Walsh, William (c.1513–1577), catholic bishop of Meath, was born in or before 1513 in the diocese of Meath, probably at Dunboyne. He joined the Cistercian order and appears to have lived first at the abbey at Bective, Co. Meath, but he was not there at its dissolution in 1538; at the dissolution of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary in Dublin in October 1539, a William Walsh was resident there to whom the crown granted an annual pension of £2 in compensation. Unwilling to accept Henry VIII's break with Rome, Walsh left Ireland for the continent, studied at a university, and became a doctor in divinity. He settled at Rome, where he served as chaplain to the exiled English cleric Reginald Pole (later cardinal). During this time the pope made him guardian of Duleek priory and rector of Loughseedy, both in Meath. As Duleek was an Augustinian house, he received dispensation from the pope to become an Augustinian canon. There is no evidence to suggest he went to Ireland to assume these posts.
The restoration of catholicism as the state religion in England and Ireland when Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553 brought Walsh's period of exile to an end. Along with two other Irish clergymen, Thomas Leverous (qv) and George Dowdall (qv), both also adherents of Pole, he was to lead the campaign to reestablish and reform the church in Ireland. In June 1554 the three men were appointed to a commission to deprive all married bishops and clergy. Among the first to suffer was Edward Staples (qv), bishop of Meath, who was deposed on 29 June 1554. A congé d'élire directed the archdeacon and chapter of the diocese of Meath to elect Walsh bishop, which they duly did, and he was provided to the diocese on 18 October 1554 by Pole in his capacity as papal legate.
Walsh acted as a member of the Irish council, although he was not formally appointed to that body, and was named on at least five commissions for the defence of counties Meath and Westmeath, and of Leinster in general from 1556 to 1558. In February 1557 both he and Hugh Curwin (qv), archbishop of Dublin, consented to the proclamation of the O'Connors as traitors, but disagreed with a bounty being placed upon Donnough O'Connor for his capture, dead or alive. He was not very active in government matters and largely concentrated on his religious duties. There can be little doubt that both the restoration of catholicism and Walsh's installation as bishop were warmly welcomed in Meath. The diocese had been thickly planted with monastic houses before the Henrician dissolutions of the 1530s and held a large number of former monks who had been permanently alienated from the protestant reformation. This group, from whose ranks Walsh was drawn, lived in poverty and ministered the old religion to the laity, providing the mainstay of catholicism in Meath in the sixteenth century.
The accession of the protestant Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 threatened to undo all of Walsh's achievements. The queen moved cautiously in Ireland and Walsh retained his bishopric and role in the privy council throughout 1559. However, in early 1559, the lord lieutenant, Thomas Radcliffe (qv), earl of Sussex, marked down Walsh as one of the bishops most likely to resist religious change. In January 1560 Walsh unsuccessfully opposed in the Irish parliament the government's legislative programme reintroducing protestantism. On 4 February he refused to take the oath of royal supremacy, for which he was deposed as bishop by May and imprisoned for about a year.
Upon his release in 1561 he remained unrepentant and, returning to his diocese, publicly declared that he would never attend a protestant church service as it was contrary to the word of God. He remained active and despite government harassment successfully maintained the catholic faith in Meath. The government helped his cause by failing to appoint a Church of Ireland bishop of Meath until the close of 1563. That the eventual royal appointee, Hugh Brady (qv), was a native of Meath who had previously enjoyed an impressive clerical career in England demonstrates that the crown regarded Walsh as a formidable threat. However, lacking adequate financial resources and finding his clergy unresponsive or actively pro-catholic, Brady was no match for Walsh and failed to make many converts. Walsh's determination to stand his ground was endorsed by Rome's decision to confirm him as the catholic bishop of Meath on 6 September 1564.
On 13 July 1565 Walsh was arrested and brought before the ecclesiastical court of high commission in Dublin, where he refused again to take the oath of royal supremacy and declined to answer when asked if he regarded Elizabeth as his lawful queen. As a result he was imprisoned in Dublin castle. The Church of Ireland archbishop Adam Loftus (qv) said that Walsh was greatly admired by the Irish and advised that he be sent to England where efforts should be made to convert him. Walsh found his periods of imprisonment very tedious and passed the time by tying and untying cords in his bed. He was able to smuggle letters out of prison to his superiors in Rome and his supporters in Ireland. The authorities had released him by 1570, when he was ordered to restrict himself to certain parts of the Pale and forbidden to speak or write against the Church of Ireland. The order seems to have had little effect as by March 1572 Walsh was back in Dublin castle. In December 1572 he escaped with outside, and probably some inside, help.
He sailed for France and was shipwrecked on the coast of Brittany before settling at Nantes for six months. After receiving help from the papal nuncio, he was in Paris by July 1573, where he petitioned his superiors for patronage, stressing the persecution he had suffered. By September 1574 he was in Spain, where he was granted a royal pension and served as coadjutor to the archbishop of Toledo. On 8 April 1575 he received a papal brief authorising him to oversee the provinces of Armagh and Dublin in the absence of the catholic primate, Richard Creagh (qv). He does not appear to have returned to Ireland, though he expressed a wish to do so. During his second exile he tried to further the efforts of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald (qv) and Sir Thomas Stukeley (qv) to lead a catholic crusade to Ireland, backed by the papacy and Spain. He also (unavailingly) requested church office in Brittany, because this would make it easier to contact his diocese in Ireland and because he could not withstand the intense heat of central Spain. His last years were spent in retirement at the Cistercian convent at Alcalá, where he died 4 January 1577; he was buried at the Cistercian collegiate church of St Secundinus on 7 January.