Blennerhassett, Sir Rowland, fourth baronet 1839-1909, political writer, born at Blennerville, co. Kerry, on 5 Sept. 1839, was only son of Sir Arthur Blennerhassett, third baronet (1794-1849), whose ancestors had settled in Kerry under Queen Elizabeth, by his wife Sarah, daughter of John Mahony. An only sister, Rosanna (d. 1907), became a sister of the Red Cross, and described her arduous labours in South Africa in Adventures in Mashonaland (with L. Gleeman, 1893). Both parents were Roman catholics. Rowland succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1849. After being educated first at Downside, under the Benedictines, and then at Stonyhurst, under the Jesuits, he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, but left without a degree for the University of Louvain. There he took a doctor's degree in political and administrative science, with special distinction. He afterwards, in 1864, studied at Munich, where he formed a lifelong friendship with Döllinger. Finally he proceeded to Berlin, where he became acquainted with many leading politicians, including Prince Bismarck. A frequent visitor to France in later years, he came to know the chief men of all parties under the second empire.
About 1862 Blennerhassett became intimate with Sir John Dalberg (afterwards Lord) Acton [qv.], with whose stand against later developments of ultramontanism he had a strong sympathy. The discontinuance by Acton in December 1863 of the Home and Foreign Review, a Roman catholic organ of liberal tendencies, suggested the possibility of establishing a journal the main objects of which should be political and literary; and Blennerhassett found the money for starting the Chronicle, a political and literary organ of liberal catholicism, under the direction of Mr. T. F. Wetherell. Blennerhassett and Acton were of great service in searching for competent foreign correspondents. The first number appeared on 23 March 1867, and the last on 13 Feb. 1868. As Gladstone predicted, it proved too Roman catholic for liberals, and too liberal for Roman catholics, and its early support of home rule for Ireland further prejudiced its chances of success. Save on ecclesiastical questions, the paper seldom expressed Blennerhassett's opinions. The Chronicle lacked sympathy with the reasoned imperialism which developed out of Blennerhassett's early admiration of Bismarck and engendered a faith in the superiority of German to English methods of progress. His early desire that England should learn from Germany passed into a strong desire that she should prepare herself for the rivalry which the new German ambitions were making inevitable. Thus with him foreign policy grew to be an absorbing interest.
Meanwhile Blennerhassett took an active part in Irish politics. In 1865 he became liberal M.P. for Galway City, retaining the seat until 1874. But he lost the confidence of the priesthood owing to his association with Döllinger and Acton, although he declined to join the new community of Old Catholics. From 1880 to 1885 he represented Kerry, his native county. In that interval his attitude on the home rule controversy completely changed. A lukewarm supporter of home rule as a parliamentary movement under Butt and Shaw, he actively opposed it as a national movement under Parnell. Defeated in the Harbour division of Dublin city at the general election of Nov. 1885, he did not re-enter the House of Commons.
During his parliamentary career Blennerhassett was mainly concerned with Irish university education and the Irish land question. His speeches on Fawcett's Irish university bill in 1871, and on Gladstone's Irish university bill of 1873, which he supported, showed an intimate knowledge of continental universities. He regretted Gladstone's exclusion of modern history and moral philosophy from the curriculum, and pressed the system—borrowed from Germany—of duplicate faculties in the same university. In 1872 he moved the second reading of a bill for the purchase of Irish railways. In regard to the land question he anticipated the legislation of 1903 in a confidential memorandum, dated April 1884 (afterwards printed), suggesting the appointment of a commission to convert large tracts of Irish land into peasant properties, by buying the estates of landlords willing to sell, at twenty-two years' purchase of the judicial rent.
After his retirement from the House of Commons he continued to play a part in Irish public life. He was a commissioner of national education and a member of the senate of the Royal University. From 1890 to 1897 he was an inspector of reformatory and industrial schools; from 1897 to 1904 he was president of Queen's College, Cork; and in 1905 he was made a member of the Irish privy council. During these years he constantly wrote with fulness of knowledge on political subjects in The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Nineteenth Century, the Fortnightly Review, the Deutsche Rundschau, and, especially at the end of his life, in the National Review. He deeply regretted the change in the papal policy on the election of Pius X, and the retirement of Cardinal Rampolla, though he admitted the provocation given by the French government, and the difference between the modernism of the Abbé Loisy and the liberal catholicism of his youth. A ready talker as well as writer, he died on 22 March 1909, at 54 Rutland Gate, the house of his daughter, and was buried at Downside. On 9 June 1870 he married the Countess Charlotte von Leyden, only daughter of Count von Leyden, of an old Bavarian family, whom he first met in Rome four months earlier; she survived him. He left two sons, of whom Arthur Charles Francis Bernard succeeded to the baronetcy; an only daughter, Marie Carola Franciska Roselyne, married Baron Raphael d'Erlanger (d. 1897).
Blennerhassett published several of his speeches in parliament and his inaugural address on University Education at Queen's College, Cork, 1898. He edited Ringhoffer's Bernstorff Memoirs in 1908.
The Times, 24 March 1909
the Home and Foreign Review
Acton and his Circle, by Abbot Gasquet, 1907. The publication of some of Blennerhasset's scattered papers, under the editorship of Lady Blennerhassett, is in contemplation.
Contributor: D. C. L. [Daniel Conner Lathbury]