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Tuesday 30 June 2020
The Irish Dominican Martyrs
Below is the second of the articles by Rosaleen O'Neil published in the The Rosary Magazine in 1905. As this journal was a publication of the Dominican order, it is no surprise to see that she is looking at the Irish Dominican martyrs. She tells us that although one hundred and thirteen names of Dominicans have emerged for official consideration from the Dublin diocesan inquiries, we are unlikely to ever know the actual number of people associated with the Order who might be considered as martyrs. She brings a comprehensive selection of them to our attention here including the female Third Order Dominican martyrs.
The Irish Dominican Martyrs
By ROSALEEN O'NEIL
IN a previous article on the "Irish Martyrs" I promised to give later on an account of the martyrdom of some of the Irish children of St. Dominic, in the hope that it would be acceptable to the readers of The Rosary, who, I presume, are all clients of the holy patriarch.
The Irish Dominicans hold an honorable place in the list of Ireland's martyrs, even as they do in that of her apostles. God alone knows how many of them suffered for the faith. The names of one hundred and thirteen have been included in the list of those whose causes have been completed before the Dublin diocesan court, and are now before the Roman tribunal. But that this figure falls very short of the full number who have shed their blood for the faith in Ireland will appear from the following facts:
Of the thirty-eight convents of the Order that were in the country at the commencement of Elizabeth's reign, only two, which escaped because they were hidden away amidst bogs and marshes, were in existence at the time of her death; and of the hundreds of religious who had dwelt in them, there were only five or six aged men living apart in the houses of friends. Some, of course, had died natural deaths. Many more had fled the country at the command of superiors, and found refuge in the convents of their Order on the Continent, where some of them taught in the schools and others filled positions of authority. But who can tell the number of those who were put to death by a brutal soldiery, often whilst in the discharge of their sacred duties, or of those who were thrown into prison laden with chains, there to drag out a miserable existence till death called them to the martyr's crown? Their names and their number shall be revealed only on the last day. Those who managed to elude the vigilance of the persecutors and remained in the country did so at the peril of their lives.
Another fact, which speaks volumes, is that recorded in a letter written in the seventeenth century, and still extant, namely, that over one hundred priests who had studied in the Irish Dominican Convent of Corpo Santo, Lisbon, were put to death during one year alone of the many periodical outbursts of persecution. Now, Corpo Santo was not founded till 1634, in the reign of Charles I, nearly a century after the first enactment of the penal laws. Moreover, we must not forget that the Irish Dominican Convent of Louvain, founded in 1624, as well as several other continental colleges, was constantly sending over fresh laborers for the vineyard of the Lord.
These came in defiance of the law, and kept the torch of faith lighting in the land. They went about in various disguises, as carters, as dealers, as private gentlemen with gilt-hilted swords by their sides, and in different other characters. It was only by stealth and in the night time that they were able to discharge their priestly functions. We read of Father Caspar Boyton, of Cashel, who died about the year 1652, that for three years he looked after the cattle of a Catholic nobleman, whilst he performed his spiritual duties by night. It is also told of him how, when he had lost his sight owing to the hardships of his life, he went about from house to house clothed as a beggar, hearing the confessions of the faithful.
It was only on the mountain side, or in the deep recess of some desolate glen that it was often possible to offer the Holy Sacrifice. The Corrig-an-Affrion, or "Mass Rock," is still reverently pointed out by the people in many parts of the country as the hallowed spot around which their forefathers worshipped at the peril of their lives. In not a few instances they were taken by surprise, and the blood of the sacrificing priest was poured forth on the altar of sacrifice by the hands of a wicked soldiery.
Truly may it be said that the Irish Dominican province was a nursery of martyrs during the penal times. Every Irish youth who put on the habit during that terrible period knew that he might be called on at any moment to shed his blood for the faith, and if God did not grant to all this great privilege, we may be sure they did not lose the reward.
Of those who received the martyr's crown the names of few, comparatively speaking, have, as I have already said, come down to us. Amongst them there is one whose sufferings I made mention of in the previous article, Terence Albert O'Brien, Bishop of Emly, who was executed in Limerick in 1651, by orders of Ireton. The General Chapter of the Order, held in Rome five years after, write of him as follows:
"After finishing his studies successfully in Spain, he returned to his native country, and there by word and example cultivated the vineyard of the Lord. Twice he was Prior in his native city of Limerick, once in Louvain. He went as Provincial to the General Chapter of the Order held in Rome in 1644, where, in acknowledgment of his services, he was made Master of Theology. When the Chapter had ended he set out for Lisbon to visit the two convents of his Order there, one for brothers, the other for sisters. While there, news reached him that he had been appointed Bishop of Emly by Urban VIII. He devoted himself to the discharge of the duties of his new office, aiding by his authority, wisdom and watchfulness, the Church in Ireland, which then had special need of such a guide. These qualities he gave a singular proof of while he was in the city of Limerick, when it was beseiged by Henry Ireton, Cromwell's son-in-law. He was offered a bribe of forty thousand gold crowns and a pass to any place he pleased if he would quit the city and cease to urge the citizens to resistance — all of which he refused, preferring to give his help to the Catholic people up to his death."
Martyrs like this illustrious prelate are to be found in all grades of the Irish Dominican hierarchy. As provincials, priors, preachers, confessors, students, novices, lay-brothers and tertiaries they suffered for the faith with a constancy equal to that of the early martyrs.
Amongst the first of whom mention is made were two fathers and seven students of our Order, who were put to death by drowning in the year 1602. We read how they and several others, forty or forty-two in all, members of different religious Orders, having presented a petition asking for a safe conduct out of the kingdom, were commanded to assemble in Scattery Island in the Shannon. They did so, and were then taken on board a man-of-war. When they reached the open sea, all were thrown overboard. The names of the servants of God have not been handed down.
The next on record are the two brothers, Donough and John Olvin, or O'Luinin, members of the community of Derry. The first mentioned, who was Prior of the convent, was hanged and quartered, with many secular priests, by the English heretics in the city square about the year 1608. His brother John had been hanged for the faith in the same city some time previously.
In the year 1642, Father Peter O'Higgins. Prior of the Convent of Naas, was cast into prison, but as nothing could be proved against him that would de- serve capital punishment according to the laws of the country, he was told he would be set free and rewarded if he would only renounce the Catholic religion. A promise to this effect and signed by the Viceroy was given to him. Thinking that he was terrified and would surely apostatize in view of the gallows, the authorities ordered him to be led to execution. When the holy man had mounted the scaffold, addressing the assembled people he spoke to them of the sufferings he had endured and the hope he had of meriting the martyr's crown. He concluded in the following manner:
"Almighty God, Who protects the innocent, disposing all sweetly, has brought things about so that, accused as a seducer, and arraigned for certain crimes made such by the laws of this kingdom, the sole reason why I am condemned to death to-day is that I profess the Catholic religion. Here is the authentic proof of my innocence, the autograph letter of the Viceroy, offering to me very rich rewards and my life if I abandon the Catholic religion. I call God and man to witness that I firmly and unhesitatingly reject these offers, and that willingly and gladly I enter into this conflict professing that faith."
He then threw the paper to a friend of his. After he had been cast off, his body, whilst still hanging, was frequently shaken by the executioner, and while it still hung he uttered the words, "Deo Gratias." Thus he died, and earned the martyr's crown.
We read of Father Richard Barry, a native of Cork, Prior of the Convent of Cashel, that before the siege of that ancient city he sent his subjects away that they might escape the cruelty of the enemy. When the place was taken, a great number of ecclesiastics and of the laity were at once put to death. Father Barry, who was the only one that appeared in the religious habit, holding the crucifix aloft in one hand and the rosary in the other, was treated with exceptional barbarity. Being asked to cast off his habit and join in the heretical service, he fearlessly answered: "This habit of mine represents the spoils of Christ, and His Passion, and it is the standard of my warfare." On saying this he was seized and bound to a stake. The soldiers insulted him while they were preparing tortures to try his constancy. A pile of faggots was made, and set on fire, and during two hours the holy man was slowly tortured from head to foot, yet from the midst of the flames he did not cease to commend his own soul and the faithful people to God. At last he was run through with a sword, and so gave up his soul to God on the 15th of September, 1647.
A few years later, in 1651, Fathers Bernard and Laurence O'Ferall suffered death for the faith. I quote from the Acts of the General Chapter of the Order held in 1656: "They were seized while they were engaged at prayer in the early morning, in the chapel of their convent of Longford. The soldiers, coming in, inflicted more than twenty-four deadly wounds on Father Bernard; yet he received the Sacraments before he died, as he had always desired. Father Laurence was taken immediately to the governor, who recognized him as one who had been with the army in obedience to the authority of the Apostolic Nuncio, and ordered him to be hanged the next day. Owing to the intercession of some friends the execution was deferred for three days, to the great sorrow of Laurence, who blamed them for causing the delay, and employed the whole of that time praying to God that He would not allow the palm of martyrdom to be snatched from him. When the time came he mounted the ladder and addressed some words of consolation to the Catholics who stood by. He inveighed with such earnestness and powerful arguments against heresy that the governor ordered him to be executed without further delay. Then the martyr, taking his leave of the people, put his rosary round his neck. Taking in his right hand the crucifix, and putting both hands under his scapular, he told the executioner to do his duty. When he was thrown off the ladder, he took both his hands from under his scapular and raised up the cross as a token of triumph. Not only those who stood by but the governor, was astonished at the sight; he caused the body to be taken down in a respectful manner, and gave a safe conduct to all the clergy of the neighborhood to take part in the divine office and to assist at the burial of the martyr."
I make no apology for giving such a long extract, and I am sure my readers do not require it. It would be a pity to curtail it.
Of Father Thaddeus Moriarty, who was Prior of the Convent of Holy Cross Tralee, we read that when the Cromwellian persecution was raging he might have easily escaped to a place of safety but he courageously refused to do so through compassion for the faithful, ta whom he saw his presence was most necessary on account of the want of priests to administer the Sacraments. He was taken prisoner and carried to Killarney, and there condemned to be hanged. On hearing that he was sentenced to die, he pressed and kissed the hands of the messenger who brought the news, and distributed money amongst his jailors and the soldiers who were to lead him to execution after he had been stripped and severely flogged. From the top of the ladder he exhorted the faithful to be patient, and to hold fast to the faith. Having recited the' verse, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit," he met a glorious death, the very heretics being struck with admiration and saying, "If ever a papist was a martyr he was one." He suffered death October 15th, 1653. His countenance, which was wan and emaciated, owing to his long detention in prison, seemed to be transfigured after death and to emit rays of light, so that the very executioners confessed that it was like the face of an angel. It was said of him that he was never known to be angry. He showed such patience during his sufferings in prison, and when he was stripped and flogged and led to execution, that even his enemies were forced to admire him. There is a chalice that belonged to the martyr still in use in the Dominican church of Tralee. It was accidentally found some years ago by a member of his family, the late Doctor Moriarty, Bishop of Kerry, who gave it to the Dominican Fathers. It bears the following inscription : "Orate pro Carolo Sughrue, qui me fieri fecit pro Conventu Traliensi — Priore Thadeo O'Moriarty, 1651."
The Convents of Derry and Coleraine gave each a band of glorious martyrs to the Church. That of Derry was the oldest Dominican foundation in Ireland. It was founded about the year 1221 by one of the princely family of O'Donnell, at the solicitation of a Brother Reginald, who is said to have brought with him a letter from St. Dominic. One of its members, Father John O'Mannin, who lived in the seventeenth century, told a thrilling story to Father Michael McQuilin, the Subprior of the Dominican Convent of Rouen in France. It was to this effect : One night the soldiers surrounded the convent, and having broken jn, killed the entire community except the forementioned Father Mannin, who managed to escape by swimming across the river Foyle. The number put to death was thirty-two. Father O'Mannin was afterwards seized and put to the torture on several occasions. Once he was thrown to the ground by his persecutors with such violence that his back was broken. He lived a cripple till his death in 1637.
Some time in the reign of Elizabeth the soldiers attacked the convent of Saint Mary's of the Rosary in Coleraine, and massacred in cold blood Father MacFerge, the Prior, and his entire community of twenty-three or twenty-four religious.
One would fain linger lovingly on these glorious records of heroism, which are the heritage of the Irish Dominicans, but I must not trespass too much on the columns of The Rosary. I cannot, however, conclude without mentioning the cases of some of the lay-brothers and tertiaries of the Order.
Of the lay-brothers who suffered, the names of four are included in the official list. They were David Fox, of Kilmallock Convent, who while kneeling at the altar was run through with a sword, and as he lay on the ground had his brains dashed out. This was in 1648. The next was Donald O'Neaghen, of the Convent of Roscommon, who suffered in the same year. He was first scourged and then pierced with a sword. Another lay-brother of the same convent, Bernard O 'Kelly, after enduring for a long time the filth of a prison, the weight of iron chains, and hunger, was condemned to death and publicly executed at Gal way in 1653. Two years before, in 1651, James Moran, a lay-brother of Athenry Convent, was also put to death for the faith.
There were martyrs, also, amongst our Irish sisters. The names of two are included in the list forwarded to Rome. They were Honoria Burke and Honoria Magaen. The first sister took the habit of the Third Order when only fourteen years old. She built a house near the church of the Dominicans at Burishoole, which is about twelve miles from Castle- bar, County Mayo, where, living in community for nearly a century during the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I, she devoted herself continuously to works of piety till she was quite decrepit. In the last persecution of Cromwell she, with another of her community and a maidservant, fled to an island in the bay, called Saint's Island. They were pursued, seized, stripped of their clothes, though it was the month of February, and flung into a boat with such violence that three of Honoria Burke's ribs were broken, and she was left to die. The servant took her on her shoulders to the church of the Order in Burishoole, where she laid her before the altar of the Blessed Virgin and left her for a while to search for the other sister in the wood. On her return she found Honoria kneeling before the altar with head erect, as if she was in prayer, and sleeping calmly in the Lord.
Honoria Magaen was also a professed member of the Third Order. She, too, was attacked by the minions of the law in Saint's Island, stripped of her clothing and wounded. Fearing more for her chastity than her life, she succeeded in making her escape. She fled into a neighboring wood, where she concealed herself in the hollow trunk of a tree, next day she was found there frozen to death.
The last of the Order to suffer death the faith in Ireland, so far as is known, was Father Gerald Fitzgibbon, who was slain by soldiers in the town of Listowell, County Kerry, in 1691. It was as late as 1745, the year of Fontenoy, that Catholics were allowed places of worship, and many priests released from prison. And although, since the Act of Emancipation in 1829, the dark night of persecution has passed away, it would be a mistake to think that the Irish Catholic clergy — especially members of religious orders — and the people are not still labouring under disabilities. The very Act not only left several penal acts unrepealed, but created many new disabilities and made certain provisions of former acts more severe than they were before. To quote only a few of the enact-ments. The twenty-sixth clause is as follows:
If any Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, any member of any of the communities or societies aforementioned, shall exercise any of the rites or ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, or wear the habit of his Order, save within the usual places of worship, or in private houses, any person being convicted thereof shall forfeit for every such offence the sum of £ 50."
The twenty-ninth clause enacts that: "If any Jesuit, etc., shall after the commencement of this act come into this realm, he shall be taken to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being thereof law- fully convicted, shall be sentenced to be banished from the United Kingdom for the term of his natural life."
The thirty-fourth says: "Any person admitting a Jesuit, etc., shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and being thereof lawfully convicted shall be sentenced to be banished from the United Kingdom for the term of his natural life."
These and other enactments of a like nature were passed in deference to the prejudices of Orangemen, and although in most cases they are a dead letter, still they are a standing insult to all Catholics. Nor, indeed, may it be said that they are altogether a dead letter. The late Lord Chancellor Blackbume decided that the bequest of a sum of money for the maintenance of a Dominican priest was invalid on the ground that entering a religious Order was a misdemeanor. There have been several other cases of gross injustice perpetrated against the religious Orders in the name of these iniquitous laws.
Despite all the bitter persecutions which have assailed the Irish Dominican Province in common with other Orders, it is to-day in a more flourishing condition than it ever was before, even in the time when, prior to the so-called Reformation, it enjoyed the favor of nobles and of royalty. If not numerically as strong as formerly, still the area of its influence has been extended. Besides its fourteen well-established houses in Ireland, it has communities in Lisbon, Australia, the West Indies, and in the Eternal City itself. The present Irish children of St. Dominic are reaping the harvest planted by their martyred sires.
Rosary Magazine, Volume XXVII, (July-December, 1905), 366-371.
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