Thursday Doors brings you a virtual coffee with a dash of history this week. Sitting in the cafe next to the Tourist Information Office in the center of Dundalk is a great way to start off a tour of the town. While you sip your preferred beverage, you can browse through the abundant supply of information leaflets on what to see and do on your visit to county Louth. If you’re hungry, there’s a nice selection of food, too. It was a pleasant surprise to see some posters of so many interesting Dundalk doors in the window of the tourist office.
You may not have heard of the Irish saint, Oliver Plunkett but he is a well known historical figure here in Ireland. As a result of the Protestant Reformation, the 16th and 17th centuries were fraught with religious wars between Catholics and Protestants and various European countries became allies of one side or the other. In the mid sixteen hundreds many Irish civilians were slaughtered as Catholic garrisons were wiped out by the Cromwellian campaigns. All Catholic priests in Ireland were to be hanged, drawn and quartered and a death sentence was handed down to anyone giving shelter to such persons. It was in 1670, during these dangerous times of religious persecution and turmoil, that Oliver Plunkett returned to Ireland as an archbishop, having gone to Rome to study and become a priest as a young man. In fact, he became the Primate of all Ireland.
The threat of capture was so great he often disguised himself as a captain, wearing a wig and brandishing a sword and pistols. It was said that he even sang at times in a tavern, so as to blend in and remain safe and often a cave was his only shelter in the coldest of weather. In spite of the risks involved, many men were ordained as priests by Oliver Plunkett and they too had to go on the run. About nine years after his arrival in Ireland he was captured in Dublin in December 1679 and stood trial in Dundalk the following year. There’s a wall plaque in the town commemorating that event.
The charges against him were treason and exercising papal jurisdiction but as no witnesses for the prosecution turned up, the trial could not take place and after some months, Oliver Plunkett was brought to England and ended up in Newgate Prison, London. This was a dreadful place where prisoners were often shackled to the walls and treated callously. Although it had been rebuilt after the great fire of London in the fourteen hundreds, it was designed to make the experience so bad as to deter repeat offenders.
Oliver Plunkett was denied legal council and not given enough time to gather evidence. His accusing witnesses were made up of convicted criminals and this second trial found him guilty of a trumped up charge of treason. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in July 1681, at the age of fifty five. Although buried in two tin boxes, his remains were later exhumed and divided among places in England, Germany, Ireland and Rome. His preserved head was put into a gold and glass case and can be seen today in St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda, County Louth, where it has been since 1921. In 1975 he was canonized.*
As always, thank you for stopping by, I’m sorry the coffee was only virtual but I can assure you it’s good. Maybe you’ll get a chance to try it for real some day. Dundalk is part of Ireland’s Ancient East tourist route so be sure to include it in any visit to the eastern part of the country. Speaking of visiting, Norm has an abundance of interesting Thursday Doors over on his blog, with links to them in the comments on his post.
Source * The book A Journey Through Time – from Land to Sea by County Louth historian and poet, Noel Sharkey, was a great source of information for this post.