Dermot O’Hurley

Dermod O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel and Catholic Martyr

Eamonn Kiely

About a quarter of a century ago Dermod O’Hurley with sixteen other martyrs was beatified. David Rothe Bishop of Ossory wrote about him in his book Analecta about 360 years ago. It is clear that Ossory’s most famous bishop held O’Hurley, an Archbishop of Cashel in the highest esteem. They were not contemporaries – O’Hurley being of an earlier generation. O’Hurley was from Emly in Tipperary.
He was born about the year 1530. His father was employed by the Earl of Desmond and the family were relatively well off by the standard of the time. They moved to Donoghmore near Limerick city at a later stage. He was later ordained a priest for Limerick diocese.
Dermot’s early education was in his home area of Emly followed by the University of Louvain in Belgium where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree in 1551 and was appointed Professor of philosophy there. Further academic achievements followed in areas of Canon and Civil law. A stint as professor of Law at Reims University preceded his going to Rome where he worked with a cardinal. One could infer from this background that he was a genuine renaissance man.
The Sea of Cashel became vacant in 1581. Pope wished to fill it with his favourite O’Hurley. The problem was he was not even a priest. By special dispensation of the Pope the highly educated O’Hurley was ordained to Limerick diocese and appointed then to the Sea of Cashel.
This was the era of Queen Elizabeth I and the penal laws against Catholics. Sir Francis Walsingham, known as the ‘Spymaster’ was secretary to the Queen and deviser of many cruelties against her perceived enemies. O’Hurley and a companion came secretly to Ireland landing in Skerries. The companion Fr Dillon was recognised by a British agent Walter Baal. He was arrested and imprisoned for four months.
O’Hurley was sheltered by the Baron of Slane. This soon became known and he went to stay with Black Tom Butler 10th Earl of Ormond who was deemed sympathetic to his Catholic countrymen although a Protestant himself. The Baron of Slane was in difficulty for harbouring O’Hurley, so the Archbishop decided to surrender himself to the authorities at Carrick on Suir.
He was put in chains and brought to Kilkenny jail. Some Kilkenny citizens got to meet him and secretly received the sacraments from him. He was brought to Dublin city dungeon on 7th Oct 1583. He was brought before the Lord Justices. O’Hurley was charged with being a party to an international conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth I. He was tortured in an appalling manner – his legs were encased in special boots, oil poured into them and then heated over a fire. The flesh fell off the bones. This historical fact is alluded to in the coat of arms of Dr Clifford – to-days Archbishop of Cashel.
The Dublin Castle authorities had no evidence that would convict O’Hurley and so he was sentenced to death under the cover of martial law and without a trial. He was hanged the next day with a straw rope to add further ignominy to his torture. The place of execution was just outside the city of Dublin – what is now St Stephen’s Green. He was buried in the nearby cabbage garden – a Dublin corruption of Capuchin gardens. The man who signed his death warrant was Sir Harry Wallop. Add to that the baleful influence of Baal and Walsingham and you see the Archbishop’ fate was sealed. The canonisation of the martyred Archbishop is awaited.

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