From Walsh's Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, 1891, c. xix, p. 179 ff:
Alexander Devereux, the last abbot of Dunbrody, remained in this see undisturbed during the different changes in religion, almost twenty-seven years. He shall be noticed elsewhere. He died in 1566.
Peter Power, bishop of Ferns; obliged to go into exile; became the suffragan of the archbishop of Compostella, in Spain, and there died in the year 1587.
Nicholas French, bishop of Ferns. Nicholas was born in the town of Wexford, A.D. 1604, and was one of the earliest pupils received in the Irish college at Louvain, and was at the same time one of its most distinguished. Here, too, he received holy orders. Soon after having returned to his native city, he was appointed its pastor, and in this capacity acquired a reputation for knowledge and eloquence. In 1643, Nicholas was consecrated bishop of his native djocese, and when promoted to this important charge, was in his thirty-ninth year of age, but lie was far advanced in the cultivation of his mind and genius. In 1645 he was elected to the parliament of Kilkenny, as a burgess of the town of Wexford, while, as bishop of Ferns, he sat in all the provincial councils and synods that were convened during the following years. Being then in the prime of vigor and intellect, full of ardent hope, he never shrunk from any proper labor, however toilsome. His zeal, disinterestedness and learning, in a short time after engaging on the public arena, procured him the leadership of the National Confederates,
who were the majority of that league.
Nicholas French was the sole lord of the assembly, and if others were distinguished in the field, none could vie with him at the council board. It is a mistake to suppose that the Nuncio Rinuccini was the
deliberative head of the assembly. His office, as nuncio, gave him precedence, but in reality he suggested no plans to the supreme council.
In January, 1646, the synod of the Irish clergy was held in Dublin. On the 10th of that month, Nicholas impeached the conduct of General Preston, who then shared the command of the Catholic forces with Owen Roe O'Neil, and moved his suspension from the command, but the motion was not put, and the meeting was broken up in confusion. The bishop of Ferns saw in Preston a traitor, whom the clamor of his friends had unfortunately rescued from disgrace.
As the councils of the Catholics were lamentably deficient in that unity of sentiment and of action, which alone are calculated to ensure success in national movements, the great genius of Nicholas French and the other patriots, who were animated with a love of country and of creed, could accomplish but little, while Preston and his interested associates were playing off their treachery against the real interests of the kingdom. In 1647, Nicholas French and Sir Nicholas Plunket were
despatched to the friendly courts of the Continent, in order to explain to them the designs, means, and the relative positions of the Catholics of Ireland, and the cause of the non-agreement existing between them and Charles. When again it was resolved to hold a synod at Jamestown, in August, 1648, Nicholas attended, not only as bishop of Ferns, but also as proxy to Archbishop Fleming, of Dublin, who was then ill. Again, when another effort was made to save the country, Nicholas French
puts to sea, in prosecution of his own plan, to treat with any Catholic prince, state, republic, or person, for the preservation of the Catholic religion and nation. The terms of the commission with which Bishop French was then entrusted, were kept secret; it bore the signatures of the leading confederates — lay and clerical — wlio were still in the country. A Catholic prince, the duke of Lorrain, was the person with whom this negotiation was carried on, at his court of Brussels. The
first act of his embassy was to interest the inter-nuncio Amoldi, then at Brussels, by whom Nicholas was well received, and through him reconciled to the court of Rome, which had been offended by tlie circular enforcing the peace of 1648.
The negotiation with the Catholic prince having failed, and the work of destruction going on as prosperously as its most ardent votaries could desire — the Catholics robbed, plundered, massacred, and all those whose blood the sword of Cromwell could not drink, driven to perish or linger in the wilds and morasses of Connaught : it would have been imprudent in Doctor French to return to the land for which he labored. As actior in the field or in the council was already ineffectually tried, Nicholas French betook himself to his cabinet in Brussels, there to digest the woes of his country and to startle the ears of Europe with her songs of sorrow. He now resumed his pen, more cutting than the two edged sword, to punish the traitors to his beloved Ireland, to refute the slanders of England, and to vindicate the cause of Catholic Ireland before the world.
A work, entitled "The unkind Deserter of Loyal Men and True Friends" was published at Brussels, in which he attributes the defeat of his last mission thither, to the duke of Ormond, and the ruin of Ireland by his proposing treaties to distract the councils of the confederates, and foment divisions amongst them, lest, in the event of their arms being successful, he would be obliged to disgorge his plunder and badly-acquired wealth. The effect which the publication of this work produced on the public mind, and particularly on the Duke of Ormond, and his admirers, may be inferred from the fact that the earl of Clarendon, then at Brussels with Charles II. and Ormond, undertook to publish a book in his own name, and to have it industriously circulated, with a view of preserving men's minds from being agitated by those infusions, and corrupted by misrepresentation; but Clarendon evaded the
charges which were directly made against the Duke of Ormond, by Nicholas French. He was still at Louvain, when the reply of Clarendon appeared. The bishop had already commenced a work on the same subject, the preface of which alone was printed, and also published at Louvain; it is called the "Bleeding Iphigenia."
Paris was the next destination of our bishop, and there he was appointed coadjutor to the archbishop of the French capital. Charles Stuart reached there soon after, on whom Nicholas waited, but was
refused admission to the presence of his majesty, for whose throne, as well as the altars of his own faith, he had labored so much, until the hopes of Ireland were blasted by that selfish traitor Ormond, who even on this occasion had intrigued against him, and through whose wiles - and those of the king, Nicholas French was obliged to abandon his see and remain an exile, uncharged with any offense and unconscious of any omission in the cause of his country or his creed. After many journeys and wanderings, he at last, says Peter Walsh, found a home with the archbishop of St. lago, in Gallicia, who received him in a manner wortliy of his fame. He was installed as his suffragan, and devoted the leisure of a year or two in composing a Latin work entitled "The Lucubrations of the Bishop of Ferns in Spain."
Nicholas French was still at Compostella when the news of the restoration had reached him. Amongst those who were pardoned and promoted, the venerable name of the prelate was not included, but his religion, stronger than any other bond, reconciled him to his fortune. Soon after, his repose was effectually disturbed by the proposition of Peter Walsh, regarding the "remonstrance," which was conveyed to him by Doctor Cusack, of London, who was equally the friend of both, and from which an interesting correspondence arose...
In his letter of June, 1662, to Cusack, Doctor French expressed himself ready to make any honorable terms with the viceroy, but goes no farther. In his second epistle to Walsh, from Santiago, dated Sep-
tember, 1665, Doctor French enclosed one to the viceroy, in which he proceeds to say: "A great fortune befits a great mind, and great clemency befits both," and quotes from Seneca, "That many punishments are as disgraceful to a statesman as many funerals to a physician." He hopes, that "with Caesar's power, Ormond possesses Caesar's generosity." "I do not say this to tickle or flatter your grace's ears, for this is not my custom, who have (as is well known) offended more by speaking
trutli than by flattering." He concludes by observing that he is afflicted with many bodily complaints, and intends drawing nearer to Ireland to wait his grace's reply.
A letter from Peter Walsh, on his part, and that of the Duke, dated March, 1666, informs the bishop, among other things, that he should write a more submissive letter, relative to the affaire of Jamestown, and other public transactions, and intimate a "total change of judgment in all these matters." And the false friar insolently adds: "And I must tell you, there is no command of God on you in the case, nor any necessity incumbent on you of preaching or teaching here personally to your flock;" and consoles tlie bishop with the assurance, that the duke of Ormond thinks him "a good man, a good priest, and a good bishop, without guile and without cheat."
The bishop rejoins from the seaport of San Sebastian, May the 10th, 1666. That he had moved hither from Santiago, "much to the grief of the archbisliop," confident in the result of his letter to Ormond. He refused to write a more submissive letter, and promised to write more fully from Paris. The letter he sent in a little Spanish vessel, in which he would have "ventured," were he not deterred by the humiliating proposal that had been made.
In his letter from Paris, according to promise, dated July, 1666, he bays to Peter Walsh: " Do me the favor and the right to show this letter to his grace." "It appearing to me that I cannot satisfy my conscience and the duke together, nor become profitable to my flock at home, nor live quietly and secure — his anger not being appeased — you may know hereby, that I am resolved after dog-days, to go to Louvain, and there end my days, where I began my studies."
Thus was terminated the correspondence of Nicholas French. In fulfillment of his word, he repaired to the cloister of St. Anthony, at Louvain...
While at Louvain, Bishop French filled some of the most important of the college offices ; he also established a bourse for his diocese of Ferns, which he endowed in perpetuity with the sura of one hundred and eighty florins per annum. Some time after, desiring to return to the sphere for which he had been consecrated, he was, either at the suggestion of a friend or the court of Rome, appointed coadjutor to the archbishop of Ghent, where he continued till his death, A.D. 1678, August the 23d.
Thus ended the career of an exiled Irish patriot, who had been ambassador to four different courts — who had ruled with episcopal power in four diiferent countries — who was the life and soul of the Catholic confederacy of his country, and one of the best among the Christian
bishops of his age...
Luke Wadding, bishop of Ferns, in 1687.
Michael Eossiter, bishop of Ferns, 1709.
Bishop Verdon succeeded.
Bishop Callaghan succeeded, 1729.
Nicholas Sweetman, bishop of Ferns, died 1780.
James Cauliield, bishop of Ferns, 1810.
Patrick Ryan succeeded, died in 1819.
James Keating, coadjutor to bishop Ryan, in 1818. Succeeded the 21st of March, 1819. Died universally regretted about the close of 1849 or beginning of 1850. In his death the diocese of Ferns sustained the loss of an excellent prelate — Ireland and her faith, a champion and patriot.
Milesius Murphy, who was parish priest of Wexford and vicar-general of the diocese, and who happily presides, was consecrated on the 10th of March, 1850.