The Preacher and the Prelate: The Achill Mission Colony and the Battle for Souls in Famine Ireland


Patricia Byrne

April 2018

This is the extraordinary story of an audacious fight for souls on famine-ravaged Achill Island during the nineteenth century. The flood of hostility between Edward Nangle and John MacHale exposes the fault-lines of religion, society and politics in nineteenth-century Ireland.


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This is the extraordinary story of an audacious fight for  souls on  famine ravaged Achill Island in the nineteenth century. Religious ferment swept Ireland in the early 1800s and evangelical Protestant clergyman Edward Nangle set out to lift the destitute people of Achill out of degradation and idolatry through his Achill Mission Colony. The fury of the island elements, the devastation of famine, and Nangle’s own volatile temperament all threatened the project’s survival.

In the years of the Great Famine the ugly charge of ‘souperism’, offering food and material benefits in return for religious conversion, tainted the Achill Mission’s work. John MacHale, powerful Archbishop of Tuam, spearheaded the Catholic Church’s fightback against Nangle’s Protestant colony, with the two clergymen unleashing fierce passions while spewing vitriol and polemic from pen and pulpit.

Did Edward Nangle and the Achill Mission Colony save hundreds from certain death, or did they shamefully exploit a vulnerable people for religious conversion? This dramatic tale of the Achill Mission Colony exposes the fault-lines of religion, society and politics in nineteenth century Ireland, and continues to excite controversy and division to this day.


Table of Contents

Part 1

  1. Shaking the Dry Bones
  2. The Most Destitute Spot in Ireland
  3. Bonfires in the West
  4. Scriptural Education
  5. Fractured
  6. Is it a Wafer or is it a God?
  7. Murder
  8. Public Scrutiny
  9. Tenth Year
  10. The Finger of God

Part 2

  1. Quicksilver Illness
  2. Death is now loose
  3. Buyer of Souls
  4. Vicious and Rotten
  5. Feed the Children
  6. Workhouse War
  7. Three Women
  8. Battle of Stones
  9. Root and Branch Change

Part 3

  1. Clearances
  2. Achill Transformed
  3. Implosion
  4. Weapons of his own Forging

About the Author

Patricia Byrne is the author of The Veiled Woman of Achill: Island Outrage & a Playboy Drama (2012). She has contributed the Irish Times (Irishwoman’s Diary), New Hibernia Review, The Irish Story, RTE’s Sunday Miscellany and a range of other publications. Her work is listed among the ‘notable essays of the year’ in the 2017 edition of Best American Essays.

Additional information



Publication Date


Paperback ISBN



260 pp