Our Rosary Family’s 2018 Pilgrimage to England, France and Ireland brought us face to face with many surprises. One of the sweetest was the day I finally got to meet Saint Oliver Plunkett, patron of peace and reconciliation in Ireland.
We had decided to spend a stretch of days in Galway, a city on the west coast of Ireland known for its lively street performers, shops, and perhaps best of all, for the Claddagh Ring. The Claddagh Ring is traditionally used as a wedding ring, passed down from grandmother to granddaughter, and is so named because it was most often seen on women who lived in the Claddagh, a fishing village on the southern end of Galway Town. The Claddagh Ring features a crowned heart clasped by a pair of hands. This symbol is meant to remind the wearer and all who see it of faith, hope, and charity — more frequently spoken as, “Let Love and Friendship Reign.”
When we were looking for a Sunday Mass to attend during our stay in Galway, we also discovered that the Claddagh also is home to the Parish of Saint Mary, a church run by Dominicans—which warmed this lay Dominican’s heart all over. While looking up their Mass schedule, I couldn’t resist stopping to learn some of the history of the church. Apparently, some saint named Oliver Plunkett had visited there under some secrecy and had been recorded as declaring it a beautiful church.
Who was Saint Oliver Plunkett? It turns out he was an Irish bishop who, during a brief time in the 1600s when persecution of Catholics was at un uncharacteristically low point, travelled all over the island, celebrating every sacrament he could, promoting healthy living especially among priests, and otherwise serving the poor and needy. He spoke English, Italian and Irish, and as such made an excellent bridge between the beleaguered Irish Catholics and those faithful praying for them in Rome.
Alas, the tide of religious feeling once again would turn against Catholics after Plunkett had been serving his people for only three years. Nervous Protestant nobles saw how well Bishop Plunkett was respected across Ireland, and they brought him up on false charges of trying to bring 20,000 French soldiers to invade Ireland and take it back from the English. He readily agreed to be tried before a Protestant jury, but they would not find him guilty for lack of reasonable evidence. Instead of letting him go, he was transported to London and was not permitted legal counsel. Everyone involved in the trial agreed that his only “crime” was promoting the Catholic faith, that there was no evidence he had conspired against the king, but somehow he was still found guilty.
Earthly justice failed Saint Oliver Plunkett. The people who had been charged with seeking the truth in all things denied it, just out of jealousy at the respect this saint commanded wherever he went. In one of his final letters, he wrote, “Being the first among the Irish, with the grace of God, I shall give good example to the others not to fear death.”
Saint Oliver Plunkett was an example of how the experience of Christ’s love empowers us to stand up for the truth even when those who should stand up for us fail to do so. His life is a witness to faith, hope, and charity. This little church in the Claddagh reminded our family, through the story of Saint Oliver Plunkett’s brave life and martyrdom, that, if we want love and true friendship to reign, we must be ruled not by the powers of this world but by Christ himself.
Saint Oliver Plunkett, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Watch a Three Minute Pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Church in the Claddagh.
Think of a time when you felt betrayed by people who could have helped you. Did you react with anger or mercy?
Copyright 2019 Erin McCole Cupp