St. Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681)

Oliver Plunkett was born in County Meath in 1625, and died at Tyburn in 1681. Little is known about his early life except that he was educated privately by a Cistercian cousin, Dr Patrick Plunkett, who eventually became bishop of Meath. Ordained in Rome in 1654, he was professor at the college of Propaganda Fidei until 1669, when he was appointed archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. He held synods and visitations and promoted the reforms initiated by the Council of Trent. It was a time when persecution was less severe, though he would often have to dress as a layman. In 1673 the English Parliament forced the king, Charles II, to behave more strictly towards Catholics, and edicts were issued banning bishops and all religious from Ireland. For the next few years he was able to continue his work clandestinely and was even able to hold a provincial synod. Despite the danger he went to visit his uncle, Bishop Plunkett, who was dying. He was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, he was tried on the extraordinary charge of having planned to bring seventy thousand French troops into Ireland. There was clearly no hope of a successful conviction in Ireland he was taken to London and duly found guilty of the charge. He was executed in London, the final victim of the ‘Popish Plot’ and the last person to be executed for the faith in England. He is remembered for his pastoral zeal and for the friendly relations he established with those who did not share the Catholic faith. His body rests at Downside Abbey, his head at Drogheda.