story of Blessed William Tirry is that of a pastor remaining at his post,
when he might have fled, knowing that he was thereby putting his life in
jeopardy. By virtue of the law of 6 January 1653, to be a priest on Irish
soil constituted a crime of treason punishable by death. William Tirry was
betrayed while in hiding as he was about to offer Mass on Holy Saturday,
25 March 1654. The fact that he was discovered vested for Mass made him
guilty twice over. In addition, a search of his room uncovered a manuscript
which he had written concerning the doctrinal errors of Protestantism.
Born in Cork, Ireland, in 1608, William Tirry belonged to a distinguished
family. His paternal uncle was bishop of Cork-Cloyne. William joined the
Augustinians in his hometown, studying at Valladolid in Spain, and later
at Paris in 1635-1636. He then spent some time in Brussels before returning
to Ireland a few years before the outbreak of hostilities in 1641. Because
community life was impossible at the time, he became chaplain to his uncle.
In 1646 he was appointed secretary to the provincial. On 15 June 1649, he
was named prior of the convent of Skreen without, however, being able to
live there due to Cromwell’s troops. Following his arrest in March
1654, he was imprisoned at Clonmel, where he remained for a month. His life
of prayer and mortification was a source of edification to the other priests
with whom he was imprisoned. When brought to trial he affirmed his recognition
of the authority of the commonwealth in civil matters, but insisted that
in those things concerning religion and conscience he could obey only his
superiors and the pope. While it appeared that the jury was inclined to
judge in his favor, the influence of the civil powers and the military authority
prevailed, and he was condemned to death by hanging.
Friar William Tirry was executed at the age of forty-five on 12 May 1654.
A Capuchin friar, who had been tried and found guilty with him, was banished
after several months of incarceration. It is this individual who later offered
important testimony concerning the proceedings of their shared trial and
imprisonment. William was taken to the scaffold, chained, clothed in his
Augustinian habit, and praying the rosary. A large crowd gathered to receive
his blessing. He addressed a final word of encouragement to them, publicly
reaffirmed his faith, and then pardoned the three persons who, for payment
of money, had betrayed him. Bystanders observed that even the Protestants
were deeply moved by his death. Some friends later took his body and buried
it in the ruins of the Augustinian convent of Fethard. His burial place,
however, has never been found.
The impression which William’s death had on Catholics and Protestants
alike, and the graces obtained through his intercession, quickly caused
his reputation as a martyr to spread. William Tirry’s case is one
of the best documented of the 17 Irish martyrs who were beatified by Pope
John Paul II on 27 September 1992.
His feast is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 12 May.