Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Chapters towards a History of Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth (Author: Philip O'Sullivan Beare)

Chapter 19


Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, the most unconquerable and illustrious Martyr.

WHEN these wars in which our Island suffered so pitiably were over, a new danger sprang up, far more miserable and monstrous, namely the tyranny exercised against priests and other Catholics. The first who fell under this persecution was Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, of whom we have already written, as follows: —

Dermot O'Hurley was by birth an Irishman, the son of a gentleman, and in his boyhood was, under the care of his parents, politely brought up, and instructed in the rudiments of letters. As he grew older he made such progress at Louvain and Paris in the higher studies that, if confronted with men of his own age, he was second to scarcely anyone as a grammarian; he was equal to the most eloquent as a rhetorician; superior to most in jurisprudence; and in theology inferior to few. Having obtained the degree of Doctor in Theology and Civil and Canon Law, he for four years publicly taught law at Louvain. Uniting to these accomplishments a splendid presence, dignity, and gravity of mind, he seemed to the Supreme Pontiff, Gregory XIII., after he had spent some years at Rome and taken Holy Orders, worthy of being consecrated Archbishop of Cashel. As soon as this office was imposed upon him, he returned to Ireland, to perish in that most doleful time for his country when its sceptre was swayed by Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, who was not only infected with the stain of most foul heresy, but was also the bitterest enemy of the Catholic Faith and of holy bishops and priests.

The cruelty of their Princess in persecuting the Catholics was carried out by the Royalist governors and ministers, not only in England, where they had now destroyed the splendour of the Faith, but also in Ireland, where the natives, even to this day, patiently endure all extremities for Christ's sake. However, our Archbishop, with the greatest pains and zeal, administered the Sacraments to the flock of his jurisdiction, and expounded the Gospel of the Lord, confirming all in the Faith, and for nearly two years vainly sought after by the English, being protected by the care and devotion of the Irish, and disguising his identity and calling by wearing secular apparel. In this guise other priests also, in Ireland, Scotland, and England, are going


about to the present day, since the fury of the English Kings rages against the Church of Jesus Christ. Eventually it chanced that one day while the Archbishop was staying with Thomas Fleming, an Anglo-Irish Baron, at his castle of Slane, in his own dominion, a grave question was started at dinner, in the presence of the squint-eyed Robert Dillon, one of the Queen's judges. The heretics, giving each his own opinion, freely proceeded to such extreme folly, that Dermot, who was present, and long kept silent lest he should betray himself, could not any longer stand their rashness, and so, to the great astonishment of all, he easily refuted the silly doctrines of the heretics, with an air of authority, and great eloquence and learning. Hereupon Dillon was led to surmise that this was some distinguished person who might greatly obstruct heresy. He related the matter to Adam Loftus, Chancellor of Ireland, and to Henry Wallop, Lord Treasurer, both Englishmen, and with whom the government of Ireland then rested, as the Viceroy was absent. These ordered Baron Thomas under heavy penalties, to send them the Archbishop in chains. The Archbishop, having meantime left Slane, was arrested by the Baron and Royalists emissaries in the castle at Carrick-on-Suir in the month of September, 1583, whilst staying with Thomas Butler, surnamed the Black, Earl of Ormond, who was much offended and distressed at the arrest, and afterwards did his best to rescue the Bishop from the executioners, except that he did not take up arms as he ought to have done in such a case, and perhaps would have done, but that he was a Protestant. His other efforts were unavailing.

The Bishop being brought to Dublin, the chief city of the kingdom, was kept many days in chains in a dark, dismal, and fetid prison, until that day in the following year, which is kept under the name of the Lord's Supper, on which day he was attacked by the heretics in this manner: First he was brought before Adam, the Chancellor, and Henry, the Treasurer, and civilly and kindly invited to follow the tenets of the heretics, and promised large rewards on condition of abjuring his sacred character; relinquishing the office received from the Pope, and (O villainy!) entering upon the Archbishopric under the Queen's authority. He told them that he was bound and resolved never to desert the Church, Faith, or Vicar of Christ Jesus for any consideration. Then the Chancellor and Treasurer endeavoured to deceive him by cunning arguments, straining every nerve to establish the truth of their falsehoods. Dermot


not relishing this, especially as he was not allowed to reply to their nonsense, bade them, stupid and ignorant men (such was his high spirit), not to offer ridiculous and false doctrines to him, an Archbishop, and Doctor of celebrated academies. Then the heretics, filled with anger, exclaimed: ‘If we cannot convince you by argument, we will make you quit this your false law and embrace our religion, or feel our power.’ The Bishop was bound hand and foot, was thrown on the ground, and tied to a large stake. His feet and legs were encased in top-boots (a kind of boot at that time common, made of leather, and reaching above the knee), filled with a mixture of salt, bitumen, oil, tallow, pitch, and boiling water. The legs so booted were placed on iron bars, and horribly and cruelly roasted over a fire. When this torture had lasted a whole hour, the pitch, oil, and other mixtures boiling up, burned off not only the skin, but consumed also the flesh, and slowly destroyed the muscles, veins, and arteries; and when the boots were taken off, carrying with them pieces of the roasted flesh, they left no small part of the bones bare and raw, a horrible spectacle for the bystanders, and scarcely credible. But the martyr, having his mind filled with thoughts of God and holy things, never uttered a word, but held out to the end of the torture with the same cheerfulness and serenity of countenance he had exhibited at the commencement of his sufferings, as if, flying the heat of the summer sun, he were lying in a dainty bed upon a soft pillow, beneath an overshadowing tree, with spreading leafy branches, and beside a rivulet humming with gentle murmur through fragrant lilies, quietly refreshing himself after hard work and the weariness of long vigils.

When, however, in this savage way, the tyrants had failed to break the unconquerable spirit of the martyr by their more than Phalaric cruelty, he was by their order, brought back to his former prison, a foul place, filled with a dense fog, ready to endure worse torments, if such could be devised.

There was at this time in Dublin, Charles MacMoris, a priest of the Society of Jesus, skilled in medicine and chirurgery, who, because he was of the Faith of Christ, had been imprisoned by the English, and again discharged by them on account of curing some difficult cases for certain noblemen. This man visited the holy Bishop in prison, and gave him such medical treatment, that on the fourteenth day he was able to get up from his bed for a little while. The Chancellor and Treasurer, learning of this, and that


the Earl of Ormond was coming, by whose influence and power they feared Dermot would be saved, determined in their malign wickedness to put him to death as soon as possible. Fearing, however, that the people would raise a disturbance, and rescue their pastor from death if it were generally known by the citizens that he was to be executed, they ordered the dregs of their soldiers and executioners to bring out the Bishop on a car early in the morning, before sunrise, and before the people were up, and hang him on a gallows outside the city.

Which being done, out of all the citizens, he was met by only two and a certain friend who had been extremely faithful to him, and had made him his particular care from the time of his capture. These followed him; and before he was strung up the Archbishop, seizing the hand of his friend, and strongly squeezing it, is said to have impressed on the palm, in an indelible red colour, the sign of the cross—a rare and holy pledge of his gratitude to his most faithful friend. Thereupon he was hung by a halter made of plaited osiers, and in a short time strangled, and, so dying, acquired eternal reward in heaven in the year of Our Lord, 1584, on the seventh day of the month of June.

It is said that on the spot where Dermot perished, a noble lady was delivered from a wicked devil, by whom she had been long tormented. William Fitzsimon, a citizen of Dublin, removed the body of the martyr from the place where the heretics had buried it, and placing it in a wooden coffin, interred it in a secret grave. Richard, a famous musician, has celebrated this suffering and death in a plaintive and pathetic piece called 'The Fall of the Baron of Slane.'