Fake News in 19th century Croghan

6th March 1858
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FATHER O'CONNOR OF CROGHAN vs. The Soupers Thousands of readers amongst whom the name, of the good father Peter O'Connor is known and admired as the noble advocate and, friend of the poor 'Croghan Labourers,' will learn with indignation that a most atrocious and barefaced attempt has been made to swear away his humble character and brand him as a felon. But this indignation will be equaled by their exultation when they learn that not only has the foul attempt been exposed as base and baseless, .but that it has recoiled upon his enemies who now owe it to the forbearance of the man they tried to ruin, that they do not stand in the-dock to which they plotted to consign him. [The Nation March 06, 1858 pg. 7]

TO THE PEOPLE OF CROGHAN, BALLINAMEEN & DRUMLION

Croghan, Boyle, Feb 20, 1858.

Men of Croghan— For the last three weeks slanders and calumnies have thickened and darkened round my humble name, therefore I feel it imperative on me to address you a few words of plain speaking. And I do so because I am far more uneasy for religion than for myself.  I would have been spared much trouble had the eloquent and powerful speech of my honest and talented advocate, Mr J D McDermott, been published. I deeply regret that masterly, defence has not been printed. It would have ably, accomplished what I feebly aim at in addressing you.

I thought that here the brand of sectarian discord was burned out —I was mistaken—the fire was only smouldering. For the last three weeks the Orange Souper Faction, have been busy in slandering me. Every where—in the Board Room—on the streets—in the hotels—at the fair and market — their cry was 'Priest O'Connor is caught at last.Their foul blood has boiled, and bubbled up. For the last three weeks, such clapping of the wings and such crowing over me. Let me not, however, be misunderstood. Far be it from me to show any disrespect or to offer offence to the great body of the respectable  Protestants either of this county or of Ireland. I woull in sincerity be sorry to utter or write one word breathing the slightest disrespect to them. Some of the best and staunchest friends I have on earth are Protestants. And I am proud to be able to announce the fact that l received more money for the enlargement of Croghan Chapel from Protestants than Catholics, and amongst them I can't help singling out the Protestant gentlemen of this county and especially the Protestant gentlemen of my native town and my native county and that the handsome tower of Croghan Chapel is all but exclusively built by Protestant money.  It is plain then my feelings towards them are feelings of esteem and gratitude. But the Orange Souper Faction have made a deep and deadly set upon me. Far and wide they have sediciously circulated atrocious stories about me — that I violently broke into and smashed the village Post Office —that I struck the village postmaster with a bludgeon – that out of her Majesty's mail I violently rummaged and carried off my own letters and newspapers. These, and worse attrocities than these they have whispered from man to man agaiiist me. And even the Boyle Gazette swelled with poison and meanly stifling the ordinary instincts of common fair play—announced that, my trial would be sent to the ensuing spring assizes. And already Brommall or Cromwell—the names jingle like one another and that captain so fond of holy days – that gloomy  importation from the North – that captain fonder of a summons to prosecute a priest than of a summons to enter the battlefield—and that other captain—bearded like a nard — decidedly fonder of sitting on a petty sessions bench than of boldly, in these perilous times, setting a squadron  in the field  –  that ? captain refused to me what under the very self-same circumstance he granted my prosecutor Brummell and the two Captains & Co were already gloating in imagination over the sight of Priest O'Connor in the dock and over the disgrace that would come on him by being consigned to a felon's cell. But to see the Catholic-priesthood vilified and blackened is nothing new. From the day St Stephen was stoned to death—from the day the Jews shouted out to the Prince of the Apostles that even in early morning he was drunk—from the day the Roman annalist painted the followers of Christ as the victims of a pestilent and abominable superstition—from the day the apostate Emperor sneered like a demon at Roman Catholics as shrivelling idiots with shorn heads and with bruised breasts—tonto capite el percusso pectore— from the day an abandoned woman was suborned to swear away the honour of the great Athanasius—from the day Thomas à Becket was slandered dnd cloven down by a tyrant king—from the day Sir Thomas More and honest Bishop Fisher lay weltering in their blood on the block—from the day a vile creature was hired to blast the fair fame of our own beloved and illustrious Father Tom McGuire on down without interruption to this day atrocious calumnies and hideous slanders have been heaped on the bishops and on the priests of the Roman Catholic Church. And even on me—obscure and lowly as I am—a curate of the bogs, but the curate of a noble people, foul lies—atrocious stories, slanders and calumnies have been poured out like waters. But that the Roman Catholic priesthood should be thus vilified and thus slandered and thus blackened our Lord clearly, distinctly, I and repeatedly foretold. Here are His blessed words — 'In the world you shall have distress; but have courage. I have overcome the world—you shall be made sorrowful; but your sorrow shall be turned into joy—the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you, will think he doth a service to God—they shall hate you—they shall scourge you—they shall cast out your name as evil—they shall persecute you – youshall be dragged before tribunals, and before magistrates, and before governors, and before kings, for thy namesake – but fear you not, I am with you all days. It is clear then persecution and prosecution, slanders and calumny, are by divine ordination, some of the shining, marks, which are to distinguish for all times the legitimate, and the divinely ordained teachers of truth from the spurious aud self appointed dissentinators of error—and blessed be God, humble as I am—a lowly watchman on the indestructible turrets of Sion—instead of being grieved, rejoice—instead of being ashamed, glory that, I have been dragged before a bench ot magistrates and that; I have been marked out for persecution, for the sake of the Roman Catholic Church. For the last, three weeks I have hardly opened my lips on the case, so maliciously but yet so clumsily constructed against me. It is time for me to speak out—this prosecution – whence has it come? I must strip it bare and naked; you know better than I can tell you the relations which subsist, between my prosecutor, and the man whom twelve months ago, in the remarkable case of the Croghan labourers the noble letter of my beloved and illustrious bishop, Most Rev Dr Brown, held up to the eyes ot Ireland as the bitter enemy of freedom of conscience. You know hardly a day passes but personal interviews are had between my prosecutor and the gentleman who refused, either for love or for money, four perches of ground asked of him for Croghan Chapel, by his own tenants. In the beginning of this prosecution it was my impression this gentleman had a hand in it—but since then I feel bound to, say, I believe that even in spite of his strong religious prejudices, he would not stoop so low, and that had he known the, groundlessness of the charges alleged against me he would have indignantly shrunk from the slightest association with it. But, my prosecutor might calculate that, revenge against me was natural—he might have read in Aesop, that the wolf is wild when the prey is taken from him – egotism is odious in the mouth of any man—especially in the mouth of a priest; but there are times when egotism cannot be helped. You know that through the grace of God, I aided in emptying out the proselytizing church that was here crowded and crammed with perverts – many of them are dead—many more are bowing in sorrow before the altar of a merciful God, and are shedding hot tears over the atrocious crime they committedin bartering for their bellies the precious and priceless jewel of the faith. In my efforts to empty, out that church—in my efforts to heal and to buildd up the wounds of the lambs, that lay bleeding and lacerated —in my efforts to turn them off from the streams that were deadly and from the pastures that were poisonous —in my efforts to shelter them—as they are now seventy or, eighty, of them—sheltered within the true fold—in my efforts to accomplish these tilings, you saw, Sunday after Sunday, the sweat stream down my face, and that my heart was all but broken; that the wolt then was wild was a natural cultivation. The bible readers, with their disgusting tracts no longer disturb your quiet homes. I had a hand in banishing, them. On the doors, on the walls, on the trees, filthy placards—insulting to Her who is dearer to us than the apple of our eye—are now no longer posted. The blessed name of the ever blessed Mother of the Son of God, is no longer here openly outraged—I need not tell you I had a hand in the removal of these moustrous dissidents. Dalton—the perambulatory preacher, has been chased; I believe that under Providence I helped to hunt him. Persecution then must, come down on the man who assisted in the peaceful and legal triumphant accomplishment of these tilings. But let us look at the persecution. My prosecutor swore that I violently and forcibly broke into the post-office — I swore that I  did not open or even push the door—my prosecutor swore I struck him twice with a bludgeon and that with the blows, I blackened his arm — I swore before the God of all truth that I did not strike him with hand, or stick, or switch, or with any other weapon that day, or any other day—no more than the infant not yet burn into the world—my prosecutor, swore that I took the public letter and private letter, and that I searched for my own amongst them—I swore that I did not lay a hand or attempt, or think to lay a hand on a letter or newspaper that day in his shop no, more than the dead. The prosecutor's sons were near enough to witness the entire transaction, and who were out of court whilst their father was examined –  swore they did not see me strike or attempt to strike a blow.

I offer no comments from myself; the number of witnesses (and, amongst them a  respectable Protestant) I had prepared to come forward; the manner in which the prosecutor slunk out of the Court; the fine and costs inflicted on him by a crowded bench of magistrates all of them gentlemen of the highest respectability: gentlemen of the purest lives and ot the most stainless honour—some of them lineally. Carrying in their veins the blood of the kingly race whose royal name they bear and adorn; and finally, in request again and again urged from the bench that I would not press for punishment—these laces are my comments on the prosecution.

That prosecution met the fate it richly deserved. It was a shameful break down; and thanks be to God the efforts ceaselessly put forth here in Croghan for the last twenty-eight years against our divine faith have been a still more shameful failure. Here, as elsewhere throughout the earth, that divine faith laid triumphant over all enemies. Efforts against that, faith here as elsewhere are simple madness. And this fact can be hidden only from those who are wilfully blind. And, looking from small things to great things, let us as Catholics take passing glance at the powerlessness of earth and hell to crush the Catholic Church. If every age, corrupt and wicked men combined to crush her; but in vain. Her brilliant triumph over ages and errors tell us that every combination against her shall be powerless; the purest reason tells us that she has been victorious in all her battles that are past, so shall she be victorious in all her battles  that are to come—for she is the same, like the God who founded her; there is; no changing her— on her banners are inscribed the names of many an old field of battle and of glory. We have with us the solidt experience of eighteen hundred years; we know, ia whom we believe, and we are certain—Neroy and'Dfo» cletian, and -ijomitian, and Maximinius, and ' every ' single Emperor of "them did their best _to crush her, sidl they disgracefully failed ; the Pagan,. and the Jew, andl the Maliomme Ian rained their united-hands against bar _. but no use;, the Pagan, ani the Jew, and the _iiahoinmedah' learnt thac their attacks' against'her were idle and powerless as the wave's broken on the rocks »nd spent into foam; and the heretic, and the schismatic, and the infidel and the atheist—Calvin, Luther, Henry of England, and Rousseau, Voltaire, and all the powers of earth have tried to crush her; but still in vain. The Lord from on high laughed them to scorn ; He guards her as the apple of His eye; He guards His church round about even as the Garden of Eden was guarded—by armies of angels with swords of flaming fire;- 'AM that crushes to powder human: dynasties and human principalities came down upon her, and found her imperishable.' And now, after the storms of nearly nineteen centuries—in spite of Mazzini, in spite of Cavour, in spite of Palmerston; in spite of Orange Know-Nothing ambitions—she is firm on the rock; 'growing younger_^ and younger, and more -and more ¦esteemed. _^Themen who, in every quarter of the globe, a few years back—men of 'the lufciest genius, men of giant intellects—spit upon her, are now bowing down to her, and are worshipping her, and are kissing the track _, 'of "her feet ";- ihd' the crown of beauty-which~Christ-withi jhis own hand put on her forehead is now more firmly 'planted there than ever; that crown without spot or stain, brilliant and radiant and flashing with the precious jewels and with the precious pearls a . bounteous God lavished upon her; the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, the gift of miracles, the royalty of her divine origin stamped unmistakeably on her f»ce'; a1 heavenly brightness beaming-from' her eye, the1 vigour arid the) _hlootn,-and:the rojie _' of cha-tity on her cheek, her heart young and indomitable, - bo grand, so bold, so holy, so majestic, so calm; so invincible in obedience to her divine commission; with one hand she distributes the bread of the angels to her countless children dwelling in every nation under the sun, and with the other she conducts them at the everlasting mansions of their Father who is in Heaven ; like a giant she is exulting on her way conquering to conquer, and striking down and casting to the earth all enemies, whether infidel Prime Ministers or decayed Statesmen,or foolish Princes or haughty Emperors that blasphemously presume to cross her in tier divine career. Let us thank God . we are in the bosom of, this church; let us walk, worthy of the vocation in which we are called; let us show forth in our words and in our acts a deep sense of the high dignity Catholicity confers on us, and let us pour forth ceaseless thanks to our Heavenly Father that through His mercy we repose on the rock against which here in Croghan, as elsewhere throughout the world, the gates of hell shall never prevail.

—I have the honour to remain with sincere esteem, your faithful servant,

Peter C. O' Conor, RCC. Croghan.

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