Daly, Peter (1788/9–1868), turbulent priest, was born probably in the neighbourhood of Galway city, in humble circumstances; other details of his family background are not known. Matriculating at Maynooth college (1 September 1812), he was ordained (1815), briefly held two curacies, and was exceptionally young to be appointed PP of St Nicholas North in Galway city (1818). Bringing to completion a new parish church within several years, he plunged at public meetings (1822–3) into the turbulent sectarian politics recently inflamed by the nascent ‘new reformation’ movement within evangelical protestantism. His political nous and ambition was rewarded by election (late 1823) to the chapter of the catholic warden of Galway. In late 1824 he assumed leadership of local efforts publicly to discredit the activities of the proselytising London Hibernian Society in Co. Galway, and was extolled in verse by Anthony Raftery (qv). His clerical responsibilities were extended (September 1825) when the Galway chapter awarded him appointment as parish priest of Moycullen. During the mid 1820s he set up a college house to accommodate the secular clergy of the town, and keenly upheld their pecuniary and administrative interests against the rival claims of the monastic orders in Galway. Parish fund-raising in England and in Rome raised his local profile in 1828. In June 1828 he took the highly unusual step of contesting the election for chapter wardenship against the sitting incumbent, but failed to attract more than a third of the clerical electorate. Oliver Kelly (qv), archbishop of Tuam 1820–36, complained in 1829 of his scheming against the warden and the regular clergy.
By 1831 Daly had acquired Blackrock House at Salthill and at least two other properties near the city, and farmed extensively. Taking over the duties of the mensal parish of Rahoon (March 1832) on behalf of the new bishop of Galway, George Browne (d. 1858), he yielded up residency of the parish of Moycullen and revived local organisation with such vigour that he was made permanent administrator in 1835. A visit by Earl Mulgrave (qv), lord lieutenant of Ireland (1835–9), to his home (August 1835) highlighted his local celebrity. He secured the foundation of a convent of the Sisters of Charity in Galway in 1836, and later prevailed upon Mother Catherine McAuley (qv) of the Sisters of Mercy to take over their work in 1840. Publication (mid 1843) of a curious self-promoting document, Statement of accounts, advertised his hopes of elevation to the bishopric of Galway. The hostile majority among his clerical colleagues suspected that he had himself cast the one vote in his favour at the diocesan selection of candidates in July 1844. Relief work during the famine required earnest and exhausting labours on his part. In November 1847 he was coopted to the board of the town commissioners in Galway, first taking the chair in February 1848. Disputes with Browne's successor as bishop of Galway, Laurence O'Donnell (d. 1855), led to his presenting his case in person in Rome (July 1848), where he managed to evade censure.
As relations with his bishop and colleagues grew worse, his standing with the local secular establishment rose, and he was handsomely elected to the board of the town commissioners in the triennial election of September 1848. He was nominated to give evidence to the house of commons committee on the poor laws that year. Elected director of the Galway gas company in June 1848, he was coopted to the city harbour board in July, turning the first sod for the Galway railway extension in August that year. In early 1850 he was among those proposing the merits of Galway as an official transatlantic packet station, a project in which he was involved for several years, briefly bearing fruit at the close of the decade. Semi-permanent chairmanship of the board of the town commissioners served as outlet for his political ambitions in the 1850s and early 1860s. The steam navigation of Lough Corrib occupied his attention in the mid 1850s, together with amendments to local harbour and town commissioner legislation. His chances of advancement within the catholic church were now demonstrably poor. The latest bishop of Galway, John MacEvilly (qv), proceeded with some success against him at Rome (1858) for financial malpractice, harsh estate management, and absorption in political affairs. However, in June 1858 Daly was made chairman of the Galway Bay steam navigation company, shortly before opening Galway as a terminus for a transatlantic line (of which he became a major shareholder), a venture that collapsed within six years. His support of John Orrell Lever was crucial to the latter's election as MP for Galway borough (1859).
Having unsuccessfully sued the editor of the Galway Vindicator for libel, in March 1860 he purchased the Galway Mercury (later the Galway Press) to ensure favourable press coverage. Suspended from ecclesiastical office by MacEvilly (January 1862) for repeated public displays of temper, he protested to the Vatican authorities, but was outmanoeuvred by the bishop, who demanded his public contrition and resignation from secular politics from February that year. It was July before MacEvilly's conditions were met in part, as Daly used to his advantage the ill-considered goodwill of John MacHale (qv), archbishop of Tuam. Restored to clerical office on 20 April 1862, he quickly renewed the conflict with MacEvilly by refusing to acknowledge the latter's pastoral condemning the Galway Model School. Daly was once again threatened with suspension for this and other acts, including attendance at trade union and mechanics’ institute meetings, and violation of a promise not to attend balls. Restored from his second suspension on 24 December 1864, he was unrepentant and persisted in disobeying MacEvilly. Active in the general election of 1865, he was widely suspected of bribery during the polls. Daly had presented MacEvilly with the greatest challenge to his mission to reform the local church into a modern, disciplined entity. The protracted contest of wills, which lasted nearly a decade, was only decided by Daly's death on 30 September 1868. Reputedly one of the wealthiest catholic clergymen in Ireland, he left almost all his considerable estate to friends, and ‘not a farthing for . . . masses’ (Bane, 71). The free expression of Daly's incorrigible political energy, inside and outside his church, is a clear example of the relative weakness of the pre-Cullenite hierarchy.