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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Ussher, Primate of All Ireland

james-ussherJames Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is born in Dublin on January 4, 1581. He is best known for his massive compendium of ancient history, The Annals of the World, in which he attempts to calculate the number of years that had elapsed since creation.

Early in life Ussher is determined to pursue a career with the Church of England, a resolve quite similar to that of the Biblical Judge, Samuel.

A gifted polyglot, Ussher enters Dublin Free School and then the newly founded Trinity College, Dublin on January 9, 1594, at the age of thirteen (not an unusual age at the time). He receives his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600. In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon (and possibly priest on the same day) in the Protestant Church of Ireland by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

At the age of 26, Ussher becomes Professor and Chairman of the Department of Divinity at Dublin University, and he holds his professorship from 1609 to 1621. In 1625, he becomes Archbishop of Armagh, an office he apparently holds until his death. In 1628, King James I makes him a Privy Councillor.

Ussher is considered well-read and well-versed in history, a subject that soon becomes his primary focus. He writes several histories of the doings of the Irish and English churches dating back to Roman times. He also makes himself an expert in Semitic languages, an expertise that informs his argument in favor of the Masoretic Text of the Bible in preference to the Septuagint.

Ussher’s Confessions appear in 1643, followed in 1646 by his fifth work, Here I Stand. His most famous work, the dating of the creation as calculated from the Biblical record, appears in writing in the 1650s.

In 1656, Ussher goes to stay in the Countess of Peterborough’s house in Reigate, Surrey. On March 19, he feels a sharp pain in his side after supper and takes to his bed. His symptoms seem to have been those of a severe internal haemorrhage. Two days later, on March 21, 1656, he dies at the age of 75. His last words are reported as: “O Lord, forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” His body is embalmed and is to have been buried in Reigate, but at Oliver Cromwell‘s insistence he was given a state funeral on April 17 and was buried in the chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.

Ussher’s extensive library of manuscripts, many of them Middle Eastern originals, become part of the collection at Dublin University.

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Birth of William King, Archbishop of Dublin

william-kingWilliam King, Anglican divine in the Church of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin from 1703 to 1729, is born in County Antrim on May 1, 1650. He is an author and supports the Glorious Revolution. He has considerable political influence in Ireland, including for a time what amounts to a veto on judicial appointments.

King is educated at The Royal School, Dungannon, County Tyrone, and thereafter at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating BA on 23 February 23, 1670 and MA in 1673.

On October 25, 1671, King is ordained a deacon as chaplain to John Parker, Archbishop of Tuam, and on July 14, 1673 Parker gives him the prebend of Kilmainmore, County Mayo. King, who lives as part of Parker’s household, is ordained a priest on April 12, 1674.

King’s support of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 serves to advance his position. He becomes Bishop of Derry in 1691. His years as a bishop are marked by reform and the building of churches and glebe houses, and by the dispensing of charity. His political influence is considerable. He is always consulted on judicial appointments and at times seems to have an effective veto over candidates he considers unsuitable.

He is advanced to the position of Archbishop of Dublin in 1703, a post he holds until his death. He gives £1,000 for the founding of “Archbishop King’s Professorship of Divinity” at Trinity College in 1718. His influence declines after the appointment of Hugh Boulter as Archbishop of Armagh in 1724.

William King dies in May 1729. Much of his correspondence survives and provides a historic resource for the study of the Ireland of his time.


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Birth of Clergyman Narcissus Marsh

narcissus-marshNarcissus Marsh, English clergyman who is successively Church of Ireland Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, Archbishop of Cashel, Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh, is born on December 20, 1638, at Hannington, Wiltshire.

Marsh is educated at Magdalen Hall, Hertford College, Oxford. He later becomes a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1658. In 1662 he is ordained, and presented to the living of Swindon, which he resigns in the following year.

After acting as chaplain to Seth Ward, Bishop of Exeter and then Bishop of Salisbury, and Lord Chancellor Clarendon, he is elected principal of St. Alban Hall, Oxford, in 1673. In 1679 he is appointed provost of Trinity College, Dublin, where he does much to encourage the study of the Irish language. He helps to found the Dublin Philosophical Society, and contributes to it a paper entitled Introductory Essay to the Doctrine of Sounds (printed in Philosophical Transactions, No. 156, Oxford, 1684).

In 1683 Marsh is consecrated Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, but after the accession of James II he is compelled by the turbulent soldiery to flee to England in 1689, when he becomes Vicar of Gresford, Flintshire, and Canon of St. Asaph. Returning to Ireland in 1691 after the Battle of the Boyne, he is made Archbishop of Cashel, and three years later he becomes Archbishop of Dublin. About this time he founds Marsh’s Library in Dublin, which is the oldest public library in Ireland. He becomes Archbishop of Armagh in 1703. Between 1699 and 1711 he is six times a Lord Justice of Ireland.

Narcissus Marsh dies on November 2, 1713. His funeral oration is pronounced by his successor at Dublin, Archbishop William King. A more acerbic account is provided by Jonathan Swift.

Many oriental manuscripts belonging to Narcissus Marsh are now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.


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Birth of Cardinal Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich

Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich, Irish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, is born in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, on November 3, 1923. He serves as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1977 until his death. He is created a Cardinal in 1979.

Ó Fiaich is ordained a priest on July 6, 1948. He spends his first year of ordination as assistant priest in Clonfeacle parish. He undertakes post-graduate studies at University College, Dublin, (1948–50), receiving a Master of Arts (MA) in early and medieval Irish history. He also studies at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, (1950–52), receiving a licentiate in historical sciences.

In 1952 Ó Fiaich returns to Clonfeacle where he remains as assistant priest until the following summer and his appointment to the faculty of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is an academic and noted Irish language scholar, folklorist and historian in the Pontifical University in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary of Ireland. From 1959 to 1974 he is Professor of Modern Irish History at the college. In this capacity he suggests to Nollaig Ó Muraíle that he begin research on Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and his works. He “was an inspired lecturer, an open and endearing man, who was loved by his students… Tomas O’Fiaich was my Good Samaritan.”

Ó Fiaich serves as vice president of the college from 1970 to 1974 and is then appointed college president, a post that traditionally precedes appointment to an episcopal position in the Irish Church. He holds this position until 1977.

Following the relatively early death from cancer of Cardinal William Conway in April 1977, Monsignor Ó Fiaich is appointed Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Paul VI on August 18, 1977. He is consecrated bishop on October 2, 1977. The principal consecrator is the papal nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi. The principal co-consecrators are Bishop Francis Lenny, the auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, and Bishop William Philbin, the Bishop of Down and Connor. Pope John Paul II raises Ó Fiaich to the cardinalate on June 30, 1979, and he is appointed Cardinal-Priest of S. Patrizio that same day.

Ó Fiaich dies of a heart attack on the evening of May 8, 1990 while leading the annual pilgrimage by the Archdiocese of Armagh to the Marian shrine of Lourdes in France. He arrives in France the day before and complains of feeling ill shortly after saying Mass at the grotto in the French town. He is rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Toulouse, 125 miles away, where he dies. He lies in state at the cathedral in Armagh, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects.

Ó Fiaich is succeeded as archbishop and cardinal by a man six years his senior, Cahal Daly, then the Bishop of Down and Connor.


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Birth of Cardinal Patrick Joseph O’Donnell

patrick-joseph-odonnellPatrick Joseph O’Donnell, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, is born in Glenties, County Donegal, on November 28, 1856. He serves as Archbishop of Armagh from 1924 until his death, and is elevated to the cardinalate in 1925.

O’Donnell, son of Daniel O’Donnell, a farmer, and his wife, Mary (née Breslin), is one of nine children in a family that claim descent from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell. He is educated in the High School, Letterkenny, the Catholic University, Dublin, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1880. In that same year he is appointed to the staff of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, holding the chairs of Dogmatic and Moral Theology. In 1884 he becomes dean of the revived post-graduate Dunboyne Institute and in 1885 is awarded his STD. From his desk in Maynooth he pours out a continuous stream of articles on moral theology and canon law.

O’Donnell becomes Bishop of Raphoe on February 26, 1888, and is consecrated by Cardinal Michael Logue on April 3 in Letterkenny. With superior qualities of mind and body, he is a benign figure who is yet gifted with sharp political acumen. He has the most distinguished episcopate, locally and nationally. He undertakes and completes prodigious building projects including a superbly-sited neo-gothic cathedral, St. Eunan’s Diocesan College, and the Presentation Monastery and Loreto schools and an extension to Loreto Convent, all in Letterkenny.

He is appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh on January 14, 1922 and succeeds Cardinal Logue on November 19, 1924. On December 14, 1925, Pope Pius XI makes O’Donnell a Cardinal.

O’Donnell takes an active part in the social, political, and economic life of Ireland. A staunch activist for social justice, as Bishop of Raphoe, he is a member of the first Committee of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, founded by Sir Horace Plunkett. In 1918, when representing the nationalist’s side at the Irish Convention, he opposes John Redmond‘s amendment intended to bring about unanimity on All-Ireland Home Rule.

Cardinal O’Donnell dies on October 22, 1927 in Carlingford, County Louth. The St. Connell’s Museum in his home town of Glenties has a display about his life.


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Founding of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome

pontifical-irish-collegeThe Pontifical Irish College, a Roman Catholic seminary for the training and education of priests, is founded in Rome, Italy, on November 6, 1628.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII sanctions the foundation of an Irish college in Rome, and assigns a large sum of money as the nucleus of an endowment. However the pressing needs of the Irish chieftains make him think that, under the circumstances, the money might as well be used for religion by supplying the Irish Catholics with the sinews of war in Ireland as by founding a college for them at Rome.

The project is revived in 1625 by the Irish bishops, in an address to Pope Urban VIII. Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who is Cardinal Protector of Ireland, resolves to realize at his own expense the desire expressed to the pope by the Irish bishops. A house is rented opposite Sant’Isodoro a Capo le Case and six students go into residence January 1, 1628. Eugene Callanan, Archdeacon of Cashel, is the first rector, Father Luke Wadding, OFM being a sort of supervisor. Cardinal Ludovisi dies in 1632 and as he is of a princely family with a large patrimony, he makes provision in his will for the college. It is to have an income of one thousand crowns a year, a house is to be purchased for it, and he leaves a vineyard as Castel Gandolfo where the students might pass their villeggiatura. The cardinal’s will directs that the college should be placed under the charge of the Jesuits. Both the heirs and Wadding suspect that provision and disputed it. A protracted lawsuit is finally decided in 1635 in favour of the Jesuits.

On February 8, 1635, the Jesuits take charge of the college and govern it until financial difficulties force them to give up control in September 1772. An Italian priest, Abbate Luigi Cuccagni, is made rector. The rectorate of Cuccagni comes to an end in 1798, when the college is closed by order of Napoleon.

Dr. Michael Blake, Bishop of Dromore, who is the last student to leave the college at its dissolution in 1798, returns a quarter of a century later to arrange for its revival, which is effected by a brief of Pope Leo XII, dated February 18, 1826. He becomes the first rector of the restored college, and among the first students who seek admission is Francis Mahoney of Cork, known to the literary world as Father Prout. Having set the college well to work, Blake returns to Ireland and is succeeded by Dr. Boylan, of Maynooth, who soon resigns and dies in 1830. He is succeeded by a young priest, later Cardinal Paul Cullen.

Dr. Cullen is succeeded by Dr. Tobias Kirby, known for his holiness of life. He governs the college for more than forty years. His successor is Michael Kelly, later coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney.

In 2011, under orders from Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, leads a root and branch review of all structures and processes at the college. He is assisted in the visitation report by then Archbishop of Baltimore and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and Msgr. Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome. The report is highly critical of the college and, as a result of which, three Irish members of the staff are sent home and a fourth resigns.

In 2012, four Irish archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, and Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel, are sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican. A response prepared for them says “a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report.”

Today the Pontifical Irish College serves as a residence for clerical students from all over the world. Every year over 250 Irish couples choose the college chapel as a means to marry in Rome. It organises events for the Irish and wider international community who are currently residing in Rome and has over the years become an unofficial centre for Irish visitors to Rome seeking advice and information.


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Canonisation of Sir Oliver Plunkett

oliver-plunkettSir Oliver Plunkett is canonised in Rome by Pope Paul VI on October 12, 1975, the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625, in Loughcrew, County Meath, to parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunkett, the first Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath. As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) has defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years so he petitions to remain in Rome. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669, he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent. He returns to Ireland on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration.

Plunkett sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy. The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670, which becomes the first Catholic-Protestant integrated school in Ireland.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. Plunkett goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refuses to leave his flock.

Plunkett is arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. The trial soon collapses as the prosecution witnesses are themselves wanted men and afraid to appear in court. Plunkett is moved to Newgate Prison in London in order to face trial at Westminster Hall. The first grand jury finds no true bill, but he is not released. The second trial is generally regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice as Plunkett is denied defending counsel.

Archbishop Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Plunkett is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. His head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where it has rested in St. Peter’s Church since June 29, 1921. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe.