Kirwan, Walter Blake

, a celebrated Irish preacher, descended from an ancient Roman catholic family, was born in Galway, about 1754. He was sent in early youth to the college of the English’Jesuits at St. Omer’s; and at the age of seventeen embarked for the Danish island of St. Croix, in the West Indies, under the protection of his father’s cousin-german, who had large possessions there; but after enduring for six years a climate pernicious to his delicate constitution, and spectacles of oppression and cruelty shocking to his feelings, he returned to Europe in disgust. He then went to the university of Louvain, where he received priest’s orders, and was soon after honoured with the chair of natural and moral philosophy. In 177$ he was appointed chaplain to tfye Neapolitan ambassador at the British court, and at this time attained some fame as a preacher, and published some sermons, of which, however, we find no notice in any literary journal, and as his family could not discover any copies, we suspect his biographer has been mistaken in this point. In 1787 he resolved to conform to the established religion, for what reason we are not told, unless “a conviction that he should thus obtain more extensive opportunities of doing good.” He was accordingly introduced by the rev. Dr. Hastings, archdeacon of Dublin, to his first protestant congregation, in St. Peter’s church, where he preached on June 24th of that year. His audience was impatient to hear the causes of his conversion, but neither at this time, nor any other, either in the pulpit, or in his most confidential communications, did he “breathe a syllable of contempt or reproach against any religious persuasion whatever.

For some time after his conformity, he preached every Sunday in St. Peter’s church; and the collections for the poor on every occasion rose four or five-fold above their usual amount. Before the expiration of his first year, he was wholly reserved for the task of preaching charity sermons; and on Nov. 5, 1788, the governors of the general daily schools of several parishes entered into a resolution, “That from the effects which the discourses of the rev. Walter Blake Kirwan, from the pulpit, have had, his officiating in this metropolis was considered a peculiar | national advantage, and that vestries should be called to consider the most effectual method to secure to the city an instrument, under Providence, of so much public benefit.” In the same year he was preferred by the archbishop of Dublin, to the prebend of Howth, and in the next year to the parish of St. Nicholas-Without, the joint income of which amounted to about 400l. a year. He resigned the prebend, however, on being presented in 1800, by the marquis Cornwall is, then lord-lieutenant, to the deanery of Killala, worth about 400l. a year.

Wonders are told of his popularity. Whenever he preached, such multitudes assembled that it was necessary to defend the entrance of the church by guards and palisadoes. He was presented with addresses and pieces of plate from every parish, and the freedom of various corporations; his portrait was painted and engraved by the most eminent artists, and the collections at his sermons far exceeded any that ever were known. F.ven in times of public calamity and distress, his irresistible powers of persuasion repeatedly produced contributions exceeding a thousand or twelve hundred pounds at a sermon; and his hearers, not content with emptying their purses into the plate, sometimes threw in jewels or watches, as earnest of further benefactions. He died, exhausted as we are told, by the fatigues of his mission, Oct. 27, 1805, leaving a widow with two sons and two daughters, to whom his majesty granted a pension of 30l. a year for the life of the widow, with reversion to the daughters. In 1814, a volume of his “Sermons” was printed for the benefit of his sons, who are not included in the above provision. From these it would be difficult to discover the causes of his extreme popularity. There are in them many animated and brilliant passages addressed to the feelings and passions, and these, we presume, were assisted by a manner suited to his audience, of which we can form no opinion. His talents, however, as directed to one point, that of recommending charity, were unquestionably successful beyond all precedent, and his private character well corresponded to his public sentiments. He was a man of acute reeling, amiable, humane, and beneficent. 1


Life prefixed to his Sermons.