Byrne, Edmund (c.1655/6–1723/4), alias ‘Edward Hamson’, archbishop of Dublin, was born in Ballybrack, Co. Carlow, of Wicklow parents. Meagher suggests that he was a first cousin of Arthur O'Brin (Ó Broinn/Byrne) (son of John O'Brin of Ballyknockan), a distinguished member of the Spanish navy and knight of the order of Calatrava, who himself was a great grandson of Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne (qv).
Byrne entered the Irish college in Seville in 1674, received the tonsure and minor orders on 18 September 1675 and the diaconate on 24 September 1678, and was finally ordained (18 March 1679) by Dr Melchor de Escuda, bishop of Bizerta. Tadhg Ó Neachtain (qv) suggested that Byrne lectured in divinity in the college (which was once adorned with a portrait, now lost). In 1681 he defended general conclusions in theology and philosophy for his doctorate. In the same year he returned to an Irish mission which had been devastated by the death in prison of Archbishop Peter Talbot (qv) and the execution of Archbishop Oliver Plunkett (qv). He served as administrator of the mensal parish of St Nicholas Without for over twenty years during the episcopates of Patrick Russell (qv) and Peter Creagh (qv) and as dean of the chapter and vicar-general of Dublin (1694–1707).
Appointed to the archdiocese of Dublin (15 May 1707) at the age of 51, he was consecrated in Newgate gaol (‘The Black Dog’) on 31 August by Bishop Patrick Donnelly (qv) of Dromore, the ‘Bard of Armagh’, the only surviving bishop in Ireland at the time. As a result of Donnelly's incarceration and the absence of any other bishops in Ireland, Thadeus Francis O'Rourke (qv), whom Donnelly consecrated as bishop of Killala, and Francis O'Ferrall, archdeacon of Ardagh, joined him in the prison to perform the ceremony. When the Irish government approved legislation that required all registered priests to abjure the Stuart claimant to the throne, Byrne went into hiding and his flock followed suit by closing the mass-houses.
In September 1712, when a proclamation was issued for the arrest of Byrne, John Burke (provincial of the Irish Franciscans), and Cornelius Nary (qv), Byrne had the misfortune to attract the attention of two of Ireland's most notorious priest-catchers, Edward Tyrrell (qv) and John Garzia (qv), who had sworn that the archbishop had lodged in the house of a cooper in Francis Street. Byrne, on a visit to Drogheda to settle a dispute over parishes, eluded his pursuers. Later arrested with six of his priests (who were later transported), Byrne was discharged in 1719 after Garzia failed to appear at his trial.
Despite the danger of arrest, Byrne attended to diocesan affairs and resurrected the defunct parish of St Andrew's in 1709. He also took steps to improve the operation of the church within the archdiocese. Indeed, the parochial organisation of the diocese of Dublin still bears traces of his administrative hand. When some priests took the abjuration oath under the 1709 act, Byrne consulted Rome to enquire about suitable punishment. When the proclamation was issued for his arrest Byrne, appreciating the contemporary political climate, drafted a document for the regulation of his clergy and diocese in the event of his absence. In October 1712 he gave permission for the Poor Clares to move to his archdiocese from Galway, and when the Dominicans were expelled from Galway (March 1717) he also allowed them to found the convent of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Dublin.
As administrator of St Catherine's, Byrne became involved in a controversy with a priest, Valentine Rives, who in turn appealed to Hugh MacMahon (qv), archbishop of Armagh, over the primacy. This prompted MacMahon's Jus primatale Armachanum and a reply by Byrne's vicar-general John Clinch. Propaganda ruled in favour of Armagh. He also condemned Jansenism in 1718, and was closely concerned in the publication of Cornelius Nary's New Testament the same year.
On the publication of General instructions by way of catechism (1723), by the Franciscan priest Sylvester Lloyd (qv), Byrne arranged for its examination by a group of regular and secular theologians including John Clinch, Cornelius Nary, Laurence Gernon, prior of a Dublin convent, and Stephen MacEgan, provincial of the Irish Dominicans. He later forwarded their opinions to Cardinal Spinelli, cardinal-protector of Ireland. This ongoing controversy served to blight the final years of his episcopate.
Byrne died sometime between 23 December 1723 and January 1724 and was lamented by the poets Tadhg Ó Neachtain and Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín (qv), no doubt in consequence of his close connection with the Ó Neachtain circle of Irish scholars in the first two decades of the eighteenth century. In his will he left £30 to his two brothers Henry and Richard and his brother-in-law Richard Barry, £20 to a servant, his books to Thomas Frier of the city of Dublin, and the rest of his goods and chattels to Dr Edward Barry.
Some uncertainty exists as to his final resting-place. According to local tradition he was buried in the graveyard of Kiltennel Borris, Co. Carlow, under a slab bearing the O'Byrne coat-of-arms beside the small chapel erected by Capt. Edmond Byrne and consecrated by the archbishop himself in 1709. However, the historian W. P. Burke (qv) believed that he was buried in the tomb of Sir Toby Butler (qv) in St James's church, near Dublin.