Churches Plundered in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV. concluded

All the gold and silver plate, jewels, ornaments, lead, bells, &c, were reserved by special command for the King's use.[4] The church-lands were sold to the highest bidder, or bestowed as a reward on those who had helped to enrich the royal coffers by sacrilege. Amongst the records of the sums thus obtained, we find £326 2s. 11d., the price of divers pieces of gold and silver, of precious stones, silver ornaments, &c.; also £20, the price of 1,000 lbs. of wax. The sum of £1,710 2s. was realized from the sale of sacred vessels belonging to thirty-nine monasteries. The profits on the spoliation of St. Mary's, Dublin, realized £385. The destruction of the Collegiate Church of St. Patrick must have procured an enormous profit, as we find that Cromwell received £60 for his pains in effecting the same. It should also be remembered that the value of a penny then was equal to the value of a shilling now, so that we should multiply these sums at least by ten to obtain an approximate idea of the extent of this wholesale robbery.

The spoilers now began to quarrel over the spoils. The most active or the most favoured received the largest share; and Dr. Browne grumbled loudly at not obtaining all he asked for. But we have not space to pursue the disedifying history of their quarrels. The next step was to accuse each other. In the report of the Commissioners appointed in 1538 to examine into the state of the country, we find complaints made of the exaction of undue fees, extortions for baptisms and marriages, &c. They also (though this was not made an accusation by the Commissioners) received the fruits of benefices in which they did not officiate, and they were accused of taking wives and dispensing with the sacrament of matrimony. The King, whatever personal views he might have on this subject, expected his clergy to live virtuously; and in 1542 he wrote to the Lord Deputy, requiring an Act to be passed "for the continency of the clergy," and some "reasonable plan to be devised for the avoiding of sin." However, neither the Act nor the reasonable plan appear to have succeeded. In 1545, Dr. Browne writes: "Here reigneth insatiable ambition; here reigneth continually coigne and livery, and callid extortion." Five years later, Sir Anthony St. Leger, after piteous complaints of the decay of piety and the increase of immorality, epitomizes the state of the country thus: "I never saw the land so far out of good order."[5] Pages might be filled with such details; but the subject shall be dismissed with a brief notice of the three props of the Reformation and the King's supremacy in Ireland. These were Dr. Browne of Dublin, Dr. Staples of Meath, and Dr. Bale of Ossory. The latter writing of the former in 1553, excuses the corruption of his own reformed clergy, by stating that "they would at no hand obey; alleging for their vain and idle excuse, the lewd example of the Archbishop of Dublin, who was always slack in things pertaining to God's glory." He calls him "an epicurious archbishop, a brockish swine, and a dissembling proselyte," and accuses him in plain terms of "drunkenness and gluttony."

Dr. Browne accuses Dr. Staples of having preached in such a manner, "as I think the three-mouthed Cerberus of hell could not have uttered it more viperously." And Dr. Mant, the Protestant panegyrist of the Reformation and the Reformers, admits that Dr. Bale was guilty of "uncommon warmth of temperament"—a polite appellation for a most violent temper; and of "unbecoming coarseness"—a delicate definement of a profligate life. His antecedents were not very creditable. After flying from his convent in England, he was imprisoned for preaching sedition in York and London. He obtained his release by professing conformity to the new creed. He eventually retired to Canterbury, after his expulsion from Kilkenny by the Catholics, and there he died, in 1563.

Sculptures at Devenish

Sculptures at Devenish


[4] Use.—28th Henry VIII. cap. xvi. In Shirley's Original Letters, p. 31, we find the following order from the Lord Protector, Somerset, to the Dean of St. Patrick's: " Being advertised that one thousand ounces of plate of crosses and such like things remaineth in the hands of you, we require you to deliver the same to be employed to his Majesty's use," &c. He adds that the Dean is to receive "£20 in ready money" for the safe keeping of the same.

[5] Order.—The original letter may be seen in Shirley, pp. 41, 42.