On the grounds of the Cathedral of the Assumption in the town of Tuam in North Galway stands the statue of John McHale, an Archbishop of Tuam from 1834 to 1881 and also an Irish Nationalist. 

The statue stands on the grounds of Tuam Cathedral, where McHale is buried, and bears a Latin inscription that reads: “John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam, Primate of all Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Rights of the Irish People”.

John McHale was born on March 6, 1791 in Tubbernavine, Co. Mayo, to a farming family. He was so feeble at his birth that he was baptised at home by Father Conroy, who was later hanged during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. McHale witnessed the horrors of the rebellion as a child, as well as the landing of French troops at Killala in support of the rebels. These events made an indelible impression on his mind and shaped his nationalist sentiments.

McHale attended a hedge school, where he learned English, Latin, Greek, and Irish history. He showed great aptitude for languages and literature, and was sent to a school at Castlebar to further his studies. In 1807, he received a scholarship to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where he excelled in theology, philosophy, and classical languages. He also learned French, Italian, German, Hebrew, and English classics from the emigrant French priests who taught at Maynooth.

He was ordained a priest in 1814 by Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, at the age of 24. He continued to teach at Maynooth until 1820, when he was appointed professor of theology. He gained a reputation as a brilliant scholar and an eloquent preacher. He also became friends with Augustine FitzGerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster, who invited him to Carton House and introduced him to influential people.

In 1825, McHale was appointed coadjutor bishop of Killala by Pope Leo XII. He was consecrated in Dublin by Archbishop Murray on February 19, 1826. He took charge of the diocese of Killala, which was suffering from poverty and oppression under British rule. He established schools, churches, convents, and seminaries. He also defended the rights of the Catholic tenants against the Protestant landlords. He wrote letters and articles to expose the injustices and abuses inflicted on his flock.

In 1834, McHale was transferred to the archdiocese of Tuam by Pope Gregory XVI. He became the primate of all Ireland and one of the most influential figures in the Irish Catholic Church. He continued his pastoral work in Tuam with zeal and dedication. He built a magnificent cathedral that still stands today as a testament to his vision and generosity. He also founded several religious orders and institutions to serve the spiritual and social needs of his people.

McHale was not only concerned with his own diocese, but also with the national affairs of Ireland. He was an ardent supporter of Catholic Emancipation, which granted civil rights to Catholics in Britain and Ireland. He was also an advocate for legislative independence from Britain and for justice for tenants and the poor. He vigorously opposed the proselytism efforts of Protestant missionaries and the government’s proposal for a mixed-faith national school system. He preached regularly to his flock in Irish and encouraged them to preserve their language and culture.

McHale was also involved in international affairs. He travelled to Rome several times to meet with popes and cardinals. He also preached in France and England to raise funds for Irish causes. He corresponded with many prominent figures in Europe and America, such as Daniel O’Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, John Mitchel, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Abraham Lincoln, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Lamartine.

McHale died on November 7, 1881 in Tuam at the age of 90. He had served as archbishop for 47 years. He was mourned by thousands of people who attended his funeral at Tuam Cathedral. He was buried in a vault under the high altar.

McHale left behind a legacy of faith, courage, and patriotism. He was revered by his people as a saint and a hero. He was also respected by his opponents as a formidable adversary. He earned the nickname of “The Lion of the West” for his fearless and fiery defence of the Irish cause. He was one of the most influential and remarkable figures in Irish history.


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John McHale Statue



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