Curry, John (1702?–1780), historian and physician, was born in Dublin, son of a wealthy catholic merchant. According to Charles O'Conor (qv), he was descended from the O'Corras of Cavan, whose estates were confiscated in the seventeenth century; his grandfather, a Jacobite cavalry officer, fell at Aughrim. He studied medicine at Paris and Rheims, took his medical degree at Rheims, and practised there for a time. On his return to Dublin, he was licensed by the RCPI and became one of the city's most eminent physicians with a practice in Cow Lane, specialising in fevers. He published several medical works, including An essay on ordinary fevers (1743) and Some thoughts on the nature of fevers (1774), which advised minimal medical intervention to cure fevers.
In October 1746, after overhearing a young girl, who had just attended a service at Christ Church commemorating the massacres of 1641, ask ‘Are there any of these bloody papists in Dublin?’ (Curry, vi), Curry procured a copy of the commemorative sermon and was appalled at its depiction of catholicism as an intolerant and persecuting creed. He resolved to devote himself to countering anti-catholic prejudice, and published A brief account . . . of the Irish rebellion (1747) to refute claims that the 1641 rebellion had simply been a massacre of protestants. This was strenuously attacked by a number of protestant writers, notably Walter Harris (qv) in Fiction unmasked (1752), to whom Curry replied with his Historical memoirs of the Irish rebellion in the year 1641 (1758), in which he reworked much of his 1747 pamphlet and argued that the Irish had been goaded into rebellion by protestant atrocities and the confiscation of their land.
Curry was a close friend, ally, and regular correspondent of Charles O'Conor of Belanagare; the two men cooperated for over thirty years in campaigning for catholic relief. They also produced numerous pamphlets and historical works which challenged the accepted protestant version of history and attempted to dispel anti-catholic prejudice. Rather than merely listing grievances, as most previous catholic polemicists had done, they argued for relief on the basis of public utility, claiming that the penal laws had condemned catholics to idleness, ignorance, and alienation. They did not acknowledge authorship of these works but tried to give the impression that the writers were liberal protestants, in the hope of gaining a wider readership and a more sympathetic reception. Their writings marked the end of catholic acquiescence to the penal laws and were strongly influential. Thomas Addis Emmet (qv) claimed that he and many other United Irishmen were converted to catholic emancipation by their Observations on the popery laws (1771), and Henry Grattan (qv) made a similar claim for Curry's books on the 1641 rebellion. Curry also addressed topical issues: his Candid enquiry into the causes and motives of the late riots in the province of Munster (1766) argued that the Whiteboy disturbances of the early 1760s were motivated by economic rather than sectarian or political grievances.
Curry's work was much admired by Edmund Burke (qv), who encouraged and advised him on the publication of a London edition of his Historical memoirs. In 1764 Burke also drew up and sent to Curry an address and petition setting out the grievances of Irish catholics. Curry considered Burke a close friend and the two men corresponded from 1764 to 1779. Curry's Historical and critical review of the civil wars in Ireland (1775; reprinted with additional material in 1786 and 1810), was his most ambitious attempt to revise the accepted protestant view of Irish history. Written in response to Thomas Leland (qv), whose History of Ireland (1773), contrary to expectations, had repeated many of the traditional charges against catholics, it criticised Leland's historical accuracy and his interpretations. It also attempted to discredit the depositions held in TCD on which many protestant accounts of catholic atrocities were based (although Curry had never seen these documents). Some Catholic Committee members (including O'Conor) were uneasy at Curry's Jacobite sympathies and the vigour of his defence of catholic behaviour in 1641, believing his writings risked fuelling anti-catholic prejudice. The protestant scholar Edward Ledwich (qv) was particularly critical of Curry's work, maintaining that it demonstrated ‘what is uppermost in the minds of papists – their lost estates and the want of success in the numerous rebellions to recover them’ (O'Halloran, 60). The 1786 edition of the Historical and critical review (prepared for posthumous publication by O'Conor) included Curry's ‘State of the catholics of Ireland’, which detailed the persecution of catholics under the penal laws from the treaty of Limerick to the 1780s. In 1809 the publisher Hugh Fitzpatrick (qv) recommended it to Irish catholics as ‘your code, your political bible, your magazine of arguments, your depot of authorities’ (McCartney, 356).
In July 1756 Curry helped establish an association in Dublin to defend catholic interests but it had little effect and soon dissolved. He continued his efforts and in autumn 1759 tried to organise support among Dublin catholic merchants for a loyal address to the crown drafted by O'Conor, but was generally opposed by catholic gentry and clergy reluctant to take a lead from a physician. However, the address was forwarded to the king by John Ponsonby (qv), speaker of the Irish commons, and received a gracious reply. In February 1760 Curry and Thomas Wyse (qv) of Waterford discussed with O'Conor forming an organisation to represent catholic interests and petition for relief from the penal laws; all three were closely involved in the founding of the Catholic Committee at the Elephant Tavern, Essex St., Dublin (2 April 1760). Rather than leaving petitioning to the gentry and hierarchy, this new body hoped to represent catholics more effectively by combining the elective and hereditary principles, and it included representatives elected from Dublin parishes. Curry played a decisive role in directing its affairs until his death. He worked to achieve the cooperation of all parties: as a Dublin-based professional of good family, who had been educated in France, he often acted as a bridge between landed catholics and urban middle-class members of the committee. However, despite his best efforts, by 1763 the Catholic Committee was moribund, and in September 1763 O'Conor wrote to Curry: ‘You have acted your part honourably, warmly and honestly, and now have nothing to do, but give up your political patient’ (Ward, 157). From 1772 Curry led those catholics who sought to take an oath of allegiance to the crown that would not offend their consciences. Although many clergy opposed this, Curry (always inclined to resist clerical interference) was in 1775 one of the first to take the oath. A leading figure in the revived Catholic Committee, he prepared the committee's address to the lord lieutenant in 1777, and lobbied strongly for the passing of the catholic relief bill of 1778. He died 17 March 1780 at his home in Summerhill, Dublin. He and his wife Mary (d. 1784) had three sons, two of whom served as officers in the Austrian army.