Young, Matthew (1750–1800), clergyman, Irish scholar, and natural philosopher, was born 3 October 1750 at Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, fourth son of Owen Young, a minor landowner who impoverished his family through dissolute habits, and Olivia Maria Young (née Bell). He was educated at the school of Abraham Shackleton (qv) at Ballitore, Co. Kildare, before being taken into care by an elder brother, a curate in Cavan, who prepared him for college. He entered Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1766, graduating Bachelor of Arts (BA) (1772) and Master of Arts (MA) (1774), and obtained a fellowship in 1775. Through the influence of his tutors Henry Ussher (qv) and Richard Murray, he developed an interest in the physical sciences and became an ardent Newtonian, displaying a comprehensive understanding of the principles of Newton's system at his fellowship examination. In 1784 he published An enquiry into the principal phenomena of sounds and musical strings, which defended Newton's theory of sound as expounded in the Principia mathematica. In 1786 he was awarded a doctorate of divinity and was elected professor of natural philosophy. He developed a reputation as an erudite lecturer, and a compendium of his lectures was published as An analysis of the principles of natural philosophy (1800) which displayed a definite Newtonian bias. In 1777 he founded a society in the university for the study of Syriac and theology, known as the Neophilosophers, which later merged with another college society, the Palaeosophers, and formed the basis of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). As a founding member, he contributed papers on algebra, optics, hydrodynamics, and Gaelic poetry to the Academy's Transactions between 1785 and 1799.
Young had a deep interest in Irish literature and it is believed that he was taught Irish by Muiris Ó Gormáin (qv), while the Gaelic scholar Theophilus O'Flanagan (qv), initially his pupil, was his closest friend in the college. He catalogued the Irish manuscripts in TCD library in 1781, and in the summer of 1784 travelled in search of Gaelic manuscripts to the highlands of Scotland, where he was directed to a bookseller in Perth with whom it was alleged the originals of James McPherson's Ossianic poems were deposited. Instead he found an ancient Irish manuscript containing historic tracts and several genealogies. He published translations of these in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, i, no. 3 (1785–7), 43–119, the first work in Gaelic scholarship to be produced under the Academy's patronage.
In 1790 Young anonymously published a pamphlet, An enquiry how far the provost of Trinity College Dublin is vested with a negative upon the proceedings of the senior fellows by the charter and statutes of the college, criticising the power of the provost, John Hely-Hutchinson (qv), to overrule the election of college fellows even in cases where they had a clear majority. Despite this controversy he remained a popular figure and was appointed bishop of Clonfert in February 1798 on the recommendation of the lord lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis (qv). He died 28 November 1800 of cancer of the mouth in Whitworth, Lancashire, and his body was brought back to Ireland and buried in the chapel of TCD.
Young married Anne, daughter of Captain Bennett Cuthbertson; they had several children. At the time of his death he was preparing a translation of the psalms, which was eagerly anticipated but never published, on account of its alleged heterodoxy. An incomplete printing, dating from 1806, was purchased by William Hamilton Drummond (qv) at a Dublin auction in 1831 and deposited in the British Museum. The college agreed to buy all his papers for £600, a gesture towards rescuing his widow from financial distress. His bust is in the old library of TCD; his papers are held in the manuscripts room of TCD as MSS 949–50.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).