Monday, 14 November 2016

Saint Laurence O'Toole, November 14

November 14 is the feast of Saint Laurence (Lorcan) O'Toole, a twelfth-century saint associated with both Glendalough and the Archdiocese of Dublin. Below is a stirring account of Saint Laurence, delivered to an Irish-American audience in 1872. The speaker, Irish-born Dominican Father Thomas Burke, painted a romantic portrait of the saint, who at that time was indeed the last Irishman to be have been formally canonized.  Father Burke almost makes his audience believe that Saint Laurence is something of a superhero, singlehandedly dealing with the machinations of quarrelling native rulers, nasty Normans and perfidious Plantagenets alike. He stresses our saint's aristocratic origins, his Irish asceticism and care for the poor and above all, his patriotism. Inevitably this patriotism is cast in the mould of the romantic nationalism of Father Burke's own time. No country has ever suffered as Ireland has and no people are as morally pure as the true Irish. As the writer sees it, we have a unique regard for the sanctity of marriage and for the office of the priesthood. Moreover, no people have been so willing to sacrifice their children for the sake of God since Abraham bound Isaac to the altar. So enjoy this heroic portrayal of Saint Laurence, which I am sure must have sent the Irish emigrant audience home with a renewed sense of pride and a spring in their step:


[Lecture delivered at the Academy of Music, Brooklyn, September 18, 1872, for the benefit of the new Church of Holy Cross, Flatbush.] 

 MY FRIENDS: Coming over to Brooklyn this evening, I confess I did not expect to find so large a house as this which I have now the honor of addressing. I thought to myself that, perhaps, the subject might not be sufficiently interesting to many amongst you; for in this nineteenth century of ours, saints are rather out of fashion, and people don’t take much interest in them. But your presence here, in such numbers, this evening, cheers me, and gives me another argument, if such were necessary, to be proud of my fellow-countrymen, and countrywomen, who find, amidst the varied attractions of these two great cities in which they live, nothing more attractive to bring them together than the record of a saint of the Catholic Church — as true a saint and as true a patriot as ever the Island of Saints and of Martyrs produced.

I have had, before now, the honor to address you in this hall; but never, either here or elsewhere, have I been furnished with a nobler theme than that upon which I propose to speak to you this evening. It comes home, my friends, to your hearts, and to mine; for there are two blessings for which we all thank God. The first of these is the blessing of that Catholic faith in which we live, and which we enjoy; and the second is the blessing of that Irish blood which flows in our veins, and throbs around our hearts. When, therefore, I mention to you the name of Laurence O’Toole, the last canonized saint of Ireland’s children, I name one of the grandest figures that rise up registered upon the annals of the Catholic Church, and one of the grandest figures that passes before the historian’s eye, when he contemplates the great men and the great glories that make up the history of Ireland. Interesting to you as Catholics, I shall endeavor to describe the saint; interesting to you as Irishmen, I shall endeavor to describe the patriot; and I shall invite you to reflect upon the great lesson that this man’s name and history teaches us, namely, that the highest sanctity, upon which the Catholic Church sets the crown of her canonization, is compatible with the purest and strongest love of fatherland; and that the Catholic Church never refuses to crown the patriot in the saint, and the saint in the patriot. The subject will necessarily oblige me to touch upon the most lamentable and dolorous part of ourhistory. The historical muse, in tracing the record of other nations, writes with a pen dipped in characters of gold; the historical muse, in writing the history of Ireland, dips her pen in tears and in blood.

Laurence O’Toole lived in the day that witnessed his country’s downfall; and he went down to his grave a young man — only forty-five years of age. The physicians could not tell what was the malady that terminated that glorious life; but his Irish attendants, who surrounded his death-bed, in a foreign land, said to each other that he died of a broken heart. In his veins flowed the blood of Ireland’s royalty. It maybe new to some of you — to many amongst you, I am sure, it is no novelty — to tell you that the ancient form of government in Ireland subdivided the island into five distinct kingdoms, and that the ancient Brethamael, or Celtic Constitution, recognized one supreme monarch, elected at stated periods to govern all. These kingdoms were Ulster, Meath, Leinster, Connaught, and Munster, and although each province was governed by its own chief or ruler, the king — still, under these again there were several independent chiefs, or petty sovereigns, who governed the powerful clans into which the nation was divided. The beautiful mountains and glens of Wicklow, which the traveller of today loves to visit, and where he beholds scenery as lovely in its pastoral beauty as any he can find upon the earth’s surface — this beautiful land of Wicklow was subject to a chieftain of the name of O’ Byrne — in possession of his sept or clan, who were all men of his own name. Even to this day, after more than a thousand years, a few of the name of O’Byrne still hold freehold property in Wicklow.

Never will I forget how, in one of my trips on foot through that romantic land, there was a man pointed out to me, working in the field, as the last lineal descendant of the ancient sept, or clan, of O’Byrne, who once ruled and possessed the county of Wicklow. I went over to speak to him. He was eighty-six years of age, tall, erect, majestic; his hair, white as silver, and combed back, fell in venerable locks upon his shoulders; his blue eye still retained somewhat of the chieftain’s fire of the ages long past; and, at the age of eighty-six, he was doing a hard day’s work, suited to a young and able-bodied man. But he had the privilege so rare to the Irish peasant; — he was digging his own soil, the land that belonged to himself. He leant upon his spade when I spoke to him; I asked him his name. Drawing himself up to his full height — which was considerably more than six feet — he answered, like a hero: “My name is O’Byrne; and I am the last of them.” “Of whom,” I said, “do you rent your land?” “This little spot,” he answered, “ into which I send this spade, was my father’s before me; was his father’s before him; and so on, until we go up to the time when the first of the O’Byrnes sat upon his chair in the hall of Tara, and heard from Patrick’s voice the name of Jesus Christ.” The simple, poorly-clad, royal peasant, in a few words, flung back his ancestry and genealogy through generations of heroes, until he reached the very fountain-head of Ireland’s religion and Ireland’s history. Where is there a nation on the face of the earth, where the peasant, laboring in the field, can make such an answer to the casual inquirer — tell of ancestors who wore royal crowns fifteen hundred years ago.

Adjoining the possessions of these clans, and the mountains of Wicklow, lay, surrounding them, the fertile plains of historic Kildare. The traveller treading down his way from the sum- mit of the mountain of Kippure — called in the Irish language Ceann Bawn , or “White Head,” because of the snow which almost perpetually rests upon its summit — beholds before him the verdant plains of Kildare, in slightly-swelling, undulating hill and dale — the richest land in Ireland, save and except the “Golden Vale’’ of glorious Tipperary. Through this beautiful plain, winding in and out, he sees, like a thread of silver, the river Liffey, from its rising in the mountains of Wicklow, until, after many windings and murmurings, it passes through the glens and the romantic scenery of Poula-Phouca , finds its way to the city of Dublin, and mingles with the sea where it was red- dened by the blood and covered with the corpses of the Danish invaders, when the sword of Ireland gleamed in the hand of Brian Boroihme. These plains of Kildare were owned by an Irish chieftain named O’Toole; and, as his territories lay adjoining the septs of Wicklow, it happened that early in the twelfth century, about the year 1100, Maurice OToole, prince of Kildare, took as his wife a princess of the house of O’Byrne of Wicklow. God blessed their union with many children ; and amongst them a fair child was born to the Kildare chieftain; and by divine inspiration, revealed by a man of God — a holy man that travelled through the land — the child, at the baptismal font, received the name of Laurence, or as it is in the Irish language, Lorchan. He was baptized before the shrine of St. Bridget, in Kildare. He was born in his father’s palace, near the spot whereon now stands the town of Castledermot. In accordance with the tradition of his royal family he was sent to the shrine of Ireland’s first great virgin saint. There he received the sign of his Christianity — his Christian name and his adoption into the children of God. Thence, taken once more to his father’s house, the child was reared there by his Irish mother, drawing from her breasts the pure, untainted, maternal nourishment that the mothers of Ireland have given to so many holy priests and bishops of the Church of God, that have sprung from them for fifteen hundred years.

Never from that mother’s lips did he hear a word save what might form his young spirit, his young heart, in the love of Jesus Christ his Lord. Never did he see under that mother’s roof a sight that might for an instant taint or sully his young virgin soul. So he grew up under that mother’s hand, even, with reverence be it said, as the Child of Nazareth grew under the hand of His Virgin Mother Mary; until, when he was ten years old, the young Laurence was the delight of his father’s house, the joy of that Irish father’s heart, and the very idol of his pure and holy mother’s bosom. When the child was ten years old a scene occurred, alas! too frequent in the history of Ireland! War was declared against Prince Maurice O’Toole, of Kildare. His territories were invaded; his people were put to the sword; his royal palace destroyed; and he was obliged to fly with his princess wife and her child. Who was the invader? Out of this heart, consecrated to God — out of this heart, filled with the love of Ireland — I send my curse back seven hundred years upon the head of that invader, who was no other than the thrice-accursed Dermot MacMurrogh, the traitor that sold Ireland. He was the King of Leinster — born in an hour accursed of God and of the genius of Irish history. He was that Dermot MacMurrogh who stole away the wife of O’Rourke, prince of Breffni. And when Ireland arose, like one man, and declared that no adulterer should be allowed to live in the Island of Saints, he was that Dermot MacMurrogh who fled over to England, kneeled down before Henry II., and asked him to help him in Ireland, and he would lay his country, enslaved and enchained, at his feet. MacMurrogh invaded the glens of Wicklow and the plains of Kildare in the year 1142. The Prince Maurice, unable to contend against so powerful an enemy, was obliged to come to terms of peace with him ; and the very first thing that the accursed Dermot MacMurrogh asked was, that he should obtain possession of the young child Laurence, to be held by him as a hostage for his father. The child of ten years — the child who had never seen evil — the child, covered with the blessings of God, was handed over into the hands of the King of Leinster, to be treated by him, as become his lineage and degree, as a royal prince. For two years he remained in that captivity ; and history tells us, that no sooner had MacMurrogh got hold of the young prince of the house of O’Toole, than he sent him into a desert part of his kingdom; the child was only allowed as much food as would keep him alive; only allowed a covering of rags sufficient to keep life in him; and for two years the young prince lived the life of a slave. It seemed as if he, who was to be the last great saint of Irish blood, was to go through the same probation of suffering which the Almighty God permitted to fall upon Patrick, the first great saint of Ireland’s adoption.

Two years were thus spent in misery and slavery; two years in starvation, cold, and want; and during these two years the child learned, in the school of sorrow and suffering, to despise the world ; to despise his royal dignity and his royal name; to despise everything except two things; and these two things lie learned to love, namely, Jesus Christ his God, and Ireland, his country. Oh! my friends, it is not prosperity that teaches a man the true, deep love either of his God or of his fatherland. The test of this twofold love is in suffering. The Church honors her martyrs, because they suffered for her ; and I honor the man — I do not care how different his views are from mine, I do not care how mistaken, how rash he may have been — I honor, from my inmost soul, the man that has shown his love for his native land by suffering in her cause.

Meantime, word was brought to Prince Maurice, the father, of the treatment his son was receiving. And now, mark here again — for, remember, that this evening I am not come so much to speak of this saintly man as an individual; I am come to speak of him with all his surroundings, all his associations, as the very epitome and essence of Irish genius, Irish character, and Irish history; — no sooner did the Irish father hear of the sufferings of his son, than he rose up, unprepared as he was — unfit to make war against his powerful adversary — he rose up; he drew his sword; he rallied the men of his name around him; and he declared war against Dermot, King of Leinster, for the recovery of the young prince. The Irish father went out like a man; went out from the embrace of his pure Irish wife; went out with his soul in his hands, to stake his life, in the day he drew his sword, for his child. He was not one of those forgetful of his own offspring, heedless of the education they receive, not caring for their sufferings — provided he himself enjoyed his own bread and his own peace. No! He was an Irish father. He was what Irish fathers and mothers have been in every age of her checkered and sorrowful history. He was prepared to lay down his life — to sacrifice himself and shed his blood — rather than suffer his young child to be brought up in ignorance, in misery, and in sin. He forced the unwilling tyrant to restore to him his boy. The graceful, beautiful child appeared before his father’s eyes. He was led to that home blessed by his loving mother. Oh, how changed from the darling child, who two years before had won every heart, in all the grace, in all the beauty, in all the comeliness of a young prince, arrayed as became his dignity, with every sign of the tenderest care, and the most zealous guardianship around him. How did they find him? Grown through misery, beyond his years, he had attained almost to the stature of a man, with all the signs of suffering — the signs of emaciation, of misery, and of hunger upon him; his eyes sunken in his head; his pallid face expressing only all the trials he had gone through ; his head bowed down, as that of a man old before his time; his beautiful figure all wasted away to a mere anatomy of man, and clad in unprincely rags. So he appeared to them. But the Irish father, who was a man of faith, discerned the inner beauty that had come upon his son — recognized in his dear son the sign of predestination — the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly, he took him to the Abbey of Glendalough; and there he consigned him to the care of the bishop of that ancient See. Let me say a word about this place whither the young man went to enter upon his studies at twelve years of age.

High up in the heart of the hills of Wicklow, surrounded by those towering mountains that throw their shapes, in fantastic forms, far up into the clouds ; high up in the heart of these hills, there is a valley enclosing a deep lake surrounded by beetling rocks. There, upon the borders of that lake, there still remains an ancient round tower, and the ruins of seven churches— nothing more. Silence reigns around. No voice is heard save the voice of the singing bird upon the hawthorn-tree, or the bleating of the cattle on the sides of the distant hills; but there was a day, a year, a century when, for many ages, that deep valley resounded to the voice of praise, from the morning watch even until night, and from the setting of the sun until the stars fled before his coming splendor in the east. Morning and night; at the midnight hour; at the rising of the sun; at the proclaiming of high-noon; at the sinking of the orb of day to his golden home in the west— every hour was marked by the voice of praise, of benediction, and of prayer, sounding forth from hundreds of Irish lips and Irish bosoms, in those happy days, when the glens and valleys of the surrounding hills were filled with the monks of old, and when from the choirs of Glendalough — numbering from five hundred to eight hundred monks — the voice of praise was never silent upon the lips of the servants of God. They dwelt in their little cells, each man living in a little hut, made by his own hands, upon the mountainsides around ; they came forth at stated times, to public prayer in some one or other of the seven churches. They were all skilled musicians; for, as the ancient chronicler of Ireland's monasticism tells us, “It is a poor church, indeed, that is without a choir". They were skilled musicians; and, therefore, as one group finished their utterances in the divine offices of praise to God, there was another ready to take up the note and perpetuate the glorious song. The rest of the time not given to prayer was spent in study; for the solitaries of Glendalough were not only the holiest of men, but were also the most learned men in the world, for three hundred years, and, during that time, gained for Ireland, amongst the nations, the singular title of the “Mother of Saints and of Scholars.” The founder of this famous seat of anchorites was the great monastic father, St. Kevin; and the place where he retired to study and to pray is still pointed out — one of the caves imbedded high up in the face of the mountains, amid the poplar forests. And the traditions of holiness and learning which St. Kevin established were perpetuated in Glendalough, not only for the three hundred years of Ireland's first Christianity, but actually outlived the ravages of the three hundred years of Danish invasion and bloodshed and war. The land was desolated; but Glendalough flourished. The cathedral was in ruins ; but the choir of Glendalough was vocal as before. The scholar and student fled from every sacred receptacle in the land; but the monks of Glendalough, even in the darkest hour of the Danish war, still upheld the glorious purity of Ireland’s learning and of Ireland’s holiness. And thus, for five hundred years, the valley in the heart of the Wicklow hills was the home of the servants of God, and resounded to His perpetual praise. So great was the importance of this monastic seat, that it was erected into an Episcopal See; and there was a Bishop of Glendalough.

Now, it was to this man that Maurice O’Toole brought his child of twelve years old. He had, besides him, several other sons, tall, strapping, brave, and pious Irish youths, full of love for Ireland; full of love for its ancient, glorious history; full of love for their honored, royal name; full of love — as every true Irishman shall be until the end of time — full of love for their holy religion and for the Catholic Church of Ireland. These young princes came with their father to Glendalough ; and, as all stood around the bishop, the warrior prince said to him: “My lord, here are my sons. I want to give one of them to God. They are all willing; and I must cast lots to find which of them the Lord will choose for His own service in the sacerdotal state.” While the father was deliberating, out stepped the young but chastened and sanctified Laurence. “Oh, father!” he said, “the lot is already cast in heaven; and it has fallen upon me. I, Laurence, belong to God, and to Him alone. I have known His support in the days of misery and my exile. I have fed upon his love in the days of my wretchedness and my hunger. I have separated my heart from all other love, save that of my God in heaven and my fellow-countrymen upon the earth. To that God and to Ireland will I devote myself. Let me be the priest.” And, my friends, right well did he express, in this determination, and in this choice, the true love of a true- hearted man — for God and for his country. Let no man deceive you; the best lover of God and of his country is the priest. The man who, in the days of his youth, in the days of his awakening passions, in the days when nature makes her loud demand for enjoyment — the man who then says, “I will sacrifice my heart, my affections, my life, my body, and my soul", for whom ? For God alone? No; for he does not go into the desert; he goes out amongst his fellow-men; he grasps every man by the hand with a loving grasp, and he says, “I belong to God and to you.” No man is so consecrated to his fellow-men as the priest; because he comes to them with a consecration from God. There is no man upon whom the people can fall back, as they can upon the priest; for no matter what angel of pestilence may stalk in the midst of them — no matter what demon may scatter death or destruction around them — every man may fly; the priest alone must not, dare not, cannot fly, because he is sold to God and to his neighbour.

In the day, therefore, that the young prince said, “I renounce my principality; I renounce the prospect of reigning amongst my people; I renounce the glory of the battle, the praise of the minstrel, and the luxury of the palace; all I ask is the hut upon the mountain-side in Glendalough — my God above me, and my country around me” — in the day that he said that, he gave proof that, amongst the sons of the Kildare chieftain there was not one that loved his God in Ireland as he did. How well that love was tested, we shall see. The father, like an Irish father, gave up, willingly, the son whom he loved best of all; for it is the peculiarity of Irish parents to give to God the best that they have, and give it cheerfully; because “ God loveth a cheerful giver.” I have seen in other lands, in France and Italy, young men asking to be admitted to the priesthood, and the father and mother saying, “How can we give him up? How can we sacrifice our child?” — trying to keep him back with tears and entreaties. Oh, my friends! when I witnessed that, I thought of the old woman in Galway, who had no one but me — her only son; I thought of the old man, bending down towards the grave with the weight of years upon him; and I thought of the poverty that might stare them in the face when their only boy was gone; and yet no tear was shed; no word of sorrow was uttered; but with joy and with pride, the Irish father and the Irish mother knew how to give up their only son to the God that made him.

Laurence bade adieu to his father and his brothers; they bent their steps down the slopes of the neighboring hills unto their own principality; and he took possession of the monk’s cell, at Glendalough. For thirteen years he remained, a model of the most exalted sanctity, even to the aged ones who were versed in sanctity. They knew what was demanded of the monk and the consecrated priest ; they knew by old-time experience — the experience of years — how complete the sacrifice of the heart must be. But the presence of the young prince amongst them, as he came forth in his monastic habit, with his eyes cast to the ground, and his face radiating and shining with the love of God, that, born forth from his heart, came like rays from the brightness of heaven, falling in light around him — they saw in that holy youth, kneeling, hour after hour, before the presence of God, upon the altar — they heard in that voice, ringing clear and high in its tones of praise, above and beyond the chorus of voices of those who praised the Lord, as if it were an angel from heaven in the midst of them striving to uplift his angelic spirit, totally and entirely, upon the wings of song — they saw, in all this and more, an ideal of sanctity, an embodiment of holiness, a whole pentecost of love of God such as they had never conceived before; and they all declared that God had sent them a saint in the young Irish prince. Silent as the grave, he spoke only with God or of God. Hour after hour, spent in prayer and study, made him grow in every knowledge of the age, even as he grew in divine love. His food, a morsel of brown bread, with a cup of water from the lake; his bed, the bare earth; his pillow, a stone — he mortified his body until he impressed upon every sense and upon his whole frame the mortification of the cross of the God whom he learned to love. And so, in his twenty-fifth year, Laurence — the Monk Laurence — was recognized as the most enlightened and the most holy man in the island, which still claimed the title of the “ Mother of Saints and of Scholars. ”

The abbot died, and the young monk was elected Abbot of Glendalough, and placed at the head of his brethren. There he remained for five years; and the old Irish chroniclers tell how every poor, stricken creature in the land, even to the furthest ends of Ireland, made his way to the glens of Wicklow, that he might get relief, food, and clothing from his bounty, and the blessing of God from the touch of his sacred hand. We are told that, while he was Abbot of Glendalough, there came, through the visitation of God, a terrible famine upon the land. Laurence arose, gathered together all that the monasteries possessed of clothing and of food; he took all the sacred implements of the altar — the very chalices of the sacred service; he opened the treasures his fathers had deposited with them; away went everything to feed and clothe the poor and the naked. So, in that year of famine, when the angel of death had spread himself in desolation over the kind, the people, in these years, were fed, and clothed, and saved through the wonderful charity of the Abbot of Glendalough. O saint in heaven! where wert thou in '46 and '47? O Irish heart! O Irish sainted soul! where then, were thy hands? Why didst thou not burst the cerements of the tomb, and rise out of thy far-distant grave in Normandy, to break bread for thy countrymen in the year of their dire trial? Alas ! no saint was there! If Glendalough had been, the people would not have died. But Glendalough was swept away, and the infernal spirit of Henry VIII., and of England’s supremacy, was upon the land, to let us perish.

Now, after five years of this glorious rule of the Abbot of Glendalough, in the year 1161, the Archbishop of Dublin died.  The people, long accustomed to the sanctity and the glory of their great Abbot of Glendalough; long accustomed to contemplate the shining light that was before them; all, with one accord, cried — and their voice rang from end to end of the land — “We must have the prince and abbot, Laurence, for our archbishop.” One man only was grieved; one man only refused; and for twelve long months he fought against this dignity sought to be forced upon him, with so much energy and success, that it was only in the following year, 1162, that, by main force, he was obliged to allow himself to be consecrated Archbishop of Dublin. Archbishop of Dublin! Laurence O'Toole, in whose veins blended the royal blood of two of Ireland’s chief houses; Laurence OToole was the last man of the  Irish race who sat — recognized — upon that glorious throne. For seven hundred years have passed away, and from the day that St. Laurence died, there has been no man of Irish blood, or Irish race, recognized as Archbishop of Dublin. For three hundred years after the death of St. Laurence the archbishops were Catholics; but they were all Englishmen. For three hundred years after that — for the last three hundred years — the archbishops, the so-called Archbishops of Dublin, were all Protestants; and they are all Englishmen, too.

Now, my friends, we come to contemplate the monk in the archbishop. He entered the city of Dublin, and took possession of Christ Church, in the year 1162. How did he find his people? I am grieved to be obliged to tell the tale. It was now sixty years since the Danes were banished from Ireland, after they had remained in the country for three hundred long years. During these three hundred years there never had been a day's peace throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, but constant war. Every year brought its campaign, every month— every week — its pitched battle, between the soldiers of Ireland and the Danish invaders. Let this sink into your minds. Consider it well. There is not a nation on the face of the earth that can stand three hundred years of constant war without being destroyed. The churches are burned, the priests put to the sword, everything in confusion ; the sacraments neglected, the schools shut up. A people compelled to fight for their lives, begin to forget God the moment the demon of war comes to them. You have had the proof of it in the four years' war from which you have just come forth. Now, realize all this if you can. For three hundred years — a term nearly as long as from the day Columbus discovered America to the present hour — there was not a hill-side nor a valley in Ireland that did not resound, year after year, to the various war-cries of the Dane and the Celt. Their bodies covered the land. Six thousand of these Danish invaders were left dead upon the field in the glorious day when Malachi II. drew the sword of Ireland, and smote them in the valley of Glenamadagh, near the Vale of Avoca. The sea around the coast of Ireland, for many a day and year, was covered with the corpses, and the rivers ran red with the blood of the Celt and the Dane. Thus it was for three hundred years. What wonder, my dear friends — what wonder is it, that the history of our land tells that, by the time Ireland finally conquered her Danish enemies, after three hundred years, every vestige almost of holiness, learning, and piety had disappeared from the land! Nothing remained except the faith which the Irish race still hold dear as their life, and that love for Ireland that had nerved their arms during these three hundred years of bloodshed and war. But the moment that the Danish invasion was ended, and that the Irish nation breathed freely for a time, that moment the bishops, and priests, and the people put head, heart, and hands together, to build up the ancient edifice of Ireland’s learning, and Ireland’s sanctity. It is a well-known fact, that although disorder, confusion, and iniquity had crept into the land and abounded — that neither the priesthood nor the people reconciled themselves to it; but immediately upon the departure of the Danes, set to work. The bishops and priests met in council; the schools and colleges were reopened; and Ireland’s sanctity and holiness was fast returning, at the very time that St. Laurence O’Toole took possession of the See of Dublin. Still he found the chieftains of Ireland divided amongst themselves. He found every province in the land, every sept or clan in the land, fighting amongst themselves, and disputing. Not content with having shed their blood generously for Ireland, during three hundred years, they would now fain flood the land again with Irish blood shed in domestic broils and contentions, unworthy of a people who had passed through such an ordeal, such a trial. And then moreover, amongst the people incorporated in his own city of Dublin, the marriage-tie was not sufficiently regarded. And I verily believe that the reason of this was that the greater part of the people of Dublin at the time were descendants of the Danes, and not pure Irish; for I can scarcely imagine the pure stock of Ireland renouncing under any pressure the virtue with which the Almighty God endowed them at the hands of Patrick, both men and women. That virtue — the virtue of purity, crowned by saramental love, and through it alone, crowned by their conjugal fidelity — has been the first and grandest boast of the Irish race.

Grieved and excited to indignation by what he beheld, the solitary from Glendalough, accustomed to silence, retirement, and communion with God, as soon as he came, a mitred archbishop, to his people, ascended the pulpit of Christ Church, in Dublin, and there, in the Irish language — so grand, so poetic, so vigorous and so majestic in its expression — he hurled his denunciations against every form of impiety and of iniquity around him. He sent forth his voice, as a prince as well as an archbishop, unto the ends of the land, and said to the chieftains of Ireland: “Unless you cease your unworthy contentions, I tell you, in the name of the Lord God, that God will punish I this bloodshed and this unworthy contention, by sacrificing the liberty of our country". Clear and terrific was the voice. Clear as the angel’s trumpet announcing judgment, the voice of the great Irish prince-archbishop went out upon the land, and fell upon the unfortunately heedless and unwilling ears of the Irish chieftains. Their dissensions continued. The kings of Ulster, retreating into their own kingdom, took no share in the affairs of the rest of Ireland. The clans of Munster made war, under the leadership of the O’Briens, against the royal house of O’Connor, in Connaught; while Ulster itself was divided by a hundred different feuds, which separated the whole country into so many battle-fields. Thus was Ireland in the days when the news was brought the Archbishop of Dublin that the Norman force had come upon the shores of Ireland; that the invader’s accursed foot was once more upon the soil of Erin. It came to him as though it was the knell of his own doom; it came to him as though it was the judgment of God, which he had foreseen, for the sins and dissensions of his own people. And yet, even thus coming, it roused within him all the zeal of the prelate, and all the fire of the prince of Irish royal blood. It roused the lion spirit in the chaste bosom of the archbishop; and when Laurence came forth amongst the people they scarcely knew him. There seemed to be a new spirit in the indignation which came from him. The eye, accustomed to be cast down upon the earth, with virginal modesty, now glared around with a fiery glance, because the sacred cause of Ireland was in danger, and the invader was upon her soil. The voice that was accustomed to speak only words of peace and benediction, now sounded forth, in its clarion notes, a War! War! Let slip the spirit and the dogs of war! Draw the sword of Erin! Let your blood flow as rivers in the land, until the accursed and detested invader shall be driven into the sea.” He went out from Dublin; he left his city, his cathedral, his people behind him; he went straight down into Connaught, the seat of Ireland’s monarch, and he said: "Oh, my high king, arise ; gather up the forces of Ireland, and march with me to Dublin. I will be in the front ranks in the day when we do to the invaders what Brian did upon the plain of Clontarf, when he swept them into the sea.” His voice went out in Ulster, and called O’Melaghlin, King of Ulster, from his ignoble repose, to arise, gird on his sword, and draw it for Ireland. His voice penetrated into the south, re-echoed upon the shores of the Shannon, and swept like a trumpet-blast through the ruined halls of Kincora, rousing the McCarthy Mor and the O’Brien. They rallied; they came together; they stood between the Norman and the walls of Dublin, the archbishop in the midst of them. With all his power, with all his love of his country, with all his spirit of devotion he was unable to keep them together. Domestic feuds and dissension sprang up amongst them. Oh! the accursed spirit of dissension, that has kept us divided for so many years, and that keeps us divided to-day! We have heard of united Ireland; we have heard of those brave hearts who took that name ; but when were Irishmen united ? The very last time that Irishmen were united was on that Good Friday morning, eight hundred years ago, when the plain of Clontarf was covered with the dead bodies of the Danes, and when Dublin Bay was filled with their floating corpses. From that day to this, our united Ireland is but the dream of the poet, and the inspiration of the lover of his native land.

 Dublin was taken. Roderick O’Connor, King of Connaught, retired into his own kingdom; the Ulster men went home across the Boyne; the septs of Leinster were obliged to make their submission. Two or three years later, the English monarch himself arrived; and every prince in Ireland made a nominal submission to him, save and except the glorious, the immortal O’Neill, who still upheld the oriflamme of Ireland — the national flag of Erin. When Dublin was taken, the Archbishop Laurence interceded for his people in this fashion. When the Normans laid siege to the city the first time, the people felt that resistance would be useless; so they called on their archbishop to go out and meet Dermot MacMurrogh, the adulterous traitor, and the celebrated Richard, Earl of Pembroke, sumamed “Strongbow.” The archbishop went out to make terms for his people; and whilst he was thus engaged on one side of the city, Miles de Cogan entered on the other side, and began to slaughter the people. Their cry of horror reached the archbishop’s ears, as he stood in the presence of the Norman victors. The moment he heard the cry of his people, which resounded in his ears as the cry of the first-born babe in danger resounds in the heart of the mother that bore it, he fled from their presence and rushed forth, and found that the blood of his people actually flowed in the streets of the city. Then, forgetful of his safety or his life, he threw himself between them and the assailing army, and to the invaders he said: “Hold! hold ! Not another son of Ireland shall be slain. Not another drop of my people’s blood shall be shed, until you have first pierced my heart; for I am their father and their bishop.” The city was surrendered. ' Now, what did the archbishop do ? Did he give up the cause of Ireland, like a faint-hearted man ? He saw the Irish kings actually fighting with each other — shedding each other’s blood at the very time the invader took possession of their capital. He saw that no two of them could agree to obey one common head, or adopt one common line of policy. He had labored in vain. Did he give up the cause? No! No faithful Irish bishop or priest ever did or ever will give up the cause of Ireland. He went out from Dublin once more; he went again to the court of King Roderick, shook him once more into courage and hope for Ireland, and rallied his people. He called the Ulster men again from their fastnesses, rallied the men of Munster, the McCarty Mor, the O’Donnells, and the O’Briens; he roused all Ireland. And the archbishop marched at the head of sixty thousand men, in order to lay siege to Dublin, vowing that as long as an English invader remained on Irish soil, he could never know a moment’s rest. Dublin was besieged. The Irish forces, to the number of sixty thousand, lay around it. O’Melaghlin, of Ulster, took possession of the Hill of Howth; on the plain of Clontarf Roderick O’Connor, with his large army, spread over to the site of the Phoenix Park. On the other side, east of the hill, lay the O’Briens of Munster ; the passes by the coast of Dalkey and Dunleary were held by the O’Tooles and the O’Byrnes of Wicklow. They pressed the siege until the Norman knights were almost famished in the city; and driven by desperation made one desperate sally, broke through one portion of the line of the King of Connaught’s army, and so liberated themselves. The Irish host, instead of closing around them, and destroying them, lost courage and heart. Divided for so many years, they separated once more. The O’Connor withdrew into his western province; the O’Neill and the O’Donnell withdrew again from the town ; and once more, despite the tears, the prayers, and the devotion of Laurence, the land of Ireland was left at the mercy of its ruthless and tyrannical conquerors. If we credit the evidence of the Irish historian, Leland, one of the most ancient and respectable of our historians — he tells us that, in that siege of Dublin, the archbishop was seen passing from rank to rank animating the men, speaking to them in the ringing tones of their native Irish language, appealing to them by all that they held most sacred upon earth, and by their hopes of heaven, to do battle like men for their native land, and to destroy its invaders. Leland goes further. He tells us — upon what authority I know not — that so carried away was the Irish prince archbishop, when he saw the day darkening for Ireland, that he laid aside his episcopal station for an hour, girded on the sword, and led on the Irish forces, charging into the midst of their enemies as became a prince.

And now the heart of the man was broken; his high hopes were crushed forever. Perhaps, with his prophetic eye, illumined by the spirit of sanctity that was within him, perhaps he foresaw and caught a glimpse of the ages that were to come; perhaps he saw his country, year after year, century after century, until her very name went out amongst the peoples of the earth as “the Niobe of nations,” the most striken, heart-broken of peoples. Certain it is that the heart of the man was broken within him. In the year 1171, all the princes of Ireland, excepting Ulster, having made their submission, nothing remained for the holy prince-archbishop but to do all he could for his people. One of Henry’s pretexts for conquering Ireland was that they were so wicked a people, and he was so good and holy, it was necessary that he should conquer the country to preserve the faith. How did he begin to make himself so good and holy? He shed the blood of St. Thomas of Canterbury. That blood was upon his hand — the blood of a holy archbishop, slaughtered at the foot of the altar, in the very presence of Jesus Christ, by the order of the tyrant! That blood was red upon the hands of the man who came to teach the Irish people their religion! Before him came the Archbishop of Dublin, fearless, although his fellow-prelate had been slaughtered. He demanded terms for his people. He spoke with authority, as became a prince of the people, and in the name of God. He frightened the tyrannical English monarch of that race of which St. Bernard said: “They came from the devil, and to the devil they will go.” Those were the words of St. Bernard, of that very house of Plantagenet of whom Henry II. was one of the great founders — the man who invaded Ireland. Now, my friends, twice did the saint cross the sea to intercede for the Irish people; to make treaties of peace for the Irish kings with the English monarch ; and to obtain the recognition of Ireland’s freedom and Ireland’s nationality. And history tells us that it is to the last of Ireland’s saints we owe that treaty of peace which was concluded between O’Connor, King of Connaught, and Henry II., King of England, and which recognized Ireland’s nationality, Ireland’s existence as a distinct nation, embodied in the person of her monarch. You may say to me it was a small thing for him to recognize Ireland’s nationality when he had his foot upon her neck ; but I say it was a great thing that, for seven hundred years of war and persecution, through the action and the spirit of the last of Ireland’s saints, we are — I thank my God in heaven — we are a nation still. We are not a province; Ireland was never a province of the British Empire. To-day, the Queen of England calls herself “Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.” To this day she sends to Ireland her viceroy, which means one who takes the place of the king. A viceroy is not sent to a province, but to a nation. But you will ask what does all this serve? I answer, a noble idea always serves; a noble idea, maintained and upheld by the hand, of priest and layman, and upheld by the hand of the martyr — a noble idea, upheld by a worship recognized for ages as the rallying-point of a people, when the hour of their destiny arrives — such shall Ireland’s nationality be for Irishmen.

You have all often heard that, when the English king invaded Ireland, he came in virtue of a Bull which he received from the Pope. Writers of English history assert this, and many amongst them bring their proofs of it. Now, I have my doubts whether he got that rescript atall. I have studied this question as well as I could, and I don't believe that the Pope ever gave the English monarch a commission to invade Ireland. It is singular that of Irish archaeologists the greatest now living — the present respected Bishop of Ossory, Dr. Moran, who has studied for years at the fountain-head, in Rome — gives his conclusion, deliberate and calm, that he does not believe one word of the story of Adrian IV. making a present of Ireland to the English king. It may be so. It may be that such representations were made to the people that inferred this; it may be that the English monarch sent his ministers there, who told the Holy Father that the Irish were such terrible people, and had given up legitimate marriage altogether; and their priests were a bad lot; and if he would give him leave to go over, he would set everything to rights; for English historians tell us that was the case; and that, when Henry II. came to Ireland, he had in his hand a letter from the Pope, authorizing him to go and take possession of the island. Now, I answer, if he had that letter, why did he not show it? He never showed it. When he came to Ireland he never said one word about that letter — that permission for the Pope. He called all the Irish together (St. Laurence O'Toole was there), at Cashel, in 1171; he had them all, except a few from Connaught, and some of the Ulster bishops, who held aloof because they were not yet conquered; and when all the bishops and priests were there, Henry came and said to them, “ Now you must make laws and set everything to rights." He never said one word about the letter of the Pope. When Henry Il. came to Ireland, all the historians tell us, the only man in Ireland of whom he was really afraid was St. Laurence O’Toole; because there was no man in Ireland who had such power to bind the people together; no man that loved Ireland as he did; not a braver man on that battle-field of Clontarf, than that man whose Irish heart beat beneath the cope of the Irish Archbishop of Dublin. The English king was so much afraid of him that he endeavored by the use of every means in his power to gain him over. Now, the English king knew well that if St. Laurence O’Toole knew he had a letter of that kind from the Pope, like an humble and obedient man, he would cease his opposition; he would not array sixty thousand men against him; and yet he never showed that letter to St. Laurence O’Toole. He waited until Pope Adrian IV. was ten years dead and in his grave, and then he produced the letter. And so I say that, although there be grave and weighty arguments on one side, I have such doubts as to the authenticity of that Bull of Adrian IV., that I don’t believe one word of it. Nay more, seven years later, when St. Laurence went to Rome to the Council of Lateran, Alexander was then Pope; and of all the bishops that came to that council there was not a single man that received so much honor as the Archbishop of Dublin did,! from the Pope, because of his sanctity. He put him in the highest place, gave him the pallium of archbishop, ordered the Bishops of Ossory, of Gallatia, and others, to be subject to him, made him his own Legate-Apostolic, and crowned with glory sent him back to Ireland. Now, if the Pope had really given permission to Henry II. to go and take Ireland, and the archbishop should, in the face of that, have as it were taken Henry II. by the throat — if that Bull of Adrian IV. was shown, you, Laurence O’Toole, saint in heaven tonight, you would have gone to Rome as a man under a cloud, a man who forgot where he owed his obedience, a man who dared to excite the people after the head of the Church had declared they should submit. But he did go to Rome in that capacity; he went to receive more honor than any other bishop; therefore, I conclude that he never saw this letter of the Pope, because I believe the Pope never wrote it.

In the year 1180 Roderick O’Connor, King of Ireland, was again in trouble with the English monarch; and he had to send one of his sons as a hostage to Henry. St. Laurence took charge of the boy, and brought him over to England, to put him into the hands of the English monarch, thinking, perhaps, with sorrow of the day when he himself, a young prince, was put into the hands of a cruel, heartless tyrant. The King of England was not in the land, he was in France at the time ; but before he went to France he left orders that if Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin, was to come over to England, he was to be kept prisoner, and not to be allowed back any more. This was the man who came to reform the Irish Church, and teach the people how to be good ! No Irish king was ever known to lay hand on a bishop. The first English monarch that came, as Cromwell came in after years, with the words of God’s holy Scripture on his lips; he who had shed the blood of St. Thomas a Becket, laid hands upon and bound the Irish archbishop in England. But the Irish blood — the spirit that can never bend, though it may be broken — revolted against this treatment. When he found he was going to be detained as a prisoner, he instantly arose, took the young prince, and went over to France, to stand before the English monarch, and beard him to his face. He arrived in France; and as soon as he touched the soil of Normandy you can easily imagine how he turned around, saw the white cliffs of Dover — the English coast — and, lifting up his hands, left his last curse upon it. Travelling a little into the country, the heart-sorrow that weighed upon him became too great. What! An Irish prince, an Irish archbishop, the son of an unconquered race, of a people that had never known serfdom or slavery, has the eldest son of Ireland’s monarch, Roderick O’Connor, and is bringing him, a prisoner, to put him into the hands of the tyrant that had shed the blood of his people! It was too much for him, because he thought of Ireland. He saw his country invaded and enslaved; the chieftains divided, the holy work in which he was engaged broken and ruined; the sanctuaries of St. Mel, at Armagh, in flames; the churches destroyed; Columba’s saintly monasteries sacked and ruined. His heart was broken within him. He turned aside to the Abbey of Yew, in Normandy, and, entering in, he said to the abbot: "Give a dying man a place whereon he may lie down and die.” Because of his high dignity, as Archbishop of Dublin, they received him with all honor. Now, the angel of death was approaching. With his dying breath he commissioned his secretary, the Irish priest that was with him, to take the young prince and carry him to Henry, and tell him, that “When the agonies of death were upon me, I charged him, in the name of the God before whom I am about to appear, with my last words I charged him, in the name of Almighty God, to treat this prince as the son of a king; not to forget that this prince's father is a king; and that the people are still a nation, having a king at their head.” Then, as he lay upon his humble bed, the monks came around him, and they heard him pouring forth his soul to God in prayer; and they said to each other: "This man must be very rich ; he is archbishop of the richest diocese in the world ; perhaps he has not made his will.” They did not know St. Laurence. When he was Archbishop of Dublin he fed five hundred poor people every day at his own table, and he clothed and fed four hundred others outside, and constantly provided for two hundred orphans. And when they came and said to him; "Will you not make your will?” he looked up, and said: " I declare to my God, that I have not a single coin in this world to leave behind me.” Then the agonies of death came upon him. There he lay, communing with his divine Lord. And now, at last, in this last moment, the patriot must be lost in the saint, the prince forgotten in the dying Christian. No thought can come between the man of God and that God whom he is about to meet. Hark to his words: "Into thy hands, O Jesus Christ, I resign my spirit. O strong Son of God, take me. I have now known I will see Thy face, and rejoice forever.” Then the French monks, praying around him, heard strange words from his lips; they did not understand them, for they were spoken in the Irish language. His last words were: "O foolish and senseless people! what will now become of you? Who now will relieve your miseries? who will heal you, now that I am going away? ” With these words he died. He is canonized by the Church of God ; his Christian soul passed straight to the high throne which he had earned in heaven; and his last words upon earth proved that the most sacred love that ever filled the heart of man, next to the love of his God, was his love for the land that bore him, and the people of his own blood.

This was the last of Ireland’s canonized saints. He was canonized in Rome by Pope Honorius III., in the year of 1226. His body is enshrined in the abbey church in which he died; and his name has gone forth — St. Laurence O’Toole — as the last of the great prelates the Irish Church produced; and she was the mother of many saints and of great prelates. The spirit that animated his love for home — the love that broke his heart — has survived in the hearts of those who came after him, inheriting his priesthood. It was the spirit of Laurence that kept the Irish people faithful to their priests, and the Irish priests faithful to their people, when every power of earth and of hell was raised up against them. When all the might of England declared that it must separate that priesthood from that people — corrupt that priesthood and destroy the Catholic faith in Ireland — the priesthood, animated by the spirit of Laurence, the Irish people, animated by the spirit of their holy faith, joined hands in that day, and answered: "Those whom God hath joined together no man can sever". Never did the Irish people separate themselves from their clergy, nor the Irish priesthood from their faithful, loving people. When the Prophet Elias was taken up to heaven, Eliseus cried out to him: " Let me have thy twofold spirit. Leave thy spirit upon me." And he who was borne aloft on the chariot of fire, let fall his mantle, and with it his twofold spirit, upon him. Laurence, ascending to heaven, must have heard some great, some faithful bishop in Ireland: “Oh ! chariot of Israel and its charioteer, leave behind thee thy twofold spirit — the love of God and of thy country. Leave that twofold love to be the inheritance of Irish priests and Irish bishops.” The prayer was answered, the mystic mantle has fallen. Ireland is bound today, as of old, as one man, the priests to the people and the people to the priests, by the golden fillet of a common faith, and the silver cord of a common love for their motherland. Let me conclude. Oh! may the spirit of Laurence be still upon us, at home and abroad. Thousands of miles of ocean lie between me and the land of my birth; between you and the land of you best recollections, you truest aspirations, and your strongest love. But, whether at home or abroad, whether upon the green hillside, with its shamrocks covering the graves of the saints, or upon the splendid shores of this mighty continent, oh! may the spirit of Laurence be still your inheritance and mine, and that we may sanctify ourselves in our love for our religion and for our faith, and that we may sanctify ourselves before God and the world, in our love for the green land that bore us, and that holy religion handed down to us — the most magnificent history that ever yet was the heritage of an afflicted people.

Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke, Lectures and Sermons Vol. 2, (New York, 1904), 415-437.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2016. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment