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


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Birth of Sir Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh

oliver-plunkettSir Oliver Plunkett,  Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who was the last victim of the Popish Plot, is born on November 1, 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, to parents of Hiberno-Norman ancestors.

Until his sixteenth year, Plunkett’s 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, he 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.

Sir 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.


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Death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

tomas-o-fiaichRoman Catholic Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh and an ardent Irish nationalist, dies of cardiac arrest in a hospital at Toulouse, France at the age of 66 on May 8, 1990 after falling ill on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

Ó Fiaich is born Thomas Fee on November 3, 1923 in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, within sight of the border with the Republic of Ireland. He changes his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments develop.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in both Belfast and Dublin, says Ó Fiaich had appeared unwell to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is admitted first to a hospital in Lourdes, then flown by helicopter to Toulouse. Philippe Giovanni, director of the Rangueil Hospital there, says the cardinal died of a brutal cardiac arrest soon after being admitted.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, Ó Fiaich, whose name is pronounced O’Fee, also castigates the violence of the Irish Republican Army, the predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army that seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics in in 1977. Two years later Pope John Paul II makes him one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

Tributes to Ó Fiaich poured in from some both sides of the Irish border. In Dublin, Taoiseach Charles Haughey says he is “devastated, … deeply grieved.” Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Peter Brooke, also expresses sadness. “We did not always agree about everything, but he treated me with the greatest possible courtesy, friendliness and warmth.”

However hardline Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party says Ó Fiaich is “the mallet of Rome against the Protestants of Northern Ireland.” He claims Ó Fiaich had “made an outrageous statement that the majority of bigotry in Ulster stemmed from the Protestant section of the community” and added, “He did not seem to realize that the IRA, which is carrying out the most atrocious of outrages … were the people who needed to be indicted with bigotry.”

In Belfast, Ulster Television suspends scheduled programs for an hour and airs a religious program and a news program about the cardinal.

Ó Fiaich retains close ties to Armagh, which had been dubbed “bandit country” because of the IRA activity. From the time he becomes primate, he speaks publicly of his wishes for a united Ireland. He visits IRA guerrillas in jail, calls the British Army’s fatal shooting of an Irish civilian murder, and says the border dividing Ireland is “unnatural.”

Following his death, Ó Fiaich lies in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects.

(From: AP News, apnews.com, May 8, 1990)


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Desmond Connell Created Cardinal-Priest by John Paul II

desmond-connellDesmond Connell is created Cardinal-Priest by Pope John Paul II at the Consistory in Rome on February 21, 2001. He becomes the first Archbishop of Dublin in over 100 years to be installed as a Cardinal. A large Irish contingent from Church and State, along with family and friends of the Cardinal, attend the installation which for the first time takes place at the front of the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Connell is born in Dublin on March 24, 1926. He is educated at St. Peter’s National School, Phibsborough and the Jesuit Fathers’ second level school, Belvedere College, and studies for the priesthood at Holy Cross College. He later studies Arts at University College Dublin (UCD) and graduates with a BA in 1946 and is awarded an MA the following year. Between 1947 and 1951, he studies theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth for a Bachelor of Divinity.

Connell is ordained priest by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid on May 19, 1951. He takes up a teaching post at the Department of Metaphysics at the University College Dublin. He is appointed Professor of General Metaphysics in 1972 and in 1983 becomes the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology. The College’s Department of Metaphysics is abolished after his departure.

Connell is appointed Archbishop of Dublin by the Holy See in early 1988. He is consecrated at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin on March 6, 1988. He is created Cardinal-Priest by Pope John Paul II at the Consistory in Rome on February 21, 2001 with the Titulus S. Silvestri in Capite. Archbishops of Armagh, who hold the higher title of Primate of All Ireland, are more frequently appointed Cardinal than Archbishops of Dublin. The last Archbishop of Dublin to have been a cardinal is Cardinal Edward MacCabe, who was appointed in 1882.

On April 26, 2004, Connell retires as archbishop, handing the diocese to the coadjutor bishop, Diarmuid Martin. All bishops submit their resignation to the Pope on their 75th birthday. Connell’s is accepted shortly after his 78th birthday.

Connell is one of the cardinal electors who participates in the 2005 papal conclave that selects Pope Benedict XVI. Connell is considered quite close to Pope Benedict, both theologically and personally, both having served together on a number of congregations. He attends the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in June 2012 and concelebrates at the Statio Orbis Mass in Croke Park.

It is Connell’s failure, when Archbishop of Dublin in 1988–2004, to address adequately the abuse scandals in Dublin that lead the Vatican to assign Archbishop Martin as his replacement in the country’s largest diocese. The Murphy Report finds that Connell had handled the affair “badly” as he was “slow to recognise the seriousness of the situation.” It does praise him for making the archdiocesan records available to the authorities in 2002 and for his 1995 actions in giving the authorities the names of 17 priests who had been accused of abuse, although it says the list is incomplete as complaints were made against at least 28 priests in the Archdiocese.

From 1988 Connell also continues to insure his archdiocese against liability from complainants, while claiming to the Murphy Commission that the archdiocese is “on a learning curve” in regard to child abuse. He arranges for compensation payments to be made from a “Stewardship Trust” that is kept secret from the archdiocese’s parishioners until 2003. In 1996 he refuses to help a victim of Paul McGennis and does not pass on what he knows about McGennis to her, or to the police. He apologises for this in 2002.

Desmond Connell dies in Dublin at the age of 90 on February 21, 2017, exactly sixteen years after his creation as Cardinal.


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Birth of Lionel Cranfield Sackville, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

lionel-cranfield-sackvilleLionel Cranfield Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset, English political leader and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is born in Dorset, United Kingdom on January 18, 1688.

Sackville is the son of Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset and 1st Earl of Middlesex, and the former Lady Mary Compton, younger daughter of James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton. Styled Lord Buckhurst from birth, he succeeds his father as 7th Earl of Dorset and 2nd Earl of Middlesex in 1706, and is created Duke of Dorset in 1720.

Perhaps because he had been on a previous diplomatic mission to Hanover, Sackville is chosen to inform George I of his accession to the Crown in August 1714. George I initially favours him and numerous offices and honours are given to him: Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter, Groom of the Stool, Lord Steward, Governor of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. At George I’s coronation he carries the sceptre. At the coronation of George II he is Lord High Steward and carries St. Edward’s Crown. He quarrels with the King in 1717 and is told his services are no longer required, but he is made a Duke three years later.

Sackville serves twice as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, from 1731 to 1737 and again from 1751 to 1755. In 1739, at the foundation of the Foundling Hospital, he is one of that charity’s original governors. His first term as Lord Lieutenant is uneventful. His second takes place at a time of acute political tension between the two main factions in the Irish Government, one led by Henry Boyle, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, the other by George Stone, the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh. Sackville, now heavily influenced by his son George Sackville, makes the mistake of openly backing the Archbishop. He is unable to oust Boyle from power, and is accused of being the Archbishop’s tool. He becomes extremely unpopular, leading to his eventual recall.

Sackville’s last years are uneventful, apart from a riot in 1757 caused by the passage of the Militia Act to raise an army for the Seven Years’ War, in which he narrowly escapes injury. He dies at Knole, a country house in west Kent, on October 9, 1765 and is buried at Withyham in East Sussex.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas Portrait of Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset (1688-1765) by Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), 1719, currently displayed at Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London)


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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.