St. Oliver Plunkett
Born at Loughcrew, Co. Meath in 1625, St Oliver studied for the priesthood in Rome. Unable to return to Ireland because of the Cromwellian conquests, he undertook further studies there, becoming a teaching professor in Propaganda College. Upon his appointment as the Archbishop of Armagh, he returned to Ireland in 1670 and soon came to know the churches and streets of Drogheda extremely well. He founded a school for boys in the town and a college for the education of priests, which he visited regularly. He estimated that Drogheda had a population of six thousand souls and he wrote:
“The City I speak of, by the way is Pontana, in English Drogheda, in Irish Dreat. It is about five hours journey time from Dublin and is the finest city in Ireland after Dublin.”
On another occasion he wrote of Drogheda:
“In the wealthiest and most noble city of my diocese and of the whole province,”and then refers to the many “fine and ornate chapels” listing them as belonging to the Capuchins, Franciscans, Jesuits and the Augustinians.
On his travels to dioceses right across the province, St. Oliver brought peace to the province and also to the Church, giving it order and hope for the future. Highly successful in his labours, he effectively achieved a lifetime’s work in a few short years. However, within four years of his return to Ireland, the persecution of Catholics had resumed; the chapels and convents were forced to close and the priests and friars dispersed.
Although ordered to leave the country, St. Oliver remained steadfast amongst his people and refused the easy option of exile. Arrested in 1679, he spent two harsh winters in jail, before being put on trial in London on false charges of plotting a rebellion. Convicted on perjured evidence, he was martyred at Tyburn in 1681. Following the authentication of a miracle though his intercession, he was canonised by Blessed Paul VI in 1975.
As pilgrims walk their way through the streets and lanes of Drogheda to visit its many “fine and ornate churches,” we follow in the very words and footsteps of St. Oliver.