Patrick Augustine Sheehan

Patrick Augustine Sheehan

The Very Rev. Patrick Augustine Canon Sheehan "in Gaelic: An Canónach Pádraig Aguistín Ó Síothcháin" (17 March 18525 October 1913), was an Irish Roman Catholic priest, author, political activist was invariably known and referred to as Canon Sheehan of Doneraile, having been appointed on July 4, 1895 Parish Priest of Doneraile, where he wrote almost all of his major works.

Early life

Patrick Augustine Sheehan was born on St Patrick's Day, 1852 at 29 New Street, Mallow, County Cork. Third eldest of five children born to Patrick Sheehan, owner of a small business, and to Joanna Regan, he was baptised by the Very Reverend Dr. J.C. Wigmore, the sponsors being Timothy Cronin and Mary Ann Relehan.

As a child, Sheehan was fair-haired and delicate with "large wistful blue eyes". He was described as "a bit of a dreamer, and when other lads were shouting at play, he went alone to some copse or thicket, and with a book, or more often without one, would sit and think, and look dreamily at floating clouds or running stream; and then, with a sigh go back to his desk".

At the age of eleven, Canon Sheehan lost both of his parents in quick succession and, together with his three surviving siblings, became the ward of the Parish Priest of Mallow, Dr. John McCarthy who later became Bishop John McCarthy of Cloyne. Responsibility for the Sheehan household devolved on his older sisters Hannah and Margaret.

When Sheehan and his brother Denis, who subsequently joined the Civil Service, had been despatched to secondary school, his sisters entered the Convent of Mercy in Mallow. Margaret Sheehan made religious profession, as Sr. Mary Augustine, on her death-bed before completion of her novitiate. She died on 7 November, 1868.

Hannah Sheehan was professed as Sr. Mary Stanislaus, and became Mistress of Schools at Mallow Convent but died young on 17 December, 1871. John, the youngest of the family, died at the age of five.

In his Under the Cedars and the Stars Canon Sheehan wrote of his childhood: "Strange I never felt the proximity of father and mother. But of my sisters, one in particular, the only dark-haired in the family, has haunted me through life. I no more doubt of her presence and her light touch on the issues of my life, than I doubt of the breath of wind that flutters the tassel of the biretta on my head. Yet what is strange is not her nearness but her farness".

Early education was received in the Long Room National School in Mallow. Of the school master he later wrote: "His range of attainments was limited, but what he knew he knew well, and could impart it to his pupils. He did his duty conscientiously by constant, unremitting care, and he emphasized his teaching by frequent appeals to the ferule".

One of his classmates there was the journalist and parliamentarian, William O'Brien M.P., with whom he was to ally himself in later years. He completed secondary education in St Colman's College, Fermoy, at a time which coincided with the Fenian Rising, the events of which were to have a profound effect on him. He returned to the theme of violent insurrection in several of his novels, most notably The Graves at Kilmorna, recounting Fenian incidents witnessed by him while a student in Fermoy.

Maynooth years

After St Colman's, he passed through "the sphinx-guarded gates", as he called them, of St. Patrick's College Maynooth College in County Kildare on 25 August, 1869, to prepared for the priesthood. Although he never shone in the spartan Maynooth regime, he was a brilliant student who, despite recurring illness, succeeded in completing his studies a year before he was old enough to be ordained. Transferred by his guardian, Bishop John McCarthy of Cloyne, to the seminary of the Vincentian Fathers in Sundayswell in Cork, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne at Cork, on Sunday, 18 April, 1875 by Bishop William Delaney. It is believed that he celebrated his first Mass in the chapel of the Convent of Mercy in Mallow.

In his essay The Irish Priesthood and Politics Canon Sheehan gives a succinct description of his time in Maynooth: "I remember well that the impression made upon me by Maynooth College then, and afterwards, when I saw its long, stone corridors, its immense bare stony halls, the huge massive tables etc., was one of rude Cyclopean strength, without one single aspect or feature of refinement. So too with its studies. Rentless logic, with its formidable "chevaux-de-frise" of syllogisms, propositions, scholia; Metaphysics, sublime, but hardened into slabs of theories, congealed in medieval Latin; Physics, embracing a course that would have appalled a young Newton or Kepler; and then the vast shadow of four years' Divinity towering above and over-shadowing all!". The Maynooth literature course was hardly any better: "The Graces were nowhere! Even in the English literature or Belles-Lettres class, as it was called, the course seemed to be limited to hard grinding Grammar, and nothing more. During the first "semestre", a few lectures were given on literature. All I can ever remember of that period were the words 'Lake Poets', which the good professor was forever repeating".

In January 1870, Fr. O'Rourke, the Professor of French and English, whom Sheehan describes as a "very gentle, polished man", was obliged to leave the College and go abroad for health reasons. He was replaced by a young priest who was then just finishing his postgraduate research on the Dunboyne Establishment. Canon Sheehan regarded him as "one of the most remarkable, if not one of the most distinguished, students that ever passed through Maynooth". To the "young hero-worshippers, sick and tired of logic-chopping, and the awful dullness of the morning classes, he came as a herald of light and leading".

Swiftly, he opened to their "wondering eyes the vast treasures of European and, particularly, of English literature". It was at his feet that Canon Sheehan first heard the names of Carlyle, Tennyson, and Browning".


Canon Sheehan began his priestly ministry in the Cathedral Parish and in the former abbey church of St. Nicholas in Exeter in the diaspora diocese of Plymouth. He quickly established a reputation as a preacher and was much sought after for sermons, retreats, and incidental addresses. While in Plymouth, he also acted as a supply chaplain for Dartmoor prison which, at the time, still held several of those convicted for treason felony after the Fenian Rising of 1867. He returned to Ireland in 1877 to take up a curacy in his native Mallow. In 1881 he was transferred to Cobh (then Queenstown) and subsequently back to Mallow where he remained until Bishop Robert Browne nominated him Parish Priest of Doneraile on 4 July, 1895.

Canon Sheehan's appointment to Doneraile was an important one and an implicit indication of the trust and confidence placed in him by his bishop. It was the largest territorial parish in the Diocese of Cloyne and incorporated the medieval parishes of Templeroan, Doneraile, Caherduggan, and Rossagh. Bishop Matthew McKenna's Visitation Register of 1785 mentions that the parish of Doneraile had 683 habitations while Cahirduggan possessed 200 and Templeroan 120. It had a long tradition of distinguished pastors since candidates for appointment to Doneraile were often chosen for their ability to promote cordial relations with the St. Legers, Viscount Doneraile, who were generally resident landlords, and politically known (and at times suspect) for their long tradition of enlightened tolerance for their Catholic tenantry which eschewed the traditionally bigoted outlook of their Boyle, Kingston, and Midleton counterparts.

The religious climate in Doneraile, and the support of the St. Legers, had permitted an early restoration of Catholic structures which included a convent and schools (1818), and a fine Catholic Church (1827). The situation was such in Doneraile on August 8, 1869 that Bishop William Keane of Cloyne, during his episcopal visitation, noted that he was able to drive unhampered through the town of Doneraile "in choir dress and be received at the Church gate by clergy and laity in the manner prescribed by the [Roman] Pontifical", something that could not have happened in towns such as Youghal, Mitchelstown, and Middleton.

ocial engagement

During his pastorate in Doneraile, Canon Sheehan established the custom of weekly meetings with his parishioners which were held on Sunday afternoons. In the early years, these meetings concentrated on apprising tenants of the conditions of the Land Purchase Acts, and of their concrete application to their circumstances. By 1903, practically all land leases had been bought out by the tenenary in Doneraile parish, without acrimony or agitation and on terms that were satisfactory to both landlord and tenant. From then on, Canon Sheehan concentrated on promoting modern agricultural methods, especially in tillage and dairy farming. The same meetings also resulted in a long series of social improvements in the town of Doneraile which saw the installation of a modern water supply system and the building of an advanced electrification plant.

He also took advantage of the Irish Labourers Act (1883) to pursue a plan to have all cabins demolished and replaced by a modern housing scheme. In all of these enterprises, Canon Sheehan could count on the support of Lord Castletown of Upper Ossory, who had married Lord Doneraile's only child, the Honourable Ursula Emily Clare St. Leger. Perhaps it is not completely coincidental that all of these social projects are ruminated on by Canon Sheehan's fictional Parish Priest in, what was perhaps his most successful novel, My New Curate.

One of Canon Shehan's inherited pastoral duties in Doneraile, which he well acquitted, was to act as an independent intermediary between Viscount Doneraile and his tenantry; and between the tenantry and their landlord, so as to avoid the levels of agrarian strife experienced on beleaguered estates such as those of the nearby Earl of Kingston, and to secure the "de facto" religious liberty traditionally enjoyed by Catholics on the Doneraile estates. Canon Sheehan's arrival in the parish came at a sensitive moment as tenants began the process of purchasing their holdings from the Doneraile, and other smaller local estates, under the terms of the Ashbourne Land Purchase Acts of 1885 and 1887. The Parish Priest of Doneraile was frequently asked to assist tenants in their approaches to the local land agents to agree terms for the purchase of their holdings.

While something of a traditional expectation of a 19th century Irish Parish Priest, this practical social "engagement" on Sheehan's part needs to be understood in the wider context of the Catholic intellectual response to the challenge thrown down to capitalism, marxism and socialism by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter Rerum Novarum of 1891.

As many of the contemporary theological journals published in Germany, Belgium and France make evident, Catholic theologians, rejecting marxism, socialism, and the excesses of capitalism, debated and formulated social solutions that would come from the combined actions of the Church, the State, the employer and the employee, and elaborated in greater detail the principles to be used in seeking justice in industrial, social, and economic life. While Canon Sheehan was aware of the social question of his time, and was actively engaged in the great contemporary social evolution directly affecting him in his parish, he can never be regarded as having in any manner espoused the Zeitgeist, as quickly emerges from his portrayal of such a priest in his novel "Luke Delmege" published in 1901 and, not surprisingly, translated into all of the major European languages.

Writing to the editor of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in 1913, the then Bishop's Secretary, Fr. William Browne, thus described Sheehan: "He was always courteous and polite, of course, but very silent. When he first came home as a young priest from England, he was stationed here in Queenstown. I rather thought that his silent, reserved manner would have kept people in awe of him, yet when he died, all the older generation had instances to relate of his unostentatious kindness, especially to the poor and sick".

In 1904 he was appointed a Canon of the Chapter of Cloyne and assigned to the prebendary of Kilenemer. He was conferred, "honoris causa", with a doctorate in Divinity in 1902.

Literary career

Canon Sheehan's literary career modestly began in 1881 with a series of essays published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record on subjects ranging from religious instruction in intermediate schools to the effects of emigration on the Church; from the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson to the political significance of Gambetta in post-war France; from liberal thought in the United States to a theological critique of a current of patristic thinking in England and in the United States that saw St.Augustine of Hippo as the Martin Luther of his age. At a time of intense interest in education and educational methods in Ireland, he made a significant impact on public debate by drawing attention to European educational theories and particularly to the importance of the German Universities.

During this early period, Sheehan began long associations with The Irish Monthly, founded in Dublin in 1873 by T. A. Finlay and Fr. Matthew Russell, S.J., to commemorate the Ireland's consecration to the Sacred Heart; with the Dublin Review, a quarterly journal of high literary merit, founded for the diffusion of Catholic theology in 1836 by Nicholas Wiseman, Daniel O'Connell and Michael Joseph Quin; and with the Catholic Truth Society, established in 1884 by Herbert Vaughan for the popular promotion of Catholic doctrine. Several pamphlets would be written by him for the Catholic Truth Society on subjects such as Thoughts on the Immaculate Conception, The Canticle of the Magnificat, and Our Personal and Social Responsibilities.

He attracted much attention in Ireland, England, on the continent as well as in the United States through his observations in literary and religious magazines on issues related to clerical life, education and philosophy. He wrote a number of children's stories and published works of poetry, his sermons and his collected essays. Several of his books were translated and published in German, French, Irish, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Slovenian, Spanish and Italian.

Canon Sheehan is best remembered as a novelist; in his novel "My New Curate", recounts an incident of a clerical appointment that may well be autobiographical and refer to his arrival in Doneraile: "The Bishop sent for me and said, with what I would call a tone of pity or contempt, but he was incapable of either, for he was the essence of charity and sincerity: 'Father Dan, you are a bit of a "literateur", I understand. Kilronan is vacant. You'll have plenty of time for poetising and dreaming there. What do you say to it?' I put on a little dignity, and though my heart was beating with delight, I quietly thanked his Lordship. But, when I had passed beyond the reach of episcopal vision, which is far stretching enough, I spun my hat in the air, and shouted like a schoolboy: 'Hurrah!'".

Political activist

Canon Sheehan first became politically engaged after the passing of the Wyndham "Land Purchase Act" in 1903, authored by William O'Brien MP., and set in motion by D.D. Sheehan MP. of Kanturk, the Canon encouraging and giving advice to local tenant farmers in the area around Doneraile to purchase their leases under the act from the local landlords. The success of land purchase in Cork was much to the frustration of John Redmond's Irish Party (IPP) who believed that a national Home Rule movement could not survive without social grievances and without the antagonism of Catholic and Protestant.

When William O'Brien launched his new movement, the All-for-Ireland League (AFIL) in 1910 in opposition to Redmond's party, O'Brien advocating the unity of Catholic and Protestant interests in all walks of Irish political, social and cultural life, co-founder and member Canon Sheehan was again a leading active figure, standing and speaking on platforms advocating the principles of the League, which returned eight Independent M.P.s in the December elections.

Canon Sheehan wrote the long editorial for the first issue of the League's new newspaper, O'Brien's radical Cork Free Press in June 1910, which was a manifestation of Joseph Devlin's militantly Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians, whose members were also members of the IPP, largely influencing its political course, particularly against any form of concessions to Ulster as advocated by the AFIL. The League, so successful in Cork, was less successful elsewhere. Its principles of establishing a movement of a new kind to attract rather than repel Unionist and Protestant support for an All-Ireland Home Rule settlement, while influentially limited, did motivate a worthy political initiative.

Perhaps the most remarkable side of Canon Sheehan was his vision of a reorganised Irish society which he hoped would take shape in an Independent Ireland. His nationalism was neither exclusively Gaelic nor Catholic and best portrayed by him in his novel The Intellectuals (1911), whose archetypical characters of man and women of Catholic and Protestant background from Ireland, England and Scotland, meet to discuss current issues of the day, Sheehan in the preface saying "that his object was to show that there really was no invincible antagonism amongst the people who make up the commonwealth of Ireland that may not be removed by a freer and kindlier intercourse with each other".

Literary celebrity

Lord and Lady Castletown of Doneraile Court befriended Canon Sheehan and held him in the highest esteem. His success as a writer had turned him into a celebrity, and whenever the Castletowns had guests of note, they were invariably brought to meet the man of letters. It was through them that the Canon met the American Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes for the first time in 1903.

A ten-year correspondence ensued, ended only by Canon Sheehan's death. In a letter to the Jesuit Father Herman Heuser, Canon Sheehan's American biographer, Holmes explained: "I was at Doneraile and called every day after luncheon, that time being the best for him. He knew, and I feared, he was dying, though I did not admit it. He bade me go to his library and select a book. On his assurance, I took Francisco Suárez's De Legibus, which I had heard him praise, and it bears his inscription. I wish I could have offered him something besides affection and reverence for his lovely spirit".

Canon Sheehan was diagnosed with a fatal illness in 1910 but refused to undergo surgery, carrying out his parish duties until he died of cancer on the evening of Rosary Sunday, 5 October 1913. Towards the end of his life he had begun to write an autobiography, but burned the manuscript a few days before his death believing that "it might do harm to others" .


* Religious Instruction in Intermediate Schools. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record", September 1881.
* The Effects of Emigration on the Church. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record".
* Gambetta. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record".
* Emerson's Philosophy. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record"
* Free-Thought in America. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record".
* Education at German Universities. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record".
* The German and Gallic Muse. In: "The Irish Ecclesiastical Record"
* Recent Works on St. Augustine. In: "The Dublin Review", July 1888.
* Geoffrey Austin, Student (1895)
* The Triumph of Failure (1901)
* My New Curate (1899) ISBN 0-85342-877-8
* Mein neuer Kaplan: Erzählung aus dem irischen Priesterleben, Cologne 1900
* Mariae Corona
* Collection of Sermons and Essays
* Luke Delmege(1901)
* Mon Nouveau Vicaire, Éditions Pierre Dumont, Limoges 1901
* The Canticle of the Magnificat, Dublin 1901
* Under the Cedars and the Stars(1902)
* Lost Angel of a Ruined Paradise. A Play (1903)
* Glenanaar (1904) ISBN 0-86278-195-7
* Geoffrey Austin (German translation), Cologne 1904
* A Spoiled Priest and Other Stories (1905)
* "Early Essays and Lectures". London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1906.
* Der Erfolg des Misserfolgs, Kalenkirchen 1906
* Succès dans l'Échec, Éditions P. Lethielleux, Paris 1906
* Mūj Nový Kaplan, Otto, Prague 1906
* Lisheen (1907)
* Ange Egaré d'un Paradis Ruiné, Éditions P. Lethielleux, Paris 1907
* Das Christtagskind, Styl, c.1907
* Parerga (1908)
* Mi Nuevo Caodjutor: Sucesos de la vida de un anciano parroco irlandés; traduccion espanola por M.R. Blanco del Monte, Friburgo de Bresgovia (1908)
* The Blindness of Dr. Gray, or, The Final Law (1909)
* Dolina Krvi (Glenenaar), Lubliana 1909
* Pohozené Dítě: Novella, Kotrab, Prague 1909
* Mi Nuevo Coadjutor, Madrid 1910
* The Intellectuals. An Experiment in Irish High Club-Life (1911)
* The Queen's Fillet (1911)
* Von Dr. Grays Blindheit, Einsiedeln 1911
* Miriam Lucas (1912)
* Lukas Delmege, Regensburg 1912
* Lukáš Delmege, Kralín, Prague 1912
* Lisheen oder Der Průfstein der Geister, Einsiedeln 1914
* The Graves at Kilmorna (1915)
* Miriam Lucas (German translation), Einsiedeln 1918
* Der Ausgestoßener, Saarlouis 1920
* Die Gräber von Kilmorna, Einsiedeln 1926
* Das Haarband der Königin, Einsiedeln 1919
* Cithara Mea. Poems
* Our Personal and Social Responsibilities, Dublin
* Thoughts on the Immaculate Conception, Dublin 1924
* Mnisi z Trabolganu, Warsaw 1924
* Sprawa Odłożna; Mnisi z Trabolganu: Opowiadnia, Warsaw 1924
* Tristram Lloyd, (1928)
* The Greatest Doctor, Dublin 1930
* Tristram Lloyd, Éditions P. Lethielleux, Paris 1930
* Gleann an Air: Uirsceal ar Shaoghal i nEirinn, Dublin 1931
* Luke Delmege (Spanish translation), Castellano, Londres 1932
* How Character is Formed, Dublin 1933
* An Sagart Óg, Dublin 1935
* Tristram Lloyd (Spanish translation), Madrid
* Tristram Lloyd, (Italian translation), Alba 1942
* Il Mio Nuovo Cappellano, Roma 1954
* Il Trionfo dell'Insuccesso, Francavilla-al-mare 1968
* La Benda della Regina, Milano 1970


* Anonymous: "Der Erfolg des Mißerfolges". In: "Stimmen aus Maria-Laach" (subsequently "Stimmen der Zeit"), vol. LXV (1903), pp. 111-112.
* Joseph Spillmann: "Lukas Delmege". In: "Stimmen aus Maria-Laach" (subsequently "Stimmen der Zeit"), vol. LXVI (1904), pp. 102-109
* Lizzie Twigg: "Songs and Poems ... With introduction by ... Canon Sheehan". Longmans & Co.: London, 1905.
* Cardinal Désiré Félicien François Joseph Mercier, Archbishop of Malines: "Cardinal Mercier’s Conferences delivered to his Seminarists at Mechlin in 1907". Translated from the French by J. M. O’Kavanagh. With an introduction by the Very Rev. P. A. Canon Sheehan. London: R. & T. Washbourne 1910.
* Et Cetera. In: "The Tablet", October 22, 1913.
* "The souvenir of Canon Sheehan being extracts from his writings made by a Sister of the Presentation Convent, Doneraile". London: Burns and Oates, 1914.
* Herman Joseph Heuser: "Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs, und letters". New York: Longmans & Co., 1917
* Francis Boyle (Curate of Cooley, Carlingford): "Canon Shehan: a Sketch of his Life and Works". Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1927.
* William F. P. Stockley: "Essays in Irish Biography". Cork 1933
* Joseph Metzger: "Das Katolische Schrifttum im heutigen England". Munich 1935
* Michael P. Linehan: "Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: Priest, Novelist, Man of Letters". Dublin: Talbot Press 1952.
* John Hennig: "A Note on Canon Sheehan's Interest in German Literature". In: "The Modern Language Review", 49 [1954] , pp. 352-355.
* Kenneth Macgowan: "Canon Sheehan of Doneraile". [With a portrait.] . Dublin: Catholic Truth Society of Ireland 1963.
* Brendan Clifford: "Canon Sheehan: A Turbulent Priest". Millstreet, Co. Cork: Aubane Historical Society; Dublin: Irish Heritage Society, 1990. ISBN 1-873063-00-8
* Michael Barry: "By Pen and Pulpit: Life and Times of the Author Canon Sheehan". Saturn Books, 1990. ISBN 0-9515387-1-3
* David Henry Burton (Hrsg.): "Holmes-Sheehan Correspondence: The letters of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan". Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1976. ISBN 0804691649 Revised edition: Fordham University Press 1993. ISBN 0823215253
* Catherine Candy: "Priestly Fictions: Popular Irish Novelists of the Early 20th. Century; Patrick A. Sheehan, Joseph Guinam, Gerald O'Donovan". Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1995. ISBN 0-86327-334-3
* Robert Forde: "Canon Sheehan: Unpublished Manuscripts 1". In: "Journal of the Mallow Field Club", no. 13 [1995]
* Ruth Fleischmann: "Catholic Nationalism in the Irish Revival: A Study of Canon Sheehan 1852-1913". Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan 1997. ISBN 0-333-68943-7 ; ISBN 0-312-17366-0
* Gerard Moran (editor): "Radical Irish Priests, 1660-1970". Dublin: Four Courts Press 1998. ISBN 1-85182-249-6; ISBN 1-85182-281-X
* Robert Forde: "Canon Sheehan: Unpublished Manuscripts 2". In: "Journal of the Mallow Field Club", no. 20 [2002]

NAME=Sheehan, Patrick Augustine
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Sheehan, Patrick A.;Sheehan, Patrick Augustus;Ó Síothcháin, Pádraig;Sheehan, P. A.;Sheehan, Patrick Augustin;Sheehan, Aug. P.;Sheehan, Patrick
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Irish Roman-catholic priest and author
DATE OF BIRTH=March 17 1852
PLACE OF BIRTH=Mallow, County Cork
DATE OF DEATH=October 5 1913
PLACE OF DEATH=Doneraile, County Cork

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