Delany, Daniel (1747–1814), catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and founder of the Patrician and Brigidine orders, was born in Paddock, Mountrath, Queen's Co. (Laois), the elder of two sons of Daniel Delany, a prosperous farmer, and Elizabeth Delany (née Fitzpatrick), also from Mountrath. After his father's death when he was about ten years old, Daniel was sent to live with his maternal aunts, who ran a business in Mountrath, allowing his mother to nurse his sickly younger brother, but he returned home after his brother's death. He obtained his rudimentary education from his parents, his local hedge school (probably at nearby Briscula), his parish priest Fr Lalor, and, as tradition has it, even a protestant youth who taught him some Latin. Aged sixteen, he went to the Irish college in Paris, France, to pursue an ecclesiastical education. He was ordained in Paris around 1770 and then went to the English college at St Omer in northern France where he taught alongside his relation, the future archbishop of Cashel, James Butler (qv), and Professor Alban Butler. In 1773 Delany succeeded James Butler as chair of rhetoric at St Omer on Butler’s recommendation.
Returning to Ireland in 1777, he became curate to James Keeffe (1708?–1787), bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and resided in Tullow, Co. Carlow, which, after France, was something of a culture shock. His denunciations from the altar of the public dancing, card-playing, cock-fighting and drinking drew large audiences who came purely to admire his oratory and paid no heed to his injunctions. Deciding to concentrate on catechising children, he started children’s choirs, and bands, and then Sunday schools. His was one of the earliest catholic Sunday schools in Ireland, and the success of his initiatives encouraged other catholic clergy to follow suit.
It also contributed to his appointment as parish priest of Tullow in 1779 and to his consecration on 31 August 1783 as coadjutor bishop to Keeffe, succeeding him on his death in September 1787. His elevation to coadjutor had met with opposition within the diocese, from some Irish bishops and in Rome, as Delany was closely identified with Keeffe’s controversial support for the test oath whereby catholics pledged allegiance to George III. In 1784 he held a corpus christi procession in Tullow, which became an annual event. He also began ringing the angelus bells daily in Tullow, much to the consternation of Keeffe who feared a protestant backlash.
By 1785 he was catechising so many children and adults that he established the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and then in 1788 the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Both were composed of the most pious members of his flock, and they were responsible for catechising children and adults. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was charged particularly with teaching single women. An enthusiastic supporter of lay women’s involvement in the church, he toured his diocese recruiting wives and daughters, noting that the female members of his confraternities tended to be far more zealous than the men. Ultimately, this led him to establish two teaching orders in Tullow: the Congregation of St Brigid (the Brigidines) founded in 1807 and the Congregation of the Brothers of St Patrick (the Patricians) in 1808. In 1811 he also invited the Presentation sisters, an established teaching order, to Carlow town. Finally, in 1814 he facilitated the Jesuits who established Clongowes Wood College in Clane, Co. Kildare.
His education projects also reached into the tertiary level. On becoming bishop, he inherited responsibility for the construction of St Patrick’s College, Carlow, (latterly known as Carlow College) for which he held collections in his diocese, causing resentment among his clergy. In 1793 the college opened to tertiary students and students for the priesthood. It was the second seminary to open in Ireland since the easing of the penal laws. Financially maintaining St Patrick’s was a struggle for Delany, especially following the establishment in 1795 of a national seminary, the government subsidised St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which by offering free places drained Carlow of students. Delany had assisted in the establishment of Maynooth and was on its board of trustees. He also organised and raised money for the construction of new churches in his diocese at Mountrath (c. 1795) and Tullow (c. 1805).
Politically moderate, he supported the secession of the conservative Lord Kenmare (qv) from the Catholic Committee in December 1791, but was concerned that the catholic hierarchy should not protest their loyalty too often and appear too supine towards the government. As the decade progressed, he became troubled by events in France and the growth of radicalism in Ireland. He dismissed Fr Mogue Kearns (qv) from his parish of Balyna because of his links with the Defenders and described the rebels of 1798 as ‘unhappy miscreants’ and as ‘absolutely possessed by the devil himself’ (quoted in Keogh, 154). During the 1798 rebellion two major battles were fought in his diocese, and in the rebellion’s aftermath two of his priests were hanged (Kearns being one of them) while soldiers were barracked in his chapel for a time. To ease religious tensions, he cancelled the corpus christi processions in his diocese, only reviving them in 1805. When in 1799 the government sought a right of veto over the appointment of catholic bishops, he was among those bishops who refrained from rejecting it out of hand; this was purely tactical, and he was subsequently a firm opponent of the veto.
An inspiring and affable man and a brilliant conversationalist, he was also a conscientious administrator, if not quite up to the standards of some of his predecessors, who had the benefit of a stronger church bureaucracy. His particular legacy, the Brigidine and the Patrician congregations, expanded quickly and established foundations worldwide. He spent his last years in failing health in the care of the Brigidine sisters in Tullow, dying in their convent on 9 July 1814.