Walsh, Peter (c.1616–1688), Franciscan author, was born at Mooretown, Co. Kildare. His father, whose first name is not known, was a chandler at Naas, Co. Kildare, and a member of a local Old English family; his mother, named as ‘Goodie N.’ in one source, was an English protestant. The year of Walsh's birth is uncertain as he claimed to be 59 years of age in August 1675, implying a date of birth in 1615–16, but also wrote that he was in his sixty-sixth year in January 1685, suggesting a date of birth in 1619. The earlier date seems more likely, given a further statement that he was in Louvain as early as 1637.
Having studied at the Franciscan college of St Anthony, Louvain, he received minor orders there on 18 March 1639. Ordination to the priesthood followed within months and he was authorised to preach and hear confessions by the Irish chapter of his order in October 1639. It is not known when he joined the Franciscan community at Kilkenny, but he was confirmed in his position as lector in philosophy there in 1645 and was appointed lector in theology in 1647.
Kilkenny was the seat of the Confederate Catholics, and Walsh first came to prominence when he preached in support of the peace proclaimed in August 1646 between the confederates' supreme council and the lord lieutenant, Ormond (qv), although the peace was quickly abrogated when a synod convened by the papal nuncio, GianBattista Rinuccini (qv), condemned the treaty for failing to protect the interests of the catholic church. Walsh's stance on the issue reflected both his loyalty to the crown and his hostility to the exercise of papal authority in the temporal sphere – principles which he consistently espoused throughout his life and which brought him into repeated conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors. During the period of Rinuccini's ascendancy the Kilkenny friary's school of philosophy and theology was dissolved; Walsh was suspended from preaching and was confined in the Franciscans' house at Castledermot, Co. Kildare, by order of the provincial, Thomas MacKiernan. Rinuccini's dominance in confederate counsels was short-lived, and in May 1648 he was driven to excommunicate those who supported a truce with Lord Inchiquin (qv), commander of the royalist army in Munster. Walsh returned to Kilkenny where he helped the supreme council prepare an appeal against the excommunication for submission to Rome. In July the supreme council ordered the arrest of Paul King (qv), guardian of the Kilkenny friary and a supporter of the nuncio, and installed Walsh in his place. Walsh's first publication, a pamphlet entitled Queries concerning the lawfulnesse of the present cessation, rejected the validity of the nuncio's censure and was published under the name of David Rothe (qv), the elderly bishop of Ossory. Walsh first met Ormond, his future patron, when the lord lieutenant visited Kilkenny for talks with the confederate leadership in September 1648.
Walsh assisted Raymond Carron (qv), a Franciscan with similar political views to his own, who was sent from Louvain as visitor to the Irish province in April 1649. Carron deposed MacKiernan as Irish provincial, but opponents of the Ormond peace responded by convening the provincial definitory, which excommunicated Walsh and seven others on 22 June 1649. This schism between the Franciscans' pro- and anti-Rinuccini wings prompted the order's vicar general to appoint a new visitor, Owen Field, who convened a provincial chapter at Kilconnell in August 1650 which upheld the views of the pro-nuncio majority. Most supporters of the Ormond peace acknowledged their errors, but Walsh did not attend the Kilconnell chapter and refused to recognise it as canonical. He left Kilkenny shortly before the city surrendered to Oliver Cromwell (qv) in March 1650 and subsequently served as chaplain to the earl of Castlehaven (qv), commander of royal forces in Munster.
Walsh was shunned by his fellow Franciscans in the aftermath of the parliamentary victory. By September 1652, although allegedly on good terms with the authorities, he was awaiting deportation in Dublin. In early 1654 he was deported to England and remained in London for some months, but in September he travelled to Madrid, where he attempted to intercede on behalf of Irish priests who had been dismissed as military chaplains in the Spanish Netherlands because of their alleged French sympathies – an episode that reflected continuing divisions between pro- and anti-nuncio factions among the clerical exiles. Walsh's representations aroused the suspicions of the Spanish authorities and he was imprisoned at Madrid for two to three months. On his release he travelled to Flanders and, fearing rearrest, requested permission from the English authorities to return to Ireland, but was refused. Instead, he made his way to London, where, apart from a brief visit to Paris, he remained till the restoration. His association with the Portuguese embassy during this period may have given him a degree of diplomatic immunity, but an incident involving Edmund O'Reilly (qv), archbishop of Armagh, suggests that his relations with the authorities were more cordial than might be expected. When O'Reilly visited London in August 1658 he absolved Walsh from all ecclesiastical censures – a gesture which Walsh resented, as he denied the validity of the censures. Political differences further strained relations between the men and Walsh revealed O'Reilly's presence in London to a member of the council of state, thereby prompting the primate's expulsion.
Walsh's record of opposition to Rinuccini and his support for royal government in Ireland during the 1640s secured him the patronage of Ormond after the restoration and gave him a degree of influence at court that temporarily silenced his clerical critics. Seeking to profit from Walsh's political connections, a group of prominent ecclesiastics, led by Archbishop O'Reilly of Armagh, signed an ‘instrument of procuration’ in January 1661 which appointed him as their London agent. Walsh later claimed that he succeeded in obtaining the release of 120 priests from prison at this time. In a pamphlet entitled Some few questions concerning the oath of allegiance, which first appeared in 1661 and was subsequently reprinted, Walsh sought to reconcile spiritual loyalty to the pope with temporal loyalty to the king, and argued that the oath of allegiance prescribed by James I in the aftermath of the gunpowder plot contained nothing inconsistent with catholic beliefs. A further attempt to persuade government of catholics' political reliability was made in December 1661, when a group drawn mainly from the Old English gentry met in Dublin and adopted a ‘loyal formulary’ or ‘remonstrance’ which asserted their loyalty to Charles II and denied that the papacy had any temporal power in Ireland. The remonstrance was forwarded to Walsh, who showed it to Ormond, but the latter was dismissive as the document had not been signed. Walsh at once exerted himself to obtain signatures and the initial response of Irish clerics living in London was encouraging, with Bishop Oliver Darcy (qv) of Dromore and twenty-three others, including fifteen Franciscans, subscribing. Others declined to sign, however, and Walsh wrote a pamphlet entitled The more ample accompt in reply to their objections. This failed to silence critics of the remonstrance, and in July 1662 a group which included Anthony MacGeoghegan (qv), Franciscan bishop of Meath, and Thomas MacKiernan, the former provincial, sent Fr John Brady to Louvain to ascertain the views of the theological faculty there.
Walsh sparked a more secular controversy when he published A Letter desiring a just and mercifull regard of the Roman Catholicks of Ireland (1662), an open letter addressed to Ormond which portrayed catholics as natural supporters of royal government and argued that they were entitled to the terms of the second peace treaty concluded between the confederates and Ormond. These arguments were attacked by Roger Boyle (qv), earl of Orrery, in an anonymous pamphlet entitled The Irish colours displayed. In a short response, The Irish colours folded (1662), Walsh condemned the rebellion of 1641 but characterised Orrery's estimate of the number of protestants killed as ‘exorbitantly vast’ and argued that a general pardon would provide the most effective means of healing communal divisions. A second anonymous pamphlet by Orrery produced a more substantial response from Walsh, the Reply, to the person of quality's answer (1664), in which he cited the remonstrance as proof of catholics' loyalty to the crown and contrasted it favourably with the Solemn League and Covenant, which he identified as the ‘fountain of all evils that overflowed the three nations’.
Walsh returned to Ireland shortly after Ormond's arrival as lord lieutenant in August 1662, but attitudes to the remonstrance had hardened and few members of the clergy were willing to subscribe. Although the Louvain theologians condemned the document in December 1662 for pledging excessive obedience to a secular prince, Walsh continued to solicit signatures, and in February 1663 he conferred with leading Franciscans at Multifarnham, Co. Westmeath, but failed to win their support; those who were not openly hostile preferred to wait till Rome gave a ruling on the matter. He had greater success with the laity, and the remonstrance was signed by several prominent members of the catholic nobility and gentry, including seven earls, nine viscounts, and five barons. Official pressure was then applied in an effort to overcome clerical resistance: in the summer of 1664 a number of leading Franciscans were arrested, including Anthony Doherty, the Irish provincial, and Denis Magee, who was conducting a visitation of the province. Having returned to London with Ormond, Walsh had an interview in London with Girolamo de Vecchiis, the internuncio with responsibility for Ireland, but failed to convince him of the remonstrance's orthodoxy. In October 1664 Walsh dispatched a close associate, Antoin Gearnon (qv), to a meeting of the Franciscans' Irish definitory in order to press for the appointment of Raymond Carron as visitor in place of Magee; the definitory agreed to request a new visitor, without specifying any individual, but the request was rejected by the order's commissary general. A final effort to secure Franciscan backing for the remonstrance was made in June 1665, but a meeting of prominent members held at Killeigh, King's Co., drafted an alternative loyal formulary which made no mention of the papacy and was rejected as inadequate by both Walsh and Ormond.
When Ormond returned to Dublin in September 1665, Walsh again followed his patron and made a final effort to secure general acceptance of the remonstrance. Having consulted leading members of the clergy, he persuaded Patrick Plunkett (qv), bishop of Ardagh, and the administrators of the dioceses of Armagh, Dublin, and Meath to convene a national congregation of the clergy to consider the document. This initiative was opposed by John Bourke (qv), archbishop of Tuam, and letters opposing the congregation and condemning the remonstrance were sent by Cardinal Francesco Barberini at Rome and by Giacomo Rospigliosi, the internuncio at Brussels. Nicholas French (qv), the exiled bishop of Ferns, wished to attend but was refused a safe-conduct from Spain because of his continued defence of the episcopate's conduct during the 1640s. Nonetheless, the congregation was well attended when it opened in Dublin on 11 June 1666. Two bishops, Andrew Lynch (qv) of Kilfenora, who was elected chairman, and Patrick Plunkett of Ardagh, were present from the start, and they were joined by Archbishop O'Reilly on the third day, while both the archbishop of Tuam and the bishop of Ferns were represented by proxies. Ormond, in a message read to the congregation, stressed the importance of catholics' ‘asserting and owning his majesty's royal authority’ (Walsh, The history . . . of the loyal formulary, 652), and Walsh, in a long speech, pointed to the Sorbonne articles of 1663 as a suitable statement of the loyalty that catholics owed to temporal rulers. Despite these urgings, the congregation drafted a new ‘protestation of loyalty’, which was subscribed by its members on 15 June 1666. Although this document pledged allegiance to the crown ‘in all civil and temporal affairs’ and stated that ‘no power on earth shall be able to withdraw us from our duty herein’, it contained no explicit rejection of papal authority. On 22 June a large majority of members also signed the first three Sorbonne articles, which stated that the pope possessed no temporal authority over the king, that the king had no temporal superior under God, and that subjects could not be absolved from their duty of obedience. However, the congregation declined to endorse the three remaining Gallican articles, in which the pope's power to depose bishops, his superiority to an ecumenical council, and his infallibility without the consent of the church were rejected. This compromise was rejected by both Ormond and Walsh: the lord lieutenant ordered the congregation's immediate dissolution and Walsh described its protestation of loyalty as ‘fallacious and delusory’ (The history . . . of the loyal formulary, p. iii).
Walsh's rigidity in refusing to countenance any expression of loyalty to the crown that fell short of the original remonstrance deepened the misgivings of his critics and marginalised his supporters. Supporters of the remonstrance received a further blow in 1668 when one of their number, the Franciscan James Taaffe (qv), arrived in Ireland with a spurious commission appointing him as apostolic visitor to the Irish church. Walsh's allies were briefly in the ascendant, but Taaffe's subsequent exposure prompted a reaction against the pro-remonstrant faction. In 1669 the appointment of Peter Talbot (qv), a firm opponent of the remonstrance, as archbishop of Dublin, together with Ormond's recall as lord lieutenant, made Walsh's position in Ireland untenable and he followed his patron to London. Clerical condemnations pursued him, however, and he was excommunicated twice in 1670: by the commissary-general of the Franciscans' Germano-Belgian nation for his failure to answer a summons to appear at Brussels, and by a general chapter of the order for publishing books without license.
Walsh was not intimidated by these censures and he wrote a series of controversial tracts in quick succession. The Epistola prima ad Thomam Haroldum (1672) was an open letter addressed to Thomas Harold, a fellow Franciscan of Gallican sympathies based at Brussels, in which Walsh outlined the case against his excommunication in Latin for the benefit of an international audience. In The advocate of conscience liberty, or an apology for toleration rightly stated (1673), published anonymously, he posed as an anglican, the better to argue in favour of toleration for both protestant dissenters and catholics. Also in 1673, Walsh published the first eight in a series of sixteen Controversial letters supposedly exchanged between a catholic and an anglican on the subject of ‘the pretended temporal authority of popes over the whole earth’. Although his main purpose was to allay fears that catholics could not be loyal subjects of protestant rulers, he also looked forward to a time when catholics and anglicans would ‘reunite into one holy, and immaculate, and glorious church’. Walsh's most substantial work, The history and vindication of the loyal formulary, or Irish remonstrance (1673), incorporated both eyewitness accounts and contemporary documents, and remains an important source for Irish history in the restoration period. The friar disciplind, or animadversions on Friar Peter Walsh his new remonstrant religion (1674), in which Archbishop Talbot of Dublin responded to Walsh's History and accused him of attributing spiritual supremacy to kings rather than to the pope, illustrates the hostility with which he was viewed by his coreligionists.
Walsh's literary output declined in subsequent years but he continued to defend his views in print. In An answer to three treatises publisht under the title of the Jesuites loyalty (1678) he again denied that the church had power to depose temporal rulers and argued that the oath of allegiance could be taken by catholics. A treatise of the oath of supremacy (1679), in which he posed as an Englishman, argued that even the oath of supremacy could be taken by catholics, notwithstanding its recognition of the monarch as ‘supreme governor’ in ‘all spiritual or ecclesiastical things’, on the grounds that it referred only to ecclesiastical jurisdiction and did not repudiate the pastoral powers of the papacy. A prospect of the state of Ireland (1682) was undertaken at the earl of Castlehaven's suggestion and is an account of Irish history and pre-history based on Foras feasa ar Éirinn by Geoffrey Keating (qv), a work that Walsh had read in his youth; it is of some importance as the first history of Ireland in English to be based on native sources. Causa Valesiana (1684) was Walsh's second book in Latin; in it, he again justified his conduct in relation to the remonstrance and argued that the sentences of excommunication passed against him were invalid. His final publication, Four letters on several subjects, to persons of quality (1686) was a collection of letters written over a ten-year period. The earliest was addressed to Arthur Capel (qv), earl of Essex, lord lieutenant in 1674, in response to a proclamation banishing catholic bishops and regulars from Ireland; Walsh was concerned to obtain an exemption for those who had signed the remonstrance, as they might be punished for their views if exiled to catholic countries. The second letter, written to Bishop French of Ferns in 1675, was a critique of the bishop's Bleeding Iphigenia, a work that Walsh condemned as ‘a plain justification of the Irish rebellion’ of 1641. The third letter, addressed to the same correspondent in 1676, was a reply to an attack by French on Andrew Sall (qv), a Jesuit who had recently conformed to the established church; Walsh argued that there were no grounds for doubting the sincerity of Sall's conversion and commended the Church of England for its ‘doctrine of repentance, ministry of reconciliation, power of holy orders, and Christian preaching’. In contrast to this, the fourth letter was addressed to Bishop Barlow of Lincoln and sought to defend catholics against charges of disloyalty contained in a book by the bishop. With some courage, Walsh suggested that Barlow had succumbed to the anti-catholic hysteria associated with the ‘popish plot’. Returning to an old theme, he stressed the variety of opinions that existed among catholics in relation to the temporal powers of the papacy and pointed to France and Venice for examples of churches which defended ‘the supreme independent rights of princes and states against all encroachments of the pope or his court’. Nonetheless, Walsh also declared his intention ‘to continue evermore in life and death, a member of that very church’.
Walsh regarded the anglican church, like the Orthodox, as schismatical rather than heretical, and espoused a Gallican and conciliarist view of church government which stressed the autonomy of local churches and minimised the role of the papacy; but on questions of doctrine he adhered to catholic positions, and there is no evidence that he ever contemplated changing his religion. Indeed, on one occasion he tried to persuade Ormond to join the catholic church as it was ‘safest for salvation to die therein’ (Sir Robert Southwell, ‘A narrative of his grace's life’, quoted in Fennessy, ‘Retraction of Peter Walsh’, 78). On 13 March 1688, during a final illness lasting four or five days, Walsh signed a statement witnessed by Fr Joseph Genet, an aide to the papal envoy to James II (qv), and three Franciscans, in which he submitted all his writings to the examination and judgment of the catholic church and undertook to retract any passages which might be condemned. On the same day, he wrote to Ormond thanking him for his ‘manifold and bountiful favours’ (HMC, Carte papers, quoted in Fennessy, 76) over many years and, as a final request, asked that the Franciscans' former house at Kilkenny should be restored to the order. Walsh also bequeathed his money and library to the Kilkenny friary. He died on 15 March 1688 and was interred the following day in a vault at the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West, London.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).