Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Why Oliver Cromwell's beatification process was mothballed

Two Olivers, one a hero, the other a villain, must feature in any account of the historic town of Drogheda. St Oliver Plunkett was Archbishop of Armagh (Primate of Ireland) from 1669 until his execution on trumped-up charges of treason in 1681. The renown of his pastoral and administrative virtues was so great, not least his unstinting efforts to improve educational provision for both Catholic and Protestant youth, that not even a Protestant jury would convict him in Ireland. So he was re-tried at Westminster Hall in London, and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. King Charles II refused to spare his life for fear of inflaming anti-Catholic sentiment, exemplified in the previous generation by Oliver Cromwell (Charles I's murderer), whose head was still at that time displayed on a spike outside Westminster Hall (following his posthumous execution at Tyburn in 1661). Besides succeeding where Guy Fawkes failed, Cromwell was the architect of a campaign of exceptionally violent repression in Ireland, ruthless even by the standards of its day, most infamously his massacre of the Royalist garrison at Drogheda in September 1649, along with 'an unknown but significant number' of civilians (Wikipedia). St Oliver Plunkett's head, meanwhile, is displayed in a very un-grisly way in my opinion, reminiscent of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, in Drogheda's St Peter's Church (with various other artefacts including the door of his prison cell at Tyburn), drawing huge numbers of pilgrims since its arrival from Germany in 1921. Alongside it is the following prayer:

Glorious Martyr, Oliver, who willingly
gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you
to the See of Peter.

By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts
of Irish men and women.

May the peace of Christ reign
in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland.  Amen.

There's so much i could say about Dublin's buzz, the soul of Belfast, and curiously the festive spirit in the village of Naul on the old road that leads south from Drogheda, among other things, but they shall have to wait, either until the final write-up, God-willing, or until a later post. I've come to Ballina, County Tipperary, on a slightly cheeky stagecoach, to be looked after by a very kind cousin and his family, and must be on my way to Limerick before nightfall. May the Good Lord bless you wherever you are!

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