EXCLUSIVE: Oldcastle drought discovery may be home of St Oliver Plunkett

Story by Ann Casey

Wednesday, 25th July, 2018 1:30pm

EXCLUSIVE: Oldcastle drought discovery may be home of St Oliver Plunkett

Dermot Fenton points to part of the house outline in Loughcrew.

The drought conditions have revealed another major archaeological find - what may have been the childhood home of St Oliver Plunkett outside Oldcastle.

The martyred saint grew up in Oldcastle on what is now the Loughcrew estate, but the actual site of the house was unknown until now.
The recent hot dry weather has exposed the clear outline of a house, with a path leading from it directly to the church in the grounds of the Loughcrew estate. Just over a week ago, the outline of what seems to be a major Neolithic ceremonial centre was spotted in a field adjoining the prehistoric burial site at Newgrange. 
Dermot Fenton of Loughcrew said they are terriby excited by the find.
"I am not an archaeologist, but it is a fair supposition that this is the original Plunkett house. St Oliver's head may be in Drogheda, but his soul is here," he said.
The outline of the house became apparent a couple of weeks ago and  as the rain arrived last week, it was beginning to fade, so they decided to get some pictures.
"There is a definite path leading from the house to the church."
The current Loughcrew House was built around 1800 and the footprint of the Irish Long House, which was built in the 1670s, is in the gardens. Saint Oliver's family church is also still standing in the gardens. 

The outline of the house foundation on the grass.


The 1612 civil survey describes the tower house, motte and bailey and ring fort, which are still on the estate. It also mentions the church, a millhouse as well as 60 cabins in the garden, along with what was then the main house.
"My suspicion is that the house we are now seeing is the house they talk about in the civil survey," says Dermot.
"I'm only an amateur, not an authority on it, but I always wondered where the original house was," he said.
"It would be lovely to have the site examined and to have it dated and verified," Demot said.
"We hope that an archeologist will take an interest."
Fr Ray Kelly, parish priest of Oldcastle said it was amazing find and it would be wonderful if it proved to be the birthplace of St Oliver.
"It is amazing what this fine weather is discovering. I'm not an archaeologist, but it couild be his family home."
He pointed out that there is great devotion to St Oliver Plunkett in his ancestral Oldcastle area.
There is always an open air mass at Loughcrew on the first Sunday in July and there was a huge crowd this year.
In fact, devotion to the saint, who was martyred for his faith at Tyburn in London in 1681 is strong throughout the region and the Knights of Saint Columbanus recently brought the relics of St Oliver Plunkett to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Kingscourt for veneration.  

Who was St Oliver Plunkett?

 

St Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew, Oldcastle on 1st  November 1625. His father John, was Baron of Loughcrew and the family had connections with many of the other well known families of the day. 
He was tutored by a cousin, Fr Patrick Plunkett, titular Abbot of St Mary’s Cistercian Abbey in Dublin, who ministered from the chapel at Killeen Castle in Dunsany.
Despite it being illegal to travel abroad to study for the priesthood, early in 1647 he and a number of other young men set out for a seminary in Rome. He was ordained a priest on 1st January 1654.
He later spent 12 years on  the staff of Propaganda College as Professor of Theology and later Professor of Apologetics or Controversies and was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and ordained on 1st December 1669 in a quiet ceremony at St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent.  
As the newly ordained Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Oliver arrived in London on 13th December 1669 and returned to Ireland the following year, where the laws on the statue books were strongly anti-Catholic.  
Towards the latter part of 1673, bishops were ordered to leave the country; with handsome rewards available for the capture of any prelate who did not comply. Refusing to flee, he hid in the hill country of south Armagh. He was arrested for treason and brought over to Newgate prison, where he was martyred for his faith.
He was hanged, drawn and quartered for 'treason' on 1st July 1681 and became the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. Oliver Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years.
Among the attendance at his canonisation in Rome in 1975 was Sheila Plunkett, grandmother of Emily Naper of Loughcrew, and her husband, Randal, the 19th Lord Dunsany, who with the Earl and Countess of Fingall of Killeen were representing the Plunkett family.
 

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