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


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Death of Adam Loftus, First Provost of Trinity College, Dublin

adam-loftusAdam Loftus, Archbishop of Armagh, and later Dublin, and Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1581, dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605. He is also the first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin.

Loftus is born in 1533, the second son of a monastic bailiff, Edward Loftus, in the heart of the English Yorkshire Dales. He embraces the Protestant faith early in his development. He is an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he reportedly attracts the notice of the young Queen Elizabeth, as much by his physique as through the power of his intellect. Although this encounter may never have happened, Loftus certainly meets with the Queen more than once, and she becomes his patron for the rest of her reign. At Cambridge Loftus takes holy orders as a Catholic priest and is appointed rector of Outwell St. Clement in Norfolk. He comes to the attention of the Catholic Queen Mary, who names him vicar of Gedney, Lincolnshire. On Elizabeth’s accession in 1558 he declares himself Anglican.

Loftus makes the acquaintance of the Queen’s favourite Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex and serves as his chaplain in Ireland in 1560. In 1561 he becomes chaplain to Alexander Craike, Bishop of Kildare and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Later that year he is appointed rector of Painstown in Meath, and evidently earns a reputation as a learned and discreet advisor to the English authorities in Dublin. In 1563, he is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh at the unprecedented age of 28 by Hugh Curwen, Archbishop of Dublin.

Following a clash with Shane O’Neill, the real power in Ulster during these years, he comes to Dublin in 1564. To supplement the meager income of his troubled archbishopric he is temporarily appointed to the Deanery of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by the queen in the following year. He is also appointed president of the new commission for ecclesiastical causes. This leads to a serious quarrel with the highly respected Bishop of Meath, Hugh Brady.

In 1567 Loftus, having lobbied successfully for the removal of Hugh Curwen, who becomes Bishop of Oxford, and having defeated the rival claims of the Bishop of Meath, is appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the queen expects him to carry out reforms in the Church. On several occasions he temporarily carries out the functions of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and in August 1581 he is appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland after an involved dispute with Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. He is constantly occupied in attempts to improve his financial position by obtaining additional preferment, and is subject to repeated accusations of corruption in public office.

In 1582 Loftus acquires land and builds a castle at Rathfarnham, which he inhabits from 1585. In 1569–1570 the divisions in Irish politics take on a religious tinge with the First Desmond Rebellion in Munster and Pope Pius V‘s 1570 papal bull Regnans in Excelsis. The bull questions Elizabeth’s authority and thereafter Roman Catholics are suspected of disloyalty by the official class unless they are discreet.

Loftus takes a leading part in the execution of Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. When O’Hurley refuses to give information, Francis Walsingham suggests he should be tortured. Although the Irish judges repeatedly decide that there is no case against O’Hurley, on June 19, 1584 Loftus and Sir Henry Wallop write to Walsingham “We gave warrant to the knight-marshal to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a most pestilent member.”

Between 1584 and 1591 Loftus has a series of clashes with Sir John Perrot on the location of an Irish University. Perrot wants to use St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin as the site of the new University, which Loftus seeks to preserve as the principal place of Protestant worship in Dublin, as well as a valuable source of income for himself. The Archbishop wins the argument with the help of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I, and Trinity College, Dublin is founded at its current location, named after his old college at Cambridge, leaving the Cathedral unaffected. Loftus is named as its first Provost in 1593.

The issue of religious and political rivalry continue during the two Desmond Rebellions (1569–83) and the Nine Years’ War (1594–1603), both of which overlap with the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), during which some rebellious Irish nobles are helped by the Papacy and by Elizabeth’s arch-enemy Philip II of Spain. Due to the unsettled state of the country Protestantism makes little progress, unlike in Celtic Scotland and Wales at that time. It comes to be associated with military conquest and is therefore hated by many. The political-religious overlap is personified by Loftus, who serves as Archbishop and as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. An unlikely alliance forms between Gaelic Irish families and the Norman “Old English“, who had been enemies for centuries but who now mostly remain Roman Catholic.

Adam Loftus dies in Dublin on April 5, 1605 and is interred in the building he had helped to preserve for future generations, while many of his portraits hang today within the walls of the University which he helped found. Having buried his wife Jane (Purdon) and two sons (of their 20 children) in the family vault at St. Patrick’s, Loftus dies at his Episcopal Palace in Kevin Street “worn out with age” and joins his family in the same vault. His zeal and efficiency are commended by James I upon the king’s accession.


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Oliver Plunkett Beatified by Pope Benedict XV

oliver-plunkettOliver Plunkett, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is beatified by Pope Benedict XV on May 23, 1920.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625, in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. 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. In the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism is banned and Roman Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years.

He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration. After arriving back in Ireland, he sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he finds “ignorant in moral theology and controversies.” The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and Plunkett is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670.

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, traveling only in disguise, and refusing 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. At some point before his final incarceration, he takes refuge in a church that once stood in the townland of Killartry, in the parish of Clogherhead in County Louth, seven miles outside Drogheda. He is arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. Plunkett 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.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith” and is condemned to death. He is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.

Oliver Plunkett is beatified on May 23, 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived. Plunkett has since been followed by 17 other Irish martyrs who were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Among them are Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, Margaret Ball, and the Wexford Martyrs.