§ 4.—Sufferings Of The Catholics Wexford.
In Wexford the scenes of Puritan barbarism were again renewed. Cromwell having obtained possession of the town through the treachery of one of Ormond's officers, "thought it not good or just to restrain the soldiers from their right of pillage nor from doing of execution on the enemy." [Lett, of Crom. to the Parl].
In his opinion the massacre of the inhabitants could only be likened to that of Drogheda, and he adds: "It pleased God to give into your hands this other mercy, for which, as for all, we pray God may have all the glory." In the same letter he estimates the number of the garrison thus butchered at 2,000, and recommends the Parliament to send over English Protestants to inhabit the city, as " of the former inhabitants not one in twenty can be found to challenge any property in their own houses. Most of them are run away, and many of them were killed in this service. God, by an unexpected providence in His righteous justice, brought a just judgment on them, causing them to become a prey to the soldiers.''
It was on the 11th of October that the enemy entered the town of Wexford. The History of the Jesuits in Ireland, by father St. Leger (1655), thus briefly sketches the scene of slaughter that ensued: "On the city being taken, Cromwell exterminated the citizens by the sword." Another contemporary record details the special sufferings of the friars of the order of St. Francis: "On the 11th of October, 1649, seven friars of our order, all men of extraordinary merit, and natives of the town, perished by the sword of the heretics. Some of them were killed kneeling before the altar, and others whilst hearing confessions. Father Raymund Stafford, holding a crucifix in his hand, came out of the church to encourage the citizens, and even preached with great zeal to the infuriated enemies themselves, till he was killed by them in the marketplace."[Letter of F. Francis Stafford. See it in full in Duffy's Magax., May, 1847.]
The archbishop of Dublin, in the letter already referred to, repeats the same in a few words: "At Wexford," he says, "many priests, some religious, innumerable citizens, and two thousand soldiers were massacred."[" Multi Sacerdotes, nonnulli religiosi, plurimi cives, et duo millia militum trucidati."—Lett. 5 June, 1650].
The fullest narrative, however, of the persecution in this town, is presented by the venerable bishop of the diocese, Dr. Nicholas French, who from the place of his exile, thus wrote to the Internuncio in the month of January, 1673:—
"On one day I lost, for the cause of God and the faith, all that I possessed; it was the 11th of October, 1649; on that most lamentable day my native city of Wexford, abounding in wealth, ships, and merchandize, was destroyed by the sword, and given a prey to the infuriated soldiery by Cromwell, that English pest of hell.[Peste inferni anglicana.]
There, before God's altar, fell many sacred victims, holy priests of the Lord; others, who were seized outside the precincts of the church, were scourged with whips; others were hanged; some were arrested and bound with chains; and others were put to death by various most cruel tortures. The best blood of the citizens was shed; the very squares were inundated with it, and there was scarcely a house that was not defiled with carnage, and full of wailing. In my own palace a youth, hardly sixteen years of age—an amiable boy—as also my gardener and sacristan, were cruelly butchered; and the chaplain, whom I caused to remain behind me at home, was transpierced with six mortal wounds. These things were perpetrated in open day by the impious assassins. From that moment (and this it is that renders me a most unhappy man) I have never seen my city or my flock, or my native land, or my kindred. After the destruction of the city I lived for five months in the woods with death ever impending over me. There my drink was milk and water, a small quantity of bread was my food, and on one occasion I did not taste of it during five days; there was no need of cookery for my scanty meals, and I slept in the open air, without either bed or bed-clothes. At length the wood in which I lay concealed was surrounded by numerous bodies of the enemy, who anxiously sought to capture me and send me loaded with chains to England. My angel guardian being my guide, I burst through their lines, and escaped owing to the swiftness of my able steed."
In the library of Trinity College, Dublin, another letter of this prelate is preserved, written at the same period, and entitled " Apologia," being a defence of the course he had pursued in seeking his safety in exile. In it he thus addresses his accuser:—
"You say nothing about my native city, Wexford, cruelly destroyed by the sword on the 11th of October, 1649; nothing of my palace being plundered, and of my domestics impiously slain; nothing of my fellow-labourers, precious victims, immolated by the impious sword of the heretics before the altar of God; nothing of the inhabitants weltering in their own blood and gore. The rumour of the direful massacre reached me whilst I was in a neighbouring town suffering from a burning fever. I cried and mourned, and shed bitter tears, and lamented; and turning to Heaven, with a deep sigh, cried out, in the words of the prophet Jeremias, and all who were present shared in my tears. In that excessive bitterness of my soul, a thousand times I wished to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, that thus I might not witness the sufferings of my country. From that period I have never seen my city nor my people, but, as an outcast, I sought a refuge in the wilderness. I wandered through woods and mountains, generally taking my rest and repose exposed to the hoar frost, sometimes lying hid in the caves and caverns of the earth. In the woods and groves I passed more than five months, that thus I might administer some consolation to the few survivors of my flock who had escaped from the universal massacre, and dwelt there with the herds of cattle. But neither trees nor caverns could afford me a lasting refuge; for the heretical governor of Wexford, George Cooke, well known for his barbarity, with several troops of cavalry and foot soldiers, searching everywhere, anxious for my death, explored even the highest mountains and most difficult recesses; the huts and habitations adjoining the wood, and in which I sometimes had offered the holy Sacrifice, he destroyed by fire, and my hiding places, which were formed of branches and leafy boughs of trees, were all overturned. Amongst those who were subjected to much annoyance, on my account, was a nobleman in whose house he supposed me to lie concealed. He searched the whole house with lighted tapers, accompanied by soldiers, holding their naked swords in their hands to slay me the moment I should appear; but amidst all these perils God protected me, and mercifully delivered me from the hands of this blood-thirsty man."
In the extracts just cited, the public square or market-place is referred to as the chief scene of this wholesale massacre. Many of the principal inhabitants had assembled there, and no fewer than 300 females are said to have chosen the same place of refuge. They knelt around the great cross which was erected in its centre, and they hoped that their defenceless condition, their prayers and cries, would move the enemy to compassion. The ruthless barbarian, the pagan Goth or Hun, would have been moved to pity, but Puritan ferocity had steeled the hearts of Cromwell's followers against every sentiment of mercy, and the market-place of Wexford was soon inundated with the blood of these martyrs.
§ 5.—Sufferings Of The Catholics In Cork.
Whilst these deeds of cruel barbarity were perpetrated by Cromwell's troops, many of the southern towns, through the treachery of the officers of Inchiquin, were surrendered into the hands of the Puritans, and thus they, too, soon became the theatres of a most violent persecution. The narrative from which many extracts have already been made,t gives the following details as to the city of Cork :—
[Some have questioned the accuracy of the statement made by M'Geoghegan and Lingard as to the massacre of these females around the cross of Wexford; they say Dr. French and other contemporary writers would not be silent in regard of this particular. But these contemporary writers sufficiently describe the wholesale massacre of the inhabitants, without mercy being shown to age or sex; and any particulars that are added have a special reference to themselves. The same writers, when describing the destruction of Drogheda, are silent as to the massacre of the females in the crypts of St. Peter's Church; and were it not for the narrative of an officer who himself was engaged in that barbarous deed, some critics would probably now be found to reject it as fabulous. The constant tradition, not only of Wexford, but of the whole nation, attests the truth of the statement of the above-mentioned historians]
"The tempest of the most cruel persecution, carried on by the parliamentarians against the Catholics, reached Cork without having to encounter any obstacle. For, the president of the province pretending to be a liege minister of the king, was, together with his troops, admitted without difficulty within the walls. Having thus, under pretence of defending it for the king, got possession of the city, he perfidiously handed it over to the parliamentarians."
Their first edict was that all the clergy should at once depart from the city, permitting, however, four parish priests to remain, lest the Catholic citizens, who were as yet too powerful, might be impelled to revolt. As the Puritan forces increased, fresh pretexts were found for new persecutions :—
"The hatred of the heretics for our religion (the narrative thus continues) becoming greater and greater every day, an order was published prohibiting the citizens to carry swords, or to have in their houses any arms whatsoever. This being effected, another proclamation was issued by the president of the council of war, commanding all Catholics either to abjure their religion or to immediately depart from the city. Should they consent to embrace the parliamentary teaching (parliamentariam religionem), they were permitted to remain and enjoy their goods and property. Should they, however, pertinaciously adhere to popery, all, without exception, were to immediately depart from the city. Three cannon shots were to be fired as signals at stated intervals before nightfall, and any Catholic that should be found in the city after the third signal, was to be massacred without mercy. It was then that the constancy of the citizens in the faith was seen. There was not even one to be found in the whole city to accept the proffered impious condition, or to seek to enjoy his property and goods with the detriment of his faith. Before the third signal all went forth from the city walls—the men and the women, yea, even the children and the infirm; and it was a sight truly worthy of heaven to see so many thousands thus abandoning their homes—so many venerable matrons, with their tender children, wandering through the fields, or overcome by fatigue, seated on the ground in ditches, or on the highways; so many aged men, some of whom had held high offices in the state, and were members of the nobility, with their wives and families, wandering to and fro, knowing not where to seek a place of refuge; So many merchants who, on that morning, abounded in wealth, but now had not a home in which to rest their weary limbs, yet all with joy went forth to their destruction, abandoning their houses and goods, their revenues and property and wealth, chosing rather to be afflicted with the people of God, on the mountain tops, and in the caverns, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, than to enjoy momentary pleasures and temporal prosperity with sin."
§ 6. Sufferings Of The Catholics In Kilkenny.
After the massacre of Wexford, Cromwell invited the other cities and towns to surrender. Should they consent to receive parliamentary garrisons, their property and goods were to be secured to them, and no inquiries were to be made as to religion. One thing only would be required, that the Mass should be abolished, " for," he added, "wheresoever the sway and authority of Parliament extends, the Mass shall not be tolerated." However unable the Catholics might be to resist the torrent of destruction that was now bursting upon them, yet they were too devoted to the faith to embrace this impious condition, and, as we learn from Dr. Burgatt, (subsequently Archbishop of Cashel), not one was found in the whole island who would consent to barter his religion for the proffered boon. Thus the sword of extermination was again unsheathed.
"Catholicity was flourishing in the city of Kilkenny, when the Puritan army, like a devastating torrent, overturning everything in its course, appeared before its walls."Whilst the inhuman foe threatened it from without, another scourge laid it waste within. The plague raged with such fury, that its brave garrison was reduced from 1,200 to 400 men. So dreadful was the contagion, that when the earl of Castlehaven destined some troops to succour it, they refused to march, declaring that they were ready to fight against man, but not against God. The enemy granted favourable conditions to the citizens, but no sooner had they got possession of the city, than these were violated; "they impiously profaned the churches, overturned the altars, destroyed the paintings and crosses, and profaned all things sacred. The vestments, which had been for the most part concealed, were discovered and plundered by the soldiery; the books and paintings were cast into the streets, and either destroyed by fire or brought away as booty." The holy bishop, Dr. David Rooth, venerable for his years, his piety, his learning, and his zeal, had just entered a carriage to seek for safety by flight, when the enemy arrived. They inhumanly dragged him from his seat, despoiled him of liis garments, and then clothing him with a tattered cloak which was covered with vermin, they cast him into a loathsome dungeon, where, after a prolonged martyrdom, he expired in the month of April, 1650.
Dr. Patrick Lynch of Galway, writing on the 1st of May, 1650, to the secretary of the Sacred Congregation, mentions that the rumour had reached him of the death of this holy bishop, of the cruelties exercised in the city of Kilkenny, and of numbers of priests and religious, and citizens, having been put to death.
Whilst the pestilence raged within the city, one good priest, father Patrick Lea, was especially distinguished by his charity and zeal. Not only was he untiring in administering to the spiritual wants of the sick and dying, but he also assisted them in their corporal wants ; he ministered to the poor even in the most loathsome duties, and sometimes, too, he was seen digging graves, and bearing on his shoulders to interment the bodies of those who were abandoned. It was whilst exercising this last-mentioned excess of Christian heroism that he himself was infected with the disease, and expired a martyr of charity a few days before the arrival of Cromwell at the gates of Kilkenny.
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.