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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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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.