Wednesday 20 January 2021

Father John Wallis and Father John Walsh

One distinct sub-grouping within the Irish martyrs whom I find particularly interesting are those Irishmen who were martyred in England. I have already written about a number of them and links to the various posts can be found here.  In most cases the circumstances in which these Irish victims came to be in Britain have been established, but not in the case of Father John Wallis, who died in prison in Worcester on January 20, 1582.  In his classic work Our Martyrs, Father Denis Murphy translated the 1669 account of Irish Franciscan martyrologist Anthony Bruodin:

1582. John Wallis

(From Bruodin's Propugnaculum, p. 445)

He was a priest, a native of Leinster, noble by birth but still more noble by reason of his reverence for the things of heaven. He was seized by the heretics, and bore with wonderful patience the various kinds of torture inflicted on him. At length he was sent to England, and imprisoned in the gaol at Worcester. There he died of hunger and other hardships, and triumphed gloriously for Christ, January 20th, 1582. 

See also Rothe and Molanus. The latter gives 1600 as the date of his death. Challoner makes no mention of him.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. , Our Martyrs,  (Dublin, 1896), p. 124.

 Initially I wondered, given the date of his death and his Leinster origins, if the noble father might be another victim of the executions following the Baltinglass Rebellion. There were two problems with this idea though, first the 'Martyrs of the Pale' executed in the aftermath of the Rebellion were mostly aristocratic laymen, among whom I have never seen a Father Wallis mentioned. Secondly, I would still be left to wonder what was so special about the case of this priest that he would be sent to England, instead of simply being executed in Ireland. Unfortunately, Bishop Challoner (d. 1781), whose detailed and authoritative account of the English martyrs included many of the Irish among them, does not mention Father Wallis. But then if we examine the 1600 date another possibility arises. Myles O'Reilly, in the other great nineteenth-century catalogue of Irish Martyrs, translates the entry from Bishop Rothe cited by Father Murphy above:

Anno 1600.

Rev. John  Walsh,

A priest and Vicar-General of the diocese of Dublin, was thrown by chance on the coast of England, questioned of his faith, and for his constancy thrown into prison in Chester, where he ended his life and confession of the faith in chains, about 1600. 

M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), p. 165.

Could Father John Walsh be the same person as Father John Wallis ? I strongly suspect that this might be the case. Indeed, by his reference to Bishop Rothe and Molanus and the year 1600 when dealing with Father Wallis, Father Murphy himself seems to link the two. A number of things can be said to support this possibility. Bishop Rothe was closer to the events than Bruodin for he recorded the case of Father Walsh in his De processu martyriali published in 1619, fifty years before Bruodin's own work was issued. The scenario of 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time' as an explanation for the Irish priest's imprisonment is a perfectly reasonable one. Irishmen Christopher Roche and James Dowdall, for example, were martyred in England while trying to make return passage to Ireland. It would also be fair to say that Bishop Rothe has a greater reputation for accuracy than Bruodin, whose work has been shown to have garbled names and dates and places of execution of other Irish martyrs. The names Walsh and Wallis are similar and given the circumstances in which all of these martyrologists were working, writing from exile and often dependent on hearsay reports of varying quality and reliability, it is not surprising if there are inconsistencies in their accounts.

The name of Father John Wallis  does not appear on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) submitted to Rome for consideration and neither have I been able to find him on any of the lists of English martyrs. Father John Walsh, however is number 20 on the 1918 Official List, but no further progress has been made with his cause.

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