Blake, Michael (1775–1860), catholic clergyman, was born 16 July 1775 in Arran Quay parish, Dublin, eldest among six children (two sons and four daughters) of George Blake, originally of Nobber, Co. Meath, and Catherine Blake. He was educated in Dublin under the care of Dr Thomas Betagh (qv) and entered the Irish College in Rome in May 1792. When the college was seized by the French army in February 1798, Blake and his colleagues were sent as prisoners to Paris and then repatriated to Ireland. On his return to Dublin he was ordained 26 July 1798 and appointed to a curacy in his native parish of St Paul's, Arran Quay. Struck down with fever after a short time, he was sent to Howth to recover. However, the sea air aggravated rather than cured his condition; besides, he pined for the lanes and alleyways of inner-city Dublin, and was transferred back to the city as a curate in St Michan's parish. On 1 October 1810 he replaced Betagh as vicar general of Dublin and parish priest of SS Michael and John in Dublin. During the veto controversy, Blake, Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) of Dublin, and Bishop John Murphy (qv) of Cork formed a delegation which went to Rome (October 1815–January 1816) and successfully argued that the British government should have no say in episcopal appointments. He returned to his parish in March 1816 and built the church of SS Michael and John on the site of the former Smock Alley theatre in Exchange St. Blake believed the era of catholic deference had passed, and this was the first catholic church in Dublin to have a bell and to face the street. Offended by this new assertiveness, Alderman John Carleton initiated legal proceedings, but backed down when Blake secured the services of Daniel O'Connell (qv) as advocate.
A hard-working and austere man, Blake fasted three days a week normally and even more rigorously during Lent, and encouraged others to do the same. Noted for his charitable works, he provided breakfast for hundreds of poor children, founded a boys' club for Dublin chimney sweeps (with whom he dined every Christmas), helped to found St Joseph's asylum for single females, and greatly assisted Catherine McAuley (qv) in setting up the Sisters of Mercy. He encouraged her to house her institute on a prominent site in fashionable Baggot St., and he laid the foundation stone in July 1824. His austerity and charitableness were major influences in McAuley's spiritual life and he remained a constant source of advice and a loyal supporter of her order.
Anxious to reopen the Irish College since his visit to Rome in 1815, on 17 August 1824 he set out for Rome with the Rev. Nicholas Callan (qv). Arriving 2 October, he was sympathically received by Pope Leo XII but met with opposition from Mgr Caprano, secretary of Propaganda, who believed Irish student numbers did not merit a separate college. A determined and forceful character, Blake eventually overcame all objections and Caprano's efforts to install an Italian rector, and on 24 February 1826 received formal possession of the Umbrian College, off the Via delle Bottegle Oscure. He spent the next eighteen months attempting to obtain funding, equipment, and students for the college. He left Rome on 9 October 1828. Soon after his return to Dublin he was appointed parish priest of St Andrew's. Recognising that the parish's run-down church in Townsend St. was inadequate, on 30 April 1832 Blake laid the first stone of St Andrew's, Westland Row, and sang the high mass at its opening (2 January 1834).
He was consecrated as bishop of Dromore 17 March 1833. A close friend and steadfast supporter of O'Connell from the time of the veto controversy, he joined the Repeal Association c.August 1840. He was also on good terms with several Young Irelanders, and in 1846 was active in efforts to heal their rift with O'Connell. He appeared as a witness for the defence at O'Connell's trial (1844) and that of Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) in 1849. After John Mitchel's (qv) conviction for treason felony in May 1848, he publicly stated his admiration for Mitchel's character and subscribed £6 to a fund for the relief of his family. A strong Gallican, he opposed the ultramontanism of Archbishop Paul Cullen (qv) and often sided with Archbishop Murray. He supported the national schools system and the queen's colleges, arguing that the latter should be accepted since the Irish middle classes strongly supported them, and the government had made a real effort to conciliate catholic opinion.
Held in high regard by most of his fellow bishops, he preached the opening sermon at the national synod in Thurles in August 1850. After the synod Cullen described him as ‘a man of exemplary conduct in his life and of extraordinary zeal’ (Larkin, 41) but strongly criticised his defence of the queen's colleges and his association with Young Ireland. He believed that Blake, who by now was totally deaf, was also senile and unfit to govern his diocese, noting that at the synod he had to be prevented from reading a dissertation contradicting the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Although very ill in his last years, Blake resisted Cullen's attempts to appoint a ultramontanist coadjutor to his diocese. In July 1854 he was finally forced to accept Cullen's nominee, John Pius Leahy (1802–90), former provincial of the Dominicans in Ireland, but he refused to surrender administration of the diocese until his last illness. He died 6 March 1860 at his residence, Violet Hill, Newry.