Charles Patrick Meehan, priest and historian, is born on July 12, 1812 at 141 Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), Dublin.
Meehan’s father, a native of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, is a prosperous farmer at Ballymahon, County Longford. He receives his early education in a hedge school and from a local curate at Ballymahon. In 1828 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where he is a brilliant student, acquiring fluency in several languages. As a child he had loved to listen to stories of the Flight of the Earls and the Flight of the Wild Geese, and during his time in Rome he discovers the neglected graves of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell in the church of San Pietro in Montorio. He begins his lifelong research on the seventeenth century by locating and transcribing hitherto unstudied documents held in Roman repositories. Ordained in 1835, he is appointed curate at Rathdrum, County Wicklow in August and five months later is transferred to the parish of Saints Michael and John, Dublin. He is an excellent preacher and a strong advocate of temperance, and zealously discharges his parish duties.
A supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the repeal movement, Meehan is particularly attracted by the ideals of Young Ireland, and becomes friendly with the principal writers of The Nation, especially Charles Gavan Duffy and James Clarence Mangan. He is Mangan’s confessor, and attends his deathbed in 1849. The Young Irelanders often meet in his presbytery in Lower Exchange Street. From 1842 he contributes occasional verse and translations to The Nation using the pseudonym ‘Clericus’ and the initials ‘C. P. M.’ He defends the Young Irelanders from accusations of irreligion. During the debates on physical force in Conciliation Hall in July 1846 he supports the Young Ireland position and is shouted down by O’Connellites.
He secedes with the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association and becomes a member of their Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. Later that year he becomes president of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club, and delivers lectures to it on Irish history. A strong believer in the importance of history in creating national pride and awareness, he contributes The Confederation of Kilkenny (1846) and a translation of Daniel O’Daly, The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (1847) to The Nation‘s Library of Ireland historical series. He publishes a translation, with a valuable introduction and notes, of John Lynch‘s Latin life of Francis Kirwan, bishop of Killala 1645–61, as Portrait of a Christian Bishop (1848). In 1848 he resigns his presidency of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club in the hope of becoming librarian or professor of modern languages at Queen’s College Galway, but is unsuccessful.
For the rest of his life Meehan devotes himself to parish work and historical research, occasionally publishing articles and poems in the Hibernian Magazine and Irish Catholic Magazine. He also edits six volumes of the second series of James Duffy‘s Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine (1862–65). Having acquired a vast store of anecdotes and curious information from his researches, he is an interesting companion who loves the company of poets and scholars and forms friendships with many young nationalist writers, including Denis Florence MacCarthy, John Keegan Casey and John Francis O’Donnell.
Most of Meehan’s research is devoted to Irish history, but he occasionally tackles other subjects, such as his translation from the Italian of Vincenzo Marchese’s Lives of the most eminent sculptors and architects of the order of St Dominic (2 vols, 1852). Although his work is marked by a strong sympathy for Catholicism and Irish nationalism, he is among the more scholarly historians associated with the Young Ireland movement. He is elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in February 1865. Gavan Duffy lauds his efforts and ranks him with the great patriotic clerical scholars of the past who had devoted their lives to the study of Irish history.
Meehan repeatedly takes the opportunity to amend and expand his published works, producing revised editions of The Geraldines (as The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (reprinted 1878)), Confederation of Kilkenny (1882), and Lynch’s Life of Kirwan (1884). His other important publications are The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile (1868), and Rise and Fall of the Irish Franciscan Monasteries and Memoirs of the Irish Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century (1870). He edits the essays of the Young Irelanders in The Spirit of the Nation (1882) and publishes editions of the poetry of Mangan in The Poets and Poetry of Munster (1883), with an important biographical memoir. His last scholarly work is to re-edit Literary Remains of the United Irishmen (1887) to include material left in manuscript by Richard R. Madden.
A small man, Meehan always wears a monocle attached to a silk ribbon, a tall silk hat, and a stout blackthorn stick. He suffers badly from indigestion for most of his life, and this aggravates a testy personality and a waspish tongue. He regularly falls out with friends, and few parishioners are foolhardy enough to brave his confessional. He retains strong anti-English views all his life. In the 1880s he encounters the young Arthur Griffith pulling down a union flag from a lamppost in Dublin, and astounds the boy by congratulating rather than chastising him. His Young Ireland nationalism and irascible personality ensure that he never progresses beyond the position of curate in his forty-five years at Saints Michael and John. Here, he works alongside Fr. James Healy, a renowned wit, and the two men delight in trading caustic remarks. Healy is present at Meehan’s deathbed and admits to brushing away a tear – the only thing, he remarks, that had been brushed in that room for many years.
Meehan dies on March 14, 1890 at his presbytery in Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He is survived by two brothers, one of whom is also a priest. He is commemorated by a mural tablet erected by his parishioners in the church of Saints Michael and John.
(From: “Meehan, Charles Patrick” by James Quinn and Linde Lunney, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)