Irish Catholic Martyrs

Irish Catholic Martyrs (Irish: Mairtírigh Chaitliceacha na hÉireann) were dozens of people who have been sanctified in varying degrees for dying for their Roman Catholic faith between 1537 and 1714 in Ireland. The canonisation of Oliver Plunkett in 1975 brought an awareness of the other men and women who died for the Catholic faith in the 16th and 17th centuries. On 22 September 1992 Pope John Paul II proclaimed a representative group from Ireland as martyrs and beatified them. "Martyr" was originally a Greek word meaning "witness". In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, speaking to those in Jerusalem at Pentecost, claimed he and all the apostles were "martyrs", that is, witnesses, in this case to Jesus's resurrection. Later the word came to mean a person who followed the example of Christ and gave up their lives rather than deny their faith.[1]

Saint Oliver Plunkett
Saint Oliver Plunkett
Irish Martyrs
Lives of Irish Martyrs and Confessors (1880) (14594645478)
Cover of Lives of Irish Martyrs and Confessors (1880)
Died1537–1714, Ireland, England, Wales
Martyred byEnglish monarchy
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Beatified27 September 1992, by Pope John Paul II
Feast20 June

Individuals formally recognized


12 October 1975 by Pope Paul VI.


15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI.

22 November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

27 September 1992 by Pope John Paul II.

Other martyrs


The persecution of Catholics in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came in waves, caused by a reaction to particular incidents or circumstances, with intervals of comparative respite in between.[6]

Henry VIII

Religious persecution of Catholics in Ireland began under King Henry VIII (then Lord of Ireland) after his excommunication in 1533. The Irish Parliament adopted the Acts of Supremacy, establishing the king's ecclesiastical supremacy.[7] Some priests, bishops, and those who continued to pray for the pope were tortured and killed.[8] The Treasons Act 1534 caused any act of allegiance to the pope to be considered treason. Many were imprisoned on this basis.

In 1536, Charles Reynods was posthumously convicted of high treason for successfully persuading the Pope to excommunicate Henry VIII of England. In 1537, John Travers, the Chancellor of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, was executed under the Act of Supremacy.[9]

Elizabeth I

Relations improved after the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary in 1553-58, and in the early years of the reign of her sister Queen Elizabeth I. After Mary's death in November 1558, Elizabeth's Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy of 1559, which re-established the Church of England's separation from the Catholic Church. Initially, Elizabeth adopted a moderate religious policy. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559), the Prayer Book of 1559, and the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) were all Protestant in doctrine, but preserved many traditionally Catholic ceremonies.[10]

In 1563 the Earl of Essex issued a proclamation, by which all priests, secular and regular, were forbidden to officiate, or even to reside in Dublin. Fines and penalties were strictly enforced for absence from the Protestant service; before long, torture and death were inflicted. Priests and religious were, as might be expected, the first victims. They were hunted into mountains and caves; and the parish churches and few monastic chapels which had escaped the rapacity of Henry VIII.[11]

During the early years of her reign no great pressure was put on Catholics to conform to the "Established Church" of the new regime, but the situation changed rapidly from about 1570 onwards, mainly as a result of Pope Pius V's papal bull Regnans in Excelsis which "released [Elizabeth I's] subjects from their allegiance to her".[6]

In Ireland the First Desmond Rebellion was launched in 1569, at almost the same time as the Northern Rebellion in England. The Wexford Martyrs were found guilty of treason for aiding in the escape of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass and refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy and declare Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church.

Charles II

During this period, the English persecution of Catholics in Ireland was more lenient than usual, owing to the sympathy of the king, until the Popish Plot, a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates, between 1678 and 1681 gripped the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria. Those caught up in the false allegations included:


Irish martyrs suffered over several reigns. There was a long delay in starting the investigations into the causes of the Irish martrys for fear of reprisals. Further complicating the investigation is that the records of these martyrs were destroyed, or not compiled, due to the danger of keeping such evidence. Details of their endurance in most cases have been lost.[7] The first general catalog is that of Father John Houling, S.J., compiled in Portugal between 1588 and 1599. It is styled a very brief abstract of certain persons whom it commemorates as sufferers for the Faith under Elizabeth.[8]

After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the cause for Oliver Plunkett was re-visited. As a result, a series of publications on the whole period of persecutions was made. The first to complete the process was Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.[7] Plunkett was certainly targeted by the administration and unfairly tried.


John Kearney

John Kearney (1619-1653) was born in Cashel, County Tipperary and joined the Franciscans at the Kilkenny friary. After his novitiate, he went to Leuven in Belgium and was ordained in Brussels in 1642. Returned to Ireland, he taught in Cashel and Waterford, and was much admired for his preaching. In 1650 he became guardian of Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary. During the Cromwellian persecutions, he was arrested and hanged in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. He was buried in the chapter hall of the suppressed friary of Cashel.[4]

Peter O'Higgins O.P.

Peter O'Higgins was born in Dublin around 1602 during the persecution under James I. He was educated secretly in Ireland and later in Spain. With the accession of Charles I in 1625, a limited tolerance obtained and Peter came back to Dublin and was sent to re-open the Dominican house in Naas. The 1641 rebellion, a result of the plantations, evictions and persecutions (but not in County Kildare), brought with it years of conflict between Irish v Old English, Catholic v Protestant; Puritan v Anglican. During this time the William Pilsworth, Protestant rector of Donadea, was arrested by rebel soldiers and about to be hanged, when Fr. Peter O'Higgins stepped forward. Pilsworth later wrote that when he was on the gallows, "a priest whom I never saw before, made a long speech on my behalf saying that this…was a bloody inhuman act that would…draw God's vengeance on them. Whereupon I was brought down and released." [5]

The government army moved on Naas in February 1642 and O'Higgins was arrested and turned over to Governor Coote of Dublin. O'Higgins was offered his life if he would renounce his faith. He responded, ""So here the condition on which I am granted my life. They want me to deny my religion. I spurn their offer. I die a Catholic and a Dominican priest. I forgive from my heart all who have conspired to bring about my death." Among the crowd at the foot of the scaffold was William Pilsworth who shouted out: "This man is innocent. This man is innocent. He saved my life." William Pilsworth was not wanting in courage, but his words fell on deaf ears. With the words "Deo Gratias" on his lips Peter O'Higgins died on 23 March 1642.[5]

The most likely reason for Prior Higgins' execution without trial was that on the previous day, 22 March, at a synod at Kells, County Meath chaired by Archbishop Hugh O'Reilly, the Catholic bishops had pronounced the rebellion to be a "Holy and Just War. Higgins had been summarily executed as a result.[12]


Various churches have been dedicated to the martyrs, including:

See also


  1. ^ Irish Martyrs,; accessed 11 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Irish Martyrs", The Church of the Irish Martyrs, Ballyraine
  3. ^ "Archives".
  4. ^ a b Super User. "Franciscan Saints & Blessed". Archived from the original on 2014-02-04.
  5. ^ a b c "Peter O'Higgins O.P." Newbridge College.
  6. ^ a b Barry, Patrick, "The Penal Laws", L'Osservatore Romano, p.8, 30 November 1987
  7. ^ a b c "The Irish Martyrs", Irish Jesuits,; accessed 16 December 2015.
  8. ^ a b "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Irish Confessors and Martyrs".
  9. ^ "Martyrs of England and Wales" New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9 (1967), p. 322.
  10. ^ "The Reign of Elizabeth I" by J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin.
  11. ^ Cusack, Margaret Anne, An Illustrated History of Ireland,; accessed 11 July 2015.
  12. ^ Catholic encyclopedia article, accessed Feb 2017
  13. ^ Naas Parish website


External links


Ballyraine (Irish: Baile Raithin) is a district of Letterkenny, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland, located in the parish of Aughaninshin. Ballyraine Linear Park is found here. Ballyraine National School, a co-educational primary school which is under joint management of the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church, is also located in the area.Physical distance from the town centre, lack of permeability and lack of neighbourhood facilities result in an isolated neighbourhood with high dependency on car usage for daily conveniences.

Christian martyrs

A Christian martyr is a person who is killed because of their testimony of Jesus. In years of the early church, this often occurred through stoning, crucifixion, burning at the stake or other forms of torture and capital punishment. The word "martyr" comes from the Koine word μάρτυς, mártys, which means "witness" or "testimony".

At first, the term applied to Apostles. Once Christians started to undergo persecution, the term came to be applied to those who suffered hardships for their faith. Finally, it was restricted to those who had been killed for their faith. The early Christian period before Constantine I was the "Age of martyrs". Early Christians venerated martyrs as powerful intercessors, and their utterances were treasured as inspired by the Holy Spirit."

Church of the Irish Martyrs

The Church of the Irish Martyrs is a Roman Catholic church in the parish of Aughaninshin in the Ballyraine area of Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland.

Concobhar Ó Duibheannaigh

Blessed Concobhar Ó Duibheannaigh (c. 1532 – 1 (O.S.)/11 (N.S.) February 1612; Conor O'Devany, Cornelius O'Devany) is a formally beatified Irish Catholic Martyrs who was an Irish Roman Catholic bishop and martyr.

Ó Duibheannaigh was born in Drumkeen, Raphoe, County Donegal, educated at the Franciscan convent in Donegal Town. While in Rome, Ó Duibheannaigh was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor by Pope Gregory XIII on 27 April 1582, and consecrated by Cardinal Nicolas de Pellevé on 2 February 1583.

Dermot O'Hurley

Dermot O'Hurley (c. 1530 – 19 or 20 June 1584; Dermod or Dermond O'Hurley, Irish: Diarmaid Ó hUrthuile) was a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland during the reign of Elizabeth I, who was put to death for treason. He was one of the most celebrated of the Irish Catholic Martyrs, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.

List of Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation

The Roman Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation are men and women executed under treason legislation in the English Reformation, between 1534 and 1680, and recognised as martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church. Though consequences of the English Reformation were felt in Ireland and Scotland as well, this article only covers those who died in the Kingdom of England.

On 25 February 1570, Pope Pius V's "Regnans in Excelsis" bull excommunicated all both the English Queen Elizabeth I and any who obeyed her. This papal bull also required all Roman Catholics to rebel against the English Crown as a matter of faith. In response, in 1571 legislation was enacted making it treasonable to be under the authority of the Pope, including being a Jesuit, being Roman Catholic or harbouring a Roman Catholic priest. The standard penalty for all those convicted of treason at the time was execution by being hanged, drawn and quartered.

In the reign of Pope Gregory XIII (1572–85), authorisation was given for 63 recognised martyrs to have their relics honoured and pictures painted for Roman Catholic devotions. These martyrs were formally beatified by Pope Leo XIII, 54 in 1886 and the remaining nine in 1895. Further groups of martyrs were subsequently documented and proposed by Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales and formally recognised by Rome.

List of people beatified by Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II beatified 1,327 people. The names listed below are from the Vatican website and are listed by year, then date. The locations given are the locations of the beatification ceremonies, not necessarily the birthplaces or homelands of the beatified.

Margaret Ball

Margaret Ball (1515–1584) was a prominent member of 16th-century Irish society, who, despite being the widow of a Lord Mayor of Dublin, was arrested for her adherence to the Catholic faith and died of deprivation in the dungeons of Dublin Castle. She was declared a martyr for the faith by the Catholic Church and beatified in 1992, one of a group of 17 Irish Catholic Martyrs.

Patrick O'Hely

Patrick O'Hely (Irish: Pádraig Ó hÉilí) (died August 31, 1579) was an Irish Roman Catholic bishop of Mayo, Ireland, who was executed by the English secular authorities.

Terence O'Brien (bishop)

Terence Albert O'Brien (1600 – 30 October 1651) was an Irish Roman Catholic Bishop of Emly. He was beatified among the Seventeen Irish Martyrs by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.

Wexford Martyrs

The Wexford Martyrs were Matthew Lambert, Robert Myler, Edward Cheevers, Patrick Cavanagh (Irish: Pádraigh Caomhánach), John O'Lahy, and one other unknown individual. In 1581, they were found guilty of treason for aiding in the escape of James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass; for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy which declared Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church; and for conveying Catholic priests, laymen, and a Jesuit out of Ireland. On 5 July 1581, they were hanged, drawn and quartered in Wexford, Ireland. They were subsequently Beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Virgin Mary
See also

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