Gillooly, Laurence (1819–95), catholic bishop of Elphin, son of Laurence Gillooly and his wife Margaret, née McGann, was born at Bothair Garbh, Gallowstown, Co. Roscommon (a mile outside Roscommon town on the main road to Boyle), on 18 May 1819. A hostile critic, the former Elphin priest turned protestant evangelist Thomas Connellan (qv), claims that Gillooly, whom he portrays in his 1908 Scenes from clerical life under the thin disguise of ‘Bishop Kilhool’, was ashamed of his family's humble background and had his birthplace demolished after becoming bishop. It is unlikely, however, that the Gilloolys were on the very lowest rung of rural society, since a much older brother, Timothy (known as the Abbé Gillooly), was ordained some years before his sibling.
Education and early career
Gillooly was identified at an early age as having a vocation for the priesthood; he was therefore educated at a ‘classical academy’ in Roscommon town and at St Nathy's College, Ballaghadereen, where he won a scholarship to the Irish College, Paris (where Fr Timothy Gillooly was a staff member). He entered the Irish College on 13 November 1836, but shortly afterwards suffered health problems which led to his transfer to Geneva and thence (18 November 1839) to a college run by the Vincentian Fathers (Congregation of the Mission) at Montpellier, in the Languedoc region of southern France, which he attended as a day pupil. He spent three years in Normandy as tutor to a French family who had employed his brother Timothy as their chaplain. In 1843 he returned to Paris and qualified for the diploma required to teach in French schools. In July 1844 he entered the Paris mother house of the Vincentian Order, where he read theology. He was professed as a Vincentian in 1844, assigned to the Irish province in July 1846, and ordained to the priesthood in Dublin by Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) on 7 December 1847. Thomas Connellan claimed that Gillooly retained a French accent.
Gillooly taught French at Castleknock College, Co. Dublin (1847–50), then in 1851 was sent to Cork to take charge of the newly founded St Vincent's College. Between 1851 and 1856 he built St Vincent's church, Sunday's Well, in the city, the earliest example of his interest in architecture. In 1855 he became superior of the Cork Vincentians, but vacated the position on becoming coadjutor bishop of Elphin (titular bishop of Belle in Phoenicia Prima) in February 1856. His episcopal nomination was the result of a division between a candidate favoured by Archbishop Paul Cullen (qv) and the outgoing bishop, George Plunket Browne (d. 1858), and a supporter of Archbishop John MacHale (qv). Cullen then threw his weight behind Gillooly, third of the three candidates nominated by the parish priests of the diocese, in the belief (justified by events) that the Vincentian would be a loyal supporter of Cullen's ultramontane agenda and that, as a religious used to obedience, he would be able to control the extensive factional divisions among the Elphin clergy – exacerbated by divisions over Bishop Browne's support for John Sadleir (qv) as MP for Sligo and William Keogh (qv) as MP for Athlone. Gillooly attempted to refuse the nomination, believing the Irish Vincentians could not afford to lose him, and possibly deterred when MacHale's supporters publicised that his sister had been involved in a scandal in 1841. At Cullen's behest, however, Rome ordered Gillooly to accept the mitre. His succession, the first appointment of a Cullen supporter to a see in the province of Tuam, was regarded as a major blow to MacHale; in concert with Bishop John MacEvilly (qv) of Galway (a former MacHale supporter) Gillooly countered MacHale's power in the west throughout the 1860s, though the latter's power base was not finally demolished until other Connacht sees fell vacant around 1870.
Bishop of Elphin
Gillooly received episcopal consecration on 7 September 1856 from Bishop William Delany (qv) of Cork. He then took up residence in Sligo while Browne remained in his habitual residence in Athlone; Gillooly remained in Sligo after succeeding as bishop of Elphin on 1 December 1858, and all subsequent Elphin bishops resided there. Throughout his career Gillooly served on numerous local boards, including the Sligo poor law guardians. In 1861 he complained that the guardians discriminated against catholics in making appointments, but in later life he is said to have been generally respected by the conservative and protestant classes of Sligo. The first Irish Vincentian to hold an Irish see, he appears to have been a conspicuously authoritarian bishop – Cullen had noted the Vincentians’ strong emphasis on discipline as particularly advantageous – assisted by an indult from the holy see allowing him to appoint only administrators rather than pastors to the parishes of his diocese. (Administrators were removable at the bishop's pleasure; pastors, parish priests properly so called, had canonical rights which made them irremovable except for proven misconduct or on acceptance of a benefice of equal value.)
Gillooly was an enormously successful diocesan administrator; the fact that his diocesan archive (kept at Sligo, with a microfilm copy at the NLI) is a major and frequently used source for the history of the nineteenth-century catholic church in Ireland indicates the importance which he placed on record-keeping. In accordance with the Tridentine norms decreed at the synod of Thurles, he established a network of parochial sodalities and confraternities across the diocese and a regular schedule of retreats and missions; he himself undertook regular visitations. Gillooly instituted a system of regular clerical inspection of schools, incorporating catechism classes with prizes for those who provided the best answers, and a system of inter-school competitions and competitive examinations in the subject; these were linked to scholarships for candidates to the priesthood. He was one of the earliest Connacht bishops to organise regular ‘Peter's pence’ collections from 1860, though he temporarily suspended this in 1861 because of harvest failure. Gillooly organised public meetings to call for government relief and resented the refusal of the chief secretary Sir Robert Peel (qv) to meet him about the distress; in a letter to Tobias Kirby (qv) of 10 January 1862 he lamented: ‘it is a very hard thing not to become a declared rebel amidst the scenes that are rending our hearts’ (Larkin, Consolidation, 103). In 1879 he reorganised the parochial boundaries of the diocese despite local opposition.
In September 1857 Gillooly opened a diocesan college at Summerhill, Athlone, with his elder brother Timothy as first president. He was subsequently instructed by Rome to move the college to Sligo, where he could supervise it personally. After the move (1879) the Athlone building was briefly handed over (1880) to the De La Salle Brothers as an industrial school. This choice reflected Gillooly's fondness for French orders (he also brought the Marist Brothers to Sligo – their first Irish foundation – in 1862, though they left again in 1880). However, this fondness contributed to the failure of the project by adding linguistic difficulties to financial problems and disputes about the bishop's authority over the order. The brothers withdrew in 1882 and ‘the old Summerhill’ became an industrial school for girls run by the Mercy Order. Gillooly brought the Ursuline nuns into the diocese to provide secondary education for girls; under his episcopate the Mercy nuns, who already had convents in Sligo, established foundations in Roscommon, Elphin, Strokestown, Boyle, and Castlerea as well as at Summerhill in Athlone. St Patrick's Convent, Sligo, with its laundry, dairy, cookery school, and poultry yard, was a particular object of pride. The construction of these schools moved the sisters’ educational work out of the convent building, thus more clearly marked off as sacred space.
Gillooly is preeminently remembered as a builder. He constructed thirty churches, fifty parochial residences (moving priests from private lodgings into dedicated residences was an important part of the Cullenite reform agenda), 150 elementary schools, five convents, and three industrial schools, as well as numerous teachers' houses. The prime example of Gillooly's construction work was a complex in Sligo town: ‘on a beautiful elevated site, [it] dominates the town and boldly fronts the distant mountains’ (Irish catholic directory, 332–3); this was centred on a new diocesan cathedral dedicated to the immaculate conception, built between 1869 and 1874 at a cost of £40,000 and dedicated in August 1874. Like many of Gillooly's other buildings, it was built by the London-based building contractor George Goldie, but Gillooly had a significant input into the design. It was the only Irish cathedral constructed in Norman-Romanesque-Byzantine style during the nineteenth century; Gillooly having allegedly developed a fondness for it during his residence in France. The bishop acted as virtual clerk of works on the project, paying unremitting attention to detail. For a long time he was first on the construction site every morning, and is alleged on occasion to have handled a wheelbarrow when he thought the workmen were not doing their job properly. Gillooly gave so much attention to the cathedral that he suffered a physical collapse shortly before its completion, and was sent abroad on medical advice and forbidden to handle correspondence. The cathedral was followed by the construction of a large episcopal residence (opened August 1880), where Gillooly lived with the cathedral clergy. He insisted that it should be called ‘the presbytery’ rather than ‘the palace’; the Sligo Champion claimed it cost £13,000 and there was not a penny of debt on it when Gillooly died. The ‘splendid trefoil of buildings’ (Sligo Champion, 23 Feb. 1895) was completed by the ‘new’ Summerhill College at a cost of £15,000 (foundation stone laid March 1890, opened to students September 1891).
Within the Irish episcopate Gillooly was a reliable ally of Cullen (Emmet Larkin describes him as ‘Cullen's bulldog’). He attended the First Vatican Council and spoke in support of the opportuneness of the declaration of papal infallibility. Gillooly took a particular interest in education and was a strong supporter of the Catholic University of John Henry Newman (qv), acting as principal celebrant at its inaugural mass. In the years after disestablishment (and the consequent discontinuance of the Maynooth grant) he dominated the Maynooth board of visitors and attracted profound dislike by his authoritarian manner and the severity of his financial cutbacks, which led to a noticeable deterioration in the food and conditions for the students. Gillooly took an equally strong hand in matters of primary and secondary education: he opposed suggestions that teachers should receive three months’ notice before dismissal and denounced the Christian Brothers for asserting their independence of episcopal authority. He was also suspicious of the Intermediate Education Act, fearing it heralded state control over intermediate schools, and had to be restrained on the matter by Cullen.
Most accounts of Gillooly state that he lived an austere life in accordance with his Vincentian vow of poverty (from which he had been formally dispensed on assuming the episcopate). According to the eulogist at his Month's Mind (Bishop Francis MacCormack (1837–1909) of Galway), Gillooly spent only one-fifth of his income on his own needs, devoting the remainder to diocesan works and charities. He rose at five o'clock, meditated for an hour before saying mass, spent several hours after breakfast on ‘his heavy official correspondence . . . his style was clear, terse and forcible, and he never left a letter unanswered for a single day’. The afternoon was spent on diocesan administration and his day ended with spiritual reading and meditation.
For the first ten years of his episcopate Gillooly generally abstained from open involvement in politics, in accordance with Cullen's view that such activities produced disputes between priests and thereby undermined clerical authority. From the mid 1860s, however, he became more politically active in response to the demise of the papal states, the revival of the question of Church of Ireland disestablishment, and fear (sparked by the rise of Fenianism) that unless the catholic clergy asserted their political influence they would lose it to either the landlords or ‘the mob’. From 1864 until the early 1870s Gillooly was the most active supporter of the clerically backed National Association of Ireland (led until his death by John Blake Dillon (qv)). In 1865 he personally canvassed for the opponent of an ‘unsuitable’ sitting MP for Athlone and assisted the Palmerstonian candidate who unseated the incumbent Conservative MP for Sligo town. In 1868 the election of a Liberal MP for the borough of Sligo was overturned on petition because Gillooly had publicly called catholics who voted Conservative ‘rotten branches’, to be excluded from mass and the sacraments until they repented. In 1870 he publicly criticised Gladstone's Land Bill for leaving the tenant dependent on the landlord for tenure, and was extremely hostile to the educational policies of Gladstone's first government, which he regarded as paving the way for secularisation.
Gillooly was initially suspicious of Isaac Butt (qv) and the home rule movement. His support for the conservative home ruler Colonel King-Harman in the January 1877 Co. Sligo by-election caused him some subsequent embarrassment through the latter's later hostility to Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and reversion to unionism. Gillooly was particularly closely associated with the O'Conor Don (Charles Owen O'Conor (qv)), MP for Roscommon 1860–80 (O'Conor's brother Denis also served as MP for Co. Sligo through Gillooly's patronage). The O'Conor Don's defeat by Parnellite candidates in 1880 despite an outspoken intervention in his support by Gillooly was seen as a major humiliation for the bishop. He also expressed support for O'Conor in the Wexford by-election of 27 July 1883, won by W. H. K Redmond (qv). Gillooly was both one of the most determined opponents of the Land League and closest allies of Cardinal Edward McCabe (qv) in resisting Parnell. He was also fiercely opposed to the Ladies’ Land League. After the passage of Gladstone's 1881 Land Act, which Gillooly hoped ‘will give us an opportunity of asserting our proper influence and authority . . . and of taking the tenant farmers . . . from under the ruinous and tyrannical control of the Land League’ (Larkin, Creation, 93), he tried unsuccessfully to establish a system of clerically controlled parish committees to work the act independently of the League. From the mid 1880s, however, he accepted the entente reached by the majority of the bishops with the Parnellite party, and after 1886 advised the Vatican against outright condemnation of the Plan of Campaign, explaining that episcopal participation was necessary to keep the agitation from falling into the hands of dynamiters and enemies of religion. He publicly criticised the Dublin Castle administration for engaging in jury-packing against defendants who had participated in agitation under the plan; however, his own support for the plan was little more than nominal. Gillooly privately expressed extreme concern at the public denunciations levelled by John Dillon (qv) and William O'Brien (qv) against Bishop E. T. O'Dwyer (qv) of Limerick for his opposition to the plan, and complained that Archbishop Thomas Croke (qv) had gone too far in his identification with the party and the plan out of love of popularity; the threat that Gillooly and MacEvilly might join O'Dwyer and John Healy (qv) exercised a significant constraint on archbishops Walsh and Croke. After the Parnell split Gillooly took a leading role in organising the anti-Parnellite cause in the North Sligo by-election of March 1891.
Gillooly's last major triumph was the dedication of the ‘new’ Summerhill on 8 September 1892. He had suffered a serious illness in autumn 1889 while organising a diocesan collection for the new college and by 1893 his health was visibly declining. Early in 1894 he requested a coadjutor; John Clancy (qv) was appointed shortly before but had not been consecrated at the time of Gillooly's death, from heart failure in his Sligo residence, on 15 January 1895.
Gillooly's career can be seen as illustrating the theory that post-famine Ireland saw a ‘devotional revolution’ through the importation of continental devotions and tridentine discipline by episcopal protégés of Cardinal Cullen (though Gillooly's innovations were more conspicuous in his western diocese than they might have been in the east or south-east); and although more politically conservative than the norm, this tightly organised authoritarian builder is a good representative of the merits and demerits of the Cullenite church. Gillooly is commemorated by the Bishop Gillooly Memorial Hall in Sligo, located across the road from the cathedral; above the main entrance is a statue of him with the slogan ‘Ireland Sober is Ireland Free’. The Sacred Heart Church in Roscommon town was also built in Gillooly's memory; it has depictions of him in a mosaic and a stained-glass window.