Quigley, Hugh (1818/19–1883), missionary priest and author, was born in Affogh (Affick), near Tulla, Co. Clare, the oldest of five, or perhaps six, sons and three daughters of Hugh and Mary Quigley (née Lynch). While Johanna Swartz argues that he was born in 1819 (based on his February 1819 baptism records), infants were not always baptised immediately. The consensus is that he was born in 1818. Quigley was educated in a local hedge school, perhaps by a teacher named Shawn Kaum, a name Quigley used later for the villain in his novel The prophet of the ruined abbey (1855). Following his primary schooling, Quigley attended Master Madden's classical school in Killaloe before moving to Dublin where he worked on the Ordnance Survey project in Co. Wicklow while he prepared for the examination for Maynooth College. He got a place and a scholarship, but refused to take the oath of allegiance required by the British government which funded the seminary. It was the first of his recorded skirmishes with ecclesiastical authority. Undeterred by his Maynooth experience, Quigley probably studied for the priesthood in Ireland at St Mary's Seminary, Youghal, Co. Cork, before taking his doctorate (1847) at the Università degli Studi di Roma, La Sapienza. After his ordination in Glasgow, Quigley worked among Irish immigrants in the city, at Campbeltown, and in Yorkshire, before returning to Ireland in 1847. He was briefly involved with the Young Ireland movement before going to his home parish to minister to those suffering during the Great Famine. The numbers of emigrants fleeing the famine may have prompted Quigley's decision to emigrate to the US.
On arrival in the US, Quigley was assigned to Bishop John McCloskey of the Albany diocese in New York state. The 1850 census lists Quigley living in Schaghticoke, Rensselaer County. He served St John the Baptist parish (1849–54), and built a church in nearby Hoosick Falls in 1849. He then moved to St John's church in Lansingburgh where he stood his ground against anti-catholic nativism with a successful law suit protesting against the reading of the Bible in public schools, and with a series of eight letters defending the catholic church from the criticism of the presbyterian clergyman N. S. S. Berman.
These experiences and his missionary duties among Irish immigrants working on the New York waterways and railroads and in domestic service raised Quigley's concern about the dangers to their lives and faith. He wrote a novel, The cross and the shamrock; or How to defend the faith. An Irish-American catholic tale of real life, descriptive of the temptations, sufferings, trials and triumphs of the children of St Patrick in the great republic of Washington. A book for the entertainment and special instruction of the catholic male and female servants of the United States (1853). The book was an attempt to prepare Irish catholics for American life and to reassure them that those who remained true to their faith would prevail. Quigley published The prophet of the ruined abbey anonymously the following year (1854). Set in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century, it conflates agrarian unrest in Clare in the 1830s with the political agitation of the Young Irelanders in the following decade.
Quigley left the diocese of Albany in 1855 for Springfield, Illinois; in 1858, he went as curate to St Andrew's parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was responsible for an extensive rural area as well as for local duties. The next ten or so years until 1867 appear to have been unsettled ones for Quigley, and he lived for some time as a layman. At the start of the civil war in 1861, Quigley unsuccessfully sought an appointment as chaplain to a union regiment. This does not appear to have been granted, but he may have served unofficially for a time among catholic soldiers.
Listed as pastor of the church of the Immaculate Conception in Tomah, Wisconsin, in 1868, Quigley also served the immigrant railroad labourers and later immigrant farmers who settled in Erin Prairie, the place that provided the setting for his novel Profit and loss, or The life of a genteel Irish-American which appeared serially in 1872 (and in book form in 1873). From Erin Prairie, Quigley went to the northern border of Wisconsin to minister to the Native American Ojibway nation and endured primitive frontier conditions in his effort to convert them to Christianity. In February 1874 he went west to the Sacred Heart of Mary parish in South Boulder, Colorado, where he spent six months before travelling further west to California, to the gold miners in Eureka and finally in Colusa County. Quigley made another move, to San Francisco, in 1878; he was listed in the city directory until 1881. It was there that he wrote his last book, The Irish race in California and on the Pacific coast (1878), a book that encouraged Irish immigrants to America to settle in the hospitable valleys of California.
In failing health, Quigley moved back to his own friends in Troy, NY, in the diocese of Albany, where he died 30 May 1883. He is buried in St Mary's cemetery in Troy.
Quigley's biographer Johanna Swartz described him as a man with a powerful and impulsive personality, who learned, however, to reconcile himself with authority while serving impoverished Irish immigrants with compassion and sharing the hardships of their lives.