McGettigan, Daniel (1815–87), catholic archbishop of Armagh, was born in November 1815 in Drumdutton, parish of Mevagh, Co. Donegal, son of Manasses McGettigan, farmer, and his wife (née Boyle). Daniel was educated locally and studied classics under a dissenter clergyman in Londonderry before going to Meath diocesan seminary in Navan. In August 1833 he entered Maynooth College, where he was ordained a priest on 26 May 1839. His first posting was as curate to the Rev. Michael McGoldrick, parish priest of Inver (1840); after a number of months he transferred to the parish of Letterkenny, where he served as curate and later administrator for the next fourteen years. During this period he became involved in a notorious case which led to his jailing: in 1845 he refused to breach a confidence in a restitution case, involving a distiller of contraband whiskey and a local man who had reneged on debts. He was therefore confined to Lifford jail and then conveyed to Newgate prison in Dublin. However, before his case came to trial an informality in his arrest warrant was detected by his counsel and he was released to great acclaim in Letterkenny. In 1854 he was made parish priest of Kilbarron, where he remained five years. On 8 May 1856 he was consecrated coadjutor bishop, with right of succession, to the bishop of Raphoe, Dr Patrick MacGettigan (no relation). He succeeded to the see on 1 May 1861.
Tall and strongly built, McGettigan was diligent and well liked and was commended by Cardinal Cullen (qv) as conscientious in the administration of his diocese and irreproachable in his personal conduct. Cullen was, however, dismayed when in October 1869 McGettigan was voted by a large majority of the Armagh clergy to succeed as archbishop of Armagh, and therefore primate of all Ireland and titular head of the Irish church. Cullen had intended this post for his chaplain and secretary, Dr George Conroy (qv), then only 36 years old. It was to block Cullen's increasing power that the Armagh clergy united behind McGettigan. Nevertheless Cullen did his best to influence the Vatican and was hopeful for a time that McGettigan's age would prevent his accepting. In the event the other bishops convinced McGettigan that the procedure in Irish episcopal appointments would be compromised if Cullen had his way. McGettigan was appointed archbishop of Armagh on 11 March 1870.
Although not Cullen's choice, McGettigan upheld the cardinal's views and was uncontroversial. He opened the new Armagh cathedral in 1873 and invited the Redemptorists to Dundalk in 1876, thereby enabling them to make their second foundation in Ireland. In 1872 he was among those bishops who supported Cullen in rejecting the home rule party leadership as too protestant and too Fenian. At the cardinal's behest he campaigned vigorously in 1874 for the return of Liberal candidates in Louth, which fell within his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. To public humiliation he was repudiated by his own clergy, who almost unanimously declared in favour of the home rule candidates, who were all elected with sizeable majorities. The revolt of clergy against their own bishop was comparatively unusual; it came about, according to the historian Emmet Larkin, firstly because McGettigan was supported more by the northern faction within his diocese than by the southern Louth faction, and also because he was a gentle, unaggressive man who found it difficult to take firm action when religious principle was not involved. The Louth priests therefore calculated that they would lose nothing through thwarting him.
McGettigan subsequently kept out of politics. When the Land League was formed (October 1879) he adopted, in common with other northern bishops, a determinedly neutral stance, though his private correspondence evinces some cautious sympathy. In April 1881 he tried unsuccessfully to prevent an episcopal meeting being called to discuss Gladstone's land bill, suggesting that the church would do better to wait until the measure had been ‘discussed by practical men of the tenant class who are excellent judges of what is fair and suitable’ (Larkin (1975), 109). In his last years he spoke out against emigration. He died at his residence on 3 December 1887 and was buried at St Patrick's cemetery, Armagh.