Tuesday 27 September 2022

An Irish Vincentian Martyr in the Seventeenth Century

September 27 is the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), founder of the Congregation of the Mission. Before starting the research for this blog I was completely unaware that Saint Vincent was informed about the persecution of Catholics in Ireland during his lifetime, much less that a member of his own congregation was numbered among the Irish martyrs. In 1904 a paper on Brother Thaddeus Lye (Thady Lie, Lee) was published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which brought this forgotten,  overlooked Vincentian martyr out of obscurity. Using contemporary sources including the letters of the Congregation's founder, Patrick Boyle, C.M., sets out an account of the sufferings of his confrère, making the point that Saint Vincent himself is the main witness to the fact of the martyrdom of Thaddeus Lye. Indeed, it is possible, even probable, that Saint Vincent had met the future martyr in person in the congregation's Paris seminary. Father Boyle suggests that the birthplace of Brother Thaddeus, given in  the sources as 'Toua' was Tuam, but it is perhaps more likely to have been Tuogh, County Limerick. Certainly his martyrdom took place against the backdrop of the Cromwellian siege of Limerick under the command of Cromwell's son-in-law General Henry Ireton in 1651. There was some confusion however, on whether Brother Thaddeus had met his end in the city or whether he had returned to his home, only to be cut to pieces in the sight of his mother:


IN a paper entitled 'Hibernia Vincentiana' the present writer gave an account of the labours of the Vincentians in Ireland during the life time of their founder. In the hour of her deepest affliction, the early Irish Vincentians had the privilege of labouring for Ireland, and of sharing her sufferings; and one of their number, Brother Thaddeus Lye, had the honour of suffering death at the hands of the enemies of the Catholic faith. [1]

The object of the present paper is to collect all that is known of the life and death of this servant of God, in the hope that as he was an associate in suffering of the Irish martyrs of the seventeenth century, he may also be their associate in the honours of which, it is hoped, the Church will at no distant date declare them worthy.


The details which have come down to us of the life and sufferings of Brother Lye (Lee), are scanty; but they are sufficient to show that he lived and died for God. The first mention of him is found in the Register of those who became members of the Congregation of the Mission, which is preserved at the Archives Nationales in Paris, and is quoted M.M. 519A and bears the following title:—

'Catalogue of the priests and clerics who have been received into the Congregation of the Mission since the commencement of its institution, and who lived therein more than two years, or who died in it before the end of the first two years, 1625-1764.' [2]

In this Register we find under the year 1643, the following entry: 'Thady Lie, aged 20 years, a native of Toua (Tuam?) in Ireland, received in Paris, 21st October, 1643, made the vows 7th October, 1645.' [3]

From this entry it is evident that Thady Lye was a cleric, though he is sometimes spoken of as a Brother, according to a usage in religious communities which gives that title even to ecclesiastics who are not in priests' orders.

Moreover, in the same register there is a separate catalogue of all the lay brothers who entered the community for the whole of the same period and the name Lye is not found amongst them. In all probability Brother Lye, like so many others of his countrymen, had come to Paris to study for the priesthood; and had there become acquainted with St. Vincent de Paul, [4] who at this time, in conjunction with Dr. Kirwan, was interesting himself in the welfare of the Irish ecclesiastics resident in the French capital. Anyhow his age, and his oblation of himself to God is evidence that ' his heart was in that which is good in the days of his youth.' [5]

Another reference which can hardly apply to anyone but Brother Lye is found in a letter of St. Vincent de Paul, dated 15th October, 1646, and addressed to the Bishop of Limerick. [6] In that letter the saint announces to the bishop the departure of a body of missioners to Ireland. He writes — 
'My Lord: at last I have the pleasure of sending eight missioners to Ireland, one of them is French, the rest are Irish... [7] and a brother who is English. The first mentioned has been charged with the government of the company, according to the advice of the late Mr.Skyddie, [8] who before his death sent me word that this was the plan to adopt. The cleric will have as his duty to direct the singing.'
From other letters of St. Vincent written at this period, we learn that one of the lay brothers who accompanied the missioners, named Solomon Patriarche, was a native of the island of Jersey, and we may assume that he is the person described as English. This good brother suffered much from the privations and perils he underwent in Ireland, and in 1649 it was found necessary to send him back to France. In a letter dated 10th September, 1649, St. Vincent mentions him, and says: —
M. Duguin (Duggan) who was in Ireland is here for the last few days. He left, at St. Meen, Brother Patriarche who, though much better, is not quite recovered from his mental infirmity, on account of which M. Brin sent them to us. I am told this good brother, such as he is, is a source of great edification to the company, so cordial is he, and so obliging, active, and devoted to God [9].
The cleric, therefore, must have been Brother Lye, who was not in priests' orders, probably because in 1646 he was still under age, and probably also because he had not a patrimonial title, and the community had not yet obtained the privilege of ordaining its subjects titulo Mensae Communis. But whatever be the explanation, the fact that it was his duty to direct the singing is not without interest in these days of musical reform; for it seems to indicate that congregational singing was not unknown in Ireland in the seventeenth century.

The third reference we find to Brother Lye is found in a letter of St. Vincent, dated 22nd March, 1652, and addressed to Mr. Lambert, superior of a house of the Congregation in Warsaw. Having treated of matters personal to M. Lambert the saint continues: —
I add to this the news we have had of our confrères in Ireland, whom we supposed to be amongst those whom the English put to death at the capture of Limerick. But, thanks be to God, he has rescued them from their hands. This is certain as regards M. Barry, who has arrived at Nantes, and whom we are expecting here, and we have reason to hope the same is true of M. Brin, though we are not certain of it. They left Limerick together, along with five or six score priests and religious, all in disguise, and mingled with the soldiers of the city who quitted it on the day the enemy were to enter. Our men spent the night in preparing for death, because there was no quarter for ecclesiastics; but God did not permit them to be recognised as such. On leaving the city they separated not without great sorrow, going one in one direction and one in another. They thought it best to act in this way, so that if one perished the other at least might escape. M. Brin took the road to his native place with their good friend the Vicar-General of Cannes [sic]. [10] M. Barry went towards certain mountains which he names, where he met a charitable lady who received and lodged him for two months; at the end of which a vessel for France chanced to present itself, and he embarked without having had any news of M. Brin since they separated. He thinks, however, that it will be no easy matter for him to cross over to France, both because the English hold the sea, and because they occupy the district of which he is a native; hence he has much need of our prayers.

P.S. — Poor Brother Lye being in his native place fell into the hands of the enemy, who dashed out his brains, and cut off his feet and hands before the eyes of his mother. [11]
The foregoing letter is based no doubt on information forwarded by Father Barry, who had just arrived from Ireland. It does not mention the date nor the precise place where Brother Lye suffered. [12] But from the Register above mentioned we know that his native place was Toua (Tuam ?). It seems probable that he escaped from Limerick when the siege was raised, and took refuge with his parents. There he fell into the hands of the Cromwellians, no doubt before the end of 1651 and like the Machabees of old he was put to death before his mother's eyes. There could be no other motive for treating him with such barbarity but the fact that he was an ecclesiastic. The cruelty with which he was treated bears a certain resemblance to that which was exercised on the saintly Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy Queely, [13] whose body was hacked to pieces by the soldiers. Both suffered in different years, but for the same cause, and in the same manner. Both, we may remark, were students in Paris. Let us hope that both will find a place on the list of the Irish martyrs who laboured and suffered so gloriously for the faith in the seventeenth century.

The fact of the martyrdom of Thady Lye comes down to us, then, on the authority of St. Vincent de Paul; and if we do not possess more ample details concerning him, it is probably to be attributed to the humility of St. Vincent. When the mission to Ireland had come to a close the superior of it desired to publish an account of the labours of the missioners and the fruits produced by them; but St. Vincent dissuaded him: 'It is enough,' he said, 'that God knows all that has been done, the humility of our Lord requires of the little company to remain hidden in God with Jesus Christ in honour of His hidden life. The blood of martyrs shall not be forgotten before God; and sooner or later it shall be the seed of new Christians.' [14] But though the humility of St. Vincent shrank from publishing to the world an account of the labours of his children in Ireland, and of the fruits produced by them, the martyrdom of Brother Lye was not forgotten. In the middle of the eighteenth century Father Peter Collet, so widely known for his theological works, published a life of St. Vincent de Paul. He employed great diligence in the preparation of that work.

He consulted not merely the life of the saint by Abelly, Bishop of Rodez, but he also examined all the documents on which Abelly's life was based; the letters of St. Vincent to the number of at least seven thousand, the letters written to the saint, the manuscript lives of the early companions of St. Vincent, and other documents, many of which have since been lost. [15] We may therefore regard Collet as not merely the echo of the testimony of St. Vincent, but also to some extent as an independent witness, since he must have had before him the documents regarding the mission to Ireland on which St. Vincent's own testimony is based. Speaking of the sufferings of the missioners on the occasion of the fall of Limerick, Collet writes as follows : —
Of the three missioners who had remained in Ireland only two returned to Paris, after having passed at Limerick through all the terrors of pestilence and war. The third finished his course there; the others disguised themselves and escaped as they could. One of them retired to his own country with the Grand-Vicar of Cashel. The other found in the mountains a pious woman who concealed him for two months. A brother who waited on them was less fortunate, or rather more so. The heretics having discovered his retreat massacred him under the eyes of his mother. They broke his head, after having cut off his feet and hands, an inhuman and barbarous punishment which served to show the priests what they might expect should they be caught. [16]
The testimony of St. Vincent and of Collet has been handed on by more recent historians. The Abbé Maynard in his life of St. Vincent, published in 1860, relates the martydom of Brother Lye in almost the same words as Collet. Later still, a little work of piety entitled the Petit Pré Spirituel de la Congregation de la Mission was compiled in 1880 by the late Father Chinchon, C.M. In it he recounts the sufferings and death of Brother Lye in almost the same terms as the writers just mentioned. He falls however into the error of regarding him as lay brother (frére coadjuteur), whereas it is clear from the catalogue of the members of the community that he was an ecclesiastic.

There exists, then, a constant and well authenticated tradition that Brother Thady Lye suffered death at the hands of heretics in odium fidei. The details which we possess concerning his life and death are meagre. But they are fuller than what we possess concerning many whom the Church honours as martyrs.

Of the four saints honoured under the title Quatuor Coronaii even the names were long unknown; of the martyr who embraced St. Felix on the way to the place of execution, and who suffered with him, the name has never been known, and the Church calls him Adauctus because he was added to St. Felix in his triumphant profession of the faith.

Nothing is known of St. Philomena but her name, which was inscribed on her sepulchre. The phial of blood, the emblem of martyrdom, discovered in her tomb is the only record of her life. The testimony of a canonized saint repeated by grave authors, and handed down to the present day, can hardly be of less weight in favour of one who may justly be regarded as having suffered for the faith.


Thus far we have endeavoured to collect authentic evidence regarding the life and death of Brother Lye. Let us now endeavour to see what light is thrown upon his career by the circumstances in which he was placed. St. Gregory Nazianzen, [17] in his sermon on the great St. Basil, says of him that such was his gravity, that ' he was a priest even before he was ordained a priest.' In like manner it may be said of Brother Lye that he was a martyr before he suffered martyrdom. He accompanied the missioners to Ireland and shared their privations and dangers. What those privations and dangers were may be gathered from various letters of St. Vincent de Paul. Writing to M. Portail on 14th February, 1647, he says: —
We have no news from Ireland, except old news, which reached us two days ago, and was dated September and November. M. Duchesne is suffering from a flux of blood since a month previous to his last letter, and our Brother Levacher, since his arrival in Ireland. The others, thanks be to God, are in good health. The miseries of the country arc great in every way; and the enemy surround the place where our men reside, so that when they go on missions they are in danger. I recommend them to your prayers.
In another letter dated 10th May, 1647, he again speaks of Ireland.
We have also [he writes] news from our gentlemen in Ireland. They tell me that the war and the poverty of the country are great obstacles in their way. Nevertheless, at a mission which they gave the concourse of people was so great that though there were five or six confessors, they were not enough to hear the confessions. For people from the neighbouring localities hastened to hear the Word of God; and some from a distance of nearly ten leagues waited four or five days to get to confession! I recommend them to the prayers of all the company.
In course of time the dangers became yet greater. St. Vincent recalled five of his missioners to France. Three priests remained and with them Brother Lye. At this time the army of Ireton was laying waste the country around Limerick, and the people fled for safety to the city.

At the request of the bishop a mission was given in the city, and about twenty thousand people approached the sacraments. Soon after a plague broke out and carried off about eight thousand persons. [18]
It was marvellous [writes Abelly] to see, not merely with what patience, but also with what peace and tranquillity of mind those poor people endured the pestilence. They declared that they died happy, because they were relieved of the burden of their sins, from which they had been delivered by the sacrament of Penance. Others said they did not regret to die, since God had sent the holy fathers (so they called the priests of the Mission) to cleanse their souls. Others again, in their sickness, asked nothing else but to have a share in the prayers of their confessors, to whom they declared they owed their salvation.
Another and a greater trial soon followed; Ireton laid siege to the city. For five months and fifteen days the city was beleagured. The enemy assaulted without, famine and pestilence raged within. Such at length was the dearth of provisions that, as we learn from a letter of St. Vincent, the head of a horse was sold for a crown. [19] Brother Lye was a spectator and a sharer of all these sufferings. As yet the hour of his martyrdom had not arrived.

But what St. Cyprian says of St. Cornelius, is true also of Brother Lye: 'Quantum ad devotionem ejus pertinet et timorem, passus est, quidquid pati potuit.' [20] In preparation of heart, and the expectation of the sufferings with which he was threatened he suffered a species of martyrdom. May we not say of him, as St. Cyprian also says of St. Cornelius, even before he had suffered martyrdom : —
Nonne hic, fratres charissimi, summo virtutis et fidei testimonio praedicandus est, nonne inter gloriosos confessores et martyres deputandus est, qui tantum temporis sedit expectans corporis sui carnifices et tyranni ferocientes ultores; qui Cornelium adversus edicta feralia resistentem, et minas et cruciatus et tormenta, fidei vigore calcantem, vel gladio invaderent, vel quolibet inaudito genere poenarum viscera ejus et membra laniarent?

Does not he merit the highest eulogium for virtue and faith, does not he merit to be ranked with the confessors and martyrs of renown, who so long held out awaiting the executioners and ministers of the fierce tyrant, who were prepared to slay him with the sword, to crucify him, to burn, or mangle with unheard of torments, the vitals and the members of one who by the strength of his faith despised commands, threats, agonies and torments?
But Brother Lye was not alone in this noble disposition of mind in the midst of dangers. He had glorious examples of fortitude before his eyes. The Bishop of Limerick was within the walls sharing the dangers and sustaining the courage of his flock. When the city capitulated he, too, was doomed to death, but clothed in the disguise of a soldier's servant, bareheaded, his face besmeared and a pack upon his shoulders he made his escape and found refuge in Belgium. [21] Terence Albert O'Brien, the saintly Bishop of Emly, was there encouraging the inhabitants to hold out against the besiegers. He was specially excepted from quarter. Father Denis Hanrechan, O.P., himself present in Limerick at the time, tells with what courage and resignation the Bishop met his death on the eve of All Saints, 1651, and how his lifeless body, as it hung for three hours on the gibbet, was treated with barbarity by the soldiers, who made it swing to and fro, and beat it with their muskets, and then how the head of the Bishop was cut off and fixed on the bridge connecting the city with the suburbs. He tells, too, how Ireton, the chief author of so much cruelty, was stricken with the plague, and how in his sickness he frequently cried out that the Bishop was sentenced to death not by him, but by the Council. "I could have saved him," he repeated, "but this did not please my friends. Would that I had never seen that Papist Bishop." Racked by the reproaches of his conscience Ireton expired on 26th November, 1651. [22] But besides the Bishop of Emly there were others whose courage and whose fate serve to throw clearer light on the surroundings in which Brother Lye was placed. Just as Hanrechan, whose narrative is summarized by Lynch, is a contemporary witness of the sufferings of Bishop Terence Albert O'Brien, so Abelly, in his life of St. Vincent de Paul, is a contemporary witness of the virtues and sufferings of Sir Thomas Strich and his companions, who were put to death on the same occasion. The life of St. Vincent by Abelly, deficient though it is in literary finish and in chronological arrangement, is a work of great value for the documents it contains. [23] It was published in 1664, and is referred to by Lynch in his manuscript lives of the Bishops of Ireland.

When Abelly wrote, the missioners who had been in Ireland were still alive, and we may feel certain that in the account he gives of the events in Ireland, though the hand which writes is French, the voice which speaks is Irish. Abelly writes as follows of the fall of Limerick: —
That poor city was besieged and at length taken by the heretics. They cruelly put to death several of the inhabitants on account of the Catholic faith which they professed. This they did in particular to four of the principal inhabitants of the city, who testified on this occasion by their invincible zeal in defence of the Catholic religion, how much they had profited by the instructions and exhortations of the mission, and by the spiritual retreat they afterwards made in the house of the missionaries. This was the case in particular of Sir Thomas Strich, who at the close of his retreat, was elected mayor of the city. In that office he publicly declared his opposition to the enemies of the Church; and on receiving the keys of the city, he at once, by the advice of his confessor, placed them in the hands of a statue of the Blessed Virgin, begging of her to take the city under her protection. On this occasion he made the corporation of the city walk before him to the church, where that pious action was performed with due ceremony, and at its close the new mayor delivered a most Christian discourse, encouraging the whole assembly to inviolable fidelity to God, to the Church, and to the King; and he offered to sacrifice his own life for so just a cause. This offer was accepted by God, for when the city was taken soon after by the enemy, God gave him the grace to suffer martyrdom with three others of the principal citizens; who, having been the companions of his spiritual retreat, were also his companions in martyrdom. The four came forward to suffer, not only with constancy but also with joy; and in token of it, they dressed in their best clothes, and before their execution they delivered addresses which drew tears from all present, even from the heretics. They declared before heaven and earth that they died for professing and defending the Catholic religion; and their example greatly strengthened the rest of the Catholics to preserve their faith and to suffer all manner of tortures rather than fail in the allegiance they owed to God.
Such were the men whose example Brother Lye had before his eyes. He was the sharer of their perils, probably their attendant in their retreat, and like them he suffered death for the same cause as they.

The eloquent St. Gregory Nazianzen, in an admirable sermon, thus sums up the praise of the Machabees: ' The whole of Judea admired their constancy and rejoiced as though their crown were its own. For this contest was the greatest of any which that city had ever had to endure. Its object was whether the law should be overturned or glorified. Their contest was a crisis for the whole Hebrew race.' [24] So, too, was it in the case of Brother Lye, and the martyrs of Limerick. They were no less glorious than the Machabees. The undaunted Bishop of Emly, firm as Eleazer of old; Brother Lye, the youthful son, martyred under the eyes of his noble-hearted mother; Sir Thomas Strich and others of the laity, true and constant as the clergy, all combatted in the same cause. The faith of the whole Irish race was at stake, the whole Irish race admired their constancy and rejoiced at their victory.

It belongs to the divinely established authority of the Church to pronounce upon the merits of these heroic men. Should that supreme authority decree to them the honours of the altar, the whole Irish race will look on their honour as its own, and with gratitude to God will 'praise the men of renown ' to whose heroic constancy the preservation of the faith in Ireland is due.

Patrick Boyle, C.M.

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th series, Vol XVI, (1904), 307-319.


[1] I.E.Record, October, 1903

[2] Catalogue des Prestres et clercs qui ont ésté reçeus en la Congregation de la Mission depuis le commencement de son institution, et y ont veçu plus de deux ans, ou bien y sont morts devant la fin des deux premières années 1625 -1764.' Arch. Nationales M.M. 519 A. The continuation of the Catalogue from 1764 to 1790 is quoted M.M. 519 B .

[3] ' Thadée Lie, age de 20 ans, natif de Toua en Hibernie; reçu a Paris le 21 Octobre, 1643, a fait les voeux le 7 Octobre, 1643’. The name is written Lie in the Register. In the printed text of Collet and of St.Vincent's letters we find Lye.

[4] Hib. Vincentiana, I. E. Record, p. 300, October, 1903.

[5] Eccles. xi. 9.

[6] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul, vol. i., p. 578.

[7] A portion of the original letter has been torn away.

[8] John Skyddie, a native of Cork, received in Paris, 9th October, 1638; ordained priest 1640.

[9] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul. vol. ii., p. 179

[10] Cashel

[11] 'Le pauvre frère Lye, étant en son pays, est tombe en mains des ennemis, qui lui ont écrasé la tête et coupé les pieds et les mains en la presence de sa mère'.

[12] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul, vol. ii., pp. 400,401.

[13] Dr. Malachy Queely, to whom reference is made above, and whose name is also on the list of Irish martyrs, made his studies in Paris. Whether during his studies in Philosophy he resided in the Irish College in that city, supported then by the Baron de L'Escalopier, is not clear: but that he was a friend and patron of the College is manifest from a letter addressed on its behalf to the University of Paris, dated 1624, and signed by Dr. Queely and four other Irish Prelates. In 1617, as appears from the MS Register of the German Nation in the University, Queely was Professor of Philosophy in the College of fioncour and Proctor of the German Nation, the latter office be also held in 1620 and in 1622. From the History of the College of Navarre, one of the colleges of the Paris University, by the celebrated Launoi, we learn that Malachy Queely made his theological studies in that famous college. In a list of the students of the College Launoi gives his name as a theologian in 1618, and again as master in Theology in 1622.

The life of Dr. Queely is well known in Ireland; but there is a sketch of his career given by Launoi in the work just mentioned, which is hardly accessible in Ireland, and which may be of interest at the present time, the more so as it is probably the earliest printed record of his career. We translate from the original Latin : —

' Malachy Queely, an Irishman, of respectable and noble family, desiring to obtain the degree of Master of Theology, procured, by a royal licence similar to that granted to Nicholas Maillard, admission to the theological college of Navarre. When he had obtained the object of his desire in 1622, he returned to bis native country, and the following year he was consecrated Archbishop of Tuam, and Metropolitan of the Province of Connaught. His personal merit, his reputation for learning and the nobiity of his family, which was held in high esteem by the Catholics, obtained for him that honour. It is incredible with what care and diligence he practised all the virtues which St. Paul requires in a bishop. Amongst them were pre-eminent his charity and hospitality, so that every one admired the variety of ways in which he practised those two virtues. He visited his diocese attentively and diligently; nor did he ordain anyone a priest until he had made a strict inquiry as to his life, morals, and learning. He could not endure idle priests; and it was his wish that every priest should have an ecclesiastical office. At the period when the Cromwellian party prevailed, the Confederate Catholics desired that he should govern the Province, and he governed it in subjection to the King, mindful of the words of Christ: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars." In the year 1644, as he was going through his diocese, he fell into the hands of a party of Scotch Cromwellians, by whom he was slain in the month of November. The Catholics honour him as a martyr, and flock from all quarters to venerate his tomb. They receive solace and aid, and pay honour to his relics.'

Such is Launoi's account of this great Irish bishop. As it was published in 1667 it is contemporary evidence, and all the more valuable as coming from the pen of one, who, from the severity with which he criticised the legends of saints, was called the denicheur des saints.

Joannis Launoii, Constantiensis, Parisiensis Theologi, Regit Navarrae.

Gymasii Historia. Paris, MDCLXVII. Ch. 89, pp. 1053-54.

[14] Abelly, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul, Book ii., chap. i. f sec. 8.

[15] Collet, Preface to the Life of St. Vincent .

[16] Collet, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul, 1st Edition, 1748, vol. ii, p. 471 (English Edition, Dublin, 1846. p. 311).

[17] St. Greg. Nazian., Sermon on St. Basil.

[18] Abelly, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul.

[19]Letter dated 23rd March, 1652, mentioned by Collet, but now lost.

[20] St. Cyprian, Epistola ad Antonianum de Cornelio, ac Novatiano.

[21] Lynch MS., ' De Praesulibus Hiberniae, Mazarin copy, p. 714

[22] Lynch MS., p. 680

[23] La Vie du Venerable serviteur de Dieu, Vincent de Paul, par Messire Louis Abelly, Eveque de Rodez. Paris, 1664, Book ii., chap, i., sec. 8.

[24] St. Gregory Nazianzen, Homily on the Machabees.

Note: The name of Brother Thaddeus Lye does not appear on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918).

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020-2022. All rights reserved.

No comments: