Penal Times

Fenagh During the Penal Times

Throughout the centuries the people of Fenagh would have endured many difficulties and times of great danger. The penal times would become infamous for its severity and discriminatory legislation against all Catholics in Ireland.

Penal Laws lasted from about 1700 – 1829 with Catholic Emancipation.

The Irish Catholic was forbidden to:

* receive education
* to hold public office
* to engage in trade or commerce
* to own a horse of more than ?5 value
* to purchase land
* to lease land
* to vote
* to keep arms for his protection
* to buy land from a protestant
* inherit any thing from a protestant

He could not

* be a Guardian to a child
* when dying leave his infant children under Catholic Guardianship
* attend Catholic worship
* himself educate his child
* send his child to a catholic teacher
* employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child
* send his child abroad to receive education

He was compelled by law to attend protestant service.

The priest was banned and hunted with blood hounds and also the school master. In the reign of George I the Lord Chancellor Bowes pronounced “The law does not suppose any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic.”

The purpose of the Penal laws was to Protestantising the mass of the people, but eliminating their priests and Catholicism and in time they would have loyal subjects to the crown.

It is good to record that many a time during the centuries of Ireland’s agony many decent God fearing Christian Protestants hid the hunted priest when the bloodhounds and human hounds, were close upon him saving the hunted priest at the risk of his own. Many a time too the decent Protestant sometimes a poor man accepted the legal transfer of the lands of his Catholic neighbor and held them for his Catholic neighbors benefit.

To understand more about these dark moments in our history we take a more in depth look in the following pages.

The Priest Catchers

In the descending scale we now come to the professional priest catcher. The local protestant gentry were reluctant to harass their Catholic neighbors, however desirous they might be to rid the country of priests. Hence, the discovering and prosecuting of priests was carried out in large part by men hired by the grand juries or the Dublin executive. A story is related how when a notorious priest catcher was buried , his neighbors had cut on the back of his tombstone:

“God is pleased when man doth cease to sin, The devil is pleased when he a soul doth win, Mankind are pleased whene’er a villain dies, Now all are pleased for here Jack Cusack lies”.

The price on the head of any Bishop, Dean, Jesuit, Monk, or Friar was ?50 and for a priest was ?20. Being a priest catcher was a very lucrative pursuit and their fees to be levied on the papist inhabitants of the country or town where the papist clergyman was exercising jurisdiction.

The earliest account of proceedings against priest in county Leitrim is as follows: Carrick April 2, 1706

As for the Romish (Catholic) clergy of this country, when registered there was twenty four and butt one since died. And nine I must confess did on the first summons appear. There are yet fourteen of them abroad and upon threatening their securities one of them are capitulating. Three of these who on first summons came in plead great poverty and are very pressing to have Bayle taken to them to come inn whenever called for, but this we have not listened too. Butt desires to know what wee shall do in that case or what distinction wee shall make between those who upon the first summons came inn and those who are not yet come in. Butt two gentlemen took the Oath Major Shanly and one Mr. Gallagher.

At this period there was in the county a zealous and thorough going magistrate who kept the executive well posted. Some extracts are as follows from Gilbert Ormsby:

He suggested “to prohibit pulick masses for it is there they meet and concort their villany. And other discoverers affirm that severall of the cattle houghers confessed their widkedness to the Priests and received absolution from them which I hope will be a sufficient reason for the Government to ridd the nation of that dangerous sett of men(priests).

Instructions were now sent down to make a clean sweep of the priests but it seems they were unsuccessful in arresting priests.

7 March 171

“Sir warrants have been issued but I cannot find that any of the said priests are yet taken”.

The failure to arrest priests appears to have angered Ormsby:

12 March 171

Sir Mr. Roger Kelly a papist and fosterer to the Blakes whose sheep were houghed has been eminently serviceable. I hope the Government will take notice of it and rather that I find these barbarities dispose him to renounce his scurvy religion for I reckon that all our unhappiness and misfortunes proceed from the priests to whom the greater men communicate their designs and they stirr up the common people to execute them. Nor do I believe we shall ever be safe or quiet till a wolf’s head and a priests be at the same rate. Such a time I remember and then there was not a quieter populace in the world

Gilbert Ormsby

Instructions to the Judges summer circuit 1715

“Whereas we understand that several popish priest have been convicted and still lie in Gaol when they ought according to law to be transported. You are to enquire into this matter and into the reasons why they have not been transported and to return their names and the Gaols where they lie to the Chief Governors, and order the Sherriff immediately to take care that they be transported and if you perceive that the Sherriff cannot get them out of the Kingdom for the Premiums allowed. You are to take care that they be removed to Dublin that the Government may order their transportation”.

At a special session of the Peace held for Leitrim at Carrick Drumrusk on the 27of July 1714. we get the first mention of the priests in Fenagh. The full session reads as follows;

Whereas the Grand Jury then and there impaneled and sworn present that Bryan Egan and Dennis Conman both registered priests of the Romish religion in the parish of Killtoghork and that Laurence Keon a popish priest registered for the parish of Killinurney now removed to the upper end of Killtoghork parish and that Bryan Donagher, registered popish priest but not for any parish goes by the name of Dr. Donagher deemed to be a moderator over the popish clergy in the dioceses of Killmore and Ardagh and that Peter Duigenan a registered popish priest in the parish of Anaghduff and that Dominick McGany a registered popish priest in the parish of Anaghduff has removed himself into the parish of Mohill and the Owen McHugh a registered popish priest in the parish of Mohill and that Connor McLoughlin a popish priest registered for the parish of Cloonclare has since removed himself to the parish of Oughteragh and that Phillip Reyley a registered popish priest for the parish of Carrigallen and that Thomas Brady a registered popish priest for the parish of Drumreilly and that Felix McKeone a registered popish priest for the parish of Kiltubrid and that Dermot Fanneen a registered popish priest of the parish of Fenagh and that Thomas Flyn a registered popish priest of the parish of Cloone and that Denis Gaffney and Hugh Cannon both registered popish priests for the parish of Cloone and that Francis Moran a Franciscan friar of Cloone and Mohill and that Peter Reynolds a Franciscan Friar in and about the parish of Mohill and that Oughy Duigeanan a Francisean Friar in the Parishes of Fenagh and Kiltubrid and that Owen O’Rorke alias Donell alias Robin the Juggler a franscisan friar in the parish of Oughteragh and Drumreilly and that Miles Keene a Franciscan friar in the parish of Annaghduff and that Cormac Shanley a Franciscan friar of the parish of Oughteragh and that Farrell Rodaghan a Franciscan friar in the parish of Fenagh and that another Rodaghan a young priest newly ordanined whose Christian name they know not that frequents the parish of Fenagh and that James McTernan a young priest lately ordained in the about the parish of Cloone, do all frequently say mass and have not taken the Oath, and that James McHugh a popish schoolmaster keeps school in Kesh in the parish of Kiltubrid and that Robert Molloy a papist teaches school in the parish of Drumshanbo and one Edward Nagle a papist teaches school in Castlefor in Fenagh parish and that one Richard Flanagan a papist keeps school in the parish of Drumreilly all which papish schoolmasters have not taken the Oath of Abjuration as by law required and that one Gerald Cullen a Franciscan friar exercises his friars function in and about the County Leitrim and that one Patrick Flynn of Mohill is a young popish priest not registered and that one John Duigenan a Young priest not registered frequently celebrates mass in the parish of Fenagh and that one Bernard Rodaghan a young priest lately ordained says mass in the parish of Fenagh and elsewhere all of which said priests and friars do frequently say mass and exercise their priestly functions not having taken the Oath of Abjuration but act in public defiance and contempt of the laws of this kingdom.

There are therefore in her Majesty’s name requiring you and every one of you on sight hereof to apprehend the bodies of all the before mentioned and them or any of them so apprehended to bring before some of her Majesties Justices of the Peace to be dealt with according to law.

From that documental record we had the following priests administering in Fenagh in 1714

Dermot Fanneen
Farrell Rodaghan Franciscan
Rodaghan(Christian name not recorded)
John Duignan
Bernard Rodaghan
Oughy Duignan Franciscan

Also there is a record of Edward Nagle a teacher at Castlefore. They were liable for transportation and banishment.

The Return of 1744 ——

Dominick Fannen – Generally residing at Drumlaheen in the parish of Fenagh.
Farrell Rudaghan – Generally residing in the parish of Fenagh.

Also laws were passed requiring all magistrates to demolish all crosses, pictures and inscriptions that are anywhere publicly set up. Pilgrimmages to Lough Derg and to any Holy Wells in the parish were forbidden.

Registration of Priest

“All popish priests now in Ireland shall at the next quarter sessions of the peace to be held in the several counties next after 24 June 1704 return their names and places of abode to the respective clerks of the peace in the counties where the said popish priests reside with their age, the parish of which he pretends to be popish priest, the time and place of their first receiving Popish orders and from whom they received the same shall them enter into recognizance with two sureties in the sum of ?50 that such popish priest shall be of peaceable behavior and not remove out of such county into any other part of the Kingdom.

All popish priests who shall not make such return being convicted thereof shall be committed to the common gaol till they be transported”.

If you were transported and came back you were guilty of high treason with a trip to the gallows to look forward to.

There were other passage in the Bill covering registration which included no priest could have a curate or an assistant. Also he could only function in the parish to which he was registered.

It is thought that nearly all the priests in Ireland may have registered as it was thought the aim of the government was to stop the recruiting of priests from abroad and accordingly that the registration act was directed not against the existing clergy but their successors.

Hence they willingly availed of the refuge which a legal recognition afforded. The registration act had put the clergy fair on the anvil and it was resolved to strike them with the whole strength of government.

Following the registration act of 1704 came the more sinister “The Oath of Abjuration” I don’t think there is nay need to print “The Oath of Abjuration” as the reply which is supposed to have been written by Cornelius Mary parish priest of St. Michan’s Dublin is suffice.

He says “I am no ways concerned at taking the oath of allegiance, which is the law of nature and which the common practice of all nations allows me to take with a safe conscience to any prince who conquers me and the country of which I am a member. As to the oath of abjuration there is a vast difference. For there are some clauses in it to the truth of which no Roman Catholic at least I am convinced. I cannot in conscience swear. I shall single out three. First I am required to swear that I believe in my conscience the late King James or the Pretender has no right or title whatsoever to the crown of England. Now I am so far a stranger to the right and titles of Kings and princes (and I am sure most of my profession if not all in this Kingdom are so) that I would not take such an oath to any King, Prince or Potentate in Europe with respect to all such pretenders to their crowns. For to able to swear it, I must have sure and certain grounds for my belief. But this is what I could never yet find. Nay many divines and persons of note of the Church of England have and do still believe that neither the late King James nor the pretender has forfeited his right to the crown. And I am sure all the divines and lawyers in France, Spain and Italy are of the same opinion. How then can I or any other Roman Catholic in this Kingdom ground my belief to swear he has not?

Secondly there is another clause requiring men to swear they will maintain the succession in the Protestant line. Now how many Roman Catholics continuing such in the Protestant line, can in conscience take such an oath. For I am sworn (should I take the said oath) to withdraw my obedience from King George and his successors in case he or his successors should become Roman Catholic. Nor is this an imaginary case. The King of Navarte, Henry IV, was once a Protestant and became a Roman Catholic. The Duke of Saxony, now King of Poland, was a Protestant, but is now a Roman Catholic, and to come nearer home Charles II and King James his brother both became Roman Catholics. How if it should so happen that the royal family should embrace the religion which I profess, could I in conscience violate my oath of allegiance, and to my power be aiding and assisting in dethroning them for what in my opinion and belief they ought to do?

The third clause in the oath runs thus” I make this recognition heartily, willingly” etc. I shall only remark that to my certain knowledge many a man as well Protestant as Catholic has taken the oath with aching hearts and no other way willingly than as a sailor in a storm throws his goods over board to save his life.”

Petitions were sent to England and the help of Catholic Europe was sought to have the oath of abjuration abolished. If this law were enacted they said

“No priest could remain in Ireland; none could come thither from abroad under penalty of high treason; and no Catholic could live there, being barred the exercise of his religion. They humbly hoped her Majesty would refuse to consent to a law which was a breach of faith”

In vain, however, all representations made by foreign ambassadors were met as on former occasions by deliberate lies. English statesmen had now the opportunity once and for all getting rid of priests and Catholicism, and were not to be derived of it by mere diplomatic pressure.

The Irish House of Commons voted that “the prosecuting and informing against papists was an honorable service. There was a penalty of ?30 and a years imprisonment on anyone who permitted mass to be said in his house or anywhere on his premises. When the priests were confronted with great dangers and were mercilessly pursued by government they celebrated mass with veiled faces to protect their identities.

In 1719 the Irish Privy Council made a proposal to the English cabinet for more extreme measure to prevent the further growth of popery. The letter urging the following measures was sent on 27th August.

My Lords – We herewith transmit to your Excellencies the following bill – “An act for securing the Protestant Interests of this Kingdom by further Amending the several Acts of Parliament made against Papists and to prevent the growth of Popery”. The heads of this bill arose in the House of Commons who being sensible (as the truth is) Popish Archbishops, Bishops, Jesuits, Friars, and others exercising foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction in this Kingdom than ever heretofore, notwithstanding the many laws against the same, found it impossible to prevent that evil otherwise than by subjecting persons who should be convicted of being unregistered Popish Priests, Popish Archbishops etc. to greater penalties than those they were liable to by the former acts. After the county hath paid a sum of twenty pounds to the discoverer of every such offender and been at great expense at prosecuting and convicting them of the offence, they are only liable to transportation, unless they return after being transported but for so doing are punishable with death. Priests, Friars etc. are no sooner transported but new ones come from France, Spain or Portugal, so that their number continues as great as ever.

The common Irish will never become Protestant or well affected to the crown while they are supplied with Priests, Friars, etc. who are the fomenters and disturbers here. So that some more effectual remedy to prevent Priests and Friars coming into this Kingdom is perfectly necessary. The Commons proposing the marking of every Pries, Friar, etc. and of remaining in this Kingdom after the 1st of May 1720 with a large P to be made with a red hot iron on the cheek. The council generally disliked that punishment, and have altered it into that of castration which they are persuaded will be the most effectual remedy that can be found out to clear this nation of the disturbers of the peace and quit of the Kingdom and would have been very well pleased to have been able to have found out any other punishment which might in their opinion have remedied the evil. If your excellencies shall not be of the same sentiments they submit to your consideration whether the punishment of castration may not be altered to that proposed by the commons or to some other effectual one which may occur to your Lordships consideration, but are fully convinced there is an absolute necessity of making the laws against unregistered priests and friars more severe than it now is. There are several other good clauses and provisions in this bill, of which the nation will receive great benefit, and which are very needful to be enacted into law.

We therefore desire your excellences will be pleased that it may be returned in form under the great seal.

We are your excellencies most humble servants

Charles Paulet, Duke of Bolton
Allen Broderick, Lord Middleton
John Evens, Bishop of Meath
John Sterne, Bishop of Clogher
James Barry, Lord Santry
Sir Oliver, St. George

It will be remember that the Act of 1709 compelled all priests in the country to take the oath of abjuration under the penalty of transportation and of high treason if they returned. As only 33 conformed, the whole body after 25th March became outlaws. They now put themselves at the mercy of their people. They hid in the mountains, bogs, dugout’s never knowing when they could be captured but they were protected and sheltered by the whole population. Though rewards were offered of sums which in those days would be wealth untold to the poor Irish, no one would take the bribe.

A law was then passed on which a warrant could be directed to compel any Catholic person of sixteen and upwards to appear before a magistrate and give evidence if he attended Mass and to answer all questions pertaining. Such persons so refusing or neglecting to appear to answer shall be sent to jail for twelve months or else pay a fine of ?20.

We now see the great risk it was for the priests and their congregation to survive in Fenagh. They had no Church, but they had a strong and enduring faith and the penalty of death did not deter them. Their priests hid in various locations – also said mass at what became known as Mass Rocks, while the congregation knelt on the bare ground with faithful sentries watching from all the nearby hills to give timely warning of the approaching priest – hunter and his guard of British redcoats.

But sometimes the troops came on them unawares and the Mass Rock would become a battle ground. The people would not give up their priests despite his protestations to save his people as if they had been present at the trial of our Lord they would have defended him from crucification by the Romans. Men, women and children caught in the crime of worship among the rocks and hills of Fenagh gave of their lives to protect their priests.

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