George Chadwick was born in Youghal, County Cork on the 10th October 1840, son of Hutchison Chadwick, chief accountant of the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland. Educated at Wesley College and Trinity College, Dublin, Chadwick graduated B.A. 1862, M.A. 1867, B.D. 1876, D.D. 1877. He honed his skills as a debater and preacher in the College's Historical Society and was elected auditor in 1862, winning gold medals for oratory and English composition. The obituary article of the Londonderry Sentinel states:
"He was one of the leaders of a group of undergraduates remarkable for their high moral tone, their abstinence from coarse wordy pleasures, and their determination to make religion their guide in life"
Chadwick subsequently became curate of St. Anne's, Belfast, 1865-70; rector of St. James, Belfast, 1870-73; rector of Armagh, 1873-96; prebendary of Tynan (Armagh diocese) 1875-85; treasurer of Armagh Cathedral, 1885-6; dean of Armagh 1886-96; Donnellan lecturer in 1878-9; select preacher at Oxford University 1888-9. He was elected by the diocesan synod of Armagh on the 18th February 1896 as "ad interim Bishop of Armagh" on the vacancy of the primacy and under the constitution, when William Alexander was elected by the house of bishops to the primacy, he succeeded to the See of Derry. He was enthroned in Derry Cathedral on 28th March 1896.
George Chadwick, like his predecessor, was regarded as one of the ablest men in the Church of Ireland of his day. His literary gifts, together with an ability to get the point across forcefully, made him in the words of his friend, Primate D'Arcy,
"A speaker of great distinction and power, with a style which was quite his own"
To D'Arcy, however, it was not in carefully prepared speeches,
"Which seemed to result in over-elaboration",
but in ordinary conversation and impromptu debate where Chadwick's talents were noted. Similarly, his successor Joseph Peacocke saw Chadwick as a master of terse, epigrammatic speech. The annual General Synod provided the ideal platform for hid debating talents:
"As a preacher and platform speaker the late Bishop was in the first rank; but it was in debate that his power was so signally displayed... Both in his Protestantism and in his Politics his order of mind coincided with the famous motto of his episcopal city. He was not a man to make surrenders; nor was he a man that any controversialist could touch with impunity" (C.F.D'Arcy, The Adventures of a Bishop, London, 1934, p.142)
The period after disestablishment (1870-1900) saw a gradual reorganization of the church's resources which reflected its new financial responsibilities. The number of clergy working in Derry diocese had declined by 10% while in Raphoe it was down by 12%. In 1870 the united diocese had thirty-four curates. By 1904 this figure had been reduced to eighteen. The bishop was sympathetic to the difficulties faced by those clergy who worked in isolated parts of the diocese epically in areas suffering from emigration and where intellectual stimulus was lacking. Yet he was also noted as a strict administrator of his diocese. Chadwick continued:
"I have learned with surprise that even serious structural alterations have been made in some of our churches without my consent, still more without s faculty" (Londonderry Sentinel., 28th October. 1909.)
He thus exhorted the clergy to familiarize themselves with the church's constitutional law to avoid such mistakes in the future.
It had become evident by the latter half of the nineteenth century that "ritualism" or "romanising tendencies" had become a significant element in the Church of England. Although the movement did not have much influence in Ireland (due to the traditionally low nature of Irish Anglicanism), Chadwick, early in his episcopate, nonetheless felt moved to defend the church's position from what he saw as an unqualified attack from within his own diocese. He thus stated:
"My service is delightful, anything like demonstrative and elaborate ritual affects me as in literature a parody does. For me to be a Ritualist is impossible and absurd." (Londonderry Sentinel., 6th October. 1898.)
He insisted that the church's critics look at its canons to realize its position was doctrinally low. Although he respected the position of traditional high churchmen, he nonetheless reaffirmed that the Church of Ireland was "safe against ritualistic innovation"
The preoccupation over such matters reflected a growing polarization in the community at large as the nineteenth century progressed. Differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism were becoming more sharply defined. On the question of church unity, for example, Chadwick saw no movements towards harmony with Rome until she disavowed such contentious points of doctrine as her infallibility. The bishop also took exception to the promulgation of the 1908 papal decree, Ne Temere, which required the non-Roman Catholic partner in a mixed marriage to consent to the bringing up of their children in the Roman tradition. By contrast he was keen to promote unity with other Reformed Churches which was as much for political reasons as spiritual:
"It is a small thing, in this Ireland of intrigue and faction, of desperate surrenders to expendiency by unscrupulous politicians, that in public affairs we should only have half the influence we might well exert, if only we were a homogeneous force? And yet this political weakness is but an index of our spiritual enfeeblement from the same cause." (Londonderry Sentinel., 6th October. 1898.)
Chadwick's episcopate covered a crucial period of Irish history which witnessed a further hardening of Unionist and Nationalist sentiment. Political unity amongst Protestants was essential if they were to withstand the challenge posed by the Third Home Rule Bill of 1912. Unionist's principle objection to the establishment of Home Rule was the fear engendered by being a Protestant minority in an Ireland where three-quarters of the population were Roman Catholic. To Ulster Unionists the belief that Home Rule would effectively signal a policy of discrimination against them, and end the prosperity which they had enjoyed under the Union, was the fear uppermost in their minds. The bishop was a convinced Unionist and was one of the 471,414 persons who signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912. It was pledge by the Unionists of Ulster to support "all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland". Chadwick subsequently wrote:
"I never in my life saw anything like Ulster Day (the day the covenant was signed). The churches were filled; and when emptied the multitude did not even cheer: there was only one grim and fixed determination on a thousand faces, to live as freemen or to die. They simply signed. (Londonderry Sentinel., 12th October. 1912. )
Chadwick believed that the north had a right to defend itself by force which had been implicitly stated in the covenant, and he addressed a meeting of churchmen in the Albert Hall, London on the subject. Although the outbreak of the Great War suspended the bill from becoming operational , the constitutional crisis of the period 1912-1914 had effectively demonstrated the mutually exclusive demands of Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism.
The Bishop published a number of works:
Christ bearing witness to Himself, 1879
As He that Serveth, 1880
My Emotional Life, 1882
Pilate's Gift and other sermons, 1896
Aids to Belief, 1899
Poems, Chiefly Scared, 1900
The Intellect and the Heart, 1905
The Bishop resigned on medical advice in 1916 and went to live in Dublin.