Tirry, William (1573–1646), catholic bishop of Cork, was the son of Edmund Tirry, twice mayor of Cork; nothing is known of his mother. After receiving a classical education in Cork, he went to the University of Louvain to study philosophy and theology, and had completed his thesis in May 1606. He was then ordained a priest and studied theology at the University of Douai, receiving a master's degree in theology and a doctorate in theology (1615). A year later he published his Panegyra de miraculi S. Patricii. His academic abilities were widely praised, and his sermons in the chapel at the Irish College in Douai attracted large audiences. By this stage he had been marked out as a potential bishop and acted as an agent for the Irish bishops on the Continent.
However, this role gained him the hostility of the Irish Franciscans, who were increasingly in conflict with the Irish episcopate and who strongly opposed his promotion. Tirry's detractors pointed out that he was brother-in-law to Sir Dominic Sarsfield (qv), an unpopular protestant judge. However, on 4 April 1623 he was consecrated bishop of Cork and Cloyne at Brussels, and travelled to Ireland to possess his see. He based himself mainly in Cork city, where he had a residence, and only went out at night disguised. This did not stop his energetically seeking to rebuild the diocesan structure in his see. Indeed, soon after he arrived, the protestant authorities were complaining of his boldness in holding mass meetings in the area. He met regularly with his clergy and held visitations of his diocese every year. In September 1624 Cork city's first post-reformation catholic church was built.
However, his efforts to restore order and clerical discipline to his diocese soon brought him into conflict with the regular clergy, particularly the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Disputes over funeral rights were poisoning relations between the regular and secular clergy in Munster. At this time, the regular clergy were more popular among the catholic laity and were generally chosen to conduct funeral services in the homes of the deceased, which enabled them to benefit handsomely from funeral offerings. The impoverished secular clergy complained that they were entitled to a share of these offerings because the funerals did not take place in monastic territories. This was somewhat unfair, given that all monastic property had been confiscated, but the secular clergy were on firmer ground when they claimed that the regulars committed many abuses and made spurious promises to catholics in order to officiate at funerals.
Irregularities were being committed, but matters were not helped by Tirry's high-handed behaviour. In 1624 he abrogated the rights of the Dominicans and the Franciscans in his diocese to funeral offerings, citing decrees laid down by the council of Trent as a justification. For tactical reasons, he favoured the Discalced Carmelites and the Jesuits, because they were relatively weak in his diocese. He also tried to divide the regular orders by reprimanding the Dominicans for styling themselves the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a claim that constantly irritated the other religious orders. His agenda became more apparent at his 1630 diocesan synod, where the privileges attached to the regulars’ missionary faculties were withdrawn, meaning that they could only carry out pastoral work with the bishop's consent and that they would be subject to episcopal visitations. The synod also decreed that two-thirds of all funeral offerings would go toward the bishop and the secular clergy. These decrees were unenforceable; their only practical effect was to further alienate the already unruly Franciscans and Dominicans. As the controversy dragged on throughout the 1630s, both sides appealed to Rome, which was reluctant to come to a decision.
In December 1638 relations between Tirry and the Franciscans and the Dominicans had deteriorated to such an extent that Thomas Walsh (qv), archbishop of Cashel, came personally to Cork to restore order. Walsh strongly supported Tirry's stance and suspended the Franciscans and Dominicans there. They defied Walsh's suspensions and even excommunicated Tirry. Eventually, in 1640 Tirry agreed to come to a temporary accommodation with the regulars and permitted them a share of the funeral offerings. The controversy subsided thereafter and was pushed into the background following the outbreak of the 1641 rebellion and the establishment of the Catholic Confederation in 1642.
In 1642 Tirry was forced to leave Cork, which remained under protestant control, and based himself in Cloyne, where he was able to execute the functions of an established bishop for the first time. He was frequently at Kilkenny to attend to confederate affairs and took a moderate stance on negotiations with the crown. He died 18 March 1646 at Fethard, Co. Tipperary, and was buried in Cashel.
His nephew, William Tirry (1608–54), catholic martyr, was born in Cork city, son of Robert Tirry, a local merchant, and his wife Joan. He entered the Augustinian order at Cork c.1628, before appearing as a student at Valladolid (1630) and then at Paris (1634–7), where he studied theology. Having been ordained in 1636, he then went to Brussels for a time before returning to Ireland a few years prior to 1641. He entered the Augustinian house at Cork before spending four months as secretary to his uncle the bishop. After returning to his Augustinian community for a second spell, he became chaplain to his uncle by marriage, Dominick Sarsfield, 2nd Viscount Kilmallock. He also acted as tutor to Kilmallock's two sons.
Along with the rest of the catholic clergy there, he was expelled from Cork (1642) and moved to Fethard, Co. Tipperary, after being made prior of the abbey there in 1643. The 1646 Augustinian provincial chapter made him assistant to the newly appointed provincial, Dennis O'Driscoll, and he worked closely with O'Driscoll for the next three years. On 15 June 1649 he was appointed prior to the Augustinian house at Skreen, Co. Meath. However, he did not long enjoy this position, as the invasion of Ireland that August by virulently anti-catholic Cromwellian forces, and their conquest of much of the country during 1649–50, forced the catholic clergy to go into hiding. From 1651 he lived at Fethard, being sheltered by Amy Everard, a relative by marriage. He tutored her son, dispensed the sacraments to all who requested them, and spent long hours in prayer and mortification.
He was arrested on 25 March 1654, having been betrayed by informers who wished to receive a reward offered for assisting in the apprehension of a priest. The government soldiers found him vested for mass, and a search of his desk yielded writings in defence of the catholic religion. He was imprisoned in Clonmel until his trial before judges and a jury on 26 April. Along with a friar, Matthew Fogarty, he was tried for defying a proclamation of 6 January 1653 banishing all catholic clergy from Ireland and declaring that any who stayed were guilty of high treason. He defended himself by stating that he recognised the English commonwealth as being the legitimate temporal authority in Ireland, but that his religion and conscience dictated that he obey his religious superiors who ordered him to remain. The jury, which was composed of supporters of the commonwealth, quickly found both defendants guilty. Tirry and Fogarty reacted with joy on being sentenced to death by hanging.
They were put under a loose form of house arrest and were visited by large numbers of locals, who clearly regarded them as martyrs apparent. Tirry was offered a reprieve and official favour for renouncing his faith, but refused. In such circumstances the death penalty was not always enforced, and Fogarty was not hanged, being ultimately deported from Ireland. Perhaps the authorities regarded Tirry as sufficiently obdurate and dangerous to warrant execution. A large crowd saw him go to the gallows (2 May) manacled, dressed in Augustinian garb, and reciting the rosary. Before his execution he addressed the crowd saying that there was only one true church, that this church was led by the pope, and that both the pope and the church had to be obeyed. He also publicly forgave those who had betrayed him. He was buried in the grounds of the ruined Augustinian friary at Fethard. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in September 1992.