Friday 22 January 2021

Three Franciscan Martyrs of Down: Edmund Fitzsimon, Donough O'Rourke and John O'Loughran


On January 21, 1575, according to the seventeenth-century writer Anthony Bruodin (1625-1680), three Franciscans in Saint Patrick's own city of Down were hanged within the confines of their friary, a foundation which dated from the 1230s. The deaths of Friars O' Lochran, Fitzsimon(s) and O'Rourke were recorded by several of their Order's martyrologists.  The following account is based on the work of two of them - Bruodin and the famous Louvain scholar, Waterford man Luke Wadding (1588-1657): 

Rev. John O'Lochran, Edmund Simmons, and Donat O'Rorke, Franciscans.

These fathers were members of the Franciscan convent of Down. A military commissioner, named Britton, and his ravaging band, resolved to fix their winter quarters in that ancient town. Their thirst for religious spoils soon impelled them to the convent. But the sacred vessels had been concealed, and none could be found. The three fathers were their only prey. These they first subjected to a variety of tortures, and then, dragging them to the adjoining garden, strangled them from the branches of a large oak that overshadowed the sanctuary.

M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), pp. 55-56.

Father Denis Murphy based his account on that of another seventeenth-century Irish Franciscan scholar of Louvain, Donegal man Hugh Ward (1593-1635):

 1575. John O'Lochran, Edmund Fitzsimon, and Donogh O'Roarke, O.S.F.

(From Ward's Catalogue.)

In 1570 a certain Englishman named John Britton, or Brereton, accompanied by a body of soldiers, seized Brothers John O'Lochran, Edmund Fitzsimon, and Donogh O'Roarke, priests, in the convent of Down, and after putting them to the torture repeatedly, hanged them near the place commonly called St. John's Well, the spot where the angels appeared to St. Patrick. He hanged two more in the garden of the convent from a tree, though he had received a large sum of money from the townsmen to set them free. It is said that the tree, which formerly bore fruit in abundance, soon became withered, and never sent out a leaf. Bruodin gives January 21st, 1575, as the date of their martyrdom. 

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. , Our Martyrs,  (Dublin, 1896), p. 94.

Father Ward has provided a hagiographical flourish to his account by adding the detail of the withered tree. He also states that the executions took place in 1570 rather than 1575, something confirmed in another Louvain manuscript attributed to Ward which mentioned the history of Downpatrick Friary:

....The friars were first expelled from this convent by John Brittan, an English Protestant, who, with a number of wicked followers, invaded the place in the year 1569. The friars were apprised of his approach, and saved themselves by flight, but returned again; and in the following year, 1570, he made an attack on the convent, hanged all the friars he caught, and almost totally destroyed the establishment, with the exception of the church which was kept as a court house for the English judges of Assize.... 

Rev. James O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Ancient and Modern, Vol. I (Dublin, 1878), pp. 260-261.

The website of the Irish Franciscans adds that the names of these Franciscan martyrs are all local to the area, substituting Rooney for O'Rorke:

Driven out of Downpatrick in 1569, [the Franciscans] returned the following year when three friars with local names (Fitzsimons, Rooney and Loughran) were hanged from an Oak tree near Toberglory which is now called St. Dillon’s Well.

Our three martyred friars of Down, Edmund Fitzsimon, Donough O'Rourke and John O'Loughran are numbers 39, 40 and 41 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose names were submitted to Rome. No further progress has been made on their cause.


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