Theobald Mathew was born at Thomastown Castle, County Tipperary, on 10 October 1790. The Mathews were an old landed family with both Catholic and Protestant branches. In the 1760s, Francis Mathew, the owner of the Thomastown estate, adopted his orphaned cousin, Theobald’s father, James. On reaching adulthood, James was appointed the agent for the estate. Unlike most of the Mathews, James remained a Catholic throughout his life. His wife, Anne Whyte, was also a Catholic. They had twelve children, the fourth of whom was Theobald. The young Mathew had a privileged childhood, enjoying favoured treatment from his Protestant relation, Lady Elizabeth Mathew, the daughter of Francis – known after 1797 as the Earl of Llandaff. Lady Elizabeth knew and approved of Theobald’s priestly ambitions, and in 1800 she provided the money to pay for his education at St. Canice’s, a Catholic boarding school in Kilkenny. In September 1807, Theobald enrolled at Maynooth College for training as a secular priest. His plans were upset, however, when in his first year he was forced to leave Maynooth in order to avoid being expelled for holding what appears to have been a drunken party for his fellow students. He subsequently applied to and was accepted by the Capuchin Order as a novice and travelled to Church Street, Dublin to be trained. The Capuchins, in common with most of the religious orders in Ireland, were weak at this time and were thus extremely anxious for new recruits.
On 3 April 1813 Mathew was ordained a deacon. A year later he was ordained a priest by Rev. Daniel Murray, later Archbishop of Dublin. After a brief sojourn in Kilkenny, Fr. Mathew moved back to Cork where he came under the influence of Fr. Daniel Donovan who was elected Provincial Minister of the Irish Capuchins in 1816. Fr. Mathew devoted a good deal of his time to practical charitable enterprises, establishing schools for poor girls and boys in which household skills were taught in addition to elementary subjects. In 1821, Fr. Donovan died and Fr. Mathew was elected his successor as Provincial Minister. He would continue to hold this position until 1851. In 1832, he broke ground for an elaborate, Gothic-style Capuchin church in Cork (subsequently called Holy Trinity) on Charlotte’s Quay, later renamed Father Mathew Quay. Due to a lack of funds, however, the church would remain unfinished in Fr. Mathew’s lifetime. It was not until 1890 that the spire and façade were added. Nevertheless, Fr. Mathew gained an excellent reputation in the local community for his tireless endeavours in support of the poor of Cork. He was also noted for his exceptional spirit of ecumenism: he was on friendly terms with a number of leading Protestants and Quakers in the city. Fr. Mathew joined the total abstinence movement in Cork in April 1838. The Cork Total Abstinence Society was established with the avowed aim of encouraging people to make one enduring act of will which would keep them sober for life. This act of will was enshrined in the pledge to abstain from the taking of intoxicating liquor.
From the very beginning Fr. Mathew’s endeavours in the cause of temperance gained striking success. Under his leadership, teetotalism gained dramatically in Cork and the spread throughout Munster and eventually throughout Ireland. In less than nine months, it was reported that 150,000 names were enrolled as having the taking the pledge. At its height just before the famine of 1845-49, Fr. Mathew’s temperance movement had enrolled three million people, or more than half of the adult population of Ireland. By the mid-1840s he was travelling to Britain with equally dramatic results. The leading nationalist political figure, Daniel O’Connell, described the temperance movement as Fr. Mathew’s ‘mighty moral crusade’. In July 1849, he visited the United States where he was greeted with enthusiastic acclaim. In Washington, the Congress unanimously admitted to him to a seat on the floor of the House. Temperance rallies and demonstrations were held across the country to honour Ireland’s renowned ‘Apostle of Temperance’. Despite this personal adulation, it was clear that Fr. Mathew’s movement had reached its zenith. From the late 1840s the movement began to decline almost dramatically as it had risen. Fr. Mathew’s health started to fail and debts began to accumulate, making it increasingly difficult to continue the temperance crusade. The onset of the famine, brought about by the failure of the potato crop, dealt a grievous blow to the movement; thousands of Fr. Mathew’s followers died or emigrated in those years. Many of those who remained in Ireland had to contend with more pressing concerns than the maintenance of their pledge. In the Autumn of 1853, despite declining health, Mathew ventured to Limerick where he administered the pledge in what was his last appearance at a public meeting. In October 1854, on medical advice, he travelled to Madeira but his health continued to deteriorate. In the absence of its charismatic leader the temperance movement continue to weaken. Fr. Mathew suffered a serious stroke in late 1856 and died in Cobh on 8 December 1856. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork, which he had himself established twenty six years earlier.
Archival History ↴
The fonds form part of the archival collection of the Irish Province of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. The collection is held at the Provincial Archives, Capuchin Friary of St. Mary of the Angels, Church Street, Dublin 7.
Immediate Source Acquisition ↴
Content & Structure
Scope & Content: Fr. Theobald Mathew OFM Cap. ↴
The fonds consists of the correspondence and papers of Fr. Theobald Mathew OFM Cap. The majority of the collection is comprised of draft letters written by either Fr. Mathew or one of his secretaries. The principal secretary employed by Fr. Mathew for the period covered by the collection was Daniel O’Meara. The collection includes a relatively small number of letters written to Fr. Mathew. The subjects covered in the correspondence include the organisation of temperance activities in Ireland, Britain and the United States, appeals from individuals and groups for assistance and patronage, and the condition of the country during the famine. Much of the draft correspondence in the collection is undated but internal evidence suggests that a large portion of the letters date to the 1840s. Fr. Mathew’s correspondents included a large number of Catholic clergymen, ranging from local parish curates to prominent members of the church hierarchy at both home and abroad. Leading clerical correspondents included the Rev. Paul Cullen, Rector of the Irish College, Rome, Rev. Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, Rev. William Delaney, Bishop of Cork, Rev. John Bernard Fitzpatrick, Bishop of Boston, Rev. John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, Rev. Nicholas Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Charles Edward Acton. Significant political figures also corresponded with Fr. Mathew including Daniel O’Connell and his sons, Richard Shiel, Charles Gavan Duffy, Augustus Fitzgerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster, and Sir Charles Jephson Norreys. During the famine crisis Fr. Mathew maintained contact with some of the leading figures in the British administration in Ireland. A noteworthy correspondent from this particular perspective was Sir Charles Trevelyan. The fonds also contains letters from Fr. Mathew to other Irish Capuchins mostly dealing with matters of internal regulation within the Order. A smaller collection of documents, relating to the appointment of Fr. Mathew as Provincial Minister and to other aspects of Capuchin administration in Ireland, is also extant. It should be noted that the illegibility of the handwriting in Fr. Mathew’s draft letters renders much of the text exceedingly difficult to read. The Provincial Archivist acknowledges the assistance of Professor John F. Quinn of Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, in putting copy transcripts of many of Fr. Mathew’s draft letters at the disposal of the Capuchin Provincial Archives.
Appraisal Destruction ↴
A new arrangement has been imposed upon the fonds. The collection has been divided into three series: general correspondence, comprising mainly draft letters written by Fr. Theobald Mathew OFM Cap., and a smaller collection of letters sent to him; letters from Fr. Mathew to other Irish Capuchins; and additional administrative and private papers. As the vast majority of collection is comprised of undated material (mainly letters), the fonds has been further divided by the listing of correspondents, geographical location and date (where given or inferred). Reference is also made to a complete, pre-existing listing of the collection made by Professor John F. Quinn which has been amended and extended by the Provincial Archivist. (See Scope and Content).
Conditions of Access & Use
The Capuchin Provincial Archives is open only to bona fide researchers. Access by advance appointment.
Conditions Governing Reproduction
No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the Provincial Archivist. Copyright restrictions apply. Digital photography is at the discretion of the Provincial Archivist.
1824-1854, predominately 1840-1850
Material Language Script
English. Some specified material is in Latin.
A listing of correspondents, addresses and dates compiled by Professor John F. Quinn and the Provincial Archivist. Edited transcripts of some of the correspondence are also available.
Archive Web Link →
Quinn, John F., ‘“The Nation’s Guest?”: The battle between Catholics and Abolitionists to manage Father Theobald Mathew’s American Tour, 1849-1851’, US Catholic Historian, 22, no. 3 (Summer, 2004): 19-40. Quinn, John F. 'Father Mathew’s Crusade: Temperance in Nineteenth Century Ireland and Irish-America'. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.Townend, Paul A. 'Father Mathew, temperance and Irish identity'. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2002. Quinn, John F., ‘“Father Mathew’s American Tour, 1849-1851’, Éire-Ireland, 30 (Spring 1995): 91-104Kerrigan, Colm. 'Father Mathew and the Irish Temperance Movement, 1838-1849'. Cork: Cork University Press, 1992. Quinn, John F., ‘“The Vagabond Friar”: Father Mathew's Difficulties with the Irish Bishops, 1840-1856’, Catholic Historical Review, 78 (October 1992): 542-556.Malcolm, Elizabeth. 'Ireland Sober, Ireland Free. Drink and temperance in nineteenth-century Ireland'. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986. Lysaght, Moira. 'Fr. Theobald Mathew OFM Cap. The Apostle of Temperance'. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1983. Hayden, Fr. Augustine OFM Cap., 'Footprints of Father Mathew OFM Cap., Apostle of Temperance'. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1947. Rogers, Fr. Patrick. 'Father Theobald Mathew: Apostle of Temperance'. Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1943. Maguire, John F. 'Father Mathew: A biography'. London, 1863.
Descriptive Control Area
IGAD: Irish Guidelines for Archival Description, Dublin Society of Archivists, Ireland, 2009