Wednesday 8 July 2020

The Irish Martyrs

Whilst browsing the archives of digitized newspapers at the National Library of Australia, I was interested to find this account of a lecture given by Father Denis Murphy in Dublin in 1894. In 1896 he published Our Martyrs, as a result of having 'devoted some of his leisure time to looking after old things'. He shares some of his findings with the audience here, starting with the Dublin Augustinian, Venerable John Travers, one of the earliest cases Father Murphy covered in his book. He quotes the hagiographical story of the miraculous survival of the three fingers with which Travers had written his defence of Papal supremacy and which he had raised defiantly on the scaffold. He then moves on to other cases and again brings some of the more vivid details from the martyrologies such as the death of William Drury who had sentenced Bishop O'Healy.  He ends by hoping that the audience would put the example of these holy men to 'a profitable use'.



A lecture on "Our Martyrs" was lately delivered in the Fr. Mathew Centenary Memorial Hall, Church Street, Dublin, by Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. The president of the League of the Cross, Rev. Fr. Columbus, O.S.F.C., presided, and there was a crowded audience.

The lecturer prefaced his discourse by stating that he was a lifelong teetotaler, and had taken the pledge from Fr. Mathew. Having defined what was meant by a "martyr," he said:—

"Some few years ago our Bishops were very anxious that we should have amongst us a canonised saint, because it was a curious thing that, since the time of St. Laurence O' Toole, seven hundred years ago-since the English came into this country-we had no canonised saint, though, goodness knows, we had plenty of saints and plenty of martyrs amongst us through the doings of these people. (Applause.) He (the rev. lecturer) had devoted some of his leisure time to looking after old things; and he was appointed by the Bishops to prepare a list of Irish saints and martyrs since that date, and to bring them before the court appointed by the Archbishops, and that he had in part done. He had got together about three hundred names; he had got authorities from old books with regard to each and every one of them—the year in which they were, martyred, the manner of their martyrdom -and all from nearly contemporaneous records. He would read a few of these cases. The first of our martyrs was a priest, probably an Augustinian Friar; he had written a book anonymously called 'On the Authority of the Roman Pontiff ' in which he proved clearly that the imaginary supremacy of Henry VIII. was mere fiction. His name was John Travers, a native of Dublin, a learned man, and a Doctor of Divinity. On the scaffold, having been condemned for treason, he exhorted his hearers to pray for him; he declared he died because he adhered to the Catholic faith, and holding up three fingers of his right hand, he said that with these fingers he wrote the work 'On the Authority of the Roman Pontiff'. He was cut down before he was dead, was quartered and disemboweled and thrown into a fire. A marvellous thing then  took place. While the rest of his body was reduced to ashes, the three fingers he had raised on the scaffold were seen in a like position in the midst of the flames, and afterwards were found whole and fresh.

Boland's bakery was now built over part of the remains of St. Mary's Cistercian Abbey. It was supposed that no less than fifty of the monks of that abbey were slain at Ballybough.

 Turning to the Franciscan Order, the lecturer said that Order had given more martyrs to the Irish Church than any other Order. In 1540 the prior and the monks of Monaghan were put to death for refusing to acknowledge the King's 'supremacy'. Bishop O'Healy and Fr. O'Ruarc, two Franciscans, the former being Bishop of Mayo, were hanged at Kilmallock by Drury, the English Governor, in 1586, for refusal to conform to the Protestant religion. The Bishop on the scaffold declared that Drury should appear within a few days before the judgment seat of God, and within three days (as was set out in a curious book in the Royal Library at Brussels) he was seized with a mysterious malady and died insane and blaspheming. The bodies of the martyrs were buried with due honour, in Clonmel, by the Earl of Desmond, and were afterwards re-interred at Askeaton.

The lecturer next described the tortures to which Bishop O'Hurley of Cashel, was subjected in Dublin Castle and his execution in St. Stephen's Green by which name is not meant the present 'Green,' but the place where Fitzwilliam Street intersects Baggot. The Bishop's body was buried in the old churchyard of St. Kevin's, off Long-lane.

Two Franciscans - Cornelius O'Devany, Bishop of Down and Connor, and Fr. Patrick O'Loghlen—were executed in Dublin, for the faith, in 1596. An account written by Barnaby Rech, an English soldier—which is preserved in the library of Trinity College—although written in a mocking spirit, bears most valuable co-temporary evidence. 'The Annals of the Four Masters' also gave a most touching description of the martyrdom of the holy Bishop. Sir Arthur Chichester, the Lord Deputy, wrote to the Prime Minister of the time, who, strange to say, was a Lord Salisbury, informing him that the Bishop and Fr. O'Loghlen were being venerated as martyrs; and he added that he would "supply them (the Irish) with plenty of martyrs to venerate."

 Fr. Murphy concluded by saying that he could read very much more as edifying as what he had read. He would, however, not say more now; but he hoped his audience would put to a profitable use the examples set before them by these holy men, who had handed down the faith and purchased for Irishmen the grace of being Christians and Catholics at the price of their blood. (Applause.)

A vote of thanks was passed to the reverend lecturer.

IRELAND. (1894, July 14). Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 - 1954), p. 16. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from

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