-statuary of the “Murdered Mayors”, or more formally, the “Martyrs of Dublin”, Bls Margaret Ball & her grandson-in-law, Francis Taylor, which stands in front of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” -Mt 10:21
Margaret came from a prominent family. When she was 16 years old, Margaret Bermingham married Bartholomew Ball, an alderman of the City of Dublin, and a prosperous Dublin merchant, whose wealthy family operated the bridge over the River Dodder, which is still known as Ballsbridge. She then moved to the city, where the couple lived at Ballygall House in north county Dublin and had a town house on Merchant’s Quay. They had ten children, though only five survived to adulthood. Bartholomew Ball was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1553, making Margaret the Lady Mayoress of the city. She had a comfortable life with a large household and many servants, and she was recognised for organising classes for the children of local families in her home.
In 1558 Queen Elizabeth I reversed the policy of her sister Queen Mary and imposed her Religious Settlement upon her realms. In 1570 the papacy responded with the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, which declared Elizabeth to be an illegitimate usurper. During a coronation, the most illustrious, high ranking cleric available, at least the local bishop, but ultimately the Pope, himself, would place the crown on the head of the monarch, Emperor Napoleon, notwithstanding. Coronations were religious services, originally. The separation of Church and State was unthinkable. So when the Pope declares a monarch illegitimate, this means legitimate Catholic monarchs have a duty to attack this usurper and restore rightful authority. During this time of religious persecution, it was well known that Ball provided “safe houses” for any bishops or priests who might be passing through Dublin.
Her eldest son, Walter, yielding to the pressure of the times, became a Protestant and an opponent of the Catholic faith. Margaret continued to provide ‘safe houses’ for bishops and priests passing through Dublin and would invite Walter to dine with them, hoping for his reconversion to Catholicism.
Margaret Ball’s eldest son, Walter, who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and advance his political, embraced the “new religion” and was appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes in 1577. Margaret was disappointed with her son’s change of faith (“If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!!!” -Mary D. McCormick), and tried to change his mind. On one occasion, she told him that she had a “special friend” for him to meet. Walter arrived early with a company of soldiers, and found that the “special friend” was Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel. He was celebrating Mass with the family.
But Walter was not for turning. Immediately after his installation as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1580, Walter had his mother and her personal chaplain arrested and taken to the dungeons of Dublin Castle. Due to her advanced age and severe arthritis, she had to be transported there by a wooden pallet through the streets of Dublin.
When the family protested, Walter declared that his mother should have been executed, but he had spared her. She would be allowed to go free if she “took the Oath”, which probably referred to the Oath of Supremacy. Her second son, Nicholas, who supported her, was elected Mayor of Dublin in 1582. However, Walter was still Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes, which was a royal appointment. He outranked Nicholas and kept him from securing their mother’s release from prison. Nicholas visited her daily, bringing her food, clothing and candles.
Ball died in 1584 at the age of sixty-nine, which was an advanced age at the time. She was crippled with arthritis and had lived for three years in the cold, wet dungeon of Dublin Castle with no natural light. She could have returned to her comfortable home at any time had she apostasized. Although she could have altered her will, she still bequeathed her property to Walter upon her death.
Two generations later this pattern was repeated when Francis Taylor, who was Mayor of Dublin (1595–1596) and was married to Gennet Shelton, a granddaughter of Ball, was condemned to the dungeons after exposing fraud in the parliamentary elections to the Irish House of Commons. He likewise refused to “take the oath” and died in Dublin Castle in 1621. A convinced Catholic, he refused to accept the Acts of Supremacy (Monarch is the head of the Church) and Uniformity (The Book of Common Prayer is the only legal form of worship and all citizens must attend Church services according to that form).
Ball and Taylor could not have known each other, but they were beatified together, along with Dermot O’Hurley and 14 other Catholic martyrs, on 27 September 1992 by Pope John Paul II.
All you holy men & women, pray for us, for the grace of final perseverance. Amen.