Very. Rev. Canon Joseph Canton

Map of Mayo
Authors Collection
St. Jarlath's College, Tuam, Co. Galway
St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Co. Galway 2009
St. Patrick's College, Maynooth
Athenry Priory, Co. Galway
Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland

P. P. / Canon Athenry

This priest campaigned on behalf of his tenants’ rights while in ministry in County Galway.

Joseph Canton was son of Michael & Sarah (Nee McLoughlin), he was born in Linenhall Street, Castlebar, Co. Mayo during the 1850’s.  He was the eldest of five children.  His father was a teacher in a small school prior to his position at the Castlebar De la School.  His uncle Patrick was a teacher in a hedge school  located in a stable on the grounds of the Country Infirmary at the Green & the first national school teacher in Castlebar.[i]

Joseph Canton was born on Linenhall Street, Castlebar in Aglish on 5th April 1850.  He was baptized in the local Church on the 3rd April.  His parents were Michael & Sarah.  He was the eldest of five children Mary (b. 19 / 7 / 1853), John (b. 7 / 6 / 1856), Catherine (b. 2 / 7 / 1859) also Jane (b. 29 / 2 / 1863) [ii]


He attended the local Castlebar school.  He received his secondary education at St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam.  [iii]

Following his early education at the local school Joseph Canton studied at St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam, Co. Galway. [iv]


Joseph Canton was recorded in the Irish College in Paris as an entrant on 22nd September 1871 to study for the priesthood with an entry to First Theology that suggested he had previously studied philosophy, as a ‘theological, philosophical & classical education’  was provided at St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam.  During his first year his conduct was Valde Bene & talent as Capax, he was recorded as Valde Bene in second theology.  Under ‘Observations’ at the Irish College the register recorded that Canton joined the Congregations of the Mission during September 1872 but according to Liam Chambers he ‘seems to have left soon afterwards.’  Apart from his teaching duties his other responsibilities were recorded as payment for labours & repairs in the college during vacation.(Retrieved from an article on The Story of the Presentation Sisters  Athenry 1891-1920 by Gerald J. Ahern in the Scoil Chroí Naofa & Presentation College, Athenry 1908-2008 by Rev. Fr. Anthony King as The Life & Times of Canon Joseph Canton 1850-1930) [v]

He entered the Irish College in Paris France to study for the priesthood. (From by Brian Hoban on 3rd August 2014 from an article in the Athenry Local History blogspot by Ronan Killeen.) [vi]


Joseph Canton was ordained by Archbishop Mc Hale in Tuam Cathedral on 8th November 1876. [vii]


He was appointed professor of humanities to St. Jarlath’s College. [viii]

His first post was as professor of second department of humanities.  Rev. Fr. Joseph Canton lectured in the sciences, history also French for two years. [ix]

Galway Ministry

Fr. Joseph Canton’s ministry was spent in County Galway.  During 1876 Fr. Canton was sent to Killascobe, then the following year to Menlough.  He was transferred to Cong during 1877.  [x]


He was appointed curate at Tuam Cathedral for the year 1878.  Fr. Canton was appointed administrator until 1890. (Hoban) [xi]

Further Postings

Fr. Canton was transferred from Tuam during 1890 to Ballinakill, Letterfrack in Co, Galway.  Then he was posted on to Athenry in 1890 as P. P.  He was later appointed canon.  Two of Canon Canton’s sisters resided with him at his parochial home. (Hoban) [xii]


During the time of the Land League he attended a local Meeting of the Irish National Land League followed by a banquet with the president of St. Jarlath’s College held at Market Square in Tuam.  He was outspoken re. the tenants’ evictions at the Cloondarone & Cloonmore areas.  He was reported to have said that ‘All honour to the Cloondarone people for their conduct here today.  They showed discipline, kept with in the law & as long as they do so, they need not fear the issue between themselves & Mrs, Bodkin.’  (Hoban)  [xiii]

Civic Duties

During 1893 Canon Canton was appointed president of the Athenry branch Irish National Federation for Tenants’ Rights.  It was reported in The Tuam Herald on 10th November 1900 ‘To the Northwest is the Parochial house, in which resides the Very Rev. Canon Canton, a gentleman who has at all times provided the deepest interest in the welfare of Athenry & its inhabitants.  Canon Canton is a well known figure at our County Council meetings where he at all times advocates the construction of pathways in Athenry and, indeed, any stranger visiting the town at once be struck by the non – existence of those most essential structures for the safety & accommodation of pedestrians. [xiv]

Last Committee

 One of the last committees Rev. Canon Canton participated in: was one that offered assistance with the construction of water & sewerage works for Athenry. (Hoban)  [xv]


Agitation in the west of Ireland became heavier in the late nineteenth / twentieth centuries.  Canon Canton penned a letter to The Irish Independent’ on 30th November 1907 that stated the people of the area were ‘irate that the Independent & Herald were connecting names in the parish with the shooting of Mr. White – Blake of Hollypark.’  (Hoban) [xvi]

Presentation Sisters

An Invitation to establish a Presentation Convent in Athenry was extended by Canon Canton in his first letter on 18thJune 1907.  In a contact to the Rev. Mother he earnestly requested a few sisters with this petition ‘I don’t know whether you can spare any sisters, but I heard some time ago you have some novices & postulants, if, unfortunately, you cannot entertain the project, I shall seek elsewhere…. My most earnest desire after my salvation is that you may be able to commence work here, in Athenry, in the next year of 1908.’   He also enlisted the support of Archbishop Healy to persuade the Sisters to come to the town.  A letter dated 4th October 1907 stated that Canon Carton provided the sisters with the Parochial House.   He rented a house for a year  (with his two sisters) until St. Mary’s was completed in the following year.  (Rev. Fr. Anthony King [xvii]


Canon Joseph Canton fell ill during his later years.  Yet he continued to celebrate mass also attended to his parishioners’ requests.  He was confined to bed for the last weeks of his life. [xviii]


The demise occurred of Canon Canton on the 14th August 1920 at the parochial house in Athenry.  At his solemn requiem mass the Archbishop of Galway Very Rev. Gilmartin was main celebrant.  Rev. O ‘Dea the Archbishop of Galway with fifty priests were in the Choir.  At the Ceremony Archbishop Gilmartin paid a tribute to Canon Canton that ‘‘I am sure I am voicing the sentiments of all the priest here present, when I say that in the death of Cannon Canton, the Archdiocese of Tuam has lost a most zealous, a most edifying and a most accomplished priest.  To you, the people of Athenry, we offer our most sincere sympathy on the departure of a pastor whom you loved dearly and our tender condolences to his respected sisters in his great bereavement……’ [xix]

Canon Canton’s demise occurred on 14th August 1920.  His funeral mass was attended by several bishops & priests at the Church of the Assumption in Athenry. [xx]

Canon Canton with his two sisters are buried together on Rathcruacha in the New Cemetery.[xxi]

He was interred at Rathcruacha in the New Cemetery. His two sisters were also interred in the same cemetery. (Hoban)  [xxii]


Canton Memorial Hall was built in his memory.  An image of the hall  may be viewed on this site:

In The Connacht Tribune  21st August 1930 an article reporting on the demise of Canon Canton: titled Death of Athenry’s Venerable Parish Priest – a life of Untiring Zeal & Devotion stated that ‘In his position as Professor he filled with conspicuous brilliance, he displayed a profound depth of learning.’  ‘He was the personification of meekness, humble at all times, polite, gentlemanly, courteous to all.’  ‘He never really took an active part in politics, but the National cause made him an unselfish & generous supporter both morally & financially.’  Canon Canton ‘ was largely responsible in reviving the August 15th pilgrimage to the Holy Well at Athenry.’  [xxiii]

Canon Canton was described as ‘A visionary in his attempts to raise the morale of the people he served & created opportunities for a better future for the people of Athenry.’    [xxiv]

There was a query re Canon Canton’s relations at this site:


[i] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[ii] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[v] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[vi] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[ix] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Ibid

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xviii] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xix] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xx] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xxi] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xxii] Canton Hall Athenry ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xxiii] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020]

[xxiv] Canon Canton ( [Assessed 9th September 2020


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