Sister Honoria, History of Co. Mayo

Honoria De Burgo (Nora Burke) was born in 1549. She was the daughter of Richard an Ierain (Iron Dick), chieftain of Clanricard and second husband of Grace O’Malley.

In the 1563, at the age of fourteen, she received the habit of the 3rd order of St Dominic in the order of St Catherine of Sienna from Fr Thaddeus Ó Duanne and used her inheritance to build a small convent close to Burrishoole Abbey for her and her fellow sisters.

Some time around 1580 the convent was attacked by a band of British soldiers demanding the daughter of Lord Clanricard. Sister Honoria fled through the woods and the soldiers after her. When they were almost upon her she fell exhausted on the ground praying for help.

Suddenly, according to legend, their path was cut off by a fast flowing stream which formed a little island around the kneeling sister. The soldiers, terrified to cross the black deep water, went away leaving her in peace.

In 1652 Cromwellian soldiers came again to Burrishoole Abbey and Sister Honoria, now in extreme old age, had to flee again to save herself.

She, her young Sister Honoria MaGaen and a faithful servant reached the remote island known as Oilean na Naoimh (Saint's island) in Lough Furnace. The soldier easily captured her, stripped her of her clothes, broke her ribs and threw her into a boat.

It was February and freezing cold, she could not survive long and died with a prayer on her lips. Her two young companions escaped through the woods.

Sister Honoria MaGaen hid herself in a hollow tree but was found frozen to death by the servant. She managed to bring the bodies to the convent, where the two sisters were buried together.

Sister Honoria was beloved in the country, she always helped and fed the starving and homeless people following the rules of the Third Order of St Dominic.

The poor people gathered at her gates and she always gave them something to eat and cheered them up with kinds words. One day she was run out of supplies and no grain was left for the poor people, two young men appeared at her door with fresh food.

They didn’t disclose their names, but she thought they were two angels sent by Above. Also, she was the hard core of resistance to the British and their faith in this area.

In the Act of the General Chapter of 1656 Sister Honoria Burke was called a martyr.