Tuesday 23 June 2020

Our Martyrs - III

 In the third of the papers dealing with the cause of the Irish martyrs, Father Denis Murphy turns from the oral evidence recorded from witnesses at the inquiry in his own day to the historic written evidence of previous centuries. He points out that compared with their English counterparts, the Irish martyrs underwent far fewer regular legal processes and thus we do not have the same number of court documents preserved. On the other hand, we do have the testimony of contemporary writers both at home and abroad to their sufferings. Father Murphy introduces the earliest of these to us and provides a particularly interesting commentary on Richard Verstegan, whose illustration of the execution of an Irish Archbishop plus that of a Bishop and a priest is on the home page of this blog. The drawing of the execution of Archbishop Dermot O'Hurley reflects details found in early martyrological accounts and suggests that reports of the torture of the 'boots' and the hanging with a 'twig rope' must have been circulating in the eight years between the Archbishop's death and the publication of Verstegan's work. In this case too, the letters authorizing the use of this specific form of torture survive in State archives, but of course not all cases of martyrdom in Ireland were so well-documented. Just one final note - in describing the first of the books dealing with the martyrdom of Franciscans, the name of the Bishop of Mayo has been incorrectly given as Cornelius O'Deveny. O'Deveny was Bishop of Down and Connor, executed in 1612. The Bishop of Mayo who died in 1578 by order of William Drury was Patrick O'Healy (O'Hely).


HAVING set down in the two preceding papers relating to our martyrs the mode of procedure followed in the preliminary inquiry which takes place in the Episcopal Court, I will now give some account of the historical sources from which we derive a knowledge of our martyrs, of the place and the manner of their martyrdom. That will be done best, perhaps, by giving a short notice of each of the books from which that information can be had, most of them being very rare and not easily accessible to the ordinary reader. Let me say, in passing, that in this respect the case of our Irish martyrs is at a great disadvantage when compared with that of their English brethren. Most of these went through some form of trial. They were arraigned before judges and a jury, as we see in the case of our two countrymen the Primates Creagh and Plunket: the trial of the latter has come down to us verbatim. There was not even the remotest semblance of what would now be called a trial of any one of our martyrs. For instance, in the case of Brother Dominic Collins, S.J , we find he was taken from Cork to Limerick to be tried there. Two months after the judge came for the clearing of the jail. Bruodin tells the manner of the trial. He was brought before the judge, and examined. He confessed openly that he was a Catholic and a religious of the Society of Jesus, and that he returned to his native country to instruct the people. "Do you wish," said the President, "to abjure the Popish religion and become a Protestant?" "I would rather endure a thousand deaths," was the reply. When he had uttered these words, he was declared guilty of high treason, sentenced to death, and executed very soon after. Hence Roth, speaking of his martyrdom, says he was condemned without any sort of trial, "absque judicii forma." In the case of Cornelius O'Deveny, there seems to have been somewhat more the semblance of a trial; but from the conduct of the judge throughout it is easy to see that the trial, such as it was, was the merest mockery. In most instances the martyr was executed by martial law, which the Duke of Wellington, speaking of its administration even in more constitutional times, used to say was no law at all, but the will of the general. When some legal difficulty arose about transferring the trial of Dermot O'Hurley to England, the knot was cut by Wallop, who had him executed, martis et armorum jure—i.e., by martial law—and neither Wallop nor those who carried out his wicked purpose were anything the worse of it. Again, the English martyrs have the good fortune to have had a faithful biographer, who gathered up with great industry and care all that was known of them, and with such exactness that recent researches among the State papers and in private collections, far from weakening the authority of his book, have but strengthened it. I allude to the Right Rev. Dr. Challoner's Memoirs of Missionary Priests in England, first published in 1741, and frequently reprinted since. The book has been found so accurate that it has been accepted as an authentic record of the sufferings of those who died for the faith in England. His latest editor says: "His book concerns England only, and he therefore makes no mention of a host of glorious martyrs who, it should be remembered, suffered in Ireland under the same government." Unhappily, we have nothing of the kind, or, at best, only a later and very imperfect record, compiled some years ago by the late Myles O'Reilly from the books mentioned by him in the introduction to his work. Hence he who would know something of this portion—surely not the least important—of Irish Church history, needs to search in many a tome, and often he will consider himself lucky if he finds, as the reward of his labour, anything more than passing mention of someone who died for the faith in Ireland during the time of persecution.

To come to the books that contain some details of the sufferings of our martyrs, I will give a short account of the more important of them, taking them in the order of time when they were printed.

The first is a little book in 18mo, of two hundred folios, printed at Ingolstadt in 1583. It bears the title, De Martyrio Fratrum Ordinis Minorum Divi Francisci. The author is Frater Thomas Bourchier, a Franciscan and an Englishman, as the title-page tells us. The fourth part, beginning at folio 137, bears the title, De Martyrio Duorum Hybernorum Patrum, and gives a detailed account of the martyrdom of Cornelius O'Deveny [recte O'Hely], Bishop of Mayo, and his companion, Con O'Ruark, O.S.F., who were put to death at Kilmallock, in 1578, by order of Drury, then President of Munster. Father Holing, S. J., tells in his Magna Supplicia of the signal punishment inflicted on Drury by the Almighty for his cruelties. The authority of this book in reference to the English martyrs was admitted, if I don't mistake, to be very great. The author seems to have lived in Ireland for some time, for he says he was intimately acquainted with the Earl and Countess of Desmond; she it was that gave information to the Mayor of Limerick of the coming of the Bishop to this country, probably without any evil intention. But be that as it may, the result was that he was seized, handed over to Drury, and put to death. The details which he gives of the death of the two martyrs, we need hardly add,  correspond in every particular with those given by other writers.

The second is the fine folio volume of Father Francis Gonzaga, O.S.F., which bears the title, De Origine Seraphicae Religionis . . . admirabilique ejus propagatione. It was published in Rome in 1587, and was dedicated to Pope Sixtus V., who had been a religious of that Order. The heading of one portion of his work is "De Provincia Hiberniae." He begins by speaking of the destruction of the convents of his Order in Scotland and England, and goes on to say that of the many which existed formerly in Ireland only a few were surviving. He found it difficult to get information from a country so far off; but what he gives has been very carefully examined into, so that no suspicion of falsehood can attach to anything set down in his writings. The Fathers "who have obtained the palm of martyrdom at the hands of the fierce heretics," and of whom he gives a brief sketch, are O'Hely and O'Ruark, mentioned above; Brother Phelim O'Hara, who was put to death with great cruelty at Moyne, near Ballina, county Mayo, in 1578; and Father Tadhg Daly, of the convent of Roscrea, who was hanged at Limerick, January 1st, 1576. A fine copy of this book is in the possession of the Franciscan Fathers, Cork, who kindly lent it to me to make from it the extracts which I needed.

The third is a book almost as rare as Bouchier's. It is a small 4to, of twenty-five pages, printed at Antwerp in 1592. It bears the title, Theatrum Crudelitatum Haereticorum Nostri Temporis. The most important part of it is the beautiful plates illustrating the text. These are headed— "The cruelty of the schismatics in England;" "The horrible crimes perpetrated by the Huguenots in France;" "The dreadful sorts of cruelty practised by the Gueux in Belgium ;" in fine, we come to "The persecutions practised by the Protestant Calvinists in Ireland." In this plate we see Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, who was martyred in Dublin in 1584, undergoing the sufferings that ended in his death. In one corner of the plate he is seated on a bench, his legs held fast in stocks, his feet in the tin boots, and the fire is lighted under them, just as Roth and O'Sullevan say. The halberdiers are standing round, and their commander by his gestures directs what should be done. On the left side O'Hurley is represented as hanging from a cross beam; and, to show how truthful the print is in every detail, the wythe or gad with which he was hanged, what O'Sullevan calls restis viminea, the twig rope, is given with the branches and leaves on it. In the upper part of the middle of the print two persons, one of them a bishop, as we see by his mitre, and the other a monk, for he wears a cowl, are hanging from another cross-beam. These the text on the opposite page tells us are Patrick O'Hely and Con O'Ruark, already mentioned. On the same page there is a short biography of O'Hurley, and another of O'Hely. Six Latin hexameters under the print tell how Ireland, though separated by the sea from England, is persecuted in the same way by the wicked. The author's name is not given on the title-page, but it will be found at the heading of the preface. It is Richard Verstegan. Dodd, in his Church History, gives the following account of him :—

"He was of Dutch extraction, and born in London. He was sent to the University of Oxford, but on account of certain oaths not agreeable to him by reason of his religion, he went abroad, and settled at Antwerp. The work mentioned above created him many enemies among those of the new creed, and through his fears on this account he left Antwerp, and went to Paris. There he was complained of by the English Ambassador for scandalously exposing Queen Elizabeth in his book of pictures. Upon this complaint he was thrown into prison by order of the French King. After a while he was set free, and he returned to Antwerp. While there he was very useful in communicating Catholic intelligence from England to the members of the Society of Jesus in Flanders and Rome."

I may add that I purchased this book at the sale of the late Dr. Madden's library.

Another work, bearing the title of Concertatio Ecclesiae Catholicorum in Anglia, in a supplement, gives the two short biographies from the Theatrum of O'Hurley and O'Hely word for word. In an introduction to this extract the writer says:—"Having finished the second part of this Concertatio, in which the conflicts of the martyrs and confessors in England are described, some others have come into our hands, well worthy of seeing the light with those already mentioned; for this reason we have taken care to have them put in print, that they might be joined on to the histories of the other martyrs." These words show what the writer thought of the Irish who died for the faith in his time. The work was published at Treves, in 1583, anonymously; but it was well known the author was John Gibbons, S. J. It was reprinted by Aquapontanus (Dr. Bridgewater) in 1588. There is a modern reprint of this work in the Library of the Franciscan Fathers, Merchants' quay, Dublin.

I must reserve to the next issue an account of the works of Roth, O'Sullevan, Bruodin, and other Irish writers who have written on this subject.

D. Murphy, S.J.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol XIII (1892), 350-355.

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