The Ballad of Fr. William Tirry
An Augustinian Friar (1609-54)
Contents | Introduction | Prologue | Young Life | The Augustinian | Towards Clonmel
The Witnesses | Man In Custody | Man on Trial | A life sealed | Epilogue
from a book by Fr. John O'Connor OSA
A Life Sealed
Father Tirry's Trial, then, took place on 6 May, 1654. That was a Wednesday, and on the following Tuesday (the 12th) he was hanged. The news that he was to die was brought to him on the Monday-no doubt after rumours and counter-rumours of a reprieve.
"And then Mr. Rous, the gaoler, came suddenly, and brought an order written by the Colonel his hand, to draw out presently Mr. Tirry and Mr. Peter Power, to be executed according (to) their sentence."
Father Fogarty continues, giving us Father Tirry's reactions:
The Last Night
Since the Trial (at least) it would seem that the priests had been together in one of the houses owned by Mr. Rous, the gaoler and Marshal. Now, Father Fogarty tells us, the other priests were sent off to another house, so that Father Tirry might have time and quiet for his prayers and exercises, and so be undisturbed on this his last night. But the priests (under guard, no doubt) could come to him hourly, if he so wished. We know, therefore, that he spent this last night preparing himself more urgently for God's presence. He took a short rest, in order to have strength for the next day's ordeal and challenge. He realised that it would not be simply a 'matter of dying, but that he would have to defend his faith and preach to the people. And so in the morning he again made his confession and received Viaticum (The priests were not allowed to say Mass, but outside priests brought them Communion).
So, Tuesday morning, 12 May, 1654, dawned in Clonmel, and at nine o'clock, "The Marshal came to him at the prefixed hour and put manacles of iron on his hands, and so marched him towards Mr. Power, and thence both went to the gallows conveyed by a company of horse and foot."
The other priests were not allowed to accompany the condemned to the Market Square, although Father Tirry had requested the companionship of Canon Conway. But as he left them, he knelt down in the doorway in the view of all, to receive a last absolution. One can only imagine what was going on in the minds of the Cromwellian soldiers and the Catholic bystanders. Neither the Canon, then, nor Father Fogarty witnessed the actual death, but they later made it their, business to hear all the details from those who were present at the scaffold. But this is how Father Fogarty describes the last sight he had of Father Tirry: "But Mr. Tirry went into the street, as if he were in a solemn procession, with his crown made [i.e. torsure] and in his regular attire [i.e. religious habit] having iron cuffs on his hands [Canon Conway adds that he held a Rosary beads], blessing each side of the street, which was as full as it could hold of men and women, all weeping and kneeling before him, and craving his benediction."
He then obviously passed out of view, but Father Fogarty goes on to assure us:
Although there is no hint of it in the documents, it is tempting to compare Father Tirry's praying and kneeling, on his way to the scaffold, with the Way of the Cross. In any case, the comparison is apt, and one can go further and see something of the Good-Thief-Christ relationship between Mr. Power and Father Tirry. High on a Hill
Then, from the testimony of eyewitnesses, Father Fogarty gives us his simple, dignified account of the end:
And so now, high on the scaffold, above the upturned heads, Father Tirry, in his black Augustinian habit, spoke in the noonday sun of his firm belief in the 'Catholic Church.
"At length he added that the only way to be saved is to observe the 10, Commandments of God and to hear the Catholic Roman Church, and observe what the Church of Rome doth prescribe, and that out of the same Church there is no hope of salvation."
At this stage the Protestant minister, no doubt half-way up the ladder, was trying desperately to argue the point with Father Tirry (as perhaps he had been doing from the beginning). But he was obviously fighting a losing battle. So fearing lest the priest would "seduce all his auditors", he urged Mr. Rous to carry out the sentence. But the Marshal, with his continued kindness, assured Father Tirry that he was free to speak as long as he wished: "Mr. Tirry, fear not that I will cast you unawares, therefore continue your speech."
The minister, however, continued to interrupt, and Father Fogarty gives us some of the dialogue than ensued on the Real Presence. But finally, Father Tirry asked the minister to let him be, and told him that if he wanted more proof he should go to 'my commorados whom I left at home'-no doubt to the priest back in the Gaol-and they would enlighten him. The Commentanus Rinucciniatus adds to that the detail that Father Tirry reminded the minister how he had been offered his life and a reward, if he would conform to the new doctrines. This again shows his dedication, and perhaps further indicates that he was looked upon as having extraordinary influence among the people. If he could be bought, then many others might follow.
And so, finally, Father Tirry again expressed sorrow for his sins, and asked for an absolution from any priest who might be present, and especially from an Augustinian. No doubt he was hoping that his friend Father O'Driscoll might be there, this saintly man with whom he had laboured, and who was now in his last thoughts. Father Fogarty describes the end:
"Which said, he made a sign to Mr. Rous to do his duty. Whereupon he was cast out, and presently bleedeth out of his nostrils abundantly, so that everyone ran apace to gather his blood in their handkerchiefs, and to get some piece of clothes or other things."
So as the mid-day sun shone down on 12 May, 1654, and the river Suir went quietly by, and the Comeraghs looked on, Father Tirry's life was ended on a scaffold in the Market Square in Clonmel. It was a far journey from Cork City and 1609. The Catholic Mayor of Fethard sought and received permission to take the body back to Fethard for burial. And this was done, the documents tell us, with great pomp and reverence. And so Father Tirry was buried in the ruins of the Augustinian Abbey in Fethard, as Canon Conway and Father O'Mahony state in their reports. The exact spot is unknown, but it is certainly in the Abbey grounds somewhere, and more than likely not in the church itself, although a local tradition would seem to suggest this.
In any case, it is certain that Father Tirry lies at rest in Fethard, and with it his name is forever associated. And Fethard is conscious of its high honour. At the moment his cause is in the hands of the Church, and to her judgement we leave his case. In the meantime we can of course pray, knowing that in 1935 the then Archbishop of Cashel authorised a prayer for his Beatification. And we can study his life and hope that one day, Father William Tirry may be raised to a place in the sun, and draw to God and to Fethard many wandering pilgrims, for peace and grace and encouragement and all that is noble in the telling.