Cover of Lives of Irish Martyrs and Confessors (1880)
|Died||1537–1714, Ireland, England, Wales|
|Martyred by||English monarchy|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||27 September 1992, by Pope John Paul II|
Irish Catholic Martyrs (Irish : Mairtírigh Chaitliceacha na hÉireann) were dozens of people who have been sanctified in varying degrees for dying for their Roman Catholic faith between 1537 and 1714 in Ireland. The canonisation of Oliver Plunkett in 1975 brought an awareness of the other men and women who died for the Catholic faith in the 16th and 17th centuries. On 22 September 1992 Pope John Paul II proclaimed a representative group from Ireland as martyrs and beatified them. "Martyr" was originally a Greek word meaning "witness". In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, speaking to those in Jerusalem at Pentecost, claimed he and all the apostles were "martyrs", that is, witnesses, in this case to Jesus's resurrection. Later the word came to mean a person who followed the example of Christ and gave up their lives rather than deny their faith.
12 October 1975 by Pope Paul VI.
15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI.
22 November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
27 September 1992 by Pope John Paul II.
The persecution of Catholics in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came in waves, caused by a reaction to particular incidents or circumstances, with intervals of comparative respite in between.
Religious persecution of Catholics in Ireland began under King Henry VIII (then Lord of Ireland) after his excommunication in 1533. The Irish Parliament adopted the Acts of Supremacy, establishing the king's ecclesiastical supremacy.Some priests, bishops, and those who continued to pray for the pope were tortured and killed. The Treasons Act 1534 caused any act of allegiance to the pope to be considered treason. Many were imprisoned on this basis.
In 1536, Charles Reynods was posthumously convicted of high treason for successfully persuading the Pope to excommunicate Henry VIII of England. In 1537, John Travers, the Chancellor of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, was executed under the Act of Supremacy.
Relations improved after the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary in 1553-58, and in the early years of the reign of her sister Queen Elizabeth I. After Mary's death in November 1558, Elizabeth's Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy of 1559, which re-established the Church of England's separation from the Catholic Church. Initially, Elizabeth adopted a moderate religious policy. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559), the Prayer Book of 1559, and the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) were all Protestant in doctrine, but preserved many traditionally Catholic ceremonies.
In 1563 the Earl of Essex issued a proclamation, by which all priests, secular and regular, were forbidden to officiate, or even to reside in Dublin. Fines and penalties were strictly enforced for absence from the Protestant service; before long, torture and death were inflicted. Priests and religious were, as might be expected, the first victims. They were hunted into mountains and caves; and the parish churches and few monastic chapels which had escaped the rapacity of Henry VIII.
During the early years of her reign no great pressure was put on Catholics to conform to the "Established Church" of the new regime, but the situation changed rapidly from about 1570 onwards, mainly as a result of Pope Pius V's papal bull Regnans in Excelsis which "released [Elizabeth I's] subjects from their allegiance to her".
In Ireland the First Desmond Rebellion was launched in 1569, at almost the same time as the Northern Rebellion in England. The Wexford Martyrs were found guilty of treason for aiding in the escape of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass and refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy and declare Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church.
During this period, the English persecution of Catholics in Ireland was more lenient than usual, owing to the sympathy of the king, until the Popish Plot, a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates, between 1678 and 1681 gripped the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria. Those caught up in the false allegations included:
Irish martyrs suffered over several reigns. There was a long delay in starting the investigations into the causes of the Irish martrys for fear of reprisals. Further complicating the investigation is that the records of these martyrs were destroyed, or not compiled, due to the danger of keeping such evidence. Details of their endurance in most cases have been lost.The first general catalog is that of Father John Houling, S.J., compiled in Portugal between 1588 and 1599. It is styled a very brief abstract of certain persons whom it commemorates as sufferers for the Faith under Elizabeth.
After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the cause for Oliver Plunkett was re-visited. As a result, a series of publications on the whole period of persecutions was made. The first to complete the process was Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.Plunkett was certainly targeted by the administration and unfairly tried.
John Kearney (1619-1653) was born in Cashel, County Tipperary and joined the Franciscans at the Kilkenny friary. After his novitiate, he went to Leuven in Belgium and was ordained in Brussels in 1642. Returned to Ireland, he taught in Cashel and Waterford, and was much admired for his preaching. In 1650 he became guardian of Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary. During the Cromwellian persecutions, he was arrested and hanged in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. He was buried in the chapter hall of the suppressed friary of Cashel.
Peter O'Higgins was born in Dublin around 1602 during the persecution under James I. He was educated secretly in Ireland and later in Spain. With the accession of Charles I in 1625, a limited tolerance obtained and Peter came back to Dublin and was sent to re-open the Dominican house in Naas. The 1641 rebellion, a result of the plantations, evictions and persecutions (but not in County Kildare), brought with it years of conflict between Irish v Old English, Catholic v Protestant; Puritan v Anglican. During this time the William Pilsworth, Protestant rector of Donadea, was arrested by rebel soldiers and about to be hanged, when Fr. Peter O'Higgins stepped forward. Pilsworth later wrote that when he was on the gallows, "a priest whom I never saw before, made a long speech on my behalf saying that this…was a bloody inhuman act that would…draw God's vengeance on them. Whereupon I was brought down and released."
The government army moved on Naas in February 1642 and O'Higgins was arrested and turned over to Governor Coote of Dublin. O'Higgins was offered his life if he would renounce his faith. He responded, ""So here the condition on which I am granted my life. They want me to deny my religion. I spurn their offer. I die a Catholic and a Dominican priest. I forgive from my heart all who have conspired to bring about my death." Among the crowd at the foot of the scaffold was William Pilsworth who shouted out: "This man is innocent. This man is innocent. He saved my life." William Pilsworth was not wanting in courage, but his words fell on deaf ears. With the words "Deo Gratias" on his lips Peter O'Higgins died on 23 March 1642.
The most likely reason for Prior Higgins' execution without trial was that on the previous day, 22 March, at a synod at Kells, County Meath chaired by Archbishop Hugh O'Reilly, the Catholic bishops had pronounced the rebellion to be a "Holy and Just War. Higgins had been summarily executed as a result.
Various churches have been dedicated to the martyrs, including:
The Primacy of Ireland was historically disputed between the Archbishop of Armagh and the Archbishop of Dublin until finally settled by Pope Innocent VI. Primate is a title of honour denoting ceremonial precedence in the Church, and in the Middle Ages there was an intense rivalry between the two archbishoprics as to seniority. Since 1353 the Archbishop of Armagh has been titled Primate of All Ireland and the Archbishop of Dublin Primate of Ireland, signifying that they are the senior churchmen in the island of Ireland, the Primate of All Ireland being the more senior. The titles are used by both the Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops. The distinction mirrors that in the Church of England between the Primate of All England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Primate of England, the Archbishop of York.
Cashel is a town in County Tipperary in Ireland. Its population was 4,422 in the 2016 census. The town gives its name to the ecclesiastical province of Cashel. Additionally, the cathedra of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly was originally in the town prior to the English Reformation. It is part of the parish of Cashel and Rosegreen in the same archdiocese. One of the six cathedrals of the Anglican Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, who currently resides in Kilkenny, is located in the town. It is in the civil parish of St. Patricksrock which is in the historical barony of Middle Third.
Oliver Plunkett, was the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who was the last victim of the Popish Plot. He was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years.
The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales are a group of Catholic, lay and religious, men and women, executed between 1535 and 1679 for treason and related offences under various laws enacted by Parliament during the English Reformation. The individuals listed range from Carthusian monks who in 1535 declined to accept Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, to seminary priests who were caught up in the alleged ‘Popish Plot’ against Charles II in 1679. Many were sentenced to death at show trials, or with no trial at all.
Margaret Ball (1515–1584) was a prominent member of 16th-century Irish society, who, despite being the widow of a Lord Mayor of Dublin, was arrested for her adherence to the Catholic faith and died of deprivation in the dungeons of Dublin Castle. She was declared a martyr for the faith by the Catholic Church and beatified in 1992, one of a group of 17 Irish Catholic Martyrs.
Patrick Joseph Cardinal O'Donnell was an Irish senior prelate of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Armagh from 1924 until his death, and was made a cardinal in 1925.
The Most Rev. Dr Maolmhuire Mag Raith, was an Irish priest and archbishop born in County Fermanagh, Ireland. He came from a family of hereditary historians to the O'Brien clan. He entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. The Vatican later appointed him the Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland, but he converted to the Anglican Church of England and became the Protestant Archbishop of Cashel. Mag Raith is viewed with contempt by both Protestant and Catholic historians, owing to his ambiguous and corrupt activities during the Reformation. He also served as a member of the Parliament of Ireland.
The Archbishop of Cashel was an archiepiscopal title which took its name after the town of Cashel, County Tipperary in Ireland. Following the Reformation, there had been parallel apostolic successions to the title: one in the Church of Ireland and the other in the Roman Catholic Church. The archbishop of each denomination also held the title of Bishop of Emly. The Church of Ireland title was downgraded to a bishopric in 1838, and in the Roman Catholic Church it was superseded by the role of Archbishop of Cashel and Emly when the two dioceses were united in 2015.
The Archdiocese of Armagh is an Irish Roman Catholic archdiocese. The Ordinary is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh who is also the Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical province of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland. The mother church is St Patrick's Cathedral. The claims of the archdiocese to pre-eminence in Ireland as the primatial see, rests upon its traditional establishment by Saint Patrick circa 445. It was formally recognised as a metropolitan province in 1152 by the Synod of Kells.
Dermot O'Hurley was a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland during the reign of Elizabeth I, who was put to death for treason. He was one of the most celebrated of the Irish Catholic Martyrs, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ossory is a Roman Catholic diocese in eastern Ireland. It is one of six suffragan dioceses in the ecclesiastical province of the Metropolitan Archbishop of Dublin. The current Ordinary is the Most Reverend Dermot Farrell, who was appointed by the Holy See on 3 January 2018 and ordained bishop on 11 March 2018.
The Archdiocese of Dublin is a Roman Catholic archdiocese in eastern Ireland centred on the republic's capital city – Dublin. The archdiocese is led by the Archbishop of Dublin, who serves as pastor of the mother church, St Mary's Pro-Cathedral and Metropolitan of the Metropolitan Province of Dublin. It was formally recognised as a metropolitan province in 1152 by the Synod of Kells. Its second archbishop, Lorcán Ua Tuathail, is also its patron saint.
The Wexford Martyrs were Matthew Lambert, Robert Myler, Edward Cheevers, Patrick Cavanagh, John O'Lahy, and one other unknown individual. In 1581, they were found guilty of treason for aiding in the escape of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass; for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy which declared Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church; and for conveying Catholic priests, laymen, and a Jesuit out of Ireland. On 5 July 1581, they were hanged, drawn and quartered in Wexford, Ireland. They were subsequently Beatified by Pope John Paul II.
The Eighty-five Martyrs of England and Wales, also known as George Hatdock and Forty-one Companion Martyrs, are a group of men who were executed on charges of treason and related offences in the Kingdom of England between 1584 and 1679. Of the eighty-five, seventy-five were executed under Jesuits, etc. Act 1584.
David Rothe was a Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossory.
Thomas Fleming (1593–1665) was an Irish Franciscan and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin; he was heir to the title Baron Slane, but renounced it.
Anti-Catholicism in the United Kingdom has its origins in the English and Irish Reformations under King Henry VIII and the Scottish Reformation led by John Knox. Within England the Act of Supremacy 1534 declared the English crown to be "the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England" in place of the pope. Any act of allegiance to the latter was considered treasonous because the papacy claimed both spiritual and political power over its followers. Ireland was brought under direct English control starting in 1536 during the Tudor conquest of Ireland. The Scottish Reformation in 1560 abolished Catholic ecclesiastical structures and rendered Catholic practice illegal in Scotland. Today, anti-Catholicism is common in peripheral areas of the United Kingdom, mainly Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Robert Daly was Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel and Waterford from 1843 to 1872.
The Reformation in Ireland was a movement for the reform of religious life and institutions that was introduced into Ireland by the English administration at the behest of King Henry VIII of England. His desire for an annulment of his marriage was known as the King's Great Matter. Ultimately Pope Clement VII refused the petition; consequently, in order to give legal effect to his wishes, it became necessary for the King to assert his lordship over the Catholic Church in his realm. In passing the Acts of Supremacy in 1534, the English Parliament confirmed the King's supremacy over the Church in the Kingdom of England. This challenge to Papal supremacy resulted in a breach with the Catholic Church. By 1541, the Irish Parliament had agreed to the change in status of the country from that of a Lordship to that of Kingdom of Ireland.