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


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Death of Francis Lenny, Roman Catholic Bishop

Francis Lenny, Irish Roman Catholic bishop in the last third of the 20th century, dies in Mullavilly, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on July 16, 1978.

Lenny is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, on September 27, 1928. He is educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Armagh on June 21, 1953. Pursuing his studies in ancient classes and canon law in Maynooth and the Dunboyne Institute, in July 1955 he is named secretary to Cardinal John D’Alton, Primate of Ireland, and upon his death in 1963, proceeds in the same position with his successor, Cardinal William Conway.

Lenny is appointed parish priest in Mullavilly in 1972. Less than two years later he is named coadjutor bishop of Armagh, receiving his episcopal consecration with the titular see of Rotdon from Cardinal Conway on June 16, 1974. Financial secretary to the Bishops’ Financial and General Purposes Committee, upon Conway’s death, he becomes vicar capitular of the archdiocese until Tomás Ó Fiaich is named his successor.

Lenny is a well known canonist and it is he who transfers a major relic of Saint Oliver Plunkett from Downside Abbey to Ireland in 1975, and is presently preserved in Oldcastle, County Meath, Plunkett’s birthplace.

A man of great charity and deep disposition, Lenny experiences great opposition from members of the Protestant community of Mullavilly, refusing to leave the village despite threats he receives. His bungalow is maliciously set on fire and he dies at the early age of forty nine on July 16, 1978, the fourth anniversary of his episcopal consecration, from injuries received complicated by a heart attack. Dressed in chasuble and mitre, he is laid to rest in a simple solid oak coffin following the celebration of a Funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, presided by Archbishop Ó Fiaich which sees the participation of thousands.


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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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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.


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Death of Saint Gelasius of Armagh

Saint Gelasius of Armagh B (AC), also known as Giolla Iosa and Gioua-Mac-Liag, dies on March 27, 1174. The son of the Irish poet Diarmaid, Saint Gelasius (meaning `servant of Jesus’) is the learned abbot of Derry for sixteen years. He is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh c. 1137, when Saint Malachy resigns and serves as Primate of Ireland until 1174.

During his long episcopacy, Gelasius has to deal with the events before and after the Norman invasion, including the alleged Donation of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to Henry II of England, Henry’s arrival in Ireland in 1171, and Pope Alexander III’s confirmation of everything granted by Adrian IV.

Gelasius reconstructs the Cathedral of Armagh and, in 1162, consecrates Saint Laurence O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin, although the invasion and settlement of Dublin by Norsemen means that the Christians of that see are looking more to Canterbury than Armagh. That same year, during the Synod of Clane in County Kildare, a uniform liturgy is ensured throughout Ireland by requiring that only Armagh-trained or Armagh-accredited teachers of divinity may teach in any school attached to the Irish Church.

Gelasius is an indefatigable prelate. He makes constant visitations throughout Ireland, reorganizes old monasteries, and convenes synods. He is said to be the first Irish bishop to whom the pallium is sent. Pope Eugene III’s papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Paparoni, brings four pallia with him to the Synod of Kells in 1152 for the archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam. The records of this synod include the first mention of tithes in Irish annals, which Cardinal Paparoni proposes but none of the participants support. The matter of tithes and the Peter’s Pence is an important consideration in subsequent negotiations between Pope Adrian IV and Henry II of England.

Gelasius convenes another synod at Armagh in 1170 in the hope of finding some means to expel the Anglo-Normans, who had invaded the country the previous year, before they become too entrenched. In 1171, Henry II of England arrives, lavishly entertains the civic and ecclesiastic Irish leaders, and requests the convening of the Synod of Cashel, during which he presents a plan for improving the Church of Ireland. At this time there is no mention of any claim of Canterbury or the Donation. However, the eighth canon of the synod decrees that the Irish Church will celebrate the Divine Office according to the usage of the Church of England, which is still Catholic at the time.

The bishop of Armagh does not attend the Synod of Cashel. At the time he is occupied in a visitation of Connacht and Ulster in an attempt (in concert with the high king) to organize a defense of Ireland. He realizes that Henry II has duped many Irish princes by masking his true intentions.

The following year Henry II falls under interdict for his murder of Saint Thomas Becket. When news of HenryII’s penitential, bare-foot walk to the shrine of Saint Thomas and his plans for the `uplift’ of the Irish Church reaches Rome, Pope Alexander III confirms the Donation of Ireland made by Pope Adrian IV. Shortly thereafter the Church of Ireland became English, the School of Armagh is closed (c. 1188) and the last native bishop of Armagh until the Reformation dies in 1313.

(From: “Saints of the Day – Gelasius of Armagh” by Katherine I Rabenstein, CatholicSaints.Info (www.catholicsaints.info) | Pictured: Arms of the Archbishop of Armagh, in the Church of Ireland)


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Death of John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin

st-audoens-churchJohn Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin, dies on October 25, 1212, and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral.

Born in England in 1150, Comyn is chaplain to King Henry II of England and on his “urgent” recommendation is elected Archbishop of Dublin following the death of St. Laurence O’Toole in 1180. He has been a Benedictine monk at the Evesham Abbey.

In 1181, he is elected to the archbishopric of Dublin by some of the clergy of Dublin, who have assembled at Evesham for the purpose. He is not then a priest, but is subsequently, in the same year, ordained such, at Velletri, and on Palm Sunday is there consecrated archbishop by Pope Lucius III. The following year the pope grants him manors and lands in and around Dublin, which subsequently form the Manor of St. Sepulchre, which remains under the authority of the Archbishop of Dublin until the 19th century. The pope also, in an effort to protect the Dublin archbishopric from claims from Canterbury, extends certain privileges to Comyn, which intensifies the rivalry between the sees of Dublin and Armagh for the Primacy of Ireland.

Comyn waits three years before visiting Ireland, until he is sent there by King Henry to prepare the reception of his son, Prince John. The king grants him lands and privileges which make him a Lord of Parliament. After his arrival in Ireland, John grants Comyn the Bishopric of Glendalough, with all its appurtenances in lands, manors, churches, tithes, fisheries, and liberties, although Comyn never has an opportunity to take this up in his lifetime. Under Pope Urban III, Comyn carries out a number of reforms of the Irish church to bring it into line with the church in England and in continental Europe.

In 1189, Archbishop Comyn assists at the coronation of King Richard I. The following year he demolishes the old parish church of St. Patrick, south of Dublin, and erects a new building, next to his Palace of St. Sepulchre, which he elevates to the status of a collegiate church, and which later becomes St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This enables him to rule in his own Liberty, without the interference of mayor and citizens. About the same time he enlarges the choir of Christ Church Cathedral.

Prince John grants Comyn further legal rights throughout the country of Ireland, while Comyn also receives the church and lands of All Hallows, to the northeast of Dublin. Between Lusk and Swords he founds the convent of Grace Dieu, which later becomes wealthy through grants from the Anglo-Norman prelates and magnates. However, when Hamo de Valoniis is appointed Justiciar of Ireland he seizes some of these lands for the treasury, with a good portion for himself, and a dispute arises which causes Comyn to flee for his own safety to Normandy. Comyn appeals to Pope Innocent III, who settles the dispute, but John is angered by the actions of Comyn and does not reconcile himself with him until 1206.

Comyn dies six years later and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral, where a marble monument is erected to his memory. Two years later William Piro, Bishop of Glendalough, dies, whereupon the union of the sees granted by King John takes place.

(Pictured: St. Audoen’s Church, the only remaining authentic medieval church in Dublin, built by Archbishop John Comyn around 1190)


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John Comyn Elected Archbishop of Dublin

Swords Castle

Swords Castle

John Comyn is elected Archbishop of Dublin and consecrated by the pope at Velletri on March 21, 1181. He is the first Englishman to be appointed to an Irish see.

He is chaplain to King Henry II of England and on his “urgent” recommendation is elected Archbishop of Dublin following the death of St. Laurence O’Toole in 1180. He has been a Benedictine monk at the Evesham Abbey.

In 1181, some of the clergy of Dublin assemble at Evesham and Comyn is elected to the archbishopric of Dublin. He is not then a priest, but is subsequently ordained such later in the year at Velletri and on Palm Sunday, March 21, is consecrated archbishop by Pope Lucius III. The following year the pope grants him manors and lands in and around Dublin, which subsequently form the Manor of St. Sepulchre which remains under the authority of the Archbishop of Dublin until the 19th century. The pope also, in an effort to protect the Dublin archbishopric from claims from Canterbury, extends certain privileges to Comyn, which intensifies the rivalry between the sees of Dublin and Armagh for the Primacy of Ireland.

Comyn waits three years before visiting Ireland, until he is sent there by King Henry to prepare the reception of his son, Prince John. The king grants him lands and privileges which make him a Lord of Parliament. After his arrival in Ireland, John grants Comyn the Bishopric of Glendalough, although Comyn never has an opportunity to take this up in his lifetime. Under Pope Urban III, Comyn carries out a number of reforms of the Irish church to bring it into line with the church in England and in continental Europe.

In 1189, Archbishop Comyn assists at the coronation of King Richard I. The following year he demolishes the old parish church of St. Patrick, south of Dublin. He then erects a new building, next to his Palace of St. Sepulchre, which he elevates to the status of a collegiate church and later becomes St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This enables him to rule in his own Liberty, without the interference of mayor and citizens. Around this time he enlarges the choir of Christ Church Cathedral.

Prince John grants Comyn further legal rights throughout the country of Ireland, while Comyn also receives the church and lands of All Hallows to the northeast of Dublin. Between Lusk and Swords he founds the convent of Grace Dieu Abbey, which later becomes wealthy through grants from the Anglo-Norman prelates and magnates. However, when Hamo de Valoniis is appointed Justiciar of Ireland he seizes some of these lands for the treasury and himself. A dispute arises which causes Comyn to flee for his own safety to Normandy. Comyn appeals to Pope Innocent III, who settles the dispute, but John is angered by the actions of Comyn and does not reconcile himself with him until 1206.

Comyn dies six years later on October 25, 1212 and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral, where a marble monument is erected to his memory. Two years later William Piro, Bishop of Glendalough, dies whereupon the union of the sees granted by King John takes place.