Annual Mass in honour of St. Oliver Plunklett
Loughcrew, Co. Meath
Homily given by
The Most Rev. Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett was born here in Loughcrew in the Parish of Oldcastle on 1st. November, 1625 over three hundred and eighty years ago. Near the old ruined pre-Reformation Church built by the Plunketts, people point to the traces of a house, said to be the home of John Plunkett and his wife, Tomassina, the parents of Oliver Plunkett. In 1642 John Plunkett owned 240 arable acres, a church, a castle, a house, a mill, 30 cabins and a bawn. Ten years later the lands and property were confiscated in the Cromwellian persecution. All of it was lost.

When Oliver returned to Ireland after his ordination as bishop in Ghent, Belgium. He came to a country going through the worst period of persecution in its history. The persecution of Cromwell was at its height, the Church was persecuted on all sides. Official Church buildings had been taken over and now the only place to say Mass was in some little chapel or more often in the open air with watchmen posted as look-outs to warn of the approach of the enemy. Church leaders had been banished. Oliver came to a Church torn with many abuses. Clergy were uneducated. There were disputes between the clergy. There were few opportunities for education. Oliver regarded the education of clergy and laity as a priority. He travelled the length and breadth of the country holding synods and Conferences for the clergy. He set up schools in Drogheda and Dundalk. A public school was opened in Drogheda with 150 boys and 25 students attending. In a short time Catholic and Protestant boys were being educated side by side in Drogheda.

Oliver is remembered as the great reformer. He is also remembered as a man of peace. One major problem he had to face was the rapparees, a group of fighting men who had been dispossessed of their lands and undertook a hit and run campaign of robbery and destruction in the hill regions of Tyrone and Armagh. To remedy this state of affairs the Bishop of Meath and the Vicars General implored Oliver to find some way to address the problem. Oliver undertook the role of mediator. He went to the rapparees in their hideout and spoke to them in Irish and he persuaded them to give up the fighting. Meanwhile the authorities agreed to a general pardon for all and released the prisoners. It was a masterly achievement and one that was hailed by communities the length and breadth of the country. Oliver was a messenger of peace, a firm advocate in a time of trouble.

For years people have gathered here at Loughcrew to remember Oliver, the reformer, the peacemaker. Year by year you have prayed here for peace in Northern Ireland. Your prayer campaign and the work of many intermediaries have thankfully brought us to the day when Northern Ireland has begun to take responsibility for its own administration. In recent times we have witnessed gestures of reconciliation unthinkable only a few years ago. A whole new chapter has opened up in the struggle for peace and reconciliation. It came about after enormous loss of life and at a very high price. Recently I was browsing through one of the saddest books I have ever read . It is called “Lost Lives” and it records in detail the 3,637 people who lost their lives during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is a book that makes for sad reading. But it is only one part of the sad story of division, death and destruction over nearly forty years in Northern Ireland. The author of the book does not set out to detail all the effects of the troubles, the some 40, 000 people maimed or injured in the troubles, the effects on families, the destruction of the live of a whole generation, the lasting effects in the lives of numerous people not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the whole island of Ireland. Hopefully all of it is a chapter that will never be repeated in our country.

Today Northern Ireland is a changed place. People have begun to pick up the pieces of lives destroyed. Some kind of normality has returned to the lives of people. But a whole new form of violence has raised its ugly head. The day of the bomb and the bullet have sadly been replaced in areas by a form of sectarianism that threatens the good of society and of the local community. We have seen Chinese people evicted from their homes in Belfast. The enemy is no longer a political enemy but anyone who is seen as a competitor in business or trade. That is just one side of the story.

The political struggle has been replaced by drug wars not just in Northern Ireland but now in the Republic. Political war has been replaced by turf wars between drug lords over the control of areas. Day by day we hear of stabbings, attempts on other people’s lives, children exploited by the drug barons to do their dirty work. It is a sinister development. Again it is only part of an ugly scene that has become part of life North and South. In recent times we have seen a spate of young people stabbing young people. Thirty years ago Pope John Paul I on his deathbed heard of one university student in Rome been killed by a fellow student. He said; “There is something sick about a society where the young are killing the young”. In recent days we have seen it in our own country.

Recent statistics from the Gardai and the Central Statistics Office tell of a whole new scenario where people are afraid in their own homes. We hear on the daily news bulletins attacks with knives, screwdrivers, machetes, baseball clubs, machine guns, bayonets, syringes, hand grenades. The list goes on and on. The most recent statistics show that, in the Republic, crime has increased by 6 per cent over the past year. There was some 4% increase in burglary in the past 12 months and thefts and related offences increased by 3% in the same period. Today personal security has become a high priority. We know of the fear old people have in their homes, the dread of a burglar, the dreaded footstep outside the door at night.

Only a month ago Justice Paul Carney in the Central Criminal Court said the number of fatal stabbings coming before the Court was increasing and was likely to continue to do so.

A recent spate of burglaries in Parochial Houses has left many priests afraid. Only a few weeks Cardinal Sean Brady had to issue a circular to all priests about personal security and the threat of robbery and injury. One case recently involved the house keeper being held at gun point while three men got away with money that was in transit for the bank. Happily the offenders were caught and arrested. Today many people feel they are being terrorised in their own homes. It is a far cry from the words of the Prophet Isaiah; “My people will live in a peaceful house, in safe homes, in quiet dwellings.

Earlier this Summer the Irish Bishops published a document on Violence. They called it “Violence in Irish Society – towards an ecology of Peace”. The document makes for serious reading. It also challenges all of us to play our part in addressing thes new phenomenon of violence in our community. The causes are multiple. Many feel excluded from society. Sociologists tell us there is a clear link between social deprivation and crime. Day by day we see crime glamorised and peddled on our television screens. One channel on television is dedicated exclusively to boxing, kick boxing, extreme wrestling and martial arts. All of it is bound to have an effect on impressionable young people.

But there are other factors I believe that contribute to the wave of violence in our community. Many feel they are outsiders looking in on the affluence of others. They look with jealousy on those who flaunt their new-found success. They know they will never have a chance to share the same style of life. They look on in despair.

We know that drink, drugs and corruption have a large part to play in recent developments. We ask what can be done to address this spiralling trend of violence. There are no easy solutions. Imposing heavier penalties is only one small part of the solution. The problem cannot be solved by better policing and longer terms of imprisonment. The causes are deeper and they have to be addressed. Long-term it calls for a whole renewal of a sense of trust, of community and of responsibility to the community. The main responsibility has to lie with family life, with the imparting of values like respect, co-responsibility, and care for society. It’s an enormous challenge to family and to the education. Young people need to be given clearly defined boundaries for their behaviour. The first call is on family to lead by example, to provide a loving secure background where young people feel appreciated and are taught values that will influence the rest of their lives. Our President Mary McAleese put is succinctly. She said; “what’s engraved in childhood is engraved in stone”. It’ s a thought that bears serious reflection.

There are no quick-fix solutions. Law enforcement can do so much but the law need the support of family and community. The challenge for all is to support family; to be a voice for respect and regard for other people, for their lives and for their property. We build for the future by the attitudes and example of today. My hope is that we would continue to form attitudes that respect others, their lives and their property. It involves every family, every person. It’s a life-long work.
St. Oliver preached peace and reconciliation. If we do not face the threat to both peace and reconciliation in today’s world we are failing our people. It’s a radical call to all to work and live for that. I believe it is the challenge of our day. It’s one we dare not avoid.