Rev. Walter Blake Kirwan

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIX (3) start of chapter

Among other offerings to the laity, it contains 'A New Year's Gift for the Year 1822;' and though a somewhat strange New Year's gift, it must have been welcome and valuable at the time. It is a 'Discourse on Religious Innovations,' delivered by the Rev. Walter Blake Kirwan, at the Neapolitan Ambassador's Chapel, in London, on the 20th March, 1786. Having, a short time after the delivery of this remarkable discourse, abandoned the church which in that discourse he so vigorously and, one might say, fiercely defended, his apostacy was a source of great scandal to the faithful, and of corresponding triumph to their opponents. From the published sermons of Mr. Kirwan this discourse was omitted, 'doubtless,' says the Editor of the Directory, 'because his family had no reason to be solicitous to promote its publicity; his fall must to them have been a subject of grief and humiliation: and they felt poignantly that it could not exalt his memory, since the talents and impressive truths it displays are not more conspicuous than that deplorable frailty which so soon afterwards induced himself to become a striking example of what he had therein so wisely and eloquently deprecated.'

The publication of this remarkable discourse was no doubt intended to answer the revilers of that day, and perhaps strengthen faith which was then exposed to many perils. Reading it, one can scarcely avoid arriving at one or other of two conclusions,—either that he was a hypocrite of the most daring description, or that he was seized with some sudden religious vertigo, in which he saw everything through a distorted medium. Thus, for instance, he says, 'Yet in what terms of sufficient indignation shall I speak of that profaneness which has branded her (the Church's) ceremonies and discipline with the foul and opprobrious epithets of pageantry and abuse? I believe, nay, I am confident, when I assert that such ill-founded and scandalous reflections are received, even by those who dissent from us—by the thinking and informed part of the Church of England—with the utmost contempt for the person that utters them, with a perfect detestation of his perfidy.'

Referring to a point of general discipline in the Catholic Church which was then, and has been often since, the subject of comment and attack, that of 'performing the public service in Latin,' he shows how it establishes uniformity, and prevents confusion; 'because natural languages are subject to decay and corruption, and in the space of a century may have undergone a total change as to the meaning and acceptation of words and phrases; the consequence must be that error and obscurity might insensibly steal into the Liturgy. Because,' he adds, 'in the same kingdom, for instance in this island, which is but a speck upon the expanse of Europe, public service would be read in three different tongues, English, Welsh, and Erse. Hence what confusion would arise, even in the Liturgy of this nation, insomuch that were one of you to be present at the Mass in Wales, or in some part of Scotland, not to speak of Ireland, you might as well hear it in the language of Hindostan.' He thus sums up this part of his discourse:

'In whatever point of view I consider this matter, I am persuaded that to alter the present practice would be an unwise and dangerous reform. That such a measure might have been demanded in too insolent a manner may perhaps be true; but that it had not been acceded to, because we are irritated by petulant reflections, or not disposed to pray in the language of a Luther, a Calvin, or an Elizabeth, is not the case; but because the Church judges it expedient to preserve uniformity in her service, and secure it from change, corruption, and confusion.'

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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