Fr James Anderson

A Fenian, a Priest and a Patriot


James Anderson OSA (1837-1903) was, it is probably true to say, in his day the best known cleric in Ireland. A controversial figure, he numbered among his friends members of the outlawed Fenian movement and such national figures as  Padraig Pearse and Maud Gonne McBride. He even paid a visit to Garibaldi’s Italy, surely a risky undertaking for a cleric at that time. We carry here a selection of important events in the life of Anderson. Anyone who wants a full account of the life of this controversial Augustinian we refer to the work: fr James Anderson, by Sr Catherine Dwyer, M,M,M. It was published in “Seanchas Ard Mhaca” 1974. 
1. James Anderson was born in Drogheda in 1837. His family were reasonably well to do and indeed were generous patrons of the Augustinians in Drogheda.
 2. In 1856 Anderson entered the Augustinian novitiate at Callan in Co Kilkenny recieving the “white habit”” on March 6th of that year. His simple profession as a member of the Order is dated March 7th 1857.
3. In 1859 Anderson began his studies in theology at Perugia, Italy. He was ordained to the priesthood on 23rd February 1861.
4. Anderso takes up his first appointment in Ireland at Grantstown, Co Wexford in 1862.
                                                                                        Anderson in Dungarvan
In 1865 Anderson moved to Dungarvan. He became involved in a fierce controversy here in 1868 when he got involved in the general election. He opposed the candidiate who was supportrd by the Bishop and Andersons nominee was elected. The bishop proceeded to deprive him of his faculties to administer the sacraments. Forced to leave Dungarvan he moved to Cork but was again refused faculties. Similarly the diocese of Galway refused to accept him. Finally the fiery nationalist John McHale agreed to accept him in the diocese of Tuam so Anderson moved to the Augustinian Priory in Ballyhaunis.  It is interesting to note that on leaving Dungarvan, Anderson was presented with a beautiful chalice by his Fenian friends. It is still in use in Drogheda.
5. Anderson remained in Ballyhaunis until 1879. He was on friendly terms with Fr Cavanagh at Knock and was very familiar with the alleged apparition there in the Summer of 1879. In the Autumn of that year he was transferred to Drogheda as prior.
                                                                                         THE KNOCK PILGRIMAGE
No sooner had Anderson arrived in Drogheda than he began organising a pilgrimage to Knock. This is significant as it was we believe the first ever organised pilgrimage to that marian shrine. The trip took place in May 1880. remember this was within months of the apparition. For a full account of this pilgrimage see the article: JAMES ANDERSON AND THE DROGHEDA PILGRIMAGE TO KNOCK 1880 by Iggy O’Donovan in Journal of the of the Old Drogheda Society 1998, pp 145-152.
6. In 1884 Anderson was instrumental  in founding the Drogheda Independent newspaper. In November of that year he visited the famous Drogheda Fenian John Boyle O’Reilly, then in exile in Boston.
7. In his later years Anderson was based at the John;s Lane priory in Dublin. Here he immersed himself in nationalism. It was he who introduced Pearse to the Gaelic League. He was also a regular contributer to the League newspaper  An Claidheamh Soluis. Along with Arthur Griffith and maud Gonne he orchestrated a boycott of the visit of Queen Victoria to Dublin in 1901.
James Anderson died in 1903 from blood poisoning at the age of 66.
As stated above the best account of the life of Anderson is to be found in the article by Catherine Dwyer in “Seanchas Ard Mhaca” 1974

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