Born: 08 May 1738, Kells, County Meath
Entered: 03 November 1754, Nancy, France - Campaniae Province (CAMP)
Ordained: 24 May 1766, Pont-à-Mousson, France
Professed: 02 February 1772
Died: 16 February 1811, SS Michael and John, Dublin
1761 Master of Arts from Metz College and taught Humanities and Rhetoric for 3 years.
1765 Teaching Humanities at Pont-à-Mousson - not yet ordained.
1767 in Ireland
◆ Fr Edmund Hogan SJ “Catalogica Chronologica” :
He was of the Betagh family of Moynalty, but “the hospitable mansion, the ample patrimony, had become the portion of plunderers” (Dr Blake’s funeral oration)
A sketch of his life with an engraved portrait is given in “Watty Cox’s Magazine”, March 1811, and in a funeral oration by Doctor Blake, Bishop of Dromore.
His monument, with an inscription, is in the Church of SS Michael and John.
He was Vicar General in Dublin; a celebrated and indefatigable Preacher. A Priest glowing with charity for the poor.
His name in Dublin was still synonymous with learning, piety, zeal and philanthropy (Oliver, Stonyhurst MSS)
◆ Fr Francis Finegan SJ :
Received a classical education at John Austin’s school in Dublin.
After First Vows he was sent for studies to Pont-à-Mousson, graduating MA, and then taught for 4 years Regency before being sent for Theology at Pont-à-Mousson where he was Ordained 24 may 1766.
1767 Sent to Ireland and became an assistant Priest at SS Michael and John, Dublin. While there he worked with Frs Austin, Mulcaile and Fullam at Saul’s Court Seminary
1773 At the Supression he was appointed a curate at SS Michael and John, Dublin
1781 Founded a free parish school for boys at SS Michael and John, Dublin
1799 Appointed PP at SS Michael and John, Dublin and Vicar General of the Diocese until his death 16 February 1811
His memorably large funeral took place (temporarily) at the vaults of St. Michan's. Later his remains were brought back for reburial in the vaults of the newly-finished parish church of SS Michael and John
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
The name “Betagh” is Biadhtach” in Irish, which signified a hospitable man. In the early days of Christianity in Ireland, it was customary that the “proprietor of the soil” who lived close to the high roads, to keep an open house for the entertainment of passing travellers, who would otherwise find it inconvenient, and in many instances fatal, to travel through the country. These people were called Biadhtach. It was very common practice, and suggests that communication between different parts of the kingdom must have been frequent.
The Betagh family held possession of a large tract of land in Moynalty, near Kells, undisturbed until 1641. When Cromwell had killed the King, Thomas’ father fought against him, as one of many Catholics who fought against the regicide, and on behalf of the Stuarts. He was requited for his bravery and loyalty. He had also sent his son to Paris at the start of the Cromwellian war for education. The land was taken by Cromwell and given to one of his followers. When Charles II was restored, the dispossessed were invited to reclaim their lands, and an application was received from a young Thomas Betagh, though the English possessor claimed he did not have the right, as he was a rebel, and the possessor prevailed in Court. His father then lived as a tanner in Kells.
In Paris, Thomas received his early education and then entered the seminary at Pont-à-Mousson, and progressed very rapidly through his studies. He became remarkable for his extraordinary literary attainments. he was highly esteemed in the seminary, never contradicting anyone unless it was a mater of dogma or morality. He had great self possession, and was heard to say “from the age of fourteen, Providence seemed to encompass him with an impervious shield, or barrier, which secured him against the attacks of the enemy of mankind”.
He remained in France until the Suppression by Clement XIV, and had been appointed a Professor of languages. He had intended to remain in France but for the Suppression. He returned to Ireland in 1773, and opened a Latin school with John Austin in Sall’s Court, Fishamble St. He was later appointed as curate at St Michael’s, called Rosemary Lane, where he earned a great reputation for sanctity and apostolic zeal. His main focus was the poor, and he seemed to have a great capacity to communicate with them, and at the same time, he retained his scholarship. He subsequently became PP at St Michael’s and also a Vicar General of the Diocese. All of this while he suffered from a severe infirmity, and protests from his physicians. He also established an “Evening School” in Skinner’s Row, primarily for the poor, and in an effort to support them from the punitive laws of the time. From that school he chose a certain number, whom he thought might at some future time be appropriate for the priesthood. In many ways he is the link between the Suppressed and Restored Society. The same year that he died, his protégée Peter Kenney, founder of the restored Society, finished his Theological studies.
An obit in “The Dublin Magazine” March 1811
His death was looked on as a public calamity. On the days of his funeral, many shops were closed, and a huge number followed his remains to their resting place.
Nicholas Sewell SJ to Thomas Betagh SJ 07 July 1809 :
“About three weeks ago I informed you that we proposed, towards the end of this month, sending some of the Irish Eleven to Palermo, in order to finish their studies there, and to obtain ordinations. For this end, we wrote to our friend Mr George Gifford, at Liverpool, to inquire whether there would be any ship sailing from thence for Palermo, about this time. Mr Gifford, finding a good ship, with proper accommodations, ready to sail, engaged with the captain to take six of our young men , binding himself to forfeit the whole passage money if he did not get on board by the 5th of this month. Thus we were obliged by the contract to send the young men immediately to Liverpool, and by a letter from one of them, they were going on board the ship on the 4th, and I suppose the have sailed before this. The names of the young men are : Bartholomew Esmonde from Kildare; Paul Ferley Dublin; Charles Aylmer from Kildare; Robert St Leger, Waterford; Edmund Cogan, Cork; James Butler, Dublin. The first two are not on the Irish Establishment. It was the free voluntary choice of them all to go. They are all young men of abilities, have done very well in their studies here, and are likely to do credit to their country, and Mr Plowden speaks much praise of them all. A time was pressing, we could not wait for your answer to my last letter, which I hope you received. The Rev mr Stone will return home tomorrow. We are all very well, and our new building rises fast and well..........
◆ Fr Joseph McDonnell SJ Past and Present Notes :
16 February 1811 At the advance ages of 73, Father Betagh, PP of the St Michael Rosemary Lane Parish Dublin, Vicar General of the Dublin Archdiocese died. His death was looked upon as almost a national calamity. Shops and businesses were closed on the day of his funeral. His name and qualities were on the lips of everyone. He was an ex-Jesuit, the link between the Old and New Society in Ireland.
Among his many works was the foundation of two schools for boys : one a Classical school in Sall’s Court, the other a Night School in Sklinner’s Row. One pupil received particular care - Peter Kenney - as he believed there might be great things to come from him in the future. “I have not long to be with you, but never fear, I’m rearing up a cock that will crow louder and sweeter for you than I ever did” he told his parishioners. Peter Kenney was to be “founder” of the restored Society in Ireland.
There were seventeen Jesuits in Ireland at the Suppression : John Ward, Clement Kelly, Edward Keating, John St Leger, Nicholas Barron, John Austin, Peter Berrill, James Moroney, Micahel Cawood, Michael Fitzgerald, John Fullam, Paul Power, John Barron, Joseph O’Halloran, James Mulcaile, Richard O’Callaghan and Thomas Betagh. These men believed in the future restoration, and they husbanded their resources and succeeded in handing down to their successors a considerable sum of money, which had been saved by them.
A letter from the Acting General Father Thaddeus Brezozowski, dated St Petersburg 14 June 1806 was addressed to the only two survivors, Betagh and O’Callaghan. He thanked them for their work and their union with those in Russia, and suggested that the restoration was close at hand.
A letter from Nicholas Sewell, dated Stonyhurst 07 July 1809 to Betagh gives details of Irishmen being sent to Sicily for studies : Bartholomew Esmonde, Paul Ferley, Charles Aylmer, Robert St Leger, Edmund Cogan and James Butler. Peter Kenney and Matthew Gahan had preceded them. These were the foundation stones of the Restored Society.
Returning to Ireland, Kenney, Gahan and John Ryan took residence at No3 George’s Hill. Two years later, with the monies saved for them, Kenney bought Clongowes as a College for boys and a House of Studies for Jesuits. From a diary fragment of Aylmer, we learn that Kenney was Superior of the Irish Mission and Prefect of Studies, Aylmer was Minister, Claude Jautard, a survivor of the old Society in France was Spiritual Father, Butler was Professor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology, Ferley was professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Esmonde was Superior of Scholastics and they were joined by St Leger and William Dinan. Gahan was described as a Missioner at Francis St Dublin and Confessor to the Poor Clares and irish Sisters of Charity at Harold’s Cross and Summerhill. Ryan was a Missioner in St Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin. Among the Scholastics, Brothers and Masters were : Brothers Fraser, Levins, Connor, Bracken, Sherlock, Moran, Mullen and McGlade.
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Dáire Keogh
Betagh, Thomas (1738–1811), Jesuit priest and educator, was born in May 1738 in Kells, Co. Meath, into a family of tanners whose ancestors had lost their estates in the Cromwellian confiscation. He received his early education at Kells, but was enrolled in the Jesuit academy in Saul's Court newly established by Fr John Austin (qv) when his family moved to Dublin. In 1755 he entered the Jesuit seminary at Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine, France, where he taught theology and languages following his ordination in 1762.
Betagh returned to Ireland in 1769 and began his ministry as a teacher at Saul's Court. His arrival in Dublin coincided with the revival which characterised late eighteenth-century Irish catholicism; Fr Betagh was in the vanguard of this movement. Throughout, his priority remained education. In 1784 he succeeded Austin as rector of Saul's Court, and his graduates included Daniel Murray (qv), later archbishop of Dublin, and the Jesuit Peter Kenney (qv), founder of Clongowes Wood College. In addition to this academy for the ‘better sorts’, Betagh founded evening, day, and Sunday schools, first in Schoolhouse Lane and finally in Smock Alley. In this ‘Free School’ he was, in the words of his funeral oration, ‘father, physician and director’ to three hundred boys.
Following the suppression of the Jesuits by Clement XIV in 1773, Betagh served as a priest of the diocese, first as a curate in SS Michael and John in Rosemary Lane. In time he became a vital collaborator of successive archbishops, as vicar-general to the reforming Archbishop John Troy (qv) and advisor to Archbishop Daniel Murray, his former pupil. In Jesuit history he forms a bridge between the Old Society, of which he was the last survivor and guardian of their funds, and the restored Society, whose revival, in 1814, he facilitated by sending a number of his students, including Peter Kenney, Bartholomew Esmonde, and Charles Aylmer (qv), to Stonyhurst and Palermo. A renowned preacher, he was also influential in nourishing the vocation of the young Catherine McAuley (qv), who founded the Sisters of Mercy.
Betagh lived through troubled political times. In the radical politics of the revolutionary age he was ranked, in 1796, among the ‘moderates’ by Dublin Castle informer William Corbet (qv) (d. 1838?). Recommended to the English traveller William Reed as ‘the most learned and best informed man in Ireland’, he was prominent in the anti-veto faction of the post-union era.
Betagh died 16 February 1811 at his home in Cook Street. In an age of increasing sectarianism, an obituary in Walker's Hibernian Magazine celebrated ‘this truly great man . . . as much esteemed by the Protestants as he was beloved by his own flock’. His funeral, attended by upwards of 20,000 people, was among the largest seen in the city. His remains were placed in the Jesuit vault in old St Michan's church. In 1822 they were transferred to the crypt of the new SS Michael and John chapel, Essex Street, the foundation of which he laid in 1810. His resting place was marked by an elaborate monument executed by Peter Turnerelli (qv). In 1990, when that church was deconsecrated, his remains were removed to the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin cemetery.
A stipple and line engraving likeness by John Martyn (d. 1828) (after William Brocas (qv)), published in 1811, is in the NGI, as is a pencil drawing by William Brocas; while the monument by Turnerelli in SS Michael and John, Dublin, has been dismantled, the medallion remains.
NAI, 620/25/170; Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin, Betagh MSS; ‘Prosopography of Irish Jesuits’, Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin; Monologies, 1800–99, Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin; Walker's Hibernian Magazine (Feb. 1811); Cox's Irish Magazine (Mar. 1811); W. Reed, Rambles in Ireland (1815); M. Blake, Sermon preached on the lamented death of V. Rev. Thomas Betagh (1821); W. J. Battersby, The Jesuits in Dublin (1854); G. A. Little, Father Thomas Betagh (1960); ODNB
◆ James B Stephenson SJ The Irish Jesuits Vol 1 1962
FR THOMAS BETAGH, SJ
(And the Popular Schools of the Irish Jesuits in Dublin during the late Penal Times)
The eighteenth century was the epoch of triumph for the English State Church of the Protestant Colony in Ireland. That triumph was seen most strikingly in their joint action against Catholic Education. Evidence of this, as conclusive as it is laconic, may be adduced in the following excerpts from the Roman Records of the Irish Jesuit Mission during twenty-five years, the years when the Penal Code was wrought with care to its iniquitous perfection, 1692 to 1717.
On November 25th, 1694, Father Antony Knoles, SJ, Superior in Ireland (May 15th, 1694, to his death at Waterford, August 14th, 1727), writes to his personal friend, Thyrsus Gonzalez, General of the Order, at Rome : “ Very great is the diligence of our adversaries, and it is nou most intense, to prevent members of the Order from giving education to boys. But their zeal is enough to urge then to face the work and its danger vith courage; they toil in secret”.
Father Knoles writes again to Rome, February 17th, 1695, telling how “at Kilkenny the State officials have committed to prison the colleagues that I had, because they carried on the education of a few boys”.
On February 12th, 1717, the Triennial Account sent to Rome states that “Father Michael Murphy is taking the risks of giving education to young people at this time in the capital of the country. He has taught Greek and Latin throughout the last five years, and is doing so at present”.
There is no need to set out here the ingenious thoroughness of the Penal Laws under which this educational work was being done through the eighteenth century. But it may be serviceable to insist upon the proved fact that the laws on education were being enforced by both the Cromwellian State and its State Church. There are fragmentary portions of the Grand Jury Records available for three or four counties of Munster, 1712 to 1724. They show continuous action by Grand Juries and Magistrates. In County Limerick alone, from 1711 to 1723, nineteen Popish schoolmasters were “presented” by the Grand Jury. With an absolutely Protestant common jury, and a Protestant judge of the new type this indictment meant conviction and transportation for life to serve as a bondsman on the cotton and tobacco plantations in America. Rewards were voted to informers. Scores of Catholic parents were also indicted at Assizes, as we know from the surviving patches of the “Record Books” for Galway and Clare and Kerry. We have the testimony, in “Reports to the Dublin House of Lords, November, 1731”, as to the activities of the prelates of the State Church, testimony given under their own hands and seals, Henry Naule, Bishop of Derry, declares that in his diocese, even in its mountainous areas, no Popish schoolmaster is allowed to teach. If they try to do so, they are constantly threatened with indictment at Assizes: and “they generally think proper to withdraw”. Edward Synge, State Archbishop of Tuam, Administrator of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, in three separate reports confirms the evidence from Derry in precise detail. Then one Popish schoolmaster was recently convicted, he says, the effect was very salutary; the rest “absconded”.
A new policy of Constructive Aggression dated from 1733. In addition to these persecuting activities, the Parliament and Government at Dublin, with the enthusiastic support of Prelates and Press, Deans and Grand Juries, set on foot the Charter School system in 1733, and gave it liberal public grants from 1714. The Irish Jesuits had in very deed additional reasons for being active in education. Their reports to Rome at this period show fully that they realised this need. Rarely as many as twenty in number, they were at work in many or the former Anglo-Norman cities and towns, places no longer as Catholic as they had been, for they were very thoroughly cleared of Popish inhabitants both under William and under Anne. The need of schools, however, was greatest in Dublin. Aggressive proselytism, both under State auspices and by independent societies, has always been conspicuous in the capital of Ireland. Its preferred region for action has always been the poorest part of Dublin, from the Coombe northwards across the River Liffey to Henrietta Street and Bolton Street. From 1714, Dean Swift was thus active around the deanery house beside the Coombe; he had the constant support of Archbishop Willian King, 1702-1729, from his palace hard by. From 1727-30 the same work was powerfully pressed forward from his town residence by Primate Hugh Boulter of Armagh, the real governor of Ireland, from 1730 to 1750, the originator of the Charter Schools in the years 1730 to 1733.
This work of evil was combated on the spot by the Irish Jesuits, who, in the lanes and alleys of oldest Dublin, conducted schools all through the later Penal period, 1750 to 1810. They combined elementary with classical education, as did the country schools of that epoch, all over Ireland. There was then no talk of the educational ladder for the gifted children of the Catholic poor of Ireland. They had a broad highway, and the enemy knew it well. Samuel Madden wrote of it in 1738 in his “Reflections from the Gentlemen of Ireland, as landlords and as Members of Parliament”. In close collaboration with Bishop Berkeley and with Thomas Prior, he founded in 1731 what became the Royal Dublin Society. The determination of the Irish people to have full opportunities for a liberal education disgusted him. “Crowds of the Irish”, wrote the founder of the Madden Prize in Trinity College, Dublin, “waste their time and their substance as poor scholars. If only their spiritual governors were effectively removed, and their Church government by that means subverted, this would finish the work for us”. This “work” was repeatedly defined, in the Protestant school documents of the epoch, as to make the whole nation Protestant and English.
But even in that sorely-beset region of Dublin, commanded by the Castle, the King's Inns of Court, the two Protestant cathedrals, in addition to their two deaneries and the residences of the State Archbishops of Dublin and Armagh, Catholic schools managed to operate throughout that terrible century. The older Religious Orders, as the Carmelites from 1758, did great work in the cause of popular Catholic education. So did many hundreds of humble Catholic teachers, laymen and women, who conducted illegal schools among the very poor, north as well as south of the river. There was a sequence of efforts to conduct schools in the cities and larger towns from 1690 to 1720 and the ensuing decades. In 1750, John Austin, SJ whose name was long held in reverence, opened in Saul's Court, off Fishamble Street, a classical school. By 1770, with the aid of his brethren, such as James Philip Mulcaile and Thomas Betagh, a boarding house for pupils from the country was set beside Father Austin's school. It became, formally or virtually, the Diocesan School for Dublin, Meath, and adjoining counties. It produced such men as Daniel Murphy and Michael Blake, both determined opponents of the Veto proposals, 1799 to 1825.
The work for Catholic education, thus developed on what may well be termed the front line of action, was maintained all through their long lives by such men as Fathers Mulcaile, Austin, and Betagh. The alteration of ecclesiastical status which supervened for them, when, in the autumn of 1773, the Order to which they belonged was suppressed by the Holy See, made no difference in their daily service of popular education. When thus advanced to the rank of the pastoral or diocesan clergy, they acted as assistant priests in the same populous areas as before. Their school system expanded from Saul's Court into Skinner's Row, Hoey's Court, Smock Alley, Archbold's Court, and Schoolhouse Lane, while Father Mulcaile's energies were spent chiefly north of the River Liffey, in the lanes around George's Hill, Phrapper's, Ball's, Fisher's, and others besides.
Father Austin was the first of these school-men to be called to his reward. His death evoked a wonderful manifestation of regard from Catholic Dublin, Twelve years afterwards, 1789, a Protestant English traveller, Charles Topham Bowden, visited Dublin during an extended Tour in Ireland (London, 1791). Having come upon Father Austin's epitaph in the parish Cemetery of St. James, he recorded its text in full, and added :
“I was led to make inquiries relative to Austin, and was told he was a very remarkable character in this metropolis about twelve or fourteen years ago, of: extraordinary learning and extraordinary: piety; that he constantly dedicated all his acquisitions, which were very considerable, to the poor, visiting them in cellars and in garrets, never a day happy that he did not give food to nunbers”.
Even more remarkable is the record and the popular recollection :of the great educational no less than the great eoclesiastical work done on to the very last week of his long life by the surviving Irish Jesuit of the Old Society, Tatler Thomas Betagh (1738-1811). When the Order was ejected from its 108 colleges in French, in 1762, by the arbitrary decrees of Louis XIV, at the instigation of Choiseul and Pompadour, Betagh was a student in Theology, just ordained at Pont-á-Mousson in Lorraine. The Irish Jesuits were well known at that ducal University as far back as 1592. Then one of their number, Richard Fleming, was Chancellor there, having among his students Pierre Tourier, the staunch Lorraine patriot, who became a notable organiser of schools for the children of the countryside, and who was canonised in our own times. Having given up his whole energies to work among the Catholic poor or St Michan's* parish, Father Betagh became its parish priest late in life, and was also Vicar-General of the diocese of Dublin some years before his death in February, 1811. Two aspects of his career have impressed themselves very distinctly on local tradition. He was a determined opponent of the “Veto” movements that would have subjected the entire religious administration of Catholic Ireland to the intervention of a Protestant, civil power, bitterly hostile in all its official instruments, and in all its political and social connec tions in Ireland, even more than in England, to everything Catholic and Irish. His courageous and outspoken views on this vital issue were a main determinant of the definitive rejection of the “Veto” by the Bishops of Ireland in 1808; and he was naturally a centre, of strength and influence for the whole country on that and on cognate questions. He exercised this influence, no less than he practised the noble work of popular education, up to the end. Unsuspected external evidence has recently been acquired:which sets his position forth very clearly; it may be here drain on in an abbreviated form. Among the numerous English travellers in Ireland who printed some account of their experiences on their return was a Baptist minister, William Reed, of Thornbury, in Gloucestershire. Reed landed at Cork in September, 1810, reached Dublin in November, and the very rare volume of his travels appeared in London, 1815. Of Father Betagh he writes thus:
“I desired to be better acquainted with the real character of the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland. On arriving in Dublin, I was desired to consult Dr Betagh, who was said to be the most learned and the best informed man in Ireland, and who added to these accomplishments an amenity of manners that was almost enchanting. Accordingly, one morning I knocked at the door of this venerable monk, but could not have access to him then, as he was giving audience to two Bishops. The next morning I found him alone. Requesting to know my business, he desired me to draw my chair nearer to the fire, and we soon entered into the depths of the most serious conversation. I questioned him on the subjects of Purgatory, Indulgences, the use of Holy Water, Praying for the Dead, Transubstantiation, Praying to the Saints, and particularly of the Virgin Mary, whom they call the Mother of God. I found him very eloquent. He defended every part of his system with an acuteness and force, ingenuity and masterly address, that astonished me. He had received me with the greatest politeness”.
His Baptist visitor did not have occasion to see Father Betagh at work in those schools of his, schools of the parish where he laboured and that still bear his name. But we may draw on Mr Reed's text to show how popular education then fared in the South of Ireland, along the roadside. It will serve to illustrate, by immediate comparison, the arduous service which the parish priest and Vicar-General of Dublin rendered during that autumn of 1810, which was to be the last in his earthly life. He taught his scholars in the cellars of Cook Street. The work was thus severer than that seen by Mr Reed on his way to Dublin in 1810, through Munster.
“A desire for education manifests itself, and very generally, among the lower orders of the people. In any wanderings through the country I found several very humble seminaries, called Hedge Schools. Not having any other convenience, the scholars are taught reading, writing, etc., in the open air, under the shade of some embowering hedge, or branching tree; and very often the green bank and the smooth shelves of the rock answer purpose of the bench and the desk”. - (Ramples Through Ireland, London, 1815, p.52).
The urban counterpart of the Munster Hedge Schools was described in the sermon on Father Betagh's life and work. It was delivered on Palm Sunday, 1811, by his own scholar, his colleague in the pastoral work of Dublin City, that Father Michael Blake, who was afterwards Bishop of the northern diocese of Dromore, down to 1860, He recorded with emphasis his experience of the poor anong whom he, and his master, had worked for many years. “Our poor”, said Dr. Blake, “are the most interesting people on the earth, the most noble-ininded, the most grateful, and most hospitable, the most considerate, and the fondest of learning”. To that decisive finding may be subjoined two sentences spoken by Dr. Blake on Father Thomas Betagh, the Dublin parish priest whose name and work have survived to this day on the lips of the poor and plain Catholics of the oldest city regions:
“Look to that Free School, where three hundred boys, poor in everything but genius and spirit, receive their education every evening, and where more than three thousand have been already educated. Can you estimate sufficiently the value of the man who established that institution; who cherished the objects of it; who supervised their instruction; who rewarded the most promising of them with a classical education; who, at the age of seventy three, would sit down in a cellar to hear their lessons?”
The Irish Jesuit, the last of the Old Society of 1540-1773, who provided and who taught in that Free Popular School for elementary and for classical education, died in February, 1871, at 92 Cook Street, Dublin. Just a year later, in 1812, Father Peter Kenney SJ, pupil of Father Betagh, the first Superior of the Restored Irish Mission of the Society of Jesus, reached Dublin after completing his ecclesiastical studies at Palermo in Sicily, and took up work at Mary's Lane Chapel, north of the River Liffey. His seven fellow-students, all of whom had been Father Betagh's scholars, followed him home, from 1811 to 1814.
Timothy Corcoran SJ
*Addendum for St Michan's read “St Michael’s”
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Thomas Betagh SJ 1738-1811
Fr Thomas Betagh was the last survivor of the Irish Jesuits of the old Society. Like many abother Irish family, his forefathers had been deprived of their estate, Moynalty, near Kells, for their loyalty to the Stuarts and their Faith. They were reduced to the state of peasantry. Thomas’ father was a tanner at Kells. He was born on May 8th 1738, and having received a grammar school education in Father John Austin’s school in Saul’s Court, Dublin, he was sent at the age of fourteen to the Jesuit Seminary at Pont-á-Mousson, in Lorraine, in 1752. He had a brilliant course here and ended up as professor of Classical Languages at the Ecclesiastical University. On the Suppression of the Society, he returned to ireland and resumed his teaching activitiews with his old master, Fr Austin in Saul’s Court.He was appointed a curate at St Michael’s parish in Rosemary Lane, and succeeded as Parish Priest and Vicar General in 1799.
His work as a pastor and educationalist was unflagging, inspite of continual ill-health, for which he suffered all his life with a hernia. In addition to the ordinary school at Saul’s Court, which served as the sole source of education for Catholics in Dublin, and as the Seminary for the Diocese, he instituted his famous night-schools for the poor, in Schoolhouse Lane, in Hoey’s Court, Smock Alley, Derby Acre and Skinners Row. With good reason he did become a legend to the people. A friend once voiced the sentiments of the public “Oh Betagh, what will become of us when you go to heaven?” With his brilliant student Peter Kenney in mind, he replied “No matter; I am old and stupid; there is a cock coming from Sicily that will crow ten times as loudly as I could”.
He died at twelve o’clock on the 16th of February 1811, at his residence in 80 Cook Street, Dublin, aged 73. His remains were finally deposited in the old chapel at Rosemary Lane. A monument was erected to him there and subsequently removed to a new Church of SS Michael and John. It is estimated that no fewer that 20,000 people walked at his funeral.