Executions of Irish Catholics

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIV

As the prisons were already full of "recusants," the friars were placed in confinement in private houses, some were secretly murdered, and others were publicly hanged in the market-place. These events occurred on the 12th and 13th of February, 1539.

An almost similar tragedy was enacted in the Trinitarian Convent of Limerick, where the Prior was coadjutor to the Bishop of that city. He also assembled the brethren, exhorted them to perseverance, distributed their few poor possessions, and concealed the sacred vessels. On the feast of St. John Baptist, 24th June, in the year of grace 1539, he preached in his cathedral against the new heresy, and exhorted his flock to persevere in the faith. The emissaries of Government were afraid to attack him openly; but that evening they visited him at his private residence, and offered him his choice between death and apostacy. For all reply the venerable prelate knelt down, and exclaimed: "O Lord, on this morning I offered to Thee on the altar the unbloody sacrifice of the body of my Saviour; grant that I may now offer, to Thy greater honour and glory, the sacrifice of my own life." Then he turned towards a picture of the most holy Trinity, which was suspended in his room, and scarce had time to pronounce the aspiration of his Order, "Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus, miserere nobis, " ere his head was severed from his body, and he entered upon the beatific vision of the Three in One, for Whom he had so gladly sacrificed his life.

The Protestant Archbishop, Dr. Browne, the Lord Chancellor, and some other members of the Council, set out on a "visitation" of the four counties of Carlow, Wexford, Waterford, and Tipperary, in which the church militant was for the nonce represented by the church military. They transmitted an account of their expedition, and the novel fashion in which they attempted to propagate the Gospel, to England, on the 18th January, 1539. One brief extract must suffice as a specimen of their proceedings. "The day following we kept the sessions there [at Wexford]. There was put to execution four felons, accompanied with another, a friar, whom we commanded to be hanged in his habit, and so to remain upon the gallows for a mirror to all his brethren to live truly."[3]

There was One, whom from reverence I name not here, who said, when about to die, that, when "lifted up, He should draw all men unto Him." Centuries have rolled by since those most blessed words were uttered, but they have been verified in the disciples as well as in the Master. The "lifting up" of a friar upon the gallows, or of a bishop upon the block, has but served to draw men after them; and the reformations they failed to effect during their lives, by their preaching and example, have been accomplished after and because of their martyrdoms.


[3] Truly.—State Papers, vol. iii. p. 108.