Bellew, Dominic (1745–1813), catholic bishop of Killala, was born in May 1745, probably in Co. Louth. Since the forebears of his mother Judith (née Byrne) were the McDermotts of Thomastown, and his father probably a Castletown Bellew, he was accorded descent from two of the chief catholic families of Co. Louth. He left Ireland c.1764 and entered the Irish College in Rome, where he excelled in his studies for the priesthood, and was ordained 5 March 1771 in Bordeaux. He returned to Ireland early in 1772 and served as a curate in Drogheda. Through the influence of his cousin, Sir Patrick Bellew (qv) of Barmeath, he was appointed parish priest of Dundalk in September 1772 by the archbishop of Armagh, Dr Anthony Blake (qv). His appointment was unpopular with the people of Dundalk, whose preference was for a local curate, Peter Carroll. Both priests assumed the position, and the dispute became extremely acrimonious – not least because of Bellew's excoriation of his opponents. There was much petitioning and letter-writing to Rome, and on 17 September 1774 Propaganda Fide appointed John Carpenter (qv), archbishop of Dublin, to investigate; he initially decided in favour of Bellew, but eventually in 1775 a compromise candidate, John Markey, was appointed.
Soon afterwards Bellew travelled to Rome to plead his case in person. He was given a post with the Spanish delegation and also acted as agent for Blake (who had been suspended in 1775 for non-residence and financial irregularities) and for the bishops of Clogher, Derry, Down and Connor, and Raphoe, and possibly for James Butler (qv), archbishop of Cashel. In 1777 John Troy (qv) was appointed commissioner to investigate the discord in Armagh, and produced a report in 1779 unfavourable to Bellew, which led to an enduring enmity between them. Blake was reappointed to Armagh in 1777, and requested Bellew as his coadjutor, a move that would have risked reopening the Dundalk controversy. In December 1779, probably to avoid further conflict, Bellew was appointed bishop of Killala, and consecrated in Brussels 3 April 1780; his appointment probably also owed something to the wish of the cardinal duke of York, the last of the Stuarts, to reward the Bellews for their past Jacobitism. His appointment was not popular: on 28 February 1784 eighteen local priests sent a petition to Rome protesting they had heard that he was bad-tempered, inexperienced, and a poor administrator; that he was a friend of the heretical protestant bishop of Derry, Frederick Augustus Hervey, (qv) that he cultivated friendships with the rich and was ignorant of Irish in a diocese where it was widely spoken.
He was the first bishop to reside regularly in the diocese for 100 years – in Killala town until 1784 and afterwards in Ballina, where he lived in a modest house. Killala was a poor diocese, and he made several unsuccessful requests to Rome for a transfer away from ‘the marshes of Mayo’ (Hoban, 360), claiming that he could only survive there with the support of relatives. He was on friendly terms with the local protestant bishop and the local magnate James Cuffe (qv) (later Lord Tyrawley), and appears to have become a respected figure in Killala; in 1783 a meeting of his priests expressed their admiration for his ‘wonderful humility and perseverance’ (Hoban, 369). He oversaw the building of some new churches, set aside funds for the founding of schools and a seminary in Connacht, and encouraged promising young seminarians from his diocese, notably the young John MacHale (qv). Concerned at the growing influence of the Catholic Committee in the early 1790s, he sought a greater role for the hierarchy in the campaign for catholic emancipation, and was active in the establishment of Maynooth in 1795.
After the French landing at Killala in 1798, Mayo loyalists accused him of supporting the French, claiming that he had been president of a committee of public safety in Ballina, and pointing out that his brother Matthew, an ex-soldier, had been hanged for serving as a rebel general and that several of the diocese's priests had assisted Humbert (qv). One of Bellew's own priests, Bernard Dease, accused him of long harbouring pro-French and severe anti-protestant sentiments. But there was little substance to these charges: Bellew had in reality attempted to steer a neutral course to avoid alienating either the government or his flock. Summoned to Dublin Castle to defend himself, he proclaimed his loyalty and was cleared. Perhaps to emphasise this loyalty, he was a strong supporter of the union.
In the ‘Tuam schism’ of autumn 1809 he led the opposition of the Connacht bishops to the attempt of Primate Richard O'Reilly (qv) of Armagh to appoint a new archbishop of Tuam, denying the primate's authority outside his own province. As in earlier disputes, his bitter invective alienated many church colleagues. Given his family background, education, and administrative ability, he was a likely candidate for an archbishopric, but his naked ambition and abrasive personality told against him.
In the post-union debates on catholic emancipation, he strongly opposed the proposal for a government veto on episcopal appointments. Returning from a meeting in Dublin he was thrown from his carriage at Mullingar and died from his injuries three days later, 16 June 1813. He was buried at Moyne Abbey, near Killala, beside his brother.