WhereSt. Peters Church West Street Drogheda Louth
Oliver Plunkett and the parish church of St Peter
The story of the revival of Catholicism in Ireland in the aftermath of the relaxation of the Penal Laws is written into the history and fabric of St Peter’s Church. The story has roots in the persecution of Catholics in the seventeenth century and is manifested in its most contemporary form in the national shrine of St Oliver Plunkett, which houses the head of the saint, unveiled in St Peter’s Church in 1995.
During penal times in the eighteenth-century, Catholics worshipped in a small chapel outside the town walls. Francis Johnston was asked to design a much larger new chapel on an elevated site inside the walls on West Street, which was completed in 1793.
It had the symmetrical decorum of a classical building with the pointed windows and battlements of a Gothic church. It was one of the most impressive of the post-Penal Law Catholic chapels in Ireland.
July 1881 was the bicentenary of the martyrdom of Oliver Plunkett. Born in 1625, he was educated in Rome, where he was ordained and worked as a teacher for fifteen years before being appointed Archbishop of Armagh. St Oliver Plunkett had nine years before his arrest to reform and reorganise the beleaguered Catholic church in the diocese of Armagh. He was charged with treason in London and executed at Tyburn on 11 July 1681.
Fr Robert Murphy led the campaign to rebuild St Peter’s Church in memory of the martyr-primate Oliver Plunkett in 1881. The new church was designed by John O’Neill and W.H. Byrne in a splendid French Gothic style with a soaring tower and spire, rose window and a richly decorated interior.
This new building, which is the one we see today, was constructed in stages. The tower, porch, baptistry and two bays of the nave were built in front of the 1793 church, which was then demolished in 1891 to make way for the rest of the nave, the sanctuary and transepts. The new church was consecrated in June 1914. Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975.