Written by Barry Lally (Originally Published in Aug/Sept 2017 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
Duggan, the sainted, whose keen eyes alert
Kept watch o’er his flock in historic Clonfert.
Ballinasloe has a Duggan Avenue and a Duggan Park. What do we know of the man who was Bishop of Clonfert from 1872 to 1896 and gave his name to those places?
Patrick Duggan was born on 10th November 1813 in Cummer near Tuam. The eldest of four children, his father farmed 125 acres in the parish of Milltown. Brought up in the house of his maternal uncle Patrick Canavan, parish priest of Cummer, he entered St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, in 1829 before moving on to Maynooth in 1833 where he was ordained in 1841.
He served as curate to his uncle before the latter became mentally incapacitated in 1847, thereafter as administrator and eventually as parish priest following Canavan’s death in 1856. Duggan as a young cleric bore daily witness to the horrors of the Great Famine, an event that was to have a profound affect on his political thinking and steered him towards the radical wing of Irish nationalism.
Despite having no pastoral experience outside of the parish of Cummer, Duggan was nominated bishop to the adjacent Diocese of Clonfert in September 1871, and consecrated the following January in the convent chapel of the Sisters of Mercy, Loughrea. Undoubtedly, he owed his appointment to the recommendations of two former Maynooth classmates of his, John MacEvilly, Bishop of Galway, and Edward McCabe, Vicar General to the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Almost immediately on assuming office he became embroiled in the controversy surrounding a parliamentary by-election, which resulted in a court appearance on a criminal charge and his subsequent acquittal, an episode to be covered in detail in a later article.
One of the first acts of his episcopate was to establish a secondary day school for boys in Ballinasloe. Known as St. Michael’s Seminary, it occupied two adjoining, three-storey houses
(latterly identified as Earls’s Flats) in Bridge Street. It continued to operate until St. Joseph’s Diocesan College opened at The Pines in Creagh in 1901. The second year of his episcopate saw Duggan set up the Confraternity of the Holy Family in Ballinasloe, an association dedicated to promoting monthly reception of the Eucharist, it continued to flourish up to the 1960s. He was also instrumental in founding the Ballinasloe Total Abstinence Association in 1877. It had a chequered existence and was superseded by the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association early in the last century.
An innovation Duggan introduced to the diocese was the construction of curates’ houses. His attempts, however, to build a cathedral at Loughrea were frustrated by the Marquess of Clanricarde, a major landowner in the area.
His sympathies were entirely with the aims (and perhaps even the methods!) of the Land League. During the period of the infamous Woodford evictions, William O’Brien MP was on trial at Loughrea for attendance at a banned meeting. Duggan had O’Brien and his defence counsel Tim Healy stay with him at his residence in Bride Street. While they were at dinner one evening, Duggan received his copy of the papal rescript condemning the Plan of Campaign. His reaction to the document could be described as disdainful. Turning to his general factotum, he remarked: “Mike, kill another pig!”
Over several decades, Duggan was a regular contributor to a variety of journals and newspapers. An avid reader, his tastes in literature were unsophisticated, his favourite work of fiction being “The Count of Monte Cristo”, a novel he re-read every year after its publication in 1846. Notwithstanding his fluency in Irish, he disapproved of efforts to revive the language which he somehow regarded as a cause of the misfortunes of the Irish people.
Though a teetotaller, he liked to entertain, while in private his lifestyle was frugal, a herring being usually the daintiest item on his lunch menu. He was fond of saying things that shocked people, a habit that could lead him to make such fatuous statements as: “Never fall out with the extreme men. They are extreme because they are extremely right!” Once, at a meeting of the Hierarchy, he denounced the danger to the faith of Ireland caused by the growing contributions of the great grazing interests to the ranks of the priesthood in the west: “St. Bernard once observed that when the chalices were of wood, the priests were of gold. Now that our chalices are of gold, God forbid our priests should be of wood.” “But, my dear lord,” remarked one of his colleagues, “what would you do?” “I would put the priests – and perhaps ourselves – for twelve months on a diet of Indian meal stirabout!”
Invited by Michael Cusack and others to become patron of the planned Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884, Duggan declined due to illness, and suggested Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel and Emily, in his place. The same year he requested the appointment of a coadjutor. Dr. John Healy, a Maynooth professor, was not his candidate of choice, and indeed was his polar opposite both in politics and in temperament. As a result, relations between the two ecclesiastics soon became strained.
In later life Duggan presented a rather dishevelled appearance with his straggling white hair and a cassock bedaubed with snuff. He lived in primitive if not squalid conditions attended by a bare-foot servant girl.
Bishop Duggan suffered a stroke while visiting a solicitor’s office in Dublin on 13th August 1896, and died two days later at Jervis Street Hospital. In deference to his wishes, he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery beside his lifelong friend Cardinal Edward McCabe.