[Fr.] Arthur O’Leary

Life
1729-1802; Capuchin friar, chaplain to prisoners in France, 1756-62; pamphlets exhorted Irish to be loyal to British rule; defended Catholics against Wesley, 1780; Essay on Toleration (1781); chaplain to Volunteers, but received Govt. payment for secrets of disaffected Catholics; Addresses to the Common People of Ireland (1785-86); opposed Whiteboys in Munster; chaplain to Spanish Embassy in London; he preached in Soho. RR ODNB JMC

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Works
  • Miscellaneous Tracts by the Rev. Arthur O’Leary (Dublin 1781); Do. [3rd edn., enl. and corr.] (London: H. Reynall, for P. Keating 1782) 8°.;
  • A Defence of the Conduct and Writings of the Rev Arthur O’Leary [ ...] written by himself (London: for P. Keating M.DCC.LXXXVII [1787]);
  • Rev. Arthur O’Leary’s Address to the Lords ... of the Parliament of Great Britain, to which is annexed an account of Sir Henry Mildmay’s Bill Relative to Nuns (London: printed by Sampson Low for J. Booker 1800) 8°.
See also Michael Bernard Buckley, Life and Writings of the Rev. Arthur O’Leary (Dublin: James Duffy & Co, 1868), 410pp.;

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Criticism
Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.457; M[ichael] B[ernard] Buckley, Life and Writings of the Rev. Arthur O’Leary (Dublin: Duffy 1868), 410pp.; James Wills, The Irish Nation, Its History and Biography (1871) [see extract].

See also Gerard Moran, Radical Irish Priests 1660-1970 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1998), 224pp.

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Commentary
Lady Morgan
In The Wild Irish Girl, Sydney Owenson [later Lady Morgan] recounts a conversation in Cork between Robert Owenson and the ‘celebrated Dr O’Leary’ in which the latter told her father ‘the latter said he had once intended to have written a history of Ireland’, adding—
 

‘[...] but in truth I found after various researches, that I could not give such a history as I would wish should come from my pen, without visiting the Continent, more particularly Rome, where alone the best documents for the history of Ireland are to be had. But it is now too late in the day for me to think of such a journey, or such exertions as the task would require.’

 
The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Letter XXV; see digital copy in RICORSO Library, ‘Irish Classics’, infra.
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James Hardiman refers to ‘Curran, Sheridan, O’Leary, and others, in the foremost ranks of mankind’, in Introduction, Irish Minstrelsy (1831), Vol. I: Introduction, p.xxv.

Sir John Gilbert, History of the City of Dublin (1867), writes, ‘Richard Woodward, minister at St. Werburgh’s [...] acquired notoriety by his pamphlet reflecting on the principles of Roman Catholics, which was vigorously assailed and exposed by the able and facetious Arthur O’Leary.’ ( Vol. I, p.34.)

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James Wills, The Irish Nation, Its History & Its Biography, 4 vols. (London 1871), 381-82: ‘[...] O’Leary, with the practical good sense of his character, spoke and acted with courage and clear discrimination. He endeavoured to prevail on his countrymen to take advantage of the favourable disposition of their rulers, by conforming themselves to the essential conditions of the constitution, and showed them the contradiction of asking for the immunities and privileges of a State the authority of which they rejected. / In a tract entitled “Loyalty Asserted” he endeavoured to maintain that the Roman Catholics might conscientiously swear that the Pope had no temporal authority in Ireland. In this he was strenuously opposed by his brethren. It is now superfluous to discuss the value of the proposed concession. / It is evident, from all the writings of O’Leary, that he was a man of a clear and liberal understanding, who saw the real position and wants of his unfortunate country, and did all that lay in his power to breathe peace and right-mindedness. His efforts were on some occasions successful in repressing the spirit of grievous outrage; and it was admitted by the Government that he did much good and prevented much mischief. / But the cloud of prejudices, the irritation of discontent, and the excitement of republican agitation, grew beyond the power of human influence. A man like O’Leary could not, in such an interval as the period of the Tones, Russells, &c.’ (For longer extract, see attached.) [Wills’s Irish Nation is available at Internet Archive, online; accessed 15.11.2009.]

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William Farrell makes incidental reference to Fr. O’Leary in his autobiography, while speaking about the folly of the United Irishmen’s secret oath: ‘It is really astonishing now no writer of ability stepped forward to sound the alarm and put people on their guard. A Swift or an O’Leary would have done it, but we had neither, though I must own that it was carried on with such secrecy and spread with such rapidity that it would be [29] very difficult for the general impression was that the words “I will persevere in endeavouring to form a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of all religious persuasions” implied that they were bound by the oath to exert themselves in gaining over as many as they could and swearing them in to the Society, and on this acount it spread in every direction like wild-fire.’ (Carlow in ’98, Autobiography of William Farrell of Carlow, ed in Roger McHugh, Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1949, p.30-31.)

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R. E. & C. Ward, Letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, ed (1988), quotes Charles O’Conor in a letter to John Curry: ‘Mr O’Leary of Cork might be called into our Society ...’ (1 Oct. 1777; p.350); also, Letter to Charles Ryan: ‘I have not yet seen our friend’s Mr O’Leary’s book. I expect much from it and hope that has exhausted the subject that made me uneasy on the perusal of Dr Woodward’s book.’ (28 Mar. 1787; ibid., p.484).

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Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Gerard O’Brien (1989), remarks that an interesting note in [Buckley’s] Life of O’Leary (pp.138-39) quotes Lord Tyrawley as saying to Lord Kenmare in 1779, that Grattan voted against the Catholics in 1778 at the behest of Lord Charlemont, his borough patron, but he added, “In future you will have him with you; and he will be a powerful champion in your cause.” The Life of O’Leary is also cited in Wall, p.195, n.11, giving Lord Kenmare’s opinion of Fitzgibbon as chief opponent of the Relief Act of 1782. Further, Wall quotes Archbishop Butler’s description of Grattan in Life of O’Leary (p.281) as being ‘all in all with the Catholics’ at this time. (Wall, idem.).

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G. C. Duggan, Stage Irishman [ &c.] (Dublin: Talbot Press 1937), retaling Arthur Murphy’s account of Fr. O’Leary’s response to Dr. Johnson’s charge of ignorance of ancient languages. ‘A Fr. O’Leary, a well-known play-goer from Dublin, had asked Arthur Murphy for an introduction to the famous Doctor. When the visitor arrived in his rooms, Johnson at once addressed him volubly in Hebrew either because he thought it a complimentary way of speaking to a priest, or because he had a low opinion of Catholic scholarship. Fr. O’Leary was forced to confess, “Faith, sir, never a word I know of what you’ve said.” Dr. Johnson turned to Murphy and said, “this is a pretty fellow you’ve brought hither. Sir, he doesn’t comprehend the primitive language.” Father O’Leary then addressed Johnson at length in Irish, and, seeing the Englishman’s puzzled expression, said to Murphy, “This is a pretty fellow to whom you’ve brought me that doesn’t understand the language of the sister kingdom”, and left the room. [Murphy, Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson (1792); Duggan, q.p.]

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Quotations
Address to the Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland (Dublin 1799): In this pamphlet O’Leary, states that the Union would end all religious disqualification and national jealousies (p.99; quoted in Dáire Keogh, ‘Catholic responses to the Act of Union', in Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, ed. Keogh & Kevin Whelan, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.165.)

Anti-sectarian: responding to the events of 1798, Fr. O’Leary enjoined ‘Christians of every denomination to lay aside the destructive weapons which frenzy has so often put into their hands’ in order that ‘the sacred name of religion, which even in the face of an enemy discovers a brother’ should not ‘any longer be a wall of separation to keep us asunder.’ (Quoted in a review of Gerard Moran, Radical Irish Priests, in Books Ireland, Nov. 1998, pp.297-98.)

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References
Patrick Kennedy, Modern Irish Anecdotes (London: Routledge 1872), contains stories of “Fr. O’Leary”, viz., “Choice of a Religion”; “A Wilful Mistake”; “A Friend in Court”; “The Bear that Spoke Irish”.

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives ‘a Plea for Liberty of Conscience’ and some anecdotes.

D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); cites Rev. Michael Bernard Buckley (Remains, with mem. ed. Rev. Charles Davis, 1874), as poet, lecturer and biographer of Rev. Arthur O’Leary [n.d.].

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Libraries & Booksellers
Belfast Central Public Library holds M. B. Buckley, Life and Writings of the Rev. Arthur O’Leary (Dublin: Duffy 1868), 410pp.

Hyland Books (Cat. 224) lists Arthur O’Leary, Miscellaneous Tracts by the Rev. Arthur O’Leary (Dublin 1781)

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