The Beheading of My Wife’s Relative

Dominic Fanning was “drawn, quartered, and beheaded” in 1651 at the order of General Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell’s second in command at the siege of Limerick in Ireland.

Afterwards, Dominic’s head was placed on a spike at St. John’ Gate for the citizens of Limerick to observe.

Beheading was considered humane in the 17th century, but eyes and mouth have been observed moving up to six seconds after the head has been severed from the body.

The fact, the act, and the circumstances of Fanning’s death are now part of the dust heap of history. Detachment comes with time.

But not always.

Fanning is my wife’s distant relative. She was doing research on her family when she came across this event.

Who was Dominic? Why was he beheaded?

Dominic was an Irish, Catholic landowner in Limerick. For a time he was mayor of Limerick and a member of Parliament. His family was known for producing constables, mayors, and aldermen.

Records indicate he was “a patriotic mayor” who was a major resistor to the British invasion of Ireland, and British confiscation of Irish property.

The invasion of Limerick took close to a year and cost the lives of thousands on both sides. Limerick eventually fell to the British, but individuals like Fanning refused to give up and went into hiding.

Eventually he was recognized and captured.

A little while later he gave the full measure of his life.

Nevertheless, when my wife discovered that her Irish ancestors were Catholics, it took her family time to accept this fact. After all, her family roots in America go as far back as colonial times when they became Baptists.

When my wife announced that their history in Ireland was devoted to Catholicism, at first the family denied it, choosing instead to believe they were Irish Protestants.

After presenting the facts, my wife succeeded in convincing them that indeed they had a deep history of Catholic loyalty. So much so that in part Dominic Fanning gave up his life in defense of that loyalty.

That story softened my wife’s family, me included. Now, they embrace their past. “We come from Irish, Papist roots,” my wife is now fond of saying.

This is no longer a dusty old story from a distant forgotten past.

Dominic’s life now pulses through our lives. His life was as important to him as our lives are to us today. His hopes were as important to him as ours are to us. He didn’t want to die then, anymore than we want to die today.

Time and culture should not discount any life of the past. The religion of those in the past is no different than any of our religions are today.

The ability to empathize and identify with real people of the past is an important step in understanding what it means to be human. Human lives are equally as important and relevant whether they lived 1000 years ago, today, or even a thousand years from today.