§ 7-—Sufferings Of The Catholics In Waterford.
The narrative above referred to, written in 1655, thus describes the destruction brought on Waterford at this period: "As the year 1650 spread mourning and sorrow through all parts of the kingdom, so, in a special manner, did it put an end to the happiness of Waterford." Three enemies, pestilence, famine, and the sword, at the same time assailed the city. The enemy offered, indeed, liberal conditions, together with the privileges of the citizenship of London, and the free exercise of their religion. But the inhabitants held in mind the interpretation that had been put upon this latter article on the surrender of Ross, when Cromwell declared that it extended only to the internal belief, and not to the open practice of that religion, and hence they resolved on resisting to the last the heretical foe. Dreading the treachery of the royal officers, they refused to admit within the walls the reinforcements which Ormond offered them: and though the siege was carried on with unremitting vigour from September to December, so heroic was the defence, that on the feast of St. Francis Xavier the enemy abandoned the siege in despair.
However, "those whom the parliamentary forces could not subdue, were gradually wasted away by pestilence, till at length the city became a prey to the enemy." Of the many thousands who then defended it, four hundred survived, when Ireton, after the siege of Clonmel, advanced a second time against its walls. Nevertheless it again resisted for nine weeks, "and it came into the enemy's hands, not so much overcome by force, as because it had become a solitude through the violence of the pestilence." For a little while no persecution was proclaimed, but ere long the virulence of Puritanism" was seen; an edict commanded all Catholics to depart from the city within three months, and thus citizens and clergy were involved in a common ruin;" and now, glorious confessors of Christ, they seek a secure asylum scattered through the various regions of the earth "
From a letter of a Capuchin father (30th June, 1651,) written from Waterford to his superior in Rome, we learn that no ecclesiastic dared to appear publicly in the city, and that neither friendship nor rewards could induce the heretics to allow the slightest toleration. "As for me," he adds, " I pass freely through the city, for I serve as gardener the chief heretic of this city: sometimes, too, I work in carrying loads, passing as one of the coalporters." We learn further details from the bishop of the diocese, who, writing from his place of exile to Rome (3rd March, 1651), thus depicts the ruin that had fallen on his once chosen flock: "War and the pestilence have laid waste the whole country; our churches and altars are profaned and transformed into stables or barracks, or hospitals; no longer is the sacrifice offered up, nor the divine word preached, nor the holy sacraments administered; the ecclesiastics who were spared by the plague, have been sent into banishment; the pestilence swept away five thousand of the citizens and the soldiery, and yet continues its havoc there. Truly this dire scourge is a chastisement for our sins."
§ 8.—Sufferings Of The Catholics In Galway.
To review in detail the sufferings of the other cities of Leinster and Munster, would be to repeat the scenes which we have already described. There is, however, something peculiar in the rigour displayed by the Puritans in the capital of the western province that claims a special attention. Our chief guide in this article will be " the Life of Dr. Francis Kirwan, bishop of Killala, written by his friend, Dr. John Lynch, and published at St. Malo's in 1669.
The city of Galway was remarkable amongst the other cities of Ireland, for the wealth of its inhabitants and the beauty of its edifices. The walls were of green marble, flanked by numerous towers; the waters of Lough Corrib flowed through its centre, whilst the regularity of its streets, the fair proportions of its buildings, its noble squares, and its palaces, built of native marble, gladdened the eye. All this was soon to become a prey to the ruthless enemy. It was in the month of June, 1651, that the Puritan army marched into Connaught, laying waste the whole province with fire and sword, and on the 8th of July they encamped before the walls of Galway. The city had already been decimated by the pestilence, yet it was only after nine months' combat that the enemy entered within the walls.
Dr. Francis Kirwan was at this time lying hid in a country house, at a short distance from the city. For eight months he continued there in a small narrow room, which, besides two beds for himself and his chaplain, was barely able to contain a chest. This served for an altar; and whilst the holy sacrifice was offered up each day, one bed had to be removed to afford standing room for the celebrant. The intense cold of winter was endured without a fire, and during the whole eight months only thrice did the bishop go for an instant from this hiding-place: on one occasion he was carried out wrapped in a sheet, whilst the enemy were engaged in searching every corner of the house for arms, and when met by the soldiers he was recognized only as a feeble and worn-down old man; and well does his biographer compare his many sufferings at this period to those of the early pastors of the Catholic church.
Within the city the soldiery displayed a rabid detestation of the Catholic priests, and with an insatiate avarice plundered the Catholic citizens of all they possessed. When the bishop deemed it more secure to enter the town, "he was obliged to take refuge in the topmost stories of the houses aneath the tiles, and this, too, at mid-winter, without one spark of fire. Sometimes, too, he was forced to go out on the roof, and when the pursuers approached, to descend into a neighbouring house by the dormant-window." , We must allow this contemporary writer to depict some of the frightful scenes of persecution to which the citizens were at the same time subjected:—
"Along with the three scourges of God, famine, plague, and war, there was another which some called the fourth scourge, to wit, the weekly exaction of the soldier's pay, which was extorted with incredible atrocity each Saturday, bugles sounding and drums beating. On these occasions the soldiers entered the various houses, and, pointing their muskets to the breasts of men and women, threatened them with instant death if the sum demanded was not instantly given. Should it have so happened that the continual payment of these pensions had exhausted the means of the people, bed, bedding, sheets, tablecloths, dishes, and every description of furniture, nay, the very garments of the women, torn off their persons, were carried to the market-place and sold for a small sum, so much so that each recurring Saturday bore a resemblance to the day of judgment, and the clangour of the trumpet smote the people with terror almost equal to that of doom's day."
The scene of plunder in the house of Mr. Martin Kirwan, which he next describes, is only an instance of the fearful course which was pursued by these harpies when the country was parcelled out to their devastating fury:—
"In the house they found only young children and servants, together with the mother who superintended their education, for the father and his son were in prison. Having ransacked the whole house, the soldiers entered an inner room, where they saw some glittering rays of light, and in this recess they discovered a wooden tabernacle, ornamented with gilded mouldings, and wooden candlesticks likewise gilt, which the bishop was about to place in some church; all these sacred objects did the soldiers drag out of the house, nor could they be induced by supplication or money to restore them; they subsequently tore them all to pieces, and scattered many relics that had been deposited in the tabernacle."
When at length the good bishop, finding it impossible to remain any longer concealed, surrendered to the government, he and several other ecclesiastics were treated as galley-slaves; they were marched along in bodies surrounded by soldiers, drums beating and bugles sounding, and when, by the diligence of the priest-catchers, many other ecclesiastics were cast into prison, they were locked up in houses hired for the occasion, and for which the prisoners themselves had to pay. During his imprisonment the holy man found occasion frequently to celebrate the sacred mysteries, and at a window in the rear of the prison administered to the children the sacrament of confirmation. (Ibid page 127.) No sooner was it discovered by the government that the bishop and his companions were thus engaged in conferring spiritual blessings on the Catholics, than their banishment was resolved on ; the confessors of Christ " were suddenly carried off to a ship, and on their way were surrounded by a terrible escort, nor had they any previous notice of the decree of banishment, lest their friends might succour them with some viaticum."
Throughout the whole province of Connaught the persecution raged with the same fury. Thus, when Dr. James Fallon, who governed the diocese of Achonry as vicar-apostolic, "was arrested in Iar-Connaught, the heretics so plundered him of his copious collection of books, that not even a breviary was left with him. Before he was made prisoner, he for a long time was exposed, day and night, to the inclemency of the winter, till he at length erected a small hut at the base of a rock, which he covered with leafy branches; here he remained till the goats, brousing on the foliage, stripped the branches, and then he was obliged to seek elsewhere a place of refuge." (Ibid, page 15.)
§ 9.—Sufferings Of Catholics During The Plague.
Thus was the whole country subjected to a dire persecution, which surpassed in ferocity the sufferings of any nation recorded in history :—
"Everywhere agriculture and commerce ceased. Each one's thoughts were solely devoted to preserve his life, and to avoid the impending destruction. Hence resulted a dearth of all articles of food, and with famine, a pestilence, too, assailed us. Thus the three scourges of God, of which David had to chose hut one, were all at the same time inflicted on us: famine, pestilence, and war. Urged by the famine, numbers fled from all parts of the kingdom to seek shelter in the cities, whilst others, too, fled thither, driven from their estates, or escaping from the sword of the heretical enemy, so that no longer could a place be found for them within the walls, and the outcasts filled the highways and the country around."*
So dreadful, indeed, was this scourge, that the learned Dominican father, Dominick de Rosario, cried out—" Oh, look upon us to-day, ye nations. Are we not a spectacle to men and angels? Learn of us what a terrible calamity it is to fall into the hands of the living God; and let him who stands take heed lest he fall.''
It was from the commencement a main object of the Puritans to bring on this famine. Ormond's letters inform us that "Sir William Parsons advised the governor to the burning of corn, and to put man, woman, and child to the sword ; and Sir Adam Loftus wrote to the same effect." It was, indeed a renewal of the policy pursued at the time of Elizabeth, and which was so strongly recommended by Spencer, "in order that thus," he said, (the Irish) "might be driven to devour each other." That the parliament hoped for this result is clear from the History of Lord Clarendon, who records (ii. 323), that when an armistice was agreed to between Ormond and the Catholic forces, the parliament passed a vote of censure on the commander for betraying, as they said, the interests of the Protestant religion, "since the rebels were now brought to their last gasp, and reduced to so terrible a famine that, like cannibals, they eat one another, and must have been destroyed immediately, and utterly rooted out."
The pestilence which resulted from the famine first appeared in the west, and thence soon spread itself through the whole country. The Provost of Galway, writing on the 1st of May, 1650, says—" The pestilence has changed this city into a desert by the flight of nearly all the inhabitants, and the death of three thousand persons." Another letter in the following month of June estimates the total number of deaths in that city, from famine and pestilence, at 3,900.
We have already seen how in Dublin no fewer than 30,000 citizens were mowed down by the same disease. In Limerick, too, it made many victims. "Truly these were disastrous times," cries out father Dominick de Rosario, " for the sword was ever unsheathed without the walls, whilst death was mowing down his victims within." The heroism of father James Woolf, in assisting the sick in this city, is especially recorded. He was absent when the city was taken by the enemy; but "on learning that all the ecclesiastics there had been either expelled or butchered, he contrived to get into the city for the purpose of administering the sacraments to the sick and dying." He was only allowed to continue eight days in this ministry of charity. Being arrested by the heretics, he was led forthwith to execution, and from the scaffold exhorted the assembled multitudes to remain steadfast in the faith, addressing to them these memorable words—" We are made a spectacle to God, men, and angels; but the angels rejoice, whilst men scorn us."
In Waterford it also raged with especial violence, and the number of its victims soon swelled to five thousand. We are informed by father Dominick de Rosario, that as soon as it made its appearance there, "the bishop called his priests together, and exhorted them to strain every nerve in order to console the afflicted. This they did with great assiduity, administering unceasingly the holy sacraments of penance and the Eucharist." He mentions two as particularly distinguished in this city—father Michael O' Cleary, prior of the Dominican convent, and father White, a secular priest. "Three days did they pass in solitude and prayer before entering on that harvest of death; and when they had received the sacramental confessions of thousands, they themselves died of the infection."
The disease, however, was not confined to any particular district; it spread throughout the whole island, and prepared the way for the triumph of the Puritans. "The success of Cromwell and Ireton, and his followers," writes a contemporary author,* " must be ascribed, not so much to their own strength as to the dreadful pestilence that desolated the country. For, the anger of God being kindled against us on account of our sins, his chastening Angel so afflicted with a direful pestilence almost all the towns and cities of the entire kingdom, that the soldiers and citizens being swept away by it, the enemy often got possession of little more than empty cities or fortifications, so few were those that remained to oppose them."
But we shall allow an English Protestant historian, who was himself at this very time in hunting to death the Irish, to describe the frightful miseries which then fell upon our devoted country:—
"About the year 1652 and 1653, the plague and famine had so swept away whole counties, that a man might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature, either man, beast, or bird; they being either all dead or had quit those desolate places; our soldiers would tell stories of the place where they saw a smoke; it was so rare to see either smoke by day, or fire or candle by night. And when we did meet with two or three poor cabins, none but very aged men with women and children, and those like the prophet might have complained, 'We are become as a bottle in the smoke, our skin is black like an oven, because of the terrible famine.' I have seen those miserable creatures plucking stinking carrion out of a ditch, black and rotten, and been credibly informed that they digged corpses out of the grave to eat. And some instances are added too horrible to be here related."
Amongst the victims of the plague was the Commander in Chief of the Puritan forces. On the surrender of Limerick, the heroic bishop of Emly, Albert O'Brien, was, with all other ecclesiastics, excepted from hope of pardon. When brought before Ireton, he fearlessly announced to the tyrant that before many days he himself should answer for his crimes before the tribunal of God. The holy martyr was at once led to the scaffold, but before eight days his prophecy was verified, Ireton being stricken with the plague, and with his last breath exclaiming that that bishop's blood was the cause of his death. Lest this event should be regarded by the Catholics as a triumph the English of Limerick, for some years, observed Thursday, the day on which Ireton expired, as a day of solemn festival.
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.