Betagh, Thomas (17381811), Jesuit, was born on 8 May 1738 in Kells, co. Meath, Ireland, into a family of tanners which had lost its lands in the Cromwellian wars. When the family moved to Dublin he attended John Austin's Jesuit school at Saul's Court, where his academic abilities were recognized. He was sent, probably in 1752, to the Jesuit seminary at Pont-à-Mousson in Lorraine, France, where he later taught languages and theology, and he also studied at the Ducal University in Nancy. He was ordained in 1762 and returned to Ireland in 1769 or 1770, where he taught at Saul's Court. After the 1773 suppression of the Jesuits he became a secular priest. Appointed curate to the parish of St Michael and St John, he continued his educational activity. In 1781 he set up the first of a number of parochial free schools for poor boys. By 1784 he was in charge of Saul's Court, which then was operating as a secondary school for both secular and regular clergy. It played a pivotal role in the re-establishment of the Catholic church in Dublin and Leinster as the penal laws eased, functioning as a bridge between the province's local schools and the continental network of universities and Irish seminaries. It also facilitated good relations between secular and regular clergy. Saul's Court helped to produce a generation of ecclesiastics willing to seek an accommodation with the government. Among its many distinguished pupils were Daniel Murray, archbishop of Dublin, and Peter Kenney SJ, founder of Clongowes Wood College.
Betagh was an important link too between the old Jesuits who joined before the 1773 suppression and those of the restoration, after 1814. Following the death of John Fullam in 1793 he became responsible for funds destined to finance the society's restoration and was instrumental in sending a number of his students to Carlow and later to Palermo for that purpose. A temperate man, in October 1796 he was described in William Corbet's account of the priests of Dublin as a political moderate (National Archives of Ireland, Rebellion MSS). In 1799 he became priest of the parish of St Michael and St John. He was named vicar-general and was a noted preacher. He opposed the proposed government veto on the appointment of Irish bishops in 1808. In 1810 he laid the foundation stone for the new church of St Michael and St John. He died at his home, 80 Cook Street, Dublin, on 16 February 1811 and was interred in George's Hill Presentation Convent, Dublin, on 19 February 1811. His remains were moved later to the church of St Michael and St John, and in 1990 to Glasnevin cemetery.
Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin, Betagh MSS · Prosopography of Irish Jesuits, Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin · Menologies, 180099, Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin, 1.1016 · G. A. Little, Fr Thomas Betagh  · W. Reed, Rambles in Ireland (1815) · Walker's Hibernian Magazine (Feb 1811) · Freeman's Journal [Dublin] (19 Feb 1811) · M. Blake, Sermon preached on the lamented death of V. Rev. Thomas Betagh, DD (1821) · Dublin Magazine (March 1811) · NA Ire., Rebellion MSS, 620/25/170 · DNB
Archives of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, Dublin
NA Ire., Rebellion MSS
J. Martyn, stipple and line engraving, pubd c.1811 (after W. Brocas), NG Ire. · W. Brocas, pencil drawing, NG Ire. · P. Turnerelli, effigy on a monument (dismantled), St Michael and St John's parish church, Dublin · prints, NL Ire.