ARCHDEACON, M. Shawn na Soggarth: the Priest Hunter. An Irish Tale of the Penal Times.
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Dublin: James Duffy, 1844. Crown octavo. First edition. pp. viii, 416. Original blind- stamped cloth. Spine professionally rebacked preserving original backstrip. Some minor stains to upper cover. From the library of Robert Montgomery of Convoy with his signature and stamp. A very good copy. Exceedingly rare.
COPAC with 3 locations only. Brown 133. Sadleir 60. Loeber A78. NSTC locates only 3 copies.
The author was born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1800. He taught in the academy there and wrote
several historical novels, all founded on fact.
Archdeacon is best remembered for the last of his novels, the only one not to have been published by
subscription, Shawn na Saggart; or, The priest hunter, which appeared from the Dublin catholic
publisher James Duffy in 1844. This draws on local south Mayo and north Galway traditions
concerning John O’Mullowny, an early-eighteenth-century apostate catholic and priest hunter, whose
activities and eventual death at the hands of a priest he is pursuing (after he has murdered another priest
by pretending to be ill and summoning him to hear his last confession) are interspersed with a standard
melodramatic plot concerning various young lovers endangered by the workings of the penal laws. By
1852 Archdeacon had moved to the village of Belcarra, five miles from Castlebar, where he taught a
national school with the assistance of his elder surviving son and eldest daughter, Mary. His wife
appears to have died by this stage and a younger son and two younger daughters were dependent on
them (the third son having presumably died in childhood). In 1852 Archdeacon suffered from an illness
(possibly a stroke) which caused his legs to become paralysed. The loss of his earnings, and his
medical expenses, placed the whole family in financial difficulties, which were exacerbated when his
elder son died of tuberculosis, leaving the whole family in debt and dependent on Mary’s national
teacher’s salary of £15 a year. With the encouragement of George Henry Moore and Charles Gavan
Duffy, Archdeacon applied for assistance from the Royal Literary Fund, but the necessary references
were still being secured at the time of his death in Belcarra on 7 September 1853. The application was
subsequently completed on behalf of the family by Mary Archdeacon, who secured a grant of £50. The
family subsequently moved to England where Mary secured a teaching post in a workhouse and
endeavoured to secure education and employment for her younger brother and two sisters.
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