Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852-1913)

[Canon Sheehan] b. Mallow, 27 March, son of shopkeeper; initially planned a career in the professions; suffered death of two sisters; entrusted to care of a priest relative on death of parents; ed. Fermoy and Maynooth; experienced nervous breakdown in face of responsibilities of priesthood; passed a year in convalescence before ordination; curate at Queenstown, 1881-89; friend of Fr. Keller who led agitation on Ponsonby estate during ‘Plan of Campaign’; contrib. ‘The Two Civilisation’ to Irish Monthly (Jan. 1890);
appt. parish priest, Doneraile, 1894; canon of Cloyne, 1905 [var 1906 John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (Harlow: Longmans 1988)]; wrote exclusively for Catholic audience in the belief that the faith was endangered by modernisation and socialism; negotiated land-treaties in Doneraile in 1903-07; supported William O’Brien’s All-Ireland League; Geoffrey Austin, Student (1895) and The Triumph of Failure (1899), both ‘sermons in print’ on the importance of Catholic teaching in higher education; greeted by Irish critics as a major religious novel and a ‘trumpet call to our people’;
issued My New Curate (1900), centred on Fr. Letheby, a reforming priest, somewhat based on Fr. T. O’Callaghan, a Land-leaguer who acted as his own curate; originally serialised in The American Ecclesiastical Review; issued Luke Delmege (1901), tracing the moral decline of a free-thinker who emulates English standards; contrib. editorials to William O’Brien’s Cork Free Press, 1903; formed constructive friendship with the aristocratic nationalist Lord Castletown of Doneraile, 1903; issued Glenanaar (1905), based on Doneraile conspiracy trial of 1829 in which Daniel O’Connell played a legal part;
issued Lisheen (1907), in which Bob Maxwell learns the philanthropy proper to a landlord after incognito visits to his own tenants; The Blindness of Dr. Gray (1909), in which an old priest learns love from the niece whom he condemns; The Queen’s Fillet (1911), set in revolutionary France; Miriam Lucas (1912), in which the heroine is driven from her inheritance, works with socialists in Dublin and nurses her dying mother - a victim of sectarianism - in New York, before resuming her rightly property;
issued The Graves of Kilmorna (1915), in which Halpin and Myles Cogan, the schoolteacher and the miller’s son, prepare fatalistically for armed rebellion in the hope that their deaths will dampen the people’s enthusiasm for their manipulative parliamentary leaders; a commemorative statue stands outside the Catholic church in Doneraile, complete with wire spectacles; papers are held in the National Library of Ireland. PI JMC DIB DIW DIL SUTH OCIL

[ top ]

  • Geoffrey Austin, Student (Dublin: M. H. Gill [1895]; 1902; 5th edn. 1908);
  • The Triumph of Failure (London: Burnes & Oates 1899; 4th edn. 1903);
  • My New Curate (Boston: Marlier, 1900; 1914), and Do. [facs. edn.] (Cork: Mercier Press 1989), 340pp.;
  • Luke Delmege (London: Longmans, Green 1901; 1915), and Do., [new edn.] (NY 1955);
  • Glenanaar (London: Longmans, Green 1905; 1915);
  • Lost Angel of a Ruined Paradise (London: Longmans, Green 1904; 1915);
  • Lisheen, or The Test of the Spirits (London: Longmans, Green 1907; 1914);
  • The Blindness of Dr. Gray, or The Final Law (London: Longmans, Green 1909; 1914);
  • The Queen’s Fillet (London: Longmans, Green 1911);
  • Miriam Lucas (London: Longmans, Green 1912; 1914);
  • The Graves of Kilmorna (London: Longmans, Green 1915);
  • Tristram Lloyd, completed by Rev. Henry Gaffney (Dublin: Talbot 1929).
Short Fiction
  • A Spoiled Priest and Other Stories (London: Burnes and Oates 1905) [var. Unwin 1904];
  • Canon Sheehan’s Short Stories (London: Burns & Oates 1908).
  • Cithara Mea (Boston: Marlier, Callanan 1900);
  • Poems (Dublin: Maunsel & Roberts 1921).
  • Under the Cedars and Stars (Browne & Nolan 1903);
  • Early Essays and Lectures (London: Longmans, Green 1906);
  • Parerga (London: Longmans, Green 1908);
  • The Intellectuals: An Experiment in Irish Club Life (London: Longmans, Green 1911);
  • M. J. Phelan, ed., Sermons of Canon Sheehan (Dublin: Maunsel 1920);
  • The Literary Life and Other Essays (Dublin: Maunsel & Roberts 1921).
  • ‘Religious Instruction in Intermediate Schools’, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record (Sept. 1881) [pp.528-31];
  • ‘The Two Civilisation’, in Irish Monthly, ed. Fr. Matthew Russell, 18, 199 (Jan. 1890), pp.293, 358 [available at JSTOR - online]
    ‘The German Universities, II ’, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. VII (1886) [pp.617-31 [to be continued; see note];
  • ‘Introduction’ to Lizzie Twigg, Songs and Poems (Dublin: Sealy Byrers & Walker 1902; London: Longmans 1905 [2nd edn.]);
  • contrib. to Hermes: An Illustrated University Literary Quarterly, No. 1 (1907).

The German Universities, II’, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. VII (1886): ‘Sheehan’s article on the German universities cited Dr. Pusey’s view that those institutions are given over to rationalism, and remarks on the difference between the early Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason which persuaded many to atheism and the later religious Kant. A footnote on the subject quotes at length from Lord Acton’s article on George Eliot in The Nineteenth Century (March 1885) where he writes: “From Jonathan Edwards to Spinoza she went over at one step. The abrupt transition may be accounted for by the probable action of Kant, who had not then become a buttress of Christianity”. Lord Acton reports that Eliot was “seized with a burst of gratitude” when “she stood before his statue in Berlin”, adding “but she hardly became familiar with her later works.” In an earlier sentence of the passage quoted, Lord Acton writes to Sheehan’s purpose: “One of out ten Englishmen, if there be ten, who read him in 1841, nine got no further than the Critique of pure reason, and knew him as the dreaded assailant of popular evidences.” (Italics Sheehan’s; ftn., p.624.) Sheehan forms the judgement that “German savans, compressing their ideas within the limits of one faculty, grew cramped and illiberal in the pursuit of knowledge” (p.626), and afterwards speaks of an “unconscious against the Protestant doctrine that the Bible was the sole rule of faith [...] losing the spirit of the Divine Word in too critical an examination of the letter.” (p.627.) [Available online; accessed 31.10.2011.]

[ top ]

Full-length studies
  • Herman J. Heuser , DD, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile (NY: Longmans 1917);
  • Arthur Coussens, P. A. Sheehan, zijn leven en zijn werken (Brugge 1923);
  • Francis Boyle, Canon Sheehan, A Sketch of his Life and Works (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1927), viii, 95pp.;
  • M. P. Linehan, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: Priest, Novelist, Man of Letters (1952);
  • Brendan Clifford, Canon Sheehan: A Turbulent Priest (Millstreet, Co. Cork: Aubane Historical Society 1990, 2008), 27pp.;
  • Michael Barry, By Pen and Pulpit: The Life and Times of the Author Canon Sheehan (Fermoy: Saturn Books 1990), 140pp., ill. [ports.];
Articles, &c.
  • George Moore, ‘Fr. Sheehan’s last masterpiece advocates all Ireland becoming one great monastery Hail and farewell! Salve (London: [] 1912), p.121 [infra];
  • W. P. Stockley, ‘Canon Sheehan and his People’, in Essays in Irish Biography (Cork 1933);
  • Seán O’Faoláin, The Irish (West Drayton: Penguin 1947), p.97 [see extract];
  • Benedict Kiely, ‘Canon Sheehan: The Reluctant Novelist’, in Irish Writing, 37 (Autumn 1957), pp.35-45 [rep. in A Raid into Dark Corners, Cork UP 1999, pp.181-90 see extract];
  • Francis MacManus, ‘The Fate of Canon Sheehan’, The Bell, 15 (Nov 1947), pp.16-17;
  • David H. Hurton, ed., The Letters of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Canon Sheehan (1976);
  • Ruth Fleischmann, “Twentieth Century Novels of Rural Ireland” [Ph.D. Diss.] (UCC 1982);
  • Terence Brown, ‘Canon Sheehan and the Catholic Intellectual’, in Literature and the Art of Creation , ed. Robert Welch & Suheil Badi Bushrui (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1985), pp.7-18; Do., rep. in Brown, Ireland’s Literature: Selected Essays (Mullingar: Lilliput 1988) [q.p.];
  • D. M. Collie, ‘Nineteenth-Century Novel, A Postscript: The Case for Canon Sheehan’, in Linenhall Review (Winter 1993) [q.p.];
  • John Cronin, ‘Canon Sheehan, Luke Delege’, in The Anglo-Irish Novel: 1900-1940, [Vol II] (Belfast: Appletree 1990), pp.22-29;
  • Catherine Candy, “Popular Irish Literature in the Age of the Anglo-Irish revival: Four Historical Case Studies” [MA Maynooth NUI 1987);
  • Catherine Candy, ‘Canon Sheehan: The Conflicts of the Priest-Author’, in Religion, Conflict and Coexistence in Ireland, ed. R. V. Comerford, M. Cullen, J. R. Hill, and C. Lennon (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990), cp.252;
  • Catherine Candy, Priestly Fictions: Popular Irish Novelists of the Early 20th Century (Dublin: Wolfhound 1995) [studies of Fr. Guinan, Canon Sheehan and Gerald O’Donovan];
  • James H. Murphy, ‘Guinan and Sheehan: “False Standard of Modern Progress”’, in Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922 (Conn: Greenwood Press 1997), pp.115-26 [Chap.], espec. 119-22 [infra];
  • Patrick Maume, ‘In the Fenians’ Wake: Ireland’s Nineteenth-Century Crises and Their Representation in the Sentimental Rhetoric of William O’Brien MP and Canon Sheehan’, in Bullán, An Irish Studies Journal, 4, 1 (Autumn 1998), pp.59-80;
  • [...]
  • Tom Garvin, ‘The Quiet Tragedy of Canon Sheehan’, in Studies, Vol. 98, No. 390 (Dublin: 2009), pp.159-168;
  • Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin, ‘Canon Patrick A. Sheehan, The Graves at Kilmorna (1913)’, in Books That Define Ireland (Sallins: Merrion 2014), Chap. 10.
[ top ]

George Moore, ‘Fr. Sheehan’s last masterpiece advocates all Ireland becoming one great monastery’ (Hail and Farewell! Salve, London: [] 1912, p.121).

Sean O’Faolain, ‘Even in our day readers of Canon Sheehan’s excellent novel, The Blindness of Doctor Gray, will recognise the familiar priest of the old school, the stern moralist for whom “the Law” was a second god.’ (The Irish, 1947, p.97.)

Benedict Kiely, ‘Canon Sheehan: The Reluctant Novelist’, in A Raid into Dark Corners (Cork UP 1999), pp.181-91: ‘What he meant those two early novels to be was a warning to young men of the dangers to faith of an exclusively secular education. (p.184.). […] If we are to consider Sheehan as a novelist, and there is little point in considering him as anything else, since his work as a parish priest did not differ from the work of other zealous priests and would not in itself call for a critical consideration … then we can see the real triumph of failure in those two novels about Geoffrey Austin. They were a long, hard apprenticeship. When they were ended, he was never again completely blinded by books, neither by their merits nor their moral dangers, and he was better able to look at his people and his scene as a novelists should. […] Yet even in the middle of The Triumph of Failure comes this luminous passage foretelling better things. It is an reflection attributed to the unworthy and absurd Geoffrey: / The high regions of speculative thought are, like Alpine altitudes, too thin for man to breathe in for long periods of time. There is a craving of the heart for human fellowship, as well as a thirst of the mind for knowledge; and what is said of solitude is true of study - that but an angel or a beast can tolerate its continuance. I confess life was taking on new lights and colours since I became interested in the little drama of human feelings and passions; and whilst I thirsted for the unattainable heaven of pure thought, I felt that the very pricks and stings of human passion give life a zest to which my solitary life had as yet been a stranger. I believed now that the best of all existences here below is a compound of action and thought, a steady practical interest in the welfare of the race, and occasional breathing moments of silent conference with the eternal.’ (p.186.) [Cont.]

Benedict Kiely (‘Canon Sheehan: The Reluctant Novelist’, in A Raid into Dark Corners, 1999) - cont.: Kiely quotes the prologue to Luke Delmege: ‘Was it not said of Balzac that he dug and dragged every one of his romances straight from the heart of some woman? “Truth is stranger than [188] fiction”. No! my dear friend, for all fiction is truth - truth torn up by the roots from bleeding human hearts, and carefully bound with fillets of words to be placed there in vases, of green and gold, on your reading-desk, on your breakfast table. Horrid? So it is. Irreverent? Well a little.’ Kiely comments: ‘Well, now we know that he has accepted the horribleness and the irreverence that must be if novels have to be written at all.’ (p.188-89). Further: ‘Paradoxically he was, it might seem, made a novelist in spite of himself, in spite of the Geoffrey Austin in him, by the intervention of the Irish people, including their priests, and by his mystical love for the land of Ireland. … The Fenians, who owed so little to the Irish clergy, had, because of their mystic self-sacrifice, their helpless devotion to an idea that was not material, a faithful champion in the pastor of Doneraile […/] Sheehan was more severe in his denunciations of the people and the country than the harshest of the realists who were to come. The Irish priest then (perhaps still in some places), because of his training and of the way in which the people looked up to him, thundered from the clouds and knew it; whereas the Irish writer who was merely a writer was never allowed to forget that he was nothing more than a man and, in Ireland, no a very desirable type of humanity.’(p.190.)

James H. Murphy, ‘Guinan and Sheehan: “False Standard of Modern Progress”’, Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922 (Conn: Greenwood Press 1997): ‘The tone is nationalistic but only in as much as nationalism is common as a servant of religion and it is anti-British but only in as much as Anglicisation is common as an instrument of modernisation. It would be incorrect to conclude from this, therefore, that Sheehan was an advocate of Catholic Ireland in terms similar to those of [Joseph] Guinan. Two things, in particular, distinguish his vision from that of Guinan. First, an Irish Catholic nation is of interest to the speaker not because it would insulate Ireland from the outside world, in its own comfortable paradise, but because it might be Of use in a universal struggle. Second, such a Catholic Ireland is not a present reality, it is an ideal state that has yet to be achieved. In fact the novels are highly critical of Catholic Ireland as it actually exists. Its present reality is not that of Guinan’s peasants.’ (p.120.)

Rolf & Magda Loeber, with Anne Mullin Burnham, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006) - Introduction: ‘The Munster author Canon Patrick Sheehan counter-attacked the critics by writing that “we have no Catholic reading public because constructive criticism [our emphasis] is unknown”. Instead, he stated, “we have a good deal of negative criticism ...”’ (Sheehan, Literary Essays and Poems , Dublin, n.d, p.76; Lober, p.lxv.)

[ top ]

Stephen Brown, ed., Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists Geoffrey Austin, Student (Dublin: Gill 1895; 5th edn.1908); The Triumph of Failure (Burnes & Oates [1899]); My New Curate [1899] (Boston 1914), Do. another edn. (Cork: Mercier 1989); Luke Delmege ([1901] new ed., Longmans 1915); Glenanaar [1905] (London: Longmans 1915); Lost Angel of a Ruined Paradise [1904] (London: Longmans 1915); The Spoiled Priest and Other Stories (London: Gill, Burnes & Oates 1905); Lisheen, or The Test of the Spirits ([1907] new ed. London: Longmans 1914); The Blindness of Dr. Gray, or The Final Law [1909] (London: Longmans 1914); Miriam Lucas [1912], new ed. Longmans 1914); The Graves of Kilmorna (London: Longmans 1915). DIL corrects bibliographical details and adds My New Curate (Boston 1900); Under the Cedars and Stars (Browne & Nolan 1903), essays; A Spoiled Priest and Other Stories (Unwin 1905); Early Essays and Lectures (London: Longmans 1906); Parerga (London: Longmans 1908); Sermons, ed. M. J. Phelan (Dublin: Maunsel 1920); The Literary Life and Other Essays (Maunsel & Roberts 1921); Poems (Maunsel & Roberts 1921); Tristram Lloyd, completed by Rev. Henry Gaffney (Talbot 1929);The Literary Life and Other Essays (Dublin 1921).

D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); lists poems, Cithara Mea, poems (Boston 1900), and poems in Irish Monthly; his brother D. B. Sheehan, bank clerk in Cork, wrote for The Nation and United Ireland in the 1880s.

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature, ed. (Washington: University of America 1904); gives extract from Luke Delmege.

Belfast Public Library holds var. edns. of Blindness of Dr. Gray ([?]1970); Glenanaar, a story of Irish Life (1930); Graves of Kilmorna (1930); The Intellectuals, an Experiment in Irish Club-life (1911); Lisheen (1930); Literary Life Essays, poems (1930); Lost Angel of a Ruined Paradise (1904); Luke Delmege (1930); My New Curate (1930); Poems (1921); [The] Queen’s Fillet (1930); A Spoiled Priest (1930); Tristram Lloyd (1930); Under the Cedars and the Stars (1905).

[ top ]

The Beauty of Summer (Cork: Mercier edn. 1973): ‘Across that bight of sea sleep the three islands that link us with the past, and whose traditions, were we otherwise, would shame us. They are Aran-na-Naomh, Arran of the Saints ... a place for the hermit and the saint; and mark you ... the hermit and the saint must again resume their rightful places in the economy of new orders and systems! You cannot do without them. They symbolise ... comfort without wealth, perfect physical health without passion, love without desire ... clean bodies, keen minds, pure hearts - what better world can the philosopher construct, or the poet dream of? (pp.46, 48-49; quoted in Luke Gibbons, ‘Synge, Country and Western: The Myth of the West in Irish and American Culture’, in Transformations in Irish Culture, Field Day/Cork UP 1996, pp.23-35; p.29.)

Free Thought in America: The Sects and the Church’, in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record (Sept. 1884): ‘The Church must always be in advance of the world. The priest must lead the flock. And his spiritual instructions will carry all the more weight when it is understood that the pastor is a man of culture and refinement, and that his condemnation of new and fanciful theories comes from his belief founded on fair and exhaustive reading, that they are utterly untenable. […] Men will reverence knowledge wherever found, and the natural abilities of the scholar may lead many souls to acknowledge the supernatural mission of the priest.’ ( p.730; cited by Ruth Fleischmann, ‘Knowledge of the World as the Forbidden Fruit: Canon Sheehan and Joyce on the Sacrificium Intellectus’, pp.127-37; in Donald E. Morse, et al., eds,. A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, p.135.)

The Literary Life and Other Essays (Dublin 1921): ‘God be with the good old times, when the hedge-school masters were as plentiful as blackberries in Ireland when the scholars took their sods of turf under their arms for school seats; but every boy knew his Virgil and Horace and Homer as well as the last ballad about some rebel that was hanged ... when the Kerry peasants talked to each other in Latin; and when they came up to the Palatines in Limerick, as harvestmen in the autumn, they could make uncomplimentary remarks and say cuss-words ad libidum before their master’s face, and he couldn’t understand them for they spoke the tongue of Cicero and Livy – the language of the educated world.’ (p.52, quoted in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, IAP 1976, pp.27-28.)

Fenian funeral: On 2 April 1867 Cannon Sheehan witnessed the funeral procession of Peter O’Neill Crowley, who had been shot in Kilclooney Wood near Mitchelstown during the Fenian rising of 5th March. The funeral procession passed from Mitchelstown down to the seashore at Ballymacoda and Sheehan’s account is recorded in his Moonlight of Memory: ‘I remember well the evening on which that remarkable funeral took place. It was computed that at least 5,000 men took part in the procession and shouldered the coffin of the dead patriot over mountain and valley and river until they placed the sacred burden down there near the sea and under the shadow of the church at Ballymacoda. I remember how a group of us young lads shivered on the college terrace at Fermoy and watched the masses of men swaying over the bridge, the yellow coffin conspicuous in their midst. we caught another glimpse of the funeral cortege as it passed the Sergeant’s Lodge, then we turned away with tears of sorrow and anger in our eyes.’ (Pádraig Ó Maidín, ‘Pages from an Irishman’s Diary: This Period Then’, in Éire-Ireland, 6, 1, Spring 1971, pp.27-34; p.30.)

[ top ]

Glenanaar (1905) is based on ‘Doneraile Conspiracy’ in which Daniel O’Connell saved four prisoners condemned to death and some 17 others who were tried as a result of determined efforts by the local ascendancy to stamp out agrarian crime, following an attack led by George Bond Low on one Dr Norcott, a landlord; William Burke, before his trial, rode to Derrynane and convinced O’Connell to affair for the defendants; the barrister confounded the perjurers in court before Judges Torrens and Pennefather, and while the Attorney General John Doherty was summing up; remainder of defendants acquitted and those condemned, commuted to transportation. (Dictionary of Irish History, ed. Hickey and Doherty, 1979). Note also: R. J. Ray, The Casting-Out of Martin Whelan (1910) is based on Glenanaar (1905), and trans. in German as Das Christtagskind.

W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), contains an erroneous reference in which Rev Canon Sheehan, vicar of SS Peter and Paul Church, in the city of Cork, is said to have been elevated to the episcopacy as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, but also to have founded the Waterford and South-Eastern Counties Archaeol. Society with an address at the Waterford City Hall, 24th Jan 1894 [159f.].

G. Edward White, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self (OUP ?1993), contains information: during visits to the Castletowns in Doneraile, he [Holmes] formed an improbable friendship with Canon Sheehan, parish priest, with whom he frequently corresponded in subsequent years (See The Irish Times, 26 April 1994.)

David Alvey, writing on Thomas Davis as ‘the key to peace’ in writes in The Irish Times (10 Aug. 1995), instances Canon Sheehan as the most interesting case of those who understood his legacy: ‘In 1910, he helped to establish a political movement called the All Ireland League, a movement which opposed the advance of sectarianism in the Home Rule Party and worked to establish links with Ulster Protestantism. /.../ The league, which at its height captured eight parliamentary seats and produced a daily newspaper, and which ultimately became swallowed up in the convulsions of the Great War and the 1916 Rising, show what a nationalist movement wholly based on Davis’s vision would be like.’ (p.12.)

Roundup: The title of Sheehan’s novel Triumph of Failure (1899) was adopted by Ruth Dudley Edwards for her biography of Patrick Pearse.Padraig A. Daly wrote “Summers in Doneraile”, a poem on Canon Sheehan (noticed in Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan, 1979).

[ top ]