Blake, Anthony Richard (1786–1849), lawyer, administrator, and ‘backstairs viceroy of Ireland’, was second son of Martin Blake of Holly Park, Athenry, Co. Galway. He was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, London, 13 May 1808. A protégé of Charles Butler, former secretary of the catholic committee, Blake collected information on catholic affairs in Ireland in 1811–12 for Butler, who recommended him to the committee as a prospective press officer. Blake was called to the English bar 10 February 1813. In 1821 he went to Ireland in the ‘cabinet’ of Lord Wellesley (qv), was made chief remembrancer of the exchequer for life in 1823 (the first catholic to hold such an office since the reformation), and until his death retained a unique importance as adviser to British ministers and as their link with catholic interests in Ireland. His relations with Daniel O'Connell (qv), from 1817, were initially good, though O'Connell later accused the government of using him as a token catholic, while Blake's catholic enemies represented him as an ambitious layman, inimical to the church. In 1824 Blake received an honorary LLD (Dubl.) and became ‘the first Roman Catholic in modern times to be appointed to a commission of inquiry [the commission on education]’ (Akenson, 94). His Thoughts upon the catholic question, by an Irish Roman Catholic (1828) advised the government to make an agreement with the Vatican, propitiate Irish catholics, provide for the poor, and extend the franchise. In 1831, as a member of the ‘inner conclave’ of Lord Anglesey (qv), he helped to develop the scheme of national education; as one of the catholic commissioners on the board from 1831 until his death, he was diligent and influential, particularly in preparing documents and encouraging teacher training. He also served on the poor law inquiry of 1833; appeared before committees on the state of Ireland (1825), tithes (1831–2), education (1835), and mortmain (1844); and helped to prepare consequent legislation. He became in 1836 the first catholic on the Irish privy council since emancipation. In January 1844 Blake signed a petition with some fifty Irish whigs for ‘healing measures’ for Ireland. His role in the tories' 1844–5 legislation on bequests, the grant to Maynooth College, and the queen's colleges, was probably the most conspicuous and controversial of his career. His substantial contributions to the programme gained weight from his being the government's chief advisor on catholic affairs (especially in education) and intermediary with the catholic bishops; and although his influence with his fellow education commissioner Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) deepened divisions among catholics as to their proper relationship with the government, it prevented unified catholic opposition. Blake (like Murray) eventually became a commissioner under the bequests act. Belief in his influence as ‘a puller of the wires in the political puppet-show’ (Sheil) was extensive; he was less vividly portrayed as ‘an agreeable, gossiping man, who knew everything and everybody, and exhibited a striking taste for diplomacy’ (Fitzpatrick). He died January 1849, leaving a large bequest to the national education system.
W. J. Fitzpatrick, The life, times, and correspondence of the Right Rev. Dr Doyle (2 vols, 1890); Records of the honourable society of Lincoln's Inn, ii: admissions, 1800–1893 (1896), 31; The records of the honourable society of Lincoln's Inn: the Black Books, iv (1902), 246; Alumni Dubl.; R. P. J. Battersby, Sir Thomas Wyse (1939); D. H. Akenson, The Irish education experiment (1970); Donal Kerr, Peel, priests and politics (1982); The catholic question in Ireland & England, 1798–1822: the papers of Denys Scully, ed. Brian MacDermot (1988), 262–3, 321–2, 686