St. Oliver Plunkett
Theologian and Saint (1629 - 1681)
Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew Co Meath. His family were related to the Earls of Louth, Roscommon and Fingall as well as Lord Dunsany from Meath. He was educated by his cousin Patrick Plunkett Abbot of St Mary’s Dublin. At the time of the Irish Confederate Wars the Plunkett family were involved in the Roman Catholic Movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. The Papal envoy to this movement was Father Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. And under the care of Father Scarampi the young Oliver Plunkett set out for Rome in 1647 to train for the priesthood and was accepted at the Irish College in Rome.
During his time at the College Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland (1649-1653) made it difficult for Oliver to return to Ireland because the Roman Catholic Church was banned and priests were executed. Staying in Rome he became Professor of Theology at the College of Propaganda Fide. In July 1969 the Congregation of Propaganda Fide appointed his Archbishop of Armagh. He was able to return to Ireland in March 1670 because of tolerance towards Catholicism.
Back in Ireland he set about reorganising the Church building schools for both young people and clergy. He established a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670 and within a year had 150 pupils. Unfortunatley the Test Act of 1673 saw Oliver Plunkett refusing to agree for doctrinal reasons and the College was levelled to the ground and Oliver went into hiding. In 1678 in England Titus Oates so-called Popish Plot caused further anti Roman Catholic feeling. The Privy Council in London was told he had plotted a French invasion and he now had a price on his head. He was arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and tried at Dundalk for conspiring to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country and raising taxes through the clergy to support 70,000 men in rebellion. The whole plot was unproven. Knowing he would never be convicted in Ireland he was moved to London and in his second trial, a complete farce, he was found guilty of high treason in June 1681 and condemned to death.
On the 1st July he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, the last Catholic Martyr. He was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975. His head was taken to Rome, Armagh and then Drogheda where it can be seen in St Peter’s Church. Most of his body is at Downside Abbey in England whilst other relics are in Ireland, France, Germany, Australia and the United States. In 1997 he became Patron Saint of Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland.