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Timothy O'Mahony (1825–1892)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

Timothy O'Mahony (1825-1892), Catholic bishop, was born on 17 November 1825 at Rathard, Aherla, County Cork, Ireland. He was educated for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome with his cousins James and Matthew Quinn. Ordained in 1849, he returned to Cork next year and became director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, involving himself in the education of the poor. He was consecrated bishop of Armidale on 30 November 1869 and attended the Vatican Council where he revealed strong papalist tendencies.

O'Mahony arrived at Sydney in 1871 and took possession of his see on 23 March. Friendly, hospitable and a bright conversationalist, he was preferred by Archbishop Roger Vaughan to the other bishops. Finding a paucity of amenities, he started to provide suitable buildings in Armidale and made a visitation of his vast diocese. Involved in colonial church politics, he signed with his fellow Irish suffragans in 1873 a post-factum objection to Vaughan as Archbishop John Bede Polding's co-adjutor. Next year Vaughan referred to Propaganda serious charges against O'Mahony that had become widespread among the clergy and laity in the north. His jovial habits were interpreted as intemperance and a claim against him by a young woman about the paternity of her child became public knowledge. Later this charge was withdrawn and the author of the blackmail, a priest whom O'Mahony had trusted, was named. Edward Butler said that O'Mahony's indiscreet actions made him tremble to take the matter to court. However, ill-advised steps to control the rumours brought about the 'Armidale scandal'.

Vaughan was told by Rome to investigate the charges and was accused of bias in his selection of witnesses by Bishop James Quinn of Brisbane. Afraid for the prestige of the Irish bishops and scenting a conspiracy against them, Quinn sent Father George Dillon to Armidale to get evidence to clear O'Mahony from the charge of being 'a perpetual drunkard' and mounted a violent counter-attack in Australia and the Irish College. Quinn argued that the credibility of the anti-O'Mahony witnesses could be destroyed and that a conspiracy had been formed to get the bishop to compromise himself, but Rome accepted Vaughan's 1875 report in which he found the main charge unproven but recommended that O'Mahony resign and go to Rome.

Once such serious charges, whether true or false, had been made, O'Mahony had no choice but to resign with the burden of proving his own innocence. He submitted in 1878 and was appointed auxiliary bishop of Toronto, Canada. He died there on 8 September 1892 and was buried in a vault in St Paul's Church where he had been pastor.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • Evening News (Sydney), 8 Dec 1876
  • Glen Innes Examiner, Dec 1876, Jan 1877
  • Propaganda College Archives (Rome)
  • Roman Catholic Archives (Armidale and Sydney).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'O'Mahony, Timothy (1825–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 November, 1825
Rathard, Cork, Ireland


8 September, 1892 (aged 66)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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