Tyrrell, Edward (d. 1713), priest-catcher, was of obscure origin. He was said to have been the son of a man from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, who had been executed for sheep stealing; it was further alleged that he turned informer against the family who subsequently brought him up. It is probable that he came of impoverished catholic gentry stock, and had some education on the continent. He married a daughter of the scholar Roderick O'Flaherty (qv) before August 1708. In that month his father-in-law wrote to Samuel Molyneux (qv) seeking a tide-waiter's post in Galway for Tyrrell, whom he described as a protestant. In January 1710 Tyrrell travelled to England, where he approached public figures – including Edward Hopkins (qv) and Henry Boyle (qv) – with revelations of catholic clergy openly disporting themselves in Ireland and of Jacobite plots. These were taken seriously in London, and the English privy council reprimanded the Irish government for tolerating unregistered priests, contrary to penal legislation.
Some months later, in Ireland, Tyrrell was convicted of bigamy, branded, and imprisoned, but he escaped from Newgate gaol in Dublin on 20 July 1710. A notice offering a reward for his recapture mentioned several of the numerous aliases which he is known to have used during his career. Despite this episode, he found protectors in the Irish government and by the end of the year was in the pay of the Irish privy council and on good terms with the chief secretary, Joshua Dawson (qv). In December 1710, according to his own later account, he travelled via England to the Low Countries, visiting the Irish College in Louvain and gathering information there on Irish catholic clergy and laity.
Most of his documented priest-hunting activity took place in 1712 and early 1713. He travelled to several towns and through a number of counties, bearing commissions from the government in Dublin requiring the assistance of local officials. He often needed armed guards and on at least one occasion received a beating from angry catholics. His intelligence appears to have been frequently faulty, if not actually invented. He claimed in January 1713 that 900 priests had landed in Ireland, and that he had detected the presence of a cardinal in Clonmel. Furthermore, his actual record of taking priests was poor: three very important catholic prelates, whom he tried to take, all eluded him; these were Hugh MacMahon (qv), Edmund Byrne (qv), and Christopher Butler (qv), titular archbishops respectively of Armagh, Dublin, and Cashel.
He was by March 1713 again imprisoned on charges of bigamy, a circumstance which may not be entirely unrelated to his declining credibility in the eyes of the Irish government. Nonetheless, he continued to inform against catholic clergy and assist in prosecuting them almost until his execution in May 1713. The practice of priest-catching was in large measure discredited by the disreputable personal characters of exponents such as Tyrrell and the slightly later John Garzia (qv).