O'leary And The Irish Parliament
On the 26th February, 1782, the following interesting debate took place,
the subject under consideration being a clause in the Catholic Bill
directed against the friars:--
Sir Lucius O'Brien said, he did not approve of the regulars, though his
candor must acknowledge that many men amongst them have displayed great
abilities. Ganganelli (Clement XIV) and the Reverend Doctor Arthur
O'Leary are distinguished
among the Franciscans; and many great men have
been produced in the Benedictine order. He saw no temptation that
regulars had for coming here, if it was not to abandon certain
competence where they were, for certain poverty in this kingdom.
Mr. Grattan said, he could not hear the name of Father O'Leary
mentioned without paying him that tribute of acknowledgment so justly
due to his merit. At the time that this very man lay under the censure
of a law which, in his own country, made him subject to transportation
or death, from religious distinctions; and at the time that a prince of
his own religion threatened this country with an invasion, this
respectable character took up his pen, and unsolicited, and without a
motive but that of real patriotism, to urge his own communion to a
disposition of peace, and to support the law which had sentenced him to
transportation. A man of learning--a philosopher--a Franciscan--did the
most eminent service to his country in the hour of its greatest danger.
He brought out a publication that would do honor to the most celebrated
name. The whole kingdom must bear witness to its effect, by the
reception they gave it. Poor in everything but genius and philosophy, he
had no property at stake, no family to fear for; but descending from the
contemplation of wisdom, and abandoning the ornaments of fancy, he
humanely undertook the task of conveying duty and instruction to the
lowest class of the people. If I did not know him (continued Mr.
Grattan) to be a Christian clergyman, I should suppose him by his works
to be a philosopher of the Augustine age. The regulars are a harmless
body of men, and should not be disturbed.
Mr. St. George declared, notwithstanding his determined opposition to
the regulars, he would, for the sake of one exalted character of their
body, be tolerant to the rest. But he, at the same time, would uniformly
oppose the tolerating any more regular clergy than what were at present
in the kingdom.
Mr. Yelverton said, that he was proud to call such a man as Dr. O'Leary
his particular friend. His works might be placed upon a footing with the
finest writers of the age. They originated from the urbanity of the
heart; because unattached to the world's affairs, he could have none but
the purest motives of rendering service to the cause of morality and his
country. Had he not imbibed every sentiment of toleration before he knew
Father O'Leary, he should be proud to adopt sentiments of toleration
from him. He should yield to the sense of the committee in respect to
the limitation of regulars; because, he believed, no invitation which
could be held out would bring over another O'Leary.
In a more advanced stage of the Catholic Bill, on the 5th of March,
these eulogies gave rise to some words between 'the rival orators,' as
Messrs. Flood and Grattan were then designated in parliament. 'I am not,'
said Flood towards the end of a speech, 'the missionary of a religion I
do not profess; nor do I speak eulogies on characters I will not
imitate.' No challenge of this nature ever was given by either of these
great men in vain. Mr. Grattan spoke at some length to the subject under
debate, and concluded in these words: 'Now, one word respecting Dr.
O'Leary. Something has been said about eulogies pronounced, and
missionaries of religion. I am not ashamed of the part which I took in
that gentleman's panegyric; nor shall I ever think it a disgrace to pay
the tribute of praise to the philosopher and the virtuous man.'