Execution of Priests

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVII

On the 11th of August, in this year, 1594, Sir William Russell was appointed Deputy in place of FitzWilliam. Tyrone appeared at the Castle soon after, and complained of the suspicions which were entertained of his loyalty, not, it is to be supposed, without a very clear personal conviction that they were well founded. The Viceroy, would have received him favourably, but his old enemy, Bagnal, charged him with high treason. O'Neill's object was to gain time. He was unwilling to revolt openly, till he could do so with some prospect of success; and if his discretion was somewhat in advance of the average amount of that qualification as manifested by Irish chieftains hitherto, his valour redeemed him from all possible imputation of having made it an excuse for cowardice, or any conciliation with the "English enemy," which was not warranted by motives of prudence.

Tyrone now offered to clear himself by the ordeal of single combat with his adversary, but Bagnal declined the offer. The following year (A.D. 1595), the new Deputy took O'Byrne's Castle, at Glenmalure. One of the Kildare Geraldines revenged the injuries done to this chieftain, by making nocturnal attacks in the neighbourhood of Dublin; but he was soon captured, and hanged in Dublin. These and similar outrages excited popular feeling to an unwonted degree; but there were other wrongs besides the robberies of chieftains' estates, and their subsequent murder if they resisted oppression. The men whose lives the Irish nation have always held even more sacred than those of their most ancient chiefs, were daily slaughtered before their eyes, and the slaughter was perpetrated with cruelties which were so utterly uncalled-for, so barbarously inhuman, that they might well have excited the burning indignation of a heathen or a Turk.

These men were the priests of the old faith which the Irish had received so many hundred years before, and which neither death nor torments could induce them to forsake. I shall mention but two of these outrages, premising that there were few places in Ireland where similar scenes had not been enacted. In the year 1588 three Franciscan fathers were martyred, who had devoted themselves for some years previously to the spiritual necessities of the people. Many Catholic families from Carlow, Wexford, and Wicklow had been obliged to fly into the mountainous districts of Leinster, to escape further persecution.

The three fathers, John Molloy, Cornelius Dogherty, and Wilfred Ferral, were unwearied in their ministrations. They spoke to these poor creatures of the true Home, where all their sufferings should be rewarded with eternal joy—of how wise it was to exchange the passing things of time for the enduring goods of eternity; they visited the sick, they consoled the dying; above all, they administered those life-giving sacraments so precious to the Catholic Christian; and if, like the holy martyrs, persecuted by heathen emperors, they were obliged to offer the adorable sacrifice on a rock or in a poor hut, it was none the less acceptable to God, and none the less efficacious to the worshippers.

These shepherds of the flock were specially obnoxious to the Government. They preached patience, but they were accused of preaching rebellion; they confirmed their people in their faith, but this was supposed to be equivalent to exciting them to resist their oppressors. The three fathers were at last seized by a party of cavalry, in a remote district of the Queen's county. They were tied hand and foot, and conducted with every species of ignominy to the garrison of Abbeyleix. Here they were first flogged, then racked, and finally hanged,[1] drawn, and quartered. The soldiers, brutalized as man can be brutalized by familiarity with scenes of blood, scoffed at the agonies they inflicted, and hardened themselves for fresh barbarities. But there were men who stood by to weep and pray; and though they were obliged to conceal their tears, and to breathe their prayers softly into the eternal and ever-open ear of God, the lash which mangled the bodies of the men they revered lacerated their souls yet more deeply; and as they told to others the tale of patient suffering endured for Christ and His Church, the hearts of the people were bound yet closer to their faithful pastors, and they clung yet more ardently to the religion which produced such glorious examples.


[1] Hanged.—It was usual to hang the Franciscans by their own cord, or to tie them together with their cords and hurl them from the summit of a tower or from a high rock into the sea.