Tuesday 31 October 2023

A Higher Court



Many times in the course of history, says the Ave Maria, men have been forced to appeal from the injustice of man to the Judge of earth and heaven. When, in the year 1651, Ireton, Cromwell's representative, was besieging the city of Limerick, Terence O'Brien was Lord Bishop of Emly. "Exhort your people to surrender," was the message sent to the prelate by the general, "and I will give you forty thousand pounds sterling, and guarantee your safety besides." "I will do no such dastardly thing!" was the import of the message sent to Ireton in return.

The general then thought it better to change his tactics. He addressed himself to the besieged. "Send me the head of your pompous Bishop," he wrote, "and twenty of the men who voted against surrender, and I will spare Limerick." The citizens held a hurried meeting, and unanimously voted not to accept such humiliating and costly terms. They would stand or fall by their saintly Bishop and their beloved city. But no courage could hold out against the fanatical horde at their gates, and it was not long before Limerick was in the hands of a foe that knew no mercy. The first act of the Puritan commander was to order the immediate execution of Bishop O'Brien. But death had no terrors for that faithful servant of God; he heard his sentence without a shudder, then calmly remarked: "I summon Ireton, the archpersecutor, to appear in eight days to stand before the heavenly tribunal and answer for his cruel deeds." Eight days after that, terrible to relate, Ireton was dead. He had been stricken with the plague.

The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 8, Number 17, 17 September 1892.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020-2023. All rights reserved

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Nicholas Fitzgerald, O.Cist

In September 1581 Cistercian monk Nicholas Fitzgerald was hanged, drawn and quartered in Dublin.  This martyr bears the name of one of the most important Cambro-Norman aristocratic families in Ireland. His own branch, the Fitzgeralds of Lackagh, was descended from Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, second son of Thomas, the Second Earl of Kildare. As we shall see, this high social standing enabled the parents of martyred monk Nicholas to remove his body to the cathedral of Kildare, where the family burial place was in the south transept. The story of the martyrdom of Nicholas Fitzgerald was one of those preserved in the work of Father Malachy Hartry, O.Cist., in
the De Cisterciensium Hibernorum Viris Illustribus, appended to his 1640 history of Holy Cross Abbey, County Tipperary Triumphalia Chronologica Monasterii S. Crucis in Hibernia. Both of these sources were edited and translated by Father Denis Murphy, S.J., the late nineteenth-century promoter of the cause of the Irish martyrs. He gives Father Hartry's account of our martyr thus:

Nicholas Fitzgerald, a Cistercian monk, fleeing from the cruel persecution, while concealed in a wood to which he had fled through fear of the persecutors, was seized in his monastic habit, taken in chains to the city of Dublin, and condemned by the Viceroy (who was never sated with the blood of Catholics) to be hanged, and while half-alive to be quartered. He endured this kind of death courageously for the Catholic faith, wearing his religious habit. The faithful, influenced by their pious devotion, preserved the clothes and blood of the courageous martyr, dividing them into small portions as relics, in the year from Christ's birth 1581, in the month of September. His father Maurice FitzGerald and Margaret [FitzRedmond] Butler his mother obtained as a very great favour that they might carry away the quartered body of their beloved son for burial and lay it in the tomb of his ancestors in the church of the nuns of the Order of St. Brigid at Kildare. Our glorious martyr was descended from the noble race of the Geraldines.

Rev. Denis Murphy S.J., ed. and trans., Triumphalia Chronologica Monasterii S. Crucis in Hibernia, (Dublin, 1895), pp. 255-56.

 When Father Murphy came to reproduce this account in his 1896 catalogue Our Martyrs he added:

There is a tombstone close by the vestry door of the cathedral of Kildare which bears the names of the parents of Nicholas Fitzgerald. If the original position of this stone was ascertained, it would determine the place where the martyr was buried.

Rev. Denis Murphy, Our Martyrs (Dublin, 1896), 120-121.

Father Murphy included some further detail in a footnote on this tombstone which throws into doubt the accuracy of the date of Father Fitzgerald's martyrdom, established by Father Hartry as September 1581:

A tombstone recently removed from that part of the church, having a raised figure in armour on it, bears the following inscription in black-letter:

Domina Margareta Butler hoc monumentum fieri fecit ob memoriam Mauricii Fitzgerald de Laccah militis quondam sui mariti, qui obiit 20 die Decembris anno 1575. 

These were no doubt the martyr's parents. The difference of dates arises from an error of Hartry's most probably. 

Rev. Denis Murphy S.J., ed.and trans., Triumphalia Chronologica Monasterii S. Crucis in Hibernia, (Dublin, 1895), footnote 5, pp. 255-56.

A modern Irish Cistercian historianFather Colmcille Ó Conbhuidhe, agrees:

The martyrdom of this Cistercian monk took place, according to Hartry, in the year 1581, but if Nicholas's father was still alive at the time of his son's death as Hartry states, the date of Nicholas Fitzgerald's death must have been some years earlier, for the inscription of the tomb of Sir Maurice Fitzgerald shows that the latter died on the 20th of December, 1575.

Rev. Colmcille Ó Conbhuidhe OCSO, Studies in Irish Cistercian History (Dublin, 1998), 114-115.

The author also speculates that since our martyr was from the Lackagh branch of the Fitzgerald family which is midway between Kildare and Monasterevan:

It is not improbable, therefore,  that Nicholas Fitzgerald was a monk of the abbey of Rosglas, better known to us as Monasterevan.
 The Cistercian abbey at Monasterevan was founded in 1178 by Dermot O’Dempsy, king of Offaly and suppressed some time between 1539 and 1540. 

The uncertainty around the date of Friar Fitzgerald's martyrdom makes it more difficult to establish the exact context in which it occurred. It is clear though from Father Hartry's account, which he had directly from Father Richard Kelly, a priest then in his seventies who had known the martyr personally and who was an eyewitness to his sufferings, that his contemporaries regarded Nicholas Fitzgerald as a martyr. This they demonstrated by their preservation of his clothes and blood which were divided into small portions for use as relics. Father Ó Conbhuidhe adds some interesting further information on the family of our martyr in a footnote:

The Fitzgeralds of Lackagh were a staunch Catholic family. During the era of persecution which followed on the Reformation they remained true to the faith. They suffered severely under Cromwell, the whole family being transported to the Barbadoes to be sold as slaves. The head of the family at that time was Henry Fitzgerald of Lackagh Castle. He and his wife were over eighty years of age at the time of their transportation. Their children, the widow of their eldest son, and their servants were transported with them. 

Rev. Colmcille Ó Conbhuidhe OCSO, Studies in Irish Cistercian History (Dublin, 1998), footnote 52, p.115.

Friar Nicholas was thus not the only member of the Fitzgeralds of Lackagh to courageously witness for the Catholic faith at a heavy personal cost.

Friar Nicholas Fitzgerald is number 29 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) submitted to Rome for official consideration. No further progress has been made with his cause.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020-2023. All rights reserved

Tuesday 11 July 2023

The Life and Death of Oliver Plunkett

Memoir[s] of Oliver Plunkett (1861)

Art. VII.—The Life and Death of Oliver Plunkett, Primate of Ireland, the last Victim of the Popish Plot, and the last Martyr who was put to Death by public authority for the Catholic Faith in the British Dominions. By the Rev. George Crotty. Dublin, Duffy, 1850. 

THERE are few Catholics in Ireland to whom the name of Oliver Plunkett is unknown. It is sacred in the recollection of all who reverence excellence, and love the holy and the good; and it has long been a matter of just reproach, that no generally available record existed of a life which was spent amid the vicissitudes of a troubled and a disastrous time, but which is capable of affording us many a lesson of rare and exalted virtue. There have been many such lives in every period of our past history; and if our ecclesiastical biography is not so copious as that of other nations, it is not because there is a want of subjects to be noticed, but because so few have devoted themselves to the arduous but meritorious duty of chronicling the labours and virtues of those who have gone before them. Our ecclesiastical biography is miserably meagre. The inmates of our ancient monasteries seem to have been more anxious to realize holiness in themselves than to describe it in others, and for the histories of some of our greatest and most glorious prelates, we are indebted to the natives of other countries. We trust that henceforward the reproach will cease to be applicable, and that the industry and talent of the future will more than compensate for the comparative unproductiveness of the past.

And yet, while we lament the paucity of our ecclesiastical records, we consider it as a misfortune, and not as a fault. There is no one who reads the pages of the volume before us, who will not admit, that for the last two centuries at least, literary occupations were altogether out of the question. A desperate votary of knowledge, like De Burgo, might venture on the forlorn hope with a zeal that no peril of fine or imprisonment could dismay, but the great body would shrink from the task, where secrecy and concealment were the dictates of ordinary prudence. But the time is past, and we trust for ever, when such fears need be entertained. "The storms are over, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." The work which has suggested these remarks, is but one of a class that promises to rescue the fame and virtues of our great men from the oblivion to which they have been unfortunately so long consigned. There are few more competent to the task he has undertaken than the learned and amiable author, and there are few works which will be received with a more hearty and cordial welcome by the public, than the Life and Death of Oliver Plunkett.

The illustrious and martyred primate of Ireland was not only remarkable for the excellence of his individual character, but the circumstances in which his lot was cast were calculated to develop to their full extent, the great qualities which he possessed. The period at which he lived, was one of the most eventful in the whole history of the Irish Church.

“Oliver Plunkett,” says our author, “was born at Loughcrew, in the county of Meath, about the year 1631. He was descended from one of the most ancient and illustrious families in Ireland, and was a near relative of the earls of Fingal. From his earliest youth, he was equally distinguished by the purity of his morals and the excellence of his understanding. Without being of an age to take any active part in the scenes of blood which were enacted in his unhappy country from 1641 to 1649, he was old enough to appreciate these horrors, and to remember the miserable dissensions which paralyzed the efforts of the Irish nation, and left it a chained victim, unable to resist the arm that was raised to immolate it for the vengeance of its enemies. It was not, however, pusillanimity, nor want of affection for his native land, that induced him to seek knowledge in a foreign clime; but having resolved to embrace the ecclesiastical state, he determined to qualify himself for the discharge of its important duties, by acquiring in the capital of the christian world, that learning which the cruelty of penal laws and the turbulence of the times prevented him from finding in his own country. He left Ireland in 1649,—the year of Cromwell’s arrival,—and the tales of woe which resounded through all Europe, and followed him to Rome, far exceeded the worst horrors which had occurred before his departure.

“Sad indeed was the condition of the Church and people of Ireland at this period. The young and the old, the venerable bishop and the youthful priest, were torn from under the very altar, dragged from their holes in the earth, where they burrowed like vermin, or caught as they crept from them to administer the sacraments to some dying sinner, and instantly put to death. O’Brien, bishop of Emly was, in 1651, bound in chains and cast into prison, in Limerick, and neither threats nor promises were spared in order to induce him to abandon the Catholic faith. These, however, proving unavailing, he was hanged, and his head being taken off, was placed on a pike, and raised on the citadel, where it remained until after the Restoration. About the same time, Egan, bishop of Ross was tortured and put to death in that town, He had for a long time been concealed in a cavern of a neighbouring mountain; but having left his retreat to visit a dying person, he was discovered on his return, and on his refusing to renounce the faith, was given up to the fury of the Puritan soldiery. His arms were struck off his body on the spot, and he was then brought to a neighbouring tree, amid the jeers and scoffs of his tormentors, and then hanged on one of the branches by the reins of his own horse. Emir Mathew, Bishop of Clogher, being loaded with irons, was cast into a dungeon in Enniskillen, where he was at length freed from his sufferings by being hanged. His bowels were afterwards taken out and burned, and his head placed on a pole in the market-place. Arthur Maginnis, bishop of Down, being old and infirm, died at sea, endeavouring to escape his enemies.

“Of the other prelates, the celebrated Nicholas French, Bishop of Ferns, escaped to Ghent, where he died, on the twenty-third of August, 1678. Walsh, Archbishop of Cashel, after being hunted for a long time through the mountains of Tipperary, at length found an asylum in Compostella, in Spain. The bishops of Cork and Cloyne, and Waterford, and Lismore, fled to Nantz; the bishops of Limerick and Raphae, to Brussels; the bishop of Clonfert, to Hungary; the bishop of Leighlin, to Gallicia; the bishop of Killaloe, to Rennes, in Brittany; the bishop of Kilfenora, to Normandy; and the bishop of Kilmacdua was screened by his friends in England. Besides these, John Burke, Archbishop of Tuam, Patrick Plunkett, bishop of Ardagh, and every other prelate in the kingdom were forced to fly from it, with the exception of the primate, Hugh O'Reilly, Geoghgan, bishop of Meath, and Mc Sweeny, bishop of Kilmore, who, however, was disqualified by age and infirmity from discharging any of the functions of his office.” —page 6.

We have quoted this passage at some length, because it shows at one view the disastrous condition to which the Irish Church was reduced at this period. We do not know that at any other time it was so utterly destitute of pastors; and if the special providence of God had not been exerted in its behalf, in this its hour of need, the succession of the hierarchy would have been broken, and the faith of her people exposed to the most imminent danger. The heart sickens at the bare recital of the atrocities perpetrated on the clergy for the sole offence of exercising their clerical functions.

It was at such a period that Plunkett applied himself to the sacred ministry. The career which he undertook, was one of labour and privation, and the doom that awaited him it was not difficult to foresee; it was that of many a priest and prelate who preceded him; it was eventually his own,—a bloody and cruel death on the gibbet or the scaffold. He made his ecclesiastical studies in the Ludovisian college in Rome, which was then administered by the Jesuits. He entered in the summer of 1649; distinguished himself in every department of science; and, having taken out the degree of Doctor in Divinity, was appointed public Professor of Theology in the college of the Propaganda. This situation he held for a period of twelve years. In 1669, O’Reilly, the Archbishop of Armagh, died at Louvain, whither he had been forced to fly for refuge from the severity of the penal laws, and after much deliberation, Clement IX, appointed Oliver Plunkett to fill the vacant See.

“If the Church of Ireland,” says Mr. Crolly, “had not been persecuted at this time, the temper and pursuits of Oliver Plunkett would, most probably, have induced him to prefer the seclusion of his college to the government of the Irish Church. But to have hesitated a moment in her present circumstances, would have savoured of cowardice, and he, therefore, accepted the office instantly, and with alacrity. Nor did he, for,a moment, think of remaining abroad, and evading the perils with which he knew he would be encompassed in Ireland, by entrusting the government of his diocese to a vicar-general; for immediately after his consecration he set out for Ireland, carrying with him particular instructions from the Pope, regarding the regulation of his own conduct and that of his clergy. On his way he visited Louvain, where he saw his countryman, Arsdekin, and was one of the first who urged that eminent man to write a theology which should be peculiarly adapted for the guidance of the apostolic missionaries in these persecuted countries.” —page 16.

The new Primate arrived in Ireland in 1669. The precise period is not known, but he could not have been very long in the country when the bloodhounds were let loose upon his trail.

“On the 20th of November, the Lord Lieutenant, Robarts, pretended to Lord Conway that the king had privately informed him that two persons, one of whom was Archbishop Plunkett, ‘had been sent from Rome, and were lurking in the country to do mischief.’ Although ‘it was very late,’ Robarts commanded Lord Conway to write that very night to Lisburn, in the county of Antrim, to his brother-in-law, Sir George Plowdon, to tell him that it would be an acceptable service if he could dexterously find out the Primate and his companion, and apprehend them.’’—page 19.

In 1670, occurred his dispute with Dr. Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, about the right to the Primacy. Dr. Plunkett maintained that the Primacy always belonged, as a matter of right, to the See of Armagh. He offered to leave the decision of the question to the prelates of the Synod, but Dr. Talbot refused the offer, and both sent their reasons to the Holy See. After due consideration, the Propaganda decided in favour of Dr. Plunkett, and declared that the Archbishop of Armagh was made by St. Patrick with the authority of the Holy See, Metropolitan of the whole kingdom.

“In the year 1671, which was the next after that in which the convocation was held in Dublin, Dr. Plunkett was delegated by commissorial letters from the Holy See, to decide on a dispute which had been carried on with great animosity between the Dominicans and the Franciscans. The question related to the respective rights of the two orders, to receive the alms of the faithful in the dioceses of Armagh, Down, Dromore, and Clogher. Each of the orders had been settled in the province of Ulster, before the Cromwellian persecutions, and all the houses belonging to each were destroyed during these lamentable times. Whether any of the Franciscans who had resided in those places, escaped death or exile, does not appear; but De Burgo tells us (page 129) that not one Dominican belonging to the province of Ulster, was left in Ireland. The Franciscans came back very soon after the Restoration, whereas the Dominicans did not return to that part of Ireland until a considerably later period. In 1671, however, as we learn from the Primate’s letter, they had re-established three houses in Ulster —one in Clogher, one in Down, and one in Armagh. The Franciscans insisted that, in consequence of the priority of their return, they alone had a right to seek or receive the alms of the faithful in Armagh, Down, Dromore, and Clogher; they vehemently resisted the efforts of the Dominicans to re-establish themselves in these places, and induced several of the laity to take part with them, to the no small scandal of religion. The Primate taking along with him Patrick Plunkett, Bishop of Meath, Oliver Dease, Vicar- General of the same diocese, and Thomas Fitzsimon, Vicar-General of Kilmore, visited, as he himself says, with great labour and at great expense, each of the dioceses in which the disputes existed, and examined on the spot the allegations of both parties. Having thus thoroughly investigated the matter, he determined to put an end to the scandal at once, and accordingly issued his definitive sentence in favour of the Dominicans, dated Dundalk, 11th of October, 1674, and commanded the Franciscans to submit to it under pain of suspension, to be incurred without further process or appeal.”—page 43.

The archbishop directed his exertions to the reformation of the secular clergy. The number of secular priests was very considerably diminished towards the middle of the seventeenth century; but through his persevering labours and zeal many parishes that had been for a long time deprived of pastors were furnished with clergymen. Of the eighteen hundred priests registered according to act of Parliament in 1704, that is, twenty-three years after the archbishop’s death, as many as one hundred and sixteen had received orders from him. Some of these must have been ordained very shortly before his arrest.

But in the midst of these labours to improve his people and repair the evils which persecution had inflicted on the Church, the storm of the Popish plot was already gathering, and the primate was to be amongst its most illustrious victims. The circumstances of this vile and horrible conspiracy are minutely described by Mr. Crolly; as they are already familiar to our readers, we pass them over here: but the following graphic sketch of an Irish state witness of the time, will show what kind of instruments the unprincipled government of the day employed in the prosecution of its atrocious and sanguinary designs.

"The original discoverers of the plot, as they called themselves, were Edmond Murphy, parish priest of Killeavy and chanter of Armagh, and John Mc Moyer and Hugh Duffy, Francisean friars. Perhaps the most curious pamphlet in Thorpe’s whole collection is one written by Murphy..... This pamphlet proves that Murphy was throughout a most consistent character; for from a very early period in his career, he united in his own person at the same time the professions of priest, robber, and spy. The last of these occupations was disagreeable to the ‘great Tory Redmond O’Hanlon, who made edict through the barony, that whoever went to hear Murphy, should for the first time pay one cow, for the second two, and for the third his life.’ After this he hired a curate to officiate in his parish, and seldom or never resorted there himself. This is his own version of the matter, and there can be no doubt that O’Hanlon had good cause to hate and fear him; but the real cause of his being obliged to hire a curate was, that he had been suspended first, and afterwards excommunicated by the Primate. Mc Moyer and Duffy were, as I have said, Franciscan friars, and had both officiated, the former as parish priest, and the latter as curate, in the parish of Fohart, not far from Dundalk, in the county of Louth. They were the bosom friends of Murphy, and, like him, spies and robbers......

“ ......Murphy waxed powerful among the Tories; became the leader of a large band, planned the murder of Redmond O’Hanlon, whose place he desired to occupy, as well as to obtain the reward set on his head, and alarmed the quarters of the officers Baker and Smith, who were stationed near Dundalk, and had denounced him as a robber. ‘Ensign Smith (says Murphy in his pamphlet) made grievous complaints unto several gentlemen that his house was in agitation to be burnt, and himself and family destroyed by the Tories ; and that one Edmond Murphy, a priest, was the ringleader of this design:—Murphy, Moyer, and Duffy were, as I have said, spies as well as Tories. The officers to whom they betrayed their companions, were Captains Coult and Butler.’ ”—p. 91.

We cannot pursue this subject further. The details prove that the condition of society was most depraved and demoralized, and that the Government which stooped to make use of such characters, must have been utterly profligate and abandoned. It was on the testimony of such witnesses that the life of one of the best and holiest prelates that ever adorned the Church of Ireland, or perhaps any other country, was made away with. Into the history of this tragedy, so honourable to the victim, so disgraceful to his accusers and his judges, it is not our intention to enter. It is one of the darkest and most shameful pages in the annals of English jurisprudence. Of justice there was nothing save the form, kept up, as it were, in mockery of the meek and saintly personage whom it abandoned to his fiendish pursuers, without an effort to save him from their fury and fanaticism. It was not necessary for the author to have gone into the vindication of the primate’s innocence of the charge, for we believe there is not an individual in the kingdom that does not believe him to have been a victim of the foulest machinations and the most deliberate perjury.

After his execution at Tyburn on the 1st of July, 1681, his body was begged of the king, and, with the exception of the head and arms, was buried in the church-yard of St. Giles in the fields, with an inscription written by Father Corker, to whom the primate made a present of it, to be disposed of according to his pleasure. There it remained until the cropeared plot broke out in 1683, when it was taken up and conveyed to the Benedictine monastery of Lambspring, in Germany, where it was interred with great ceremony.

“The Irish witnesses soon squandered the money which they had received for proving the plot and swearing away the Primate’s life. For a time they managed to support themselves by swearing against Shaftesbury and their old employers. But even this failed them, and they were quickly brought to a state of the most wretched destitution. Florence McMoyer was so far reduced that he was obliged to pawn for £5, the celebrated ‘book of Armagh,’ which thus passed out of his family where it had remained for many centuries. Nor was this the worst evil against which these miserable beings had to contend, for they were now universally abhorred and detested even by their former abettors, and lived in daily terror of being punished, perhaps hanged, for their perjuries. They had now no friends, for they had been equally false and faithless to all parties. They were, moreover, tortured by the hell of a guilty conscience, for the crime of murder was upon their souls, ‘One of the miscreants, Duffy, old, emaciated, abhorred, and exiled from his Church, and tortured with remorse, visited a successor of Dr. Plunkett, (Dr. McMahon.) and as he approached him, exclaimed in an agony of soul, ‘Am I never to have peace? Is there no mercy for me?’ The Prelate heard him in silence, then opened a glass case, and in a deep and solemn voice said, ‘Look here, thou unfortunate wretch! The head of his murdered primate was before him, he saw, knew it, and swooned away. This miserable man was reconciled to the Church and died penitent.”—page 241.

We cannot close this notice without permitting our author to describe the manner in which the remains of the martyred Prelate were disposed of.

“Father Corker, to whom the venerable martyr had bequeathed his body, caused a surgeon named John Ridley, to cut off the arms by the elbow. He got a round tin case made for the head, and an oblong one for the arms, and enclosed them both in a chest. The head and arms were not buried with the rest of the body in St. Giles’ churchyard, But when Father Corker had it exhumed in 1683, they were taken along with it to Lambspring. The quarters of Oliver Plunkett’s body repose under a monument in the wall of the crypt of the church. His right hand is preserved in a casket in the sacristy. At the time of the translation of the relics, Cardinal Howard, better known as Cardinal Norfolk, resided at Rome, and was Cardinal Protector of England. Father Corker sent Dr Plunkett’s head from Lambspring to Rome, when it came into the possession of Cardinal Howard about the end of the year 1683.”— page 243.

Cardinal Howard gave it to Hugh McMahon, author of the ‘‘Jus Primatiale Armacanum,’’ and when the latter was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, in the year 1708, he brought with him the precious relic to his native land. It is now deposited in the Dominican convent of Drogheda, where it forms an object of the deepest historical and religious interest to the visitors of that community.

We must here draw our notice to a close. The Irish Catholic public are deeply indebted to Mr. Crolly for the able, judicious, and interesting manner, in which he has placed before them the incidents of a life that will ever be a model and incentive to every Irish Missionary. We hope he will long continue to employ the intervals of his laborious duties to the same advantage. He has conferred by the present work, a lasting benefit on the Irish nation, and paid a worthy tribute to the memory of one of Ireland’s holiest and noblest sons.


Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2020-2023. All rights reserved

Thursday 22 June 2023

The Irish Martyrs on Radio Maria Ireland, Friday, June 23

Tomorrow night, Friday, June 23, 2003 I will be speaking on the Irish martyrs on Radio Maria Ireland at 7pm. This is the second of the scheduled 'All the Saints of Ireland' programmes for the month of June, but will be dedicated to the martyrs rather than to the earlier medieval Irish saints. I am hoping to provide an overview of the martyrs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and of the long drawn-out ongoing process to have their sanctity officially recognized. I also plan to speak on the specific part played by women in resisting the Reformation and preserving Catholicism. My opening post when this blog was launched provides some background and can be read here. The Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) can be found here and the tabs on the blog home page break that list down into different categories for easier access. Hyperlinks to posts on the various individuals, alas still too few, whom I have written about on this site thus far can also be found there.

So join host Thomas Murphy and myself at 7 pm on Friday, June 23, 2023 as we look at the history of our Irish martyrs and ask why they continue to remain neglected and forgotten.  For details of how to listen to the programme see: https://www.radiomaria.ie/how-to-listen/


Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2023. All rights reserved.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Some of Ireland's Martyrs

June 20 is the Feast of the Irish Martyrs and to mark the day below is a 1915 article by the editor of The Catholic World, a monthly journal published in the United States by the Paulist Fathers. Although the article is titled 'Some of Ireland's Martyrs', writer Father John J. Burke, C.S.P. provides a comprehensive listing of those whose names were recommended for official consideration of their causes, two hundred and fifty-seven in all, six of whom were women. The Official List of Irish Martyrs published three years later in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record recorded two hundred and fifty-eight names to which a further two, omitted accidentally, were later added, bringing the total to two hundred and sixty. Father Burke refers in his piece to the beatification of these martyrs, but they were not formally beatified at this stage. Seventeen were formally beatified in 1995 by Pope Saint John Paul II, at present the cases of forty-two others are being resubmitted for further consideration. Saint Oliver Plunkett, beatified in 1920 and canonized in 1975, remains the sole Irish martyr to have been officially declared a saint. Father Burke's article contains some very useful potted biographies which are worth reading and reflecting upon, for too many of our Irish martyrs remain forgotten, neglected and unknown.  

STILL more of the glorious pages of Irish history, which tell how well she deserves the title of the greatest of Catholic nations, have been illumined with letters of heavenly gold by our Holy Father, Benedict XV. The necessary brevity of this article makes it impossible, and indeed it is not necessary, to dwell upon the heroic fidelity of our forefathers who kept the Faith at home, preserved the saving principles of that Faith to European civilization, and, in their zeal and devotion, carried it to every part of the globe. The beatification of two hundred and fifty-one Irishmen and six Irishwomen presents again to the world the heroism of those who, in the most ruthless of religious persecutions, laid down their lives that God might be glorified before men, and that Ireland might live a Catholic nation.

We give first the text in English of the opening and the closing of the Papal Decree on the Beatification or Declaration of Martyrdom of these servants of God. We then add the full list of those Beatified, summarizing in a very brief way the career and martyrdom of some of them.

In Ireland, the nursery of heroes, of the innumerable champions of Christ who fell in the unbridled and furious persecution waged against Catholics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and whose names are written in the Book of Life, the greater number are unknown, but many are known by name and fame and still live in the memory of men. Among these are numbered fourteen Bishops of the Church, many priests of the secular clergy, and others belonging to the religious families, or Orders, namely, the Premonstratensians, Cistercians, Friar Preachers, Franciscans, Augustinians, Carmelites, the Order of the Blessed Trinity, and the Society of Jesus, as well as laymen and men of noble rank, to whom are to be added six devout women. Since the proofs of their martyrdom forth- coming seemed to be of sufficient weight, an investigatory process on the reputation for martyrdom and the signs and miracles of the aforesaid servants of God was undertaken and brought to a successful issue in the ecclesiastical court of Dublin. This investigatory process was forwarded to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome and was followed by many petitions from Archbishops and Bishops, especially of Ireland, and from others eminent in Church and State. When all was in readiness, on the presentation of Monsignor O'Riordan, Protonotary Apostolic, Rector of the Irish College, and Postulator of the Cause, who put forward the wishes of the whole Catholic nation of Ireland, the Most Eminent Lord Cardinal Vincenzo Vannutelli, Bishop of Palestrina, and Ponente or Relator of the Cause, at an ordinary meeting of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, held at the Vatican on the date given below, proposed a discussion of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on the following doubt: "Is a Commission for the introduction of the Cause to be instituted in the case and for the purpose of which there is question?" And the Most Eminent and Reverend Fathers of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, on the motion of his Eminence the Cardinal Ponente, and after obtaining the opinion of Monsignor Verde, Promoter of the Faith, having maturely examined, discussed, and weighed all circumstances, decided to reply: The commission is to be instituted in the Cause of two hundred and fifty-seven Servants of God, if it is pleasing to His Holiness.

* * * *

On a report of this being referred to our Most Holy Lord Pope Benedict XV. through the under-mentioned Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, his Holiness confirmed the Rescript of the Sacred Congregation, and deigned to approve with his own hand the Commission for the Introduction of the Cause of the two hundred and fifty-seven aforesaid Servants of God on the twelfth day of the same month and year. 

Antony Cardinal Vico,

Pro-Prefect of the S. Congregation of Rites.

Peter la Fontaine,

Bishop of Caristo, Secretary.

February 12, 1915.


Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, was born in the diocese of Limerick; educated at Louvain, and appointed Archbishop of Cashel by Gregory XIII. in 1580 or 1581. On his arrival at Drogheda he was suspected by the same Walter Baal who was afterwards Mayor of Dublin, and who imprisoned his own mother. At Slane, the learning of the Archbishop, manifested in his conversation, led him to be suspected by Robert Dillon, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. The Archbishop escaped, but was pursued later by the Baron of Slane and overtaken. He went to Dublin to prove his innocence. There he was burned in oil, and two days later hanged in a public field not far from Dublin Castle, June 20, 1584.

Richard Creagh, Archbishop of Armagh, was a native of Limerick; educated and ordained priest at Louvain; appointed and consecrated Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland by Pope Pius V., April, 1564. On his return to Ireland, he was seized and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, and later in the Tower of London, whence he escaped, after the manner of St. Peter, and fled to the Continent. On returning to Ireland, he was a second time arrested and imprisoned. Again he escaped to the Continent, and a third time returned to Ireland. He was treacherously seized, sent from Dublin to London, where he was again imprisoned in the Tower, and, after much suffering, died October 14, 1585.

Edmund Magauran, Archbishop of Armagh, was transferred from the see of Ardagh in 1857 to the primatial see of Armagh, in which he succeeded Archbishop Creagh. He was pursued by the Lord Deputy, Sir William Russell. The Archbishop was defended by Hugh McGuire, Hugh O'Donnell, and their followers. It was during an attack upon his defenders, and while he was administering the Sacrament of Penance to one of the soldiers, that the Archbishop was murdered, June 28, 1593.

The four Primates of Armagh — Creagh, Magauran, Redmond, and O'Devany — reigning within a period of thirty years, were all martyrs for the Faith.

Malachy O'Queely, Archbishop of Tuam, was born in Thomond; appointed Archbishop by Pope Urban VIII.; captured and killed by the Puritans, October 25, 1645. 

Maurice O'Brien: Appointed Bishop of Emly, 1567; imprisoned in Dublin Castle, 1584; died there March 17, 1586.

Redmond O'Gallagher, Bishop of Derry. Born in Ulster. One of the three Irish bishops present at the Council of Trent. Attacked in his own house, and there with three other priests cruelly put to death, March 15, 1601.

Eugene MacEgan, Bishop-elect of the diocese of Ross. Attacked by soldiers who left him mortally wounded. Rescued by Catholics, but died that same evening, 1607.

William Walsh, Cistercian Monk of the Abbey of Holy Cross, and Bishop of Meath. Born probably at Dunboyne. Appointed Bishop of Meath in 1554. Refused to take the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth. Imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he endured a prolonged martyrdom for thirteen years. He escaped in 1572; went to Spain and died at Alcala in 1577.

Patrick O'Healy, Bishop of Elphin, was born at Connaught; entered the Order of St. Francis, and was educated at the University of Alcala. Appointed in 1576 by Gregory XIII. to the see of Mayo. Traveled to Ireland with Cornelius O'Rourke, the Franciscan, who also has just been beatified. Both were arrested immediately on their arrival in Ireland, imprisoned, and put to the torture. Drury, President of Munster, who had condemned them, used every enticement, the offer of rich benefices and positions of honor, if they would conform. They refused, and both were hanged on August 22, 1578.

Cornelius O'Devany, Bishop of Down and Connor, was born in 1533 in Ulster. Before his twentieth year he entered the Order of St. Francis. While in Rome he was appointed by Gregory XIII. Bishop of the united sees of Down and Connor, and immediately returned to his native country. He was one of the prelates who in 1587 met in the diocese of Clogher and promulgated the decrees of Trent. In 1592, he was imprisoned in the Castle of Dublin, where for three years he suffered incredible hardships. He was arrested again in 1611, tried by jury, and condemned to death; but was offered his life if he would abandon the Catholic Faith. When he saw the hurdle which was to bear him to the place of execution, he 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!"

In his report to the Propaganda, February 4, 1623, the Archbishop of Dublin says: "Cornelius O'Devany, the Bishop of Down and Connor, being almost eighty years of age, was crowned with martyrdom about ten years ago in Dublin, thus giving a noble example to the whole nation."

Boetius Egan, Bishop of Ross, was born in Duhallow, Cork ; entered the Order of St. Francis; was appointed by Innocent X.  Bishop of Ross. He was seized by the tyrant Lord Broghill, the son of the Earl of Cork, who was assisting Cromwell in the siege of Clonmel. Lord Broghill offered to release Bishop Egan if he would induce the garrison at Clonmel to surrender. On approaching the walls, Bishop Egan exhorted the garrison to stand resolutely against the enemy of their religion and country. By Broghill's orders the Bishop was then abandoned to the fury of the soldiers. He was horribly tortured, and finally hanged with the reins of his own horse, November, 1650.

Terence Albert O'Brien, Bishop of Emly, was educated in Spain; twice Prior in his native city of Limerick; and appointed Bishop of Emly by Urban VIII. When Limerick was besieged by Cromwell's son-in-law, the sum of fifty thousand dollars was offered to Bishop O'Brien if he would leave the city and urge its citizens to yield. When the city was taken, the Bishop was seized and put to death. Turning to his flock at the last moment, he said: "Hold fast to the Faith and keep its commandments. Murmur not against what the providence of God allows, and by so doing you will save your souls. Do not shed tears on my account, but rather pray that in this last trial, I may, by firmness and constancy, obtain heaven as my reward." October 31, 1651.

Other Bishops included in this Decree of Beatification are: Edmund Dungan, Tertiary of the Order of St. Francis, Bishop of Down and Connor; and Heber McMahon, Bishop of Clogher.


Maurice Kinrechtin, chaplain and confessor to Gerald, Earl of Desmond, was born at Kilmallock, Limerick. Imprisoned at Clonmel, and bound there in chains. A Catholic citizen bribed the jailer to release Maurice in order that he might celebrate Mass and administer Easter Communion to the faithful. The jailer gave information concerning the Mass to the government, and the soldiers rushed in and seized the people. Although Father Kinrechtin, himself, escaped, he later gave himself up in order to save the life of the master of the house in which he was about to celebrate Mass. He was sentenced to death and hanged, April 30, 1585.

Laurence O'Moore: Remarkable for holiness of life. Captured in Western Kerry, together with two Irishmen, Oliver Plunkett and William Walsh. After an almost incredible torture of twenty-four hours, he expired August 5, 1580.

Richard Frinch: Died in prison, May 5, 1581.

John Stephens: Hanged and quartered by order of Marshal Burroughs, September 4, 1597.

Walter Ternan: A priest of Leinster. Flogged and tortured, and eventually died on the rack, March 12, 1597.

Nicholas Young: A venerable priest of the village of Newtown, near Trim. Imprisoned in Dublin Castle where, worn out by suffering, he died.

Donagh O'Cronin: Hanged in Cork, 1601.

John O'Kelly: Priest of Connaught. Died in prison at Dublin, May 15, 1601.

Bernard O'Kearolan : Accused of administering the Sacraments; sentenced to death and hanged, January 20, 1606.

Patrick O'Dyry: A native of Ulster; hanged January 16, 1618.

John Lune: Native of Wexford; hanged in Dublin, November 12, 1610.

Henry White: Native of Leinster. In the eightieth year of his age, he was imprisoned and hanged at Rathconnell.

Roger Ormilius: When over sixty years of age was taken prisoner by the Cromwellians. Immediately on confessing that he was a priest, he was hanged October 12, 1652.

At the same time and place and in the same manner, Hugh Carrighi, in the seventy- fourth year of his age, earned the crown of martyrdom.

Daniel Delany: Parish priest, Arklow. He saw his servant, a man named Walsh, murdered before his eyes. Seeking to defend himself, his assailants promised him his life, if he would surrender. As soon as the priest had done this, they proved faithless to their word. The priest was tied to a horse's tail, who in turn was goaded to his full speed along many miles of the country road. During the night the priest was tortured by his guards, and even when hanged the next day his last agony was prolonged in a diabolical manner.

Daniel O'Brien: Dean of Ferns. As a priest he was remarkable for his great charity and zeal for souls. Many times arrested and imprisoned; hanged April 14, 1655, with his two companions, Luke Bergin and James Murchu, who were tried with him. The jury acquitted Bergin on the ground that he was not guilty of crime. The judge, however, urged that there was no more grievous crime than that of being a priest. Bergin was at once found guilty and hanged.
Other priests included in the Decree of Beatification are:
Aeneas Power, John O'Grady, Andrew Stritch, Bernard Moriarty, George Power, Vicar-General ; John Walsh, V. G., Daniel O'Moloney, Brien Murchertagh, Donogh O'Falvey, Donatus MacCried, Patrick O'Loughran, Louis O'Laverty, Philip Cleary, Theobald Stapelton, Edward Stapelton, Thomas Morrisey, Bernard Fitzpatrick, James O'Haggerty, and Eugene Cronin. 
Order of Cistercians

Gelasius O'Cullenan: Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Boyle. He was arrested in 1580, and the Protestant Bishopric of Connaught was offered to him if he would renounce his Catholic Faith. With him was tried Hugh Mulkeeran, Abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. Both were condemned to death. Abbot O'Cullenan unselfishly asked that his companion be allowed to suffer death first.

James Eustace, Nicholas Fitzgerald: Two priests of the Cistercian Order, who suffered martyrdom on the 8th of September, 1620.
Also, the Prior of Holy Saviour, and his companions; Patrick O'Connor, Malachy O'Connor the Abbot and monks of the monastery of Magia. Eugene O'Gallagher, Bernard OTreivir, Malachy Shiel, and Edmund Mulligan.

Order of Preachers 

Peter O'Higgin: Imprisoned in Dublin, and condemned to death. On the scaffold he said : " The sole reason why I am condemned to death to-day is that I profess the Catholic religion. Here is an authentic proof of my innocence: the autograph letter of the Viceroy offering me very rich rewards and my life if I abandon the Catholic religion. I call God and man to witness that I firmly and unhesitatingly reject these offers and willingly and gladly I enter into this conflict, professing that Faith." He died March 4, 1642.

Richard Barry: A native of Cork and Prior of the Cashel Community. He was tortured by fire and finally put to death by the sword, September 15, 1647.

Others of the Order of Preachers who have been beatified are: P. MacFerge, with his companions, thirty-two religious of the monastery of Londonderry; John O'Luin, William MacGollen, Cormac MacEgan, Raymond Keogh, John O'Flaverty, Gerald Fitzgerald, David Fox, Donald O'Neaghten, James O'Reilly, Dominick Dillon, Richard Oveton, Stephen Petit, Peter Costello, William Lynch, Myler McGrath, Laurence OTerral, Bernard O'Ferral, Ambrose Aeneas O'Cahill, Edmund O'Beirne, James Woulf, Vincent G. Dillon, James Moran, Donatus Niger, William O'Connor, Thomas O'Higgins, John O'Cullen, David Roche, Bernard O'Kelly, Thaddeus Moriarty, Hugh MacGoill, Raymond O'Moore, Felix O'Connor, John Keating, Clemens O'Callaghan, Daniel MacDonnel, Felix MacDonnel, and Dominick MacEgan.

Order of St. Francis.

Fergall Ward: Was a Franciscan and also a skilled physician. While working among the plague-stricken, was seized and cruelly tortured. He was hanged by his own girdle, and while dying exhorted his executioners to return to a better life. April 28, 1575.

John O'Lochran, Edward Fitzsimon, and Donagh O'Rourke: All priests of the Franciscan Order; were tortured and hanged in the convent of Down, January 21, 1575.

John O'Dowd : Franciscan priest. A certain layman who had been arrested as a Catholic, begged permission to make his confession to a priest before he was hanged. This Catholic was supposed to have had information concerning certain plots against the Queen of England. The permission was granted, his enemies believing that the priest to whom the man would make his confession, could be forced afterwards to reveal the plots, under torture. 
The priest was Father O'Dowd. Of course, he would reveal nothing of what had been told to him. They killed him by knotting the cord around his head, and twisting it with a piece of wood until his neck was broken.

Daniel O'Neilan: Born in Thomond of a noble family; joined the. Order of St. Francis, and lived in Spain many years. On his return was seized, scourged, hanged head downward like St. Peter, and his body pierced through with shot, March 28, 1580.

Daniel Hinrechan, Philip O'Shea, and Maurice O'Scanlon : All Franciscans, were so old and infirm that when the heretics came to burn their convent they were unable to flee. The youngest of them was over seventy years of age. They were seized at once and killed by the sword in front of the high altar, April 6, 1580,

Dermot O'Mulrony, Brother Thomas and Another — all Franciscans — were seized at Clonmel and were decapitated by the soldiers.

Phelim O'Hara and Henry Delahoyde: Franciscans. Hanged and quartered, May 1, 1582.

Also, Conor Macuarta, Roger Congaill, Thaddeus O'Daly, Charles MacGoran, Roger O'Donnellan, Peter O'Quillan, Patrick O'Kenna, James Pillanus, Roger O'Hanlan, Thaddeus O'Meran, John O'Daly, Donatus O'Hurley, John Cornelius, John O'Molloy, Cornelius O'Dougherty, Galfridius O'Farrel, Thaddeus O'Boyle, Patrick O'Brady, Matthew O'Leyn, Terence Magennis, Lochlonin Mac O'Cadha, Magnus O'Fodhry, Thomas Fitzgerald, John Honan, John Cathan, Francis O'Mahoney, Hilary  Conroy, Christopher Dunleavy, Richard Butler, James Saul, Bernard O'Horumley, Richard Synott, John Esmond, Paulinus Synott, Raymund Stafford, Peter Stafford, Didacus Cheevers, Joseph Rochford, Eugene O'Leman, Francis Fitzgerald, Anthony Musaeus, Walter de Wallis, Nicholas Wogan, Denis O'Neilan, Philip Flasberry, Francis O'Sullivan, Jeremiah de Nerihiny, Thaddeus O'Caraghy, William Hickey, Roger de Mara, Hugh MacKeon, Daniel Clanchy, Neilan Loughran, Anthony O'Farrel, Antony Broder, Eugene O'Cahan, John Ferall, Bonaventure de Burgo, John Kearney, and Bernard Connaeus. 
Order of Premonstratensians.
John Kiernan or Mulcheran.
Order of St. Augustine. 
Donatus O'Kennedy: Filled many important offices in his Order. Was hanged.

William Tirrey: Entered the Order of St. Augustine and studied in France and Spain. On his return to Ireland he was imprisoned and beheaded, 1654.

Donough Screnan: Suffered a very cruel death. Fulgentius Jordan was dragged from his pulpit and put to death. Father Redmond O'Malley was scourged, and died under the torture. Father James Tully died in like manner; and Brother Thomas Deir was shot.

Also, Thaddeus O'Connel, Austin Higgins, and Peter Taffe.

Carmelite Order.

Father Thomas Aquinas: A distinguished preacher and zealous missionary. He was taken captive in the house of a noble family, whom he had recently converted, and was condemned to death, 1642.

Brother Angelus of St. Joseph, whose family name was Halley, was born in England, and joined the Carmelite Order in Ireland in 1640. He was arrested and condemned to death, and begged that his execution should take place that very day, since it was the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. He was killed by the sword, 1642.

Peter of the Mother of God: A Carmelite, known for his singular piety. While on his sick bed in prison, he was informed that he had been condemned to be hanged. Expressing great joy, he arose from his bed, saying: "From the cross, not from the bed, I must go to heaven." He was hanged in the thirty-third year of his age, 1643.

Order of the Blessed Trinity.

Brothers Cornelius O'Connor and Eugene Daly: Both of the Order of the Blessed Trinity. They were returning to Ireland, when the vessel on which they were journeying was captured by an English heretical pirate, named John Plunkett. One of the passengers, thinking to save his own life, gave the information that Brothers Cornelius and Eugene were Catholic priests going to Ireland to preach the Faith. Plunkett immediately hanged both and threw their bodies into the sea, January 11, 1644.

Society of Jesus.

Dominic Collins, S.J. : Like his illustrious founder, St. Ignatius, he first took up the profession of arms. He was a soldier for over fifteen years. Entered the Society of Jesus in 1598. In 1602 he was sent to Ireland, and shortly after his arrival was arrested and imprisoned at Cork. He was hanged in that city, October 31, 1602.

William Boyton, S.J. : Was slain in St. Patrick's Church, Cashel, while administering the Sacraments.

John Bathe, S.J., and Thomas Bathe, his brother, a secular priest, were seized in Drogheda; tortured and shot, August 16, 1649.

Also, Edmund MacDaniell and Robert Netterville.

Laymen and Noblemen.

Sir John Burke: Born in the county of Limerick. Prominent for many years because of his public devotion and zeal. He gave up all his worldly interests in order to devote himself to works of charity, and to accompany the persecuted priests. Arrested as the leader of the Catholics, he was imprisoned in Dublin, but during the plague was released. Later he was assailed in his castle because he had erected an altar therein for the celebration of Mass. He escaped, but was eventually betrayed into the hands of the enemy. Life and restitution of his lands were offered, if he would renounce the Faith. He was hanged in the year 1610 — about December 20th.

Maurice Eustace: Was denounced by his own brother, as a Catholic and a Jesuit. He was imprisoned, and Adam Loftus, then Protestant Archbishop of London, offered to set him free and give him his daughter in marriage, if he would renounce his Faith. He refused and was hanged November, 1581.

Christopher Roche: Had almost completed his studies at Louvain for the priesthood when he was obliged through ill-health to return home. He was at once arrested and imprisoned; then sent to London. There he endured the hardships of Newgate prison for four months, and under the torture known as the "scavenger's daughter," died 1520.

Daniel O'Hanan: A native of Ulster. Died in prison.

Thaddeus Clancy: Born in Limerick. Beheaded, September 15, 1584.

Patrick Hayes: Was a merchant of Wexford. He died after a long imprisonment in Dublin in 1581.

Francis Tailler: Had filled many public offices with great credit. Was in turn Mayor, Treasurer, and Senator in the city of Dublin. He was much honored by all good men. After an imprisonment of seven years, he died in Dublin Castle, January 30, 1621.

Thomas Stritch, Mayor of Limerick. Hanged in 1651.
Sir Patrick Purcell: In his eightieth year was hanged at Fethard, 1612.

Eleonora Birmingham: Resident of Dublin, and widow of Bartholomew Baal, was a faithful mother, a generous patron of the poor, and a devoted protector of priests. She was arrested because she allowed the Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered in her home, and imprisoned. By bribing the jailer, her escape was secured. Her elder son, Walter Baal, became a pervert. He was elected Mayor of Dublin, and, as the old chronicle says, "was so hardhearted and truly venomous towards his own mother that, old and weak as she was, he had her put into prison." He even endeavored to have her deny the Faith. In prison she died, 1584.

Honoria Burke: Born in Connaught. When fourteen years of age she took the habit of the Third Order of St, Dominic. Erected a house in Burishoole, where, during the reigns of Elizabeth, James the First, and Charles the First, she devoted herself unceasingly to works of charity. In the last persecution, under Cromwell, this holy virgin was compelled to flee with two companions to Saint's Island. There they were cruelly tortured, stripped naked, and left in a boat to die. Honoria, however, was rescued by a servant, brought to the convent at Burishoole, and in a short while expired. Honoria Magaen was a companion of Honoria Burke. She escaped from the hands of her mad persecutors and fled to a wood where she concealed herself in the hollow trunk of a tree. She was found next day frozen to death.

Also, Daniel Sutton, John Sutton, Robert Sherlock, Matthew Lamport, Robert Myler, Edward Cheevers, John O'Lahy, Patrick Canavan, Robert Fitzgerald, Walter Eustace, Thomas Eustace, Christopher Eustace, William Wogan, Walter Aylmer, Peter Meyler, Michael Fitzsimon, Patrick Browne, Thomas MacCreith, Elizabeth Kearney, Marguerite de Cashel, Brigid Darcey, Brian O'Neil, Arthur O'Neil, Roderick O'Kane, Alexander MacSorley, Hugh MacMahon, Cornelius Maguire, Donatus O'Brien, James O'Brien, Bernard O'Brien, Daniel O'Brien, Dominick Fanning, Daniel O'Higgin, Louis O'Ferral, Galfridius Galway, Theobald de Burgo, Galfridius Baronius, Thaddeus O'Connor, John O'Connor, Bernard MacBriody, Felix O'Neil, and Edward Butler.

John J. Burke, C.S.P., ‘Some of Ireland’s Martyrs’, The Catholic World, Vol. CI. May, 1915, 215-226.

Content Copyright © De Processu Martyriali 2023. All rights reserved.

Sunday 4 June 2023

Edmund Tanner, Bishop of Cork


On June 4 1579, the sufferings of Edmund Tanner, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne, came to an end. He had entered the Society of Jesus in 1565 but left in 1571 due to health problems. Concerned by the dire state of Catholicism in Ireland as persecution began to bite, he then offered to return from his long exile on the Continent, even though this meant risking arrest, imprisonment, torture or even death. Bishop Tanner, who enjoyed the friendship of Saint Charles Borromeo, appears to have been an extremely able man who realized the importance of mounting a challenge to the Reformation. One particularly interesting detail of Bishop Tanner's imprisonment was his re-conversion to Catholicism of the Protestant Bishop of Waterford, I would be interested also to know more of his escape from custody.  Irish martyrologist, Anthony Bruodin O.F.M. (1625-1680), featured Bishop Tanner in his 1669 work Propugnaculum Catholicæ Veritatis. Friar Bruodin's short account below describes Bishop Tanner as a native of Cork, but other sources describe him as as a native of Dublin, where he was born around the year 1526:

Anno 1578.

" He was a native of Cork, and for many years a member of the Society of Jesus, and noted for his virtues; at length he was obliged, by illness, to leave the society, with the good will of the fathers. He was soon after appointed Bishop of Cork, but had hardly taken on him the burden of the episcopate, when he was arrested for having opposed the queen's supremacy, and carried to Dublin. In prison he was tortured in divers ways, and was more than once hung up for two hours by his hands, tied together behind his back. Broken with these and other sufferings, after an imprisonment of eighteen months, he went to receive his reward, the 4th of June, 1578." — 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), 54.

Father Myles Ronan provided a more detailed account of Bishop Tanner in his pioneering 1930 work The Reformation in Ireland Under Elizabeth, making it clear that the Bishop's motivation in returning to Ireland was the desire to be actively involved in the work of counter-Reformation:


Edmund Tanner, a native of the diocese of Dublin, and afterwards Bishop of Cork wrote in his Book of Novices: "Edmund Tanner, Irishman, 39 years of age, entered the Society [of Jesus], 14 June, 1565. For many years, said Bruodin, he made singular progress in virtue in the Society, yet constrained by ill health and with with the goodwill of the Fathers, he left the Society. Having left the Jesuit house in Rome,  he wrote from that city a letter, 26 October, 1571, to John, Cardinal Moroni, Protector of Ireland, in which he tells him of his story and his desire.

An exile for religion's sake, he says, for more than twelve years from his native country Ireland, he has lived, the sport of fortune, among Spaniards, Italians, and Germans, during which time Ireland has been sorely afflicted by the tyranny of the heretics, and other calamities. Now, if he might be of any service to his country, he would fain return thither, but submits himself to the direction of the Protector. He is assured by grave men that during all this time not a hundred Irishmen in all Ireland have been infected with heresy, though not a few, for fear of penalties and confiscation of goods, attended the profane rites of the heretics, and the demoralisation of the people is such that a pious Catholic is hardly to be found: and no wonder since the clergy are the most depraved of all. Moreover, there is so little instruction to be had in the Christian faith that few can so much as repeat the Lord's Prayer, the articles of the faith, or the commandments, and still fewer understand them. Sermons are so uncommon that there are many that have never so much as heard one; the sacraments are so rarely administered, so much more rarely understood, that the ignorant people know not whether they were appointed by God or by men. In fine, so gross is the ignorance of the people that there are many who, passing all their lives in the grossest sin, have grown so accustomed thereto that they dare to say that it is just as lawful for them to live by theft or rapine as for him that worthily serves the altar to live by the altar. And nevertheless, so well inclined are they, or rather prompted by the Holy Spirit, to a good life, that it needs but the admonition or reproof of a good man and forthwith they are dissolved in tears, lamenting that they knew not that such things were sins, or contrary to the commandments of God. 

Touched by a sense of their woeful plight, Tanner says, he has come from Louvain to Rome to offer his services, such as they are, in that deserted field.......Tanner's letter did not produce the result he expected, to return to his own country, for, 5 January, 1573, that is, more than a year after his previous letter, he again wrote to Cardinal Moroni from Milan stating that though provided by Cardinal (St. Charles) Borromeo with a Canonry at Milan, he yearned to return to Ireland to minister to the souls that there "sit in darkness and the shadow of death" and encouraged by Moroni's previous kindness, he craved his good offices to that end. Doubtless, he was a sincere lover of Ireland and most anxious to minister to the people, whether as priest or perhaps bishop, undeterred by poverty of persecution.


The next reference to Tanner is in a Brief on 5 November,  1574, nearly two years after his letter to Cardinal Moroni, during most of which time he, presumably, remained as Canon at Milan enjoying the friendship of the saintly Charles Borromeo. The Brief describes him as "Master in Theology", priest,  in the fiftieth year of his age, and as having 'made profession of the Catholic faith in accordance with articles recently drawn up by the Apostolic See." It then describes him as having the usual virtues required in a bishop. The Brief continues with an address to the clergy and faithful to accept him as their pastor and father and to obey his monitions and commands.

It continues with an important clause: "We desire all occasion and reason of wandering outside the cities and dioceses of Cork and Cloyne be taken from you and you do not exercise the pontifical office [outside these dioceses] even with the permission of the Ordinaries of the dioceses, as in those cases we decree such functions to be null and void." This latter clause was subsequently modified.

Tanner, although appointed Bishop of Cork and Cloyne, 5 November, 1574, was not consecrated until 6 February, 1575... On 10 April 1575, special faculties were granted to him, and, notwithstanding the clause in the above Brief of his appointment, he was empowered to exercise them not only in his own united dioceses of Cork and Cloyne but also "throughout the whole province of Dublin, of which he was a native (universae provinciae Dublinensis ex qua exoriundus), as well as throughout the whole province of Munster, so long as the various Archbishops and Bishops were obliged by the fury if the persecution to be absent from their respective Sees."

On 12 May Gregory XIII gave him a letter, as he was on his way to Ireland, recommending him heartily to all Bishops and other Prelates who might be able to render him assistance.

Tanner made his way to Madrid, where evidently he made some delay or was delayed on his voyage from Rome to Spain. At all events he was in Portugal a sick man, 23 November, on which date the Nuncio wrote to the Cardinal Secretary of State:

The Irish Bishop of Cork was earnestly commended to me by the Nuncio of Madrid. I have done him every service in my power that a sick man requires: inter alia, I have procured him safe passage for England on one of the Venetian ships, whence he will readily make his way to Ireland; he has departed with a good wind and a good purpose to do his duty in his church to the honour of God and the weal of those souls, who are in the utmost need thereof. I cannot but bear good testimony to his virtue and zeal for the service of God. All this, I believe, will be gratifying to the Pope. 

..Between November, 1575, and June, 1576, we have no information about Tanner. What precise difficulties he encountered on his landing in England we do not know, but he succeeded in taking another ship to Galway where he landed, 21 June, and evidently remained a few months...

He probably took another ship to some of the Munster ports, but was taken prisoner with his chaplain at Clonmel. In a letter of 11 October, 1577, written at Ross, he tells the General of the Jesuits that in the midst of persecutions from heretics he was taken prisoner, but by the grace of God and the help of a nobleman, he escaped, eluding twelve warders. Every day they diligently seeks his death. "In those straits," he adds, "aided by the grace of God, we have reconciled many of the nobles of the kingdom, many of the citizens of various cities and nobles we have received back from the cesspool of Schism into the bosom of the Church, and receive them from day to day, and many more we should receive if the present persecution, and privation of goods, life and liberty did not prevent us. By that means a very great number, otherwise well disposed, are kept back from us; but I hope in Christ that ultimately the cord shall be cut and that we shall be freed..."

Other particulars of his activities are mentioned in a letter, of 24 November, from the Commissary in Portugal, to the Cardinal Secretary of State:

I have received another letter, to wit, of the the 25th of September, from the Bishop of Cork in Ireland, who likewise writes the enclosed to Cardinal Alciati; and apprises me that he has not been able to avoid the nets of the heretics; they were not, however, treating him harshly, but had committed him to the custody of the heretic Bishop of Waterford pending the Queen of England's answer to their request to know what was to be done with him; and the bishop says that, propagating the Gospel even in prison, he had converted the said bishop, his keeper, and induced him to abjure all heresies with many a tear and token of penitence.

The tears and tokens did not last long. 

Tanner, as Papal Commissary, travelled almost the whole of Ireland, administering the Sacraments,, "but secretly on account of persecution. In spite of ill-health he persevered until at last, worn out, he died 4 June, 1579, in the diocese of Ossory."

Rev. Myles V. Ronan, The Reformation in Ireland Under Elizabeth, (Longman, Green and Co, 1930), 540-547.

The case of Bishop Edmund Tanner was also featured by the original promoter of the cause of the Irish martyrs, Father Denis Murphy S.J., in his 1896 work Our Martyrs, but his name was not included on the 1918 Official List of Irish Martyrs which was submitted to Rome for formal consideration. Bishop Tanner is representative of all those clergy who were prepared to risk their lives and return from the safety of exile in Europe to further the cause of promoting and preserving the faith at home.

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Saturday 25 March 2023

Brother Peter of the Mother of God, O.D.C

On March 25, 1643, Brother Peter of the Mother of God, the last of the three Irish Carmelite martyrs, was hanged in Dublin, the city of his birth. The account below has been taken from the 1897 book Carmel in Ireland by Father James P Rushe, the Order's official historian. Like his fellow martyrs, Father Thomas Aquinas of Saint Teresa and Brother Angelus of Saint Joseph, who had been martyred at Drogheda in the previous year, Brother Peter was always regarded as a martyr by his confreres who recorded an account of his sufferings and had a portrait of him hung at the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites at Piacenza. The narrative of his martyrdom presents a picture of a man of simple yet profound faith who, when faced with the prospect of death, found a courage he had not hitherto possessed. It demonstrates how fitting was his name in religion as Brother Peter of the Mother of God (we do not know his family name), for at his execution on the Feast of the Annunciation he drew strength from the Rosary and confounded the Protestant preachers sent to harangue him by quoting the Magnificat: 

III. Brother Peter of the Mother of God.  

The lay-brother, the third of our Confessors, was Peter of the Mother of God. He was received into the Order at Dublin, his native place. It was his vocation to sanctify himself by solely attending to the domestic affairs of the monastery, never ambitioning the state of his brethren who had been called to undertake the duties of the priesthood. He knew it was not necessary to pass through the schools in order to acquire the science of the Saints: the study of his crucifix and rosary-beads was sufficient for him throughout life. And we shall see that with the knowledge thus obtained he was able to refute the sophistries of those who tried to rob him of his faith. He was most zealous in the discharge of his various offices; prudent and pious; and always cherished a very tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

After the Teresian Friary in Cook Street had been suppressed, Brother Peter gladly remained in the city to provide for the temporal wants of the Fathers who were daily exposed to the horrors of the persecution. Having rendered them invaluable service in their perilous mission, his reward was the martyr's crown. He was captured by the Puritans early in March of the year 1643. Almost worn out by past toils and privations, his health gave way completely under the cruel treatment he received in prison, so that it was only a relief to him when told his sufferings should cease on the Feast of the Annunciation, the day assigned for his death. Before the end, however, he was haunted by a dread of that shameful doom. It was the conflict between nature and grace, and very fierce while it lasted, but, through the intercession of his patroness, the Queen of Carmel, he gained the victory. His heart was now filled with peace; he gloried in the thought of his approaching struggle. This marvellous change was brought about by the special grace mercifully granted to the weak when their burden is heavy to bear. Hitherto Brother Peter had been timorous and despondent, now he possessed the martyr's confidence and strength. Those who had seen him in affliction wanted him to appeal to the pity of his persecutors, but he begged them to spare him their kindly remonstrances, as he was himself most eager to die. There were some Catholics among the prisoners, and these he implored to unite with him in praying God to pardon his cowardice, and grant him the needful courage to persevere. He had but one desire, he told them, to prove himself a loyal son of Holy Church — worthy of the habit which he wore. Accordingly, the whole night preceding his execution was passed by him and his friends in the recital of the Litany, Rosary, and other prayers.
He seemed very happy in the morning as the appointed time drew near. He continued still more earnestly to call upon the Mother of God, thanking Her, in the name of all men, for having been so humbly obedient to the Divine Will at the Annunciation. On hearing him speak thus one of the heretical ministers — several had come to try to pervert the heroic Confessor — rebuked him for attributing such honour to Our Blessed Lady. Brother Peter reminded his tormentor how Mary had been praised by the Holy Ghost in her own inspired words of the “Magnificat”; and this answer gave the Puritan a subject for serious reflection until they arrived at the scaffold, which had been set up in a most frequented part of Dublin to intimidate and mortify the Faithful. But the pious people regarded this as the “shame of the Cross in which Christians glory”; instead of producing fear it afforded them new constancy and hope, recalling to their minds the reward of those who die in the cause of religion. When about to ascend the steps, Brother Peter prostrated himself to the ground in sign of his unworthiness to rank with the Confessors of the faith; he also kissed the halter with great reverence, making in the meantime fervent acts of contrition, and renewing his religious profession. The Puritans still persisted in telling him that it was folly to sacrifice himself for such convictions; he replied that there was a wisdom which the world could not understand. And in the thirty-third year of his age, on the 25th of March 1643, he suffered a violent death — the last proof of the firmness of his own belief.
Braving the wrath of their persecutors, the Catholics took possession of the Confessor’s remains, and bore them with all honour to the grave. In fact, they seemed to ambition that Teresian lay-brother’s terrible fate; but the Puritans were satisfied, for the time being, with the revenge which they had taken on one whom the Faithful had long revered for his spirit of self-sacrificing zeal.
 Rev James P Rushe O.D.C., Carmel in Ireland,  (London, 1897), 100-103.

Brother Peter of the Mother of God is number 150 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose causes were submitted for official consideration. No further progress has been made to date.


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Monday 20 March 2023

Friar O'Dowd's Victory: A True Story of the Seal Inviolate

March 20 1393 marks the death of Saint John Nepomucene, who is regarded as the first martyr of the seal of the confessional. Nearly two hundred years later one of our native martyrs, County Mayo Friar John O'Dowd O.F.M., was hailed as the John Nepomucene of Ireland for making a similar sacrifice. I have previously posted an account of Friar John based on the surviving sources here, but below is an account which was published in The Rosary Magazine in 1903. Although presented in the form of an historical novel, writer P.G. Smyth ably describes the story of Father O'Dowd's heroic sacrifice and references Saint John Nepomucene towards the end:

Friar O'Dowd’s Victory 



ONE day in the reign of Queen Elizabeth of England — it was the 9th of June, 1579 — in the full heat of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Ireland, a small party of horsemen rode towards the monastery of Moyne, in the far west of that racked and war-wasted island.

The pleasant landscape was bathed in sunshine, save where over mead and woodland flitted the shadows of the white clouds sailing aloft in the blue. Solemn and venerable, even in its pathetic semi-dilapidation, lay the stately old Franciscan house, with all its picturesque grey gables and gothic windows, and the tall square campanile, or bell tower, soaring over all. To the right, as the party rode onward, shone the bright estuary of the river Moy, with beyond it the yellow sand dunes of Bartra, and beyond them the dark blue ocean, flecked with foam. To the left lay billowy green upland and sweeping woods, with stretches of pasture and tillage. The wholesome breath of the brine came mingling with the sweet fragrance of the clover blossoms. There was a winsome summer smile on the face of nature. 

 But there was an oppressive sense of dread in the air, a panic of terror on the land. People were abandoning their homes and fleeing into the woods for safety. Men and boys with loud shouts were driving off their cattle — the black, shaggy, long-horned Irish cattle that ran like buffaloes. White-capped mothers hurried along with infants clasped in their trembling arms. Girls with the snood or ribbon of maidenhood binding their tresses dragged along their little brothers and sisters. It was a general frantic run for shelter and safety — a stampede which was of but too frequent occurrence in most parts of Ireland in these unhappy days — for from the south was rolling a terrible dark cloud charged with the lightning of rapine, ruin and death. 

Straight to the monastery the horsemen galloped, and at the church door, which was round-headed and surmounted by a winged angel carved in stone, the leader dismounted, his armor and weapons clanging as he leaped on the sward. He was a stalwart man, with a huge commeal or mustache, and his hair fell in masses, native Irish fashion, on his shoulders. He entered the church, reverently doffed his helmet and genuflected. 

 “Ho, Father John, Father John,” he called. 

As his voice rolled and echoed through the spacious interior he felt abashed at his boldness in breaking the pervading solemn hush of sanctity. The place was deserted, a vast stony solitude. To the left a sheer wall hung with sacred pictures that showed the marks and tears of malicious usage. To the right three huge round arches joining the nave with a still wider space provided for lay worshippers. In front of the arch under the bell tower, crossed with a screen of metal trellis work, through which were seen the chancel, with the oaken stalls of the friars, the high altar and the noble orient window. The metal screen was bent and twisted in places, many of the windows were broken, the wooden stalls were chopped and gashed, and there were other marring tokens of visits of the Reformers. 

“The wanton, sinful ruffians!” commented the visitor. “I wonder what mischief they’ll do the grand old place this turn.” And again he called : “Ho, Father John, are you here?” 

 Receiving no reply he walked with jingling spurs up the nave and entered the chancel through a low archway in the thickness of the tower wall. Then he opened the door leading to the cloisters. Some years previously no Catholic layman would have attempted or even dreamed of such an intrusion, but the confusion of the times, the stress of danger, the great passing away of the friars made havoc of strict monastic rules. The visitor found himself in a covered walk extending around a perfect square of handsomely carved small arches, enclosing a sun-lighted open space where now rank weeds and grass covered where once lay flower beds and beds of medicinal herbs used by the monks in their province as physicians. Upon this walk opened the doors of many arched cells, and around it the dark-robed sons of St. Francis had paced, read and meditated for more than one hundred years. 

A famous place, by the way, was in its heyday this fine old monastery of Moyne. Founded in 1460 by Thomas Oge (or the young) Bourke, high chief of this western territory, at the instance of Provincial General Nehemias O’Donohoe (sent by Pope Nicholas V. to introduce into Ireland the reformed Franciscan rule known as the “strict observance”), it took two years in the building, and was consecrated by Bishop Donat O’Connor of Killala exactly thirty years before Columbus sailed with his caravels into the mysterious West. The consecrating prelate was a member of the Order of St. Dominic, whose sons had established themselves in this district two centuries previously. Five provincial chapters were held here, and here was the place of novitiate for the Franciscan Order in the western province of Ireland. The fame of the monastery traveled to foreign lands; the sweet- toned bell that swung in the lofty campanile was a present from the Queen of Spain. Among the novices that in later years paced the cloister walk was a tall, red-haired one, namely Florence Conroy, afterwards Archbishop of Tuam, and founder of the celebrated Franciscan monastery of Louvain, where the flowers of Irish religion and learning, trampled upon with iron bigot heel at home, were triumphantly preserved and propagated abroad. 

Sad, yet sublime, telling of the struggles of an oppressed, indomitable race for light, liberty and freedom of worship, are the memories that breathe around that cloister square of Moyne. 

 “Ho, Father John, Father Cathal,” again called the visitor. 

In response the tall figure of a friar issued from one of the cells. He was in stature over six feet and a half and built in proportion, noble, kindly and benevolent of mien. For Father John O'Dowd was a typical member of his race, the ancient native family that once gave kings and princes to this western territory that extended long league upon league from the green banks of the river Robe to the grey round tower of Drumcliff. 

 “Well, Tibbot Bourke, my son, God bless you," he said cheerily. 

“Make haste, father, there is no time to lose,” said the cavalier. “The English Queen's soldiers have crossed the Moy at Ballina and are coming this way. They have taken us by surprise and they are too strong for us, so we can do nothing but alarm the country. Come — we have horses at the door for yourself and Father Cathal.” 

“Father Cathal has been called to a sick bed two miles hence,” said Father O'Dowd, “and for me, surely I am not going to run away and abandon this holy place to desecration. “You know,” he said, with a sad smile, “of the whole community there are now but two of us left, but we must not be false to our trust.” 

“But what good can you do by remaining?” protested Tibbot Bourke. “To stay here means outrage or death at the hands of these fiends. Remember their last raid and the fate of poor Brother Felix.” 

He alluded to a tragedy of the previous year. On the approach of a party of English raiders the monks then in the monastery took to their fishing boats and rowed for safety out into the bay — all but one, the venerable lay brother ( Felix O'Hara, brother of the lord of Leyney, who insisted on staying behind, urging that the soldiers would not harm one so aged as he and that his presence might induce them to respect the sacred place. On their return, after the departure of the plundering troopers, the friars found the old lay brother lying in his gore on the steps of the grand altar, where the marauders had wantonly murdered him. 

 “Brother Felix nobly won a martyr's crown,” said Father John. “An O'Hara would not shrink his duty in the hour of peril; neither shall an O'Dowd. I have no fear of the Sassenach, so try not further to persuade me, Tibbot, my son. Go now, and Dominius vobiscum.” 

In vain the cavalier sought to break the friar's determination. He had to depart reluctant and despondent. There was a sound of horses' hoofs and jingling of bridle chains as he and his party rode away, and then the silence of brooding death settled over Moyne. 

 Father O’Dowd hastily removed the sacred vessels of the altar and concealed them in a secret recess. Missals and documents he similarly disposed of, and then, entering his broken stall, he knelt before the high altar in the silence of the chancel and drew over his spirit the strengthening armor of prayer. The last, lone monk in the great deserted monastery! To him a solemn, bitter, Gethsemane-like hour was that in the church of Moyne. The old race crushed and humbled, the old creed banned, the alien powers of persecution and death turned loose. There, beneath his sculptured slab on the gospel side of the altar, showing the De Burgo lion and hand, with the crescent which symbolized a second son, lay the dust of  the founder of the monastery, the pious young Lord Thomas Bourke, head of the tribe, recalling the prosperous old days when he and his warriors, bards and brehons assembled to lay the foundation stone of the sacred edifice. And there, opening off the epistle side, extended the Lady chapel, where in rows along the opposite walls lay the remains of generations of the Bourkes and their kinsmen by marriage  the O'Dowds. There was buried Owen O'Dowd, thirty years chief of his tribe, who died in the Franciscan habit in Moyne in 1538, and there also lay his son and successor Owen, lord of Fireragh, and his wife, the lady Sabia Bourke. Great and appalling the change, all in a few years, from the days when the chant of psalmody rose from a full choir of monks, and the altar, bright with flowers, blazed with lights and the bell tinkled, and the incense floated over the devout thronged congregation of farmer clansmen and their wives and children. 

 “Poor old abbey !" thought the lonely friar, “your halcyon days are indeed gone." 

 “Many a bitter storm and tempest 
Has your roof-tree turned away 
Since you first were formed a temple 
To the Lord of night and day. 
 “Holy house of ivied gables 
That were once the country’s pride, 
Houseless now in weary wandering 
Roam your inmates far and wide. 
“Refectory cold and empty, 
Dormitory bleak and bare, 
Where are now your pious uses, 
Simple bed and frugal fare?" 

The church door was dashed rudely open and a number of armed men came pouring in. Some of them rushed upon the friar and seized him with shouts and curses. Others hurried away through the building in quest of plunder. Others commenced their usual iconoclastic work of slashing pictures, hacking statues and discharging bullets at the altar. Father John was roughly hauled before the English commander, who regarded him with a frown, which soon turned into a laugh of derision. 

 “You are the very man we need, sir friar," he said. “Ho, there, bring hither the prisoner." 

A bound captive was thrust forward. His attire was disheveled, his face and clothing streaked with blood. The friar recognized in him a chief man of the Bourkes. 

“Shrive this arch traitor and rebel," commanded the officer. “No doubt he has some very interesting secrets for your ear, and he may like to unload him- self of them before he makes reparation on the gallows tree for having dared to bear arms against her highness." 

Father O'Dowd and the condemned man were allowed to retire apart, and the latter, pale but manful in that terrible hour, murmured his confession and gave the friar some last messages for his wife and children. The soldiery, their steel morions and breastplates shining in the rays that streamed through the broken windows, looked on with scowling con- tempt and impatience, at intervals uttering a profane command to make haste. At length, hardly giving time for the words of absolution, they seized the doomed captive and dragged him away. With anguish in his heart and tears in his eyes the friar knelt at the altar to pray for the parting soul. After a time a hand shook him rudely by the shoulder and a finger pointed to the window. Swaying beneath the masses of shimmering light and shade made by the foliage of a large ash was the body of the unfortunate Bourke. 

“Now, friar, for your turn," said the English commander. “That must have been a very interesting story yon swinging rebel told you. Its secrets will suit the service of her highness. Tell it to me." 

Friar John arose and gazed down with calm surprise and scorn on the insolent face of his interlocutor, who was a full foot beneath him in stature. 

 “Mean you,” he inquired with dignity, “that I shall break the seal of the confessional ?” 

 “I mean,” said the officer, nervously twitching his ruff and fingering his sword hilt, “that for the service of our gracious Queen you shall reveal to me the secrets which the traitor confided to you or else share his fate. Come, sirrah, give me at once a clear account of all he told you.” 

“That I may not and shall not do.” “No trifling, shaveling!” thundered the officer. “Refuse to reveal all and this minute you shall hang.” 

 “Sir, I refuse,” said the intrepid friar, with quiet dignity and resolution. 

“Take him out and hang him,” commanded the Queen’s man with a volley of oaths. Then, reconsidering, he said : “Hold, he shall tell in spite of himself; I know a sure way of loosening the tongues of such as he.” 

Then in the sacred precincts of Moyne, before the altar of God, occurred a dread scene of excruciating human torture. The friar was seized, his hands were tied behind his back, the cord of St. Francis was taken from his waist and bound around his temples, with a turning lever behind by which it could be tightened at will. A torturer seized the lever and gave it a sudden wrench. The victim’s face quivered with agony. 

 “The confession?” 


 The Divine Spirit that strengthened St. John Nepomucene in his hour of trial also strengthened John O’Dowd. Before him was the altar, which, although now its broken and desecrated tabernacle no longer contained the Holy of Holies, its crucifix was torn down and the sanctuary lamp extinguished, served to raise his mind to the glorious crown of martyrdom so near his grasp. And there lay the tombs of his kindred, noble saints and warriors whose memories would be sullied did he dare to violate his sacred duty or be false to the grand old faith that his ancestors received from Saint Patrick. Undismayed by the crowd of pitiless faces and steel-clad forms that surrounded them he resolutely ignored them and turned his thoughts to heaven. 

 “Another turn or two. Come, the confession.” 

The sweat of agony covered his compressed temples. His eyes protruded as if in horror from their sockets, but his lips moved in prayer. 

 “The obstinate fool!” cried the chief of the miscreants, fuming with baffled rage. “Turn harder and harder.” 

The victim slipped through the hands of the torturers and lay motionless on the floor. 

 “Take off that cord and pick him up. He is only in a faint or shamming. We shall soon make him speak.” 

But no; the saintly John O’Dowd, constant to the death, had in mercy been taken out of the cruel hands of his persecutors, wreak what ignominy they might on the lifeless remains of the brave martyr. Triumphant in death he had passed away, bearing the palm of victory, to join the white-robed host that follows the Lamb.

P. G. Smyth,  'Friar O'Dowd's Victory', The Rosary Magazine, Vol 23, (July-December, 1903), 218-222.

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