Bishop John Richard Darley (1799 – 1884)

(Researched and compiled by Jonathan A. Smyth)

Original Darley School
John Richard Darley was a minister in the Church of Ireland, who achieved great respect among people of all creeds. He was chiefly a philanthropist who carried out many acts of charity for the betterment of the communities in which he served.

John Richard Darley was born in November 1799. He was the second son of Richard and Elizabeth Darley. His mother Elizabeth was the daughter of Mr. B. Brunker from Rockcorry, Co.Monaghan. Both John and his older brother grew up in the family home at Fairfield, Monaghan. He received his early schooling at the Royal school, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone. In 1816, John became a student at Trinity College Dublin. He studied various subjects including the classics, science and Hebrew in which he received “high distinctions”. He obtained a classical scholarship in 1819, and achieved his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1821. John was awarded the Madden Prize for his studies.

During his lifetime he would marry twice. His first marriage was to Anne Darley, the daughter of Alderman Darley of Dublin. They were married in 1826, a significant year when John was admitted to Holy Orders. He was ordained to the Diocese of Armagh. However, he didn’t become a parish clergyman immediately, but became a teacher instead. In his first teaching post, he was appointed to the headmastership of the Endowed Grammar School of Dundalk. He worked at the Grammar School for five years.

In 1831, John returned to his alma mater as headmaster of the Royal School, Dungannon. His time at the Royal was described as being “of credit to himself and advantage to the institution over which he presided”. Rev. Darley then enhanced his career further with the publication of his classical plays. Two of his plays include, ‘The Grecian Drama (1840) and Homer with Questions (1848). Copies of his plays are held at the National Library, Dublin. He retired from the Royal school, Dungannon in 1850.

Subsequently, he was offered the position of parochial clergyman in the parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill, Co. Cavan. Tragedy struck when his wife died from a fever. The local paper reported in July 1850 that, “after a few days illness, Anne the beloved wife of Rev. J.R. Darley passed away. Both were preparing to leave for his new parish at Cootehill”. He lived at the Glebe Rectory, Cootehill for sixteen years. During 1851, he met and married his second wife Nannette who was the daughter of Lord Plunkett.

Darley's School

In 1859, a ‘very handsome ample school-house and teachers residence’ was erected by the Reverend J. R. Darley at Cootehill, ‘for education’, and the school was also ‘supported out of his own private purse’, therefore in effect, a charitable establishment. The ‘parochial schoolhouse’ was erected by Darley at a personal cost of over six hundred pounds, ‘which not only serves the purpose of a school but is well adapted for public religious meetings’. The school welcomed pupils of all creeds, both Catholic and dissenter. Reverend Darley perhaps having being inspired by the wise man of the biblical story, had the

school built on what was literally a rock. The yard remained rocky and uneven with a steep slope to the back of the building.

In 1882, the school was registered with the commissioners of national education, who then stated that ‘as the Commissioners have now received this school into connexion, they require that the Inscription “Cootehill no. 3 National School”, and no other, to be conspicuously set up upon the outside of the House, or on such other place as may render it conspicuous to the Public’.Originally, pupils at the school wrote their lessons on slates. In 1882, the commissioners of national education were recorded for having provided ‘additional requisites’, which included books, stationery, and slates, ‘to the value of £1: 5’ which had to be purchased by the school, before being sold to the pupils. In the same year, having being registered as a national school, ‘the salaries to teachers’, were ‘payable quarterly’, whilst Darley was recognised as the schools patron.. The school was made available to other groups for holding their meetings; one such group was the young men’s Christian association. The Cavan Observer publicised one such meeting of the Cootehill young men’s Christian association in April 1860; reporting that there would be a lecture on astronomy delivered by the Reverend W. Prior Moore, from the College, Cavan. It was stated that use of the parochial schoolhouse had been ‘kindly granted’ by Reverend Darley.

There was much poverty in Cootehill during the 1860’s. John was among those who subscribed money to aid the needy of Drumgoon. Local merchants would purchase the imported coal and sell it at a profit. Many people couldn’t afford the high charges. Rev. Darley was one of those who saw this as a problem, which needlessly resulted in more admissions to the local workhouse. A Fuel Relief Committee was formed to alleviate the situation. John felt it necessary to purchase the coal directly from the Railway Station at Cootehill and then sell it at a fair price to those most in need. A report from a Fuel Relief meeting, noted, ”It might be injurious to mention the attention of individual members of the committee, but it is only justice to remark on the unwearied exertions of the Rev.- Dr. Darley – ever foremost in works of charity”. In general, both John and his wife Nannette were regular attendees at charitable events, for example, the Bazaar’s held in aid of the Protestant Orphan Society in Cavan town.

By 1866, he was promoted to the parish of Templemichael, Co. Longford where he worked as Rector for eight years. During this period he also served as an Archdeacon for the diocese of Ardagh. To the people of Drumgoon and Templemichael, it was said, “he gained the esteem and affection of the entire community”.

Bishop of a United Diocese

In September 1874, at the age of 75, Dr. Darley was elected Bishop of the united Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh. His consecration as Bishop took place on the 25th October 1874 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. He was successor to the Right Rev. Thomas Carson who died earlier that year.

The following extract sums up Bishop John’s general character while in office: “he was a man of pre-eminent gifts, both mental and physical, and of wonderful activity. He not only discharged efficiently and with indefatigable zeal all the ordinary duties of a Bishop, such as holding visitations, confirmations and ordinations in every part of his extensive see, and presiding over the synods

and other councils of the Church as occasion required, but he preached in almost every church in his diocese, and for this purpose visited places where none of his predecessors had ever been”.

It was during his term as Bishop that the Protestant hall was built in Cavan town. The building of the Hall started in the summer of 1876. Lord Farnham laid the foundation stone, while Bishop John offered up prayers. The hall was later demolished during the 1990’s.Today, the Johnston Central Library and Farnham Centre, is situated on the original site.

Bishop Darley also held a particular interest in the work of the Primitive Methodists. John Richard often took part in their services and wished for a closer bond between the Methodists and the Church of Ireland.

In 1884, illness affected Dr. Darley’s health. His ill health brought about a united response among all peoples of the district who had earnestly hoped for his recovery. His Excellency, Dr. Nicholas Conaty, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kilmore, had personally called to see how Bishop Darley was keeping. John. R. Darley died on the Sunday afternoon of January 20th 1884. His Sister in law, Miss Emmeline Plunkett was present at the Palace, to comfort Mrs Darley, when the Bishop died. As news of his death became known, many businesses from all communities closed. In particular, it is recorded that the shops in the town of Longford closed their shutters on the day as a mark of respect. The Cavan Weekly News reported, “there are thousands with whom Bishop Darley’s name will be a fragrant memory; and who will be thankful for an opportunity of testifying their undying affection for one who while he lived was so venerated and beloved”. Today, his name continues to live on in the school he founded at Cootehill.

Further reading: Jonathan A. Smyth, 'John Richard Darley (1799-1884), bishop, scholar & philanthropist', in Breifne, Vol. xi, no. 44 (2008), pp.683- 710.