Unfortunately for the credit of our common humanity, persons can always be found who are ready to denounce their fellow-creatures, even when guiltless, from mere malice. When, to the pleasure of gratifying a passion, there is added the prospect of a reward, the temptation becomes irresistible; and if the desire of revenge for an injury, real or imaginary, be superadded, the temptation becomes overwhelming. In order to satisfy the clamours of the “no Popery” faction, an order had been issued, on the 16th of October, 1677, for the expulsion of all ecclesiastics from Ireland; and a further proclamation was made, forbidding Papists to enter into the Castle of Dublin, or any fort or citadel; and so far, indeed, did this childish panic exceed others of its kind, that orders were sent to the great market-towns, commanding the markets to be held outside the walls, to prevent the obnoxious Catholics from entering into the interior. Rewards were offered of L10 for an officer, L5 for a trooper, and L4 for a soldier, if it could be proved that he attended Mass; and how many were sworn away by this bribery it would be difficult to estimate. On the 2nd of December, a strict search was ordered for the Catholic ecclesiastics who had not yet transported themselves. Dr. Plunkett had not left the country. At the first notice of the storm he withdrew, according to the apostolic example, to a retired situation, where he remained concealed, more in hope of martyrdom than in fear of apprehension.
The prelate had never relaxed in his duties towards his flock, and he continued to fulfil those duties now with equal vigilance. One of the most important functions of a chief shepherd is to oversee the conduct of those who govern the flock of Christ under him. There was a Judas in the college of the Apostles, and many Judases have been found since then. The Archbishop had been obliged to excommunicate two of his priests and two friars, who had been denounced by their superiors for their unworthy lives. The unhappy men resented the degradation, without repenting of the crimes which had brought it upon them. They were ready for perjury, for they had renounced truth; and the gratification of their malice was probably a far stronger motive than the bribe for the capture of a bishop. The holy prelate was seized on the 6th December, 1679. Even Ormonde wished to have spared him, so inoffensive and peaceful had been his life. He was arraigned at the Dundalk assizes; but although every man on the grand jury was a Protestant, from whom, at least, less partiality might be expected towards him than from members of his own Church, the perjured witnesses refused to come forward. Indeed, the prelate himself had such confidence in his innocence, and in the honorable dealing of his Protestant fellow-countrymen, when their better judgment was not bewildered by fanaticism, that he declared in London he would put himself on trial in Ireland before any Protestant jury who knew him, and who knew the men who swore against him, without the slightest doubt of the result.