In the following year the primate, writing on the 15th of May, makes known the fury of the storm to which the Catholics were exposed, and the extreme poverty to which the prelates, and especially he himself, had, consequently, been reduced:—
"Here matters go on from bad to worse. A proclamation offers £10 to whosoever arrests a bishop or Jesuit, and £5 to whosoever arrests a vicar-general or friar. The police, spies, and soldiers, are in pursuit day and night. Colonel Patrick, an excellent Catholic, and a great protector of the Catholics, although a relative of the Duke of Ormond, was exiled by order of parliament, which is desirous of prosecuting even the Duke of York, on account of his being a Catholic. The secular priests had some connivance till the present, though in many parts, and especially in the vicinity of Armagh, they have much to suffer. Such is the rigour of the Presbyterians, of whom there is a large number in these parts; they are now the prevailing faction in the three kingdoms, and are the enemies of all monarchy and hierarchy. One might walk twenty-five or thirty miles in districts and not meet with six Catholic or Protestant families; for all are Presbyterians and strict Calvinists.
"P.S.—A matron named Lady Neale, and several Catholic gentlemen"s have been accused of a design to burn Dublin; only one ruffian, named Murphy, was the accuser; he also accuses three or four of the nobility."
In another letter, on the same day, to the Internuncio, Dr. Plunket confirms these statements, and declares his resolution never to forsake the flock entrusted to him, and his readiness to suffer exile or death in the discharge of his spiritual duties:—
"I received your letter of the 28th of last month, and all the prelates here thank you for the favour in regard to the matrimonial cases, and, indeed, it might be extended to the rich as well as to the poor in the present times, as petitions regarding such matters are now full of danger, as well for the petitioner as for him who writes; it is also dangerous to solicit indulgences, and already a gentleman who obtained indulgences from the Sacred Congregation has had a deal to suffer. Matters here go from bad to worse; the prelates and regulars were already condemned to exile, and now they do not even excuse the parish priests, several of whom have been cast into prison; and even when a moderate Protestant wishes to show them some courtesy, he is styled by the others a Papist, which to them is a term of great reproach. Colonel Patrick, an excellent Catholic, although a relative of the Duke of Ormond, was banished from Court; and those in London are anxious to accuse the Duke of York himself. A reward has already been offered to spies and gendarmes and soldiers; whosoever imprisons a prelate will have 40 crowns, and for a regular, 20 crowns. I am morally certain that I shall be taken, so many are in search of me; yet in spite of danger I will remain with my flock, nor will I abandon them till they drag me to the ship. But in case that I should be taken, I must request you to let me know whither I shall go; for I am sure they will allow me this choice, as they have allowed it to others. I pray you again to let me know your advice and counsel on this head, whether to go to Flanders or to France, or to some other place. I pray you also to send the enclosed letter to the Sacred Congregation, and to obtain for me the favour which it solicits. Should you second it by your letter, I shall surely obtain what I ask for."
The arrest of the primate was the crowning deed of the diabolical conspiracy of the enemies of our holy faith, but still it did not appease their fury. The storm continued unabated, and the rage of the Protestants against the Catholics seemed every day to become more and more inflamed. The Archbishop of Cashel thus writes on the 30th of June, 1680:—
"From the month of April till the present our affairs have become considerably more perplexed. The demon excited this tempest principally by means of a friar, the chaplain and companion of bandits, who, deserving the scaffold, found a means of obtaining pardon by accusing the Archbishop of Armagh, and many others, of a general rebellion throughout the kingdom, and persons are not wanting in other parts of he country to follow the example of this friar. This diabolical invention added greatly to the afflictions of the Catholics, and to the fury of the Protestants against us. These, for the most part, persuaded themselves that the iniquitous imposture of the friar was a reality, and that all the bishops of this kingdom have co-operated in setting on foot this rebellion: wherefore, the mitres are now more than ever hated by the Protestants, who are convinced that the number of bishops is intended to give offence to the government: and hence, too, the ministers of justice are now more active than ever in searching after them. It has even been resolved on by the government to pass a most stringent act in the next Parliament (which, it is thought, will be held in September), prohibiting, under penalty of the scaffold, that any bishop should ever again enter this kingdom. God forbid that their Eminences should make any new bishops for the present, as it would only excite more and more their bile against us, and be of great damage. "We hope, without ceasing, in the mercy of the divine Majesty, that He will free us from these afflictions, and that in His own time He will manifest our innocence of this pretended conspiracy, a thing which we ever anathematized, never desiring anything save the glory of God and the service of our prince. Be good enough to excuse the necessary shortness of this letter, and the absence of titles: and as usual, I make to you my reverence.
"30th of June, 1680."
Again, on the 12th of September following, the same writer not only gives the general details of the persecution, but also adds many particulars regarding the Archbishop of Armagh and some of the other prelates:—
"In this land, not of pleasure, but of tribulation and persecution, where we eat the bread of affliction. But heaven is above and earth below."
This letter is addressed in English, '' To my worthy friend, Mr. Tanarius, at Brusselles:" it begins with Monsr., and no title is given throughout the letter. It is signed merely with the initials G. ft, that is "Giovanni Cassellense," John of Cashel. He probably feared that it might fall into the hands of the government.
"Never," he says, "was there a time more dangerous for writing letters than the present; for when they are intercepted, as very frequently happens, every word is interpreted in an evil sense, and the belief of the conspiracy is so deeply rooted in the minds of all, that an angel from heaven would not suffice to disabuse them of their error; and as for us, we pronounce anathema against all conspirators and disturbers of the public peace: for we have no other thought or desire except for the spiritual profit of souls, with the due subordination to the political government. Those, too, to whom our letters are consigned, as well the letters we receive as the letters we send, now hesitate to receive them, fearing imprisonment and the other penalties: hence it is that so few letters are sent; nor is it expedient to write more frequently, especially for those who keep themselves concealed, and have not as yet come into the hands of the magistrates; for were one of their letters found, every effort would be made to discover themselves, and give them a taste of the prison.
"The Archbishop of Armagh was brought before the courts, accused of conspiracy, especially by a friar, an unworthy student of St. Isidore's: but when the accusations were read, they did not proceed with the trial, as one of the informers, the friar's associate, was wanting, and thus judgment was deferred for six months, and the archbishop was re-conducted to the prisons of Dublin, where he was confined before. He sustains great sufferings with zeal and resolution, comforting himself with his innocence and with the grace of the Lord. His journey (to Drogheda) occasioned him great expense, as well for himself as for those who were brought thither to attest his innocence.
"The Bishop of Cork being already in prison, expected sentence during the assizes of the last month: no mention, however, was made of him at that time, and he continues still in prison.
"The Bishop of Limerick has permission from the government to remain in any part of his diocese, on account of his great age and infirmities.
"The Bishop of Killaloe is not in his own district, but elsewhere: he is in strict concealment, and justly so, for our enemies bear him great ill-will, and speak violently against him.
"Notwithstanding the great afflictions which we suffer, great good is done for the salvation of souls. The government is moderate, nor do we see that rigour which is felt in England. It is now reported that one of the chief informers of the pretended conspiracy has died, and that before dying, he retracted all that he had said about the conspiracy; and this, perhaps, will mitigate the fury of our adversaries. I request you to communicate the substance of what I write, or to transmit this letter to Monsig. Cybo, who, I hope, will excuse my writing so seldom, which is occasioned by the motives already mentioned, and to one and the other I make an humble reverence.*
"12th September, 1680."
This letter is is signed in full Giov. Arciv. Casiellense, John, Archbishop of Cashel. He was at the same time Administrator of Waterford and Lismore, but seldom adds this title, except when writing on matters connected with that diocese.
The enemies of the Catholics in England were no wise content with the slow proceedings of the Irish government. On the 3rd of March, 1680, the Earl of Anglesey wrote to the Lord Lieutenant, "that it is his Majesty's absolute and unalterable pleasure (advised by all the council) to have every individual of the Popish clergy seized and imprisoned till they petition to be sent overseas, and promise never to return or practice against the state; for there is no other way to cure their madness, and there are those in England who will apprehend them all." To which his Excellency characteristically replied, that "if any in England will undertake it, they shall have the promised reward, and his thanks besides; and to tell him of the insolent deportment and signal perfidy of the popish clergy of Ireland is to preach to him that there is pain in the gout; and he protests that he would sooner be rid of them than of that disease."
Such was their hatred against the Catholic clergy, and such their premeditated plan, which was worthy of a Diocletian or a Nero, to banish the Catholic pastors from our shores, or lead them to the scaffold. We shall conclude this chapter with the words of the impartial Fox:—
"The proceedings of the Popish plot must always be considered as an indelible disgrace upon the English nation, in which king, parliament, judges, juries, witnesses, prosecutors, have all their respective, though certainly not equal shares. Witnesses of such a character as not to deserve credit in the most trifling cause upon the most immaterial facts, gave evidence so incredible, or, to speak more plainly, so impossible to be true, that it ought not to have been believed if it had come from the mouth of Cato; and upon such evidence, from such witnesses, were innocent men condemned to death and executed. Prosecutors, whether attorneys or solicitors-general, or managers of impeachment, acted with the fury which in such circumstances might be expected. Juries partook naturally of the national ferment; and judges, whose duty it was to guard them against such impressions, were scandalously active in confirming them in their prejudices and inflaming their passions.
Taken from - MEMOIRS OF THE MOST REV. OLIVER PLUNKET, WHO SUFFERED DEATH FOR THE CATHOLIC FAITH IN THE YEAR 1681.