Remembering an Irish champion of education

Sr Rita Minehan csb

The legacy of Laois man, Bishop Daniel Delany extends far beyond the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin and even beyond the shores of Ireland.

He was a man of vision and courage, with a passion for mission, and he saw education as the pathway to liberate the people from their misery and helplessness.

He is credited as co-founder of Carlow College, the first third level Catholic College in Ireland, and he founded both the Brigidine Sisters and the Patrician Brothers.

Bishop Daniel Delany stands out as a far-seeing pioneer of Irish education at the beginning of the 19th Century and this year we mark the 200th anniversary of his death.

Daniel Delany was the elder of two sons born to Daniel and Elizabeth Delany (nee Fitzpatrick) in Paddock, in 1747. They were tenants on the Castlecoote estate.

Huge loss

The Delany family experienced huge loss and turmoil in its early years. Mr Delany died when the two boys were very young and tragedy was to strike again when John, the younger brother, died. Life around the family was also in turmoil.

The Penal Laws were rigorously enforced. Catholics were denied human and religious freedom. Daniel’s earliest education was at a local hedge at Briosclagh and later under the care of his aunts in Mountrath. With the help of a close Protestant friend, he was smuggled to Paris in 1763 to study for the priesthood. Fourteen years later, following ordination and a period of lecturing in a college in Paris, he returned home, in disguise, as priests were still outlawed in Ireland.

When Daniel returned from France, he was shocked at the prevailing political and social conditions where widespread poverty, severe agrarian unrest, lawlessness and crime flourished.

The culture shock was almost too much. He would have returned to Paris almost immediately had it not been for his mother’s pleading with him to stay in Ireland. Daniel stayed and was instrumental in helping to create a “new dawn” in Church and society, firstly in Tullow and later, as bishop, throughout the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.

In 1807, he gathered six women and founded the Sisters of St Brigid (Brigidines) in Tullow.

A year later, he gathered four men and founded the Brothers of St Patrick (Patricians).

He could not have foreseen that his two religious congregations would carry his vision and his spirit to each of the five continents, and his legacy continues to flourish through his congregations and their lay colleagues and associates across the world.


Daniel and the beggar man

We have the well-known anecdote about Daniel and ‘the beggar man’ he met in the town of Mountrath. The man was hungry and miserable and begged for food so Daniel took him home to his aunts who weren’t too pleased with his visitor. Daniel pleaded for food.

The aunt relented and gave the man a good meal.

The story goes on to say that when he finished the meal, he gave thanks to God and then crossed the floor and placed his hands on Daniel’s head and proclaimed: “This head will one day wear the mitre.”

Even at an early age Daniel was to portray qualities of caring and compassion that were evident in later life. He emphasised at all times the primacy of love: “Do everything in a spirit of love and you will not find your hands empty at journey’s end.”

He also reminded us, as the Gospel does, that love must be expressed in action: “We are not to be like wheelbarrows, useless unless we are pushed, but rather like a gold watch, open-faced, pure gold, quietly busy, full of good works.”


Bicentenary events

A Ritual of Remembrance in honour of Bishop Daniel Delany will be held on Tuesday, July 8 at 3pm on the Bennett family farm in Paddock, Co. Laois on which stands the partially restored Delany

A commemorative plaque will be unveiled by the leaders of the Brigidine and the Patrician congregations. Local history will be shared and some members of Camross Ceoltas will provide music.

A Mass of Thanksgiving will also be held in St Fintanís Parish Church, Mountrath, at 5pm on July 8 with Bishop Denis Nulty as the main celebrant. The following day a Commemorative Mass will be celebrated in the Church of
the Holy Rosary, Tullow at