Saint Oliver Plunkett was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He maintained his duties in Ireland in the face of English persecution and was eventually arrested and tried for treason in London. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1 July 1681, and became the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. Oliver Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years, writes Billy O’Riordan.

Saint Oliver Plunkett had spent six long gruelling months in Newgate prison, London, prior to his execution. The date was Friday July 1, 1861 and the place – Tyburn – a notorious spot for brutal executions. The Lord Chief Justice of England had sentenced the Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland, Oliver Plunkett, to be hanged, disembowelled, quartered and beheaded.

On the pronouncement of the sentence the Lord Chief Justice declared: “You shall be hanged by the neck but cut down before you are dead, your bowels shall be taken out and burnt before your face, your head shall be cut off and your body divided into four quarters.”

After celebrating early morning Mass in his cell, Archbishop Oliver Plunkett was dragged on a sledge to his place of execution, three kilometres to Tyburn. Plunkett won many admirers with the calm dignity with which he faced his execution.

Addressing his accusers, Oliver solemnly spoke, “I do forgive all who had a hand directly or indirectly in my death and in my innocent blood.”

Oliver Plunkett was fifty-five at the time of his unjust execution.

Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughrea, Old Castle, County Meath in 1625. From a very young age Oliver seemed drawn to the priesthood and was in time chosen to join the Irish College in Rome.

The year was 1647 and at this time it was outlawed for young men to join Continental seminaries. During the sea voyage Oliver’s ship was pursued by two English privateer ships, only being saved by a storm.
After landing in Ostend, Oliver and his companions were seized by robbers and left destitute.

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