Crotty, Michael (1794/5–1862), catholic priest and Church of England clergyman, was born at Broadford, Co. Clare, son of James Crotty, a farmer, and his wife, Catherine (née Drew). At the age of nineteen he entered St Patrick's College, Maynooth, to train for the priesthood (September 1814), but, for reasons that are unclear, left without being ordained (June 1817). Through the influence of an uncle, Michael Crotty (d. 1838), parish priest of Castleconnell, to whom the co-adjutor bishop of Killaloe, James O'Shaughnessy, was indebted for saving him from drowning, he was again accepted as an ordinand for the Killaloe diocese, which enabled him to complete his studies and be ordained priest at Saint-Sulpice, Paris, in 1820. After serving briefly as curate at Toomevara, Co. Tipperary, he was moved in April 1821 to Birr (known also as Parsonstown), King's Co. (Offaly), the town with which his name was to be associated. Popular but rash, he quarrelled with the local committee that was raising a fund for the construction of a new chapel. After four years at Birr, Crotty was appointed administrator of nearby Shinrone. When he was prosecuted for assaulting a local man, his bishop moved him again – back to Toomevara as curate (August 1825), and on to Killaloe (shortly afterwards).
At Birr a revolt by a large number of catholic laymen led by Thomas Lalor Cooke (qv) resulted in the election (April 1826) of a new building fund committee, to which the co-adjutor bishop, Patrick MacMahon, responded by placing the parish under an interdict and appointing as administrator the obdurate Patrick Kennedy, who refused to deal with the committee. In May or June some local laymen wrote to Crotty at Killaloe inviting him back to Birr to receive money collected to pay a £20 fine imposed on him for the assault. Crotty returned to Birr and stayed. Supported by the large majority of parishioners, he took possession of the chapel and refused Kennedy admission. Despite his being suspended (21 July 1826) and then spectacularly excommunicated by the bishop (13 August), and charged with ‘riot, conspiracy and disturbing public worship’ (10 September), his popularity continued and he succeeded in taking over the unfinished new chapel on 17 December. Recurring disorder ensued, with the result that Crotty was convicted of rioting, imprisoned for three months, and bound over to keep the peace for seven years (April 1827). On his release he returned again to Birr, and the schism persisted.
In the spring of 1832 Michael Crotty was joined by a cousin, William Crotty (qv), who had recently been ordained priest. At this time also Michael wrote a series of public letters showing a theological change in his beliefs towards protestantism; he also distributed 500 bibles. (Hitherto the dispute at Birr had been due to personal and factional differences rather than doctrinal ones.) In April and May 1834, the seven-year order to keep the peace having expired, the two Crottys repeatedly attempted to retake the chapel from Kennedy's followers, who by now formed a two-to-one majority over the Crottyites. Both Crottys were arrested; Michael Crotty was tried and convicted (July) and served seven more weeks in jail. Towards the end of 1835 they appealed (‘to the liberal, high-minded and Christian Protestants of Ireland’) for funds to build a chapel of their own. Michael laid the first stone in Castle Street, Birr, on 15 July 1836. He had already ‘reformed the Roman missal and expunged exceptionable passages’ and, on 5 June, he said mass in English for the first time. Soon afterwards he declared the pope to be Antichrist. In order to raise funds he was absent from Birr from August 1836 to February 1837, again in the following summer, and from the summer of 1838 until April 1839. He appealed to episcopalian protestants of the Church of Ireland and to their co-religionists in England by demonstrating that he had adopted the principles of the Reformation. In February 1839 he married Martha Holland, daughter of a Birmingham umbrella maker; they had two children.
During Michael's absences William was left in charge, and his theological position continued to shift and advance. In consequence, without Michael's knowledge, William and 108 men of their congregation successfully applied (May 1839) for connection with the Synod of Ulster – the main presbyterian body in Ireland. Michael Crotty was at Cheltenham in May 1839 when he heard, with disgust, that his cousin and followers had joined the presbyterians. His attempt two months later on his return to reestablish himself at Birr was a failure, as was another in March 1840, after which he left for England and took up a curacy in the diocese of Chester. While in his next curacy, at Brotherton in the diocese of Ripon, Yorkshire, he published A narrative of the Reformation at Birr in the King's County (1847; 2nd ed., 1850). He left Brotherton in March 1850. In December 1855 he was before a court at Preston, Lancashire, accused of obtaining money by false pretences; in April 1856 he was at Dublin, where he appealed for readmission to the catholic church, though he refused to leave his wife and children. Michael Crotty entered a lunatic asylum at Bruges, in Belgium, in May 1858 and died, aged sixty-seven, on 4 May 1862 in an asylum at Courtrai. His story is that of a dispute that began over personal mistrust, developed into a schism, and engendered religious reform that went from moderation to extremes.