Sunday 20 June 2021

Ireland's Martyrs

June 20 is the Feast of the Irish Martyrs and below is a presentation of the work of one of the nineteenth-century writers who set out to rediscover the accounts of those who had suffered for the faith. Myles O'Reilly (1825–80) published his Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 1860s. It was the only accessible catalogue of Irish martyrs until the publication of Our Martyrs in 1896 by Father Denis Murphy, S.J.. Major O'Reilly used many of the same sources as Father Murphy, the majority of which were written in Latin and preserved in books and manuscripts in various institutions at home and abroad.  His work blew the dust off these archives and re-opened their forgotten writings to a wider audience. The following review of his work has been taken from The Catholic World, 'a monthly eclectic magazine of general literature and science', founded in New York just a few years before the Memorials of those who Suffered was published. This is a truly exhaustive (and exhausting!) review as the article begins with the reign of Henry VIII and goes right through until the end of the seventeenth century. It quotes many of the sources translated by O'Reilly and the sheer unrelenting scale of it forms a fitting tribute to all of the Irish Martyrs on this their feast day.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.  In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace.  And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Wisdom 3: 1-4.



Memorials of those who suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries. Collected and edited from the original authorities. By Myles O'Reilly, B.A., LL.I). New York: Catholic Publication Society. 1869. x2mo, pp. 462.

 The Catholic Church in Ireland, oppressed from the days of the Norman invasion, became, from the time of Henry VIII., a living martyr; her sufferings having no parallel in Europe from the time of the three centuries of persecution under the Roman emperors. It was not so much the persecution and martyrdom of individuals so much as of a race and nation. Hence, while the Acts of the Early Roman Martyrs formally drawn up, have long since been collected by Ruinart; while a Challoner, for England, collected records of the martyrs of the faith in his Missionary Priests that all-absorbing favorite of our earliest days; while even the memorials of the missionary martyrs in our own land had been collected, no one seemed to think of selecting the records of Ireland's martyred priests from the harrowing tale of the suffering and unconquerably faithful people amid whom they perished. 

It has been well that this pious task has at last been undertaken, and so well accomplished. This work of Mr. O'Reilly is a plain, unvarnished collection of contemporary accounts, with no attempt to make, from the simple details given, a graphic and affecting picture. Brief, too brief, indeed, many of these records are; but further researches, unexplored archives, correspondence not hitherto consulted, will, we trust, ere long, give more extended and edifying memorials of these faithful clergymen, these bishops, priests secular and regular, of the Isle of Saints.

During much of the period of the great Irish persecution, during that long interval between 1540 and 1701 it was scarcely possible to draw up and send out of Ireland, much preserve in it, extended accounts of the martyrdom of those who died for the faith. Research or inquiry into their births or early lives was out of the question.

The chief sources where we now seek information as to these heroic men are the historical writings of the religious orders who labored in Ireland. Among the Franciscans, the great annalist of the order is Father Luke Wadding, an Irishman, who has preserved many valuable accounts relating to his native country. Colgan, another Irish writer of the same order, in the preface to the Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae gives an account of the death of of his literary associates, Fathers Fleming and Ward.

De Burgo, of the order of Preachers, published a well-known work, Hibernia Dominicana, devoted to the history of his order in Ireland.

The Jesuit, Father Tanner, in Societas Jesu Militans, records the lives of many of his order who died for the faith in Ireland, and, in another work, not cited by our author, his Mortes Illustres, while treating of distinguished Irish members, enters into the persecutions of the church in their native land.

Then there were special works on the various persecutions: the Relatio Persecutionis Hiberniae by Father Dominic a Rosario, published at Lisbon in 1655; Bruodin's Propugnaculum Catholicae Veritatis, issued at Prague in 1669; Bishop Rothe's Analecta Sacra Nova et Mira de Rebus Catholicorum in Hibernia pro Fide et Religione Gestis, published at Cologne, in 1617, under the assumed name of Philadelphus; and the Processu Martyrialis of the same author, which appeared two years later; the Persecutio Hibernia 1619; Morrison's Threnodia Hiberno-Catholica sive Planctus Universalis totius Cleri et Populi Regni Hiberniae published at Innspruck, in 1659; and Carve's Lyra, Sulzbach, 1666, with other works of more general scope.

Besides these printed works, Mr. O'Reilly cites several manuscripts preserved in the Burgundian Library at Brussels — Magna Supplicia, written about 1600; an account of the martyrdom of Bishop Dovany in 1612; Mooney's account of the Franciscan Province in Ireland; and unpublished letters of Irish Jesuits.

The first blows at the Catholic Church in Ireland were struck under Henry VIII. at the monasteries; then came the intrusion of men, as bishops, who acknowledged that monster as head of the church, and the expulsion of those who refused to admit this new power in the crown. In the reign of his daughter Elizabeth came the doctrine that the sovereign, provided always, nevertheless, that he be not a Catholic, is not only head of the church, but empowered to make creeds and a ritual for worship. In a few reigns more came the doctrine that the Calvinists in a nation are the head of the church and state, may behead kings, make and unmake worships and creeds, and put to death all who gainsay them.

The persecution under Henry was comparatively bloodless; the plunder was too plentiful for men to stop to slay. Only one instance is recorded — that of the beheading of the guardian of the Franciscan convent at Monaghan, and of several of his friars; but we can scarcely credit that under so sanguinary a tyrant so little blood was shed in Ireland, where no scruple ever held back the English sword from slaughter, only a few Irish families or bloods being recognized as men whom to kill was murder.

England had her illustrious martyr, Cardinal John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester; Ireland in her hierarchy had an illustrious confessor in William Walsh, Bishop of Meath, a Cistercian, born at Dunboyne, and a monk in the Abbey of Bective, till its suppression.

"Whatever doubt there may be about the place of his birth and his early history, there is none whatever as to his eminent virtues, distinguished abilities, and the heroic fortitude with which he bore numerous and prolonged sufferings for the faith. His unbending orthodoxy and opposition to the innovations of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. marked him out for promotion after the accession of Mary, and accordingly we find him associated with the zealous primate. Dr. Dowdall, in the commission to drive from the sanctuary all such as were faithless to their trust.

"Dr. Walsh was consecrated about the close of 1554, and immediately applied himself with zeal and energy to reform abuses, and to heal the wounds which during the last two reigns had been inflicted on faith, morals, and discipline. The period of his usefulness was, however, destined to be brief, and he had time merely to stimulate his priests and to fortify his diocese when the gathering storm burst over the Irish church, and sacrificed the Bishop of Meath among its first and noblest victims. Queen Mary died in 1558, and was succeeded by Elizabeth, who at once publicly embraced the reformed tenets, and proceeded to have them enforced on all. In 1560, an act was passed, under the deputyship of the Earl of Suffolk, which ordered all ecclesiastical persons, judges, officers, justices, mayors, and all the other queen's officers, to take the oath of supremacy under penalty of forfeiture, and also enacted that if any person should, by writing, printing, teaching, preaching, by express words, deed, or act, maintain any foreign spiritual jurisdiction, he should for the first offence forfeit all his goods and suffer one year's imprisonment, for the second offence should incur the penalty of praemunire, and for the third be deemed guilty of high treason."
He was first imprisoned in 1560, and after a brief respite, was, in 1565, 

"reconducted to his former prison; this was ‘a subterraneous dungeon, damp and noisome — not a ray of light penetrated thither; and for thirteen years this was his unvarying abode.’ During all that time his food was of the coarsest kind, and, with the exception of rare intervals, when the intercession of some influential friends obtained - a momentary relaxation, he was allowed no occupation that could cheer the tedium of his imprisonment In all this lengthened martyrdom, prayer was his resource, and, as he himself subsequently avowed, he often-times passed whole days and nights overwhelmed with heavenly consolations, so that his dungeon seemed transformed into a paradise of delights. To preclude the possibility of idleness, he procured a bed made of twisted cords, and whensoever his mind was fatigued with prayer, he applied himself to untie those cords, and often was he well wearied with the exertion before he could reunite them to compose himself to sleep.

"His persecutors, overcome by his constancy, and finding his fervor in spiritual contemplation a continual reproach to their own wickedness, at length, about Christmas, 1572, connived at his escape."

Reaching the continent, he died at Alcala, in 1577, bearing to the grave the marks of his thirteen years’ imprisonment.

Next in importance among the sufferers for the faith was a most remarkable man, David Wolf, a native of Limerick, a priest of the Society of Jesus, whose labors, perils, sufferings of every kind, while acting as nuncio to the Pope in Ireland from 1560 to 1578, form the matter for a most interesting volume — not only from the personal interest attaching to a man of his ability, learning, and courage, but from the influence exercised by him in perpetuating the episcopacy, and, consequently, priesthood and the faith in Ireland.
The first martyr of whom we have any details is the Franciscan, Daniel O'Duillian, of the convent of Youghal, put to death in 1569. Indictment, trial, judge, or jury seem have had no part in his cause. Father Mooney thus describes death as he obtained authentic information within fifty years after its occurrence:

"When one Captain Dudal (probaly Dowdall) with his troop were torturing him by order of Lord Arthur Grey, the viceroy, first they took him to the gate which is called Trinity Gate, and tied his hands behind his back,  and, having fastened heavy stones to his feet, thrice pulled him up with ropes from the earth to the top of the tower and left him hanging there for a space. At length, after many insults and tortures, he was hung with his head down and his feet in the air, at the mill near the monastery; and, hanging there a long time, while he lived he never uttered an impatient word but, like a good Christian, incessantly repeated prayers, now aloud, now in a low voice. At length the soldiers were ordered to shoot at him, as though he were a target; but yet, that his sufferings might be the longer and more cruel, they might not aim at his head or heart, but as much as they pleased at any other part of his body. After he had received many balls, one, with cruel mercy, loaded his gun with two balls and shot him through the heart. Thus did he receive the glorious crown of martyrdom the 22d of April, in the year aforesaid."
Similar disregard of all law and forms of justice appears in the terrible martyrdom of the Franciscan Father O'Dowd, who died like St John Nepomucen, a martyr of the seal of confession.

With some other prisoners, he fell in 1577, into the hands of the soldiers of Felton, then president of Connaught.
“They pressed a certain secular, who was one of their captives, to tell them something of the plots which they said he had made with others against the queen of England but he protested he could tell nothing but the truth, and that there were no plots; so they determined to hang him. When they said this, he begged he might be allowed to make his confession to Father O'Dowd; this they granted the more readily that they thought the priest, if he were tortured, would reveal what might be told him. As soon as the confession was over, the secular was hung; and then they asked the priest, who was also to be hung, if he had learned aught of the business in confession. He answered in the negative, and, refusing to reveal anything of a confession, they offered him life and freedom if he would reveal, and threatened torture if he refused. He answered he could not, and they immediately knotted a cord round his forehead, and, thrusting a piece of wood through it, slowly twisted it so tightly that at length, after enduring this torment for a long time, his skull was broken in, and, the brain being crushed, he died, June 9th, 1577."
Father Mooney recorded this horrid statement from the lips of some of the very soldiery who perpetrated it.

When Dr. Patrick O’Hely, Bishop of Mayo, and his companion, Father Cornelius O'Rorke, were arrested in the County Kerry, soon after landing, they were loaded with chains and imprisoned in Limerick till Sir William Drury arrived.
"The two prisoners were first placed on the rack, their arms and feet were beaten with hammers, so that their thigh-bones were broken, and sharp iron points and needles were cruelly thrust under their nails, which caused an extreme agony of suffering. For a considerable time they were subjected to these tortures, which the holy confessors bore patiently for the love of Christ, mutually exhorting each other to constancy and perseverance.

"At length they were taken from the rack, and hanged from the branches of a neighboring tree. Their bodies were left suspended there for fourteen days, and were used in the interim as a target by the brutal soldiery."
Here began, it will be seen, a sort of process, or at least arraignment, torture, and execution; although anything like a trial is wanting.

But in the fearful deaths of Rev. Daniel O'Nielan, (March 28th, 1580,) Rev. Maurice Kinrehan, Rev. Maurice Scanlan and his companions in the same year, no pretence of examination was made; the soldiery either killing them on the spot, or wreaking on them any and every cruelty that wanton malignity could devise or suggest.

In the case of the heroic Cistercian, Abbot of Boyle, Father Gelasius O'Quillenan, and his companions, arrested while in Dublin, in 1580, there was not the wanton cruelty of lawless soldiers, or the mere blood-thirstiness of officers accustomed to every barbarity. Here the action proceeded from the very highest English authority in Ireland, in the days of Lord Coke, who tells us in those legal treatises which have come down to us as oracles, that he never knew of torture having been used in England.

The abbot and his companions underwent preliminary examinations.
"John O'Garvin, then Protestant Dean of Christ Church, was among those who assisted at his first interrogatory, and, having proposed many inducements to the abbot ’to abandon the popish creed,' Gelasius in reply, reproved him for preferring the deceitfull vanities of this world to the lasting  joys of eternity, and exhorted him ‘to renounce the errors and iniquity of heresy by which he had hitherto warred against God, and to make amends for the past by joining with him in professing the name of Christ, that he might thus become worthy to receive a heavenly crown.’ The holy abbot  and his companion were then subjected to torture, and, among their other sufferings, we find it commemorated that their arms and legs were broken by repeated blows, and fire was applied to their feet. The only words of Gelasius during all this torture were, 'Though you should offer me the  princedom of England, I will not forfeit my eternal reward.’ Sentence of death being passed against them, they were led out with all possible ignominy to execution. They, however, were filled with consolation; the sight of the joyous sufferers excited the admiration of the assembled multitude, and many even of the heretics declared that they were more like angels than men. It was on the 21st November, 1580, that they were happily crowned with martyrdom. The garments which they wore, and the implements of their torture, were eagerly purchased by the Catholics, and cherished by them with religious veneration.
Nor can it be said that in the use of torture thus used to wring from the Irish clergy admissions to justify their execution, the authorities in Dublin acted without the knowledge or consent of the queen. Any such pretext is at once scattered to the winds by English records in the case of one of the most illustrious martyrs in the whole honored list of Ireland's witnesses for the faith — Dermod O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel.
" The birthplace of this glorious martyr was a little village in the diocese of Limerick, less than three miles from that city, called Lycodoon, where his parents lived respectably by farming, both of tillage and cattle; they were held in good estimation by their neighbors, both rich and poor, especially James Geraldine, Earl of Desmond.

“ Having then been raised to the episcopacy by Gregory XIII., and named Archbishop of Cashel, he took his route toward Ireland."
At Waterford he was detected by a Protestant named Baal, on whose information he was pursued to the Castle of Slane, where he had, indeed, taken refuge for a time, but had proceeded further. When Lord Slane found himself in danger, he joined in the pursuit of the archbishop, and, overtaking him at Carrick-on-Suir, induced him to proceed to Dublin, where his arrival is noted by Archbishop Loftus and Sir H. Wallop, in a letter to Robert Beale, temporary chief secretary to the queen, dated Oct. 8th, 1583, and still preserved in the Public Record Office in London. In a subsequent letter, on the 10th of December, addressed to Sir Francis Walsingham, they say: "Among other letters directed to us, and brought by this passage, we received one from your honor declaring her Majesty's pleasure for the proceeding with Dr Hurley by torture or any other severe manner of proceeding to gain his knowledge of all foreign practices against her majesty's state, wherein we partly forebore to deal till now." Then they remark, "for that we want here either rack or other engine of torture to terrify him ... the Tower of London should be a better school than the Castle of Dublin ... we do wish that we had directions to send him thither."

The pretext here was shallow there was wit enough in the dominant party in Ireland to invent any necessary racks. Walsingham evidently directed them to proceed in Dublin, and himself suggested the mode of torture. On the 7th March, 1584, they again write, “We made commission to Mr. Waterhouse and Mr. Secretary Fenton to put him to the torture such as your honor advised us, which was, to toast his feet against the fire with hot boots.” What these Walsingham boots were we learn from contemporary statements taken down from eye-witnesses. "The executioners place the archbishop’s feet and calves in tin boots filled with oil; they then fastened his feet in wooden shackle or stocks, and placed fire under them. The boiling oil so penetrated the feet and legs that morsels of the skin and even flesh fell off and left the bone bare. The officer whose duty it was to preside over the torture, unused to such unheard-of suffering, and unable to look upon such an inhuman spectacle, or to hear the piteous cries of the innocent prelate suddenly left his seat and quitted the place.” (Pages 91-2.) All this failed to extort from him anything to justify his arraignment even, though the torture was continued till the executioners believed life extinct, and hastily endeavored to restore animation; for he "lost all voice and sense, and when taken out lay on the ground like dead."( ib. 93.)

The lords justices were in great perplexity. The judges, on being consulted, had positively declared that, as no act of treason had been committed by him in Ireland, he could not by law be arraigned. Their opinion, still preserved in the Public Record Office, is given by our author, (p. 109.) Again they apply to Walsingham, and the whole passage is so curious that we cite it at length:
"And herein we thought good to remember your honor by way of our opinion that, considering how obstinate and wilful we find him every way, if he should be referred to a public trial, his impudent and clamorous denial might do great harm to the ill-affected here, who in troth have no small admiration of him. And yet, having had conference with some of the best lawyers in the land, we find that they make a scruple to arraign him here, for that his treasons were committed in foreign parts, the statute in that  behalf being not here as it is in England. And therefore we think it not amiss (if it be allowed of there) to have him executed by martial law, against which he can have no just challenge, for that he hath neither lands nor goods, and as by that way may be avoided many harms, which by his presence, standing at ordinary trial, and retaining still his former impudence and negative protestations, he may do to the people."
The idea of any man impudently objecting to submit to the honor of being executed by martial law, when a trial at law must result in his acquittal, is indeed extraordinary, and sufficient to disquiet Christian rulers.

Elizabeth relieved them. A letter of April 29th, 1584, announced her majesty's resolution for the course to be holden with Hurley, namely, "that they should proceed to his execution (if it might be) by ordinary trial by law or otherwise, by martial law."

Loftus and Wallop, accordingly, on the 19th of June, 1584, gave warrant to the knight-marshal in her majesty's name to do execution upon him." (Letter July 9th, 1584.)

Accordingly, on Friday before Trinity Sunday, Hurley — whose wounds had been so skilfully treated by a Jesuit who was enabled to reach him, as to enable the holy sufferer to regain sufficient strength to sit up and even rest on his feet — was ordered to prepare for execution. He was taken out at early dawn, amid the cries of his fellow Catholic prisoners, proclaiming his innocence, one bishop, who was expiating in fetters a guilty pusillanimity, exclaiming that he himself, for the scandal he had given, deserved to die, but that the archbishop was an innocent and holy man. He was drawn on a hurdle through the garden gate to a wood near the city, and "there he was hanged on a withey, calling on God, and forgiving his torturers with all his heart." At evening his body was buried in the half-ruined church of St. Kevin. So great was the veneration felt for this holy man, that the church was restored to satisfy the devotion of those who flocked to the spot to recommend themselves to his prayers, and many of whom averred that miracles were wrought there.

Elizabeth and the ministers of her godless tyranny, in thus trampling on law and justice, had gained nothing toward the advancement of the new doctrines in Ireland. The death of Dr. Hurley but confirmed the Irish Catholics more immovably in the faith.

In another case, Dr. Richard Creagh, Archbishop of Armagh, who escaped from the Tower of London in 1565, but, after two years' labors in Ireland, was seized in Connaught in 1567, the government ventured on a trial at law but the jury acquitted him. Little did this avail: he was kept a prisoner, but at last effected his escape, and, for a short time, labored to console the afflicted Catholics. Falling again into the hands of the persecutors, he was sent to England, and died of poison in the Tower of London, (Oct. 14th, 1585,) leaving one of the most venerated names in the annals of the Irish church. Another prelate, Murlagh O'Brien, Bishop of Emly, died the same year in prison, at Dublin, after undergoing tortures.

The interesting biography of another martyr, Rev. Maurice Kinrechtin, gives a picture of a Catholic Easter during these dark ages in Ireland that is too touching to omit. It is in a letter from Father Robert  Rochfort:
'I send you an account of the glorious martyrdom of a friend of mine, Maurice Kinrechtin, a pious priest, chaplain to the Earl of Desmond, whom you know. He was for this cause taken prisoner by the English, and taken to your native town of Clonmel, where he lay in prison for more than a year. On the eve of Easter, 1585, Victor White, one of the principal citizens of Clonmel and a pious Catholic, obtained from the head jailer permission for the priest to pass the night in his house; this the jailer agreed to, but secretly informed the President of Munster, an English heretic, who chanced to be in the town, that, if he wished, he might easily seize all the principal citizens while hearing mass in the house of Mr. White at daybreak; at the same time he bargained to be paid for his perfidy. At the hour agreed on, the soldiers rushed into the house and seized on Victor; but all the others, hearing the noise, tried to escape by the back-doors and windows; a certain matron, trying to escape, fell and broke her arm. The soldiers found the chalice and other things for mass; they sought everywhere for the priest, (who had not yet begun the mass,) and came at length to a heap of straw, under which he lay hid, and, thrusting their swords through it, wounded him in the thigh; but he preserved silence, and, through fear of worse, concealed his suffering, and soon after escaped from the town into the country. But the intrepid Victor (who, although he had for this reason suffered much, could never be induced to attend the conventicles of the heretics) was thrown into prison because he would not give up the priest, and would, do doubt, have been put to death, had not Maurice, hearing of the danger of his friend, voluntarily surrendered himself to the president, showing a friendship truly Christian. The president upbraided him much, and, having sentenced him to death, offered him his life if he would abjure our Catholic faith and profess the queen to be head of the church. There came to him also a preacher, and strove long, but in vain, to seduce the martyr; nor would he on any account betray any of those who had heard his mass, or to whom he had at any time administered the sacraments. At length he was dragged at the tail of a horse to the place of execution as a traitor. Being come there, he devoutly and learnedly exhorted the people to constancy in the faith. The executioner cut him down from the gallows when yet half alive, and cut off his sacred head, and the minister struck it in the face. Then the Catholics by prayers and bribes obtained of the executioners that they should not lacerate his body any further, and they buried it as honorably as they could. Farewell, and peace in the Lord, and be ye imitators — if occasion offers — of the courageous Maurice Kinrechtin, and till then prepare your souls for the trial. Your devoted servant, dated from the College of St. Anthony, 1586, 20th March, ROBERT ROCHFORT."
Thus it went on during the reign of Elizabeth. The year 1588 witnessed many hanged, drawn, and quartered — the Rev. Peter Miller, at Wexford; Peter Meyler, at Galway, and Maurice Eustace — both candidates for the priesthood, the Franciscan fathers, O'Molloy, Dogherty, and Ferrall, at Abbeyleix. The next year another of the same order at Clonmel.

Curry, in his Civil Wars in Ireland, thus sums up other examples:
"John Stephens, priest, for that he said mass to Teague McHugh, was hanged and quartered by the Lord Burroughs, in 1507; Thady O'Boyle, guardian of the monastery of Donegal, was slain by the English in his own monastery; six friars were slain in the monastery of Moynihigan; John O’Calyhor and Bryan O’Trevor, of the Order of St Bernard, were slain in their own monastery, De Sancta Maria, in Ulster; as also Felimy O’Hara, a lay-brother; so was Aeneas Penny, parish priest of Killagh, slain at the altar in his parish church there; Cahill McGoran; Rory O’Donnellan; Peter McQuillan; Patrick O'Kenna; George Power, vicar-general of the diocese of Ossory; Andrew Stritch, of Limerick; Bryan O'Murihirtagh, vicar-general of the diocese of Clonfert; Doroghow O'Molowny, of Thomond; John Kelly, of Louth; Stephen Patrick, of Annaly; John Pillis, friar; Rory McHenlea; Tirilagh Mclnisky, a lay-brother. All those that come after Aeneas Penny, together with Walter Fernan, priest, died in the Castle of Dublin, either through hard usage and restraint or the violence of torture."
To whom may be added the Rev. George Power; Rev. John Walsh; Bishop Brady, of Kilmore, and his companions, whose sufferings are here most touchingly given; the Rev. Donatus O'Mollony, so tortured by iron boots and thumbscrews, as well as the rack — of all which there was now, apparently, a full supply in Ireland — that he died a few hours after.

But single executions were not prompt enough. In 1602, the authorities intimated that such of the clergy as presented themselves to the magistrates would be allowed to take their departure from the kingdom. Forty-two, secular priests and fathers of the Dominican and Cistercian orders, believing that a Protestant government would keep faith with Catholics, accepted the offer, and assembling, as directed, at Inniscattery, were put on board a vessel of war to sail for France. But no sooner had they reached the broad Atlantic, than the whole of these priests were thrown overboard. On the return of the vessel to port, great indignation was pretended by the authorities, and the queen cashiered the officers; while they were, in fact, secretly rewarded.

This martyrdom, fearful for its treachery and the number of the priestly victims, closed, so to say, the reign of bloody Elizabeth. The hatred of Catholicity was intense; but yet there was apparent from first to last, a sense of respect for the opinion of the Catholic powers, an attempt to justify the executions by color of law, or excuse them as unintended acts of severity in putting down revolts or conducting military operations.

When the son of Mary, herself a martyr and sufferer, ascended the throne, his accession was hailed by the Catholic Irish with a burst of joy. A prince of their own race, they could regard him with feelings never awakened by former sovereigns of England. The memory of his mother would have bound them to him. He might have rendered Ireland a happy country. Led away by this vision, the Irish Catholics openly celebrated the long proscribed worship; but they soon were rudely awakened from their delusion. The glorious army of martyrs under James I. begins with Redmond O'Gallagher, Bishop of Derry, hacked to pieces by a party of horse in 1604.

Among all the martyrs of this reign, however, the most illustrious was Cornelius O'Dovany, Bishop of Down and Connor, put to death at Dublin, February 1st, 1611. At an early age he embraced the rule of  St Francis, and became a model of piety and patience. Raised to the perilous dignity of the episcopate, he labored strenuously to fulfil its duties. At last, he was arrested and sent to Dublin Castle, where he  nearly perished from want of food and of all comforts. As the persecutors admitted that they could not legally compass his death, he was at last released. But it was only for a time. Seizing as a pretext his presence in the district held by the Earl of Tyrone in his rising against the crown, they again, in June 1611, committed him to his former prison. He was then brought to trial, and although, he pleaded the Act of Oblivion, which clearly covered his case, the government, grown wiser in its malice, packed a jury, and obtained a verdict.

Our author thus describes his martyrdom from contemporary narratives:

“The 1st of February, at four o’clock in the afternoon, he was called to mount the cart which, surrounded by guards, stood at the prison door. When the holy bishop came in sight of that triumphal chariot, he sighed and said, ‘My Lord Jesus, for my sake, went on foot, bearing his cross, to the mountain where he suffered; and must I be borne in a cart, as though unwilling to die for him, when I would hasten with willing feet to that glory? Would that I might bear my cross and hasten on my feet to meet my Lord!’ Turning to his fellow-sufferer, Patrick, he said, ‘Come my brave comrade and worthy soldier of Christ, let us imitate his death as best we may who was led to the slaughter as a sheep before the shearer. Then bending down and kissing the cart, he mounted up into it, and sat down with his back to the horses, and was thus drawn through the paved streets to the field where the gallows was erected.

“Cornelius, when he was come to the place of sacrifice, being solicitous for the constancy of his colleague, begged that Patrick might be put to death first; for he feared lest, by the sight of his death and the wiles of the Calvinists, Patrick might be induced to yield to human weakness. But as his wish would not be granted. Father Patrick assured the bishop he might lay aside all fear for him. ‘Though,’ said he, ‘I would desire to die first, and be strengthened in my agony by your paternal charity, since we are given up to the will of others, go, happy father, and fear not for my constancy; aid me by your prayers with God, by whose help I am sure that neither death nor life, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor any other creature, shall separate me from the love of Christ, or from my companionship with you.’ Rejoiced at these words, Cornelius threw himself on his knees, but had only breathed a hasty prayer (which yet reached God in heaven) when the councillors, the captain and guard called out to make an end quickly. The field, situated to the north of the city, which would easily hold 3000 persons, was crowded. The executioner was an Englishman and a Protestant, (for no Irishman could be found who would stain himself with the blood of the bishop,) who was condemned to death for robbery, and was promised his life for acting as executioner on this occasion. Yet, though he had thus purchased his life, he was touched with reverence and compassion for the gray hairs of the bishop, and prayed his pardon, and with trembling hands adjusted the noose. The moment the bishop mounted the first step of the ladder, and his head was seen above the crowd, a great shout and groans burst from all the spectators.
Then the minister Challoner, furious at the cries of pity raised by the people, said to the bishop: ‘Why delude ye the ignorant people? Why end ye your life with a lie, and a vain boast of martyrdom? Tell the multitude that ye are traitors, and that it is for treason and not for religion ye suffer.’ To these unjust words the bishop answered: ‘Far be it from us, who are about to appear before the tribunal of Christ, to impose upon the people. But also far be it from us to confess ourselves guilty of crimes of which our conscience tells us we are innocent. Nor yet do we vainly ambition the title of martyrs, though for us to die for Christ is gain. You know that you are yourself guilty of that prevarication of which you accuse us, for but a few hours ago, sent as you said by the viceroy, you offered us life and freedom if we would subscribe to your heresy. Leave us, then, son of darkness, and calumniate not our innocence.’
“Then the minister departed and left the martyrs in peace. As they mounted the middle of the ladder, again there rose the cry of the people; and a third time, when he was about to be thrown off, the groans of those who beat their breasts rose louder than before. Thrice he prayed, as he stood there: once for all the bystanders; secondly, for the city of Dublin, and all the Catholics of this kingdom, that they may serve God piously, faithfully, and perseveringly; a third time he prayed for all heretics, and for his persecutors, that they might be converted from the evil of their ways.
“The bishop’s head was hardly cut off when an Irishman seized it, and, rushing into the centre of the crowd, was never found, although the viceroy offered a reward of forty pounds of silver. The Catholics gathered up his blood, and contended for his garments, despite the resistance of the soldiery. The priest Patrick followed the same road, singing, as he mounted the ladder, the canticle of Simeon, ‘Now, O Lord I dismiss thy servant in peace,' and, after the example of the bishop, he prayed for the bystanders, blessed them, and forgave all his enemies. The rope being put round his neck, he hung for a short time, was then cut down half-alive, mutilated, and cut in pieces. The soldiers, warned by the loss of the bishop's head, resisted the unarmed crowd, who strove to catch the martyr's blood and other relics, and wounded many. The day after, the bodies were buried at the gallows’ foot, but in the stillness of the night were removed by the Catholics to a chapel." 
We cannot enter on the other sufferers of this reign whose records are carefully collected in the Memorials.

The reign of Charles I. opens with the deeply interesting life of Francis Slingsby, showing how, even amid all the terrible persecutions of the church, God called his own elect to his truth, and endowed them with firmness. He was a son of Sir Francis Slingsby, an English knight settled in Ireland, and was born in 1611. After being educated at Oxford, he travelled on the continent, and at Rome was converted to the faith; and at the tomb of St.Aloysius, firmly resolved to enter the Society of Jesus. At the earnest entreaty of his father and mother, he returned to Ireland; but after an interview with Archbishop Usher and Lord Strafford, he was thrown into prison. Cardinal Barberini exerted his influence with the queen of England, and in May, 1635, he was admitted to bail. His stay in Ireland was not fruitless; for he converted his mother, his younger brother, his sister and several others. This increased his dangers and the General of the Society urging him to come at once to Rome, he proceeded thither in 1636; but learning that his friend Spreul, whom he had converted, and won to the order he himself had chosen, had been struck down by disease, he returned to Ireland, tended him in his illness, and then both reached Rome in 1639. Renouncing all his worldly prospects in favor of his brother, he began his studies, and, after his ordination, entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in 1641; but died at Naples before he could return to Ireland to labor in the field where his words, example, and fetters had preached so eloquently. The sketch of this heroic young man, and that of Maurice Eustace, son of Sir John Eustace, and a novice in the Society of Jesus, who, returning to his family by permission of his superiors, was seized, tried, hung, drawn, and quartered, on the 9th of June, 1588, form a most interesting addition to our biographies, and show us in Ireland two young imitators of St. Aloysius and St. Stanislaus, whose virtues and example can be held up to the young with the power that flows from the fact that they lived among scenes and trials so familiar to us.

When the civil war began between the Puritans and Charles I., the persecution, bitter already under the king, became fiendish under the Parliament. Hitherto some form, some limit, had been observed; but the Puritans revelled in blood with all the ferocity of tigers, and with as little scruple.
"The Parliament of England resolved, on the 24th of October, 1644, 'that no quarter shall be given to any Irishman, or to any papist born in Ireland' and their historian, Borlase, adds, ‘The orders of Parliament were excellently well executed.’ (Hist. of Rebellion p. 62.) Leland and Warner refer to the letters of the lords-justices for the fact that the soldiers 'slew all persons promiscuously, not sparing even the women.’ Cromwell declared on landing in Dublin that no mercy should be shown to the Irish, and that they should be dealt with as the Canaanites in Joshua's time. It is impossible to estimate the number of Catholics slain in the ten years from 1642 to 1652. Three bishops and more than 300 priests were put to death for the faith.  Thousands of men, women and children were sold as slaves for the West Indies; Sir W. Petty mentions that six thousand boys and women were thus sold. (Political Anatomy of Ireland, p.187.) A letter written in 1656, quoted by Lingard, puts the number at 60,000; as late as 1666 there were 12,000 Irish slaves scattered among the West Indian Islands. (Letter of Rev. J. Grace, written in 1669, ap. Moran, p.147. 40,000 Irish Catholics fled to the continent, and 20,000 took refuge in the Hebrides and other Scottish islands. (Moran, p.99.) In a word, as Sir W. Petty writes, the population of Ireland in 1641 was 1,466,000, of whom Catholics were about 1,240,000; in 1659, the whole population was only 500,091, of whom Irish were only 420,000, so that very nearly or quite one million must have perished. (Sir W. Petty, Polit. Anat., p.13, ap. Moran, and Hardinge’s Census of 1659.)”

In this general and fearful slaughter of priest and people, records were impossible; and of many of the priests and religious who perished no trace remains. At the sight of such appalling massacres the mind shrinks back to seek refuge in doubt; but that doubt vanishes before the records of the butchers, who, reeking with slaughter, asked mankind to admire their work as a mercy of God, and even in our day, their descendants ask us to praise them as champions of religious freedom.

We can scarcely be accused of being too severe in our language when Merle d’Aubigné, a professed eulogist of Cromwell, admits that he used “a greater severity than had perhaps been exercised by the pagan leaders of antiquity.”

Although, necessarily, for many of their victims there are no details whatever, nevertheless nearly one-fourth of this whole work of Mr. O’Reilly is devoted to memorials of those who perished by the hands of the Puritans in the brief period of twenty years; and he might well close it by the formula at the end of each day in the Roman martyrology, Et alibi aliorum plurimorum Martyrdom et Confessorum, etc. - “And elsewhere of many other martyrs and confessors”, whose names, though unrecorded on earth, are written in the Book of Life. Cromwell, Breton, Inchiquin, and Coote marked their path in blood. Drogheda, Wexford, Cashel, Limerick, witnessed general massacres, where neither age nor sex could rouse a spark of human feeling in the insatiate butchers. The intense and cruel fanaticism seems to have been either a diabolical possession or a mental disease.

A grandson of Sir Charles Coote, become Earl of Bellomont, was some years after, made Governor of New York and of New England, and was strongly suspected of complicity in the piracies of Captain Kidd. He certainly showed the fierce anti-Catholic spirit of his father and grandsire, having introduced and forced through, both in New York and Massachusetts, laws to punish with imprisonment for life, or, on recapture, with death, any Catholic priest entering those colonies.

Among the more illustrious martyrs we notice the Most Rev. Malachy O’Queely, Archbishop of Tuam, who was overtaken at Clare, near Sligo, in 1645, by some Puritan cavalry. They hacked off his right arm, and then cruelly mangled his body, cutting it into small pieces. In 1650, Boetius Egan, Bishop of Ross, a holy Franciscan friar, appointed to that see in 1647, on the recommendation of the Nuncio., Rinuccini, left the retreat in which he had been hidden for months to visit some distant and abandoned parts of his diocese, although Ludlow’s Puritan bands were laying waste the country. After performing the apostolic duties that had called him forth, he was returning to his lonely hiding-place, when he was overtaken by a troop of horse hastening to join Cromwell in besieging Clonmel. The commander of this troop, Lord Broghill, whom our readers may not recognise as Robert Boyle, subsequently  Earl of Orrery, offered him life,

"if he would deny his faith and join the Parliamentarians, but he rejected the temptation with disdain. He was then abandoned to the soldiers' fury, and, his arms being first severed from his body, he was dragged along the ground to a neighbouring tree, being hanged from one of its branches by  the reins of his own horse, happily consummated his earthly course in November, 1650."
The fall of Limerick enabled Ireland to revel in the blood of Catholic priests. The martyrs were led by Terence Albert O'Brien, Bishop of Emly, born in Limerick in 1600, and nurtured piously by a devoted mother. At an early age he entered the order of St. Dominic, and, after pursuing his studies in Spain, returned to labour in his native city. In 1643, he became provincial of his order, and attended a general chapter at Rome. Four years afterward, he was consecrated Bishop of Emly, and laboured there earnestly till he joined the rest who took refuge in Limerick.
“Knowing the the fate that was reserved for him, Dr. O'Brien retired to the pest-house in order to devote the last hours of his life to the benefit of his suffering fellow-citizens, and to preparing himself for death. Here he was found by the officers sent to arrest him, and brought before Ireton who told him he was to be tried by a court-martial, and imprisoned till the sentence was pronounced. The bishop heard this unmoved, and when asked did he want counsel, calmly replied that all he required was his confessor. This boon was granted, and Father Hanrahan, a member of his own order  was suffered to pass the whole day and night of the 30th of October in his prison. On the following evening he was led out to execution, and, as Father Hanrahan related, walked as joyfully to the place as to a feast. His contemporary, De Marinis, relates his execution thus: ‘He went with joy to the place of execution, and then, with a serene countenance, turning to his Catholic friends, who stood in the crowd inconsolable and weeping, he said to them, “Hold firmly by your faith, and observe its precepts; murmur not against the arrangements of God's providence, and thus you will save your souls. Weep not at all for me, but rather pray that in this last trial of death I may, by firmness and constancy, attain my heavenly reward.” The head of the martyr was struck off and placed on a spike on the tower,' (‘which is on the middle of the bridge.’— A Rosario) 'and long after seemed to drop fresh blood, and uncorrupted and unchanged in aspect, flesh, or hair — a tribute, as may be thought, to that virginal purity which it is universally believed he preserved to the end.' Thus he went to his reward, on the vigil of All Saints', 1651. De Marinis and A Rosario relate that the holy bishop summoned Ireton to the judgment seat of God to answer for his crimes; and on the 18th day afterward that bloody persecutor was seized with the plague, and, after sixteen days, expired in great torments. Dr. Moran mentions that the spot where this holy bishop was martyred is yet pointed out and venerated by the Catholics of Limerick."
Another Dominican martyr of this scene, Father James Wolf,
“was an old man, and preacher-general, who had before been a long time in prison for the faith, and in this last persecution was as a wall against the enemies of the faith. He was taken in Limerick while offering the mass, and in a few hours afterward was sentenced to be hung, and brought out into the market square, where he made a public profession of his faith, and exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the religion of their ancestors, and that with so much ardor that it moved his very enemies. Standing on the top step of the ladder, and about to be swung off, he joyously exclaimed, 'We are made a spectacle to God and angels and men - of glory to God, of joy to angels, and of contempt to men’. Having said this, he was hung, and so went to his crown."
It is a strange fact, and one that we must regret, that England should owe the final conquest of Canada to one who should have honored this martyr of his family, but who was really intensely English, and rivalled Ireton by his bloody march up the St. Lawrence, butchering priests at their own church doors with as little compunction as Ireton felt for Father James Wolf. That martyr had a brother George, an officer in the Irish army. Although doomed, he managed to escape, and reaching England, finally settled in Yorkshire. His grandson Edward fought under Marlborough, and rose to the rank of general. His son, a namesake of the Limerick martyr, was General James Wolfe, who died in the arms of victory at Quebec, having struck the blow that seemed to crush for ever Catholicity in Canada.

Another bishop, Arthur Magennis, a Cistercian, Bishop of Down and Connor, was, in spite of his infirmities and years, dragged on shipboard, to be carried to some other land. Death was, however, the object of his tormentors, not exile; and, as he lingered too long to please their impatience, they dragged one of the ship's cannon beside his berth, and, firing it, caused such a shock to the invalid that he expired.

The clergy who suffered met death in every form. Some perished of starvation in the mountain, like the Rev. John Carolan; some were starved to death in prison, like the Dominican father, John O'Laighlin; some, tracked to their hiding-places, were shot in their caves, like the Franciscan father, Francis Sullivan; some were stoned to death, and flung into rivers, like the Dominican father, John Flaverty; many cut down by the roadside, or shot and hacked to pieces, like Stephen Pettit, the Dominican fathers, Peter Costello, Dominic Neagan, Lawrence O'Ferral; others more deliberately hanged on sea or land, like the Franciscan fathers, Fergal Ward, Denis Nelan, Rev. Peter Higgins, the Dominican Bonavcnture de Burgo, and many more; or drowned at sea, like the Trinitarian fathers O'Conor and Daly; or tied to stakes and shot like the Jesuit, Father Ball and his brother at Drogheda.
“Of the many thousands of Irish men, women, and children who were sold into slavery in the West Indies, the names of very few have been preserved. Among these was Father David Roche, Dominican. Full details of this infamous traffic are given by Prendergast, Cromwellian Settlement. Thus, a government order, published on March 4th, 1655, states that, in the four preceding years. 6400 Irish, men and women, boys and maidens, had been disposed of to the English slave- dealers. On the 14th September, 1653, two English merchants, named Selleck and Leader, signed a contract with the government commissioners, by which a supply was granted to them of 250 women and 300 men of the Irish nation, to be found within twenty miles of Cork, Youghal, Waterford, and Wexford. Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, (afterward Earl of Orrery,) deemed it unnecessary to take such trouble in visiting different parts of the kingdom and undertook to supply the whole number from the county of Cork alone; hence he received an order empowering him to search for and seize upon that number, ‘and no person, being once apprehended, was to be released but by special order in writing under the hand of Lord Broghill. In the month of November, 1655, all the Irish of the townland of Lackagh, county of Kildare,  were seized on by the agents of the government. They were only forty-one in number and of these four were hanged by sentence of court-martial; the remaining thirty-seven, including two priests, were handed over to Mr. Norton, a Bristol merchant, to be sold as bond-slaves to the sugar-planters at Barbadoes’. Again, on the 8th December, 1655, we find a letter from the commissioners to the Governor of Barbadoes, ‘advising  him of the approach of a ship with a cargo of proprietors, deprived of their lands and seized for not transplanting.’ They add that among them were three priests, and the commissioners particularly desire that these may be so employed that they may not return again where that sort of people are able to do so much mischief, having so great an influence over the popish Irish.”

Of their sufferings at sea our author gives no record; but Anderson, in his History of the Colonial Church, (ii. p.52-3,) describes, from a  petition to Parliament, the sufferings of English prisoners "crowded into close holds amid horses," "sold, on arriving, to the most inhuman persons," and treated worse than beasts; “sleeping in styes, worse than hogs in England, and many other ways made most miserable beyond expression of Christian imagination." And nothing in the annals of history will justify the supposition that the Irish fared better.

During long examinations of early records and manuscript matter relating to the colonies which formed the American Union, no allusion has met our eye relating to any of these priests sold as slaves in America by the Puritans. It is doubtful, therefore, whether any ever reached our shores. But it seems to us that researches will yet lead to some clue or trace in the West India Islands, that favorite mart for the Puritan slave-dealers, who sold alike there the Irish Catholic, or the Christian or Pagan Indian of New England. It is, however, a curious fact that the first victim of the witchcraft excitement in New England was one of the Irish slaves, a poor woman, who though able to repeat the Lord's Prayer in Latin and Irish, failed to pray in the to her unknown English tongue, was adjudged a witch, and put to death.

Of the Irish transported to St. Christopher's we find some account in the Jesuit Father Peter Pelleprat's Relation des Missions des Pères de la Compagnie de Jesus dans les Isles et dans la Terre Ferme de l’Amerique Miridionale, (Paris, 1655.) Part of  the island belonged to the French, and Father John Destriche (Stritch?) an Irish member of the Society, was sent in 1650, to the boundary. His long-forsaken countrymen flocked around, braving all dangers from their cruel task-masters; and he spent three months hearing confessions, baptizing, instructing, consoling and fortifying with the sacraments these poor exiles. He then, in the disguise of a merchant, visited Montserrat, which was, for a time, an independent Irish isle, and so laid down on maps, and where even the negroes spoke Irish. But, at this time of Puritan rule, the English had reduced them to slavery. Here he raised a little chapel in the depth of a forest, and the Irish every day, under pretext of cutting wood, made their way to the spot, and, after giving the day to religion, cut some wood to carry back.

Returning to St. Christopher's, he found the English renewing the persecution. One hundred and twenty-five of the most fervent Catholics were carried off and set ashore on the barren island of Crabs or Boriquen. Here some undoubtedly perished of starvation; a few reached St. Domingo, but, on the refusal of the Spaniards to receive them, managed to find transport to Tortugas, then in the hands of the French.

Father Destriche then collected all the Irish he could, and conveyed them to Gaudeloupe, making excursions from time to time to bring in others to swell this settlement; and visiting in disguise the various English islands.

No allusion is made to any priest among these exiles; but this father was not probably alone. Research in this field may yet enlarge the touching memorials which Mr. O'Reilly deserves so great credit for presenting to us.

The persecution may be said to close with the Puritan rule; Archbishop Plunkett, whose life is well and concisely given, having been a victim to the infamous fiction of plots in the reign of Charles II., and brought to the scaffold by the false testimony of men of his own country and faith.

The last of the martyred clergy was the Dominican Father Gerald Gibbon, sub-prior of Kilmallock, killed by some of William III.'s roving cavalry at Listuahill in the County of Kerry, in 1691.

Mr. O'Reilly has done an excellent work. The records of the lives and deaths of these illustrious men should be familiar to all their countrymen, not to excite feelings of hostility and vengeance against the descendants of the wrong-doers; for as in the case of Wolfe, the later generations fall away at times, and the priest we revere may trace his descent from a persecutor. But the lives of these martyrs remind us in these days of insidious prosperity, that we should struggle as manfully against the persecution of religious indifference as they did against the persecution of rack, and sword, and halter, and show that we deem the religion they died for, worthy of a life of love and sacrifice.
 'Ireland's Martyrs' in The Catholic World, Vol. VIII, (Oct, 1868-March, 1869) 838-852.

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Wednesday 9 June 2021

'The John Nepomucene of Ireland': John O'Dowd, O.F.M.

Recently we looked at the cases of two martyrs from the Franciscan monastery of Moyne, County Mayo and today we look at a third, a man described by Father Thomas Walsh in his 1856 History of the Irish Hierarchy as 'the John Nepomucene of Ireland'. For Irish Franciscan priest, John O'Dowd, is also remembered as a martyr for the Seal of the Confessional. Cardinal Moran, who did much to reawaken interest in the Irish martyrs during the nineteenth-century, wrote a succinct summary of his case giving the date June 9, 1577 as the day of Father O'Dowd's martyrdom and the Elizabethan conquest of Connacht as its backdrop:

The convent of Moyne, in Mayo, was rendered illustrious in 1577, by the heroism of Father O'Dowd. The soldiers of Fitton (then president of Connaught) had occupied that convent, and some of their prisoners having made their confessions to that courageous father, they seized on him, and by promises and threats, sought to induce him to reveal to them the secrets which he had heard. His refusal kindled their demoniac ferocity, and binding the cord of his habit around his head, they forced and screwed it till his eyes burst from their sockets. Under this frightful torture he expired on the 9th of June, attesting by his martyrdom the inviolability of the sacred sacramental seal. 
Rev Dr. Moran, History of the Catholic Archbishops of Dublin Since the Reformation, Vol. I,  (Dublin, 1864), p.142.

A number of Franciscan writers recorded the martyrdom of Father O'Dowd. In 1869 Myles O'Reilly drew on the account of Donatus Mooney O.F.M. (c.1577-1624), himself a survivor of the attack on Donegal Friary in 1601. He was appointed Provincial of the Order in 1615 and undertook an official visitation to all of the Irish Franciscan foundations. Father Mooney spoke to eyewitnesses who testified to the horrible death suffered by Father O'Dowd, even if the passage of time had blunted their memories of his name and the location of the monastery:


 Father Mooney did not know the name of this martyr, which, however, we learn from other authorities; but I give his account as the fullest and most authentic, as it was derived from the actors in the tragedy. He also states it to have taken place in the convent of Elphin, in the episcopal city  of Elphin, while others lay the scene in the convent of Moyne, in the county of Mayo. Clearly the English soldiers who assisted at the massacre and narrated it to Father Mooney knew little of the name of the place where it occurred or of the priest whom they saw slain; but they are the very best authorities as to the fact having taken place. Father Mooney thus narrates the event: 

 "In this same convent, on another time, certain English soldiers seized a certain priest of our order and some other prisoners. They pressed a certain secular, who was one of their captives, to tell them something of the plots which they said. he had made with others against the Queen of England; but he protested he could tell nothing but the truth, and that there were no plots; so they determined to hang him. When they said this, he begged he might be allowed to make his confession to the brother; this they granted the more readily that they thought the priest, if he were tortured, would reveal what might be told him. As soon as the confession was over, the secular was hung; and then they asked the priest, who was also to be hung, if he had learned aught of the business in confession. He answered in the negative, and, refusing to reveal anything of a confession, they offered him life and freedom if he would reveal, and threatened torture if he refused. He answered he could not, and they immediately knotted a cord round his forehead, and, thrusting a piece of wood through it, slowly twisted it so tightly that at length, after enduring this torment for a long time, his skull was broken in, and, the brain being crushed, he died. I have seen and examined ocular witnesses of this fact, who were serving in that body of English troops, and sought absolution from me; but they did not remember the name of the brother or the exact year; but it was about 1577." — Mooney, p. 35.

M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), 43-44.

 In his 1896 compilation Our Martyrs, Father Denis Murphy SJ used the account of Louvain scholar Luke Wadding, O.F.M. (1588 – 1657). Wadding follows the Mooney narrative for the most part but adds the detail that Father O'Dowd prayed to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout his ordeal:  

1579. John O'Dowd, O.S.F.

(from Wadding's Annales Minorum, xxi. 208.) 

In our convent of Elphin, some English soldiers seized a certain priest of our Order and some other persons. They pressed a layman, who was one of their captives, to tell something of the plots which they said he had entered into with others against the Queen of England; but he protested he could tell nothing but the truth, and that there were no such plots. So they determined to hang him. He begged that he might first be allowed to make his confession to the priest. This they granted readily, because they thought that if the priest was put to the torture, he would reveal what was told him. As soon as the confession was ended the layman was hanged, and then they asked the priest, who was also to be hanged, if he had learned anything of the business in the confession. He answered in the negative, and refused to make known anything which he might have heard in the sacred tribunal. They offered him life and freedom is he would reveal what he had heard, and threatened him with torture if he refused. He answered that he could not.

Immediately they knotted a cord round his head, and putting a piece of wood through it, slowly twisted it so tight that at length, after he had endured this torment for a long time, his skull was broken in and his brain crushed. All this time he was praying to God and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He died on the spot. I have seen and examined ocular witnesses of this fact, who were then serving in that body of English soldiers. But they did not remember the name of the friar or the exact year. It was about 1577. Ward gives 1579 as the date of his death.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. , Our Martyrs,  (Dublin, 1896), 108-109.

Ward is a reference to Donegal native Hugh Ward, O.F.M. (c.1593 –1635), also a scholar at the Irish College of Louvain. His testimony confirms the main details but associates Father O'Dowd with Moyne and suggests 1579 as the year when these shocking events took place:

Fr John O'Dowd, of the Convent of Moyne, having heard the confessions of some of the faithful, was seized by the English heretics and put to the torture at different times, to compel him to reveal what he heard in confession. They put a rope round his head and tightened it with a stick, until his eyes were forced out and his brains were driven out through his ears. All the time he was praying to God and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was then put to death - 1579.

Ward, M.S. Catalogue. in the Franciscan Archives, Dublin. 

'Our Martyrs III' in The Lyceum - A Monthly Educational and Literary Magazine and Review, Vol. I, no 10 (June 1888), p.300

I am unsure where Cardinal Moran sourced the date of June 9 as the day of Father O'Dowd's martyrdom but was pleased to learn that according to the book Archdioceses and Dioceses of Ireland published by Veritas in 2000, the death of John O'Dowd on June 9, 1579 is still remembered locally.

Father John O'Dowd, O.F.M. is number 44 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918), where he is described as 'of the Convent of Moyne, diocese of Killala; put to death, 1577-1579.' No further progress has been made with his cause.

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Sunday 6 June 2021

Father Thomas Aquinas of Saint Teresa, O.D.C.: an Irish Carmelite Martyr


There are three Irish Carmelites whose names appear on the Official List of Irish Martyrs. I have previously written here about one of them - Englishman George Halley (Angelus of Saint Joseph in religion), who was killed in August 1642 at Drogheda. Today we turn to the case of Carmelite priest Father Thomas Aquinas of Saint Teresa, who was also martyred at Drogheda in 1642 with some sources giving June 6 as the date, others July 6. The account below has been taken from Father James P. Rushe's 1903 history of the Carmelite Order in Ireland. What is remarkable about the report of Father Thomas's martyrdom is that the Puritans who killed him not only subsequently accepted his innocence but also cherished the relics of his mantle and crucifix:
I. Father Thomas Aquinas of St. Teresa.

The signs of the vocation-grace must have been very evident in a postulant anxious to embrace the Teresian Reform at Dublin in the year 1635. For he was at once received into the community, being thenceforth known as Fra Thomas Aquinas of St. Teresa. The young novice was then in the twenty-third year of his age; his parents being Catholics, and residing in Dublin probably. From childhood Fra Thomas had been encouraged to devote himself to God in Religion; but it was after he had obtained a thorough education, and distinguished himself at college, that he felt called to the cloister. His fervour during the time of probation was most exemplary; not even the austerities of the Primitive Rule could satisfy his desire for mortification, which had, nevertheless, to be moderated by Obedience, — a virtue considered to be the basis of Religious perfection by the Discalced Carmelites. Having taken the Solemn Vows, Brother Thomas was sent to Drogheda to study for the priesthood. He must have been ordained there before the year 1641; because at the outbreak of the persecution in that city, he had already gained fame as a distinguished preacher.

The Puritans vainly thought that by arresting this popular Friar, and making an example of him, they could intimidate the resolute Catholics of Drogheda. But it was no easy matter to effect their purpose, as the Faithful grew daily more anxious for Father Thomas's safety; indeed his retreat might never have been discovered were it not for the treachery of a heretical servant.

Among the converts, whom the young priest had received into the Church, were the members of an influential family; a gentleman, his wife and son — an only child. On making open profession of their faith, the father and son were seized and cast into prison. Distracted with grief, the lady was on the point of simulating the errors of her persecutors, knowing that by doing so she could at least save the lives of her husband and son. Father Thomas heard of her deplorable state, and risking every peril, hastened at once to her assistance. He explained to her the grievous sinfulness of her design, which she immediately renounced, resolving to trust those dearest to her to God's loving care. And, acting on her director's advice, she resolved to escape the vengeance of the Puritans by flight. The annalists do not say whether so beautiful a spirit of Christian resignation was rewarded on earth by the happy reunion of those fervent converts.

While Father Thomas was still engaged in discharging this duty of charity, one of the lady's own servants summoned the soldiers of the garrison, who came and surrounded the house silently. Yet, the Friar might have eluded all their precautions, had he not the welfare of others to consider. They had searched for him in vain, and were about to set fire to the building, when he himself appeared and bade them desist. They did comply; surprised at this unexpected event, and giving loud expression to their grim satisfaction at having captured him so easily. They treated him most barbarously as they dragged him back to Drogheda to await there in prison his certain doom. 
Having then much work of a like gruesome kind on hand, the fanatics left Father Thomas to endure for a time the horrors of a cruel captivity. But in this they were disappointed. One of the Confessor's fellow-prisoners was a Franciscan Friar who had obtained favour with the governor, and who now secured for Father Thomas several of the privileges which he himself enjoyed; among others that of visiting the Catholics suffering for their faith, and of saying Mass almost every day. This zealous son of St. Francis was also able to procure the Teresian habit for the young Carmelite, who was very anxious to die clothed as became the members of his Order. Hence we may infer that there were other Discalced Carmelites in Drogheda with whom the Franciscan Father held secret communication. 
Early on the morning of the sixth day of his imprisonment a messenger came to tell Father Thomas that he had been sentenced to death, and that the soldiers would be ready to lead him to the scaffold within an hour. Happily he had just offered the Holy Sacrifice; so, merely inclining his head, in meek submission to God's will, he continued his prayer. He looked upon such a death as an exceeding great act of mercifulness; his life's work was well accomplished, nor could he reproach himself with having left anything undone. His only regret was at being taken away from the Faithful, who sadly needed the poor comfort his words - could give them in the hour of trial. On hearing of his terrible fate the Catholic prisoners raised a wail of bitter grief, and even many of the Puritans were touched with pity, so calm and fearless did the young Friar seem. But a crowd of heretics had assembled outside, clamouring for his death, and scoffing at his constancy. A number of pious people had also come to receive his blessing, for which they knelt, unmindful of the threats of their persecutors. 
When on his way to the place of execution, Father Thomas saw them lead forth a wretched woman who was about to suffer death for some crime. To his horror he distinctly heard the Puritans offer her life, and freedom, and wealth if she would only renounce her faith. Calling out to her, he warned her to beware lest she should forfeit eternal happiness by accepting those things that must pass with time. His zeal was well rewarded, for even before he himself reached the scaffold that woman's soul was safe with God. 
And yet his executioners tried to bribe him with the very allurements he had just exhorted a weak woman to despise! But he silenced them by asking whether they could think him so foolish as to reject doctrine which he knew to be infallibly true, in exchange for the mere invention of human caprice? He reminded them, moreover, of the dangers of their own state, and implored them to return to that Church to which their ancestors had once been so loyal. This filled them with unspeakable rage, making them still more eager for the Teresian Friar's death. 
The scene at the foot of the gibbet is not difficult to realise: the fierce soldiers dressed in buff jerkins, and wearing caps and breastplates of steel; in their midst the young priest, clothed with the lovely habit and mantle of Carmel, a crucifix and beads in his hands, his lips moving in earnest prayer; and the instrument of death reared against a fair summer sky. 
The Puritans themselves being the executioners, the final preparations were hastily gone through. The cord was fastened in its place, the signal impatiently given and eagerly obeyed. But Father Thomas did not die. The strong halter was wrenched in twain to the astonishment of all present, whose surprise gave place to awe when another rope yielded like the first, and they beheld the Confessor standing still uninjured before them. Raising his voice he asked them why they had condemned him to death, and he guilty of no crime. Then they accused him of being a Catholic, and a Priest, and a Monk. He joyfully admitted the charge, saying that he was now ready to lay down his life in testimony of his faith. They instantly placed him under the gibbet again, and, with a prayer for the conversion of his persecutors, this time Father Thomas received his Crown. 
The Catholics took his body away, no one trying to prevent them, and they interred it within the ruins of an Augustinian abbey, beyond the walls of Drogheda. They kept watch by the Confessor's grave until late in the evening, when soldiers were sent to drive them forth from that hallowed place. Late at night one of the sentinels saw the old abbey brilliantly lighted up by torches which appeared to be suspended in mid-air over the place where he knew the body of the martyred Friar had been laid, and having drawn a comrade's attention to the strange sight, they both deserted their posts, and hastened to report the matter to the officer in charge. Instead of reprimanding them for their cowardice, the captain went to see those lights for himself, but no sooner had he beheld them than he also was seized with a great dread. However, he dissembled his fear, and assigned an absurd reason for the apparition. Accompanied by the more courageous of his men, he paid a visit to the ruins to make sure that the Catholics had not removed the martyr's body. They found the grave undisturbed, and clearing away the loose stones and clay, they gazed once more on the young Friar's face, still most beautifully composed in the happy death-sleep. The soldiers then declared that a just man had been slain without cause, and while one of them took possession of the crucifix which Father Thomas had held clasped to his breast on the scaffold, another claimed the white mantle. And we are told that neither of the Puritans could ever be persuaded to part with those relics, although they had previously deemed Father Thomas worthy of death for having persevered in his holy profession.

Rev. James P. Rushe, Carmel in Ireland: A Narrative of the Irish Province of Teresian or Discalced Carmelites A.D. 1625-1896, (Dublin and London, 1903), 89-95.
Father Thomas Aquinas of Saint Theresa is number 148 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose causes were submitted for official consideration. No further progress has been made.