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The feast of St. Oliver Plunkett occurs on 1st July, the anniversary of his execution and martyrdom at Tyburn in 1681. St. Oliver is probably the best known of the Irish Martyrs who gave the ultimate witness to their Catholic faith during the persecutions of the penal years.

St. Oliver was born in 1625 into a well-to-do family. Following studies at the Irish College in Rome he was ordained to the priesthood in 1654. Due to the presence of Cromwell he was unable to return to Ireland at that time and remained in Rome working as a teacher of theology. In 1669 he was appointed as Archbishop of Armagh. He returned to Ireland and arrived in disguise into Dublin in 1670.

St. Oliver was a dedicated bishop working to build up the faith, to seek reconciliation and to encourage the clergy. He often had to minister secretly to avoid arrest. He was eventually arrested in 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle before being moved to London for trial. In June 1681 St. Oliver was found guilty of high treason ‘for promoting the Roman faith’. He was sentenced to death and was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1st July 1681, being the last of 105 martyrs who gave their lives for the Catholic faith at Tyburn over the years.

St. Oliver was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975. While most of his mortal remains are at Downside Abbey in England, his head was entrusted to the Dominican nuns in Drogheda around 1725 and is now enshrined in St Peter’s Church in Drogheda.

Fr. Kieran Coghlan

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