Saturday 31 October 2020

Dominic Collins, S.J.

On October 31 1602 Jesuit lay-brother Dominic Collins was hanged, drawn and quartered in Youghal, County Cork. Born into a Gaelic aristocratic family, he had pursued a military career in both France and Spain but was drawn to the religious life. His bravery was matched by his humility and he entered the Society of Jesus as a lay-brother, feeling he was not worthy to be a priest. He returned to Ireland aboard a Spanish ship but was quickly captured and condemned to death. The account below has been taken from an Australian newspaper of 1909 and the author, "J.B.", testifies to the holiness of Blessed Dominic and the courage and steadfast faith with which he met his death as a martyr:  

One of Our Martyrs.

Donogh Oge O'Cullen, alias Dominic Collins, Jesuit lay Brother and martyr, was born at or near Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland, A.D. 1553, and died at Youghal on the 3lst of October, 1602. When brought from prison before his judges, he professed himself a Catholic and a member of the Society of Jesus. He was promised a command in the army if he would do some acceptable service; he refused to do anything so abominable. He was offered preferment in the Protestant Church if he renounced his faith and religious profession, and he rejected the proposal. He was threatened with the direst torments and with death if he did not yield; and he told his enemies that he could not serve two masters, and preferred to suffer and die for Christ rather than renounce his religious profession or do any thing against his conscience. When he could not be won by promises or threats, he was sent back to prison, and his relations and friends were prevailed on to visit him, and try and shake his constancy. When neither the the fair promises and dire threats of his enemies, nor the pleadings of his friends, availed to shake him in his resolve to live and die in the Catholic faith and in the Society of Jesus, he was sentenced to be hanged, to have his, entrails torn out while he was still alive, and have his body cut in quarters. He received this sentence with joy. His masterful self-possession and the rapturous happiness which radiated from his heart over his countenance so irritated his enemies that he was put to the torture repeatedly during the days previous to his execution, a thing which is contrary to all human and divine law.

He bore these dreadful torments as if they were a pleasure to him, and he was thankful for them as for special favours from heaven. His tormentors were so maddened at his sublime patience and power of suffering that they sent him to the gallows before the time fixed by the sentence of death, and hanged him on the 31st of October, 1602, even the Lord's Day, for which Protestants profess so much respect. He was led out from Cork amidst the prayers and tears of nearly all the citizens, and was conducted by soldiers to Youghal with his hands tied behind his back and a halter round his neck.

On his way to the place of execution he kept before his mind the picture of Our Lord going from Jerusalem to Calvary; he walked with great modesty and composure, his eyes fixed on heaven, his thoughts intent on God, his bearing dignified and showing great self possession. When he saw the gallows he saluted it with tender affection, and when he reached it he knelt down and kissed it, and then prayed to God for himself and his fatherland, and, after the example of the martyrs, he prayed also for the Queen and all his enemies. He then with great alacrity and a steady step went up the ladder. Standing on its top as if in a pulpit, he began more zealously than ever before to exhort the Catholics to preserve the faith with constancy till death, to be on their guard against the threats and promises of the Queen, the wrath of the Ministers, and the wiles of the heretics; and he concluded thus:

'Look up to heaven, and be not unworthy of your ancestors who boldly professed the faith; do you too uphold it. In defence of it I desire to give up my life to-day.'  These were his last words; they were most effective in encouraging the Catholics. Uttered in that place and at that solemn moment by one of high birth who had shown contempt for worldly goods, they fell like a thunderbolt on the ears even of the heretics. The officers, perceiving the effects of his words on the bystanders, and fearing that the crowd might be still more confirmed in their hatred of heresy, ordered him to be thrown off the ladder. He was but a short time hanging on the gallows, and still breathing and his breast heaving, when the executioner, in punishment of his bold profession of the Catholic religion, disembowelled him, cut his body in quarters, and tearing out his heart, held it up to the people, uttering the usual formula, 'God Save the Queen.'

The martyr's mangled and holy remains were collected with piety, reverence, and affection by the people of Youghal, and were religiously buried in a chapel close to the gate at which he was hanged. In that chapel he is honoured by the veneration of the faithful, and as the Catholics affirm, he is glorified by God, Who works miracles there at his intercession.

The O'Cullens were formerly Lords of Castlelyons and the surrounding territory, and our martyr, Donogh Oge O'Cullen, was chief of his clan in the 16th century; but Boyle, Earl of Cork, managed to get hold of his property, and in his last will left the suppressed monastery of Castlelyons to his daughter, Lady Barrymore, "to buy her gloves and pins." When Donogh, the youthful Irish chief, reached manhood, he went to France for the sake of more easily preserving his faith, and through a generous desire of defending the Catholic religion in that country he resolved to adopt a military career and to fight against the Calvinists who at that time were waging war against Catholicism with the sword as well as with voice and pen. When the war of the League came to an end, O'Cullen went in search of other services, and passed into Spain, where he was taken into the army of the Catholic King, and got a position suitable to his birth and merits. To this step he was impelled by a desire of military glory, and no doubt by a hope of returning to Ireland with a Spanish armada. His biographers tell us that he was made Capitan de la Armada, Real at Coruna, a port of Galicia.

While in this city he turned his attention more closely than heretofore to the practice of piety, and being free from the cares of war, he pondered over in his heart the vanity of transitory things and the inanity of human glory, and he began to realise the deep sense of joy, happiness, and hope which is found in serving under the standard of Jesus Christ. In order to wage war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, he frequently approached the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. He gave himself up to the reading of instructive and edifying books, and to the daily meditation of divine things, while he was a model of attention to his military duties, and he kept his body under subjection by fasting and continual corporal austerities.

As he continued this pious mode of life, he began by degrees to feel a desire to lead a life of still greater severity, and to view things of the other world in a different light.

Having made up his mind to enlist under the banner of Christ as his leader, he examined the Orders fighting for Him to see in which of them he should enrol himself. First he was attracted, by the mortified life of the Discalced Franciscans and by the strict observance of the Order of Preachers throughout Spain. Both these Orders, knowing his dispositions, would have conferred on him the order of the priesthood, but having recommended the matter to God long and earnestly, he determined to enter the lowly Society of Jesus, and to ask admittance as a humble temporal coadjutor. At St. James of Compostella he was received into the house of the Society on December 8th, 1598, and made his religious vows on February 4th, 1601. The next year he was appointed to accompany Father James Archer, S.J., who was to go with the fleet which the Catholic king was fitting out in aid of the Catholics of Ireland, under the command of Don Juan De Aguila. During the voyage he employed his zeal in caring both the bodies and souls of the sailors; attending on the sick night and day like a servant, and exhorting them to patience, urging on those who were in good health in the practice of virtue and horror of vice, and the use of the Sacraments. He continued his practices of mortification on shipboard, and when he landed in Ireland, as if he had no external labours to perform.

These voluntary mortifications prepared him, soul and body, to meet the sufferings he had to endure at the hands of the enemies of the faith. Soon after he landed at Dunboy Castle, he was seized and. put in chains by the heretics, contrary to the law of nations and in violation of their oath; for the besiegers had guaranteed the safety of all who defended the castle if they surrendered it, and had given a pledge, ratified by oath, into the hands of Dominic himself, who had proposed the terms of peace, and was the messenger of the besieged.

In February, 1905, the cause of beatification, of 350 Irish martyrs, amongst them Donogh Oge O'Cullen, alias Dominick Collins, S.J., was formally proposed to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and it bids fair to obtain a successful issue, so that we may hope to see him and them beatified at no distant period.

Further information regarding Brother Collins may be found in 'Distinguished Irishmen,' by Edmund Hogan, S.J., and in 'Our Martyrs,' by Rev., D. Murphy, S.J.

J. B.

[ One of Our Martyrs, (1909, May 6). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), p. 11. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from ]

Dominic Collins, S.J., is number 73 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) and is one of the Seventeen Beatified in 1992.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020. All rights reserved

Friday 30 October 2020

Terence Albert O'Brien, O.P. : The Martyr-Bishop of Emly


On October 30, 1651, the Bishop of Emly, Terence Albert O'Brien, O.P.,  was put to death in Limerick by the victorious Parliamentarian forces who had beseiged the city. The man who captured and condemned him was Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry Ireton. When Ireton met his own death less than a month later, it was claimed that Bishop O'Brien had prophesied that his tormentor would soon follow him; and that at his end Ireton said he regretted ever having seen 'that Popish bishop'. In the extract below, the Postulator of the cause of the Irish Dominican martyrs, Reginald Walsh, O.P. (1855-1932), introduces us to the life and turbulent times of Terence Albert O'Brien. Father Walsh undertook much detailed research and this account formed part of his series 'Some of our Martyrs', published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record. He illustrates his article with some contemporary documents and records Bishop O'Brien's last words as: "Preserve the faith, keep the Commandments, be resigned to the will of God, for thus will you preserve your souls. Weep not for me, but pray that I may meet death with gratitude, and happily finish my course."


THOUGH all true followers of the Crucified are willing to lay down their lives for Him, and a multitude that no man can number has received the grace to do so, yet amongst all the martyrs the bishops shine with a brightness of their own. The aureola becomes a mitred head best. The hand that carries a crozier here most suitably bears a palm branch in the Church triumphant. The very episcopal consecration of itself culminates in that love "greater than which no man hath." And still more so when the bishop has through life, in spite of dangers and difficulties innumerable, defended and maintained the faith in all its purity.

Such a pastor was he to whose memory the following pages are dedicated. One of the most conspicuous figures in the ecclesiastical history of Ireland during the eventful seventeenth century is unquestionably Terence Albert O'Brien, the martyr-bishop of Emly. His unswerving rectitude and devotion to duty, joined to his nobility of soul and his loyalty to the Holy See, have won for him the admiration of posterity.

We do not know the exact place of his birth, but the boundaries of his ancestral domain are clearly marked, for the sept or clan to which he belonged was the Mac I-Brien Arra, whose chief fortress stood on Keeper Hill, and whose other castles were Ballina, Cnoc-an-ein-Fin, and Kilmostully.

They sprang from Brien Roe O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, eighth in descent from Brian Boru, and younger brother of Teige, the ancestor of the earls of Thomond and Inchiquin. Terence or Turlough (his was a family name in the Arra branch, but rarely met with amongst the other O'Briens) while still young conceived the desire of devoting himself to the service of God in the Dominican Order, and applied to his uncle, Father Maurice O'Brien, then Prior of St. Saviour's, Limerick. The request was gladly acceded to. Could his family and his new superior have seen the future that was in store for that child of many hopes, they would have acknowledged that it surpassed their highest expectations. At his reception he took the name of Albert, dear to Dominicans, as being that of one of the prodigies of the thirteenth century, known to all succeeding ages as "Albert the Great."

If lustre was ever added to that name, it certainly was by him who was now henceforward to bear it. The year's probation showed what was in the youthful novice, so richly endowed with the gifts of nature, and the still better ones of grace. At its close, with all the devotion of his young heart, he pronounced his solemn vows before the altar of St. Saviour's, Limerick, and soon after bade a temporary farewell to the land of his birth.

In the Regesta of the Most Rev. Father Seraphino Sicci, General of the Order (1620-24), we find the following entry: "1622, May 22nd. Brother Albert O'Brien was sent to Toledo for his studies." (Archives of the Order, Rome.) Archdeacon Lynch of Tuam also states in his manuscript history of the Irish bishops, to which we shall often have occasion to refer, that Terence Albert O'Brien went through his course of ecclesiastical studies in St. Peter Martyr's, Toledo. It was at that time one of the most famous schools of theology in Spain. In the list of the fifty Irish students residing in Spanish houses of the Order, which was sent to Propaganda in 1627, amongst the last names we see those of Frater Albertus Brian, Frater Arturus Geoghegan, Frater Thaddeus Moriarty, Frater Joannes Cuillain." All four were destined to receive the palm of martyrdom, though not at the same time. How closely united in mutual charity, and how true to their high vocation were these devoted religious! Far away from Ireland as they were, they ever remembered that she expected them to do their utmost to maintain her dearest cause, that of the true faith. And fervently they prayed that God would protect the Island of Saints, and enable themselves, when their turn should come, to promote her highest interests to the best of their ability.

The subject of our article was still in Spain, in 1629, as another list sent to Propaganda shows. This is an instructive instance of the importance attached to a full course of study, at a time when less enlightened superiors would have been induced to curtail it by the specious plea of the urgent necessities of the Irish mission. The Dominican legislation of the period not only takes into account, it even lays stress on, the peculiar circumstances of the country, but only to find in them a cogent argument for bringing home none but matured priests, men of solid virtue and learning, able to guide others, and ready to face the dangers which awaited the ministers of the Gospel. How wise this was, and how well Terence Albert O'Brien repaid the care that had been bestowed on his ecclesiastical training, will abundantly appear in the sequel. With regard to the companions of his novitiate, who, with one exception, were not the companions of his martyrdom, it will be enough to say here that Father Thaddeus O'Moriarty and Father John O'Cuillin were amongst the most zealous priests that ever returned to the shores of Ireland. The third, Father Arthur Geoghegan, was apprehended on his way home; he suffered at Tyburn, in 1633. Their history will be contained in other articles.

On his arrival in Ireland, Father Albert O'Brien was assigned to St. Saviour's, Limerick. For many years, unobserved by men, he laboured assiduously for his own sanctification, as well as for that of his neighbour. During this period he was twice Prior of St. Saviour's, and once of St. Peter Martyr's, Lorrha, near Portumna. As regards his own inner life at this time, it is to be regretted that no detailed account of it has been preserved such as that given of his actions and of his influence on others at a later period. We have, however, sufficient evidence of his virtues, as well as of the esteem with which he was regarded, in the fact of his being thrice elected Prior. This of itself would entitle him to our respect; and still more does the choice made of him in the Chapter held in the Black Abbey, Kilkenny, A.D. 1643, to be Provincial of Ireland. We may mention that in the letters patent of the confirmation of his election (Archives of the Order, Rome) he is called " Albertus Bernardinus, vulgo O'Brien;" why "Bernardinus," we know not. But Lynch also states, in the manuscript already quoted, that he took as his name in religion, "Albertus aut Bernardinus"! Those who elected him to be their Provincial acted wisely in entrusting their common weal to one who, in the words of a contemporary, was conspicuous for his zeal. It was a time of hope, when the hearts of Catholics throbbed with the expectation of a brighter day. The Confederation had assembled in Kilkenny, and all around the social and political horizon looked fair, and promised the sunshine of national liberty. Efforts were joyfully made on every side to remove the traces of all the crimes that Queen Elizabeth and James I. had committed; and men vied, as it were, with each other in restoring religion to its ancient splendour.

It is interesting to note that nearly all the old chalices, &c., still in use in Dominican churches throughout Ireland belong to this period. Only two or three at most bear an earlier date; but, speaking from memory, even these are of the seventeenth century. This fact in the case of one Order shows how complete was the confiscation of church plate in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, even allowing for accidental losses, &c. And the other remarkable fact points as clearly to a great revival, almost instantaneous, made with a determination like that of the Macchabees, to reinstate divine worship in all its due solemnity. It is equally interesting to note that many of these chalices, as well as some other ones without date, appear to be of Spanish workmanship. Such sacred memorials of the past tell their own history. Young priests returning home from Toledo, Salamanca, &c., must have brought these chalices to Ireland. Thus it is morally certain that some of those still in daily use were often in the hands of one or other of the "martyrs."

We saw already that at the same period the number of Dominicans in Ireland was about six hundred. They had in a few years increased most marvellously, in the designs of God, no doubt, in order to meet the enemies of His Church in the struggle that was nearer than perhaps anyone thought then. The few religious who had survived the last persecution united once more in community life; schools and novitiates were re-opened or enlarged; and large numbers of students were sent to the best schools of theology on the Continent. How holy their lives must have been, how apostolic their spirit, appeared when their virtue was put to the severest of all tests.

The guiding spirit of all the good then effected by the Dominicans in Ireland was their saintly Provincial. His energy made itself felt everywhere. We may well be surprised that, amidst the pressing cares of his new position, and the exigencies of the times, he could hope to find time for reading. Yet so it was. A letter from the General, of a later date, gives him permission to have, for his own use, a history of the General Councils, the works of St. Thomas, Cajetan, Baronius, &c. Towards the end of the year 1643 he received a summons to attend the General Chapter of the Order in Rome. The high esteem in which he was held by the Supreme Council is evident from the following letters of safe-conduct and recommendation :


"As the Very Rev. Father Albert O'Brien is summoned, on account of his office, to the General Chapter of the Order of Preachers, which is to be held in Rome next May, by authority of our Holy Father Urban VIII., we deem it right, on account of his noble birth, his spotless life, his eminent learning, and his office of Provincial of his Order in Ireland, to commend him to all Catholics to whom these presents shall come, because he has exerted every effort to promote the Catholic cause in Ireland. We trust that he will be welcome to all that favour our cause, and that, as is meet, he will be received by them with Christian charity and courtesy.

"Given at Kilkenny, 10th Feb., 1643 (4)."
The letter of recommendation had been written the day before.

"REVEREND FATHER, The bearer, Father Albertus O'Brien, Provinciall of the Friars Preachers in this kingdome, beinge sent for to the Generall Chapter of his Order, to be held at Rome, hath merited soe well of us and our cause, and hath beene soe zealous in furtheringe of it, both by himselfe and those subject to his authoritye, that we may not omitt to recommend him unto you as a man who hath made it his studye to advance our designes, as well by cherishinge and encouradginge those who did assist us, as by chastising some who thought to disquiet our proceedings. Wee pray you, therefore, to further and to give all due countenance to his affairs.

" Kilkenny, the 9th of Februarie, 1643 (4)." 

The Provincial must have set out immediately, and travelled with expedition, for he reached Rome on the 24th of April, as appears from an entry of that date (General's Archives). The room in the Minerva (the head house of the Order) which he occupied may still be seen.

The famous Franciscan, Father Luke Wadding, was the agent of the Confederate Catholics at Rome; and none could have been found more capable or more deserving of that high office. He gave, we may be sure, a warm welcome to the Dominican, from whom, in turn, he would learn the latest news of the great events then occurring at home.

In the General Chapter of 1644 many important enactments relating to the Dominican Province of Ireland were made, in all which one may trace the noble spirit, and the influence for good which were the characteristics of Terence Albert O'Brien. These, as being so much private legislation, we shall pass over; suffice it to say that they all testify to his wisdom and zeal. Two other matters, however, may be of interest to many readers, and so will be mentioned here. It was in this Chapter that the privilege was granted to all Irish Catholics that wear the white scapular bestowed on the Order by the Blessed Virgin, of participating in the benefits enjoyed and in the merit of the good works performed by all Dominicans throughout the world. It was in this General Chapter also that the first list of our martyrs was made. For many years no representative of the Irish Province had been able to take part in such an assembly, and unfortunately the names of those who died for the faith during that period have not been recorded in the contemporary " Acta Capitulorum Generalium" The exceeding violence of that long persecution which sent so many to heaven, "clothed with white robes and palms in their hands," was at the same time the partial cause of their names with few exceptions being no longer remembered on earth. But Terence Albert O'Brien resolved, as regarded the martyrs of his own time about whom he could bear witness, that this omission should not be suffered to continue. A succinct list was accordingly drawn up and presented to the Chapter. The first name on this roll of the Church's heroes was that of his fellow student, Arthur MacGeoghegan. As he gave testimony to the glorious death of his former companion, did a voice from heaven whisper in his ear, "To-day for me, to-morrow for thee." His humility might forbid such a presentiment, but in his heart glowed a martyr's spirit, and the desire, if God so willed, of standing once more side by side with the friend of his youth, never again to be separated. And so it was to be; a few years afterwards his own name was to be the first on another list of martyrs.

During the Chapter the virtue and learning of the Irish Provincial won the admiration of all, and in time became known to the Pope, Urban VIII. At its conclusion, he and some other Irish fathers received the highest distinction, the degree, namely, of Master in Theology. As soon as his presence in Rome was no longer required, he set out for home, and on his way stopped at Lisbon for the purpose of making the usual visitation of the members of the Irish Province, priests and nuns residing in that city, the former at Corpo Santo, the latter at Belem (Bethlehem). It was during his stay in Lisbon that he received the announcement that, in consequence of a petition received from the Supreme Council, it was the Pope's intention to appoint him to the see of Emly; and in consequence he bade farewell to his brethren in Corpo Santo, including its founder the famous Dominic of the Rosary (O'Daly), and returned without further delay to Ireland in order to convoke the Provincial Chapter for the election of his successor.

The date of Father Albert O'Brien's actual elevation to the episcopacy was unknown to Dr. Burke  and other writers, the fact being that, perhaps in consequence of the death of Urban VIII. (29th July, 1644), he was not appointed immediately. In the following year, on October 22nd, the Papal Nuncio, Rinuccini, landed at Kenmare, and on November 12th entered Kilkenny when the Supreme Confederation was sitting. His first care, as Father Meehan shows so clearly, was to fill up the ranks of the episcopate, for at the time several sees were vacant, and one at least required a coadjutor. The Nuncio's letter to Cardinal Panfilio Kilkenny, 31st December, 1645 contains the following interesting passage: "Father Terence, the Dominican Provincial, has been in Italy. He is a man of prudence and discretion, and experienced in the management of affairs. We may be sure that he will be a success, and the Bishop who desires to have him as Coadjutor feels himself to be in extremely bad health."  And on 11th August, 1646 (Latest account of the dioceses), "the Bishop of Emly is confined to his bed, speechless and senseless. It appears necessary therefore to give him a Coadjutor, and a better cannot be found than Father Terence O'Brien, whose support, moreover, of the Catholic cause at the present time is deserving of the highest possible reward, as the memorial of the clergy sets forth."

Then "on Monday, 11th March, 1647, a secret consistory was held, in which (as according to the report of the Cardinal D'Este, the see called Calamensis had become vacant on account of the translation of Edmund Dwyer to the see of Limerick) his Holiness appointed thereto Terence Albert O'Brien, O.P., as bishop and pastor, and made him Coadjutor to the Bishop of Emly, with right of succession, &c." (Consistorial Records.) The appointment was notified at once, for in the Regesta of the General (De Marinis), we find the entry, "March 25th, permission was granted to Father Terence O'Brien, Master of Theology, to accept the bishopric." It is certain that he was consecrated by the Nuncio (as Lynch affirms), the ceremony being performed probably in St. Canice's Cathedral, or in the Black Abbey, Kilkenny. Lynch also states, that in November, 1651, he had been more than four years a bishop. This enables us to ascertain approximately the date of the ceremony.

The consecration of Terence Albert O'Brien, whose zeal and activity were indefatigable, marked the commencement of a new era not only for the diocesans of Emly, but for the Catholics of Ireland. As was, however, to be expected, those very qualities which endeared the bishop to the people made him, according to the remark of another contemporary writer,  the man in all Ireland whom the Protestants hated most. His energy and firm resolve were but too well known, and they felt instinctively that even if they got the upper hand, they might break but not bend him. Dr. O'Hurley was unable to attend to the wants of his flock, but his place was well filled. Such was the verdict of friend and foe. Very soon the diocese of Emly began to experience the bitter results of the defeat sustained by the Confederates at Cnoc-na-noss, 13th November, 1647, when Inchiquin in the pride and insolence of victory overran the whole district west of Cashel, and in his hatred of the Nuncio revenged himself on his own noble kinsman. The latter, on his part, left nothing undone to succour and console his flock in their misfortunes. Night and day, through wood and glen, did this good shepherd, at the risk of his own life, seek his sheep and defend them from the wolf. When the raid was over he was one of those thirteen bishops who on April 27th, 1648, signed at Kilkenny the famous declaration that no truce should be made with Inichiquin.

With that fidelity to the Holy See and its representatives characteristic of the Order to which he belonged, he gave on every occasion proofs of his unalterable loyalty and attachment to Rinuccini till that prelate's departure from Galway, January 23rd, 1649. At the first announcement he had hastened to bid him farewell, but when he reached the neighbourhood of the city, to his disappointment, he was informed that the Nuncio's vessel, the San Pietro, had already sailed. He was also in Galway, August 23rd, 1650, when with four other bishops he subscribed the Jamestown Declaration (August 6th, same year) against the iniquitous policy of Ormond; and a letter written in the same city, 29th March, 1651, states that he had been unable to enter his own diocese for more than a year.

Through all this troubled time the cause of the nation was the cause of God. This must be ever kept in mind as the reason why the Irish hierarchy took the lead in affairs which otherwise would be purely secular. The motives which animated the bishops may best be understood from their own words:

"We, the Archbishops, Bishops, &c., having met at Clonmacnoise, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord God, 1649, taking into our consideration among many other affairs then agitated and determined for the preservation of the Kingdom, that many of our flock are held by a vain opinion of hope that the Commander-in-Chief of the Rebels' forces (commonly called the Parliamentaries) would afford them good conditions, and that relying thereon, they suffer utter destruction of religion, lives, and fortunes, if not prevented. We cannot, therefore, in our duty to God, and in discharge of the care we are obliged to have for the preservation of our flocks, but admonish them not to delude and lose themselves with the vain expectation of conditions to be had from that merciless enemy. And. consequently, we beseech the gentry and inhabitants, for God's glory and their own safety, to contribute with patience to the support of the war against that enemy, in hopes that by the blessing of God they may be rescued from the threatened evils, &c. Admonishing also those that are inlisted of the army to prosecute constantly, according to each man's charge, the trust reposed in them, the opposition of the common enemy, in so just a war as that they have undertaken for their religion, king, and country, as they expect the blessing of God to fall on their actions; and to avoid God's heavy judgment, and the indignation of their native country, they neither plunder nor oppress the people, &c."

Among the twenty-two signatures is that of Frater Terentius Imolac.

We now approach the most glorious part of his career. He was in Limerick when that devoted city was first besieged. He had gone there, as Lynch observes, when the power of the Confederate Catholics began to wane. Such was the opinion entertained of his energy and influence, even by those outside the walls, that Ireton secretly sent him word that he would give him forty thousand golden crowns and a safe-conduct out of the kingdom to any place he pleased, if he would only cease to exhort the inhabitants to the defence of the city, and connive at its surrender. From the commencement of the siege he had opposed the very mention of a compromise with the Parliamentarians, and had used every  means to encourage the garrison to hold out. His efforts redoubled when he saw that some began to waver. The Cromwellian general estimated correctly the bishop's power, but he must not have known what sort of a man the bishop was. The base suggestion was indignantly rejected. Filled with rage at being disappointed, Ireton vowed that if he ever got possession of Limerick he would immolate O'Brien.

As Linehan says:

"When Ireton heard of the stern inflexibility of the Bishop, he resolved at once to except him from amnesty and every other condition he proposed to the besieged. He swore, too, that he would visit with the most awful consequences the citizens if they hesitated to bring him the head of the Bishop, together with those of the twenty men who had voted against giving the city into his hands. A council assembled; a debate ensued. Two hundred ecclesiastics now met, and with one voice they proclaimed their determination to interpose between Ireton and the twenty he had named for death; but in vain, for all ecclesiastics were excepted. O'Daly ["Dominic of the Rosary"] throws out a dark hint, which is supposed to reflect on some of those who were engaged inside the walls at the time, and adds that the witnesses to the circumstances to which he alludes were in Lisbon at the moment he wrote. O'Brien offered to give himself up, so that the others should be saved; but his proposal was rejected by the ecclesiastics."

On October 29th, after a heroic resistance of five months, the city surrendered. Besides those slain in its defence, five thousand had already died of pestilence within its walls. The remaining inhabitants would perchance have held out longer, and might have forced Ireton to raise the siege, but for Fennel's treason. At length, however, the gates of Limerick were opened; a rush was made by the eager Puritans; and the noble-hearted bishop, faithful to the end, in ministering to the crowd of the dying in the pest-house, fell into the clutches of his enemies. He was a coveted prize, for he had often foiled their most desperate efforts. With his hands bound, and his feet chained with fetters, he was taken before Ireton, whose fiendish exultation at having the Popish prelate in his power at last may easily be imagined. He charged O'Brien with inciting the people against the English rule and religion; and without more ado passed sentence on him. The latter calmly answered that he was a bishop; that all they did and could condemn him for was the faithful discharge of a bishop's duty; and that for it he was prepared to die. While those who surrounded him offered a last insult to his sacred person, he fearlessly denounced the hypocrisy and wickedness of Ireton, and summoned him soon to appear before the divine tribunal.

The words were prophetic. The ruthless persecutor was only permitted to fill up the number of the martyr's brethren, in part, by the slaughter of the others Dominic Fanning, Thomas Stritch, &c. whom he had not "received to pardon." Then the avenging arm of God's justice was no longer stayed, and the unhappy wretch, haunted by remorse and terror, like Herod's, in his dying hours, had to acknowledge that the innocent blood of O'Brien was the cause of his own death, was heard to shriek out: " Oh, that I had never seen that Popish bishop! It was not I, it was not I ; the Council did it.''  But remorse was not repentance; and the ruling passion, strong in death, finally claimed the man of iron, the pitiless murderer, as its victim. Another author, whose testimony is here above suspicion for his chief aim is ever to glorify Cromwell and his relatives thus describes Ireton's end: "While in this last appointment, in the height of his most prosperous success, he was seized, November 15, 1651, before Limerick, with the plague, which carried him off on the 26th of the same month; and if we may believe Sir Philip Warwick (who had it from a person who was present), he died raving, crying out: 'I will have more blood, blood, blood!'" Such was the fate in store for this implacable enemy of religion. The prophecy and its awful fulfilment was so well known in Limerick that the new Protestant inhabitants of that city for years afterwards boldly kept Thursday, the day on which Cromwell's worthy son-in-law expired, as a festival, lest the Catholics should point to his untimely end as to a visible mark of divine vengeance.  The devotion which imposed this weekly feast in commemoration of Ireton, no doubt suggested also the title of his funeral oration, ''The Labouring Saint's Dismission to Rest." Such was the shameless hypocrisy, or the blind fanaticism, of his followers.

But to return to the Bishop. The old jail, which until a few years ago stood near Mary Street, was probably the place of his imprisonment during the two days previous to his execution. On his way from it to the scaffold he did his best to console the Catholics, who, according to Lynch's narrative, were weeping bitterly at the sight of the indignities already heaped on the beloved bishop. Many were overcome with dismay at the thought of being about losing, in the hour of direst need, their best friend and protector. He recommended himself to the prayers of all, while the serenity of his own look showed the gladness which filled his soul. His last words, spoken from the scaffold, were: "Preserve the faith, keep the Commandments, be resigned to the will of God, for thus will you preserve your souls. Weep not for me, but pray that I may meet death with gratitude, and happily finish my course."

It was the eve of All Saints a fitting day to bear testimony to their King, and then to be numbered amongst them. The martyr's body was left hanging for three hours, during which the Puritan soldiers treated it with every mark of contempt. They swung it to and fro in derision, and so beat it with their muskets that it almost lost the appearance of having once been human. Three days after this horrible scene had been enacted, Ireton sent the following despatch, which is in his usual canting style, to Lenthal, the Speaker of the Parliament: "November 3rd. It hath pleased God, since the surrender, to discover and deliver into our hands two persons of principal activity and influence in the obstinate holding out of Limerick the Bishop of Emly and Major-General Purcell, whom we presently hanged, and have set up their heads on the gates." What Protestant historians thought of the former deed of savage cruelty, may be gathered from these words of Borlase, the son of the persecuting Lord Justice of the same name. In his History of the Execrable Irish Rebellion, p. 299 (ed. 1680), copying Clarendon, as usual, he says:
"The instances of blood and severity which Ireton gave on being possessed of this place were very remarkable, whilst Ireton manifested what his [the Bishop of Limerick's] fate would have been by the treatment they gave to Terlough O'Brien, the Bishop of Emly, whom they took, and without any formality of justice, and with all reproaches imaginable, caused to be publicly hanged. This unhappy prelate had from the beginning opposed with great passion the King's authority, and obstinately adhered to the Nuncio and to that party which was most averse from returning to their allegiance, and was thus miserably put to death even in that city whence he had been a principal instrument to shut out his Majesty's authority."
Borlase wrote long after the Restoration, and this may explain his choice of certain words. The "King's" authority mentioned by him must be the pretended one in spirituals, peculiar to the successors of Henry VIII. in the government of England, by whatever name they were styled; for surely he knew that in 1651 there was no English monarch, and that the Cromwellians despised royal authority in temporals. Writing in 1680, he could not hope to impose on anyone by calling Ireton a good subject; nor, on the other hand, to escape unpleasant consequences himself if he expressed sympathy with the Roundhead policy. He may have had the unblushing hardihood to assert that the Bishop of Emly was a rebel to lawful temporal authority; but that is false. All true Catholics, but pre-eminently the Bishop and the others of the Nuncio's party, were thoroughly loyal to Charles I. It may not, however, be known to every reader that the unfortunate monarch was well aware of the fact. He writes thus to the Earl of Glamorgan: "Tell the Nuncio, that if once I can come into his or your hands, which ought to be extremely desired by you both, as well as for the sake of England as Ireland, since all the rest, as I see, despise me, I will do it." But Rinuccini, in his mission to Ireland, and Terence Albert O'Brien in co-operating with him, had a higher motive than allegiance to an earthly king; and Ireton in Limerick, was actuated more by hatred towards the Catholic religion than by the desire of establishing the Parliamentarian power.

The head of the martyred bishop was fixed on a pole. It was then placed upon one of the towers of King John's Castle, over the archway leading to the city, where it long remained, perfectly incorrupt, with fresh blood dropping from it. This prodigy, which still continued when Dominic of the Rosary wrote his history, four years later, has always been looked on as a token of the Bishop's spotless purity. Throughout life he had been distinguished by his great holiness, which was subsequently attested to by Father Denis Hanrahan, O.P.,  who heard his general confession on the very day the English entered Limerick. It was from the account of the saintly prelate's life and death, written by this Dominican, that Archdeacon Lynch made the epitome contained in the oft-quoted manuscript history of the Irish bishops.

All succeeding writers have paid honour to the memory of the glorious martyr-bishop. Their words would be too long for insertion here. A testimony, however, of special interest is found in the memorial on behalf of Ireland presented, in 1667, to Clement X. by Nicholas Ffrench, the famous Bishop of Ferns: "Interfecti in Odium Fidei: 2. D. Fr. Terentius O'Brien, Episcopus Imolacensis, Ordinis Praedicatorum, laqueo strangulatus fuit in civitate Limericensi sic jubente Iretonio Cromuelli Genero, et exercitu haeretico barbare ei insultante." An official document in the archives of the Propaganda also testifies to the fact: "Fra Vescovi, Imolacense ottimo, morto martire."  In the same collection, fol. 610, is preserved the summary of a petition drawn up by the Secretary of Propaganda, which ends thus: "Per gloriosam mortem sui consanguinei Terentii O'Brien ejusdem sedis ultimi Antistitis." The petition itself, presented in 1652, is on the preceding page, fol. 609; in it the clergy of Emly pray that Dermot O'Brien, a relative of the late bishop, and a faithful imitator of his virtues, be appointed Vicar-General of the bereaved diocese. The memory of Terence Albert O'Brien has never ceased to be one of the brightest glories of Emly. A few years ago, if the writer is not mistaken, the clergy of the now united dioceses of Cashel and Emly presented as their offering to the new church in Emly a memorial window representing the two martyr-prelates, Dermot 'Hurley (Cashel) and Terence A. O'Brien. The only relic of our bishop now apparently extant is his pectoral cross.... 


Rev. R. Walsh, O.P., Some of our Martyrs: Terence Albert O'Brien and Companions, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol 15 1894, 97-120.

Bishop O'Brien is number 160 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) and is one of the Seventeen Irish Martyrs beatified in 1992.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020. All rights reserved

Sunday 4 October 2020

The Irish Franciscan

Today is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi and below is a 1902 poem, typical of the verse found in the popular religious press of the day, in praise of The Irish Franciscan. The Franciscan Order played an important role in the history of Ireland during the Reformation period. Members of the Order are among the Irish martyrs and the martyrologists of the Irish Franciscan colleges in continental Europe recorded and preserved the memory of their sufferings. Furthermore, these colleges supplied trained clergy to return to Ireland on the Counter-Reformation mission. This poem hints at the close relationship the Franciscans enjoyed with the Irish people. The friar even becomes a part of the Irish landscape as his brown robes provide the perfect camouflage for the bog land. The landscape is a wild, lonely and windswept one; a common theme in this period which evokes the image of the past glories of the 'Celtic church'. Our Franciscan is even explicitly linked to the early Irish saints, although Saint Adamnan perhaps strains the rhyme to breaking-point:

A bare-foot friar all in brown,
Weather-beat face and storm-rent gown,
Tattered hood over shaven crown,
Travelleth as the sun goes down.

Whither ere morning goeth he?
Over the bog he moveth free;
Bog so brown it were hard to see
That brown man travelling patiently.

Hidden under his threadbare vest
He holdeth One close to his breast.
"O Lord, in what poor place of rest
This winter's eve Thou harbourest?"

Deep in the pools the red lights die,
Darkness veileth the western sky ;
Only the plover cry and cry
Amens to prayer as they vanish by.

Who are these, thou barefoot man,
Weak and weary and under a ban,
Who meet thee in the starlight wan?
Columb and Patrick and Adamnan.

Three with torches faint and white,
Threading the holes to give thee light,
Bowing before the One of might,
Thou bearest with thee through the night.

Now the dawn opes in the east,
There's the altar and here's the priest;
Welcome now to the last and least,
Who hunger for the Master's feast.

Table of rock and cloth of moss
(Gold and silver are Mammon's dross),
Rude is the stone and rude the cross,
O Christ our gain, O world our loss.

Ye banned and outlawed of the faith!
Shrive ye now with bated breath;
Hither the hunter hasteneth,
Fear not the little pain of death.

Shines the moon o'er the curling sea,
Sighs the wind in the white-thorn tree.
Forth from the bows as the gale blows free..
Swingeth a figure dolorously.

A bare foot friar all in brown,
Weather-beat face and threadbare gown,
Girdle of rope and shaven crown —
Swingeth he as the moon goes down.

— R.M.G.

The Irish Monthly, Vol. 30, No. 347 (May, 1902), pp. 270-271.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020. All rights reserved