Gahan, William (DNB00)

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GAHAN, WILLIAM (1730–1804), ecclesiastic and author, born in Dublin in June 1730, was of a Leinster sept, the original name of which was O'Gaoithin, anglicised Gahan. He was educated at Dublin, became a member of the Augustinian order there, and in 1747 entered the catholic university of Louvain, where he studied for eleven years and received the degree of doctor of divinity. Gahan returned to Ireland in September 1761, was appointed curate of the parish of St. Paul, Dublin, and subsequently retired to the convent of his order in that city, where he devoted much of his time to the composition of works for the use of Roman catholics on subjects connected with religion and morality. In 1786 he travelled through England, France, and Italy, and wrote an account of his experiences abroad, which has not been published. The most important public incident in the career of Gahan was in connection with John Butler (d. 1800) [q. v.], Roman catholic bishop of Cork, with whom he had intimate and confidential relations since 1783. Butler, in his seventieth year, on the death of his nephew, Pierce, became twelfth Lord Dunboyne in the peerage of Ireland, and possessor of the ancestral estates. Anxious to prevent the extinction of the direct line of his family, he resigned the bishopric of Cork, and sought a papal dispensation to enable him to marry. The application having been rejected, Dunboyne publicly renounced the Roman catholic religion, and became a member of the established church. When suffering from illness in 1800, Dunboyne addressed a letter to the pope requesting readmission to the Roman catholic church. He also executed a will by which he bequeathed one of his estates to the Roman catholic college of Maynooth. The letter to the pope was transmitted through Troy, Roman catholic archbishop of Dublin, who expressed his disapprobation of any of the Dunboyne estates being alienated from the family. Under archiepiscopal sanction Gahan, in company with a friend of Dunboyne, attended on his lordship, received him into the catholic church, and urged, but in vain, the revocation of the will. After Dunboyne's death in 1800 the validity of the bequest to Maynooth was impugned by his sister in the court of chancery, and Gahan underwent several examinations there. The case came to trial at the assizes at Trim, in the county of Meath, in August 1802, before Viscount Kilwarden, the chief justice. Curran was one of the counsel for the college of Maynooth. In the course of the trial Gahan was required by the court, under penalty of imprisonment, to state certain details of his relations with Lord Dunboyne. These he conceived to have been confidential, in connection with his ministrations as a priest, and he firmly declined to disclose them. He was, for contempt of court, condemned by the judge to be imprisoned for a week. Gahan's confinement was of short duration, as, after the jury had returned their verdict, the court ordered his discharge, on the ground that the plaintiff had not suffered from his refusal to answer, and that he had acted on principle. A subsequent compromise between the litigants led to the endowment of a department of the college of Maynooth, designated the ‘Dunboyne Establishment.’ Gahan died at Dublin, in the convent of his order, on 6 Dec. 1804. His published works consist of ‘Sermons and Moral Discourses’ (6th ed. 1847), a history of the Christian church, translations from Bourdaloue, and several devotional books still extensively used.

[Case of C. Butler, 1802; Brenan's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Ireland, 1840; Case of Baron of Dunboyne, 1858–9; Episcopal Succession, Rome, 1876.]

J. T. G.