seamus dubhghaill

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


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Execution of Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Oilibhéar Pluincéid), Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who is the last victim of the Popish Plot, is executed in Tyburn, London, England, on July 1, 1681. He is beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 (earlier biographers give his date of birth as November 1, 1629, but 1625 has been the consensus since the 1930s) in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. A grandson of James Plunket, 8th Baron Killeen (c. 1542-1595), he is related by birth to a number of landed families, such as the recently ennobled Earls of Roscommon, as well as the long-established Earls of Fingall, Lords Louth, and Lords Dunsany. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunket, 1st 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, under the care of Father Pierfrancesco Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. At this time the Irish Confederate Wars are raging in Ireland. These are essentially conflicts between native Irish Catholics, English and Irish Anglicans and Nonconformists. Scarampi is the Papal envoy to the Catholic movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. Many of Plunkett’s relatives are involved in this organisation.

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 (1649–53) had defeated the Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath the public practice of Catholicism is banned and Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitions to remain in Rome and, in 1657, becomes a professor of theology. Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II‘s reign, he successfully pleads the cause of the Irish Catholic Church, and also serves as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669 he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent, Eugeen-Albert, count d’Allamont. He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the Stuart Restoration of 1660 had begun on a basis of toleration. The pallium is granted him in the Consistory of July 28, 1670.

After arriving back in Ireland, Plunkett tackles drunkenness among the clergy, writing, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint.” The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attend the college, no fewer than 40 of whom are Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry is a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics over a four-year period. The government in Dublin, especially under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (the Protestant son of Catholic parents), extend a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. He goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he is largely left in peace since the Dublin government, except when put under pressure from the English government in London, prefer to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Catholic action. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock. He is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gives absolution to the dying Talbot. 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. Though this is unproven, some in government circles are worried about the possibility that a repetition of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 is being planned and, in any case, this is a convenient excuse for proceeding against Plunkett.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Numerous pleas for mercy are made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thinks it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett.

Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, 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. The head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where since June 29, 1921 it has rested in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his canonization in 1975 his casket is opened and some parts of his body given to the St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.


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Thomas “Silken Thomas” FitzGerald Confronts King Henry VIII

Thomas FitzGerald, Lord Offaly at the time, known as “Silken Thomas” because of the silk worn on his followers’ helmets, rides through Dublin with a large band of followers on June 11, 1534, as he has heard the false rumour spread by Henry VIII that his father, Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, has been executed in the Tower of London. He enters the Chapter House of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, where the King’s Counsel is awaiting him and flings down his Sword of State. This is a dramatic act of defiance, by which he hopes to force his claim to power. Henry VIII treats it as an act of open revolt and confines his father to the Tower where he dies two months later.

FitzGerald is born in London in 1513, the son of Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare and his first wife Elizabeth Zouche, who is a distant cousin of Henry VII.

In February 1534, FitzGerald’s father is summoned to London and appoints his then 21-year-old son deputy governor of Ireland in his absence. In June 1534 FitzGerald hears rumours that his father has been executed in the Tower of London and that the English government intends the same fate for himself and his uncles.

FitzGerald summons the council to St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, and on June 11, 1534, accompanied by 140 armoured gallowglasses with silk fringes on their helmets, rides to the abbey and publicly renounces his allegiance to his cousin King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland.

The Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, John Alen, attempts to persuade FitzGerald not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding. The young lord’s harper, however, understanding only Irish, and seeing signs of wavering in FitzGerald’s bearing, commences to recite a poem in praise of the deeds of his ancestors, telling him at the same time that he lingers there too long. Roused by this he throws down the sword of state and rushes from the hall, followed by his adherents. The council sends an order for his immediate arrest to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who does not have sufficient force at his disposal.

The Earl of Desmond and many of FitzGerald’s father’s oldest and best friends reason with him but he is not to be turned from his purpose. As Vice-Deputy, he has under his control most of the Pale‘s fortresses and large government stores.

Dublin Castle alone holds out for the King of England. FitzGerald calls the lords of the Pale to the siege of the Castle. Those who refuse to swear fidelity to him are sent as prisoners to his Maynooth Castle. Goods and chattels belonging to the King’s subjects he declares forfeited, and he announces his intention of exiling or putting to death all born in England. He sends messengers to his cousin and friend Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, offering to divide the kingdom with him if he will join his cause, but Butler refuses. Several children of the citizens of Dublin in different parts of the Pale are seized as hostages for the good behavior of the city.

In July, FitzGerald attacks Dublin Castle, but his army is routed. He is, rightly or wrongly, judged to be responsible for the execution at Artane of Archbishop Alen, who had tried to mediate. This loses him support from the clergy. According to a long-established tradition, the killers, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, misunderstand his order, given in Irish, to “take this fellow away” as an order to kill Alen. By this time his father has taken ill and died in London, and he has technically succeeded as 10th Earl, but the Crown never confirms his title. He retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth Castle, but in March 1535 this is taken by an English force under Sir William Skeffington by bribing a guard, while Thomas is absent gathering reinforcements to relieve it. The surrendered garrison is put to death, which becomes known as the “Maynooth Pardon.” FitzGerald has wrongly assumed that his cause would attract overwhelming support, in particular from Catholics opposed to Henry VIII’s English Reformation. But Henry’s new policy also outlaws Lutheranism, and so Henry is not finally excommunicated until 1538.

In July, Lord Leonard Grey arrives from England as Lord Deputy of Ireland. FitzGerald, seeing his army melting away and his allies submitting one by one, asks for pardon for his offences. He is still a formidable opponent, and Grey, wishing to avoid a prolonged conflict, guarantees his personal safety and persuades him to submit unconditionally to the King’s mercy. According to the Tree Council of Ireland, legend has it that FitzGerald plays a lute under the boughs of the now oldest planted tree in Ireland, the Silken Thomas Yew, the night before he surrenders to King Henry VIII.

In October 1535, FitzGerald is sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. The Attainder of the Earl of Kildare Act 1536 is passed to permit his execution and the confiscation of his property. Despite Grey’s guarantee, he is executed with his five uncles at Tyburn, London, on February 3, 1537. The 1536 Act remains law until it is repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005.

FitzGerald’s revolt causes Henry to pay more attention to Irish matters, and is a factor in the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541. In particular the powers of the lords deputy are curbed, and policies such as surrender and regrant are introduced. To provide for greater security the Royal Irish Army is established as a standing army.


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Birth of Thomas William Croke, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly

Thomas William Croke, the second Catholic Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand (1870–74) and later Archbishop of Cashel and Emly in Ireland, is born in Castlecor, County Cork, on May 28, 1824. He is important in the Irish nationalist movement especially as a Champion of the Irish National Land League in the 1880s. The main Gaelic Athletic Association stadium in Dublin is named Croke Park in his honour.

Croke is educated in Charleville, County Cork, the Irish College in Paris and the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, winning academic distinctions including a doctorate of divinity with honours. He is ordained in May 1847. Returning to Ireland for a short time he is appointed a Professor in St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. The Irish radical William O’Brien says that Croke fought on the barricades in Paris during the French Revolution of 1848. Croke returns to Ireland and spends the next 23 years working there. In 1858 he becomes the first president of St. Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork and then serves as both parish priest of Doneraile and Vicar General of Cloyne diocese from 1866 to 1870. Croke attends the First Vatican Council as the theologian to the Bishop of Cloyne 1870.

Croke gains the good opinion of the Irish ecclesiastical authorities and is rewarded in 1870 by his promotion to Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand. His former professor, Paul Cullen, by then Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin, is largely responsible for filling the Australasian Catholic church with fellow Irishmen. His strong recommendations lead to Croke’s appointment. Croke arrives at Auckland on December 17, 1870 on the City of Melbourne. During his three years as bishop he restores firm leadership to a diocese left in disarray by his predecessor, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier. He devotes some of his considerable personal wealth to rebuilding diocesan finances and also takes advantage of Auckland’s economic growth following the development of the Thames goldfields to further his aims, ensuring that all surplus income from parishes at Thames and Coromandel is passed on to him, and he institutes a more rigorous system for the Sunday collection at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He imports Irish clergy to serve the growing Catholic community, and with Patrick Moran, the first Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Dunedin, he tries unsuccessfully to secure an Irish monopoly on future episcopal appointments in New Zealand. Croke supports separate Catholic schools and their right to state aid, and voices his opposition to secular education as Auckland’s Catholic schools are threatened by the provincial council’s Education Act 1872, which helps to create a free, secular and compulsory education system. However, generally, Croke’s image is uncontroversial. On January 28, 1874, after barely three years in office, Croke departs for Europe, on what is ostensibly a 12-month holiday and he does not return to New Zealand.

Croke becomes a member of the Irish hierarchy when he is translated to be Archbishop of Cashel, one of the four Catholic Irish archbishoprics in 1875. Archbishop Croke is a strong supporter of Irish nationalism, aligning himself with the Irish National Land League during the Land War, and with the chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Charles Stewart Parnell. In an 1887 interview he explains that he had opposed the League’s “No rent manifesto” in 1881, preferring to stop payment of all taxes.

Croke also associates himself with the Temperance Movement of Fr. Theobald Mathew and Gaelic League from its foundation in 1893. Within Catholicism he is a supporter of Gallicanism, as opposed to the Ultramontanism favoured by the Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Cullen. His support of nationalism causes successive British governments and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland‘s governments in Dublin to be deeply suspicious of him, as are some less politically aligned Irish bishops.

Following the scandal that erupts over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of fellow MP Captain William O’Shea, Archbishop Croke withdraws from active participation in nationalist politics.

Thomas Croke, 78, dies at the Archbishop’s Palace in Thurles, County Tipperary on July 22, 1902. He is buried at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles. In honour of Croke, his successors as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly traditionally are asked to throw in the ball at the minor Gaelic football and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship finals.


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Birth of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin

Daniel Murray, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, is born on April 18, 1768 at Sheepwalk, near Arklow, County Wicklow.

Murray is the son of Thomas and Judith Murray, who are farmers. At the age of eight he goes to Thomas Betagh‘s school at Saul’s Court, near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. At sixteen, Archbishop John Carpenter sends him to the Irish College at Salamanca, completing his studies at the University of Salamanca. He is ordained priest in 1792 at the age of twenty-four.

After some years as curate at St. Paul’s Church in Dublin, Murray is transferred to Arklow, and is there in 1798 when the rebellion breaks out. The yeomanry shoot the parish priest in bed and Murray, to escape a similar fate, flees to the city where for two years he serves as curate at St. Andrew’s Chapel on Hawkins Street. As a preacher, he is said to be particularly effective, especially in appeals for charitable causes, such as the schools. He is then assigned to the Chapel of St. Mary in Upper Liffey Street where Archbishop John Troy is the parish priest.

In 1809, at the request of Archbishop Troy, Murray is appointed coadjutor bishop, and consecrated on November 30, 1809. In 1811 he is made Administrator of St. Andrew’s. That same year he helps Mary Aikenhead establish the Religious Sisters of Charity. While coadjutor he fills for one year the position of president of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Murray is an uncompromising opponent of a proposal granting the British government a “veto” over Catholic ecclesiastical appointments in Ireland, and in 1814 and 1815, makes two separate trips to Rome concerning the controversy.

Murray becomes Archbishop of Dublin in 1825 and on November 14, 1825 celebrates the completion of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. He enjoys the confidence of successive popes, and is held in high respect by the British government. His life is mainly devoted to ecclesiastical affairs, the establishment and organisation of religious associations for the education and relief of the poor. With the outbreak of cholera in the 1830s, in 1834 he and Mother Aikenhead found St. Vincent’s Hospital. He persuades Edmund Rice to send members of the Christian Brothers to Dublin to start a school for boys. The first is opened in a lumber yard on the City-quay. He assists Catherine McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1831 professes the first three members.

Edward Bouverie Pusey has an interview with Murray in 1841, and bears testimony to his moderation, and John Henry Newman has some correspondence with him prior to Newman’s conversion from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. A seat in the privy council at Dublin, officially offered to him in 1846, is not accepted. He takes part in the synod of the Roman Catholic clergy at Thurles in 1850.

Towards the end of his life, Murray’s eyesight is impaired, and he reads and writes with difficulty. Among his last priestly functions is a funeral service for Richard Lalor Sheil who had died in Italy, and whose body had been brought back to Ireland for burial. Murray dies in Dublin on February 26, 1852, at the age of eighty-four. He is interred in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, where a marble statue of him has been erected in connection with a monument to his memory, executed by James Farrell, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Fine Arts.

(Pictured: Portrait of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, by unknown 19th century Irish portrait painter)


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Execution of Lord “Silken” Thomas FitzGerald

Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, also known as Silken Thomas, a leading figure in 16th-century Irish history, is executed along with his five uncles in Tyburn, England, on February 3, 1537.

FitzGerald is born in London in 1513, the son of Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, and his first wife Elizabeth Zouche, who is a distant cousin of Henry VII of England.

In February 1534, his father is summoned to London and appoints the 21-year-old FitzGerald, by then Lord Offaly, deputy governor of Ireland in his absence. In June 1534 he hears rumours that his father has been executed in the Tower of London and that the English government intends the same fate for him and his uncles.

FitzGerald summons the council to St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, and on June 11, accompanied by 140 armoured gallowglasses with silk fringes on their helmets (from which he gets his nickname), rides to the abbey and publicly renounces his allegiance to his cousin King Henry VIII, Lord of Ireland.

John Alen, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, attempts to persuade FitzGerald not to commit himself to such a rash proceeding. But the young lord’s harper, understanding only Irish, and seeing signs of wavering in FitzGerald’s bearing, commences to recite a poem in praise of the deeds of his ancestors, telling him at the same time that he lingered there too long. Roused by this he throws down the sword of state and rushes from the hall, followed by his adherents. The council sends an order for his immediate arrest to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who, however, has not sufficient force at his disposal.

The Earl of Desmond and many of FitzGerald’s father’s oldest and best friends reason with him, but he is not to be turned from his purpose. As Vice-Deputy, he has under his control most of the Pale‘s fortresses, and large government stores.

Dublin Castle alone holds out for the King of England. Lord Offaly calls the lords of the Pale to the siege of the Castle. Those who refuse to swear fidelity to him are sent as prisoners to his Maynooth Castle. Goods and chattels belonging to the King’s subjects are declared forfeited, and he announces his intention of exiling or putting to death all born in England. He sends messengers to his cousin and friend Lord Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, offering to divide the kingdom with him if he would join his cause, but Butler refuses. Several children of the citizens of Dublin in different parts of the Pale are seized as hostages for the good behavior of the city.

In July, FitzGerald attacks Dublin Castle, but his army is routed. He is, rightly or wrongly, judged to be responsible for the execution at Artane of Archbishop Alen, who had tried to mediate. This loses him support from the clergy. According to a long-established tradition, the killers, John Teeling and Nicholas Wafer, misunderstand his order, given in Irish, to “take this fellow away” as an order to kill Alen. By this time his father has taken ill and died in London, and he succeeds him as 10th Earl of Kildare, but the Crown never confirms his title. He retreats to his stronghold at Maynooth Castle, but in March 1535 it is taken by an English force under Sir William Skeffington by bribing a guard, while FitzGerald is absent gathering reinforcements to relieve it. The surrendered garrison is put to death, which becomes known as the “Maynooth Pardon.” He has wrongly assumed that his cause would attract overwhelming support, in particular from Catholics opposed to Henry VIII’s English Reformation. But Henry’s new policy also outlaws Lutheranism, and so Henry is not finally excommunicated until 1538.

In July, Lord Leonard Grey arrives from England as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Fitzgerald, seeing his army melting away and his allies submitting one by one, asks for pardon for his offences. He is still a formidable opponent, and Grey, wishing to avoid a prolonged conflict, guarantees his personal safety and persuades him to submit unconditionally to the King’s mercy. According to the Tree Council of Ireland, legend has it that FitzGerald plays a lute under the boughs of the now oldest planted tree in Ireland, the Silken Thomas Yew, the night before he surrenders to King Henry VIII. In October 1535 he is sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. Despite Grey’s guarantee, he is hanged, drawn, and quartered with his five uncles at Tyburn, London, on February 3, 1537.

The Attainder of the Earl of Kildare Act 1536 is passed to permit his execution and the confiscation of his property. The 1536 Act remains law until it is repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005.

FitzGerald’s revolt causes Henry VIII to pay more attention to Irish matters, and is a factor in the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541. In particular the powers of the lords deputy are curbed, and policies such as surrender and regrant are introduced. To provide for greater security the Royal Irish Army is established as a standing army.


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Birth of William John Conway, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

William John Cardinal Conway, Irish cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 until his death, is born on January 22, 1913 in Belfast.

Conway is the eldest of four sons and five daughters of Patrick Joseph Conway and Annie Conway (née Donnelly). His father, a self-employed house-painter, also has a paint shop in Kent Street off Royal Avenue. His mother, who survives her son, is born in Carlingford, County Louth. He attends Boundary Street Primary School, St. Mary’s CBS (now St. Mary’s CBGS Belfast). His academic successes are crowned by a scholarship to Queen’s University Belfast. He decides to study for the diocesan priesthood. In 1933 he is conferred with an honours BA in English literature, and goes on to read a distinguished course in theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway is ordained on June 20, 1937 and awarded a DD (1938). On November 12, 1938 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and in 1941 he receives the DCL degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When Italy enters World War II in June 1940 he returns to Belfast to take up duty in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is appointed to teach English and Latin in St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, but after one year he is named professor of moral theology and canon law in Maynooth. He contributes regular ‘Canon law replies’ to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which are later collected as Problems in canon law (1950), the only book published by him.

In 1957 Conway becomes vice-president of Maynooth, and in 1958, he is named Ireland’s youngest bishop, Titular Bishop of Neve, and auxiliary bishop to Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is consecrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on July 27, 1958. He serves as administrator of St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, for the next five years, gaining valuable pastoral experience, and also uses these years to familiarise himself with his new diocese, especially its geography. On the death of D’Alton, he is chosen to succeed him in September 1963, and is enthroned on September 25 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sensi. At the end of 1964, Pope Paul VI chooses him as Ireland’s seventh residential cardinal, and he receives the red hat in the public consistory of February 22, 1965.

The thirteen-odd years of Conway’s ministry as primate are dominated firstly by the Second Vatican Council and secondly by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His primary concern is the church, to steer it through testing times. He is a very active bishop in a diocese of 160,000 Catholics, with fifty-seven parishes and some 167 priests. He carries the burden alone until 1974 when he is given an auxiliary in the person of his secretary, Fr. Francis Lenny (1928–78). Two new parishes are created, five new churches are built, and many others are renovated to meet the requirements of liturgical reform. Twenty new schools are also provided. He attends all four sessions of the Vatican council (1962–65), as auxiliary bishop and as primate. On October 9, 1963 he addresses the assembly, making a plea that the council might not be so concerned with weightier matters as to neglect to speak about priests. He also makes contributions on the topics of mixed marriages, Catholic schools, and the laity. On the topic of education, he is convinced that integrated schools will not solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

Conway represents the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at each assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, at first with Bishop Michael Browne of the Diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh, his former professor in Maynooth, and later with the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan. With Cardinals Jean-Marie Villot and Pericle Felici, he is chairman of the first synod in 1969, a signal honour conferred on him by Pope Paul VI. He addresses the assembly, opposing the ordination of married men as a move that would release a flood of applications from around the world for dispensations from priestly celibacy. His experience of violence in Northern Ireland is reflected in contributions he makes to later synod assemblies, especially in 1971 and 1974.

Apart from the synod, Conway travels a few times each year to Rome for meetings of the three Roman congregations on which he is called to serve (those of bishops, catholic education, and the evangelisation of peoples) and the commission for the revision of the code of canon law. He also travels further afield in a representative capacity to the International Eucharistic Congress at Bogotá, also attended by Pope Paul VI, and to Madras (1972), where he acts as papal legate for the centenary celebrations in honour of St. Thomas. In 1966 he is invited by the bishops of Poland to join in celebrations for the millennium of Catholicism in that country, but is refused an entry visa by the Polish government. In January 1973 he feels obliged to forgo participation in the Melbourne eucharistic congress because of the troubled situation at home. Within Ireland he accepts invitations to become a freeman of Cork and Galway (1965) and of Wexford (1966). In 1976 the National University of Ireland (NUI) confers on him an honorary LL.D.

Conway is acknowledged as an able and diligent chairman of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The core problem in the early years is how to lead the Irish church into the difficult new era that follows the council. He shows exceptional leadership qualities in the manner in which he promotes firm but gentle progress, avoiding sudden trauma and divisions. A major event in his term as Archbishop of Armagh, and one that gives him much satisfaction, is the canonization of Oliver Plunkett, his martyred predecessor, in the holy year 1975. He follows with great interest the final stages of the cause from 1968, and is greatly disappointed when grounded by his doctors six weeks before the event. He does however take part, concelebrating with Pope Paul VI at the ceremony on October 12, 1975. He also presides the following evening at the first mass of thanksgiving in the Lateran Basilica, receiving a tumultuous applause from the thousands of Irish present.

More than anything else, the Troubles in Northern Ireland occupy Conway during the second half of his term as archbishop and primate. He is the leading spokesman of the Catholic cause, but never fails to condemn atrocities wherever the responsibility lay. He brands as ‘monsters’ the terrorist bombers on both sides. In 1971 he denounces internment without trial, and the following year he is mainly responsible for highlighting the ill-treatment and even torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He repudiates the idea that the conflict is religious in nature, emphasising its social and political dimensions, and is openly critical of the British government over conditions in Long Kesh Detention Centre, and of ‘the cloak of almost total silence’ surrounding violence against the Catholic community.

In January 1977 Conway undergoes surgery in a Dublin hospital, and almost immediately comes to know that he is terminally ill. It is the best-kept secret in Ireland until close to the end. On March 29, he writes to his fellow bishops informing them that the prognosis regarding his health is ‘not good, in fact . . . very bad,’ and that he is perfectly reconciled to God’s will. He is still able to work at his desk until Good Friday, April 8, 1977.

Conway dies in Armagh on Low Sunday night, April 17, 1977. Seven countries are represented at his funeral by six cardinals and many bishops. The apostolic nuncio, the bishops of Ireland, the president and Taoiseach, six Irish government ministers, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are also among the mourners. The cardinal is laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh. The red hat received from Pope Paul VI is suspended from the ceiling of the Lady chapel, joining those of his four immediate predecessors.

(From: “Conway, John William,” Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, contributed by J. J. Hanley)


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Canonisation of Laurence O’Toole by Pope Honorius III

Lorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, is canonised by Pope Honorius III on December 11, 1225. It will be 750 years before another Irish person is canonised.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Diarmaid Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 26 years old, he is elected Abbot of Glendalough. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of Dublin, then a city ruled by Danes and Norwegians. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known by the nickname of “Strongbow.” O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between Henry II of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. King Henry II does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray.

Laurence O’Toole is canonized by Pope Honorius III on December 11, 1225.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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Death of Sister Catherine McAuley, Founder of the Sisters of Mercy

Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, Irish religious sister who founds the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, dies in Dublin on November 11, 1841. The Sisters of Mercy has always been associated with teaching, especially in Ireland, where the sisters teach Catholics, and at times Protestants, at a time when education is mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.

McAuley is born on September 29, 1778, at Stormestown House in Dublin to James and Elinor (née Conway) McAuley. Her father dies in 1783 when she is five and her mother dies in 1798. She first goes to live with a maternal uncle, Owen Conway, and later joins her brother James and sister Mary at the home of William Armstrong, a Protestant relative on her mother’s side. In 1803, she becomes the household manager and companion of William and Catherine Callaghan, an elderly, childless, and wealthy Protestant couple and friends of the Armstrongs, at their estate in Coolock, a village northeast of Dublin. For 20 years she gives catechetical instruction to the household servants and the poor village children. Catherine Callaghan, who is raised in the Quaker tradition, dies in 1819. When William Callaghan dies in 1822, McAuley becomes the sole residuary legatee of their estate.

McAuley inherits a considerable fortune and chooses to use it to build a house where she and other compassionate women can take in homeless women and children to provide care and education for them. A location is selected at the junction of Lower Baggot Street and Herbert Street in Dublin, and in June 1824, the cornerstone is laid by the Rev. Dr Blake. As it is being refurbished, she studies current educational methods in preparation for her new endeavour. On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, September 24, 1827, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and schools for the poor is opened and McAuley, with two companions, undertake its management.

For three years, McAuley and her companions continue their work as lay women. She never intends to found a community of religious women. Her initial intention is to assemble a lay corps of Catholic social workers. In 1828 Archbishop of Dublin Daniel Murray permits the staff of the institute to assume a distinctive dress and to publicly visit the sick. The uniform adopted is a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil – such a costume as is now worn by the postulants of the congregation. In the same year the archbishop desires McAuley to choose some name by which the little community might be known, and she chooses that of “Sisters of Mercy,” having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute.

McAuley is desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelites, with the active labours of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute is anomalous, its members are not bound by vows nor are they restrained by rules. The clergy and people of the church of the time, however, are not supportive of groups of laywomen working independently of church structures. The main concern is for the stability and continuity of the works of mercy which the women had taken on. Should any of them get married or lose interest, the poor and the orphans whom they are caring for would then be at a loss.

McAuley’s clerical mentor urges her to form a religious institute. Along with two other women, Mary Ann Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Harley, she enters the novitiate of the Presentation Sisters to formally prepare for life as women religious in September 1830. On December 12, 1831 they profess vows and return to the House of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy consider December 12, 1831 as the day of their founding as a religious community. Archbishop Murray assists McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and professes the first three members. He then appoints her Mother Superior.

Between 1831 and 1841 McAuley founds additional Convents in Tullamore, Charleville, Cork, Carlow, Galway, Limerick, Birr, Bermondsey and Birmingham and branch houses in Kingstown and Booterstown. A cholera epidemic hits Dublin in 1832, and she agrees to staff a cholera hospital on Townsend Street.

The rule of the Sisters of Mercy is formally confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI on June 6, 1841. McAuley lives only ten years as a Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Catherine.

McAuley dies of tuberculosis at the age of sixty-three on November 11, 1841 at Baggot Street. She is buried at Baggot Street Cemetery. At the time of her death, there are 100 Sisters of Mercy in ten foundations. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters leave Ireland to establish new foundations on the east and west coasts of the United States, in Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.

Total worldwide membership consists of about 5,500 Sisters of Mercy, 5,000 Associates, and close to half a million partners in ministry. The Mercy International Centre in Dublin is the international “home” of Mercy worldwide and the mercyworld.org website is the virtual home.

In 1978, the cause for the beatification of the Servant of God Catherine McAuley is opened by Pope Paul VI. In 1990, upon recognition of her heroic virtues, Pope John Paul II declares her Venerable.


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Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland & Archbishop of Armagh

Robert Henry Alexander “Robin” Eames, Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1986 to 2006, is born in Belfast on April 27, 1936, the son of a Methodist minister.

Eames spends his early years in Larne, with the family later moving to Belfast. He is educated at the city’s Belfast Royal Academy and Methodist College Belfast before going on to study at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating LL.B. (Upper Second Class Honours) in 1960 and earning a Ph.D. degree in canon law and history in 1963. During his undergraduate course at Queen’s, one of his philosophy lecturers is his future Roman Catholic counterpart, Cahal Daly.

Turning his back on legal studies for ordination in the Church of Ireland, Eames embarks on a three-year course at the divinity school of Trinity College, Dublin in 1960, but finds the course “intellectually unsatisfying.” In 1963 he is appointed curate assistant at Bangor Parish Church, becoming rector of St. Dorothea’s in Belfast in 1966, the same year he marries Christine Daly.

During his time at St. Dorothea’s, in the Braniel and Tullycarnet area of east Belfast, Eames develops a “coffee bar ministry” among young people but is interrupted by the Troubles. He turns down the opportunity to become dean of Cork and in 1974 is appointed rector of St. Mark’s in Dundela in east Belfast, a church with strong family links to C. S. Lewis.

On May 9, 1975, at the age of 38, Eames is elected bishop of the cross-border Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. Five years later, on May 30, 1980, he is translated to the Diocese of Down and Dromore. He is elected to Down and Dromore on April 23 and that election is confirmed on May 20, 1980. In 1986, he becomes the 14th Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland since the Church of Ireland’s break with Rome. It is an appointment that causes some level of astonishment among other church leaders.

Drumcree Church, a rural parish near Portadown, becomes the site of a major political incident in 1996, when the annual Orangemen‘s march is banned by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from returning to the centre of Portadown via the nationalist Garvaghy Road after attending worship at Drumcree Church. Public unrest and violence escalates over the next three summers as other parades come under first police and later commission sanction.

Eames, as diocesan bishop and civil leader finds himself immersed in the search for a resolution to the issue. Within the wider Church of Ireland there is unease as it is a broad church in theology and politics including within its congregations nationalists in the south and unionists in the north. Eames, along with the rector of Drumcree, has to navigate this political and social controversy and seeks political assistance to diffuse tension. Some bishops in the Republic of Ireland call for Eames to close the parish church, including Bishop John Neill who later becomes Archbishop of Dublin. He refuses to do so, believing this action could precipitate greater unrest and possible bloodshed.

Eames is, for many years, a significant figure within the general Anglican Communion. In 2003, the self-styled ‘divine optimist’ is appointed Chairman of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which examines significant challenges to unity in the Anglican Communion. The Commission publishes its report, the Windsor Report, on October 18, 2004.

At the Church of Ireland General Synod in 2006 Eames announces his intention to retire on December 31, 2006. Church law permits him to continue as primate until the age of 75 but he resigns, in good health, at the age of 69. On January 10, 2007, the eleven serving bishops of the Church of Ireland meet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and elect Alan Harper, Bishop of Connor, as Eames’s successor.