Tuesday 16 July 2024

'A Powerful Man': Father Daniel Delany


The martyrdom of Arklow parish priest, Father Daniel Delany, in 1653 has a number of interesting features. First, we learn that at the time of his capture the priest was armed with a sword and that he gave a good account of himself against his captors. Secondly, that he was attended by a servant who unsuccessfully attempted to secure the sacred vessels before being cut down. Then too there is the fact that it takes place under the provisions of martial law. Father Delany is subject to the abusive rough justice of a group of soldiers and does not receive any kind of official due process. There is the description of the martyr being tied to the tail of a horse and dragged behind it, a recurrent trope in the martyrologies. Finally, there is the fact that the arresting soldiers went back on their promise to preserve the priest's life if he gave up his sword. This act of betrayal particularly incensed the man who recorded Father Delany's martyrdom, Galway native Archdeacon John Lynch, (c.1599-1677). He included an account of it in his 1662 work, Cambrensis Eversus, a three-volume rebuttal of the twelfth-century Cambro-Norman chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis's description of Ireland and its people. Father Lynch, a survivor of the Cromwellian siege of Galway, believed that the cruelty with which the Irish were being treated had its origins in the dismissive colonialist attitudes expressed by Cambrensis at the time of the Norman invasion and which had coloured English thinking ever since. Thus the failure of the soldiers to keep their promise of safe conduct if Father Delany surrendered was entirely in keeping with perfidious Albion's behaviour on both an individual and official level towards Irish armies who had been offered terms of surrender. The account below from Cambrensis Eversus has been taken from the translation published in the mid-nineteenth century by Father Matthew Kelly. The same account was used by the promoter of the cause of the Irish martyrs, Father Denis Murphy S.J. in his 1896 book, Our Martyrs and by Cardinal Moran in his 1884 Historical Sketch of the Persecutions Suffered by the Catholics of Ireland: under the rule of Cromwell and the Puritans:

 The enemy came by surprise on Daniel Delany, parish priest of Arklow, and savagely massacred before his eyes his servant, named Walsh, who was flying for his life, with a packet of the sacred vessels and ornaments: but the priest himself, being a powerful man, drew his sword and defended himself so well against the attack, that he compelled his assailants to promise him his life if he delivered up his sword. 

But, so far from keeping that solemn promise, they immediately stripped the venerable man naked, and tied him to a horse's tail. The rider goaded the horse to his full speed through a road covered over with brambles and thickets, and rough with frost and frozen snow, and dragged the priest to the town of Gorey. There the savage commander of those hunters condemned him to death, in violation of the solemn promise. He was covered over with blood, his sides torn, and his whole frame exhausted; he was delivered up to a guard of soldiers, who were to watch in turn during the night, while he lay there naked, sleepless, frozen with cold and livid with bruises; his guards amused themselves with twisting and plucking his long beard with a cane, and cruelly beating his sides with a staff; but these excruciating tortures could extort no other answer than "the greater pleasure they appear to give you, the more patiently I will bear them." Next day he was three different times hanged to the bough of a tree and three times let down to the ground, to protract the agony of his torture. But he was hanged at last, and ended his life in torture to reign triumphant in heaven. 

Among all the tortures they inflict, nothing is more cruel than their perfidy, which is so manifest that every one must know it, even themselves have not dared to deny it. These men, in truth, first renounced divine faith, and then violated all faith towards men. The transition is easy from the more heinous to the more pardonable crime. All who are acquainted with the history of the different surrenders know that this treachery was not the crime of individuals merely, but often perpetrated by public authority.

Rev. J. Lynch, Cambrensis eversus, ed. and trans. Rev. M. Kelly (3 vols, Dublin, 1848–52), Vol. III, 183-5.

Father Delany is number 165 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) submitted to Rome for official consideration. There the year of his martyrdom is given as 1653. No further progress has been made with his cause.


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