Saturday 15 May 2021

'Worn out by Sufferings and the Squalor of Prison': Father John O'Kelly


May 15, 1601 saw the death of a Connaught priest, Father John O'Kelly, in prison in Dublin. As the reign of Queen Elizabeth wore on and particularly following her excommunication by Pope Pius V on February 25, 1570, the enforcement of her religious settlement hardened. As a modern scholar has said:

By declaring Elizabeth excommunicated and deposed, the pope lent legitimacy to Catholic resistance in England and Ireland. Deeming Elizabeth unfit to rule gave the rebellions against her credibility in the eyes of the rest of Catholic Europe and might convince more people on the ground in England and Ireland to join the resistance.
Aislinn Muller, The Excommunication of Elizabeth I:  Faith, Politics, and Resistance in Post-Reformation England, 1570-1603 (Brill, 2020), 2.

I have not been able to establish the details of Father O'Kelly's imprisonment.  Both Myles O'Reilly and Father Denis Murphy in their catalogues of Irish martyrs use the short account of Anthony Bruodin (1625-1680). Below is O'Reilly's translation from Bruodin's 1669 work Propugnaculum Catholicae Veritatis:


 "A priest of Connaught, of an illustrious race, endured many torments for the Catholic religion, and, worn out by sufferings and the squalor of prison, he yielded his soul to God, in prison, in Dublin, 15th May, 1601." — Bruodin, lib. iii. cap. xx. 

M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), 176.

 Father O'Kelly is number 24 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose causes were submitted to Rome for official consideration. No further progress has been made to date.

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