Kearney, David (c.1558–1624), catholic archbishop of Cashel, was born in Cashel, son of Patrick Kearney and his wife Elizabeth (née Coney). He was appointed archbishop in May 1603, filling the vacancy created nineteen years previously by the execution of Dermot O'Hurley (qv), and had reached Ireland from the continent by March 1605. His appointment marked an early stage in the counter-reformation effort to consolidate catholicism in Ireland by re-establishing a resident episcopate, reintroducing the religious orders, supplying seminary-trained clergy from the Irish colleges on the continent, and implementing the decrees of the Council of Trent.
Kearney convened a provincial synod in 1606, presumably to inform his clergy of the new order, but he has left a vivid picture of the difficulties he faced: able to discharge his ecclesiastical duties only at night, moving continuously from place to place, but able to do so only at dawn or late at night. His closest associations were with Spain and with the Jesuit order (of which his brother Barnabas (qv) was a member), and he strongly supported those who urged that the Society should be given control of the Spanish seminaries. In 1610, through the Spanish ambassador in London, he successfully lobbied Philip III to resolve difficulties at Santiago by transferring the college to the Jesuits. He had visited the Irish regiment in the Netherlands in 1609, and had also published advice to missionaries on the best means for promoting the faith in Ireland. The lord deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester (qv) believed that he had connections with the exiled Hugh O'Neill (qv), and in 1610, when Kearney was in London, recommended that he should be arrested on suspicion of attempting to send funds for a new Irish rebellion.
In 1612 Kearney, with a number of Jesuits, wrote an account of the state of Ireland for circulation to the Irish seminaries in Spain in which he described the ‘new and furious’ persecution of catholics in Ireland (Spic. Os, i, 119). It dealt with dispossession, the enforcement of the oath of supremacy and the special animus towards the seminarians, but its primary subject was the trial and execution (1 February 1612) of Conor O'Devaney (qv), bishop of Down and Conor, and his chaplain as accomplices of O'Neill. Kearney insisted that the charge was an artifice ‘to cover their own malice and wickedness and their hatred of the Church’ (Idem, 122). The primate, Archbishop Peter Lombard (qv), read the situation very differently: contrasting the treatment of O'Devaney with the leniency shown to other clergy, he advised Pope Paul V that the government would not tolerate appointments at the request or with the declared approval of the earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, and argued the case for appointing a resident episcopacy of men loyal to the king. That view prevailed in the 1620s, but in the years after 1612 the Vatican shared Kearney's identification of the interests of the church with those of the exiled earls. Philip III did likewise and on two occasions (28 August 1614, 26 August 1617), recommended to his ambassador in Rome that Kearney should be granted a pension to reward his promotion of the faith in Ireland.
Kearney convened further provincial synods in 1612, 1614 and 1616. What happened at the first two is unrecorded, but his handling in 1616 of difficulties that had arisen in the diocese of Cork and Cloyne provides a striking glimpse of his archiepiscopal style. The vicar apostolic of the diocese, Robert Miagh, had been ousted by his nephew, James Miagh, who secured a papal brief to the office in August 1614. Kearney objected strongly: after James returned to Ireland in 1615, Kearney denounced him as unfit for the position; at the synod, in April 1616, he rejected James's apostolic letters as invalid, suspended him and confirmed Robert in the post; in July he justified his actions to Lombard on the grounds that James was more suited ‘to calumniate and tell tales’ than to ‘stand in a pulpit’ (Wadding Papers, 6). It was not until July 1621, however, that Robert was restored by papal brief.
Kearney may have left Ireland in the same year. He had certainly done so by September 1622. He is thought to have made his way to Rome before travelling on to Spain. He died at Bonlieu near Bordeaux on 14 August 1624 on his way home to Ireland.