A new biography by Fr Brendan Hoban of one of the most fascinating priests in the history of Killala diocese has just been published.
Restless Ambition, The Life and Times of Dean John Patrick Lyons, 1798-1845, tells the story of a native of Bekan parish and a parish priest Kilmore Erris, an exceptionally gifted man who left a huge imprint on Killala diocese in the years before the Great Famine.
Ordained in Maynooth in 1821 for the diocese of Killala, John Patrick Lyons, a native of Bekan, near Ballyhaunis in County Mayo, was appointed Administrator of Ballina and four years later, parish priest of Kilmore Erris, an area co-extensive with the Mullet peninsula.
Lyons was a gifted writer, an Irish scholar, a strident polemicist, a determined litigant, a modernising agriculturalist, a saviour of his people in the famines of 1830-1 and 1835 and as his vast library attests a man of wide learning.
Fearless in confronting those in church and state, Lyons brought a reforming vision and a robust style to his many and varied enterprises. He tried to convince the Cistercians, experts in husbandry, to move from France to Kilmore Erris; he debated with Protestant evangelicals; he forced the sacking of local magistrates for their incompetence and dishonesty; he took his own parishioners to court for defamation; he played a central part in the dissensions in Killala diocese; he fought with Archbishop MacHale; he travelled the long journey to Rome three times in seven years; and he died, at the age of 47, in 1845 on the cusp of the Great Famine.
Restless Ambition is the story of a talented and tempestuous priest ministering in pre-Famine Mayo.