Rowan, Arthur Blennerhasset (1800–61), Church of Ireland clergyman and antiquarian, was born in October 1800 in Tralee, Co. Kerry, only surviving son of William Rowan of Arabella, Tralee, barrister and sometime provost of Tralee (1803–5), and his wife Letitia, daughter of Sir Barry Denny (d. 1794), 1st baronet, of Tralee Castle. The Rowan family had originated in Greenhead, Scotland, and the Irish branch traced its lineage to the Rev. Andrew Rowan, rector of Donaghy, who had settled in Clough or Old Stone, Co. Antrim, c.1661. George Rowan, grandson of Andrew, came to Kerry in the army and settled in the county. Serving as high sheriff of Kerry in 1716, he married Mary Blennerhasset. Their son George also served as high sheriff of the county in 1760, and married Mary Chute of Tullygaron, Co. Kerry. These marriages to members of the Chute and Blennerhasset families positioned the Rowans firmly within the nexus of the protestant landed interest in Kerry in the eighteenth century. The marriage of George Rowan and Mary Chute resulted in two sons: George, who continuing a family tradition served as high sheriff of the county in 1769, and William, father of Arthur, who married Letitia Denny in 1799. The marriage to Letitia, whose father, Sir Barry Denny (qv), had represented Kerry in parliament at various periods in the later eighteenth century and who had served as provost of Tralee 1767–83, further consolidated the social standing of the Rowan family in Kerry society.
Arthur Rowan was educated by Mr Fitzgerald in Tralee and later at Dr King's School, Ennis, and went up to TCD in 1816. He graduated BA (1821), MA (1827), and BD and DD (1854). At the age of 20, Rowan underwent a profound religious awakening. Ordained to the ministry on 18 December 1825, he took up the position of curate in the village of Blennerville, near Tralee, where it appears he remained until c.1844. He was appointed to the rectory of Kilgobbin in the diocese of Ardfert in 1846 and subsequently assumed the archdeaconry of Ardfert in 1856. A committed supporter of the conservative political interest, Rowan was sworn a free burgess of the borough of Tralee in 1824, and was sworn provost of the town in the years 1836, 1837, and 1839. He served as the last provost before the establishment of a new town council in 1840. Rowan married (1825) Alice, daughter of Peter Thompson of Tralee and Oatlands, Co. Meath. Their surviving children comprised a son – William (1830–1919), who married first (1859) Katharine Thompson (d. 1876), and secondly (1877) Catherine Huggard (d. 1897) – and two daughters, Anne Margaret (1832–1913) and Ora. William was educated at TCD and was called to the Irish bar in 1853. He also served as lieutenant-colonel of the Kerry militia and JP for Co. Kerry, and died 21 February 1919. Anne was an historian, novelist, and political activist in the unionist cause, and died 13 December 1913. Her publications include Percy Smythe: a tale of duty (1878) and History of Ireland, as disclosed by Irish statutes passed by Irish parliaments between 1310 and 1800 (1893).
Displaying literary and poetic aspirations at an early age, Archdeacon Rowan was a prolific author on the subjects of religious controversy and Kerry history. A resolute advocate of protestant evangelisation in Ireland, he published tracts dealing with the Oxford movement and anglo-catholicism (Letters from Oxford (1843); Romanism in the church (1847)) as well as sermons (Casuistry and conscience (1854)) and a polemical and hostile account of resurgent Roman Catholic piety in Tralee in the mid 1850s (Old Betty's book: a new edition answering to the Redemptorist mission (1857)). While Rowan's religious writings are permeated by contemporary confessional concerns, it is his work as a pioneering popular historian of Kerry that has secured a lasting historical significance. His antiquarian interests covered topics as varied as archaeology, folklore, political history, genealogy, and epigraphy. He read papers to the RIA on themes as diverse as ogham remains in Kerry and the portraiture of Katherine Fitzgerald (qv) (d. 1604), countess of Desmond (The olde countesse of Desmond (1860)).
More popularly, Rowan produced a detailed account of the Killarney district aimed at the town's burgeoning tourist influx, Lake lore (1853). Based on extensive archival research and printed primary material, this work provides a colourful overview of the history and legends of Killarney. It is dedicated to H. A. Herbert, MP for Co. Kerry, whose guest Rowan had been at Muckross House while preparing the text in the autumn of 1851. When later sent a proof of Lake lore, Herbert apparently took exception on conservation grounds to Rowan's disclosure of the secluded habitation of the Killarney red deer. Rowan subsequently removed specific references to the location of the deer and expressed his regret to Herbert.
By means of regular contributions to the Kerry Evening Post and in his role as editor of the short-lived Kerry Magazine (1854–6), Rowan attempted to bring the history and antiquities of Kerry to the attention of a readership on an unprecedented scale. His historical work is infused with a conscious sense of Kerry identity and heritage, admittedly largely expressed in the context of the county's protestant tradition. Ironically, his work and influence on later nineteenth-century historians of Kerry, notably Mary Agnes Hickson (qv) and M. F. Cusack (qv), were arguably instrumental in the fashioning of the nationalist Roman Catholic Kerry identity which developed by way of reaction to the attrition of the county's Gaelic culture during the course of the nineteenth century.
Well known in contemporary antiquarian circles, Rowan was elected a life member of the RIA on 28 May 1832. He was an early member of the South East of Ireland Archaeological Society. Rowan conducted an extensive correspondence with fellow scholars from the richly stocked library of his residence at Belmont in Tralee. His insatiable scholarly curiosity further manifested itself in his extensive travels in Ireland, in Britain, and on the Continent. Moreover, his historical focus was not exclusively local: he contributed to the history of his alma mater in Brief memorials of the case and conduct of Trinity College, Dublin, A.D. 1686–90 (1858). He left at his death an unpublished collection of historical essays entitled ‘Bye ways of history’. In this idiosyncratic work, he discussed subjects such as Martin Luther's ‘devil talk’, Oliver Cromwell (qv) and his correspondents, and the case of Sir Piers Crosbie (qv) and Thomas Wentworth (qv), earl of Strafford. He left unfinished at his death a history of Kerry.
Notwithstanding his active support for the Irish Society's controversial protestant evangelisation in Kerry, Rowan served alongside the Roman Catholic parish priest of Tralee, Fr John McEnnery, on the local famine committee in 1847. Although elevated to the archdeaconry of Ardfert at a relatively late stage in his career, he was an active ecclesiastical administrator and a frequent preacher until illness rendered him infirm in the final year of his life. Rowan lamented his reluctance to make domestic visits to his parishioners, yet he was noted for his pastoral work among the hitherto neglected and impoverished Palatine protestants of Kerry. After a few hours' illness, he died 12 August 1861, and he is buried at Ballyseedy near Tralee. The Kerry Evening Post (14 Aug. 1861) noted that the ‘death of Doctor Rowan has sent a chill through the protestant mind of Kerry, such as the loss of a beloved parent does through a family. We feel that our earthly head is gone’ (Memorial pages to Archdeacon Rowan, 5). A memorial tablet and ornamental gas fittings were erected in his memory at St John's Church of Ireland, Tralee. An unattributed portrait of Rowan as a young man was reproduced in the journal of the County Kerry Society (1937–8).
Rowan's other writings include poems dated 1821–5 (unpublished manuscript in private possession); ‘A. B. Rowan Common Place Book London 1824’ (in private possession); To the Rev. John G. M'Ennery, parish priest of Tralee (1833); ‘Some particulars relating to the Rowan family collected from several sources by Arthur Blennerhasset Rowan’ (undated manuscript in private possession); Newman's popular fallacies (1852); Gleanings after grand tourists (1856); ‘On an ogham monument discovered in the county of Kerry’, RIA Proc., vii (1857–61), 100–06; What is coming? The confessional in England (1858); and Tralee and its provost: sixty years since, by the last of its provosts (n.d., private impression of 24 copies only).