315.)

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Quotations
Everard: An Irish Tale of the Nineteenth Century (1835): ‘He easily obtained the agency of one of those vampire absentee landlords, who, provided they can drain the lifeblood from the land, to minister to their luxuries in happier climes, leave, with unparalleled heartlessness, its wretched inhabitants without food, without raiment, and without hope, to wrestle with a lot far more abject than that of ancient slave, or modern negro - or fly to midnight crime for redress or vengeance’. (p.74; quoted by Patrick Maume on Irish Diaspora e-list.)

Note: Maume, who is preparing the RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography entry on Archdeacon, notes that several chapters of Everard are prefaced by epigraphs from Byron's The Giaour (1813), in which occur the following lines cursing the hero-protagonist: ‘But first, on earth as vampire sent, / Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent: / Then ghastly haunt thy native place, / And suck the blood of all thy race; There from thy daughter, sister, wife, / At midnight drain the stream of life; Yet loathe the banquet which perforce / Must feed thy livid living corse: / Thy victims ere they yet expire / Shall know the demon for their sire, / As cursing thee, thou cursing them, / Thy flowers are withered on the stem.’)

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Priest Hunter [Shaun na Soggarth], MDCCCXLIV [1844]), Preface: ‘A people persecuted for their religious faith … an object peculiarly adapted to stir up our deepest sympathies … unswerving zeal … faith of their fathers … a century ago … [no] spirit of bigotry or rancorous acerbity … how little it is to be wondered at … if crime and outrage should have arisen and flourished in the land.’; the ‘vile being’ who serves as the villain of the novel is an example of ‘the polluted state of society that could have produced and fostered so loathsome a reptile’. Note that the epigram is from Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh: ‘Oh, he would rather homeless roam, / Where freedom and his God may lead / Than be the slee[k]est slave at home / That crouches to the conqueror’s creed.’ (q.p.)

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References
Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Legends of Connaught, Tales [ &c] (Dublin: John Cumming 1829), Connaught, A Tale of 1798 (1830), pp.394 [printed for M. Archdeacon], Everard, An Irish Tale of 19th Century, 2 vols. (1835), 442pp., dealing with Ribbonmen in Connaught during Tithe War; young man of good family come down in the world, inveigled into the secret movement by Connor Coleman for the veneer of respectability; Shawn na Soggarth, The Priest Hunter (Dublin: Duffy 1844), set in W. Mayo during Penal Times, highlighting ‘worst aspects of the Penal Code’; concerns efforts of priesthunter John Mullowney to catch Fr. Bernard Kilger, returned from Portugal, and his nephew Friar Bourke of Claregalway; schemes long baffled by pedlar John McCann; tragic fate overtakes Fr. Kilger and retribution overtakes Shawn.

Frederick Boase, Modern English Biography - which gives his obit as 7 Sept. 1853

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British Library holds [1] Everard: An Irish tale of the nineteenth century. By the author of ‘Connaught in 1798’ [i.e. M. Archdeacon]. Dublin: M. Archdeacon 1835. 2 vol.: iv, 422pp. 8o. [2] The Priest Hunter: an Irish tale of the penal times. vi. 367pp. James Duffy: Dublin, 1862. 16o. [3] Connaught, a tale of 1798. [By Matthew Archdeacon.]. 394pp. M. Archdeacon: Dublin, 1830. 8o. [4] Legends of Connaught, Irish stories, &c. &c. By the author of ‘Connaught in 1798’ [i.e. Matthew Archdeacon].. pp. xv. 406. John Cumming: Dublin, 1839. 8o.

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