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Journalist, bibliophile, political campaigner, and supporter of the theatre.
[The Grail of Catholic EmancipationCopyright © 2002 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from Xlibris.com and Amazon.com]
Frederick Conway was one of the greatest Irish journalists and devoted an enormous amount of his time and energy assisting Catholics to get their full civil rights. Apart from obituaries written at the time of his death little has been written about him. This Memoir which I have compiled about him seems to be the only one in existence.
He was born in 1777 or 1782, in Loughrea in
In politics he was what his obituarist described as 'Whig
of the old school', who sought above all civil and religious liberty. Though a
Whig by conviction all his life, he was not opposed to the Government during
the Wars, and he had no objection to taking the sums of money the Irish
Government offered to editors to that they would pass on information about any
insurrectionary plots that came to their notice. This practice was perfectly
normal and accepted at the time. Nor had he any objection to asking the
Government for an official post, though his request in 1812 was turned down.
But all his life he was totally opposed to the principles of the 'Ascendancy
faction', especially as entrenched in the corporations of cities and towns. He
noted with satisfaction how Peel had come round to his point of view. Until
the end of his life he gave his full support to the Catholic Church, and
Catholic clergy of
About 1810 he became involved in the short-lived campaign
for the repeal of the Act of Union. A committee was appointed of which he was
made Secretary, and he continued in that position for the six months that the
committee lasted. It meetings were held in his house in
He was sacked from the Freeman's Journal in 1812
following attacks on Wellesley-Pole in that newspaper. He tried to get the
editorship of the Government paper established by Wellesley-Pole, the
Patriot. He commenced a weekly periodical on his own account called the
Dublin Political Review similar to Cobbett's Political Register. It
failed after ten issues because of a total ignorance on his part of business
management. Money was not a thing he ever understood in his life, and he never
kept a receipt. Though he could have had his publication printed cheaply by a
city printer he built instead a printing house behind his residence in
About 1812 he was doing some writing for the Dublin
Evening Post. Resolutions passed at a meeting in Kilkenny with Major Bryan
in the Chair were printed as a paid advertisement in the Post. The
Government wished to prosecute the author of the Kilkenny Resolutions, but
those responsible decided to shield the author, and to sacrifice the
publisher, namely the owner of the Dublin Evening Post, Mr John Magee.
The attorney general only undertook the action against Magee to flush out the
authors. But these had no intention of coming to the rescue of the unfortunate
publisher in prison. About this time (1814)
He always retained an interest in the theatre. This was a
time when the theatre was one of the few public entertainments there were. In
1818 an attempt was made to establish an association called the 'Friends of
the Irish Stage'.
In 1823, when the Catholic Association was formed he joined and took a very active part. He was one of the first consulted on its formation. He allowed his name to be put forward for the Accounts Committee, though conscious of his deficiencies in that respect he never took part in its meetings. Nor did he ever allow the Association to pay any expenses he incurred on its behalf. He was always careful to keep William Gregory, the Under-secretary informed about the activities of the Association, for these were completely above board. He was extremely active in the Association and on its sub-committees, and he claimed to have drafted more resolutions, letters and reports than O'Connell himself. The Association was suppressed twice, but this was not because the Government lacked a detailed knowledge of its inner councils.
He declined to have anything further to do with agitation after Emancipation was achieved. Many considered that much more could be achieved by keeping up the agitation on the old lines, but he and others considered that a period of tranquillity was essential, and that continuous feverish agitation could have great adverse effects on the development of Irish society, that some of the objects were unobtainable, and others of little practical value, while at the same time diverting attention from the real needs like providing proper education, real employment for workers, and provision for the poorest. 'He had too long and intimate acquaintance with agitation and its moral effects on the masses not to dread its continuance—he loved true liberty and dreaded such a state of things the more. To the discontinuation of agitation then, to the opposition to it in every shape it assumed Mr Conway devoted all the energies of his nature. This period of his labours was the most arduous in his public life . . . Hitherto he had seldom to do battle but for public cause—now however he found himself alone among the furious conflicts of three or four antagonistic factions, each regarding him in the light of an enemy, and agreeing in nothing but assailing him. The weapons used against him were poisoned to the hilt, his long and invaluable services to his country, the heavy debt of gratitude due to him by some of the very men that struck at him, the spotless purity of his private life, were forgotten in the barbarous attempts to ruin him in character and purse—the latter they had gone far to accomplish' (Obituary in Dublin Evening Post). Any man who was assailed equally by Catholic Repealers and Orange Protestants may console himself with the view that he must be doing right. It was no wonder that he and the equally embattled Archbishop Murray clung to each other for support.
From 1830 to 1853 the Post was regarded as supporting Whig
He was a lover of tranquillity, repose and study, but found
himself drawn into committees and associations. In private life he was
temperate and self-denying, his manners refined and simple. He was a
bibliophile from childhood, and his information was spread over a wide range
of subjects. Had he devoted himself to poetry in his younger days he could
have emerged as a poet of the first rank. With a certain amount of judicious
editing his plays could have been of equally high quality. By his death he had
gathered one of the finest private collections of books in
He was not a great traveller, but he spent some months in
Frederick Conway was one of the most attractive people in
(Obituaries in Dublin Evening Post 31 May 1853; London Times 26 May 1853; scattered bits of information in the Post from 1814 until his death.)
Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.