Synge, Edward (1659–1741), clergyman, was born 5 April 1659 at Inishannon, Co. Cork, second son of Edward Synge (qv), later bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, and his wife Barbara Latham. Edward's elder brother was Samuel Synge (d. 1708), who became dean of Kildare. Synge was educated at the diocesan school, Cork, and in 1674 he went to Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford he met William Wake, later archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he remained in correspondence throughout his life. He graduated BA in 1677.
Synge's first incumbency was as rector of Laracor, Co. Meath (1682–6). In 1686 he became vicar of Holy Trinity and prebendary of Christ Church, Cork, which he held until 1706. He was also (1691–1714) rector of Rathclarin, Co. Cork, and held other parishes in the diocese of Cloyne. In 1695 William King (qv), then bishop of Dublin, put Synge's name forward for the diocese of Limerick. Synge expressed surprise that he had been considered, but he did not get Limerick, and when he was offered the deanery of Derry in 1699 he refused it on the grounds that his elderly mother could not accompany him. About four years later, the lord lieutenant, the 2nd duke of Ormond (qv) offered him the deanery of St Patrick's on behalf of the crown. However, a dispute between the crown and the chapter as to the right of presentation was only resolved when John Stearne (qv) was appointed dean and Edward Synge became chancellor of St Patrick's and vicar of St Werburgh's, where he was installed in April 1705. In 1714 King recommended Synge for the diocese of Raphoe, and he was consecrated in November that year. He remained at Raphoe for only eighteen months, and in June 1716 he was appointed archbishop of Tuam.
Initially, Synge had resisted his removal from Raphoe, where he was engaged in disputes about presbyterian marriages and a campaign of conversion through education. He saw that there was a great deal of work and expense in Tuam, and there was nowhere to live, as the archbishop's palace had been burnt during the civil war. Tuam had other drawbacks: there were few resident clergy and many parishes were impropriate. Further, there was a long-running problem about the quarta pars episcopalis, that part of the tithes that had augmented the income of the archbishop, and not the parish clergy. It had been proposed to abolish this custom in Tuam, but before the necessary legislation was enacted the documents were lost in the 1641 rebellion. Synge was advised to encourage the Tuam clergy to petition for the abolition of the quarta pars, to supplement the incomes of clergy who were prepared to resign from pluralities, and to provide for parishes that had not been served since the reformation.
On the growing constitutional crisis arising from the Annesley v. Sherlock case (over the appellate jurisdictions of the Irish house of lords and its British counterpart) Synge told Wake that Ireland was ‘a kingdom (not a county Palatine) exactly formd [sic] according to the model of England . . . ’ (Synge to Wake, 1 Nov. 1717 (Dublin City Library, Gilbert MS 28, f. 100)). With Archbishop King, he opposed actively but unsuccessfully the enactment by the Irish parliament of a toleration act for protestant dissenters. Here again Synge was said to have conducted himself ‘with the greatest warmth and zeal for the nation's honour’ (William Nicholson to Wake, 11 July 1719 (ibid., f. 236). In his speech on the bill, Synge observed that although he had always believed in limited toleration for dissenters, he saw that religion was a continuing cause of strife, wars, and rebellions. Citing the existence of 180 sects in England which had flourished during the civil war, he warned that it should be not thought that these ‘wild sects and parties’ had gone. If the bill were passed, he said, not only the Church of Ireland, but the civil state and even Christianity itself would be put at risk (Edward Synge speech on toleration, MS in private possession). Both Synge and King were out of favour as a result of their opposition to the bill.
Synge acknowledged the difficulty that catholics had in taking the oaths of allegiance and abjuration, excluding them from full rights in a civil society. He believed that catholics and dissenters should be prosecuted only if they posed a real danger to the state, and proposed an oath of allegiance to meet the objections of both Roman Catholics and quakers. During his life, Synge published nearly sixty volumes of sermons and religious tracts, and he is now seen as one of the most influential religious commentators of his time. The Appendix to his Gentleman's religion (1698) is thought by Berman to have been written in answer to John Toland's (qv) Christianity not mysterious (1696). To some extent Synge shared Toland's rationalism and deism, but he rebutted Toland's case that religion possessed no mysteries. With William King, George Berkeley (qv), and Francis Hutcheson (qv), Synge discussed the problem of innate perception, using the analogy of a blind man's understanding of shape and form. In October 1714 he preached a sermon at St Werburgh's which was attacked for advocating deism and which resulted in a sharp exchange of pamphlets. Synge died in Tuam on 24 July 1741, where he was buried.
He married (1690) Anne, daughter of Nicholas Proude, dean of Clonfert. They had five children, two of whom became bishops. The eldest, Edward Synge (d. 1762), was given (1719) the living of St Audoen's, Dublin, which carried with it a prebendal stall in St Patrick's cathedral. Like his father, Synge took a robust view of the penal laws, which he criticised on the grounds that they encouraged a ‘furious and blind zeal for religion’ which could disturb the civil state, and in 1725 he preached on religious toleration to members of both houses of parliament. Made provost of Tuam in 1726, he was consecrated bishop of Clonfert in 1730, and in 1731 was translated to Cloyne. In 1733 he was translated to Ferns and Leighlin, and in 1740 he went to Elphin, where he remained until his death. He was a close friend of Francis Hutcheson the philosopher, who acknowledged his debt to Synge's critique of the text of his An inquiry into the original of our ideas of beauty and virtue (1726). In 1749 Synge organised a census of the diocese of Elphin, which covers most of Co. Roscommon, and parts of south-east Co. Sligo and north-east Co. Galway. It was a remarkable undertaking: forms were specially designed and printed and clergy and churchwardens were persuaded to act as enumerators. The census is housed in the NAI (NAI, MS 2466). Synge married (1725) Jane Curtis and it is through his letters to their daughter Alicia that he is best known.
Synge's younger brother, Nicholas Synge (1659–1771), was born in 1659 and graduated BA at TCD in 1713. He was ordained deacon in 1715 and priest in 1717. In 1735 he was installed in St Patrick's cathedral to the prebendary of Ta-sagart, from which he resigned in 1737 when he became prebendary of Malahidert and precentor of Elphin. He was collated archdeacon of Dublin in 1743 and became bishop of Killaloe in 1745. He married (1724) Elizabeth Trench of Garbally, Co. Galway, and died in 1771. It is from this branch of the family that the playwright John Millington Synge (qv) descended.