Herman J. (Herman Joseph) Heuser.

Canon Sheehan of Doneraile; the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs and letters online

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CANON SHEEHAN
OF DONERAILE



CANON SHEEHAN

OF DONERAILE



THE STORY OF AN IRISH PARISH PRIEST

AS TOLD CHIEFLY BY HIMSELF IN BOOKS

PERSONAL MEMOIRS AND LETTERS



BY

HERMAN J. HEUSER, D.D.

OVERBROOK. SEMINARY



LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.

FOURTH AVENUE fcf 3OTH STREET, NEW YORK

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON

BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS

1917



COPYRIGHT, 1917
BY LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.



All rights reserved



THE-PLIMPTON-PRESS
NOHWOOD-HASS-U'S-A



FOREWORD

THE story of Patrick Augustine Sheehan is that
of a modest country pastor in the south of Ireland
who made a great name as a writer of fiction,
poetry, and thoughtful essay.

Between 1895 and 1910 he had published fifteen volumes.
They are: Geoffrey Austin, The Triumph of Failure, My
New Curate, Luke Delmege, The Blindness of Dr. Gray,
Glenanaar, Lisheen, Miriam Lucas, The Queen s Fillet,
Under the Cedars and the Stars, Parerga, The Intellectuals,
Cithara Mea (a volume of poems), and Mariae Corona
(sermons in honor of Our Lady). Besides these, he wrote
a number of Essays and Criticisms. Another novel,
dealing with the Irish uprising in 1867, and bearing the
title The Graves at Kilmorna, was published after his
death. Some of his books gained at once an international
reputation, and were translated into German, French,
Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian, Slavonic, and Russian
(Ruthenian).

These writings not only reveal his special gifts as a
thinker and writer, but they allow us to form a fair estimate
of his character as a man; of his aims and ideals as a priest
and pastor of souls; and they record many actual experi-
ences which gave direction and emphasis to these aims.

Canon Sheehan wrote his novels as a travelled man tells
his adventures to young folk. His poetic gift made him
clothe the incidents in the vesture of romance, with a
moral vista behind the action of his story, to draw the
attention of the reader to higher things. Although his
figures were mostly copied from the life around him, a
certain sense of fitness and a natural delicacy caused him
so to modify the form of his character-play as to make it
impossible for the general public to point the finger to



vi FOREWORD

any individual and say: This is the man. But those who
knew the Canon and the relations that shaped his visions
or influenced his motives in writing, could in many cases
trace the sources of his immediate inspirations to definite
places and persons.

Now that he is dead, and it is possible to compare the
varied expressions of his genius, as well as to note the
occasions that gave rise to them, there come to the surface
spontaneously numerous evidences to show that he habitu-
ally painted from life. An illustration of this may be
found in his collection of short stories under the title of
The Story of a Spoiled Priest. Almost all the incidents
portrayed there are literally true. The author lays the
scene of the school, in the first story, "in the County
Waterford," but the description of the place is actually
that of Mallow, his native town, as he depicted it elsewhere
in almost identical terms. The father of "the spoiled
priest" is Patrick Sheehan's early teacher at the National
School; the young curate who discovers Dr. Everhard
is Father Sheehan himself; and Kevin O'Donnell who
enters a monastery in Florence is a priest whom the Canon
befriended to his last hour. Similarly we recognize in
the story of "Rita the Street Singer" a barely disguised
incident that happened while the author was attached as
curate to the cathedral at Queenstown, between 1881 and
1889, although he lays the scene at "Reineville" (an obvious
translation of "Queenstown") and dates it about 1880.
In like manner numerous details in the story of Glenanaar
present occurrences and scenes taken from the immediate
nieghborhood of Doneraile.

It is not necessary to assume that Canon Sheehan,
when writing, was always conscious of the fact that he
was projecting the likeness of this or that individual. He
did not write as a professional man of letters, that is to
say with artistic attention to definite methods and models.
His compositions were wholly spontaneous, and done as
a recreation from the fatiguing and, to him, most serious
obligations of his pastoral ministry. On this fact oppor-



FOREWORD vii

tunity will offer to enlarge, when speaking of his particular
gift as a writer; here it suffices to say that his observant
mind acted for him as does the sensitized plate of a camera.
It mechanically took images and reproduced them. The
records thus traced give us not only his itinerary through
the broad ways of life but also specific indications of his
inner soul action.

Beyond this fragmentary and unconscious revelation
of his personality by himself the general public has hitherto
known little of Canon Sheehan. His mode of life tended
toward retirement, and apart from an absorbing devotion
to his duties as parish priest, the outside world saw him
rarely, and then only as the interpreter of some particular
message, such as his office as a preacher or lecturer led
him to take up for the time.

To the few who were intimate with him we owe the
main data of his earlier life. These are chiefly — his
younger brother, Mr. Denis B. Sheehan, of Queenstown,
who kindly read and corrected the MS. of this biography
and, as literary executor of the Canon, was able to supple-
ment it with valuable notes and letters. Next I am in-
debted for information to Mr. William O'Brien, M.P.,
the friend of Father Sheehan's boyhood, and his associate
at school. Likewise to that most lovable of literary Irish
priests, the late Father Matthew Russell, S.J., founder
in 1873, and editor for more than thirty-five years, of the
Irish Monthly, to which magazine Father Sheehan was an
occasional contributor. When in later years the author
of My New Curate of necessity drew attention upon him-
self, Father Russell was induced to tell what he knew of
him, in a brief article for The Dolphin (1902). Modest
as was the account, he had managed to speak of the author
in a way which delighted the curious reader, and gave a
fair estimate of Father Sheehan's personality and char-
acter as "the most literary of Irish priests since the author
of The Prout Papers."

A second biographical sketch came from the pen of the
Rev. Michael Phelan, S.J., of the Limerick community,



viii FOREWORD

who also enjoyed the personal friendship of the author.
He wrote his impressions while Canon Sheehan was in his
last illness and unable to revise them. This fact no doubt
accounts for some inaccuracies which I shall have occasion
to correct in the course of the biography. A third account
of Father Sheehan appeared simultaneously in the Irish
Monthly and the Catholic World, and was reprinted by
the Catholic Mind. The latter attributes the sketch to
the Rev. John J. Horgan, S.J. The fact is, the author
is an Irish solicitor, whose uncle, as curate of Mallow
parish, had young Patrick Sheehan in his church choir.
Mr. Horgan himself began his literary career under the
influence of Canon Sheehan, and is the author of Great
Catholic Laymen and a number of monographs. His
close acquaintance with the pastor of Doneraile enabled
him to give a true appreciation of the latter; but he does
not touch upon the Canon's domestic or pastoral relations.

Beyond such friendly reminiscences, and detached details
of the Canon's career in the Irish and English press on
the occasion of his death, there has been no attempt at
a complete biography.

Apart from these gleanings which put me in the way
of further sources of information, I owe much thoughtful
aid in obtaining the requisite material for this sketch to
Mother Mary Ita O'Connell of the Presentation Convent
at Doneraile, whose generous devotion to the interests
of education and religion during the years of Canon
Sheehan's pastorate gave her exceptional opportunities
of forming an accurate and sympathetic judgment of
his life among the people of Doneraile. I have likewise
to acknowledge the services of Dr. Grattan Flood, who
permitted the use of some unpublished MSS. and letters,
and other information which made it possible to obtain
accurate accounts of the transactions relating to the "Land
Settlement" in the district of Doneraile, in which the
Canon had taken a leading part as representative of his
flock. The Bishop of Cloyne, through his secretary the
Rev. William F. Browne, kindly furnished me copies of



FOREWORD ix

my correspondence with the author of My New Curate
covering the period between 1897 and 1910, and other
pertinent information. To Lord and Lady Castletown
of Doneraile, whose respect and friendship the Canon
enjoyed to the close of his life; Colonel Grove White,
member of the Cork Historical Society; the Rev. John
Burton, P.P., of Donoughmore; Brother P. A. Mulhall,
director of the Doneraile Boys' School; Lady Gilbert
(Rosa Mulholland), Miss Agnes Clune Quinlan of Lim-
erick, resident in America; Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes,
of the Supreme Court of the United States, and others
who, being personally acquainted with the Canon, kindly
replied tojny inquiries directly or indirectly, I also return
thanks. Lastly I wish to express my indebtedness to Mr.
Edward Galbally, associate editor and manager of the
Ecclesiastical Review, for his aid in completing this bi-
ography by undertaking a journey, amid the trying con-
ditions of the European war, in order to verify certain
details of locality and other data connected with the late
Canon's life.

Overbrook, March, 1917.



CONTENTS

PAGE
CHAPTER

Foreword v

Introductory — Discovery of Father Sheehan ... 3

PART I. THE FORMATION



I. Patrick Sheehan — The Boy



Motto of the Sheehans

Munster Clans

Baptism

Home-Folk

The Schoolmaster

Dr. McCarthy and "Father" Horgan

Music

Glimpses of a Vocation

Dreamer and Patriot

The Fenian Brotherhood

Hurling Matches and Cricket

"By the Singing River"

Mallow Celebrities

First Sorrow

II. St. Colman's — Fermoy l6

The Collegian

"Mayfield"

Home on Vacation

The Muse of Irish History

Margaret's Death

Proficiency in Studies

III. Maynooth 2 3

Intellectual and Economic Condition

The Faculty

"Manutiae Umbrae"

Entrance Examination

Reform of Studies

Foreign Influences

The "Quanta Cura"

Philosophy, "dry as dust"

"Jumps" the Physics.

The Study of Theology

xi



xii CONTENTS



CHAPTER



PAGE

Dunboyne Establishment

Desultory Reading

Thomas Carlyle

Jean Paul Richter

Tennyson

Dante

The Compass of Faith

Among the "Class Pieces"

The Discipline of Pain

Sister Mary Stanislaus Dies

Patrick's Illness

Too Young for Ordination

Pastoral Theology at Mallow

Theory and Practice

Defects ot Seminary Training

Piety and Culture

The Teaching of Philosophy

IV. Priesthood, 1875 45

His Guardian made Bishop of Cloyne

Dr. Russell's Testimony

Ordination

First Mass

Off to England

Plymouth Mission

"Quant Je Puis"

Father Sheehan's Preaching

Controversy or Doctrine?

A Prominent Convert

Sent to Exeter

Becomes Administrator

Learns more Theology

Pastoral Duties

A Visit to Lourdes

The Church and the Clergy of France

At the Irish College in Paris

Back to Southampton

Devonshire Society

"Priest Hobson"

Dr. Oliver.

Incentives to Literary Work

Canonical Counsels

Dignified Exeter

The Gospel of Work

Philanthropy

Homiletics

Exiles

Dartmoor — Michael Davitt



CONTENTS xiii



CHAPTER



V. Back to Ireland, i 877-1881 73

Appointment to Mallow as Curate

At the Hotel in Dublin

Silent Yearnings

Ideal Reforms

Tries "Punctuality"

A "Via Media"

The Young Men of Mallow

Educational Pitfalls

VI. Called to Queenstown, 1881-1888 87

At the Cathedral

Educational Projects

Writes on Christian Art

German Thought

Pere Didon's "Les Allemands"

Newman and Pusey

Matthew Arnold

Augustinian Studies

"The Irish Ecclesiastical Record"

"The Irish Monthly"

Gelasius di Cilia

An American Convert

Pastoral Work at Queenstown

Doctor Orders him to GlengarifF

Returns to Mallow as Curate

Work among the Young Men

Bishop McCarthy dies

Aubrey de Vere



PART II. LITERARY LIFE
I. Parish Priest of Doneraile 105

An Idyllic Parish

II. His First Book IIQ

Hopes and Fears

Dedication

Disappointment

Sunshine Through Clouds

Matthew Russell, S J., lends a friendly hand

"The Catholic World"

"The Ave Maria"

"The Triumph of Failure"

A Rejected MS.



xiv CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

III. Favorite Themes 122

Three Chapters of Clerical Studies
Work and Wants of the Irish Church
Appeal to the Clergy
Value of Literary Criticism

IV. The Genesis of "My New Curate" and its

Reception 13 2

Irish Witchcraft

Popularity of "Daddy Dan"

The Monks of Trabolgan

Criticisms

Name of Author revealed

Power of the Pen

Proposal to write "My Old Pastors," next "Ye Shepherds"

V. "The Triumph of Failure" 145

VI. "My New Curate" Appears in Book Form . . 157

Appreciations

True Measure of Success

"Ye Shepherds"

VII. "Luke Delmege" and Other Volumes .... 168

"Idiota" Vanishes

"Hie jacent Ossa Lucae"

"Cithara Mea"

American Bait

A New Departure

"Under the Cedars and the Stars"

"Father Mac on Retreat"

Congenial Company

"Glenanaar"

VIII. A Holiday in Germany 195

Anticipations
Impressions

IX. "Lisheen" 204

Estimates

A Rhythmic Leitmotif

X. Religio-Political Discussions 210

Struggle for Home Rule in Ireland

Dr. Michael O'Riordan and Sir Horace Plunkett



CONTENTS xv

CHAPTER PAGE

XI. Political Convictions 218

A Contrast

Peace and Conciliation

Ireland's Political Profit

New Irish Journal — Ideal and Practical

Principle of Liberty

Democracy of Ireland

Influence of Irish Genius To-day



XII. "The Intellectuals" — Attempts at Drama . . 232

The "Irish Rosary"
Drama



XIII. The Canon at Home 239

Appearance — Conversation

In the Canon's Den

A Suggested Visit to the United States

Fish Supply for Ireland

Autobiographical Memoir

"The Blindness of Dr. Gray"

The Final Law



XIV. Proposed for a Bishopric 252

Letter to the Archdeacon

Justice Holmes of the U. S. Supreme Court

XV. Last Books 256

"The Queen's Fillet"

Two Theories

"The Graves at Kilmorna"

Facts not Fiction

Prophecies

Criticism

XVI. Literary Methods 263

XVII. Echoes from Foreign Lands 267

One of the "Most Read"
Portraits



xvi CONTENTS



PART III. PASTORAL LIFE

CHAPTER PAGE

I. The Parish of Doneraile 275

Illustrious Predecessors

Bridge House

The "Curse of Downeraile"

St. Coneela's Well

At the "Stations"



II. Shepherd of His Flock 289

On Sundays
Public Spirit
A Practical Guide



III. The Land Purchase Act 304

The Wyndham Act of 1903

Prudent Management and Patient Drilling

The "Feis" of Douglas Hyde

The Canon and the Gentry

Triumph after Difficulties

Lord Castletown's Tribute



IV. The Canon's Political Influence 313



V. Educational Work 320

The Boys' Schools

Technical and Manual Schools

Scientific Laboratory

Intermediate Examinations

The Girls' Schools of the Presentation Nuns

Lace and Industrial Departments

School Visitation

Canon Sheehan's Theory of Popular Education

The Scheme of National Schools for Ireland

Irish Teachers and Methods

Reading

Essentials and Accomplishments

Physiology

Misleading Ambition

Lectures at Home and Abroad

University Education



CONTENTS xvii

CHAPTER PAGE

VI. Care of the Parish Church 345

The Parish Church

Liturgical Observances

Devotions

Music

"The Emigrant's Return"

VII. Relationship to Priests and Religious .... 360

The Curates

Clerical Friends

The Brothers of His Schools

Estimate of the Catholic Priesthood

Respect for the Nuns

Casual Visitors

PART IV. THE END
I. Forebodings 375

The Children's Prayer

At the South Infirmary, Cork

The Return Home

II. Preparation for Death: The End 388

His Tombstone
Aftermath

Index 393



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Canon Sheehan of Doneraile Frontispiece

At the Time of His Ordination, 1875. .Facing page 44

Curate at the Queenstown Cathedral, 1886. . . 86

Canon Sheehan in His Garden 108

Facsimile Letter 194

Pastor of Doneraile, 1898 238

" Father Pat " among the Children 290

Presentation Convent and Girls' School, Doneraile 320

" Bridge House," and Boys' School, Doneraile . . 320

Parish Church, Doneraile 346

Main Street, Doneraile 346

Headstone Marking the Grave of Canon Sheehan 388



XIX



CANON SHEEHAN OF DONERAILE

INTRODUCTORY



INTRODUCTORY

IN midsummer of 1897, while on a journey to Europe,
I incidentally became interested in Geoffrey Austin,
a volume which had been published anonymously
two years before, and a belated copy of which had reached
me for review before leaving America. It purported to be
the story of a young student who gives his reminiscent
impressions of teachers and their methods in one of the
private tutoring colleges preparing boys for the Civil
Service Examinations in Ireland. The purpose of the
book was frankly critical; but so skillfully interwoven was
the theme with the reflections of a cultured mind, while
the scenic setting and diction had all the charm of romance,
that one could not escape its attraction as a novel.

A feature of the story was the realism with which the
author sketched his characters, as it were from life. Among
these were three priests — Father Thomas Costello, Geoffrey
Austin's guardian; Father Bellamy, the rector of May-
field school; and Father Aidan, a parish priest from the
county Clare. These figures were typical in a measure of
the Irish clergy. As editor of an ecclesiastical periodical
which was gradually gaining in popularity among the
English-speaking clergy, I had for some years past been in
search of a writer capable of drawing a series of clerical
sketches. These were to depict the Catholic priest occu-
pied with the various functions in his parish, that is amidst
his people, with the children in school, in his relations to
his fellow priests, in his contact with the outside world,
and finally as reflecting the spirit of prayer and study
within the privacy of the presbytery. Such a series, it
was hoped, would become the vehicle of varied pastoral
and theological teaching, and at the same time introduce
into the magazine a feature of entertainment free from

3



4 INTRODUCTORY

those didactic elements which, when continuous, are apt
to weary the average reader.

The writer of Geoffrey Austin appeared to possess the
qualifications for the desired work. He evidently excelled
both in the art of illustrating principles through pleasing
narrative, and in emphasizing whatever contributed to
the moral and religious betterment of the people. His
writing showed, beneath a slightly pessimistic enthusiasm,
a clear perception of both lights and shadows in our modern
religious and public life. At the same time he had the
wit and humor which allowed him to apply correctives
without greatly irritating the reader. In short, here were
the genial temperament and balance of judgment that
could, despite certain prepossessions, discriminate between
the extreme views of the optimist and the misanthrope in
matters of ethics and religion. I had no doubt of the
author's willingness to fall in with my proposal to write
the desired series. It would be necessary, however, first
of all to find him. The obvious way was to inquire from
the publishers, the Messrs. M. H. Gill and Son, of Dublin.
This I did.

To my amazement I learnt that Geoffrey Austin had
had but a limited sale. The ostensible reason lay in the
fact that the author had criticized the system of educa-
tion in Ireland, and in doing so had seemed to cast asper-
sions upon Irish character and faith. His picture of a
modern intermediate school under clerical management
had been declared to be extraordinary, unreal, and imagi-
nary, not to say distorted. Although the literary merit of
the novel was recognized, the critics thought that it was
calculated to do more harm than good, by leaving the
impression that the condition depicted as existing at May-
field College was typical of private schools throughout
Ireland. As a matter of fact only a few literary journals
had taken notice of the book, while some of them had ex-
pressed open resentment of the implied charges.

There was a species of truth in the general impression as
here indicated. The writer of Geoffrey Austin had said some



INTRODUCTORY 5

hard things about the apathy of Irishmen and their re-
pugnance to certain wholesome changes; but it must have
been clear to any unprejudiced reader that it was not the
author's purpose, even in the remotest sense, to disparage
his country. Indeed the extraordinary qualities of the
narrative, the writer's accurate delineation of certain types
of human nature, his power of poetic expression, were but
the vehicle of the plainly revealed purpose to arouse in-
terest in the work of raising the educational standard of
his country. This design formed the core of the story,
as might have been patent to anyone who was not pre-
occupied with an oversensitive estimate of existing values.

Having obtained the author's address, I promptly com-
municated with him for the purpose of engaging his serv-
ices for our magazine. Of the results I shall have occasion
to speak later on. The subject of Geoffrey Austin has been
introduced here mainly because it became the occasion of
that literary activity which not only produced a new type
of clerical novel in the English language, and at once made
its author famous, but at the same time established that
friendly and intimate relation between the pastor of
Doneraile and myself which has led to the writing of this
biography.



PART I

AN ACCOUNT OF PATRICK SHEEHAN's CHILDHOOD, HIS

TRAINING, STUDENT LIFE, AND EARLY YEARS AS

A PRIEST IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND



I 85 2-1 894



I

PATRICK SHEEHAN — THE BOY

THE Sheehans and O'Sheehans * are very numer-
ous among the clans of old Munster, and with-
out attempting to trace the particular sept to
which Patrick Aloysius, the father of our subject, belonged,
it may be noted that the escutcheon of the ancient Sheehans
is singularly suggestive of the character and life-purpose
of Patrick junior. It bears on an azure field a dove carry-
ing an olive-branch above a green mound; the motto
beneath is "Pro Virtute Patria." Nothing could be more
apposite than this device, if the disposition and char-
acter of Canon Sheehan were to be translated into sym-
bolic language. He was the gentlest of men, a bearer of
peace, and a true Sheehan in the sense in which the Irish
word is commonly used for a "lover" of his kind and of
his country.

The Baptismal Register of the parish of Mallow in the
diocese of Cloyne states that Patrick Sheehan, 2 son of
Patrick Sheehan and Joanna Regan, was baptized on the
17th day of March, 1852, by the parish priest of St. Mary's
Church, Dr. J. C. Wigmore, the sponsors being Timothy
Cronin and Mary Ann Relehan.

The best testimony to the worth of the Sheehan family
is to be found in the virtues of mind and heart which the
parents of young Patrick transmitted to and developed in
their children, and which led three of them to consecrate
their lives to the service of religion. Two elder sisters,
Hannah and Margaret, became nuns in the Order of
Mercy; Patrick entered the priesthood; a younger brother,

1 The name is variously spelled, and different interpretations may be read out of
Sheaun, Sheehun, Sheehan, Sheean, Shean, and Sheahan.

2 The name is here spelled Sheahan.

9



io CANON SHEEHAN OF DONERAILE [Part I

Dennis Bernard, is still living, and is engaged in the Irish
Civil Service as Auditor of the local Government Board.
They have all given evidence of literary talent. A fifth
child, John, died at the age of five years, and is buried with
his parents in the Mallow cemetery.

As soon as Patrick was competent he was sent to the local
National School. In one of his stories he gives us a glimpse
of his early teacher, Michael Francis O'Connor, whose
"range of attainments was limited; but what he knew he
knew well, and could impart to his pupils. He did his duty
conscientiously by constant, unremitting care; and he
emphasized his teaching by frequent appeals to the ferule."
The little pupil was "fair-haired and delicate," like his
sister Maggie, but of a wholly different type from his



Online LibraryHerman J. (Herman Joseph) HeuserCanon Sheehan of Doneraile; the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs and letters → online text (page 1 of 34)