Chronicles of the Irish Martyrs 6: Bishop Cornelius O’Neill and companions

“A beginning like this does not lead to a good end…”

1539. Cornelius O’Neill was Bishop of Limerick. He had lived as a Trinitarian religious and had been provincial of the order before he was appointed Bishop. He belonged to the princely family of O’Neill of Tyrone and was known for his humility and charity.

O’Neill had been consulted by the King on his divorce from Queen Catherine, and since the Bishop had given his opinion firmly in favor of the Queen, the King was much angered and declared that he would have his revenge…

Seeing the dangers that were threatening the Church in Ireland, he called together his brethren of the Trinitarian community in Limerick to prepare them, saying:

“A beginning like this does not lead to a good end… The King and his Kingdom are lost. The Catholic Church is in great danger, and heresy will be introduced amongst us unless God’s omnipotence protects us.

He told them to be prepared for martyrdom, advising them to sell all that the monastery had, even the sacred vessels, and distribute the money among the poor, so that when the enemy arrived there would be nothing left for them to profane.  He also gave the same advice to the other convents in his Diocese and all the clergy under his care.

Not long afterwards, news came of the martyrdom and destruction at Adare. O’Neill called together his fellow Trinitarian brethren and solemnly intoned the Te Deum, asking the Holy Trinity to grant them strength and courage to be able to imitate their brothers in their martyrdom.

The Bishop announced that he would preach on the feast day of St. John (June 23rd), in the Cathedral. The people flocked to seek orientation, truth, and encouragement from their Pastor. The King’s officials also came. The Bishop spoke clearly, explaining to the people the grounds of the Catholic faith and the Pope’s authority, and declaring that the commands of the King were heretical, and that the King, his counselors, and all those who adhered to him were anathematized. He concluded his homily by asking God for strength, for himself and for all those under his care, to be able to defend the Catholic Faith even if it meant giving their lives. What a Bishop! May God give us always Pastors of His flock according to His Heart! Remember how important it is to pray for Priests and Bishops…. If we, the faithful, don’t pray for them, who will?

The King’s officials didn’t dare touch this good shepherd inside the cathedral, but later that evening some paid a visit to his house, asking to see the Bishop. They were cordially let in. Being threatened that if he did not obey the King’s order he would suffer instant death, the Bishop threw himself on his knees before the men, raised his eyes to Heaven, and exclaimed: “Lord, today I offered to Thee the unbloody sacrifice of my Lord Jesus Christ. Now accept the sacrifice of my life, to Thy greater honor and glory.” Having said this, He fixed his gaze on an image of the Most Holy Trinity and spontaneously exclaimed, “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus, miserere nobis.” (Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us!)

Immediately, the Kings officials severed his head from his body with one blow of their sword. The other religious who were found in the house were slain as well. The King’s men were angered all the more when they found nothing in the house to plunder.

Not knowing of the massacre, the Minister and his brother came to visit the Bishop the next day. They were captured, taken to the public square, ordered to swear obedience to the King, and, upon refusing, were beheaded on the spot.

The other Trinitarian religious were also commanded to swear fidelity to the King and reject the Catholic Faith and the Holy Father. Since they all refused, some were hanged, others slain by the sword, and still others tied to the tails of horses and dragged through the streets until dead. These all won their crown by June 25th, 1539.

Likewise, the other Trinitarian convents in Cork, Kilkenny, Rose, Dundalk, Galway, and Cashel all showed the same strength and courage. All the convents were plundered, and all the religious thus received the palm of martyrdom.


hna kelai

My name is Sister Kelai Maria, I am a Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother since 2007. I was born in Arizona (USA) but have also lived in Oregon, Alaska, Florida, Spain, and Ireland. I am a convert to the Catholic faith and found my vocation shortly after my conversion. Every day I thank Jesus that I am His and that I am a Servant Sister. All of eternity will not be enough to thank Him for saving me and for how much He has loved and loves me!