Witnesses to Courage

(The Nationalist, 13 June 2003)


One of the great weaknesses in the Irish character is a lack of moral courage. That is a broad and sweeping statement, open to criticism on various grounds. But, as a generalization, I believe it is true. We go with the flow; we like to be politically correct; we don’t want to be the ones to rock the boat.

How refreshing it is to find people who have the courage to swim against the current and to stand for what they believe to be true, even at the cost of unpopularity, or worse. Thank God, such people are there in our time. The Irish martyrs of earlier times also offer such an example.

John Roche, John Carey, Patrick Salmon, John Cornelius O’Mahoney, Charles Meehan and Ralph Corby: – these six Irishmen were declared Blessed by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

Oliver Plunket, archbishop of Armagh, who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London, was declared a Saint in 1975, and is remembered annually on 1 July.

Seventeen Irish men and women, who gave their lives for the faith were declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1992. They died between 1579 and 1654, and are remembered each year on 20 June. They were:

Francis Taylor, mayor of Dublin; Margaret Bermingham who died as a result of ill-treatment; Matthew Lambert, a baker; and three sailors, Robert Meyler, Edward Cheevers and Patrick Cavanagh who were hanged, drawn and quartered on 5 July 1581.
Dermot Hurley, archbishop of Dublin, was hanged on 20 June 1584.
Conor O’Devany, bishop of Down and Connor, was hanged, drawn and quartered.
Patrick O’Laughran, chaplain to the O’Neill family, and Maurice McKenraghty, chaplain to the earl of Desmond – both hanged.
Dominicans Terence O’Brien and Peter Higgins; Franciscans John Kearney, Patrick O’Healy, and Conrad O’Rourke; Augustinian William Tirry; and a Jesuit Dominic Collins.

The word “martyr” originally means “witness”. Martyrs bear witness to the faith, not by words but by actions. We will probably not be asked to die for the faith; but we are asked to live by it. God does not ask us to be successful; he does ask us to be faithful, and he has a right to expect it of us.

The prayer of the Mass which recalls and honours their memory on 20 June reads: –

‘In troubled times, Lord, you gave us as a pattern of constancy the blessed martyrs of Ireland, who, for the joy that was set before them endured the cross, rejecting its shame. Grant, by their prayers, that faithfully following your commandments we may bring forth fruits of unity and peace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.’