General Proscription of the Irish Catholics by the Puritans.
The persecution carried on by the Puritan Parliament and Cromwell against the Catholics of Ireland has scarcely a parallel in the history of the Church. No sooner had the Puritan faction become predominant in England than they resolved on the utter extermination of the Irish people, declaring that thus alone could Catholicity be rooted out from our island. In fact, this extermination of the Irish Catholics became a leading feature in their political programme. "The Parliament party," writes Lord Clarendon, "had grounded their own authority and strength upon such foundations as were inconsistent with any toleration of the Roman Catholic religion, and even with any humanity to the Irish nation—and more especially to those of the old native extraction, the whole race whereof they had upon the matter sworn to extirpate.' — History, i., 215.
As early as the 8th of December, 1641, an act was passed in Parliament to the effect that the Catholic Religion should never be tolerated in Ireland; and in order to carry this act into execution, the Lords Justices issued the following order to the commander of the Irish forces:—
"It is resolved, that it is fit his Lordship do endeavour, with his Majesty's forces, to slay and destroy all the said rebels, and their adherents and relievers, by all the ways and means he may; and burn, destroy, spoil, waste, consume, and demolish all the places, towns, and houses where the said rebels are or have been relieved and harboured, and all the hay and corn there, and kill and destroy all the men there inhabiting able to bear arms."
All the subsequent acts of Parliament and orders of the Chief Justices are dictated in the same sanguinary strain. As an instance we may cite the enactment by the Lords and Commons of England on 24th of October, 1644: "that no quarter shall he given to any Irishman, or to any papist born in Ireland. " The writers of the party were animated by the same exterminating spirit; and, though the soul shudders at the recital, we shall present an extract from one of the political pamphlets of the period, that the reader may fully appreciate the virulence of the Puritan hatred against the Catholics of Ireland:—
"I beg upon my hands and knees that the expedition against them may be undertaken whilst the hearts and hands of our soldiery are hot, to whom I will be bold to say, briefly: 'happy is he that shall reward them as they have served us; and cursed is he that shall do the work of the Lord negligently. Cursed be he that holdeth back his sword from blood; yea, cursed be he that maketh not his sword stark drunk with Irish blood—that maketh them not heaps upon heaps, and their country a dwelling-place for dragons, an astonishment to nations. Let not that eye look for pity nor that hand he spared that pities or spares them; and let him be accursed that curseth them not bitterly.'"— See longer extract in 0' Connell's Memoir, page 346.
It would be tedious to enter into full details of the cruel extermination by which the army in Ireland sought to carry into effect the desires of their English masters. The whole history of their sanguinary career may be well compendiated in the words of the Protestant historian, Borlase, "the orders of Parliament were excellently well executed."—Hist of Reb., page 62. Leland and Warner refer to the letters of the Lords Justices themselves for the fact, that the soldiers "slew all persons promiscuously, not sparing even the women." And Dr. Nalson, another Protestant historian, appeals to the testimony of officers who served in the Parliamentary army, "that no manner of compassion or discrimination was shown either to age or sex." Lord Ossory, too, himself a bitter enemy of the Catholics, in a letter to Ormond, informs him how the Puritan Lord President of Munster "caused innocent and guilty to be alike executed;" and commemorates some instances of barbaric cruelty for which we would seek in vain a parallel in the fiercest persecutions of paganism.
One of their officers, named Tichburne, who commanded in Dundalk, in 1642, was able to boast that in his district "there was neither man nor beast to be found in sixteen miles between the two towns of Drogheda and Dundalk, nor on the other side of Dundalk, in the county of Monaghan, nearer than Carrickmacross." [* Ap. Curry, page 169; and Vindicla, page 417]
A Protestant dignitary, Dean Bernard, describing the same scene, wrote: "By the death of so many men about us, having their houses and all their provisions either burnt or drawn hither, the dogs only surviving are found very usually feeding upon their masters; which taste of man's flesh made it very dangerous for the passengers in the roads, who have been often set upon by these mastiffs, till we were careful to kill them also."— Page 109.
Another officer, Sir William Cole, who commanded in a few counties of the North, slew in a short period, as Borlase informs us, together with 2,400 swordsmen, "seven thousand of the vulgar sort." (Hist, page 112). And the same historian adds, (page 113) that " after this manner did the English fight in the other quarters."
When in May, 1642, the Earl of Clanrickard induced the citizens of Galway to submit once more, and took them under the king's protection, he received a reprimand from the Lords Justices, declaring that he should have prosecuted them " with fire and sword." Moreover, to prevent like clemency for the future, "they issued a general order to the commanders of all garrisons, not to presume to hold any correspondence or treaty with any of the Irish papists dwelling or residing in any place near or about their garrisons, or to give protection, immunity, or dispensation from spoil, burning, or other prosecution of war to any of them, but to prosecute all such rebels with fire and sword, according to former commands and proclamations in that behalf."
Sir Charles Coote was one of the leading champions of Puritanism in Ireland, and of him in particular, and his associate officers, M'Geoghegan writes—" There were no exceptions in the barbarous orders which they gave to their soldiery when letting them loose to make their bloody hunts amongst the Irish Catholics." Yet far was the Parliament from reproving the conduct of this sanguinary monster; and when he was slain in one of his excursions near Trim, in April, 1642, we are informed by Borlase, that "floods of English tears accompanied him to the grave." (Hist, page 104).
When such were the sentiments of the Government and chief officers, we can no longer be surprised at individual deeds of barbarous cruelty perpetrated by the soldiery on the defenceless inhabitants; it is thus we find them deliberately knocking out the children's brains against the walls at Clonakilty, county Cork; we find them turning the Irish into their houses, to which they then set fire, as in Bantry, to enjoy the screams of agony of their victims; we find them, at Bandon bridge, tying the Catholics back to back, and casting them from the battlements of the bridge, to perish in the river beneath. And in the Commons' Journals of 1644, (vol. 3, page 517), it is recorded that Captain Swanley having captured a vessel at sea, and thrown seventy individuals overboard, because they were Irish,he was summoned to the bar of the House of Commons, "and had thanks there given him for his good service, and a chain of gold of £200 value." [ Lord Clarendon (ii. 478), writes that this was not an exceptional case; but, on the contrary, with officers of the navy, "it was a rule, whenever they made Irish prisoners, to bind them back to back, and cast them overboard."]
To proceed with order in detailing the progress of this dire persecution, we shall—1st see the violence with which it raged in the chief districts of Ireland, till the year 1652 ; and in the— 2nd part, we shall examine the penal laws subsequently enacted by the Cromwellians for the avowed purpose of rooting out Catholicity from our " Island of Saints.''
Persecution of the Catholics in the principal districts of Ireland.
§ 1.—Sufferings Of Catholics In Dublin.
Dublin being the seat of Government, was the first city that experienced the sad effects of the Puritan persecution. Before the close of 1641 a proclamation was published, interdicting there the exercise of the Catholic religion; a rigorous search was made to discover the priests and religious, and no fewer than forty of them being arrested, they were, for some time, treated with great rigour in prison, and then transported to the continent. An extract from a letter addressed to his superior in Rome, on the 12th July, 1642, by a Capuchin father thus sent into exile, will convey some idea of the storm which had been let loose against the Catholics:—
"Whithersoever the enemy penetrates, everything is destroyed by fire and sword; none are spared, not even the infants at their mothers' breasts, for their desire is to wholly extirpate the Irish race. In Dublin our order, as, also, the other religious bodies, had a residence and a beautifully ornamented chapel, in which we publicly, and in our habit, performed the sacred ceremonies; but no sooner had the soldiers arrived from England, than they furiously rushed everywhere, profaned our chapels, overturned our altars, broke to pieces the sacred images, trampling them under foot and destroying them by fire; our residences were plundered, the priests were everywhere sought for, and many, amongst whom myself and companion, were captured and cast into prison We were twenty in number, and the Lords Justices at first resolved on our execution, but through the influence of some members of the council, we were transported to France. The masters of the two vessels into which we were cast, received private instructions to throw us into the sea, but they refused to commit this horrid crime. Oh, would to God that we had been worthy to be led to the scaffold, or thus drowned for the faith." [Lett of Fr. Nicholas, superior of the Capuchins of Dublin; Pictavii, 12 Julii, 1642, in my possession.]
A narrative of the Jesuit missionaries thus briefly sketches the sufferings they endured. "We were persecuted, and dispersed, and despoiled of all our goods; some, too, were cast into prison and others sent into exile."[Missio Soc. Jes. usque ad an. 1655, in archiv. Colleg. Hib. Romae.]
Amongst the fathers of the society, was F. Henry Caghwell, renowned for his learning and zeal: "being confined to his bed by sickness, he was apprehended by the soldiers and hurried to the public square; as he was unable to walk or even to stand, he was placed on a chair more for mockery than for ease, and subjected to the derision and cruel insults of the soldiery; he was then beaten with cudgels and thrown into the ship with the others for France."[Relatio rerum quarumdam notabilium quie contigerunt in Hibernia ab anno 1641, usque ad an. 1650 in iisd. archiv.]
Another holy priest, whose name is well known in connection with the history of our suffering church, father Henry Fitzsymons, though in his eightieth year, "was obliged with the other Catholics to fly from Dublin and seek safety in the mountainous districts. The winter had set in with unusual severity, yet he had to undertake the difficult journey on foot and to wander stealthily through the woods and mountains. He passed the whole winter in the midst of a bog, being thus secured from the Puritan cavalry. His cabin being only half covered, he was exposed to the wind and rain; his bed was of straw, always moist from the rain above, or from the stagnant waters of the bog beneath. Yet the good priest was ever joyous, and only intent on consoling those who were sharers of his sufferings. The children he instructed in the catechism, the sacrament of. penance he administered to all that approached. He could not, however, long endure the privations of that painful state, and was therefore obliged to embark for the continent, where he soon expired, full of merits as he was of years."
Though it was death for Catholics to exercise their religion within the walls of Dublin, yet many continued to reside there privately; nor was a devoted clergy wanting to risk every peril in order to administer to them the holy sacraments. The manuscript narrative already referred to details many instances of the arts to which they were obliged to have recourse to thus break to their flock the bread of life. One lived as a hermit, perpetually shut up in a secret place, only a few Catholics being acquainted with this retreat. Another often changing his disguise, went publicly through the streets; at one time he wore a long beard and a soldier's dress; at other times he travelled as a mechanic or merchant; sometimes, too, he carried a bread-basket on his shoulders, thus becoming all to all that he might gain all to Christ. A third disguised himself as a miller, and occasionally as a gardener; and though living in the country, often passed through the midst of the enemy's guards carrying herbs, or fruits, or some such articles, as if he were journeying to market, whilst he was in reality hastening to the bedside of the infirm.
These stratagems, however, did not always enable them to elude the vigilance of the soldiery. Thus, one aged man— a venerable Jesuit—was seized at the very altar when offering the holy sacrifice; the soldiers at once tore off the sacred vestments and cast him into a horrid dungeon. Another priest, though disguised, was assailed by them in the public streets, despoiled of all he had with him, and thrown into the common sewer; and it was only by the interposition of some passers-by, who declared he could not be a priest, that he was rescued from their brutality.
When, in 1647, the city was treacherously surrendered by Ormond to the Puritans, the severest measures were at once re-enacted against the Catholics. By public edict it was commanded that all papists should quit the city; it was declared a capital crime for any of them to stop even one night within the walls of Dublin or its suburbs, and it was prohibited under penalty of death and the confiscation of property to receive into their houses any Jesuit or priest, whilst at the same time large rewards were held out to all who would give information against the violators of this edict.[Kelatio, &c.]
Whilst the sword of persecution thus rendered desolate the church of Dublin, another scourge was sent by Providence to attest the virtue of our suffering people. In the month of June, 1650, the plague commenced its first ravages within the city walls. "In my diocese," writes the archbishop, "almost all the priests have died or have been murdered by the enemy; the religious are scattered, and my flock for the greater part has been destroyed by war and famine, though the pestilence has, as yet, scarcely made its appearance amongst us." (Letter of 6th June, 1650.) Before the close of that year, the plague had numbered amongst its victims 16,000 of the inhabitants.[Missio Soc. Jesu, &c., writen in 1651. Borlase states, that "in the summer of 1630, 17,000 persons died of the plague in Dublin.]
Many fled to the country parts to avoid the contagion; yet for three years it raged with unabated fury, during which interval the number of its victims were swelled beyond 30,000 [Littene annuae, &c., 1662; "toto illo tempore tantopere sseviit ut supra 30 millia hominum e vivis sustulerit."] It was only in the winter of 1651 that the violence of the disease seemed for a while relaxed, but the rage of the heretics against the Catholics was then increased tenfold.[Ibid. "Iu sequente hieme furor pestis nonnihil desseviit, sed haereticorum rabies in orthodoxos incaluit."]
On the feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr, the governor of the city, desirous to slay the souls of those who perchance had escaped from the pestilence, published an edict commanding all Catholics of whatsoever sex or age to present themselves at the heretical churches, or otherwise within fourteen days to remove, under penalty of death, beyond two miles from the city walls; none were allowed to return to the city without a written permission from the governor, and then only by day, for it was absolutely prohibited to all Catholics to rest for even one night within the walls. No alternative now remained to the Catholics; "they had to choose between the death of the body or of the soul. Yet of all the dense population of Dublin, only five hundred of the lowest populace, impelled by fear of -the cold, and famine, and other impending calamities (to them far more dreadful than the sword) presented themselves at the churches of the heretics."[ Inter tot angustias, ex confertissimo totius urbis Dnblinensis populo, quingenti tantum gregarii homines, frigoris, famis aliarumque serumnarum ferendarum foris apprehensione perculsi, quas plus gladio pertimescebant, hoereticorum templa adierunt." Ibid.]
A merciful Providence was not wanting to those who chose to suffer everything rather than imperil their faith. Such Catholics as yet retained some property outside the city walls welcomed the exiles to their roofs, and shared with them their remaining goods till, in the following year, the rigour of the edict was again relaxed, whilst, at the same time, all were gladdened by the heroic return to the bosom of mother church of the greater part of the five hundred who had fallen away.*
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.