Meehan, Charles Patrick (1812–90), priest and historian, was born 12 July 1812 at 141 Great Britain (latterly Parnell) St., Dublin. His father, a native of Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, was a prosperous farmer at Ballymahon, Co. Longford. Charles received his early education in a hedge school and from a local curate at Ballymahon. In 1828 he entered the Irish College in Rome, where he was a brilliant student, acquiring fluency in several languages. As a child he had loved to listen to stories of the flight of the earls and the Wild Geese, and during his time in Rome he discovered the neglected graves of Hugh O'Neill (qv) and Hugh O'Donnell (qv) in the church of San Pietro at Montorio. He began his lifelong research on the seventeenth century by locating and transcribing hitherto unstudied documents held in Roman repositories. Ordained in 1835, he was appointed curate at Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, in August and five months later was transferred to the parish of SS Michael and John, Dublin. He was an excellent preacher and a strong advocate of temperance, and zealously discharged his parish duties.
A supporter of Daniel O'Connell (qv) and the repeal movement, Meehan was particularly attracted by the ideals of Young Ireland, and became friendly with the principal writers of the Nation, especially Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) and James Clarence Mangan (qv). He was Mangan's confessor, and attended his deathbed in 1849. The Young Irelanders often met in his presbytery in Lower Exchange St. From 1842 Meehan contributed occasional verse and translations to the Nation over the pseudonym ‘Clericus’ and the initials ‘C. P. M.’ He defended the Young Irelanders from accusations of irreligion and maintained that ‘every Nation article could be safely read by a nun in her convent’ (Nation, 5 Dec. 1846). During the debates on physical force in Conciliation Hall in July 1846 Meehan supported the Young Ireland position and was shouted down by O'Connellites. He seceded with the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association and became a member of their Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. Later that year he became president of the St Patrick's Confederate Club, and delivered lectures to it on Irish history. A strong believer in the importance of history in creating national pride and awareness, he contributed The Confederation of Kilkenny (1846) and a translation of Daniel O'Daly (qv), The Geraldines, earls of Desmond, and the persecution of the Irish catholics (1847) to the Nation's Library of Ireland historical series. In the introduction to the latter he enthused about the educational project of the Young Irelanders, claiming that with their work ‘a soul has come into Ireland’ (Geraldines, p. iv). He published a translation, with a valuable introduction and notes, of John Lynch's (qv) Latin life of Francis Kirwan (qv), bishop of Killala 1645–61, as The portrait of a pious bishop (1848). In 1848 he resigned his presidency of the St Patrick's Confederate Club in the hope of becoming librarian or professor of modern languages at QCG, but was unsuccessful.
For the rest of his life Meehan devoted himself to parish work and historical research, occasionally publishing articles and poems in the Hibernian Magazine and Irish Catholic Magazine; he also edited six volumes of the second series of James Duffy's (qv) Hibernian magazine (1862–5). Having acquired a vast store of anecdotes and curious information from his researches, he was an interesting companion who loved the company of poets and scholars and formed friendships with many young nationalist writers, including Denis Florence MacCarthy (qv), John Keegan Casey (qv) and John Francis O'Donnell (qv). Most of his research was devoted to Irish history, but he occasionally tackled other subjects, such as his translation from the Italian of Marchese's Lives of the most eminent sculptors and architects of the order of St Dominic (2 vols, 1852). Although his work was marked by a strong sympathy for catholicism and Irish nationalism, Meehan was among the more scholarly historians associated with the Young Ireland movement: his work is often based on original documentary research and is still cited by historians. He was elected MRIA in February 1865. Gavan Duffy lauded his efforts and ranked him with the great patriotic clerical scholars of the past who had devoted their lives to the study of Irish history. Meehan repeatedly took the opportunity to amend and expand his published works, producing revised editions of The Geraldines (as The rise, increase, and exit of the Geraldines (1878)), The Confederation of Kilkenny (1882), and Lynch's life of Kirwan (1884). His other important publications are The fate and fortunes of Hugh O'Neill . . . and Rory O'Donel (1868) (popularly known as ‘The flight of the earls’; revised editions in 1870, 1872, 1877, and 1886), and The rise and fall of the Irish Franciscan monasteries (1869) (revised editions 1870, 1872, 1877). He edited the essays of the Young Irelanders in The spirit of the nation (1882) and published editions of the poetry of Mangan in The poets and poetry of Munster (1883), with an important biographical memoir. His last scholarly work was to re-edit Literary remains of the United Irishmen (1887) to include material left in manuscript by Richard R. Madden (qv).
A small man, Meehan ‘always wore a monocle, attached to a silk ribbon, a tall silk hat, and a stout blackthorn stick’ (O'Sullivan, 314). He suffered badly from indigestion for most of his life, and this aggravated a testy personality and a waspish tongue. He regularly fell out with friends, and few parishioners were foolhardy enough to brave his confessional. Mangan said of him in 1849: ‘His Milesian blood courses rather too hotly through his veins. He is carried away by impulse, and suffers himself to float without rudder or oar . . . . But he is a man of a lofty and generous nature. Anything like hypocrisy is as alien from his heart and soul, as the snake is from his native land’ (Fitzpatrick, Father Healy, 168). Meehan retained strong anti-English views all his life; in the 1880s he encountered the young Arthur Griffith (qv) pulling down a union flag from a lamppost in Dublin, and astounded the boy by congratulating rather than chastising him. His Young Ireland nationalism and irascible personality ensured that he never progressed beyond the position of curate in his forty-five years at SS Michael and John. Here, he worked alongside Fr James Healy (qv), a renowned wit, and the two men delighted in trading caustic remarks. Healy was present at Meehan's deathbed and admitted to brushing away a tear – the only thing, he remarked, that had been brushed in that room for many years. Meehan died 14 March 1890 at his presbytery in Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. He was survived by two brothers, one of whom was also a priest. He was commemorated by a mural tablet erected by his parishioners in the church of SS Michael and John.