The Irish Martyrs
This was an unusual group of Irishmen who chose to die, rather than deny the Faith. Margaret Ball, wife and mother, faithful to Mother Church who was turned in by her own son, the Mayor of Dublin at the time. Francis Taylor, a previous Mayor of Dublin, who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, and was executed. Bishop Terrence O'Brien was a Dominican who excommunicated those disobeying the mandates of the Church and participated in an unjust truce, for this he died. St. Oliver Plunket was an archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland. An honorable man, he was able to avoid capture for many years because of his family connections.
The Irish Martyrs
Ireland is an enchanted land, famous for its shamrocks and harps, leprechauns, shillelaghs, and green-eyed coleens, lightly sprinkled with freckles on skin as white as milk. It is called the Emerald Isle, and the national color is green; Ireland is lush green, almost tropical in certain areas. The Irish people are always pictured as being gay, musical, with the love of all things festive. In our mind's eye, we see them as being Bing Crosby or Barry Fitzgerald, of "Going My Way", which is lovely.
They have grand traditions, such as the monkeys left over from the time when St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland using monkeys. There are those antagonists of Ireland, and all things Irish, who would demean God's special children by the derogatory moniker Monkeys, because of this tradition of St. Patrick. There is a possibility that it wasn't the best idea for St. Patrick to use monkeys as a means to accomplish this task. He may not have been thinking of the hazing the Irish people would be receiving in centuries down the line. But keep in mind, he may not have been Irish originally. There are rumors that he may even have had Roman roots, which might account for the ongoing battle between the Irish and the Italians. It may have taken St. Patrick all his life to be trained properly in the ways of being Irish. We do know that when he entered the gates of Heaven, he was definitely Irish.
But God's beloved children of Ireland are a paradox in terms. Those who only see the surface of the Irish people, don't know about the years of suffering, persecution, famine, Martyrdom, and near annihilation of them as a people, all for their Faith. When they joke that there are more Irish in Boston than in Ireland, there is somewhat of a note of melancholy, mixed with the joke. Those who left for a better life in the United States, did no favor to those who remained. It just made their struggle more difficult. Most people don't know about the brave men and women who stood up against the powers of Hell, and survived only because of their great faith in their Catholic Church, and their complete dependence on the Mother of God.
Possibly this is why, when we wrote about Our Lady's Apparition at Knock, Ireland, on August 21, 1879, we thought her reasoning for not speaking to her people was because she had no complaint. We felt she was commending a faithful people for a job well done. We still feel that way, but we know that Our Lady had much more to say than she was given credit for. But all of that was covered in our book on the Many Faces of Mary, a Love Story.
"There have been reports in 1985-6 that Our Lady has appeared to different people in various parts of Ireland. At a little shrine devoted to our Lady of Lourdes in Cappoquin, Waterford County, which we visited in 1984, a year before the reported apparitions, Our Lady allegedly complained about the loss of Faith that was being experienced by the people in Ireland. We are not going to attempt to speculate as to the veracity of these reports. We will say, however, that if they were true, they give more credence to the silent apparition of Mary at Knock in 1879."
In 1980, we were in Assisi. We were bemoaning the outcast state of vocations in the United States. We asked a well-known Franciscan Priest, who had become a dear friend over the years, to pray for vocations in our country. He leaned over to us, and said, very seriously, "You Americans are too fat. You will not see vocations until you become lean, like the Irish and the Polish and the Mexicans." We could not understand what he meant, or how we could lump these three diverse ethnic groups together. But since that time, and especially during the research of this book, we have found that powerful common denominator that links the three together.
Irish and Mexicans and Polish have one outstanding trait in common. You might think to yourself, what a combination. And you would be right. We believe, however, that our marvelous Pope John Paul II picked up on this over thirteen years ago. It might be why he loves those three cultures so much, why he can relate to each of the other two ethnic groups. This marvelous trait, which the Lord has been able to work with down through the centuries is Holy Stubbornness. They are bullheaded when it comes to their Church. Proof of that is how they have held up under extreme persecution during various crucial periods in their history. Without that gift from the Lord, none of these three groups of Powerful Catholics would exist as a people or as Catholics today. Thank You Jesus; praise You Jesus.
The Struggle of the Irish People
The Irish people had been considered highly intelligent and extremely spiritual. Ireland was called the Land of Saints and Soldiers. Many of their young men became Priests and brothers, and traveled all over Europe, as well as up and down the coasts of the United States and Mexico, evangelizing the natives. There is a great tradition that the Mexican god, Quetzacoatl, the fair skinned god who came from the sea, to Cholula in 700 A.D., and taught them a religion similar to Christianity, was the great Irish Saint Brendan, who, not coincidentally, was born near Knock. During the period from St. Patrick's conversion of the people of Ireland, to Henry VIII's great sin, there was not a great deal of religious persecution to be suffered by the people of the Emerald Isle.
Until the satan of lust took over Henry VIII's heart, he was known as Defender of the Faith, a title given him by the Medici Pope, Leo X. He received this honor for his book, defending the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther. But when Henry asked the Pope to grant him a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Ann Boleyn (who would leave her head on the chopping block in the tower of London anyway), the troubles began. The Pope could not possibly grant a divorce to Henry VIII, and so this Defender of the Faith, became Persecutor of the Faith. He broke off with Rome in 1529, instituted his own State Religion, and proceeded to plague the Church. Because of the power structure of the British Isles, whichever way the English went, so went the Irish. And so this dear faithful people found themselves under English Protestant rule, without any voice in the decision at all.
Henry was cruel, but his successors were even worse. It was almost as if they had to outdo Henry. Queen Elizabeth began putting great pressure on the Irish with her Act of Supremacy in 1560, which stated very simply, she was in charge, and anyone who disobeyed her laws, especially ecclesiastical laws, was guilty of Treason.
Now, it was not considered a major offense on the books, but because the Irish immediately and with unanimity, refused to accept Elizabeth as head of the Church, and deny the Pope in Rome, the country was in a state of martial law most of the time. This being the case, the door was wide open as to what punishments could be inflicted on the Irish. In addition, it was strongly implied that anyone who was outside the established Church, that is the Church of Henry and Elizabeth, was not a loyal subject, and as such, could be persecuted without any other reason. The fact that Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth as a heretic, in 1570, didn't help matters any. Elizabeth got back at him. In 1585, a law was passed which stated that a Priest was guilty of treason, merely by his presence in the country. Most of the people of England had accepted the new rule fairly readily, but the Irish would never budge. You see that Holy Stubbornness clicking in. The Lord works well with that.
The situation went from bad to worse, reaching a breaking point when Oliver Cromwell took control of England. He was determined to destroy these people. He instituted a plot for the methodical and systematic annihilation of all Catholics in the little country of Ireland. The Penal times began. Brutal torturous inhuman penalties were inflicted on Catholics. If it was possible, Cromwell was more wicked than Henry and all his followers. He thought the Church of England, which was persecuting the Catholics, was too much like the Catholic Church. It was too soft on the Irish. He was determined to make them bend or break.
It was at this time that the Lord gave these dear people His greatest gift to them. The blanket of Holy Stubbornness came over the populace, giving them strength. Uprisings began. The government didn't know what to do. They never expected the people to react that way. Before the end of the Sixteenth century, many uprisings had to be put down by the government. The penalization became very hard. They were determined to break this community of Faith. But the powers that be were told loud and clear by the people that they were not going to give up their Catholic Faith.
The uprisings were even brought to the level of Crusades. The Irish believed they were justified in declaring war for the preservation of Catholicism in their land. They were even able to muster aid from foreign countries, most notably Spain. These dear zealots for the Faith envisioned a victory akin to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, in which the Turks were defeated by a Rosary Crusade, during which an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was at the forefront, at the mast of the lead battleship. But that gift was not to be given to the faithful brothers and sisters of Ireland. For them, their very existence as a people of God was at stake. To the other powers who had been their benefactors, it was a matter of politics. The Spanish in particular, hated England and would do whatever they could to embarrass the monarchs. But eventually, most drew away from the situation, including two Popes. These dear people, the brothers and sisters of Ireland, were abandoned, left alone by all, except for the greatest help they could possibly have asked for, Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Pope, and members of the Council of Trent that warships and battles were not the way to win the war for the Irish people. Strong Catholic Priests and Bishops in the country, using the greatest weapons we have ever had, the Eucharist, the Mass and the Rosary, would do what cannons and guns could not do, melt men's hearts and pave the way for the emancipation of Catholics in Ireland.
[Author's note: On January 23, 1993, the 20th anniversary of the Roe-Wade decision, newly elected president of the United States, Bill Clinton, signed an executive order, removing all bans which had been put on abortions in the United States. We watched the reactions on Television from Pro-life people all over the country that evening. It seemed that everyone felt completely defeated and abandoned. Then a woman from the Pro-Life movement in New Orleans made a profound statement. She said, "We can't expect any help in legislation for the next four years. We can only pray to change mens' hearts."]
We believe the same can be said of the philosophy of the Holy See in the Sixteenth century, as proclaimed by the powerful Council of Trent. This reform in the Church philosophy brought about a renewal in the Church. A great wave of young men who had left Ireland to study for the Priesthood and religious life in Europe, came back and converged on their homeland as Priests and brothers. But it also brought about the beginning of the Irish Martyrs, these unselfish men and women who stood up to the powers of hell, and did not waiver in their loyalty to the Lord. Many no sooner stepped foot on Irish soil, than they were arrested and put to death. Others infiltrated the country, began their ministry, and became Martyrs as a result, later on.
We will never know just how many Irish brothers and sisters were murdered for the Faith. There are so many stories of the bravery of these dear people of Faith, who stood up against the powers of hell for what they believed in. Many of the victims of this genocide by the British were presented to the Church for beatification. However, there were just too many Martyrs and not enough valid records. When the Irish initially rejected the King's Religion, they were declared non-persons, and therefore all records of births, deaths and Baptisms were repressed. The Church could never have opened the causes equaling the actual numbers of brothers and sisters who died because they numbered into the hundreds of thousands. Therefore, in her great wisdom, Mother Church picked seventeen people from the various periods of the Penal Times, and investigated their causes. They were beatified in September, 1992.
We want to share with you, these brothers and sisters. Because we believe that each of the Martyrs were as important as the others, we will mention them by the date they gave up their lives.
We discuss over 25 Irish Martyrs in this audiobook.