Plunkett was ordained a priest in 1654 around the time the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland had defeated the Roman Catholic cause making the public practice of Roman Catholicism illegal. As a result, Roman Catholic clergy were executed and Plunkett was forced to stay in Rome, unable to return to his Irish home. After the English Restoration of 1660, Plunkett was finally able to return to Ireland (in 1670) where he set about reorganizing the ravaged Roman Church. Only three years into rebuilding the Irish churches, the Test Acts were passed making anyone who refused to adhere to the “official church of England” an outlaw. Refusing the government’s edict, Plunkett went into hiding, travelling throughout the country in disguise.
Plunkett was eventually captured and moved to Newgate Prison in London where he awaited trial. His trial, described by historians as “a travesty of justice”, was held in Westminster Hall in London where an all-protestant jury ruled that Plunkett was “promoting the Catholic faith” and found him guilty of high treason in June 1681. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered (beheaded, body cut into four pieces) at Tyburn on July 1, 1681. He was the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.
Plunkett’s body parts were buried in various places (major body parts are located Downside Abbey, England) while his head eventually found a resting place in Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda, Ireland. The Relic of St. Oliver’s Head now stands in an impressive new shrine inside the church. In a glass cabinet nearby, is the door from the cell of Newgate Prison, London – the cell Plunkett occupied as a condemned man for the last few weeks of his life. It was behind this cell door that Plunkett wrote many notable letters and his last speech, which he delivered from the gallows at Tyburn and is famous for showing forgiveness to all those who had anything to do with his death.
It was while Vikki Bramshaw was filming the cell door with her mobile phone that the saint’s head flickered into view. She did not notice the head (as you can tell from the audio – there is no surprise in her voice) until she viewed the video after she returned home.
Bramshaw says she has ruled out a reflection on the display case glass.
“I watched it again and again to see if it was a reflection, but there are other things reflected in the glass, and they’re not moving, and this does. I consider myself quite a down-to-earth person, and am keeping an open mind on what it might be.”
This is the first reported instance of the saint’s ghostly spirit appearing in the church and Bramshaw has said she has no idea why he would have chosen her to make his first appearance. It may be worthy to note that Bramshaw is an established author of many books on witchcraft, including her latest, Craft of the Wise: A Practical Guide to Paganism and Witchcraft and runs her own coven on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. Given their conflicts of interest, possibly there *was* reason behind Plunkett’s decision to make his first appearance before her.
Check out the video below which shows the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett appearing briefly through the window of the prison door. We’ve post processed key parts to provide slow-motion zooms of key areas in the video.