Monday 24 May 2021

Phelim O'Hara and Henry Delahoyde: Two Martyred Franciscans of Moyne

The names of two Franciscans, Phelim O'Hara and Henry Delahoyde (Delahayde, O'Lahaye), of Moyne, County Mayo have been linked in some of the sources as having suffered martyrdom together in the year 1578. In his 1905 book on Irish monasteries, Carmelite historian, Father James Rushe, gives a brief summary of Moyne Friary's history:

The Franciscan monastery of Moyne, county Mayo, was a superb edifice situated on the river Moy, near its entrance to the Bay of Killala, and affording a grand view of the Atlantic. It was the gift of MacWilliam Burke to St. Francis, at the instance of Father Nehemias O'Donoghoe — the first Vicar-Provincial of the Irish Observantines, renowned as a preacher and for his eminent holiness (A.D. 1460). The beautiful church was consecrated in 1462 by Donatus O'Connor, Bishop of Killala, and placed under the invocation of St. Francis. Soon after this solemn ceremony the founder had the claustral limits marked out by a massive stone wall. Beneath the church was a crypt wherein might be seen the tombs of many noble benefactors, not a few of whom had worn the humble habit of St. Francis during life. The library was very valuable, a great number of precious works having been collected there, this house being a college of the Irish Province for more than a hundred and fifty years: the community rarely comprised less than fifty religious — whether priests, students, or lay-brothers. Here, too, the Provincial Chapters were frequently held. When suppressed by command of Queen Elizabeth, the friary of Moyne became the scene of the martyrdom of several heroic sons of Saint Francis. 
Rev. James P. Rushe, O.D.C., A Second Thebaid: Being a Popular Account of the Ancient Monasteries of Ireland, (Dublin. London and New York, 1905), 201.

The martyrdom of Brother Phelim O'Hara was one of the cases featured by Myles O'Reilly in his 1869 compilation of Irish martyrs. He drew on the account left by Father Donatus Mooney, O.F.M., (c.1577-1624). Father Mooney was a survivor of the assault on Donegal friary in 1601 and became Provincial of the Order in 1615.  He undertook an official visitation to all of the Irish Franciscan foundations and wrote a history of them at Louvain in 1617-1618. He begins by telling us that Brother Phelim was martyred as part of an attack on the Franciscans of  Elphin, but all other sources place him within the community at Moyne:

"In the year 1578, the English heretics made an expedition to this convent, (that of Elphin, in the city of the same name,) and when the brethren learned their approach they fled across the sea in a boat which was there. The father provincial minister was there at the time, and when he asked who, for the merit of holy obedience, would remain alone in the monastery, Brother Phelim O'Hara, a lay brother, was chosen out of many who offered themselves, partly because he was prudent and far advanced in years, and partly because it was hoped he would be less obnoxious than the others.* Wherefore he received the benediction and remained. But the English, coming, despoiled the monastery and slew this brother, even before the high altar; nor did they dare to remain there long, but departed the same day. The other brethren who had fled, and who remained out at sea waiting, when they returned home found the brother, who had become a martyr through obedience, before the high altar, where it was believed he was praying when, on the approach of the enemies, he gave up his soul a grateful sacrifice to God. He is buried in the chapter house." 
* Father Mooney is our authority for this narrative.

 M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), 54-55.

Father Denis Murphy, S.J. in his 1896 compilation Our Martyrs, used Father Mooney as a source too but also used the 1669 account of Irish Franciscan martyrologist Anthony Bruodin. Bruodin upholds the depiction of Brother Phelim as an aged man who meets his death as a result of monastic obedience. However, he departs from the testimony of Mooney that the high altar at the monastery of Moyne was the scene of the martyrdom and instead records that Brother Phelim was captured 'not far from the convent of Killala, where he was begging for the necessities of life for the brothers.' This seems to imply that he was outside the monastic sanctuary altogether. He also links his martyrdom with that of Brother Henry Delahoyde and provides a date of May 1, 1582 for the event. Furthermore, Bruodin claims that both men were not simply run through by soldiers on the spot but were actually hanged and quartered. It puts a different complexion on their martyrdom but Bruodin ends by citing a family link to John O'Hara, the grand-nephew of Brother Phelim, from whom he claimed to have heard the story of the martyr's life and death:

1578. Phelim O'Hara and Henry Delahayde, O.S.F.

(From Bruodin's Propugnaculum, p.444)

The first was the son of that well-known man, John O'Hara, chief of his very extensive family and owner of large possessions in the County of Sligo in the province of Connaught. Burning with love for the life of poverty such as Christ led, he entered the Order of the Friars Minor in the 21st year of his age, and wished to be considered the lowest among the laybrothers in it. During the many years that he lived in religion, he made such progress in virtue that he was reckoned among the most obedient and humble brothers and those most famed for holiness of life of the whole Province of Ireland; and with good reason, for he observed the rule of St. Francis given to him by God so exactly up to the very moment of his death, that he was never seen to transgress it in the slightest way. Adorned with various virtues and praised by all for them, he fell into the hands of the heretics then raging throughout Connaught, not far from the convent of Killala, where he was begging for the necessities of life for the brothers. These tyrants, through hatred of the faith, first hanged and then quartered him. They did the like to his companion Brother Henry Delahyde, who was born of noble parents in Leinster. These two martyrs suffered for the Catholic religion May 1st, 1582.

Formerly I lived on terms of intimacy with the grand-nephew of the martyr Brother Phelim, that famous soldier John O'Hara, the eldest of his family, who was married to Mathilda O'Higgin, the daughter of noble parents, Thaddeus O'Higgin, lord of Culrehil, and Finola Bruodin, who played a very important part in the last war against the heretical Parliamentarians. I often heard this relative of mine describe at length the religious life and glorious death of this athlete of Christ, Phelim the martyr.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J., Our Martyrs,  (Dublin, 1896), pp. 97-98.

Brother Phelim O'Hara and Brother Henry Delahoyde are numbers 55 and 56 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose causes were submitted to Rome for official consideration.  Brother Phelim is also number 14 on the list of Richard Creagh and 41 Companion Martyrs of Ireland whose causes are currently being re-submitted for further consideration. As this will require documentation of the martyr's cause perhaps some of the discrepancies around the details of Brother Phelim O'Hara's martyrdom can be resolved.

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