top of page

Irish Catholic Martyrs

Also known as Mairtírigh Chaitliceacha na hÉireann, the martyrs were dozens of Irish and Catholics martyred for their Catholic faith between.

Persecution of Catholics in Ireland for religious purposes began after King Henry VIII's excommunication in 1533. At the time, King Henry VIII was Lord of Ireland and with the Act of Restraint of Appeals in 1532 (which abolished the right for appeals to Rome) he was excommunicated by Pope Clement alongside Thomas Cranmer. The Acts of Supremacy then established the king as the supreme in ecclesiastical supremacy. Any Priests, Bishops or other clergy that continued to pray for the Pope were persecuted including terrible tortures and killings. The Treasons Act of 1534 made the situation worse as any act of allegiance to the Pope was to be considered full treason to the crown. Charles Reynods was convicted of high treason in 1536 and the Chancellor of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, John Travers was executed as well under the Act of Supremacy.

The persecution died down when Queen Mary took the throne and in the early years during the queenship of her sister, Elizabeth I. Under the Catholic Queen Mary, there was significant hope in Ireland of a return to normalcy but this hope began to fade upon the death of Queen Mary in 1558. Initially, Queen Elizabeth adopted a religious policy that tolerated the Catholic faith and allowed many traditional Catholic ceremonies to continue. In 1559 though, the Parliament under Queen Elizabeth passed again the Act of Supremacy which re-established the supremacy of the Church of England. Following this act came the Prayer Book of 1559 and the 39 Articles in 1563. Persecution would reignite fully in 1563 when the Earl of Essex proclaimed that all Catholic priests were forbidden to officiate or reside inside of Dublin. Fines and penalties became strictly enforced for anyone missing Protestant services. Catholic priests and other clergy were hunted throughout the country side.

Saint Pope Pius V's Papal Bull , Regnans in Excelsis, released all Catholics from allegiance to Queen Elizabeth. The Court intensified it's persecution after the release of this bull, seeing it as further belief that Catholic subjects were indeed traitors to the crown. During the summer of 1580, James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, raised forces in County Wicklow in support of a growing uprising in Munster led by the Earl of Desmond. Because the two did not communicate and coordinate, James Eustace's forces were not successful and 45 of them were hanged in Dublin. James and his chaplain, Father Robert Rochford, fled English troops and found refuge in Wexford with a baker by the name of Matthew Lambert. Matthew fed the men and worked to secure passage for the two for safe passage by ship. Someone betrayed Matthew and gave the plot to the English, resulting in Matthew Lambert, Patrick Cavanagh, Edward Cheevers, Robert Myler, John O'Lahy, and one other unidentified man to be arrested and tortured. On Jul 5th, 1581, the men were sentenced to death. Matthew Lambert said to the English court :

"I am not a learned man. I am unable to debate with you, but I can tell you this, I am a Catholic and I believe whatever our Holy Mother the Catholic Church believes."

The group was hanged, drawn and quartered on July 5th, 1581 after being found guilty of treason.

Saint Oliver Plunkett

English persecution began to slow and fade during the reign of Charles II. This lull in persecution re-ignited when Titus Oates created the face conspiracy known as the Popish Plot. Titus alleged that there was a massive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and it led to a mass hysteria of Anti-Catholic sentiment in the kingdoms of England and Scotland. Over 22 were arrested and executed, including the Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot and the Archbishop of Armagh Oliver Plunkett.

For fear of reprisals to Irish Catholics, investigations into the causes of the Irish martyrs was long delayed. The first general catalog was compiled in Portugal between 1588 and 1599 detailing those who suffered for the Faith under Queen Elizabeth. The cause of Oliver Plunkett was reopened in 1829 after the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. Oliver Plunkett was canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI and this first major investigation opened the door for many more. Saint Pope John Paul II proclaimed a representative group from Ireland as martyrs and beatified them on September 22nd, 1992. Their feast day is recognized on June 20th.

Those formally recognized are:

  • Saint Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh - martyred July 1st, 1681 (Canonized)

  • John Carey and Patrick Salmon - martyred July 4th, 1594 (Beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15th, 1929)

  • Charles Mahoney, Franciscan - martyred August 21st, 1679 (Beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II, November 22nd, 1987)

These were all Beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II on September 27th,


  • Patrick O'Hely, Franciscan Bishop of Mayo - martyred August 31st, 1579

  • Conn O'Rourke, Franciscan Priest - martyred August 31st, 1579

  • The before mentioned Wexford Martyrs (Matthew Lambert, Robert Myler, Edward Cheevers, Patrick Cavanagh, John O'Lahy and one other) martyred July 5th, 1581

  • Margaret Ball - martyred 1584

  • Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel - martyred June 20th 1584

  • Muriris Mac Ionrachtaigh, Chaplain to the Earl of Desmond - martyred 1585

  • Dominic Collins, Jesuit Lay brother - martyred October 31st, 1602

  • Concobhar O Duibheannaigh, Franciscan Bishop of Down and Connor - martyred February 11th, 1612

  • Patrick O'Loughran, Priest - martyred February 11th, 1612

  • Francis Taylor, Mayor of Dublin - martyred 1621

  • Peter O'Higgins O.P., Prior of Naas - martyred March 23rd, 1642

  • Terence O'Brien O.P., Bishop of Emly - martyred October 31st, 1651

  • John Kearney, Franciscan Prior of Cashel - martyred 1653

  • William Tirry, Priest - martyred 1654

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page