Troy, John Thomas (1739–1823), catholic archbishop of Dublin, was born 12 July 1739 at Porterstown, near Dublin, the eldest son of James Troy, merchant, and Mary Neville. In 1755 he joined the Dominican friars and left Dublin to commence his studies at Rome. Ordained to the priesthood in 1762, Troy remained in the city and served as master of San Clemente from 1772 until his appointment in 1776 as bishop of Ossory, in succession to his Dominican confrère Thomas Burke (qv), for whom he had acted as Roman agent. He was consecrated at Louvain by the archbishop of Mechlin.
Troy's return to Ireland coincided with the beginnings of the revival of the catholic church following the trials of the penal era. He assumed leadership of this process, and throughout his career he sought to bring the Irish church into line with Roman practice. In this he was assisted by able energetic prelates, including Thomas Bray (qv) of Cashel, Francis Moylan (qv) of Cork, and Patrick Plunket (qv) of Meath. From the outset Troy enjoyed the confidence of the holy see, and he was immediately appointed vicar apostolic to arbitrate in a long-standing dispute between the archbishop of Armagh, Anthony Blake (qv), and his clergy. Yet while Cardinal Stefano Borgia, prefect of the Propaganda Fide, referred to him as ‘his creatura’, Troy was never simply a ‘Roman hack’. He was, above all, a conscientious pastor, hailed by Bishop James Caulfield (qv) of Ferns as ‘the pattern of his flock and all things to all men’.
In Ossory, Troy's priority was the improvement of religious practices and clerical discipline; this he pursued through regular diocesan visitations and monthly clerical conferences. These efforts intensified on his translation to the diocese of Dublin in December 1786, following the death of Archbishop John Carpenter (qv). During advent of the following year he published comprehensive pastoral instructions, which regulated times of worship and clerical duties; priests were instructed to preach, to promote the Easter duty, and to encourage confession, communion, and almsgiving. Troy monitored the behaviour of his priests and acted decisively to stem abuses. In 1792 Father Robert McEvoy was excommunicated for taking a wife, and in 1814 the archbishop took the Dublin grand jury to court in a successful attempt to overturn its appointment of an incompetent chaplain to Newgate prison. Troy was equally determined to regulate marriage, and in 1789, following consultation with his clergy, formally excommunicated ‘couple beggars’ and the contracting parties in illicit marriages.
While the archbishop had little concern about the religious enthusiasm of his people, he was anxious to curb its heterodox expression. He identified the need for effective catechesis, and, in the absence of an adequate educational system, he relied upon the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which he promoted to assist him in this task; by the time of his death, in 1823, there was a confraternity in every parish of the archdiocese. A perennial anxiety was the popular celebration of festivals and ‘patterns’, since the religious rites on these occasions were usually a prelude to more secular, often riotous festivities. In Kilkenny, Troy had attempted to abolish patterns and May balls, and in the capital one of his first acts was the condemnation of the notorious midsummer festival at Kilmainham. The archbishop urged his flock to express their devotion in a ‘becoming manner’ in the chapels of the city, but it is clear that the laity rejected this attempted Romanisation, or social control, since the pattern at Kilmainham continued to be celebrated, if in a more ordered fashion, until the 1830s.
By the turn of the nineteenth century the archdiocese had been brought firmly into line with Roman practice. Troy, assisted by his vicar general, the Jesuit Thomas Betagh (qv), had presided over the transformation of a mission to a church. In 1809, in consequence of ill health, Troy successfully applied to Rome for a coadjutor, naming Daniel Murray (qv) as his chosen successor. Their partnership produced a more sophisticated approach, reflected in increased institutionalisation and a flowering of religious life. In education, the hedge schools of the penal era increasingly gave way to the parochial schools, which in time would form the basis of the national school system. Chapel building, too, was a feature of the period, and Troy's ambitious plan for the erection of a cathedral was realised in April 1815 when he laid the foundation stone for his impressive metropolitan chapel in Marlborough Street; in the style of the Greek revival, the pro-cathedral is one of Dublin's most architecturally ambitious buildings. Troy remained Rome's most trusted advisor in Ireland; until his death, his opinion carried sway in the selection of bishops, not only for Ireland, but also for England and North America.
Politically, Troy has been represented as a reactionary, at odds with the legitimate ambitions of his people. Such characterisations are without nuance. Although dismissed by Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) as a ‘great scoundrel’, Troy was never simply a loyalist. His principal concern was the welfare of the catholic church in Ireland, and he shared the desire of the laity for repeal of the penal laws. At the Catholic Convention of December 1792, he boldly announced his determination to rise or fall with the people of Ireland, declaring that the bishops were ‘second to no description of catholic [in the demand for] their emancipation’. Throughout his career he followed the advice of Edmund Burke (qv), political mentor of the episcopate, who counselled Irish catholics to show themselves dutiful subjects to the crown. Troy believed that successive relief measures, commencing with Luke Gardiner's (qv) first act of 1778, had been granted not from any acknowledgement of the natural rights of catholics, but from a combination of expediency and administrative benevolence, and could therefore be repealed in the event of unrest. This argument was made in successive pastorals, most forcibly in his controversial Pastoral address on the duties of Christian citizens (1793). Troy relentlessly stressed the Christian duties of deference and unwavering obedience to the crown; accordingly he excommunicated a succession of protest groups, beginning with the Whiteboys in 1779 and the Rightboys in the following decade.
In the 1790s Troy's task proved more formidable, and neither his opposition to the radicalism of the catholic committee nor his excommunication in turn of Defenders and United Irishmen arrested the advance of the ‘French disease’. While Troy privately communicated his concern at the injustice and persecution suffered by his people to Dublin Castle, his repeated public exhortations to loyalty confirmed notions of ‘his pious alliance’ with the authorities. In 1795, too, his acceptance of an annual endowment of £8,000 from the crown towards the establishment of St Patrick's college, Maynooth, incensed the laity, who interpreted it as a cynical sop for the failure of Grattan's relief bill and as an attempt by the authorities to detach the clergy from radical politics. Once more, in 1798, the archbishop excommunicated the rebels, thus sending a man ‘to the devil for loving his country’ (Irish Magazine, Mar. 1815). In the aftermath of the rebellion, Troy was placed in the invidious position of rescuing the catholic cause from the debacle of 1798 and the bitter anti-catholic onslaught that followed. Compromised by the prominence of clerics among the United Irishmen, he acquiesced in the passage of the Act of Union, accepting Pitt's intimation that a union would open the way to emancipation, barred by the protestant ascendancy in Ireland. Similarly, Troy was forced to concede the principle of a limited crown veto on episcopal appointments, a decision that dogged the last years of his life.
He died 11 May 1823 at his home on Usher's Island, Dublin, leaving an estate valued at less than £700. His obsequies were held within the walls of the unfinished pro-cathedral, after which his remains were interred temporarily in George's Hill chapel until their translation to Marlborough Street in the following year. Daniel O'Connell (qv) paid fitting tribute, describing Troy as ‘a charitable man . . . never known to refuse giving what he could to a person in distress. He governed the Catholic Church in Ireland in a stormy period and was very much loved by his own clergy’ (O'Connell, Corr., ii, p. 447). His papers in the Dublin Diocesan Archive illustrate the range of his influence and the extent of his achievement. Troy may be considered the father of the modern Irish church and the author of many of the initiatives too readily attributed to Paul Cullen (qv).