Skip to main content

Full text of "Life of Blessed Oliver Plunket ..."

See other formats









s$ed Oliver Plunket 


With Letter from His Eminence Cardinal Logue 


Martyrdom of Blessed Oliver Plunket at Tyburn, 
July ist, 1681 



Blessed Oliver Plunket 

From an Oil Painting in the Oratory ot the Martyrs 
at Tyburn 

Sacred Relic of the Head of Blessed Oliver 
Plunket, preserved In the 
Siena Convent, Drogheda 


Life of 
Blessed Oliver Plunket 

Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland 
(Martyred at Tyburn, July 1st, 1681) 






My Dear Father Gallery, 

I have read the proof of your Memoir of Blessed Olivet 
Plunkett. It comes at a most opportune moment, just when 
the Sovereign Pontiff has set the seal of the Church's approval 
on the life and death of the holy Martyr. The beatification of 
Oliver Plunkett will bring joy to Irish Catholics in every part 
of the world. He is the first Irishman whom the supreme authority 
of the Church has numbered among the Blessed since St. Laurence 
O'Toole, the illustrious Archbishop 01 Dublin was raised to the 

Amid their rejoicing Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, 
would naturally wish to become more intimately acquainted 
with the leading facts of the Martyr's life and the circumstances 
of his glorious death. Most of them might lack either time or 
opportunity to read the more extensive Life written by the learned 
Cardinal Moran. For these you have provided a brief, clear, 
interesting, well-written narrative. Nothing is omitted which 
could instruct or edify ; nothing which could impress the reader 
with a deep sense of the sanctity of the Martyr's life ; nothing 
which would go to show his spirit of labour and self -sacrifice, 
his zeal for the interests of his flock, his sympathy with the poor 
and suffering, his attachment to the Church, that love of God 
and of the holy faith which he sealed by his blood. It is question- 
able whether a more detailed biography could present a more 
vivid and striking picture of the Martyr's virtuous life and 
heroic death than you have furnished in your brief, interesting, 
readable sketch. 

Congratulating you on your success, and wishing you every 

I am, 

Dear Father Gallery, 

Yours faithfully, 


27th March, 1918. 

Venerable Oliver Plunkett, 

Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland 

As the decree of the Pope declaring Oliver Plunkett, 
Archbishop of Armagh, a blessed martyr, has been 
already published in Rome on St. Patrick's Day,* 
this would seem to be an appropriate time to give 
a short sketch of his life to the world. Such a sketch 
would no doubt be highly acceptable not only to the 
people of Armagh and Meath, but also to the faithful 
children of St. Patrick in every country where they 
have found a home. Nor will this small tribute of 
respect to his memory lose its value with the public, 
when they know it is paid by one who enjoys the pri- 
vilege of being from the same diocese and the same 
parish as our Martyred Primate. 

Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, County Meath, claims the 
honour of being the birth-place of Oliver Plunkett 
the subject of our sketch. It was there, in the year 

* The following is from a newspaper correspondent in Rome : 

" At noon to-day (lyth March, 1918) the Pope read in the 
Throne Room of the Vatican, in the presence of the Congregation 
of Sacred Rites, the decree of beatification of Oliver Plunkett, 
Archbishop of Armagh, who was hanged, drawn and quartered 
at Tyburn in 1681, and was the last to suffer death in England 
for his faith. He was appointed by Pope Clement IX. to the 
Archbishopric of Armagh in 1670. 

" The Pope said he was glad the reading of the decree co- 
incided with St. Patrick's Day, and referred to Ireland as the 
ancient island of saints, adding, 'the heroic Irish nation has 
always been a strenuous defender of the Catholic faith.' 

" Those present included Cardinals Vico and Vannutelli, and 
all Irish ecclesiastics and members of Irish religious organisations 
in Rome. 

" Mgr. O'Riordan, Director of the Irish College, delivered an 
address, in which he said through the decree now published by 
the Pontiff Ireland paid Arcft bishop Runkett a debt owing for 
nearly two and a half centuries. To-day's decree reversed his 
condemnation. By that day's act the Pope took Plunkett from 
the grave and placed him on the altar. He then thanked the 
Pontiff in the name of the Irish Episcopate, clergy of the College, 
and the laity. 

" The Pontiff answered in a paraphrase of Mgr. O'Riordan's 
address, at the same time urging the Irish to persevere in their 
laith and loyalty to the Church." 



1629, he first saw the light. It is hardly necessary to 
remind our readers that Oliver sprang from an ancient 
and noble stock, and was closely connected by birth with 
many of the most illustrious Catholic families in Ireland . 
He received his early training and education from a 
near relative, Doctor Plunkett, who was then Abbot of 
St. Mary's, Dublin, afterwards Bishop of Ardagh, and 
finally Bishop of the diocese of Meath. All this informa- 
tion can be gleaned from a letter written by the afore- 
said Dr. Plunkett to the Secretary of the Propaganda, 
after his appointment to the see of Meath. Having 
asked the Secretary to convey his thanks to the Holy 
Father for his promotion from Ardagh to Meath, he 
added, " I am particularly grateful for the affection 
displayed by your Eminence towards Oliver Plunkett, 
who is closely connected with me by birth. 

" Having educated him from his infancy till his six- 
teenth year, I sent him to Rome to pursue his studies 
at the fountain head of truth, and I now take pride in 
his having merited your patronage ; neither do I be- 
lieve my judgment is led astray by flesh and blood, 
when I assert that he burns with ardent zeal for the 
Apostolic See and for the spiritual progress of our 

In another letter written by the Bishop to Oliver 
himself, who was now in the responsible position of 
Agent in Rome for the Irish Bishops, his Lordship gave 
the following interesting particulars concerning the 
Plunkett family : " As regards your relatives, the Earls 
of Fingal and Roscommon have re-acquired their lands 
and property, which were in the hands of the Crom- 
wellian officers ; and to the great delight of all friends 
the Castle of Killiney (Killeen) has been restored to 
Lord Fingal. 

" The Baron of Dunsany not having recovered any 
of his estates, is reduced to great poverty, but the 
Baron of Louth has obtained a partial restitution of 
what he lost. 

" Mr. Nicholas Plunkett of Dunsaile has got back all 
his former possessions. The other Plunketts of Tetrath, 
Balrath, and Preston have not as yet got back their 
castles, which are still in the hands of the Cromwellians 
and Londoners, having been purchased by them from 
the Parliament at the. time of the rebellion." 


From his earliest days young Oliver manifested a 
desire to become a priest. His prudent preceptor bear- 
ing this fact in mind, conducted the 

His youth and education of the pious boy along the 

early training, lines calculated to foster and develop 
his priestly calling. But whilst paying 
particular attention to his religious training and im- 
planting in his tender mind a thorough knowledge of 
the truths of our holy faith, he did not lose sight of 
the other subjects required for his full equipment, and 
therefore the curriculum of studies embraced not only 
the knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Philosophy, but also 
the knowledge of Irish, so that he might be able, when 
a priest on the mission, to preach the Gospel of God 
to the people in the old Gaelic tongue.* 

The boy being now in his sixteenth year, it was time 
to send him to college to complete his studies for the 
priesthood. In looking abroad to the various ecclesi- 
astical houses on the Continent to which he might be 
sent, the one his preceptor deemed most desirable was 
the Irish College, Rome, which was then in the hands 
of the Jesuit Fathers; and so ably conducted by them, 
that it became the chief source of supply for the Episco- 
pate of Ireland. It was to this celebrated college the 
Abbot of St. Mary's resolved to send his young relative. 
But there were serious obstacles in the way. A journey 
to Rome in those days was very tedious, and beset by 
many dangers dangers by land, dangers by sea, and 
dangers from robbers. The great difficulty was to get 
some trustworthy traveller to whom the young Levite 
could be entrusted. Fortunately, or perhaps I should 
rather say providentially, the proper guide turned up 
at the opportune moment, in the person of Father 
Peter Francis Scarampo, a saintly Oratorian from the 
house of St. Philip Neri in Rome. 

Two years previous he was sent over by the Propaganda 
on a special mission to Ireland. During his short stay, 
he so endeared himself to the Irish Bishops, and to 
every class in the community, that the Irish Catholic 
Confederation signed a petition to the Holy Father to 
appoint him his Nuncio in Ireland. Father Scarampo, 

* Dr. Runkett had a good knowledge of Irish. The Irish 
poem to which O'Reilly In MS. "Irish Wiittrs" refers, "O 
Tara of the Kings," was composed by him. 


in his humility, declined the honour so vigorously that 
Innocent X., the reigning Pontiff, acceded to his wishes, 
and permitted him to return to his Oratory in Rome. 

It was into the hands of this man of God, Dr. Plunkett 
entrusted his youthful charge, with what happy results 
subsequent events in the life of the young Levite will 
clearly show. 

I shall pass over for the present, the many dangers 
encountered by Father Scarampo and his companions 
four other Levites as well as Don Oliver first in their 
journey from Ireland to Flanders, and then from Flanders 
to Rome and shall simply say that soon after their 
arrival in the Eternal City, Father Scarampo placed 
without delay, his interesting young friend, under 
Professor Dandoni, for the study of rhetoric. 

In the following year, 1646, he was admitted a 
student to the Irish College. There he applied himself 
with great diligence for eight years, to 
Sent to the Irish the study of Mathematics, Philosophy, 
and Theology. Subsequently he at- 
tended the lectures in Canon Law, given by the cele- 
brated canonist, Mark Anthony de Mariscotti, in the 
halls of the Roman University, called the Sapienza. 

That Oliver was far above the ordinary run of students 
in ability and general character, is quite clear from a 
paper presented to the Propaganda, by 

^* Father Edward Locke, Prefect of the 
on nis _ ,. *. - i i . j 

character. College, long after Oliver had completed 

his course of studies, and when there 
was question of his appointment to the Primatial See 
of Armagh. The certificate, which was a highly com- 
plimentary one, runs thus : " I, the undersigned, certify 
that the Very Reverend Dr. Oliver Plunkett, of the 
Diocese of Meath, in the Province of Armagh in Ireland, 
is of Catholic parentage ; descended from an illustrious 
family : on the father's side from the most illustrious 
Earls of Fingal, and on the mother's side from the most 
illustrious Earls of Roscommon, being also connected 
by birth with the most illustrious Baron of Louth, first 
nobleman of the Diocese of Armagh ; and in this our 
Irish College, he devoted himself with such ardour to 
Philosophy, Theology, and Mathematics, that in the 
Roman College of the Society of Jesus, he has been 
justly ranked amongst the foremost, in talent, diligence, 


and progress in his studies. These speculative studies 
being completed, he passed with abundant fruit the 
course of Civil and Canon Law, under Mark Anthony 
de Mariscotti, Professor in the Roman Sapienza, and 
everywhere and at all times, he was a model of gentle- 
ness, integrity, and piety." 

" Signed, EDWARD LOCKE, S.J., 

" Rector of the Irish College." 

It was the rule of the Irish College that the students, 

after their ordination, should return to Ireland. In fact, 

they bound themselves solemnly to do 

His Ordination so unless they were exempted from 
and Stay in Eome.this obligation by their superiors. But 
such was the state of Ireland in 1654, 
the date of the ordination of Dr. Plunkett, that it was 
well nigh impossible to return to his native diocese of 
Meath, and take up the arduous duties of his mission. 

Hence, on the I4th June, 1654, ne wrote the follow- 
ing letter to the General of the Jesuits : " I, Oliver 
Plunkett, your most humble petitioner, student of the 
Irish College, having completed my philosophical and 
theological subjects, considering the impossibility of 
now returning to Ireland (as your paternity well knows) 
in accordance with the rules of this College, humbly 
request of you, Most Rev. Father, that I may be 
allowed to continue in Rome, and dwell with the 
Fathers of St. Girolamo della Carita. I promise, how- 
ever, and declare that I will be ever ready to return 
to Ireland whensoever you, Rev. Father, or my superiors 
shall so command." 

This reasonable request having been readily granted, 
he took up his abode with the good Fathers in St. 
Girolamo, and resoived to remain there till such time 
as his superiors would judge it opportune to send him 
to Ireland. 

Marangoni, the learned Oratorian, describes the occu- 
pations of Dr. Plunkett whilst living at St. Girolamo. 
" It is incredible with what zeal he 
Life in the burned for the salvation of souls. In 
* tne house itself and in the city, he 
wholly devoted himself to devout ex- 
ercises ; frequently did he visit the sanctuaries steeped 


with the blood of Martyrs, and he ardently signed for 
the opportunity of sacrificing himself for the salvation 
of his countrymen. He, moreover, frequented the Hos- 
pital of Santo Spirito, and employed himself even in the 
most abject ministrations, serving the poor and infirm, 
to the edification and wonder of the very officials and 
assistants of that place." And it is well to remember 
that in all these exercises of piety, he had as his asso- 
ciate his faithful guide and guardian Father Scarampo. 
We may. then picture to ourselves what a joy it must 
have been to the young priest Oliver, with the holy 
oils still fresh on his hands, to be privileged to live 
under the same hallowed roof with this true and trusted 
friend, to be edified by his example and accompanied by 
him on their daily round of visits to the various shrines 
in the city referred to by Marangoni, ministering to the 
necessities of the sick poor in the slums of the city, as 
well as in public hospitals, like the Santo Spirito. 
Thus these two friends spent their days together, not 
only v"?,^ going through their spiritual exercises in 
their Kvrtise of Retreat, but also when going about like 
their Divine Master doing good, consoling the afflicted, 
comforting the sick and dying, and preparing all for 
their journey to eternity. 

Such was the constant occupation of these two holy 
souls, inseparable companions for the space of two 
years, until a virulent plague broke out in the city. 
Its ravages were such that the civil authorities were 
obliged to provide a central hospital in the Island of 
St. Bartholomew, for the isolation of the patients 
stricken by the disease, and for the safety and pro- 
tection of the general public. Two of the Oratorian 
Fathers Father Spada and Father Scarampo offered 
their services as chaplains, and thereby showed how 
they were ready to offer their lives as holocausts, 
regardless of danger, in the cause of charity. Father 
Scarampo wrote a letter of advice to his young friend, 
whom he still loved to style Don Oliverio. This was 
on the 4th of October, the Feast of St. Francis. On the 
I4th of the same month the news came that Father 
Scarampo caught the contagion, fell a victim to the 
disease at his post of duty, and breathed forth his 
saintly soul into the hands of God. 

On receipt of the news Don Oliver was overwhelmed 


with grief, and in his great sorrow wrote the following 
touching letter to Father Spada : 
p 4 !? 6 " Ireland has lost *" untiring pro- 

Scarampo. tector and efficacious benefactor in the 
death of Father Peter Francis Scarampo, 
and I in particular have lost a father, more dear to me 
than my own earthly father, for he conducted me from 
Ireland, encountering in so long a journey, many dangers 
from pirates and bandits, and bringing me to Rome 
at his own expense, and also maintaining me for three 
years in the city and in our college, and even when I 
had completed my studies his asistance, whether tem- 
poral or spiritual, was never wanting to me. God alone 
knows how afflicting his death is to me, especially at 
the present time when all Ireland is over-run and laid 
waste by heresy. Of my relatives, some are dead, 
others have been sent into exile, and all Ireland is 
reduced to extreme misery, and now this last blow 
overwhelms me with inexpressible sadness." 

For a year more Father Plunkett, though lonely and 
sad, continued to devote himself altogether to study 
and the unostentatious exercise of his sacred ministry, 
in the holy house of St. Philip Neri. His providential 
sojourn in this pious sanctuary of the Oratorians, and 
his constant visits to the sick poor in the city and the 
various hospitals, had the inestimable advantage of 
bringing him into contact 'with many of the holiest and 
most learned men of Rome, amongst others he became 
particularly intimate with Monsignor Odescalchi 
afterwards raised to the Chair of Peter, under the name 
of Innocent XI. On hearing the glad tidings Father 
Plunkett immediately despatched a letter of congra- 
tulation and took the liberty of reminding His Holiness 
of the days when he was Cardinal and accompanied him 
in his visits to the slums of the city, and helped him to 
serve the poor, and ragged, and needy, many of whom 
were covered with vermin, and deserted by their own 
relatives and friends. 

A man of such piety and learning could not long lie 

hid, hence we are not surprised to find that Father 

Plunkett 's fame became so widespread 

Appointed in Rome, that the ecclesiastical authori- 

Professor in t j es re q u i s itioned his services, and ap- 
pointed him Professor in the College of 


Propaganda. Here he lectured with much success for 
twelve years on speculative, controversial, and moral 
Theology. In after years he loved to look back to those 
happy years spent in Rome amongst the poor, and to 
his labours in promoting study in the College where he 
himself received his theological training. " I spent in 
Rome twenty-four years 1645-1669 and for twelve of 
these I served the Sacred Congregation in the Chairs of 
Theology and controversy. I also served the Sacred 
Congregation of the Index. The state in which I found 
the course of studies in the Propaganda, and the pro- 
gress they had made before I left Rome, may be learnt 
from the Very Rev. Fathers who were the Prefects of 
Studies during my time, and who are acquainted with 
the matters to which I refer." 

About this time, 1669, word came to the Sacred 

Congregation that the Archbishop of Armagh died in 

exile. With this letter, came another 

Nominated by the *Fg. Pe f e f. Talbot ' Archbishop of 
Pope Archbishop Dublin, stating amongst other things, 
of Armagh, that no part of Ireland stood more 
in need of a proper pastor and 
primate than the Province of Armagh. His Grace, at 
the same time, suggested Dr. Patrick Everard, S.J., a 
learned theologian and an exceedingly pious and pru- 
dent man, as one suitable for the vacant see. Whilst 
his merits and the merits of others were being dis- 
cussed, the Holy Father intervened. Why delay, said 
his Holiness, in discussing the dubious merits of others, 
whilst we have here in Rome a native of that island, 
whose merits are known to us all, and whose labours 
in the city have already added so many wreaths to the 
peerless glory ot the Island of Saints ? Let Dr. Oliver 
Plunkett be Archbishop of Armagh, " Roma locuta 
est " (" Rome has spoken."); It was as if the Vicar of 
Christ said : " Inveni David servum meum, oleo sancto 
meo unxi eum, manus enim mea auxiliabitur ei et 
brachium meum confortabit eum." (" I have found 
David my servant, with my holy oil I will anoint him, 
and my hand shall help him and my arm strengthen 

When the news of the selection of Oliver Plunkett 
for Armagh leaked out, whilst it caused conster- 


nation amongst the enemies of our holy faith, 
it was hailed with delight by all who 
Joy of Dr. French, longed to see such an important portion 
Bishop of Ferns, o f God's flock in the hands of a pastor 
appointment to w o ^ared no foe, and would not 
Armagh. abandon his lambs or his sheep, like a 
hireling in the hour of danger. Al- 
though it was of the utmost importance in those perilous 
days, the appointment should be kept as secret as 
possible, yet in the fullness of his joy, the Bishop of 
Ferns, who was then in exile, could not refrain from 
writing to the Secretary of Propaganda : " Applauding 
and rejoicing, I have hastened from Ghent to ask the 
Internuncio of Belgium to return all possible thanks 
to our Holy Father in the name of my countrymen, for 
having crowned with the mitre of Armagh, the noble 
and distinguished Oliver Plunkett, Doctor of Theology. 
Thanks be to God, that such a Prelate of noble birth, 
and adorned with exalted talents (and yet of no proud 
conceit) should be raised to the government of the 
Primatial Church of Ireland who will be a light on 
the mountain top a soldier of Christ, and a fearless 
champion of the rights of the Holy See." 

The Bulls of the appointment were despatched with- 
out delay to the Nuncio at Brussels, accompanied by a 
decree of the Sacred Congregation de- 
signaling Belgium as the place of 
consecration. On the first Sunday of 
Advent, the 30th November, 1669, in the private chapel 
of the Episcopal Palace, without noise and with closed 
doors, Dr. Plunkett received from the Bishop of Ghent 
the imposition of hands, and was there consecrated 
Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. French, Bishop of Ferns, 
being the only assistant whose name is recorded as being 
present at this important and solemn function. 

In those days, when bigotry was rife and a fanatical 
hatred of the Catholic religion pervaded every class and 
section of the Protestant community, it was necessary 
for every papist to be on his guard against the army 
of spies which compassed him round about on every 
side. It was on this account the ceremony of Dr. 
Plunkett's consecration did not take place in Rome, but 
in a private chapel in Belgium. How prudent this pre- 
caution was, may be gathered from the following letter 


which was written at that time and was since unearthed, 
being found amongst Sir George Rawdon's papers. 
Writing to the above Rawdon, then residing near Lisburn, 
Lord Conway says : 

" DEAR BROTHER, I have been all this day with my 
Lord Lieutenant, and I am but newly come home from 
him. Though it be very late, yet I am to give you 
notice by his command, that the King hath privately 
informed him of two persons sent from Rome, that lie 
lurking in this country to do mischief. One is Signore 
Agnetti, an Italian, employed by the College de Pro- 
paganda Fide, the other is Plunkett, a member of the 
same College, and designed titular Archbishop of 
Armagh. If you can dexterously find them out and 
apprehend them, 'twill be an acceptable service. But 
I told him, I did not think they kept their residence in 
our parts (about Lisburn) ; however, he thinks it his 
duty to search everywhere. 


" Dublin, 20th November, 1669." 

The same system of espionage which made it ne- 
cessary to hold a Consecration Ceremony in private 
and with closed doors in Belgium, made it ne- 
cesssary also for Dr. Plunkett to conceal his identity 
and keep his movements from an enemy ever ready to 
capture him, and deliver him up as a criminal into the 
hands of the civil authorities. Hence he travelled about 
everywhere, not in clerical costume, but simply as a 
layman, under the assumed name of Thomas Cox.* It 
was in this way he travelled unmolested from Belgium 
to Rome and from Rome to London. 

Having remained in Ghent for eight days after his 
consecration, he hastened back to Rome to get the 

Pope's blessing on himself and his 
* mission, and to pay a visit to his Alma 

Mater, where he spent eight years as 
student and twelve as professor. He also paid a visit 

* Dr. Plunkett used to carry on all his correspondence under 
the name either of Thomas Cox or Edward Hamond, and in one of 
his letters says : " I was obliged to conceal myself by assuming 
the name of Captain Brown, wearing a sword and a wig and 
pistols. This lasted two or three months." 


to the House of St. Philip Neri in Rome, where he had 
lived happily for three years with his old friend, Father 
Scarampo, and the other holy members of the Oratorian 
community ; and lastly to the Hospital of Sancto 
Spirito, where he had so often ministered to the sick 
and dying poor. Having gone through the various 
wards in his episcopal robes, when standing at the 
door which looks towards the Castle of St. Angelo, and 
bidding farewell to the then Prior, D. Jerome Mieskow, 
a Polish priest of extraordinary sanctity, the latter (as 
Cardinal Moran tells us in his Memoirs), embracing him, 
said, as if prophesying : " My Lord, you are now going 
to shed your blood for the Catholic faith." And he 
being wholly inflamed with the desire of shedding his 
blood for Christ, replied with humility : " I am unworthy 
of such a favour, nevertheless, aid me with your prayers 
that this my ardent desire may be fulfilled." 

Having then discharged his duty in Rome, he bid 
farewell to the Eternal City, and proceeded forthwith 
on his return journey to London. On his arrival in the 
English capital, he paid his first visit to Father Howard, 
to whom he had a letter of introduction from Monsignor 
Barberino, Cardinal Protector of Ireland. "This truly 
worthy man," as Dr. Plunkett tells us, " secretly lodged 
me for ten days in his own apartments in the Royal 
Palace, and with great kindness conducted me in his 
carriage, to see the principal curiosities of the city." 
Although he had no desire to remain in London, yet as 
Parliament was to be opened on the I4th February, he 
deemed it advisable to prolong his stay, in order to see 
for himself whether any further coercive legislation 
would be passed, which would be calculated to raise a 
storm, and render the exercise of his missionary duties 
in Ireland all the more difficult. 

From London he came to Holyhead, and being de- 
tained there for twelve days, it was only on Monday, 
about the middle of March, 1670, that he was welcomed 
by his many friends who eagerly awaited his arrival on 
our Irish shore. We have, under his own hand, a 
graphic description of the various incidents of his 
journey from London to Dublin : " I at length arrived 
in this city on Monday last, and I may say I suffered 
more from London to Holyhead (where I went on board 
a vessel) than during the remaindei of the journey from 


Rome to London. In Holyhead I was detained twelve 
days, in consequence of contrary winds, and then after 
a sail of ten hours I arrived in this port, where the 
many welcomes and caresses of my friends mitigated the 
grief with which I was oppressed on account of my 
departure from Rome." 

All his friends vied with each other in the warmth of 

their reception. They were evidently proud of their 

distinguished relative, and of the record 

Welcome Home of his success during the twenty-four 

by relatives, years he spent in Rome. In his inter- 
esting letter to Monsignor Baldeschi, 
Dr. Plunkett gives the following details 

" Sir Nicholas Plunkett at once invited me to his 
house and gave me his carriage ; the Earl of Fingal, 
who is my cousin, invited me to his country seat. The 
Baron of Louth will give me board and lodging in his 
house as long as I please, and I am resolved to accept 
his invitation, as he lives in the very centre of my 
mission. There are also three other gentlemen who are 
married to my cousins, and vie with each other seeing 
\vho shall receive me into their house. I was also con- 
soled to find the Bishop of Meath (my old preceptor), 
though sixty-eight years old, yet so robust and fresh 
that he seemed to be no more than fifty, and has scarcely 
a grey hair in his head. He sends his sincere respects 
to your Excellency. I write about these matters know- 
ing that you will be pleased to learn the happy success 
of one who reveres and loves you." 

Before beginning the great work of his mission, Dr. 

Plunkett, foreseeing the difficulty he might have of 

procuring a sufficient number of priests 

Starts great work f r tne consecration of the holy oils, 

of his Mission, obtained from Rome the privilege of 
consecrating them with the assistance 
of two priests instead of the usual number prescribed 
by the rubrics. 

And now with God's blessing he starts out on the 
field of his missionary labours, "rejoicing as a giant to 
run his way," and to do his duty manfully; even at the 
peril of his life. The task before him was an arduous 
one and enough to put to the test all his physical 
energy and intellectual and spiritual powers. It was 
the work of reconstructing and gathering together once 


more the scattered stones of the sanctuary. The whole 
country was still suffering from the ravages inflicted 
upon it under the merciless regime of the cruel tyrant, 
Oliver Cromwell. There were no churches where the 
Catholic portion of the population could assemble to 
worship God according to their conscience, nor school 
where the children could be taught, no public place 
where the priest could meet his flock in safety, to in- 
culcate the first principles of religion, or instil into 
the tender minds of the young the respect due to 
God's law and to the rights of their neighbour. The 
result was, the rising generation grew up in utter 
ignorance, and became the ready prey of self-seeking 
schemers, who played upon their feelings to lead them 
astray and plant in their minds the seeds of discontent 
and disobedience to all authority. 

These innocent unsuspecting youth were thus in- 
veigled into a society whose members went about, 
under various disguises, in predatory 

Grapples with b an( j s living on plunder and intimida- 
Tones ana , . , , ? ,. r ,, , . . -, 

Drunkards. tlon > an( * holding out to all who joined 
them, the bright prospect of getting 
back to the land from which their ancestors had been 
dispossessed. The ne'er-do-wells, the wastrels, the jail 
birds, all who did not want to earn an honest livelihood 
by their brains or the work of their hands, were wel- 
come to this gang of desperadoes, known under the 
specious title of Tories. And, " tell it not in Gath," 
amongst this motley crowd, or rather at their head, 
were to be found those who should know better, and 
whose sacred office it was to deter people from the pur- 
suit of crime, and teach them respect for God, and the 
property of their neighbour. It is comparatively easy 
to deal with individuals, but when they enter into a 
conspiracy and join hands in the pursuit of crime, it is 
extremely hard to turn them aside from their evil ways 
and bring them back to the path of rectitude. But Dr. 
Plunkett was not a man to be deterred from doing his 
duty, no matter how gigantic the evil, or the risks run 
in the painful process of its removal. From the start 
he grappled with this dangerous group of men. He 
followed them into the dens and fastnesses of the 
mountains, and by his extreme kindness and paternal 
solicitude brought them to their senses, and carried 


them back rejoicing to the fold. The ring-leaders, 
lay and clerical, who were not amenable to reason were 
dealt with as they deserved. After repeated admoni- 
tions, warnings, and threats finding them still obstinate 
and contumacious, he was obliged to cut them off from 
the Church, and inflict those ecclesiastical censures 
which are resorted to only as a final remedy for the 
incorrigible. Those drunken and dissolute ecclesiastics 
who disgraced their gown, M'Moyer, Duffy, and Murphy, 
the two former, Franciscan Friars,* and the last-named 
a secular priest, having been suspended and stripped 
of all their faculties never forgot it to their superior. 
They conceived for him a mortal hatred, pursued him 
with a system of calumny and misrepresentation to his 
dying day, and were not content until in the end they 
swore away his precious life. 

But in spite of calumny and persecution, Dr. 

Plunkett carried on his work with a zeal worthy of an 

apostle. He preached the Word, in 

His firm season and out of season, reproved, en- 

Administration. treated, rebuked in all patience and 

doctrine, and, being Forma gregis ex 

anitno (the model of his flock), showed himself in all 

things, an example of good works, in doctrine, hi 

integrity, in gravity. 

When his work was interrupted now and then, as it 
used to be, he retired to his place of refuge, with his 
books and supply of candles, and there remained ab- 
sorbed in prayer and meditation, until the fury of the 
storm had spent itself, and he could venture out once 
more to resume his labours with renewed energy. In 
this, as he tells us himself, we should act like mariners 
at sea, when the wind is favourable they unfurl all 
their sail and sweep the ocean with great velocity, but 
when the wind becomes contrary they lower the sails 
and seek some little port of refuge. " Whilst we have 
our present Viceroy, we may sail, and I will do all in 
my power to advance our spiritual interests, instruct 
the clergy and educate them in science and theology. 
But when this Viceroy is changed and his successor 

* There was a Judas amongst the twelve, and it would be 
unfair to cast any aspersion on the illustrious Order of St. 
Francis, on account of a few unworthy members who dis- 
graced their gown and lost their faith. 


appointed, the wind may become contrary, and our 
labours paralysed." 

His words soon came true, for shortly afterwards 

Dr. Plunkett, and Dr. Brennan of Cashel, had to retire 

to a place of safety, behind the rocks, 

Working under until the storm subsided. " Here," he 

difficulties, says, " we are in a hut covered with 

straw, and thatched in such a manner 

that from our beds we may see the stars, and at the 

head of our bed every slightest shower refreshes us, but 

we are resolved rather to die from hunger and cold than 

to abandon our flock. It would be a shame for spiritual 

soldiers educated in Rome to become mercenaries." 

It would be well to bear in mind when estimating 
the extent of our Primate's episcopal labours, to take 
into account the important fact that these labours 
were not confined within the limits of his own Arch- 
diocese, but extended to the eleven suffragan sees of 
the Province of Armagh. Hence he tells us, how he 
had to secure the services of a master to instruct the 
young priests of the Province in cases of conscience, 
and in the manner of teaching the Catechism and pre- 
paring children for the Sacraments. Furthermore, in 
a letter addressed to Monsignor Baldeschi, Secretary of 
the Propaganda, he informs his Eminence : " I con- 
firmed during the past four years forty-eight thousand 
six hundred and fifty-five, of whom I have kept a list, 
many of them being up to sixty years of age, for in 
some of the dioceses the people have not seen a Bishop 
for over forty years. In six of the dioceses I visited I 
applied myself especially to root out the cursed vice 
of drunkenness, which is the parent and nurse of all 
scandals and contentions, and has been the disgrace and 
ruin of the people for centuries." As he never tasted any 
intoxicating drink himself, his example of abstemious- 
ness gave his words a double sway, and brought them 
home more forcibly to the hearts of his hearers. 

To gauge the amount of work involved in the admin- 
istration of the Sacrament of Confirmation to so many 
thousands, we should remember those confirmed were 
not assembled together in large numbers, but were 
here and there in isolated groups, sometimes in private 
houses, and not ^infrequently in the open under the 
canopy of heaven 


The Vicar-General of Raphoe, who accompanied 
the Primate on his round of visitations, tells us the 
difficulties he had to encounter when administering 
the Sacraments in the bleak rocky mountains, exposed 
to all the bitter winds, and the inclemency of the 
weather. On one occasion, seeing the eyes of the 
Primate all inflamed and running water, he remarked 
to those around : " That poor man will kill himself ; 
his frail constitution cannot stand the strain put upon it." 
The Archbishop overhearing the remark, simply 
smiled, saying : " Though my eyes are weak and dis- 
tilling water, so that I cannot see a letter, the size 
of a snuff-box, yet, thank God, my tongue is not im- 
peded from instructing my little flock in both lan- 
guages, Irish and English, as occasion demands." 

In the Provincial Councils, one held in 1670, at the 
beginning of his career, and the other in 1678, when it 
was coming near its close, we find all the Members of 
the Council, bearing testimony to the extraordinary 
zeal with which the Primate discharged his various 
duties, and though often exposed to the extreme 
danger of losing his life, he did not abandon the flock 
entrusted to his care. In face of almost insuperable 
difficulties he erected schools,* provided masters and 
teachers, that the clergy and youth might be in- 
structed in literature, piety, cases of conscience, and 
other matters relating to their sacred office. 

We may, therefore, safely affirm that the picture 
sketched by Dr. Brennan of the life and labours of our 
Primate is true to life, and not over-drawn in the least 
detail. " He showed himself vigilant, zealous, and 
indefatigable above his predecessors, nor do we find 
within the memory of any of the present century, that 
any Metropolitan visited his diocese and province with 
such solicitude and pastoral zeal, reforming the 
immoral, chastising the guilty, rewarding the merito- 
rious, and benefiting as far as was in his power both 
clergy and people. And now the clouds were gathering 

*As an evidence of Dr. Plunkett's desire to promote educa- 
tion, we may refer to the high class school established by him 
in Drogheda. which he placed in the hands of Father Stephen 
Rice and two other Jesuit Fathers, who, in his own words, 
" would suffice by their virtue, learning, and labours, to enrich 
a kingdom." 


around him, and the storm rising which was to end his 

Cardinal Moran, in his Memoir of Dr. Plunhett tells 

us, how in the month of November, 1679, ^ e ^ e ^ h* s 

place of concealment in the secluded 

Imprisonment in parts of his own diocese and came to 

Dublin Castle. Dublin to assist in his last moment 

his relative, the aged Bishop of Meath. 

Ten days later Dr. Plunkett was arrested in his place 

of concealment in the city of Dublin, by a body of 

Militia headed by Hetherington, and by order of the 

Viceroy, he was committed a close prisoner to Dublin 

Castle. This was on the 6th December, 1679. For 

six weeks no communication with him was allowed, 

but after that time, nothing treasonable being found 

amongst his papers, he was treated with less severity 

and permitted to receive visits from his friends. The 

only crime of which the Primate was as yet charged, 

was that of remaining in the kingdom contrary to 

the Royal interdict, and of exercising the functions of 

his sacred ministry. 

A relative of his, William Plunkett, having completed 
his studies in Rome, to his surprise learned on landing 
in Ireland in the beginning of 1680, that the Archbishop 
had been already some months in prison. He was 
overwhelmed with grief, and hastened to convey the 
sad intelligence to the Propaganda. In a letter dated 
the 20th March, 1680, addressed to the Sacred Con- 
gregation, he says, how on landing in Ireland he heard 
with dismay that the Primate was a prisoner in the 
Royal Castle of Dublin, but on reaching thither was 
consoled to find, " he was imprisoned only for being a 
Catholic Bishop, and for not having abandoned the 
flock of Christ, in obedience to the edict published by 
Parliament, it being his and our glory that he should 
suffer in such a cause." 

The Primate on his trial declared, " I was a prisoner 
six months, only for my religion, and there was not 
one word of treason spoken against 
Trial in Dundalk- me for so many years, and the 
Attorney-General himself openly 
avowed that I was arrested, only for being an over- 
zealous papist." He furthermore tells us, " I was 
brought with a guard to Dundalk on the 2ist of July 


(Dundalk is thirty-six miles from Dublin), I was there 
consigned to the King's Lieutenant in that district, 
and was presented for trial on the 2$rd and 24th July ; 
and although it was arranged that no Roman Catholic 
should be on the jury, yet when I was arraigned, not 
one appeared. Even M'Moyer did not turn up to 
confirm his depositions and hear my defence. I had 
thirty-two witnesses prepared to falsify all that the 
Friar had sworn, 'Forsooth that I had seventy thou- 
sand Catholics prepared to murder all the Protestants, 
and to establish here the Romish religion and Popish 
superstition, that I had sent various agents to dif- 
ferent kingdoms to obtain aid, that I had visited and 
explored all the fortresses and maritime ports of the 
kingdom, and that I had held a Provincial Council 
in 1678 to introduce the French.'" 

The trial in Dundalk being a real fiasco, the scene 
was now shifted from the shores of Ireland to the banks 
of the Thames. About the middle of 
Transferred from October, Dr. Plunkett received a sum- 
Ireland to London mons to appear before Parliament 
Prison. an( j the King, to answer the charges 
made against him. In a letter trans- 
mitted to Rome, May, 1681, and still preserved in the 
Vatican Archives, the Primate says : " My trial is 
deferred till next session. It shall be a severe one, 
for neither the jury nor the judges are acquainted with 
my circumstances, nor with the character of my 

A certain Hetherington, escaped from Dundalk 
prison, where he had been detained for various crimes, 
going to London presented himself before the Earl of 
Shaftesbury, who was the principal promoter and fabri- 
cator of the pretended conspiracy imputed to the 
Catholics. This Earl, who held a high place in the 
Cabinet, was a remarkably little man, and so given 
to duplicity and deceit, that he was nick-named, in 
allusion to his size and character, " Little Sincerity," 
and the King himself on one occasion called him in his 
presence " The wickedest dog in all England." Now 
this individual (who could look like the innocent 
flower and be the serpent under it) sets his nets to 
secure at all costs a verdict against Dr. Plunkett. He 
procured a Royal order that M'Moyer and Duffy, both 


Franciscan Friars, and Edmund Murphy, a secular 
priest, and others, should be examined before the 
King in Council, and tell what they knew concerning 
Plunkett and ihe alleged conspiracy ; and they testi- 
fied on oath, Tactis Evangeliis, there was a universal 
conspiracy against the Crown in Ireland, of which 
Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh, was the chief 

Then, on the 3rd May, 1681, in Easter Term, Dr. 
Plunkett stood a prisoner at the bar, but the trial did 

not come off immediately, thirty-five 
Trial in London, days being allowed him to procure 

witnesses for his defence. Owing to 
contrary winds, the witnesses did not arrive in time, 
and he asked therefore for twelve days more, which 
petition was refused. Then he asked that copies of 
the convictions against M'Moyer and his associates 
should be furnished to the Court, and even this reason- 
able request was refused. Having gone before the 
Court without counsel to plead, or any witnesses for 
his defence, thus handicapped the result was a fore- 
gone conclusion. 

The jury without delay came to their decision, and 
the foreman announcing guilty, Dr. Plunkett 
exclaimed " Deo gr alias (Thanks be to God)." On 
June I4th, when brought up again to receive judg- 
ment according to the verdict, Dr. Plunkett made a 
most powerful and moving speech in his defence, but 
to no purpose. He was sentenced to die the death 
of a traitor, and Friday, the nth of July, was the day 
fixed for the execution. With peace and calm Dr. 
Plunkett prepared himself to be somewhat worthy of 
the glorious privilege of dying a blessed Martyr. When 
Dr. Plunkett saw the sentence passed on him was final, 
and there was no hope of reprieve, he devoted his 
whole time and attention to the preparation for what 
he called " the great day," the day on which he would 
have the glorious privilege of dying for the faith. 

During the whole term of his imprisonment his con- 
sciousness of innocence sustained him and gave him a 

magnanimity of soul which made him 

Time spent in fearless of death. Thursday, the day 

Newgate Prison, before his execution, he devoted 

wholly to prayer, and to the minis- 


t rations of Dr. Corker, the good Benedictine Father, 
who was allowed to see him, and who no doubt gave 
him the Holy Viaticum, to strengthen and fortify his 
soul on its entrance into eternity. At n o'clock he 
retired to rest, and slept so soundly that his servant, 
who occupied the same room, was obliged to wake him 
up. Hence when Captain Richardson, the keeper of 
the prison, was asked by the Lieutenant of the Tower 
how this prisoner behaved, he replied, " Very well. 
When I came to him this morning he was newly awake, 
having slept all night without any disturbance, and when 
I told him he was to prepare for his execution, he 
received the message with all quietness of mind, and 
went to the Sledge as unconcerned as if he had been 
going to a wedding." And now all was ready. He 
took up his position on the Sledge, which was trailed 
along the ground and drawn by horses, and thus sur- 
rounded by a military guard, they set off for Tyburn. 

Along the route, on either side of the thoroughfare, 
there was a huge crowd ot spectators who crushed one 

another in order to catch a glimpse 

Journey from of the Traitor - Though only 52 years 

prison to Tyburn, 01 age, he appeared to be more than 

place of 70. The long imprisonment in 

Execution. i re i an d and England tended to weaken 

what at best was but a frail constitu- 
tion. The brows were wrinkled and the cheeks fur- 
rowed with care, but there was a glow of heavenly 
light over his features, that filled the beholders with 
awe and constrained them to look on in sullen silence. 
The children and young folk romped about, making 
their way through the crowd, talking and laughing 
and enjoying the excitement. But mingled with 
their voices, there was an occasional hoarse cry, some 
opprobrious epithet hurled at the one on the Sledge. 
The cry came from Anthony Daly and his associates, 
who once broke into the peaceful home of the Primate 
at midnight with the Tories, and threatened his Vicar- 
General and Secretary and held their swords at his 
throat. Here they are now come over from Ireland 
to swear away his life and hound him to death, and 
insult him grossly on the way to the scaffold. But he 
did not appear to mind, for of him it might be said, 
without irreverence, " he was ler 1 like a lamb to the 


slaughter." As the procession wended its way slowly, 
his thoughts could not help going back to the day, 
eleven years ago, when, standing at the door of the 
hospital in Rome, the saintly Polish priest said to him : 
" My Lord, you are now going to Ireland to shed your 
blood for the faith." " Ah, my son, this indeed is 
my ardent desire ; aid me by your prayers that I may 
be worthy of the honour." Yes, he longed to be 
dissolved and to be with Christ. He longed to give 
proof of his love by making the sacrifice of his life to 
God. " He had a baptism wherewith he was to be 
baptized, and how he was straitened until it was 
accomplished." The prayers he said along the way to 
Tyburn, were those he learned in his childhood and 
continued to say through his life, the prayer com- 
posed by Our Lord Himself, and the short prayer 
following which gives a brief account of the great 
mystery of His Incarnation, together with the brief 
formula of faith drawn up by those brave Soldiers of 
Christ, who laid down their lives in testimony of their 
love for the Master Whom they served. 

Having arrived at the place of execution, he advanced 
with fortitude, fearless of death, to the raised plat- 
form, and there for an hour addressed 

the vast crowd > with such P ower and 
unction, that the bowels of their mercy 

were opened, and they were moved to exclamations 
of pity and to tears. 

After his discourse he knelt down, and with eyes 
uplifted to Heaven he prayed for all his enemies, saying 
with Stephen; the first Martyr: "O Lord, lay not this 
sin to their charge," and then asking mercy for him- 
self in the words of the Psalmist, " Have mercy on me, 
O Lord, according to Thy great mercy, and according 
to the multitude of Thy tender mercies forgive me my 
sins." As he uttered the final ejaculation, " Into thy 
hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit," the bolt was 
drawn and his soul launched into eternity. 

The people did not remain to witness the further 
gruesome spectacle of the burning of his bowels or the 
cutting off his head, and drawing asunder and quar- 
tering his body, but going away deeply impressed they 
said, " Surely to God this was an innocent man." 

Permission was without difficulty obtained to collect 


the scattered members of his mangled body, and they 
were interred close by the remains oi 

His burial with Father Whitbread and his four corn- 
English Martyrs, panions, all Jesuit Fathers, who, two 
years before, laid down their lives as 
blessed Martyrs at Tyburn. 

And now when the Head of the Church has solemnly 
declared Oliver Plunkett a blessed Martyr, shall not 
our devotion to our martyred Primate be increased, 
and our confidence in his intercessory powers re- 
doubled. Already there is a grand monument to his 
memory in Oldcastle, his native parish, called the 
Oliver Plunkett Memorial Church. 

A similar one, but of more massive proportions and 
gorgeous style of architecture, has been furnished in 
St. Peter's, Drogheda, which had been one of the chief 
centres of his apostolic labours.* Further on to the 
East, in the parish of Termonfeckin, the site of the 
little hut where he dwelt is still pointed out, and the 
inhabitants cherish the memory of the orchard where 
he was wont to instruct the little children in the rudi- 
ments of faith, and the rude loft, formed of branches 
of trees, on which he used to seek concealment by day 
and repose by night. His beads are still preserved 
as a precious heirloom, by the descendants of his faith- 
ful servant, Patrick McKenna, to whom he gave them 
at the foot of the scaffold. 

His watch and ring are kept in the Castle of 
Dunsany by his friends there. His chalice is in 
St. Patrick's, Sydney, being committed to the care 
of the Superiors of the College by the late Cardinal 
Moran. His body and arms are in Downside, England, 
and his head is in the Sienna Convent, Drogheda ; 
and, better than all his memory is still fresh and 
green in the hearts of his countrymen all the world 

*The aforesaid Memorial Church, Drogheda, built by Mgr. 
Murphy, is how completed and tastefully decorated by Mgr. 
Segrave with every ornament befitting the House of God. A 
few years ago it was solemnly consecrated by Cardinal Logue, 
the preacher on the occasion being Dr. Glennon, Archbishop of 
St. Louis, and a native of the same diocese as our martyred 
Primate. Pictures of the two Memorial Churches will be found 
on the cover of this book. 

2d. Publications by Rev. J. A ooo 040 ooo 

The First Fridays. A Novena of Meditations and Prayers in honour 
of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. i5th edition (igoth thousand). 

Daily Mass. Or the Mystic Treasures of the Holy Sacrifice. 1 3th 
edition (i6oth thousand). 

Frequent and Daily Communion, nth edition (T40th thousand). 

The " Holy Hour." A Devotion in honour of the Sacred Heart, 
nth edition (tooth thousand). 

Scenes from the Passion, gth edition (goth thousand). 

Tales of the Blessed Sacrament. Parts I., II. ioth edition (goth 
thousand). Nt-w edition enlarged. 

Tales of the Blessed Sacrament. Parts HI., IV. ioth edition (goth 
thousand). Specially suited for First Communicants. 

A Happy Death. An explanation of the Confraternity of the Bona 
Mors. ioth edition (8oth thousand). 

St. Joseph. A Novena of Meditations in honour of the Foster-father 
of Jesus Christ, yth edition (/oth thousand). 

Our Lady. A Novena of Meditations on the principal Feasts of the 
Blessed Virgin Mary, yth edition (joth thousand). 

Our Lady of Dolours, yth edition (soth thousand). 
Nine Offices of the Sacred Heart. 4th edition (35th thousand). 
First Friday Meditations. Second Series. The Sacred Heart. 
4th edition (4oth thousand). 

First Friday Meditations. First Series. The Apostleship of Prayer. 
4th edition (35th thousand). 

Pentecost. A Novena of Meditations on the Holy Ghost. (In two 
separate Books.) and edition. 


Album of the Blessed Virgin Mary, yth edition (35th thousand). 
Price strongly bound copies, I/-, postage i^d. ; in handsome 
paper cover, 4d., postage, id. 

Daily Duties. 8th edition. Cloth, 1/6. Postage, 2d. 

The Litany of the Sacred Heart. Commentary and Meditations. 
Cloth, 4/- net. Post free, 4/3. 

Promises of the Sacred Heart. Commentary and Meditations. Cloth 
4/- net. Post free, 4/3. 

Meditations on the Sacred Heart. Three Novenas. Cloth, ^/-. 
Post free, 4/3. 

The Service of the Sacred Heart. Handsomely bound, z/-. 
Novena to the B.V.M. and St. Joseph. Cloth, gilt, 2/-. 
Half Hours with God. Handsomely bound. Cloth, gilt, 11- 
Postage on last three, 2d each. 

Catholic Church, Oldcastle (Oliver Plunket Memorial) 

St Peter's Church, Droglieda, Co. Loutb 
(Oliver Plunket Memorial)