Craig, John Duncan (1830–1909), clergyman and man of letters, was born at Horsehead House, Passage West, Co. Cork, the second son of John Craig, businessman and bank manager, and his first wife, a daughter of David Taylor of Edendale, who claimed family ties with General Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), US president (1849–50). Craig had at least two brothers and one sister. His father married a member of the Griffith family after his first wife’s death; it is not clear which was the mother of his youngest son and daughter.
Craig entered Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1847, originally as a student of engineering, but growing religious commitment led him to transfer to the Divinity School. The semi-revolutionary atmosphere of Dublin in 1848 encouraged his fear of mob rule, and he saw measures taken against revolutionary agitation (including suppression of radical journals of John Mitchel (qv) and John Martin (qv)) as models which should have been followed in dealing with later outbreaks of nationalist discontent. Craig graduated BA (1851) and MA (1857), taking the Bachelor of Divinity (BD) and Doctor of Divinity (DD) degrees in 1869, and was ordained deacon on 25 September 1853. He initially ministered in the Dublin working-class area known as the Liberties, but transferred to Munster for health reasons, holding a short-term appointment in the Golden Vale on the boundaries of counties Cork, Limerick and Tipperary. In 1855 he was sent to Nice (then part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia) both for health reasons and as chaplain to sailors on board British ships embarking Sardinian troops for the Crimean War (1853–6). During this mission he had an evangelical conversion experience, engaged in smuggling Italian gospels into Piedmontese territory, and developed a lasting interest in the Provencal language and related dialects. He regularly revisited the Riviera, noted similarities between its climate and that of West Cork, and advocated the introduction of olive and grape cultivation to Ireland.
In 1863 Craig published A handbook of the Provencal language, which was praised by Napoleon III and led to correspondence between Craig and the Provencal poet Frederic Mistral (1830–1914). On a subsequent visit to Provence (described in Miejour, or Provencal legend, life, language, literature in the land of the Felibre (1877)), Craig was admitted to the Felibrige, a Provencal literary association. He was on friendly terms with William Charles (Bonaparte) Wyse (qv), Irish Provencal poet and Felibre, probably the member of the Bonaparte family who told Craig Home Rule would be ‘suicide for England and hell for Ireland’ (Freeman’s Journal, 13 Mar. 1893). Craig prepared numerous translations for the Bible Society, including several hymns collected as La Paroula de la Crouse (Cannes, 1866). A Provencal translation of ‘Rock of ages’, sometimes ascribed to Craig, was composed by Mistral from a French translation at Craig’s request. Craig also studied Hebraeo-Spanish dialect and translated into English the literary satires of the Spanish neoclassical poet Tomas de Iriarte (1750–91). His first novel, Lady Wilmerding of Maison Rouge (1875), features a sensationalist plot in a Riviera setting and incorporates two religious tracts and a sermon.
On returning to Ireland, Craig became a chaplain to the Irish Convict Service and a curate in Kinsale, Co. Cork. In 1860 he was appointed perpetual curate of Templebrady (near Crosshaven). He was curate of St Mary’s, Youghal (1863–5) and then returned to Kinsale as rector of St Multose’s Church (1865–72), the last holder of that position before disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870. These positions were accompanied by chaplaincy work with local military garrisons, and he maintained an interest in military chaplaincy for the rest of his life: Soldiers of the heavenly camp (1899) is a chapbook-sized collection of revivalist-style hymns composed by Craig to popular tunes and directed at soldiers. He contributed to periodicals including the New Monthly Magazine, Ainsworth’s Magazine, the Family Treasury of Sunday Reading, and Chambers’ Journal. In 1869 he published a pamphlet against disestablishment, The Ochlocrat in Ireland (‘mob-ruler’ – i.e., Gladstone).
Craig’s residence in Kinsale was marked by construction of a Fishermen’s Hall to accommodate fishermen from Cornwall and the Isle of Man who seasonally followed the shoals to West Cork, and controversies with local catholic priests over Craig’s claim that a significant proportion of Kinsale catholics were descendants of protestant settlers who might be reconciled to their ancestral faith. Permanently influenced by the siege mentality of protestant communities in the small towns of coastal Cork, he assimilated the contemporary threat of the Fenian movement and his own memories of 1848 to older memories of the Tithe War of the 1830s, the Rockite insurgency of the 1820s and to a continuous narrative of perennial catholic violence and protestant martyrdom articulated in such texts as Sir Richard Musgrave’s (qv) account of 1798 and previous insurrections. His initiation into the Orange Order appears to have taken place in West Cork; he saw the lodges as important rallying-points for scattered protestants and the mass Orangeism of Ulster as a reserve army. In later life, he was one of several Orange deputy grand chaplains of Ireland, preaching and praying at annual 12 July soirées in the Round Room of the Rotunda. He belonged to Lodge 1505 in Dublin and was a deputy grand chaplain of the Royal Black Preceptory.
Craig saw the Anglo–Irish relationship as colonial, with a minority of protestant settlers facing catholic hordes whose ignorance and violence, encouraged by catholicism, could only be dispelled by conversion to protestantism; he praised the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as an army of occupation. Extending this view to the wider British empire, he wrote verses about the last stand of an isolated British soldier against ‘demonic’ Zulus at the Battle of Isandhlwana which inspired a painting ‘The last of the 24th at Isandula’ by R. T. Moynan (qv).
Craig strongly believed that evangelical anglicans, presbyterians and methodists shared a common faith and that catholicism was so obviously false that the slightest exposure to the Bible would convert its adherents to evangelicalism, and attributed the persistence of Irish catholicism to neglect of Irish-language evangelisation. (He had some knowledge of Irish but took no interest in it as a literary medium.) Maintaining that the formally non-denominational national school system, which separated religious and secular education and required parental permission for religious instruction, was one of the crowning misfortunes of nineteenth-century Ireland, he was an intransigent supporter of the Church of Ireland faction which opposed co-operation with the national schools and demanded state funding for the denominational schools of the Church Education Society. He denounced disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Ireland as sacrilege, depriving the church of the resources needed to maintain remoter parishes and thereby exposing isolated protestants to absorption by ‘Romanism’.
Craig married twice, firstly in 1860 to Dorothea Eliza Bird, a daughter of John Sandys Bird, a Kinsale magistrate who had fought on the government side against the Rockites at the Battle of Keimaneigh Pass in 1822; they had one son, who appears to have died young and childless. After Dorothea’s death, Craig married on 3 March 1866 Adelaide Allen (d. 1905), daughter of a retired army major of Stone House, Glandore, Co. Cork; they had one daughter, who never married.
In 1870 Craig volunteered as a chaplain with the German army in the Franco–Prussian war, during which he was shot in the lung and spent a period in hospital. He described his experiences in La Debonado: sketches, scenes and incidents in France and Germany during the war (1871). His experiences of the Riviera and the war are drawn on in his novel John Maverell: a tale of the Riviera (1898), centred on the religious reclamation of a convict and depicting shadowy overlapping conspiracies by Jesuits, Jews and revolutionaries.
In 1873 Craig moved back to Dublin, where he became chaplain to the Molyneux Asylum for indigent protestant gentlewomen, which involved preaching and holding services in the Old Molyneux Church (Albert Chapel) in Peter Street. Regarded as one of the best preachers of his generation, he had a good ear for a soundbite and a certain theatricality. He regularly preached charity sermons in other Dublin churches and even in Belfast, and his ability to draw listeners to his services helped maintain his impoverished congregations. He was active in a network of protestant charitable and evangelical societies, including the Protestant Orphan Society, the Claremont Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, the Irish Auxiliary to the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, Irish Society (for Irish-language evangelisation). A member of the senate of the University of Dublin, he was frequently in a minority of one, criticising such decisions as the conferral of an honorary degree on the religiously heterodox scientist John Tyndall (qv). (Craig regretted the formal secularisation of TCD and hoped it might be reversed.) As a leading member of the ultra-evangelical faction within the Dublin clergy, he suspected he was denied promotion because of his views. In 1884 he became incumbent of Trinity Church, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin, a trustee chapel with a strong evangelical tradition. Throughout his Dublin ministry he engaged in extensive charitable work in the Dublin slums, though he himself resided in the suburbs – first at Kingstown, then Glenageary.
In 1873 Craig published a collection of a dozen Kinsale tracts, composed and distributed during his ministry in that town, which retold incidents from his own life in the hope of stimulating casual readers to a conversion experience. Real pictures of clerical life in Ireland (1875) was a collection of personal memories and factual or fictionalised sketches based on traditions among older Munster protestants, highlighting for English readers the unappreciated virtues and embattled state of the Church of Ireland. Bruno! With other ballads of the Irish reign of terror (1888) combines translations from Catalan with political verses, including a portrayal of Dublin under home rule with relocation of Maynooth teaching staff to Trinity College, mass burnings of Bibles (and some Bible-owners) and an Inquisition at Stephen’s Green.
Craig saw the land war and home rule agitations of the 1880s as extending the narrative of catholic barbarism attacking protestant civilisation, and criticised Protestants who failed to speak out; he took every opportunity to do so at church synods and other functions. He regularly engaged in controversy with the Freeman’s Journal and the Parnellite weekly United Ireland, which he accused of incitement to murder (not least through their coloured cartoons) while they accused him of bigotry and scaremongering. His land war novel Bruce Reynell, or the Oxford man in Ireland (1899), which features recurring characters from John Maverell, contains extensive parodies of these newspapers’ coverage of agrarian violence combined with extensive lectures on scriptural and other cures for Ireland’s problems. Its chronology is exceptionally confused, combining features of 1798, the 1820s, the 1830s, 1867–71 and the agitations of the 1880s.
Craig praised the attempts of Standish James O’Grady (qv) to organise Irish landlords in their own defence. Although he eulogised Arthur Balfour (qv) as the pacifier of Ireland, Craig opposed ‘constructive unionist’ moves to create a peasant proprietary, which he saw as trying to appease a fundamentally hostile populace at the expense of the loyal landlord garrison. He actively supported hardline unionist candidates against W. E. H. Lecky (qv) in TCD in 1895 and Horace Plunkett (qv) in Dublin County South in 1900.
In 1897 Craig inherited £60,000 from his sister, a wealthy and childless widow. This enabled him to reprint some of his earlier publications, to retire from Trinity Church and to acquire a villa at San Remo (on the Ligurian coast near the Franco-Italian border) where he spent the winters, returning to Dublin as a guest preacher during the summers. John Duncan Craig died suddenly of a heart attack on 30 March 1909 at his Italian residence, Villa Miramare, San Remo. He body was buried in Deansgrange cemetery, Co. Dublin. His principal heir was his daughter Anna Maria, who on her death in 1944 left £1,000 to endow a bed in the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, in her father’s memory.