Catholic Sufferings

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVIII

James' conduct on his accession was sufficiently plain. He was proclaimed in Dublin on the 28th September, 1605. A part of his proclamation ran thus: "We hereby make known to our subjects in Ireland, that no toleration shall ever be granted by us. This we do for the purpose of cutting off all hope that any other religion shall be allowed, save that which is consonant to the laws and statutes of this realm." The penal statutes were renewed, and enforced with increased severity. Several members of the Corporation and some of the principal citizens of Dublin were sent to prison; similar outrages on religious liberty were perpetrated at Waterford, Ross, and Limerick. In some cases these gentlemen were only asked to attend the Protestant church once, but they nobly refused to act against their conscience even once, though it should procure them freedom from imprisonment, or even from death.

The Vicar-Apostolic of Waterford and Lismore wrote a detailed account of the sufferings of the Irish nation for the faith at this period to Cardinal Baronius. His letter is dated "Waterford, 1st of May, 1606." He says: "There is scarcely a spot where Catholics can find a safe retreat. The impious soldiery, by day and night, pursue the defenceless priests, and mercilessly persecute them. Up to the present they have only succeeded in seizing three: one is detained in Dublin prison, another in Cork, and the third, in my opinion, is the happiest of all, triumphing in heaven with Christ our Lord; for in the excess of the fury of the soldiery, without any further trial or accusation, having expressed himself to be a priest, he was hanged upon the spot."

He then narrates the sufferings of the Catholic laity, many of whom he says are reduced to "extreme poverty and misery;" "if they have any property, they are doubly persecuted by the avaricious courtiers." But so many have given a glorious testimony of their faith, he thinks their enemies and persecutors have gained but little. Thus, while one party was rejoicing in their temporal gain, the other was rejoicing in temporal loss; and while the former were preaching liberty of conscience as their creed, the latter were martyrs to it.

Another letter to Rome says: "2,000 florins are offered for the discovery of a Jesuit, and 1,000 for the discovery of any other priest, or even of the house where he lives. Whenever the servants of any of the clergy are arrested, they are cruelly scourged with whips, until they disclose all that they know about them. Bodies of soldiers are dispersed throughout the country in pursuit of bandits and priests; and all that they seize on, they have the power, by martial law, of hanging without further trial. They enter private houses, and execute whom they please, vieing with each other in cruelty. It is difficult to define the precise number of those who are thus put to death. All who are greedy and spendthrifts, seek to make a prey of the property of Catholics. No doors, no walls, no enclosures can stop them in their course. Whatever is for profane use they profess to regard as sacred, and bear it off; and whatever is sacred they seize on to desecrate. Silver cups are called chalices, and gems are designated as Agnus Deis ; and all are, therefore, carried away. There are already in prison one bishop, one vicar-general, some religious, very many priests, and an immense number of the laity of every class and condition. In one city alone five of the aldermen were thrown into prison successively, for refusing to take the nefarious oath of allegiance, on their being nominated to the mayoralty; in another city, no less than thirty were likewise thrust into prison at Easter last, for having approached the holy communion in the Catholic Church."

The Catholics protested against this treatment in vain. A petition was considered an offence, and the petitioners were sent to gaol for their pains.