McNeile, Hugh Boyd (1795–1879), clergyman and dean of Ripon, was born 15 July 1795 at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, the son of Alexander McNeile, who originally lived at Colliers Hall, Ballycastle, a landowner, land agent and merchant, and high sheriff of Antrim in 1832. Alexander McNeile was married to a distant relative, Mary McNeale of Currysheskin, near Dunseverick, Co. Antrim, who was possibly related to Hugh Boyd (qv) (d. 1765). There were two daughters and two sons; the elder son was John NcNeile (qv).
Hugh McNeile was educated by the Rev. Luke Connolly at Ballycastle, and in 1810 entered TCD. He graduated BA (1815) and MA (1821). Years later, in 1847, Trinity awarded him the degrees of BD and DD. McNeile's uncle, Lieutenant-general Daniel McNeile, made him his heir, and at first the young man intended a career in law, serving terms at the King's Inns, Dublin, and Lincoln's Inn, London. While visiting Switzerland in 1816 he became dangerously ill; Henry (afterwards Lord Brougham), suggested a hazardous treatment which saved the young man's life. McNeile underwent a conversion experience, and resolved to become a clergyman. A breach with his uncle occurred (according to one source, when he refused to marry an heiress selected by the old man, on the grounds that she was not sufficiently religious), and he did not inherit the old man's wealth. In 1820 he was ordained by William Magee (qv), later archbishop of Dublin, the controversial prelate who inaugurated a new era of spiritual warfare with the Roman catholic church. McNeile was appointed to the curacy of Stranorlar in Co. Donegal and two years later, on 2 May 1822, married Magee's daughter Anne, with whom he had nine sons.
On a visit to London in 1822 McNeile preached at Percy Chapel; his style and message attracted the attention of Henry Drummond MP, who offered him the living of Albury, Surrey. At first McNeile accepted the radical doctrines of Drummond's mentor, the Scottish evangelical Edward Irving, but eventually changed his views and published three sermons on miracles (1831–2), which strongly deprecated Irvingite doctrines. Between 1826 and 1830 many leading evangelicals met at Albury to discuss the intersection of secular history with biblical prophecy. These meetings, which became an important influence on the development of millennial and premillennial thought in Britain, were hosted by Drummond and moderated by McNeile, whose anti-catholicism intensified during this time. He held intense evangelical beliefs and harboured an equally intense loathing of the church of Rome. Keenly aware of the resurgence of catholicism, he was deeply concerned by what he saw as the threat to the established church and the British constitution posed by Daniel O'Connell (qv) and his influence over the Irish peasantry. Premillennial theology mingled with politics in McNeile's world view to form a particularly strongly held system of beliefs. Given his outlook, it is perhaps not surprising that he was one of the first people to use the word ‘nationalism’ in Britain, in an address to the Protestant Association in 1839.
In 1828 McNeile summed up his millennial ideas in the Times of the church. While at Albury he also preached in London, mainly at St Clement Danes in the Strand, attracting large congregations with his dynamic style. He and his patron Drummond disagreed on doctrine from the early 1830s, and McNeile left Albury in 1834 to take up the perpetual curacy of St Jude's, Liverpool. His congregation later built for him, at a cost of between £11,000 and £12,000, St Paul's church, Prince's Park, Liverpool. From the 1830s on, McNeile was closely linked with the Protestant Association. In 1840 he published lectures on the Church of England, extolling the theological and moral superiority of the established church over catholicism. He strongly opposed the Tractarian movement, which he regarded as the ultimate nightmare of treachery and danger.
From 1835 McNeile successfully campaigned and preached against the plan of the whig-dominated Liverpool corporation to initiate non-denominational primary education, in parallel with the Irish national school system (which was deeply unpopular with Irish evangelicals). He managed to find sufficient funds to provide church schools for all protestant children in Liverpool. In 1845 he opposed the Maynooth grant and the re-establishment of the English catholic hierarchy five years later. Such was his power base in protestant middle-class Liverpool, a city where catholics were increasingly numerous but had little political power, that by 1841, he had succeeded in swinging control of the corporation away from the whigs. A testimonial presented to him in 1843 was at his wish converted into four perpetual scholarships in his name at Liverpool Collegiate Institution, with another tenable at a university.
McNeile was an impressive figure, and even into old age had great powers of oratory and polemic, though when he was carried away by emotion and rhetoric he was prone to inflammatory vehemence. In The rod of God published in 1847 he claimed that the Irish famine was divine retribution for the errors into which the Irish people had fallen, though this view did not prevent him from working to raise money to help the starving. Throughout his long career, he published many works of theology and controversy, most of which have probably remained unread since his death.
In 1845 McNeile was made an honorary canon of Chester cathedral by the bishop, J. B. Summer, who collated him to the residentiary canonry of Chester in 1860. On the recommendation of Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria appointed McNeile dean of Ripon on 9 September 1868, where he completed the restoration of Ripon cathedral. He resigned in October 1875 in poor health and retired to Bournemouth, where he died 28 January 1879 at his home, Stranorlar House.