Walter Blake Kirwan

(1754—1805) Church of Ireland dean of Killala

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Walter Blake Kirwan was born in County Galway of a Roman Catholic family. He died at his home near Dublin on 27 October 1805. Educated first at St Omer by the Jesuits, he then went to St Croix in the West Indies, and later to the University of Louvain, where he was ordained and given the chair of natural and moral philosophy. Three Latin theses from this period survive. In 1778 he became chaplain to the Neapolitan Ambassador to the British Court. He conformed to the Anglican Church in 1787 and preached for some time at St Peter's, Dublin, where he attracted huge audiences. He was noted for his preaching, which was the subject of a verse satire, The Kirwinade, published under the pseudonym Patt Pindar in 1791. This claims that Kirwan's conformity to the Anglican Church was motivated by hopes of preferment and makes the point that his preaching in fashionable churches drew funds away from those in greater need. In 1789 he was given the prebendary of Howth and the rectory of St Nicholas Without, Dublin, which perhaps gave some substance to this claim. He became Dean of Killala in 1800. Some of his sermons, mainly preached for charities, were published posthumously. He takes the view that ‘self love is the most active principle of the human soul, and to seek our own wealth or happiness is to obey an innate and irresistible impulse’ (p. 4). However, ‘glorious humanity’ is capable of overruling these impulses. In other words, Kirwan purveys hortatory moralism, with much rhetoric and with its slight intellectual content loosely derived from contemporary utilitarianism.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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