Tuesday 15 September 2020

The Martyrdom of Father Richard Barry, O.P.


On September 15 1647 the ancient fortress formed naturally by the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary was stormed by Parliamentarian forces. The resulting massacre has been remembered ever since as one of the worst atrocities against Irish Catholics in what was overall a very bloody decade. Yet the leader of the Protestant forces was himself an Irishman, Murrough O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin (1614-1674). Inchiquin embodies the complexities of religion and politics in Ireland at this time; his father had been a Catholic but after his death in 1624 the young Murrough was in the hands of Protestant guardians and grew up to be an effective military leader for the Crown. His scorched earth tactics in Munster during the Irish Confederate Wars gave him a notorious reputation, one which the sack of Cashel confirmed. Cashel was a venerable site with a religious tradition reputedly stretching back all the way to Saint Patrick himself.  In September 1647 many people would perish when it fell to Inchiquin's army, some of whom are numbered among the Irish Martyrs. Below is an article from 1896 looking at one of the better-known cases, that of Dominican Prior Father Richard Barry. In it the author, Laura Grey, (yet another Victorian lady writer I would like to know more about) provides both an historical overview of the site and the particulars of Father Barry's case. She draws upon the testimony of the torture and heroic death of this Dominican martyr provided by his confrère Dominic O'Daly plus the eyewitness account of Jesuit Andrew Sall. Father Dominic makes it clear that Father Barry embraced death for his faith and not as a defeated rebel or victim of war. He confirms that his death was for Christ by recording that after three days the wound in the martyr's side was still bleeding. Father Sall's account is equally compelling as he conveys a vivid sense of the terror and destruction wrought by the victors, calling it 'the most disgraceful sacrilege that was ever seen in Ireland'. Since no article of this period is complete without some lines of verse, Laura Grey ends hers with a poem which 'a random muse' inspired her to write:

Laura Grey.

Ireland's most remarkable ruin, known as the Rock of Cashel, stands adjacent to a small town bearing the same name, in the County Tipperary. A cluster of ancient buildings crowns the gigantic rock, and frowns down in lonely grandeur on the hamlet nestling at its base.

The modern town of Cashel was anciently known as "Cashel of the Kings." The ruins consist of an ecclesiastical round tower — which Lord Dunraven called "the belfry of Cormac's chapel,"the weatherbeaten Celtic cross, the old cathedral, the castle, formerly the archiepiscopal palace, and the Vicars' hall, or Canon's residence. The Rock itself rises almost perpendicularly out of the "golden vale" of Tipperary.

 It bore on its summit the stronghold and fortress of the kings of Munster, and on the green, velvety sward is shown the spot where King Aengus (the reigning monarch) was baptized by St. Patrick. The saint pierced the king's feet by mistake with his crosier, but the royal convert betrayed no signs of pain, believing it to be part of the ceremonial of baptism.

The ancient name of the Rock of Cashel was Sidh-dhruim, "the fairies' ridge," as Mr. Joyce the antiquarian informs us, and the name Cashel, "caiseal," signifies a circular stone fort, and is derived from the Latin castellum.

The Rock, which is of limestone formation, increases in grandeur as one approaches it, and is accessible only on the south side. In 1101 the Four Masters tell us that Mortogh O'Brien, king of Munster, bestowed "Cashel of the Kings" "Deo et Ecclesia" and that his successor, Cormac McCarthy, erected the chapel which was consecrated about 1134.

 In 1152 the Grand Cathedral was built by King Donald O'Brien. In 1421 Richard O'Hedian repaired the structure, and founded the Hall of the Vicars Choral. In 1495 the former was burnt to the ground by the Earl of Kildare who alleged as an excuse that "he thought the Archbishop of Cashel was hiding there". In 1647 the cathedral and Rock were stormed by Lord Inchiquin, and it was during this sack and massacre that the heroic Father Richard Barry, O. P., Prior of St. Dominic's Abbey, Cashel, won the martyr's crown.

Murrogh O'Brien, sixth Baron of Inchiquin, was reared in the English schools of Wards, and perverted. His father was a most edifying Catholic, and in his early days, Murrogh had been educated in the ancient Faith, but association with Protestant companions had robbed him of the treasure. Father Sall, S.J., calls him the "Scourge of God," but the general sobriquet attached to his name is  "The Burner," because of the wanton barbarities he perpetrated in Munster during the Confederate War. Tradition affirms that he repented before death of his evil life, and became reconciled to the Church. Certain it is that he bequeathed to the Franciscans of Ennis a sum of money for Masses for the repose of his soul.

Father Dominic O'Daly, better known as "Dominic of the Rosary," gives us an interesting account of Father Richard Barry's martyrdom on the Rock of Cashel, when that citadel was besieged by the notorious "Murrogh the Burner," in 1647.

He says: "When Murrogh O'Brien (a man whose name must be execrable to the widow and orphan) sat down before Cashel, a band of Catholics took refuge on the Rock, resolved to sell their lives with bitter cost to the assailants. On the eminence stood a gorgeous shrine erected by King Cormac, and next to it the cathedral church to St. Patrick. To this church Father Barry betook himself. About eighty men fell on both sides, and when the priests had been cut to pieces, Richard Barry alone survived."

Father Reginald Walsh (a Dominican of the Irish Province), in his "Irish Dominican Martyrs," continues the narrative, and tells us:

"Father Barry had not only permitted, but even commanded, members of his own Community to seek safety in flight, whilst he himself remained at his post. Struck by his tall stature and noble bearing, the captain, who was the first to enter the cathedral, offered him his life if he would put off his habit — his 'insignia' the Puritan called it.

 "Never," was the firm reply; "these are my colors in war; my habit represents the Passion and death of our Saviour, and is the badge of my Order. I have worn it since my youth, and I shall do so till I die." The captain warned him of his impending fate, and tried to shake his constancy, but in vain.

"To me," replied the saintly Prior of St. Dominic's, "sufferings are welcome, and death itself a gain."

Without further delay he was seized by the soldiers, buffeted, covered with spittle, and then bound to a seat, under which a slow fire was kindled. The martyr's legs and feet were slowly consumed, the torture lasting about two hours, till he was released from his acute sufferings by a sword being thrust through his breast, and the habit he loved crimsoned with his own blood.

 A devout woman of the Third Order of St. Dominic, recognized Father Barry's body thrown amongst a heap of slain, and had it conveyed to St. Dominic's Abbey, where it was buried in the cloister by the white-robed brethren, who chaunted a Te Deum over the prior's sacred relics.

Dominic of the Rosary informs us that though three days had elapsed between the martyrdom and burial of Father Barry, the burnt limbs and wound in his side were bleeding freely.

The martyrdom took place September 15th, 1647. A linden tree marks the spot where he lies awaiting the Resurrection.

Some quotations from Father Sall's letter, describing the enormities perpetrated on the Rock of Cashel, may prove interesting, as he appears to have been an eye-witness. He writes:

"Before attacking, a messenger left the hostile lines, and came up to the Rock to treat about a surrender on these terms, viz.: that the garrison should be allowed to depart in possession of their muskets, and with their mouths full of bullets, but that the clergy and citizens should be left to the mercy of the commander.

"Here the bravery of the Catholic soldiers shone out, and they replied that they would risk their lives in defense of those whom they had vowed to protect, rather than break their word; that they preferred to dye with their hearts' blood that holy ground, to allowing it to be desecrated by heretical miscreants.

"Stung to the quick by this generous answer, the Puritan leader ordered the charge to be sounded. On they came with lightning speed, at the same time throwing firebrands into the air, one of which happened to fall into the vestibule of the monastery of the Friars Minor, set the hall on fire, and burnt it to the ground.

"The enemy charges the north and south doors of the cathedral, but are driven back with no less determination by our soldiers. Unable to effect an entrance in this direction, the Puritans plant their ladders against the walls of the church, and leap through the windows.

"Hemmed in on all sides, nevertheless our brave defenders fight with the energy of despair, and nothing could be heard through the vast edifice but the clash of arms.

"At length our defenders, now reduced to sixty, turn and ascend the bell-tower, followed by the enemy, who called on them to surrender. With the alternative before them of death by starvation or by the enemy's sword, they surrender on condition of their lives being spared. The deceitful commander gave his word, but as soon as the swords were collected, he gave the order to kill without exception. All with the exception of one or two, are either despatched by the sword or retained as prisoners.

"Thus ended the cruel butchery — the most disgraceful sacrilege that was ever seen in Ireland. We lost 1000 men; the enemy, at least 500 men. Three of the secular clergy, the Prior of the Dominicans (Father Richard Barry), and one of our Society (the Jesuits), had fallen in the performance of their sacred duties. Old men on the verge of the grave, whose weapons were their rosaries, defenceless women and children, were struck down on the very altars without regard to age or sex. In one word, the enemy, exulting over their prey, hew in pieces, and burn all the statues, overthrow the altars, and pollute the sacred vessels.

"The large crucifix that towered over the entrance to the choir had its head, hands, and feet struck off.

"The organ was broken, and the bells that cheered our soldiers whilst they fought were deprived of their clappers and their beautiful tone.

"The Puritans loaded themselves with the goods of the citizens with which the church was filled. They excavated the very crypts themselves, and broke open the marble tombs in hope of plunder.

"Those who remembered the splendor of the cathedral in the celebration of sacred ceremonies on holidays and feast-days, and the sumptuous workmanship of the altars and monuments, could not bring themselves to view the scene of horror, and shed abundant tears the while.

"The soldiery dress themselves in the precious vestments and birettas, and invite the rest to Mass. Others dash the holy images against the wall, and others bear aloft in solemn procession a headless statue of the Immaculate Virgin, curiously wrought with golden tracery. The pictures of St. Patrick and St. Ignatius, together with those of other saints (deaf and dumb idols, as they called them), were turned into horse cloths or used as sacks. Lord Inchiquin himself put on the Archbishop's mitre, boasting aloud he was Governor of Munster and Archbishop of Cashel.

"All the passages, even the altars, chapels, sacristies, bell-tower, steps, and seats were so thickly covered with corpses, that no one could walk a step without treading on a dead body. Already were the burning brands applied to the wooden partitions when some of the chief men stepped forward, and by the promise of a large sum of money to be contributed by all the citizens, saved the city from a deluge of fire.

"Yet the conflagration could not be got under, and the most ancient city of Cashel, that had seen a long succession of kings and Archbishops, was burnt to the ground.

"Whilst we mourn the loved ones that are no more, we rejoice that they are crowned with the martyr's crown above, and it is not wrong to think that their souls are in bliss. For on the night preceding the destruction of the city, we went to the soldiers of the garrison and exhorted them to abstain from swearing and other practices of the camp, and we found them compliant beyond measure, and prepared to shed their blood for the Faith.

"Before they engaged the enemy, most of them, several times at least, cleansed their conscience by confession, and received the Bread of Life.

"But if they are detained in the cleansing fires of Purgatory, I recommend them most earnestly to the sacrifices and prayers of this day, the commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed.

"Your Reverence's servant in Christ,

"Andrew Sall, S. J."

The above is Father Sail's letter; some minor portions have been suppressed, fearing to weary our readers.

To-day, when the tourist visits the Rock, and enters its desolate cathedral, walks up its silent nave and aisles, peopled with grass-grown graves, he will find it difficult to realize the scene of carnage described by the learned Jesuit. Some tombs of remarkable men still exist. That of Myler McGrath, the first apostate Archbishop of Cashel, with its enigmatical epitaph, has been for ages past an object of interest to the historian and archaeologist.

 The finely-wrought altar and roof have vanished, and the blue sky of Heaven is the only canopy.

Cormac's chapel has been more fortunate in this respect. Its flagged roof still remains intact, as perfect in every detail as it stood eight hundred years ago, on the day of its consecration. These venerable walls saw the Irish chieftains pay fealty to Henry II., King of England, and some remains of coloring and gilding are still to be seen on the wall overhanging that monarch's throne.

The round tower has been roofed, and restored by the Board of Works. The surrounding townsland is redolent with historic and sainted memories, and the tourist to the south of Ireland will be amply repaid by a visit to the now forlorn City of the Kings.

The spot where the subject of our sketch (Father Richard Barry) suffered the tortures of St. Lawrence is still shown under the ancient gallery at the end of the cathedral.

On seeing the sod sanctified by the death-agonies of the sainted Dominican, some erratic muse suggested to the writer the following lines in Father Barry's honor:

FATHER RICHARD BARRY. O. P. Martyred on the Rock of Cashel, Sept. 15th, 1647.

From Cashel holy fane they bore him,
The martyred dead;
Whilst in the sable vault of Heaven
The moon burnt red.

With tearful eyes they whispered lowly,
"His course is run —
Hark to angelic lips proclaiming
 A victory won " —

"Weave a crown of golden laurels
For his head;
In his hand the palm-branch dapple
With rubies red. "

"Type of the blood he shed for Christ"
The angels sang;
And swelling through the sapphire gates
The echoes rang.

The voice that woke the sinner's death-swoon
 Lulled to rest;
The hands that tilled the stubborn vineyard
Crossed on breast.

Beneath the Abbey's dome they laid him,
 Home at last;
The bark had kissed the port of Heaven —
Anchored fast.

The Rosary Magazine, Vol. VIII. January— June, 1896, 362-369.

Father Barry is number 130 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs whose cases were submitted to Rome for consideration and is also among the forty-two cases currently being re-submitted.

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