Richard Baptist O’Brien (1809-85)

Commentary


Life
b. Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary; ordained [?Maynooth]; worked in Nova Scotia; joined All Hallows Missionary College, Dublin; . PP of Newcastle West, Co. Limerick; and Dean of Limerick, 1859 [var. 1865]; contrib. the Nation (as pseud. “Baptist”), and The Irish Catholic Magazine; fnd. Catholic Young Men’s Society, Limerick 1849, to provide ground for mutual support of Catholic laymen in advancement of their religious interests; novels incl. Jack Hazlitt, AM, serialised in first issues of The Irish Monthly, 1873-74, set in Shannon and America, being the story of a child of a mixed marriage who degenerates morally in consequence of ‘a fine liberal education’;
 
issued Ailey Moore (1856), a novel in which Gerald Moore, a Catholic of good family, is charged with the murder of the landlord Skerin, though actually perpetrated by Snapper, the land-agent whom Gerald’s sister has rebuffed; he also wrote The D’Altons of Crag (1882), a novel of land-troubles prior to 1848, in which a servant is framed for a murder perpetrated by a member of the gentry on a wealthy kinsman; much concerned with Irish people and their priests; in politics a Home Ruler and in religion an anti-liberal ultramontanist in the mould of Pius IX; also wrote religious works. PI IF DIW DIH MKA SUTH OCIL

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Works
[As Fr. Baptist,] Ailey Moore: A Tale of the Times, Showing How the Evictions, Murder And Such-like Pastimes Are Managed and Justice Administered in Ireland, together with many stirring incidents in other lands (London: C. Dolman 1856), 1 vol., 8o, and Do. [3rd edn.] (Dublin: James Duffy 1867); Jack Hazlitt AM, A Hibernian-American Story (Dublin: Jamse Duffy 1875) [“Companion vol. to Ailey Moore”]; The D’Altons of Crag (Dublin: James Duffy 1882).

Miscellaneous, The Rules and Office of the Catholic Young Men's Society founded at Limerick, May 19th, 1849 (Liverpool 1862) [q.p.]; Introduction to [Mary Teresa Austin Carroll,] Life of Catherine McAuley, foundress and first superior of the Institute of Religious Sisters of Mercy, by a member of the Order of Mercy (NY & Montreal: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. 1880).

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Criticism
Michael I. Egan, Life of Dean O’Brien, Founder of the Catholic Young Men’s Society (Gill 1949), 132p.; Edward Manley, ‘Richard Baptist O’Brien, Dean of Limerick (1809-85)’ [M.A. thesis] (NUI Maynooth 1991); James H. Murphy, Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922 (Conn: Greenwood Press 1997), Part I: ‘Upper Middle-Class Fiction 1873-1890’, pp.54-58.

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Commentary
Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 […]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. 1 [Chap. 11; final sect.:] - “Critical Constructions of Nineteenth-century Irish literature”: ‘In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the question “what do the Irish read?” was a recurring topic among literary commentators, in both English and Irish periodicals.’ The large volume of correspondence received by the Freeman’s Journal in March 1886, in response to author and historian Richard Barry O’Brien’s essay on the subject of “The Best Hundred Irish Books”, provides a rich array of answers. O’Brien, writing under the pen name “Historicus”, weighed his choices heavily in favour of historical writing, an emphasis which his many respondents - over forty in total, and including well-known figures such as Justin McCarthy, Matthew Russell, Charlotte Grace O’Brien, William Lecky and Samuel Ferguson - were quick to point out. Novelists qualified for inclusion on O’Brien’s list only because “the novelist who portrays national character and manners is in some degree historian too, and must not be forgotten”. His selections of Edgeworth, Banim, Griffin and Carleton are thus unsurprising; Lever he judged to be entitled to a distinguished place among Irish novelists, “as an artist”, but disqualified from the list of “best Irish” books by his “caricatures” - a dismissal which would become prevalent among critics of Lever over the next decade.’

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Quotations
Jack Hazlitt” (in The Irish Monthly, 1, 1874): ‘The Communists threaten Paris. The republicans hold Spain. The [J]ews and Freemasons hold Austria. Fidelity to conscience is in Switzerland forfeiture of right. Germany whips and robs the expatriates conscinece. Victor Emmanuel has made Rome the grave of conscience and locked the prison door upon the only power on earth that can restore and give healthy activity!’ (p.98; quoted in James H. Murphy, Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922, Conn: Greenwood Press 1997, p.57.)

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The Irish Land Question (1881): ‘“Why do you not forget the past?”, say Englishmen over and over again to us. We answer, because you have never allowed us. By centuries of misrule you have kept alive its bitter memories. It is impossible not to feel that there hangs over the country something like the shadow of the curse of past wrongs.’ (p.5; quoted in Chris Morash, ‘Ever Under Some Unnatural Condition: Bram Stoker and the Colonial Fantastic’, in Morash, ed., Literature and the Supernatural, Lilliput 1996, pp.95-118; p.112.)

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References
Belfast Public Library holds Ailey Moore (1856).

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