A Tale of Two Olivers
The town of Drogheda on the River Boyne split between Counties Louth and Meath tells the story of two Olivers. One a saint, one a sinner.
St. Oliver Plunkett
Born 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, Oliver Plunkett lived a faithful life. As a young boy he was sent to Rome to enter the brotherhood. He was ordained a priest in 1654 and remained in Rome until 1670 due to a ban on Roman Catholicism. While awaiting his return to Ireland, he became a professor of theology. With a new age of tolerance ushered in by the English Restoration, Oliver returned to Ireland, reorganizing the church and establishing schools for the youth and clergy. In 1670, he established a Jesuit College in Drogheda that became the first integrated school in Ireland joining both Catholic and Protestant students.
Known as the Popish Plot, in 1678, an English clergyman, Titus Oates, led a campaign of anti-Catholic sentiment, believing there to be a conspiracy to kill the king. This led to the eventual arrest, trial, and execution of Oliver Plunkett. He was found guilty of high treason for “promoting the Roman faith” in 1681 and was sentenced to death by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. After the execution his remains were spread around, his head eventually ending up in St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda where it remains on display. He was the last Roman Catholic martyr in England.
In 1920 he was beatified and was granted sainthood in 1975. This marked the first new Irish saint in over 700 years and the first Irish martyr to be beatified.
Many have heard the legacy of Oliver Cromwell, but in Ireland that legacy is laced with blood and hatred. Ireland was under English Commonwealth control from 1649 to 1653 after Cromwell invaded with his New Model Army. The invasion was warranted for several reasons. The main reason being the alliance between the Irish Confederate Catholics, Charles II, and the English Royalists in plotting to overthrow the Commonwealth and restore the monarchy.
He and his army landed in Ireland in August 1649. The first town to fall under Cromwell’s siege was Drogheda. Most of the Drogheda garrison and many civilians were killed during and after the siege. Over the course of the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland a third of Ireland’s population vanished due to battle, famine, disease, and deportation (as indentured servants).
Did you know? One of our day tours includes a visit to Drogheda. For more information see: Celtic Boyne Valley Tour