O'Rorke, Terence (1819–1907), priest, professor of theology in the Irish College in Paris, and local historian, was born 20 May 1819 in Collooney, Co. Sligo, one of at least three sons and two daughters of John O'Rorke (1791–1874), and his wife Winifred (née McSharry) (1797–1876); they had a bakery in the town. All his siblings seem to have predeceased him. He learned Greek and Latin at a small classical school near Collooney, and went on to the diocesan seminary in Ballaghaderreen. He entered Maynooth College (September 1840), and after a brilliant academic career was ordained (17 June 1847). He was a gifted French scholar and in 1847 was appointed professor of dogmatic theology in the Irish College in Paris. The intellectual life in Paris appealed to him, and he got to know the leading ecclesiastics and politicians. During his last three years there he was the regular Paris correspondent for the Baltimore Catholic Mirror, but may have suffered ill health in 1853, towards the end of his time there.
In 1854 O'Rorke was recalled to succeed Patrick Durcan (1790–1875) (elevated to the episcopate as bishop of Achonry) as parish priest of the united parishes of Ballisodare (or Ballysadare) and Kilvarnet, and for fifty-four years he ministered to the people of his native parish. The spire of the Church of the Assumption in Collooney, built in 1843 to a design by Sir John Benson (qv), was completed in 1879. O'Rorke was appointed master of the conference of Achonry diocese. In 1864 he was awarded the degree of DD and was appointed examiner for theological degrees in the Catholic University. He became an archdeacon in 1868 and was appointed a canon of the cathedral chapter in 1874.
Shortly after his appointment, he began compiling the history of Ballisodare and Kilvarnet. He assiduously visited and investigated historical monuments, and collected oral traditions in all corners of the parish; unusually for a catholic historian, he was allowed access to the papers of the gentry families – the O'Haras of Annaghmore, the Coopers of Markree, and the Percevals of Temple House. Ballysadare and Kilvarnet was published in 1878. Over 600 copies were sold within a few weeks, possibly because it was made clear that every house in the parish should own one. He was elected MRIA in 1879; William Reeves (qv), a Church of Ireland bishop, was one of his nominators. He was a fellow of the RSAI.
In July 1870 O'Rorke was the first choice of most priests in the diocese for the post of coadjutor bishop of Achonry, to assist Patrick Durcan. He was eminent in theology, eloquence, and intelligence, and is said to have been very warm-hearted. However, the bishops of the province and others who had known O'Rorke spoke out very strongly against him, on the grounds of his unsuitable character. Patrick Moran (qv) said that it would be ‘a calamity for Ireland’ if O'Rorke became a bishop (Swords (2004), 34) One reason given was that he did not speak Irish, but a more serious allegation was based on a rumour in the diocese: it was said, but never proven, that the priest had fathered a child.
His two-volume, 1,200-page History of Sligo, town and county was published in July 1889, and sold for fifteen shillings a set; it was long a sought-after item for book collectors and local historians, and was reprinted in 1986. It had many drawings by William F. Wakeman (qv). The work is organised by parishes, and contains a great deal of information on the antiquities, history (social and religious), mythology, and folklore of Sligo. O'Rorke's work drew on state papers and other official documents in Dublin and London, information from fellow clergymen, manuscripts, and the work of John O'Donovan (qv), George Petrie (qv), and Charles O'Conor (qv). He used printed sources sparingly, and was careful to check details. However, his attempt to distinguish prehistory from history was not always successful; he failed to deal with quite long periods of the county's past and seldom gave exact references.
O'Rorke believed that the History of Sligo by W. G. Wood-Martin (qv) failed to justify its title, and wrote his own volumes as a corrective to Wood-Martin's ascendancy perspective. Though no ungenerous expression was used about either protestants or landlords as such, some individuals did receive what locals might have regarded as just comment on their misdemeanours, and O'Rorke clearly participated in the growing confidence of catholics in the period. At the dedication of Killasser new church in 1868 the archdeacon gave vent to ‘a tirade on the “pampered clergy” of the established church’, which was ‘toppling fast and soon to be numbered with all its baneful and cursed memories among the very worst things of the past’ (quoted in Swords (2004), 140).
He published a volume of Sermons (1899). He died 18 November 1907 in Collooney, in the house where he had been born, in the sixty-first year of his ministry. His mind had failed, but in his will, dated 4 May 1904, he bequeathed almost £700 in many bequests; he left money for his funeral expenses, for masses by priests in Achonry and in the Irish College in Paris, and for prayers in nine convents. He also left money for the poor, for the education of children in his parishes, for an English essay prize in his old diocesan college, and for bequests to relatives. His library of 5,000 books was bequeathed to Bishop John Lyster (1850–1911) with a request that a catalogue be produced. He left his house and some land to his nephew James O'Rorke. An elaborate marble memorial was erected in 1911 over his burial place in the Church of the Assumption, Collooney.