Blake, Anthony (1704?–87), catholic archbishop of Armagh (1758–87), was the younger of two sons of Andrew Blake, landowner, of Kilvine, Co. Mayo. Educated first at Saint-Omer and then at Louvain, he returned to Ireland about 1731 and was appointed priest to the diocese of Tuam, where he held the important administrative positions of dean of the chapter and vicar general to the archbishop. He was warden of Galway (1741–56), a position that entailed many episcopal administrative functions. His most notable act in Galway was the erection of a new parish chapel in Middle St. that stood until 1833. Appointed bishop of Ardagh and Clomnacnoise on 11 August 1756, he appears to have opposed elements in the hierarchy and catholic aristocracy who sought to conciliate the Hanoverians, and was absent from meetings of the hierarchy convened to register priests and to offer prayers for George II.
Since Rome still refused to recognise the Hanoverians, he probably owed his appointment as archbishop of Armagh (21 April 1758) to his anti-conciliatory stance. It seems that for about the first six years he fared well in Armagh, and was generally respected by his priests. On 19 May 1761 he held a diocesan synod to introduce reforms to regularise the hours of worship, stamp out intemperance among priests, and prevent excessive interference by the laity in ecclesiastical matters. In June 1764 he convened another synod to sanction a new method of supplying a regular income for the archbishop. In the late 1760s, however, his popularity waned, particularly after his ill-judged suspension (1768) of Fr Peter Markey, parish priest of Kilsarin, Co. Louth, for briefly leaving his parish without permission. In letters to Rome, Armagh clergy criticised Blake's non-residence, his neglect of visitation, his excessive financial demands on parishes, and his lavish lifestyle. Despite warnings, Blake failed to appear in the diocese of Armagh from 1771 to 1773 but spent most of the time living in Galway with his brother Walter, ‘a heretic and an apostate’ (Whelan, 303). Blake defended himself by writing to Rome some evasive and poorly argued letters which did little to refute the charges against him.
Matters came to a head in September 1772 when Blake appointed Dominic Bellew (qv) parish priest of Dundalk, over the head of a popular local candidate. Both priests assumed the position, and Blake's championing of Bellew led to a long and bitter dispute and much frenetic Rome-running. Blake remained in Galway throughout, out of touch with opinion in the parish. Finally, in 1775, on the instructions of Rome the archbishop of Dublin, John Carpenter (qv), intervened; he dismissed Bellew and suspended Blake for non-residence and financial irregularities, delegating his functions to a vicar apostolic, Augustine Cheevers, bishop of Meath (1756–71).
Soon afterwards Bellew travelled to Rome to plead for Blake's reinstatement, and in March 1777 John Troy (qv), bishop of Ossory (1776–87), was appointed apostolic commissary to investigate events in Armagh. Although a petition from the diocese claimed that Blake was too old and infirm to perform his duties, and that he had neither conducted a visitation nor given confirmation in fifteen years, Troy found in his favour (31 July 1777) and reinstated him. Troy then attempted to admonish Blake for his past behaviour but, once restored, Blake would brook no criticism and immediately ordered Troy to leave his diocese. Despite warnings, Blake tried to settle old scores by suspending Markey from Drogheda (8 August 1778) and in 1779 attempted to appoint Bellew as his coadjutor, a move that would have reopened old wounds and was only avoided by Bellew's appointment as bishop of Killala in December 1779. By this stage Blake was paralysed and unable to perform his episcopal functions, and on 17 February 1782 Dr Richard O'Reilly (qv), coadjutor of Kildare, was appointed provisional coadjutor of Armagh, with the right of succession. O'Reilly possessed ‘all the endearing qualities which Blake so badly lacked’ (Whelan, 321) and put an end to the discord in the diocese. Blake was granted a pension of £150 a year, and lived out his final years at Carrowbrowne, Co. Galway, which had passed to him on Walter's death in 1776. Comfortable in society, he was an interesting raconteur, but as a preacher his powers ‘were more theatrical than ecclesiastical’ (Fitzpatrick, 215). His period as primate cannot be judged a success: he lacked diplomacy and detachment, dissipated his energies in factional disputes, and lacked all charity towards opponents. He died 29 November 1787 in Galway and was interred in the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway.