Beresford, Marcus Gervais 1801-1885, archbishop of Armagh, was second son of George De la Poer Beresford, bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, and of Frances, daughter of Gervais Parker Bushe, and niece of Henry Grattan [qv.]. He was born on 14 Feb. 1801 at the Custom House, Dublin, then the residence of his grandfather, John Beresford [qv.], the Irish statesman, and received his education first at Dr. Tate's school at Richmond, and afterwards at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1824, M.A. in 1828, Doctor of Divinity in 1840. Entering the ministry he was ordained in 1824, and was preferred to the rectory of Kildallon, co. Cavan, in his father's diocese, which he held for three years, and was then appointed to the vicarages of Drung and Larah. In 1839 he was appointed archdeacon of Ardagh, and remained in this position until, on the death of Bishop Leslie, who had succeeded his father in the see, he was appointed bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. He was consecrated in Armagh Cathedral on 24 Sept. 1854. Eight years later—in 1862—on the death of his cousin, Lord John George Beresford [qv.], Beresford was elevated to the Irish primacy, and was enthroned in Armagh Cathedral. With the archbishopric he also held the bishopric of Clogher, which was re-united to the see of Armagh by virtue of 3rd and 4th William IV, cap. 37, but which in the disestablished church of Ireland has been revived as an independent see. By virtue of his office Beresford was prelate of the order of St. Patrick, and a member of the Irish privy council. He was on several occasions sworn a lord-justice for the government of Ireland in the temporary absences of the viceroy. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from Oxford University on 8 June 1864.
In the earlier years of his episcopate Beresford took no forward part in church affairs outside his diocese. But he was pre-eminently fitted to guide the church of Ireland through the troubled waters she encountered in the first years of his primacy. In the stormy controversies provoked by Gladstone's measure of disestablishment and disendowment, as well as in the difficult task of remodelling the constitution of the church when disestablishment had been consummated, the primate earned the reputation of an ecclesiastical statesman. In the discussions on the Irish church which preceded the more acute stages of the agitation, Beresford was among those who favoured the timely adoption of a measure of reform; and with this view was an active promoter of the candidature of John Thomas Ball [qv.] for the university of Dublin in 1865. This policy savoured too much of Erastianism to satisfy the more militant section of Irish churchmen (vide Letters of Archbishop Magee, vol. i.). Beresford had no place in the House of Lords during the debates on disestablishment, his brother archbishop, Richard Chenevix Trench [qv.], having the right for that turn of a seat in parliament. But the primate bore a large part in the negotiations for terms for the church which followed the adoption by the House of Commons of the principle of Gladstone's bill. He was a ready debater, and proved an admirable chairman in the general synod over which he presided. In educational matters Beresford was a strong advocate of the system of united secular and separate religious education, and in this respect reversed, on his accession to the primacy, the policy pursued by his predecessor.
Beresford died at the Palace, Armagh, on 26 Dec. 1885, and was buried in Armagh Cathedral. Beresford was twice married: first, on 25 Oct. 1824, to Mary, daughter of Henry L'Estrange of Moystown, and widow of R. E. Digby of Geashill (she died in 1845); secondly, on 6 June 1850, to Elizabeth, daughter of J. T. Kennedy of Annadale, co. Down, and widow of Robert George Bonford of Rahenstown, co. Meath (she died in 1870). He left a large family, of whom the eldest son, George D. Beresford, sat from 1875 to 1885 as M.P. for Armagh city in the House of Commons.
A portrait of Beresford, executed shortly after his accession to the primacy by Catterson Smith, P.R.H.A., became the property of his eldest son. A copy of this portrait, which has also been engraved, was executed by the artist's son, and is in the collection at the Palace, Armagh. An earlier portrait, also by Catterson Smith, painted when Beresford was bishop of Kilmore, passed to the primate's second son.
Life of Archbishop Tait
Letters and Memorials of Archbishop Magee
Life of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce by his son, vol. iii.
Contributor: C. L. F. [Caesar Litton Falkiner]