Father Tadhg Moriarty

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ANNE KEELING joined the congregation for the annual Fr Tadhg Moriarty Mass at Pollan Aifrinn, Co. Kerry.

EACH OCTOBER the Dominican friars in Tralee, Co Kerry     celebrate Mass to remember the martyrdom of one of their own.

Fr Thaddeus (Thdhg) Moriarty OP, Prior of Tralee, was executed by Cromwellian forces on the 15th of October 1653. 

Weather permitting the Mass is held at the site where Fr Moriarty was arrested - the Mass Rock at Keelacloghane Wood near Castlemaine.

This year (2013), 360 years since the death of Fr Tadhg, the Mass took place on Sunday the 20th of October and the chief celebrant was His Excellency Archbishop Charles Brown, Ireland’s Apostolic Nuncio. He was assisted by eleven priests, two Dominican novices, a Brother and one student.

Weather conditions are always important for this event. It is not just rain that has to be taken into consideration but also wind because of the danger of falling branches. It was with relief and gratitude that organisers welcomed the blue skies and sunshine on the day.

Archbishop Brown spoke of how inspiring it is to have Mass outside so that people can see the “heavens above.” The three hundred or so people in the congregation, many of whom were lay Dominicans, felt the importance of the occasion, gathered as they were, in the Archbishop’s words, in a “very very holy and   historic place” where Father Tadhg “probably celebrated his last Mass

The story of Fr Tadhg Moriarty is moving and inspiring. He was born in Castledrum, Castlemaine, around the year 1603. Catholicism was being subjugated and many people were paying for their faith with their lives.

Young Tadhg and his brother Thomas were both influenced by Fr Dominic O`Daly OP and decided to become priests. It was impossible to study for the priesthood in Ireland so Tadhg went for a time to Toledo and later to Lisbon to Corpo Santo, the Dominican college founded by Fr O`Daly.

It is said of this college, which still exists today, “We young men who trained here in penal times returned to Ireland to suffer for their faith whilst preaching the   gospel and so desperately high was the rate of executions that Lisbon people often referred to Corpo Santo as ‘The Martyrs’ Seminary”.

Tadhg Moriarty returned to Kerry and became Prior of the Holy Cross Dominican Abbey in Tralee. In due course he and his fellow friars were forced to leave and go in   to hiding in the nearby village of Castlemaine where they posed as merchants. He continued to clandestinely minister to the people and celebrate Mass at the Mass Rock in Keelacloghane Wood.

It was while he was saying Mass there on the 15th of August 1653 that soldiers came and arrested him. Ross Castle in Killarney had just fallen to the Cromwellians and was held by Nelson. Fr Tadhg was forced to walk to the Castle where he was imprisoned for two months. During that time he was harshly treated. He was semi-starve and also stripped and flogged. Under interrogation he replied simply, directly and truthfully, so that those around him concluded that he was a man who did not know how to lie.

He withstood the hardship inflicted on him without   complaining and welcomed the news that he was to be executed. On the 15th of October he was brought to the scaffold at Martyrs’ Hill in Killarney and bravely exhorted the people around him before he went to his death.

It seems, as Archbishop Brown quoted, that in death his body was altered, his face wearing “an angelic countenance” and radiating “a beauteous light’  So striking was this transformation that one of the Cromwellians remarked, “If ever a papist were a martyr, he certainly should be accounted one.”

A precious item from the awful day of Fr Moriarty’s capture is still in existence, as Bobby Boylan from Tralee explained to me. It is the chalice that Fr Tadlig was using during the Mass, hastily concealed by the Prior himself, and subsequently found near the Mass Rock.

THIS CHALICE bears engraved images of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin and St Dominic, and is inscribed on the base with the year it was presented by the Sugrue   family to Fr Tadhg - 1651 - two years before his martyrdom. Some time after its recovery the Sugrue family returned it the Dominicans. In safekeeping throughout the year it is only taken out for one day to use in the Mass to honour Fr Tadgh.

Bobby Boylan is a Dominican Tertiary, or Lay Dominican, as is Sean Kelly. Sean, also from Tralee, told me that the Tralee Chapter of Lay Dominicans is the biggest Chapter in Ireland and is actually “bigger than all the other Chapters put together.”  This says a lot for the work of the Dominican friars in Tralee and Kerry and the respect in which they are held.

As befits the Dominican order the Rosary led by Tom Bailey, was recited before Mass for the cause of Fr Moriarty’s beatification. (Included in the prayers were two of Fr Moriarty’s contemporaries – Fr Conor Mccarthy and Fr Dermot Francis O’sullivan.) On the 27th of September 1992, the seventeen Irish martyrs we commemorate today were beatified by Pope John Paul II. While Fr Moriarty’s name had been was on the list he was not chosen as one of the final number to be beatified. This was for the sake of balance and to prevent a preponderance of men or women, religious, orders or lay people.

Fr Joe Bulman, the current Prior of Tralee, says that the Dominicans continue to seek the promotion of Fr Tadhg’s cause with the Congregation for the causes of Saints  both on a diocesan level and also through the Dominican procurator in Rome. Efforts are also being made on his   behalf by some descendents of the Moriarty family in the United States.

The Dominicans, who have an icon of Fr Moriarty hanging in St Anne’s Chapel in Holy Cross Dominican Church in Tralee, with a prayer for his beatification   underneath, are justified in seeking to have him honoured with the title of Blessed. Archbishop Brown, in commemorating his martyrdom in defence of the faith, called on the congregation to resist the modern “persecution” of secularism. 


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