As part of our initiative for the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more.
Profile Nine: Blessed Irish Martyrs
The word ‘martyr’ in its original Greek meant ‘witness’. Over time it became the term given to those people who were willing to give witness to their faith even to the point of suffering and death.
The history of the early Church is filled with stories of martyrs, such as Peter and Paul, Stephen, Agatha and Priscilla, whose life and death stories manifest the power of their faith. These courageous disciples inspired hope in the early Church and fuelled the ranks of those who came to believe in Jesus. Knowing that their lives would probably end in torturous ways, the martyrs trusted that the Holy Spirit would give them strength to face pain, suffering and death. Their witness gave rise to the saying, ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians’.
The Stoning of St. Stephen by Giacinto Gimignani
Blessed Margaret Ball
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Catholic faith in Ireland was under persecution and many people made the ultimate sacrifice. The names of most of these people were never recorded. The first catalogue of Irish Martyrs was compiled between 1588 and 1599 by Fr John Houling. This list was added to by Conor O'Devany, Bishop of Down and Connor. O'Devany himself was imprisoned and killed and is now listed as one of the martyrs.
In the early years of the twentieth century an attempt was made to catalogue details of 260 martyrs in order to have them declared saints. Such was the volume of documentation involved that the task proved impossible. In 1975, the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Ryan, established a commission that concentrated on the details of just seventeen of these martyrs who were put to death between 1579 and 1654. The merit of their case was accepted by the Vatican and they were formally declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
The seventeen Irish Martyrs are:
- Dermot Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. Hanged 20 June 1584 at Hoggen Green
- Conor O'Devany, Bishop of Down and Connor. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
- Patrick O'Loughran, chaplain to the O’Neill family. Hanged.
- Maurice MacKenraghty, chaplain to the Earl of Desmond. Hanged.
- Terence O'Brien, Dominican priest. Hanged.
- Peter Higgins, Dominican priest. Hanged.
- John Kearney, Franciscan priest. Hanged.
- Patrick O' Healy, Franciscan priest. Hanged.
- Conrad O'Rourke, Franciscan priest. Hanged.
- William Tirry, Augustinian priest. Hanged.
- Dominic Collins, lay Jesuit brother. Hanged.
- Francis Taylor, Mayor of Dublin. Died of ill treatment.
- Margaret Bermingham, Lady Mayoress of Dublin. Died of ill treatment.
- Matthew Lambert, baker. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
- Robert Meyler, sailor. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
- Edward Cheevers, sailor. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
- Patrick Cavanagh, sailor. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
|While remembering these Irish Martyrs, we must also remember the scores of others – men and women – who gave their lives for the faith but whose sacrifice was never officially recognised. We must also recognise that the story of Christian martyrs is still being written today. In fact, it is estimated that 75 per cent of people who suffer for their faith today are Christians.
||Attack on the Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt. Saturday, 1 January 2011
- Do you know of Christians who are still being persecuted in some parts of the world because they are giving witness to their faith?
- What aspect, belief or practice of Christian faith would you be willing to suffer for?
Previous Profiles in Faith:
May 2013: Frère Roger
April 2013: Blessed Edmund Rice
March 2013: St Patrick
February 2013: Dorothy Day
January 2013: St Francis of Assisi
December 2012: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
November 2012: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
October 2012: Thomas Merton