William, Mary, Plunkett and the Boyne

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July the 12th is ‘Orange’ Day, celebrated still with a particular fervour in Northern Ireland, commemorating the defeat of the Catholic Stuart King James II and VII of England, Scotland and Ireland by the forces of the Dutch and Protestant William of Orange (a region in Holland) and his wife, Mary, who was also his cousin and James’ daughter, who had been raised Protestant. The battle took place near the Boyne River in Ireland, outside the town of the Drogheda, on the north-east coast, and has been celebrated ever since as the definitive defeat of Catholic monarchy, and ‘Papism’ in general in once-merrie England, and the triumph of good old staunch ‘Protestantism’, which practise and belief varies quite widely, as is inevitably the case when one leaves the fold of the one, true Church. After, a fervent Orangeman such as C.S. Lewis, mentioned the other day, would hardly recognize the current teachings of the Church of Ireland; then again, he would also likely be more Catholic than many self-professed ‘Catholics’. But the Church, beneath the maelstrom, perdures.

The last martyr of the Protestant clampdown on Catholicism was Father Oliver Plunkett, who had spent most of his priesthood in Rome, due to the ruthlessness of the persecution of another Oliver, Cromwell by name, who, as ‘Lord Protector of the Realm’, enacted laws putting priests to death upon sight. Oliver was a nephew of Thomas Cromwell, henchman of Henry VIII, who was also mentioned the other day, as one of those who lost his head over good King Harry.

Plunkett eventually returned to Ireland in 1670, after being made a bishop, and right away founded a Catholic College at Drogheda, attracting 150 students – which Cardinal Newman would later claim as the ideal number for a liberal arts college. In fact, this has come to be known as ‘Dunbar’s number’, the limit in any group wherein they can truly get to know each other, and the leader can know each person by name. ‘Companies’ in the army follow this rule, as do troops of chimpanzees, funnily enough; or so I recall reading somewhere.

But, anon, 40 of the students were Protestant, making Plunkett’s school the first integrated educational institution in the now-divided land, and which might have held great promise, until its closure in 1673, under the strict anti-Catholic laws of the Test Act of the same year. Good Bishop Plunkett himself was rounded up in the obviously-false ‘Titus Oates’ plot of 1678, charged with treason and, even though his innocence was known throughout the land, was hauled to Britain, and, after a formulaic fifteen-minute jury deliberation, declared guilty. Sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, he said, ‘Thanks be to God’, and was thus the last martyr of the so-called ‘Reformation’, put to death on the very same day, July 1st in the old, Julian calendar (the 12th in the new, Gregorian) as the fateful Battle of the Boyne twelve years later.

So what might have been, and may yet be again, began and ended at Drogheda. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of William and Mary has not turned out all that gloriously. Britain is now experiencing the tragic effects of her separation from the Church and her moral foundation, her identity, family life and culture gutted out, the hollowness filled with an inebriated and drug-addled hedonism and hooliganism, and the sad religion of ‘football’; Islam waxes strong to occupy what is left, as one may evince from the most popular boy’s name in London, which isn’t Jack, or even Jill.

But God never abandons us, nor our countries. As the Psalm today says, take delight in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart.

Would that the Brits would take those words to heart, and that King James and Bishop Plunkett had it right all along.