William Walsh (1885 – 1921)

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Name: Walsh, William


Reference Code: IE/DDA/AB5
Title: Papers of Archbishop William Walsh
Dates: 1885-1921
Level of Description: Fonds
Extent: 183 boxes approximately


William Walsh was born at 11 Essex Quay, Dublin on 30 January 1841.  He was the only child of Ralph Walsh, a watchmaker and repeal activist, of County Kerry, and Mary Pierce of Galway.  He was educated at St. Laurence O’Toole Seminary School, Dublin before attending Newman’s Catholic University.  He then went to study at Maynooth in 1858.  Excelling at Canon Law, Hebrew and Divinity, he completed his Ordinary Degree in 1864 followed by a  combined three years of post-graduate study and lecturing in the Theology Faculty.  He was ordained on 22 May 1866.  The following year, at the age of 26, Walsh was appointed Professor of Dogmatic and Moral Theology at Maynooth.   He served as Vice President of the college from 1878 and was made President in 1880.  On the death of Cardinal McCabe, Walsh was appointed Archbishop of Dublin.  He was appointed to the See of Dublin on 3 July 1885.  This was hailed as a triumph by Irish Nationalists as Walsh’s sympathies were well known.  For the next quarter of a century, Walsh was a dominating personality in the Irish Catholic Church.  He was very involved in both pastoral and public affairs. His motto was ‘Fide et Labore’.   He died on 9 April 1921 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Walsh first came to national prominence through demonstrating his skills as an expert witness on Canon Law in the celebrated ‘O’Keefe’ law case in 1875.  He further consolidated his growing reputation as an expert witness on land law before the Bessborough Commission in 1880.

During his time as Archbishop, he continued the expansion of pastoral infrastructure.  He was involved in the building of numerous churches and schools and increased the number of parishes from 64 to 76.  His greatest achievements were in the area of education, championing the cause of Catholic interests.  He had particular successes in the areas of teacher training, intermediate education and university education, culminating with his appointment as first Chancellor of the National University of Ireland.  He also served on bodies such as the Senate of the Royal University of Ireland (1883-4), the Commission of National Education (1885-1901).

Walsh’s lifetime saw many developments in the area of modern Irish nationalism.  He was an ardent advocate of Home Rule and agrarian reform.  He supported the controversial ‘Plan of Campaign’ which earned him the displeasure of Rome and cost him the Cardinal’s hat which went to Armagh rather than Dublin.  During the ‘Time Commission’ 1889-1890 he provided crucial assistance to Charles Stewart Parnell in exposing Richard Pigott as a forger.  When the Parnell divorce crisis broke, he resisted pressure from both nationalist politicians and clergy, such as Cardinal Manning and Archbishop Croke of Cashel, to come out prematurely against Parnell.  It was only when secret negotiations with Parnell failed to produce a compromise that he led the clerical attack on Parnell’s leadership.

In later life Walsh became disenchanted with the Irish Parliamentary Party and in 1917, signalled his shift of allegiance to Sinn Fein.  Walsh had other interests including music, cycling and bimetallism.

All aspects of his life and work can be found in his papers.  His collection is sub-divided into sections including the Holy See, Bishops, Priests, Religious, Nuns and Laity.  There is information on the Royal University, the National University, Maynooth and St. Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra.  There are also several boxes of pamphlets written by him.


Access: Available by appointment only
Language: English, Latin, occasional Italian
Finding Aid: None currently available

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