I received a letter during the week from Fr. Paddy Finn, Parish Priest of Donard, Dunlavin and Davidstown, Co. Wicklow enclosing a copy of his parish magazine “Parish Link”. It’s an excellent publication, which I see is produced by a number of lay people, but its interest for me lay in a short piece on a former Parish Priest of Dunlavin, Canon John Hyland.
Like Paddy Finn, Canon Hyland was an Athy man. He was born in 1793, two years after the Grand Canal was extended to Athy and in the same year that the United Irishmen embarked on the long road which would end in the 1798 Rebellion.
Hyland was a common enough name in Athy at the turn of the 18th century. A John Hyland had his house near the upper Turnpike gate of the town, as was mentioned in information sworn by a local man, who observed the comings and goings of the United Irishmen and reported on them to Dublin Castle. A Robert Hyland was conductor of the canal boat which was robbed of its cargo while berthed overnight at the canal harbour, Athy on the 7th of December 1797. The cargo included 50 stands of arms and 1,000 ball cartridges all intended for a corp of Yeomen Infantry in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow. The loss, at the hands of what was believed to be the local United Irishmen, prompted Captain Eskine of the local military barracks, with a party of dragoons, to search every house in Athy. As a result many local men were arrested and lodged in White's Castle jail.
What connection the future Canon Hyland had with any of the aforementioned Hylands I cannot say, but by the time he left Athy in 1813 to enter Maynooth College, he was undoubtedly familiar with the unrest among the workers and tenant farmers of South Kildare. This had led to several local people claiming in correspondence addressed to Dublin Castle that “Athy and its neighbourhood is full of arms” and that “Protestant minds in the vicinity are in great alarm in consequence of rumours of intended rebellion”. No such rebellion took place. Athy and District had already suffered enormously during the earlier 1798 period and to a lesser extent during the Robert Emmet Rebellion of 1803.
John Hyland distinguished himself as a student of theology while in Maynooth College, and following his ordination, he was appointed Chaplain to the Presentation Convent at George’s Hill, Dublin. He was politically active, as was not unusual for Catholic clergy, in those pre-Catholic Emancipation days. When the Catholic Association was re-established in 1823 by Daniel O’Connell and Richard Lalor Sheil, Fr. John Hyland became a member. Every Irish adult was encouraged to join the Catholic Association and to contribute one penny a month to fund the fight for Catholic emancipation. This money, collected at church gates throughout the country, earned for O’Connell the title “King of the Beggars” and was known as “the Catholic rent”. The funding, which priests like Fr. John Hyland helped to put into the coffers of the Catholic Association, secured its success and culminated in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.
Two years previously, Fr. Hyland was appointed Parish Priest of Dunlavin, where he was to remain until he died in September 1862. Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin, who was to be appointed the first Irish Cardinal in 1866, presided at his funeral obsequies in the Church of St. Nicholas, Dunlavin. Although the Athy-born Canon was ten years older than the Ballytore-born Archbishop, a common South Kildare background guaranteed a strong bond of friendship between both men. Canon Hyland was buried in the vault in the centre of the nave of St. Nicholas’ Church, Dunlavin where Paddy Finn, another native of Athy, is now the Parish Priest.
Canon John Hyland and Fr. Paddy Finn, while separated by over 130 years of Irish history, are linked by youthful years spent in the same South Kildare town, where the Grand Canal and River Barrow meet.