Nangle, Edward Walter (1800–1883), Church of Ireland clergyman, was born 25 November 1800 in Dublin, third son of the second marriage of Walter Nangle (1757–1843) of Kildalkey, near Athboy, Co. Meath, an officer in the 16th Regiment of Foot. Walter Nangle was a catholic, as were his first and third wives; two of his half-brothers were priests. With his first wife, Nangle had had four sons and a daughter, who were all brought up as catholics. His second wife, Catherine, daughter of George Sall of Dublin, was a protestant, and though she died when her son Edward was only 8 or 9, her five sons (of whom two died young) were brought up as protestants. Edward also had four sisters (one of whom died young), and there was another daughter of Walter Nangle's third marriage. Edward was educated at the Royal School, Cavan, and at TCD, graduating BA (1823) and MA (1862). In 1824 Thomas Lewis O'Beirne (qv), bishop of Meath, ordained him deacon in the Church of Ireland; shortly afterwards he was ordained priest by the bishop of Kilmore, George de la Poer Beresford (qv). He was briefly a curate at Athboy, and even more briefly at Monkstown, Co. Dublin, before being transferred to Arva, Co. Cavan. There he met the earl of Farnham's moral agent, William Krause, whose role was to promote the spiritual and moral well-being of the earl's tenants. Nangle diligently served a small Church of Ireland congregation at Arva from 1824 to 1826, when he suffered a nervous breakdown which necessitated a lengthy convalescence. During this period he married (September 1828), at St Thomas's church, Dublin, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Warner, of Marvelstown House, Co. Meath.
While recovering at the Dublin home of his friend Dr Neason Adams, Nangle underwent a conversion experience, and dedicated himself to a fervent protestant evangelicalism and to missionary work among the Irish-speaking catholics of the west of Ireland. He had developed a hatred of Roman catholicism, despite or perhaps because of his own family background, but was an enthusiastic supporter of outreach through the Irish language. He became secretary of the Sunday School Society and shortly afterwards was made literary assistant to the Religious Tract Society. In this role he developed polemical skills as he began to take part in the theological controversy that was almost an inevitable concomitant of religious commitment at the time.
In 1831, when bad weather caused the failure of the potato crop in Connacht, Nangle and his wife took passage aboard a steamer, the Nottingham, hired by Dublin evangelicals to bring provisions to the starving population living along the western seaboard. On arriving at Westport, Co. Mayo, they met William Baker Stoney, rector of Newport, Co. Mayo, who told Nangle of the physical and spiritual privations of the people living on nearby Achill Island. Nangle observed the extreme destitution of the islanders and resolved to live among them as a missionary. The island's principal landlord, Sir Richard O'Donnel, granted Nangle a tract of land at a nominal rent, and Nangle returned to Dublin to enlist the aid of Robert Daly (qv), the future bishop of Cashel, who assembled a committee of prominent evangelicals to oversee the mission's foundation. From the beginning the Church of Ireland archbishop of Tuam, Power le Poer Trench (qv), wholeheartedly approved of Nangle's mission, which formally began in August 1834, when Nangle and a few colleagues occupied the newly erected settlement buildings.
Almost immediately the Achill settlement experienced determined opposition from the catholic church, especially from the archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale (qv), who sent a succession of hostile parish priests to counter Nangle's initiatives. At their instigation the mission staff and converts were frequently threatened with physical violence. Converts to protestantism faced social ostracism and a well-coordinated system of ‘exclusive dealing’, which threatened their social acceptance and economic livelihood, and made it extremely difficult and expensive for the mission to obtain necessary supplies. From 1837 Nangle edited the Achill Missionary Herald and Western Witness, a monthly journal, published for almost forty years, and printed for most of that time on the press that was brought to the island in 1835. Nangle was aware of the propaganda value of depicting the mission as a beleaguered outpost of the reformed faith and of British civilisation, and described its successes and tribulations in the often lurid style adopted by those who regarded themselves as engaged in a millennial struggle against the Antichrist; donations increased when he reported catholic aggression. There were some in the Church of Ireland, even among evangelicals, who disapproved of aspects of the Achill mission, but Nangle had many English supporters, who were prepared to fund the fight against catholicism in Ireland, in the hope that if conquered there it would never prove a threat in England.
Catholics for their part viewed the mission's initiatives as aggressive proselytism; the orphanage, for instance, though fulfilling a vital philanthropic purpose, was overtly operated to achieve the conversion of its inmates. The mission schools were somewhat less threatening to catholic parents and, as education for their children would have been otherwise unobtainable, fourteen schools flourished for a time around the island, with several hundred pupils over the years. Other aspects of the settlement were also reasonably successful at first: donations paid for the building of schools, a church, a dispensary, roads, and land reclamation. Eventually a pier was built, and tourists started to visit, initially to see for themselves the work of the mission. Several visitors, among them Asenath Nicholson (qv) and Samuel and Anna Hall (qv), were severely critical of Nangle's motivation and organisation.
Allegations, at the time and since, that the Achill mission was the apotheosis of ‘souperism’ largely arose from what happened in the famine years, when meals were provided for the children in the schools and conversions increased. The famine made unprecedented demands on everyone who was in any position to assist; Nangle, like many others, made almost superhuman efforts to procure provisions, and the mission undoubtedly saved many hundreds of local people from starvation. However, since he and other evangelicals believed that the famine was divine retribution for the unwillingness of Ireland to accept protestantism, their attitude to the population hardened to some extent after the immediate dangers were overcome. Much else changed after the famine; Nangle may have come to realise that the experiment in Achill had now no hope of success. He himself had suffered greatly there; several of his children died as infants, and his wife, after experiencing mental problems, died in 1850. Of the eleven children of their marriage, only three sons and three daughters survived to adulthood.
In 1851 Nangle was made prebendary of Faldown in the diocese of Tuam. He resigned this appointment when he was appointed in 1852 rector of Skreen, Co. Sligo, by Bishop Thomas Plunket (qv). Alexander Dallas (qv), who headed the Irish Church Missions, assumed spiritual control of the Achill mission, while the trustees of the Mission Committee managed temporal affairs. Although Nangle resided on Achill for three months of each year and continued to produce the Missionary Herald, the settlement rapidly declined after 1857, partly because the settlement's doctor, Neason Adams, left the island in that year. He had been loved and respected by the islanders. Nangle, though he dedicated eighteen years of his life to Achill, had been too single-mindedly conscious of his mission to win their affection.
Shortly after arriving at Skreen, Nangle married secondly Sarah, daughter of the Rev. Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh; they had a large family, of whom one son and three daughters survived to adulthood. A protracted and acrimonious lawsuit with the trustees of the Achill Mission committee left him exhausted. In his later years Nangle, once a well-known figure in British evangelicalism, faded into obscurity. He died 9 September 1883 in Dublin and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery, Dublin; a plaque dedicated to his memory is in St Thomas's church, Achill.