FitzRalph was born into a well-off burgess family of Anglo-Norman/Hiberno-Norman descent in Dundalk, Ireland. He is noted as an ex-fellow and teacher of Balliol College, at the University of Oxford in 1325 (which is the earliest known record of him). By 1331, he was a Regent master in Theology, and soon after was made Vice-Chancellor of the University; this was an almost unparalleled achievement for someone still in his early thirties, let alone an Irishman (although Prince, in his "Worthies of Devon" makes the case for him being a Devonian).
As Vice-Chancellor, FitzRalph was faced with the crisis caused by the famous secession of masters and students to Stamford in Lincolnshire, and it is thought that this issue may have caused his first visit to the Papal Court at Avignon in 1334. He returned to England the following year having been appointed Dean of Lichfield — "notwithstanding that he has canonries and prebends of Crediton and Bosham, and has had provision made for him of the Chancellorship of Lincoln and the canonries and prebends of Armagh and Exeter, all of which he is to resign." In 1337 he was again compelled to visit Avignon, where he remained till 1344. On 31 July 1346, he was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh. In both of these positions, he was revered as thoughtful and competent administrator.
From 1344, FitzRalph began to keep an account in diary form of his sermons. The shorter, less consequential ones were summarised, while the longer, more learned theological sermons were written in full. This was especially true for those he preached at Avignon. Both forms were written in Latin, and show his love of learning, shared by friends such as Richard of Bury. He is also believed to have sent many of his priests to study at Oxford to further their learning. His writings include his thoughts on infinity, predestination and free will. Like his fellow Irishmen Henry Crumpe and Dr. John Whitehead he was involved in controversy with the Franciscan friars.
The texts demonstrate that FitzRalph was pre-occupied with social problems in Ireland – twenty-nine sermons were given in Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin and various places in Meath to churchmen (whom he criticised for their laxity of vocation), merchants (whom he attacked for wasteful extravagances and underhanded trading practises) and the general population, among whom he was very popular as a preacher. At a time of often hostile racial relations between the colonists and natives, he took an honourable stand in denouncing discrimination against the Gaelic Irish. At times severe, this was balanced by his very fair and serious approach as pastor of his flock, be they English, Anglo-Irish, or Gaelic.
He undertook a third visit to Avignon from 1349–1351, where he is believed to have participated in the negotiations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and Pope Clement VI. His report on the Black Death is the first firm evidence of its arrival in Ireland. From his return to Ireland in 1351 he became involved in what eventually became a very personal and bitter attack on various orders of mendicant friars. He wished to have their privileges withdrawn in regard to the act of confession, preaching, and other acts as they were undermining his secular clergy. As a result, he undertook a fourth visit to Avignon in 1357 to discuss the matter with Pope Innocent VI. He died there on 16 December 1360. In 1370, his remains were interred at St Nicholas's Church, Dundalk, where his memory was venerated for several centuries and miracles were reported in connection to him.
- "Latin Learning and Literature in Ireland, 1169–1500", A.B. Scott, in "A New History of Ireland", volume one, 2005.
- Biography, New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Speaking Ill of the Dead — a less than flattering overview of Fitzralph's career by the lexicographer Professor Terence Dolan (RTÉ MP3 audio of a program broadcast in September 2006)
- Introduction to De Pauperie Salvatoris Books I-VII, 14th Century Oxford Theology Online
- Biography in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Biography in A Compendium of Irish Biography (1878)
- The FitzRalph Society working towards furthering the study of and improving the public awareness of Richard of Dundalk.
|Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford
John de Ayllesbury
John de Hotham
|Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Nicholas de Aston
|Catholic Church titles|
David Mág Oireachtaigh
|Archbishop of Armagh