Nicholas Walsh, (Irish: Nicolás Bhailis), Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory and a pioneer of printing in Irish type, is murdered on December 14, 1585, by James Dullerde, against whom he had proceeded in his court for adultery.
Walsh is born in Waterford, County Waterford, in or before 1538. He is the son of Patrick Walsh, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (d. 1578). The identity of his mother is unknown. She was Patrick’s concubine for many years and they apparently married only after 1558, meaning their son was born outside marriage. About 1551 Walsh leaves Ireland to study at the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge, eventually graduating BA at Cambridge in 1562 or 1563. He receives the MA from Cambridge in 1567. He is appointed chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1571.
As a fluent Irish speaker, Walsh is deeply committed to the propagation of the Protestant faith through the medium of the Irish language. In 1571 he helps to secure the publication in Dublin of a catechism written in Irish by John Kearney (Irish: Seán Ó Cearnaigh), whom he has known since his time at Cambridge. He then procures a government order for printing the Book of Common Prayer in Irish, and for the liturgy and a sermon to be communicated in Irish in a church in each large town. In practice this order has no effect. From about 1573 he and Kearney begin work on an Irish translation of the New Testament. This project is finally completed and published in 1602 or 1603. He also writes a collection of sermons in Latin.
In 1572 Walsh is offered the bishopric of Kilmacduagh in Connacht but declines as this diocese lay in a dangerous part of the country. In February 1578 he becomes Bishop of Ossory, upon which he resigns his chancellorship at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and presumably sets aside his translation of the New Testament. Through his family he has links with the area of his diocese, and he is assured of the protection of the dominant magnate, Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond. However, Catholicism is very strong in Ossory, particularly in the diocesan capital of Kilkenny. His arrival at Kilkenny is ignored by the citizens, and he finds himself presiding over an empty St. Canice’s Cathedral during Sunday services. In November 1578 he writes for support to the Lord Justice of Ireland, Sir William Drury, who empowers Walsh to fine recusants. That month Drury comes to Kilkenny and heavily fines a number of prominent citizens of Kilkenny for recusancy. However, these punitive efforts have little long-term impact and only increased Walsh’s unpopularity.
Walsh is further hampered by a lack of revenues from his diocese, which leads him in April 1581 to seek additional benefices that he can hold in commendam. in July 1582 he seeks a licence to solicit charitable donations in England. He also initiates legal proceedings to recover church property. At a time when the Church of Ireland episcopate is characterised by venality, cynicism, and crypto-Catholicism, he stands head and shoulders above his colleagues owing to his dedication, ability, and evangelising zeal. At the installation of the Bishop of Meath in 1584 he criticises his fellow bishops for neglecting their spiritual duties for political concerns. He is married to an Englishwoman and has four children.
Walsh’s life comes to a violent end on December 14, 1585, when he is stabbed to death in his own house at Kilkenny by James Dullerde, whom he had cited for adultery in his consistory court. He is buried in a tomb in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. Dullerde is caught and beheaded by Domhnall Spanaigh Kavanagh MacMurrough and his brother Cahir Carroughe.
(From: “Walsh, Nicholas (Nicolás Bhailis)” by Anthony M. McCormack and Terry Clavin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009 | Pictured: Coat of arms of the Bishop of Ossory)