Brady, Hugh (c.1527–1584), protestant bishop of Meath, was born in Trim, Co. Meath, son of a landowner in Dunboyne, Co. Meath; no more details of his parents are known. He is said to have studied at Oxford, but there is no evidence of this in the college registers. His first patron was Edmund Grindal, bishop of London, under whose auspices Brady secured a prestigious appointment to the rectorship of St Mary Aldermary, London, in early 1561. Over the next two years he became acquainted with the queen's secretary, William Cecil, a relative of whom he appears to have married. Brady was eager to return to Ireland and was appointed bishop of Meath on 21 October 1563; he was ideally qualified for this role, being a native of the diocese and a skilled preacher fluent in English and Irish. Arriving in Dublin on 3 December 1563, he was consecrated 19 December, being made a member of the Irish privy council soon after.
On reaching his diocese he was dismayed at its dilapidated state. His diocesan income scarcely exceeded £60 a year, many of the churches were in ruins, his clergy were uneducated and largely pro-catholic, and the right to appoint clergy to many parish churches was in the hands of catholic landowners. Further, the rival catholic bishop of Meath, William Walsh (qv), was dedicated, capable, and popular. Although Walsh was belatedly arrested in 1565, his willingness to lead by example and suffer persecution for his beliefs stiffened catholic resistance in Meath.
Undaunted, Brady threw himself into work, preaching whenever possible throughout his diocese and attempting to recruit trained and reliably protestant clergy from England. His duties quickly drained his financial resources. As bishop, he was expected to provide free food and drink as hospitality for his flock. He also paid for a preacher and for the erection of a free school at Trim. His episcopal income was totally inadequate and only his private rents from land he inherited at Dunboyne enabled him to function as bishop at all. However, by late 1567 he had been financially crippled by the need to pay royal taxes (the first fruits and twentieths) on clerical income. As well as being required to pay first fruits on his bishopric, he also had to do so on his rectorship of Aldermay, which he had held for under three years. Worse, as most of his clergy were too poor to pay the taxes on their income, he was made liable for those sums also. Eventually, the queen waived his liability for Aldermay and extended his payment period for the first fruits of the bishopric of Meath.
Prior to his return to Ireland, he and Cecil had concluded that the reformation could succeed there only if a university was established in Dublin for training a native-born protestant clergy. He proposed dissolving the cathedral chapter of St Patrick's in Dublin and using its revenues to fund the university and lobbied on behalf of this scheme after becoming bishop. In this he was vigorously opposed by Hugh Curwin (qv), archbishop of Dublin, who pointed out that the chapter was crucial to the administration of the diocese of Dublin and that its revenues would provide an unreliable source of funding. The real issue, however, was ideological. Curwin and many of the Dublin diocesan clergy, particularly those in the chapter of St Patrick's, were crypto-catholics who conformed superficially to protestantism. Brady's proposal was designed to eliminate a haven of passive resistance to the reformation in the royal capital. However, he would have been better advised to find a less controversial method of financing the university. The funding issue would partly delay the founding of Trinity College till 1592, with adverse consequences for protestantism in Ireland. Initially all went well and Curwin's objections were disregarded, but in spring 1566 clerical outrage in England against the secularisation of church property prompted Cecil to shelve the university project. A project Brady instigated in the mid 1560s to print the New Testament in Irish also failed.
His lack of success with these projects can be attributed in part to political difficulties caused by his closeness to Thomas Radcliffe (qv), 3rd earl of Sussex and lord lieutenant of Ireland. By the time Brady arrived in Ireland in late 1563, Sussex had been largely discredited and was replaced as governor of Ireland by Nicholas Arnold (qv) in 1564. Brady disagreed with Arnold's policy of appeasing Shane O'Neill (qv), predicted that O'Neill would never be loyal to the crown, and called for Sussex's restoration. As a result, he was ignored by his conciliar colleagues and not consulted on government matters. During 1564–5 his views irritated the queen and made him unpopular among his neighbours in Meath, who wholeheartedly approved of Arnold's rule. However, Cecil continued to seek his advice and Brady was vindicated by events.
The appointment of Sir Henry Sidney (qv) – who quickly developed a high regard for Brady's judgement in both political and spiritual matters – as lord deputy of Ireland in late 1565 brought his period in the political wilderness to an end. Indeed, over the next two decades he proved indispensable to the smooth functioning of the government, particularly within the Pale, where he liaised between the crown and the local community. He sat on a variety of government commissions, most of which had little or no ecclesiastical dimension, and was often dispatched as a royal envoy to remote parts of the country. Unsurprisingly, he resented his considerable administrative duties as distractions from his religious mission. Added to these burdens, as bishop of Meath he was expected to organise the defence of the Pale against raids by Gaelic Irish. He supervised and paid for the maintenance of soldiers and garrisons to defend his diocese, and there are numerous references to his being engaged in battle. Allied to this military role, he often negotiated with Gaelic clans bordering the Pale.
Throughout his career, he argued that the reformation could best be propagated in Ireland through education and the preaching of the Gospel in Irish, not by persecution and coercion. His views brought him into conflict with Adam Loftus (qv), archbishop of Armagh, who wished to use the ecclesiastical court of high commission to force catholics to attend protestant church services. The two had initially been allies on the privy council, but fell out over their differing strategies to spread protestantism and over their rivalry to succeed Curwin as archbishop of Dublin. The root of their quarrel was partly ideological – Loftus espoused a more radical form of protestantism than Brady – but can mainly be ascribed to their respective backgrounds. While Loftus was a newcomer to Ireland, Brady was an established member of the Pale gentry, with whom he had many ties, both familial and personal. As bishop he relied on these local ties and had no desire to alienate his religiously conservative neighbours, family, and associates. In 1567 Loftus discredited Brady in London and became archbishop of Dublin.
Nonetheless, Brady retained Sidney's confidence and found a new ally in 1567 when Robert Weston (qv) became lord chancellor of Ireland. Weston sympathised with Brady's educational and evangelical bent while gaining the respect of the querulous Loftus, thereby defusing the animosity between Ireland's leading protestant clergy. Brady married (1568) Weston's daughter Alice, his first wife having died. In 1569 his diocese was amalgamated with the diocese of Clonmacnoise. He now headed a sprawling diocese that included Gaelic areas where the crown had very little authority. In practice, he appears to have largely ignored Clonmacnoise. In Meath a government inquiry of 1575 showed that he had made little headway in spreading the protestant faith or in restoring the fabric and finances of the church. He had found clergy for nearly every church in the diocese, but most were of a poor standard. Indeed, he contributed to the diocese's worsening finances by alienating church land to family and associates. The free school he established was also forced to close due to a lack of suitable premises.
Following Sidney's dismissal as lord deputy (1578), protestant hard-liners began to dominate the Irish government, causing Brady to lose influence. He complained in 1581 that his letters to London were being opened and read by his colleagues and sometimes being suppressed. His influence declined in Meath also as discontent with the government increased. In 1577 his men captured a number of friars at Navan, but were attacked by locals and forced to free their captives. Thereafter, local officials and landowners routinely defied his authority. His conciliatory policies totally discredited, he stayed away from Dublin and resided mainly at his episcopal palace at Ardbraccan. From 1582 he suffered from ill health, forcing him to curtail his preaching. He died 14 February 1584 and was buried near the parish church at Dunboyne. He had three sons and one daughter with his second wife.