The Ballad of Fr. William Tirry
An Augustinian Friar (1609-54)
I'm quite sure that it would be against all the rules for a professional historian to bring himself into the narrative for a moment, but with what may be called the carefree innocence of the amateur, I'm going to do just that (and 'innocent' it surely was in the first place to have entered such a specialised field as history, where, if the saying ever aptly fits it applies here that 'angels should fear to tread'). To intrude, then, for a moment, I must admit that I am partial to puzzles-from the crossword to the jigsaw. Down at home, for instance, on my break after Christmas I invariably do the daily crossword in 'The Cork Examiner' (which may tell something of my origin and reading habits, but unhappily was not around in the time of Father Tirry -if it had been, its files, I'm sure, would prove a useful source of information just now). On my break I also always give a hand at the inevitable jigsaw puzzle (which I note is getting progressively more difficult and sophisticated as the children are growing older).
Now I mention all that not primarily for the sake of giving autobiographical glimpses, but rather because the image of the jigsaw is an apt one to express the content of this chapter. And especially a family jigsaw, pieces of which can so easily be mislaid, but of course may turn up later. In the jigsaw that makes up William Tirry's Augustinian life, pieces are certainly missing at the moment-so we are handicapped from the start-but hopefully in time these too may turn up, with what we may call the minute dusting of archives, work to be done, of course, by patient expert historians. However, with what pieces we have let us in our amateur way see what picture emerges.
The first key piece of information, then, that historians supply us with is that William Tirry entered the Augustinian Order in 1627 or 1628. But with that in place we immediately realise that the next vital 'piece' is missing, i.e. where he joined. Now it does seem probable that he simply joined the Augustinian community in Cork, and if he did, he possibly did his Noviciate, or year of initiation, there. In any case, it is quite unlikely that he would have spent this first year with any other Augustinian community in Ireland, and as of yet, despite the best efforts of Dermot McGrath, there would not have been a central Noviciate in the country. It is nice and tidy, then, imagining William Tirry spending his first year with the Augustinians in his native city. However, owing to the absence of precise historical proof, one must in the interest of truth mention some of the other possibilities or even probabilities. For instance he may have done his Noviciate year with the Augustinians in Spain. And one could go even further still and suggest that it was in Spain that he joined the Order in the first place. He may well have been a student in one of the Irish secular colleges there before he thought of entering the religious life. This was certainly true of two other Augustinians around this period. One was the Father Lavallin I have previously mentioned, and we know that before he became an Augustinian he had been a student at the Irish College at Douai in the Low Countries (and at Bordeaux). Similarly, Patrick Comerford, who in the time of Father Tirry was bishop of Waterford and Lismore, was initially a student at the Irish College at Bordeaux.
After his preparatory initiation (in Ireland or in Spain) William Tirry would then have pursued his philosophical and theological training for the priesthood, and this period, I am happy to say, we can place squarely on the 1Continent. What is more we can pin-point from documentary evidence the places Where he studied, namely: Valladolid, Paris and Brussels, but we cannot state with absolue accuracy the length of his stay 'in each. However, it is satisfying to be able to say with certainty that William Tirry lived in those places, and presumably in the order in which we give them (following the documents). We can say, then, that he first studied in Valladolid, which is still a renowned Augustinian centre, and that he was ordained there. Almost certainly that brings us up to the year 1636. He then went on to the Augustinian college in Paris for higher studies, and later to Brussels (which was a rallying point and head-quarters, as it were, for priests about to set out on the Irish mission).
On the whole, our jigsaw pieces there fit in reasonably well, I think, although the detailed patterns may be that bit blurred. However, it is certain that we have the right pieces in the right places. But to continue our jigsaw image, we now once again find that we are missing a valuable 'piece', i.e. the exact date of Father Tirrys' return to Ireland. So here we are forced to conjecture a little. However, our guess will not be too wide of the mark, I expect. For one thing, from what we have already said it is reasonable to hold that he would not have been back before 1637, and secondly we do know with certainty that he had returned before the Rebellion of 1641. We also know from authentic documents that he was engaged in various apostolates in Ireland before the Rebellion. So While I should like to be more precise, my learned guess is that William Tirry was back in Cork City an ordained priest around the late autumn of 1637 (having been recalled by the Provincial Chapter of that year).
Perhaps I should explain here one major reason why we cannot be more exact about certain details of Father Tirry's life. It actually stems from the destruction of Augustinian archives during the Cromwellian period and later. A similar loss of valuable documents is, of course, felt right across the board of Irish ecclesiastical history. And one must remember that the same thing happened on the Continent in the aftermath of the French Revolution. At the end of the day, however, knowing the details of Father Tirry's life at that time is not of vital importance to the essence of our 'story. The basic historical facts are that he studied on the Continent and was ordained there, and was back in Ireland, full of zeal, for some time before the Rebellion of 1641.
Before we attempt to trace Father Tirry's life in Ireland as an Augustinian priest, there is one interesting and important detail I should add concerning the superior of the College in Paris while he studied there. This man was Father Archange Guin, o.s.a., and is especially remembered in the Order for his learning and exemplary religious life. Born in Avignon in 1600, he was professed as an Augustinian at Arles, where he became prior in 1627 (indeed he held this position at Arles five times altogether). He was also prior in Paris for two periods: the first began in 1634 and the second in 1652. During his life Father Guin also taught philosophy and theology and was a key figure in the Augustinian reform movement in the province of Provence. It is recorded that he died a most holy death on 14 January, 1672. Now I mention this Father Guin here because, in fact, he is a most important link in our story. Firstly he was prior in Paris, when Father Tirry studied there. Then through what I consider divine Providence, he was again prior in Paris when the Irish Augustinian was hanged in Clonmel, and when he heard of the death of his former student, he was fortunately interested enough to write to the exiled Irish Augustinian provincial for some more details as to how it came about. This information he received a short time later in the form of what he may consider two sworn statements written by fellow-prisoners of Father Tirry. We may assuredly say, then, that Father Guin was instrumental in getting these accounts written, and it was certainly due to this good man's foresight that they have come down to us. (But we shall expand on that later).