In the Pale (in red), (An Pháil in Irish) or the English Pale (An Pháil Shasanach or An Ghalltacht) the predominant religion was Catholic, and the Catholics saw a growing threat from the Protestant-dominated government, a perception supported by their marked decline in participation within the kingdom’s government. English-born Protestants increasingly occupied positions of authority. The people of the Pale resented taxes on their property for the government’s military policy against the Gaelic lords and rebellious Anglo-Irish. Troops were also billeted upon their lands. James Eustace’s father, Viscount Roland, had been imprisoned by the Elizabethan administration for his opposition, including for his refusal to pay taxes to the Protestant Church.
During the summer of 1580, James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, apparently prompted almost entirely by religious motives, raised forces in County Wicklow, in support of the Earl of Desmond’s separate uprising in Munster. The Viscount’s allies included clansmen led by Fiach McHugh O’Byrne. At first the revolt was successful, but Baltinglass did not coordinate his efforts with those of Desmond and could not sustain the conflict. He and his followers were outlawed. Forty-five were hanged in Dublin. James Eustace escaped to Munster, where Desmond was still in revolt. After Desmond was killed, Eustace left for Spain.
James Eustace, whose family had links with Clongowes Wood Castle, now a Jesuit boarding school near Dublin, joined the Earl of Desmond in the hope of putting Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne. The attempt failed and Baltinglass had to escape to Spain, where he died. One of his brothers was executed in Dublin, two others fled the country and the Kilcullen family lost its lands and titles.
Pursued by English troops after the collapse of the Second Desmond Rebellion, James Eustace, 3rd Viscount of Baltinglass, and his chaplain, Father Robert Rochford, eventually found refuge with Matthew Lambert, a Wexford baker. Lambert fed them and arranged with five sailor acquaintances for safe passage by ship for them. Lambert was betrayed, along with sailors Patrick Cavanagh, Edward Cheevers, Robert Myler, John O’Lahy, and one other.
Lambert was betrayed, and he, Myler, Cheevers, Cavanagh, O’Lahy, and one other were captured, imprisoned, and tortured. They refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and declare Elizabeth I of England to be the head of the Church. Thrown into prison, they were questioned about politics and religion. Lambert’s reply was: “I am not a learned man. I am unable to debate with you, but I can tell you this, I am a Catholic and I believe whatever our Holy Mother the Catholic Church believes.” They were hanged, drawn and quartered in Wexford on July 5, 1581.
Father in Heaven, You stir up men and women in every age to witness to Your truth. Our Faith is built on You as a rock. The Wexford Martyrs sealed their faith with their life’s blood. Give us courage and strength to follow their example and to witness to Your truth in everything we think, do or say. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord for ever and ever. Amen.