John Patrick Lyons aka the Rev. Dean Lyons would prove to be one of the most significant figures in pre-famine Connaught. Lyons was a gifted writer, an Irish scholar, a strident polemicist, a liberal educationalist, a determined litigant, a modernising agriculturalist, an admired antiquarian, a savior of his people in the famine of 1830 - 1831, and as his vast library attests, a man of wide learning.
A native of Bekan, near Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo, Lyons was ordained in Maynooth in 1821 and appointed Administrator of Ballina for the diocese of Killala. Four years later, in 1825, Rev. Fr. John Patrick Lyons was appointed as parish priest of Kilmore Erris, on the Mullet peninsula.
Fearless in confronting those in church and state who had vested interests in maintaining the status quo, Lyons brought a reforming vision and a robust style to his many and varied enterprises. He
- tried to convince the Cistercians, experts in agricultural husbandry, to move from France to Kilmore Erris;
- debated publicly with Protestant evangelicals;
- forced the sacking of local magistrates for their incompetence and dishonesty;
- took his own parishioners and the local landlord to court for defamation;
- played a central part in the 'Killala troubles', supporting his bishop Francis O'Finan, who was forced by Rome to dismiss him as vicar general;
- fought a determined, rearguard action against Archbishop John Mac Hale, with whom he developed a life long, mutual antipathy, and
- travelled the long journey from Erris to Rome three times in seven years.
In 1825 was appointed as Parish Priest to the Kilmore Parish on the Mullett Peninsula.
In June 1826, Major Bingham let Binghamstown House (built 1796) to the Rev. Dean John Patrick Lyons who was described as "a gentleman and dignitary of the Roman Catholic church". At that time, it was an inferior house and Lyons was given a lease of three lives with an agreement to make improvements to the property to which Bingham would contribute the costs of timber and slate for a new roof. By 1829, Lyons had built a new house on the site but Bingham did not make good on his part of the covenant and so Lyons withheld rent in compensation. In 1833, a very public squabble between parish priest and landlord ran through the courts and national press. [Freeman's Journal - 13 December 1833] In 1838, Lyons took Major Bingham to court for breach of covenant in a lease, for which the jury awarded in full for the plaintiff with costs. [See Freeman's Journal - 3 August 1838]
CATHOLIC CHURCHES ON THE MULLET
In 1825, the only R.C chapel in this parish was a thatched cottage in Belderra. Mass was said in houses in Morahan, in a house owned by Anthony Broderick in Tiraun or in the open air on Carne Hill. By 1829 Dean Lyons had built two chapels in Binghamstown, Tiraun and Andrew Joynt, a Presbyterian, gave him a free 2-acre site at Borhauve. (Lyons died before it was finished and so it was completed by Father Patrick McHale, P.P (1848-1860). William Barrett of Erris was an employee of Bingham since 1803 (driving for rent at times) and a sexton at Binghamstown RC Chapel until fired by Lyons. He complained that Lyons used the RC chapel as a workshop and storehouse during the building works of his residence Binghamstown house. At this time the RC chapel at Tirraun was converted to house cattle and sheep at night.
SCHOOLS ON THE MULLET
Education was also his priority. Lyons asked that parents of newly Baptised children pay a small fee towards the provision of schools. He established a small school, St. Patricks School, in the church of Binghamstown. When the National System of Education was introduced in 1831 he welcomed it with open arms; and between 1832 and 1841 had established seven national schools in the parish, Barannah, Inishkea, Shanahee, Corclough, Tirrane, Lorgacloy and Termon.
Lyons also established a model farm in Shanahee. He leased a farm of 45 arable acres and 484 acres of mountain and bog. He divided the arable land to give each family a holding and a dwelling. Tenants were employed in the work of reclaiming mountain land. He had a young man trained in an agriculture college in Dublin to instruct the tenants in modern farming methods. It was quite successful up to the Famine.
By 1840, Lyons had become the Rev. Doctor Lyons. He had a deep concern for the welfare of his parishioners. He made several trips to England to fundraise to supplement the Relief Grant given by the Government. These funds were used to buy food for his starving people and to employ them on road-building schemes.
He died young, aged 47, on the 15th March 1845 on the cusp of the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór). He is buried in Cross near the Abbey.
READ MORE "Restless Ambition" by Fr. Brendan Hoban ISBN 9780992902315