Archbishop Seán Brady sermon, at the Irish College, Paris, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Dominic Maguire, successor as Archbishop of Armagh to the martyred St Oliver Plunkett

16 Sep 2007


16th September 2007


Irish College, Paris, Sunday 16th September 2007
Sermon by Archbishop Seán Brady

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady, today delivered the following sermon at the Irish College, Paris, at the event commemorating the death, 300 years ago, of Archbishop Dominic Maguire, the immediately successor, as Archbishop of Armagh, of the martyred St Oliver Plunkett. Archbishop Maguire was Catholic Primate at the time of the Battle of the Boyne.

Please see highlights of Archbishop Brady’s sermon below followed by the full text:

  • Archbishop Dominic Maguire was a reconciler … a ‘healer of memory’.
  • The use of memory has a critical role in the healing of conflict … As Christians, it is the Eucharist which cements and sanctifies our memory.
  • As we prepare to celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising and the Somme offensive … I am asking that we be sensitive and sensible about how we conduct these commemorations [to avoid them becoming] a deep well of hate and bitterness.
  • Because of God’s infinite mercy towards all of us, let us look forward to the future with confidence and hope.


We have come together today to celebrate the memory of Archbishop Dominic Maguire, the immediate successor to Saint Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh. His death in 1707 brought to a close one of the most tumultuous and decisive centuries of Irish history.

Described as at once tragic and magnificent, it was a century of war and want, persecution, and plantation, martyrdom and magnificent heroes. It began with the departure, to the continent, in 1607 of the Earls Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell soon after their submission in1603. It ended after the Jacobite war in Ireland had culminated in the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, a Treaty which guaranteed freedom of worship and confirmed Catholics in the enjoyment of their civil rights. The Church then set about binding up the wounds of exiled Irish soldiers and their dependents on the European continent and to the comforting of the bereaved and hungry at home.

The legacy of that century resonates to this day in the cultural, political and religious dynamics of Ireland and other parts of Europe. Its significance is reflected in the number of celebrations across Europe of the 400th anniversary of the flight of the Earls.

  • Last Sunday I attended one of those commemorations in Dungannon, County Tyrone. Today I am here in Paris to commemorate the death of Archbishop Dominic Maguire who died here in France in 1707. He is one of a long list of Archbishops of Armagh who died in France beginning with St. Malachy: Roger Wauchope who died in Paris in 1551 followed by
  • Edmund O’Reilly who died in Saumur in 1669 and
  • Dominic Maguire who died in 1707 and, of course,
  • Cardinal Tomas Ó Fiaich who died in 1990

By the unforeseeable twists of history and fate, it was the consequences of the flight of the Earls which led to the untimely martyrdom of St Oliver Plunkett and subsequently to the appointment of Dominic Maguire as his successor.

That the flight of the Earls is better known and more celebrated than the death of Archbishop Maguire, should not distract us from the significance of his legacy. While relatively few of his words are recorded, what we know of the difficult circumstances in which he found himself as Archbishop of Armagh, suggest we have something important to learn from him today.

I thank Fr Declan Hurley and all those associated with the organisation of this event for providing this timely opportunity to reflect on that legacy.

What emerges is that, above all, Archbishop Maguire was a reconciler. Confronted with the deep distrust, anger and division which followed the betrayal of Oliver Plunkett, he stands out as a ‘healer of memory’. He was a man who set people free from hatred, revenge and suspicion. Following the trauma of the martyrdom of St Oliver, it was he who set about the task of restoring the unity and hope of the people and clergy of Armagh. This was no easy task. As the Seanchas Ard Mhacha explains, ‘The execution of St. Oliver Plunkett, and especially the sad reflection that he had been betrayed by his own, left the Irish Church appalled.’

As a result, when appointed to Armagh in December 1683, he had to contend, as he explains himself: ‘with the almost infinite distractions and innumerable difficulties in which the clergy of Armagh are caught up and tossed about… I could not tell you,’ he goes on, ‘how I have daily tried by the sweat of my brow to restore the primitive decorum and beauty of this diocese from the disturbed and almost schismatic state to which it had been brought by the sad loss of its leader.’ ‘This, with God’s help’, he went on to say, ‘I hope to achieve.’

By all accounts, before his untimely exile after the Battle of the Boyne, he had gone a long way to fulfilling this hope. Morale and unity among the clergy had been significantly restored. The threats to religious liberty which had led to Oliver Plunkett’s martyrdom were redressed in large part by his efforts and good standing with James II. That he played a significant role in negotiating the Treaty of Limerick is testament to his commitment and skill at resolving conflict.

His legacy resonates to this day. Events of that time, such the battle of the Boyne, continue to affect politics in Ireland today. This is testament to the living power of memory. The use of memory has a critical role in the healing of conflict. The reason is that all conflicts leave an indelible mark on the memory.

Without memory, we cease to be ourselves, we lose our identity. How that memory is celebrated determines whether the power it unleashes is directed positively or negativity. In the words of holocaust survivor Elie Weisel: ‘It is important not only that we remember, but how we remember – with love or with hate, seeking reconciliation or going after revenge. Salvation,’ he goes on to say, ‘does not lie simply in memory; it lies also in what we do with our memory.’

As Christians, it is the Eucharist which cements and sanctifies our memory. The capacity of our memory to become a source of destruction is transformed in the Eucharist. It is here that we experience the immensity of God’s mercy. It is here that we encounter what St Paul described in the second reading as the ‘inexhaustible patience’ of the ‘love that is in Christ Jesus.’ It is here that we encounter the one who seeks out the lost sheep, who searches relentlessly for the drachma, who rejoices over the repentant sinner.

It is in the encounter with the boundless mercy and compassion of God that the healing of our most destructive memories becomes possible. Confronted with the boundless mercy of God we are reoriented towards the liberating power of mercy. We too can forgive. That forgiveness, even when it is not asked for, can set us free from the destructive power of the memories which hurt us and compel us towards anger and revenge.

This liberation, this healing of the destructive power of memory, can take place at both the personal and the collective level. This is why, in the Eucharist, we confess our sinfulness as an individual and as a community.

This invites us to look again at how we celebrate our memories of the past. Do these commemorations encourage a constructive and healing approach to our historic identity or do they deepen the sources of division and distrust? Do they say what we want to say about ourselves, our values and our identity at the beginning of a new millennium and what we hope will be an era of greater understanding and peace?

These questions take on a particular importance as we prepare to celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising and the Somme offensive. They were determining events in the memory of the people of Ireland. It is important how we tell these stories to a new generation. The fact is that people, especially young people, are greatly influenced by the imagination and by experiences which are handed down from one era to another.

I am asking that we be sensitive and sensible about how we conduct these commemorations. It will hardly do for us to totally avoid telling our stories. It certainly won’t do to say it was all about religion, because it was certainly not all about religion. The danger is that if we leave these stories untold or if we tell them in a superficial, triumphalist, selective or partisan sort of way, the hurtful experience of the past may live on. It could then become a deep well of hate and bitterness. In that case, that hate and bitterness, will simply wait for future generations to tap into its destructive power.

We all have a responsibility to try and repair the disasters of the past. As followers of Christ, we know ourselves to be citizens of a broken world. But we are to play our part, here and now, in healing that broken world. We can do so with such things as our love, our respect and our pardon – our respect for each other. That respect entails us seeing ourselves and each other as children of the One Father. Of being willing to pardon and forgive in the sure knowledge that there are areas of our own lives that need pardon.

For many of the countries of Western Europe there are also the new stories of those who have recently migrated to our respective lands. They too have become part of our national memories. Their story, the story of how they have come to our countries, will be in the future. All of that is going to be of huge significance. Our ability to both hear and believe these stories, of migration and settlement, will have consequences for our societies. For, who we will be, and what we will look like, in ten years, as a country, as a European Union, will depend to a large extent on how we conduct these conversations and these celebrations now.

What strikes me about the life of Dominic Maguire was that it was one of persistent uprooting and migration and travel and turbulence. I imagine that he often offered this sort of prayer:
God, our Father, your son knew what it was to be excluded from his homeland, Be mindful of those who must live far from the family and their country.

We are reminded from this of the need to have sensitivity, to have compassion, for the millions of people who are uprooted and displaced in the world today. The Maguires and the O’Neills and the O’Donnells are today’s Sudan and Darfur and other oppressed regions of our world.

Today I give thanks to God, to the people in Spain and France, London and Brussels, who welcomed Dominic Maguire and Irish people like him down through the ages and continue to do so today.

With courage and trust in God’s mercy, Dominic Maguire took on the challenge of dealing with the hurt, division and anger that followed the despicable events which led to the martyrdom of St Oliver Plunkett. I am sure his Dominican brothers of former days from Coleraine and Goa would have offered this prayer for him:

Lord bless Dominic, our Bishop. We pray that his faith may not fail and that he may strengthen his brothers and sisters. In order that they can draw good out of every situation, No matter how disastrous.

In commemorating what God has done in the life of Dominic Maguire, let us all learn from the past, from our successes and our failures, and live very much and very realistically in the present. Because of God’s infinite mercy towards all of us, let us look forward to the future with confidence and hope.


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Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)