St. Oliver Plunkett - A Martyr For Ireland & His Faith
Oliver Plunkett, an Irish martyr was executed because of his religious duties to his flock and from his arrest to his execution, his spurious trials made international headlines. His persecutors were intent that there could be only one final decision no matter what defence was offered and the guilty verdict was always a foregone conclusion.
Oliver Plunkett, a native of Oldcastle, Co. Meath, was born on 1st November 1629 to a family who enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle due to their ownership of large land holdings. His early education was mapped out for him by his cousin, Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s Church, Dublin, and Patrick would always be very influential in Oliver’s choice of career.
The priesthood came knocking on Oliver’s door in 1647, when he was aged just eighteen. He set out for the Irish College in Rome to study his ecclesiastical books and he was a brilliant religious scholar who impressed his superiors greatly.
In 1649, the Cromwell invasion of Ireland forbid catholics to practice their religion and catholic clergy were promptly executed when they carried out their priestly duties.
Ordained in 1654, aged twenty five, Oliver Plunkett was risking his young life by returning to Ireland at that time. At a special Catholic Convention in 1669 he was made Archbishop Of Armagh and returned to Ireland in 1670 to take on his ministry.
On return to Ireland, Oliver found his flock embattled and bewildered and his first mission was to re-establish the catholic church. With some relaxation in the Penal Laws, Oliver built new churches and colleges but the placing into law of the new Test Act once again caused havoc to the catholic church.
All his good work was demolished to the ground and he was forced to go into hiding. A further act (Popish Plot) was instigated and extremists accused him of promoting a French invasion despite his obscurity in hiding.
In 1679 a price was placed on his head for capture and whilst carrying out his duties underground in Dublin, he was betrayed and arrested and later released.
In a Co. Louth church near Drogheda, Oliver spent some time in hiding before once again becoming a prisoner. He was taken to Dundalk for trial and accused of plotting the arrival of 20,000 French soldiers and placing a tax on his ministers to support an Irish rebel army.
The British realised that a conviction in Ireland would be controversial and moved his trial to London. Found not guilty of any illegal act at his first London trial, he was still refused his freedom. A second spurious trial was ordered and a conviction was demanded by the rulers.
On 16 th June 1681, Oliver Plunkett was spuriously found guilty of high treason for promoting the Roman faith.
His condemnation decreed that he would be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London, England.
Oliver Plunkett paid far beyond the ultimate price for his christian beliefs. The head of Oliver was sent to Germany before resting in Armagh and finally taken to Drogheda’s St. Peter’s Church on 29 th June 1921.
Oliver was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975.