Part 1 out of 7
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JOSEPH DUNN, Ph.D.,
P.J. LENNOX. Litt.D.,
PROFESSORS AT THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
TO THE IRISH RACE
IN EVERY LAND
"All thy life has been a symbol; we can only read a part:
God will flood thee yet with sunshine for the woes that
drench thy heart."
JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY.
We had at first intended that this should be a book without a
preface, and indeed it needs none, for it speaks in no uncertain
tones for itself; but on reconsideration we decided that it would be
more seemly to give a short explanation of our aim, our motives, and
As a result of innumerable inquiries which have come to us during our
experience as educators, we have been forced to the conclusion that
the performances of the Irish race in many fields of endeavor are
entirely unknown to most people, and that even to the elect they are
not nearly so well known as they deserve to be. Hence there came to
us the thought of placing on record, in an accessible, comprehensive,
and permanent form, an outline of the whole range of Irish
achievement during the last two thousand years.
In undertaking this task we had a twofold motive. In the first place,
we wished to give to people of Irish birth or descent substantial
reason for that pride of race which we know is in them, by placing in
their hands an authoritative and unassailable array of facts as
telling as any nation in the world can show. Our second motive was
that henceforward he who seeks to ignore or belittle the part taken
by men and women of Irish birth or blood in promoting the spread of
religion, civilization, education, culture, and freedom should sin,
not in ignorance, but against the light, and that from a thousand
quarters at once champions armed with the panoply of knowledge should
be able to spring to his confutation.
To carry out in a satisfactory manner over a field so immense our
lawfully ambitious aim was, as we realized at the outset, not
possible to any two men who are primarily engaged, as we are, in
other work of an exacting nature. Therefore, to render feasible the
execution of our undertaking, we decided to invite the collaboration
of many scholars and specialists, each of whom could, out of the
fullness of information, speak with authority on some particular
phase of the general subject. We are glad to say that the eminent
writers to whom we addressed ourselves answered with promptitude and
alacrity to our call, and have supplied us with such a body of
material as to enable us to bring out a book that is absolutely
From each contributor we asked nothing but a plain verifiable
statement of facts, and that, we think, is exactly what they have
given us, for, while we do not make ourselves personally responsible
for everything set down in the following pages, we believe that what
stands written therein bears every mark of careful research and of
Although on many of our subjects little more remains to be said than
what appears in the text, yet the treatment on the whole does not
claim to be exhaustive, and therefore each writer has, at our
request, appended to his contribution a short and carefully selected
bibliography, so that those who are interested may have a guide for
further reading. For our part, we consider these lists of works of
reference to be a highly useful feature.
It is a glorious thing for us, who are proud, one of us of his Irish
descent and the other of his Irish birth, to think that the sons and
daughters of mother Erin have so conspicuously distinguished
themselves in such varied spheres of activity in every age and in so
many lands, and that we were privileged to make public the record of
their achievements in a form never before attempted.
We have other works in contemplation, and some actually in
preparation, which will go far to strengthen the claims put forward
in this book. In the meantime, we trust that the reception accorded
to it will be such as to encourage us to persevere in making still
better known the Glories of Ireland.
_Catholic University of America_,
THE ROMANCE OF IRISH HISTORY
Sir Roger Casement, C.M.G.
THE ISLAND OF SAINTS AND SCHOLARS
Very Rev. Canon D'Alton, M.R.I.A., LL.D.
IRISH MONKS IN EUROPE
Rev. Columba Edmonds, O.S.B.
THE IRISH AND THE SEA
William H. Babcock, LL.B.
IRISH LOVE OF LEARNING
Rev. P.S. Dinneen, M.A., R.U.I.
IRISH MEN OF SCIENCE
Sir Bertram C.A. Windle, Sc.D., M.D.
LAW IN IRELAND
Laurence Ginnell, B.L., M.P.
W.H. Grattan Flood, Mus.D.
IRISH METAL WORK
Louis Ely O'Carroll, B.A., B.L.
THE RUINS OF IRELAND
Francis J. Bigger, M.R.I.A.
MODERN IRISH ART
IRELAND AT PLAY
Thomas E. Healy
THE FIGHTING RACE
Joseph I.C. Clarke
THE SORROWS OF IRELAND
John Jerome Rooney, A.M., LL.D.
FAMOUS IRISH SOCIETIES
THE IRISH IN THE UNITED STATES
Michael J. O'Brien
THE IRISH IN CANADA
James J. Walsh, M.D.
THE IRISH IN SOUTH AMERICA
THE IRISH IN AUSTRALASIA
Brother Leo, F.S.C., M.A.
THE IRISH IN SOUTH AFRICA
A. Hilliard Atteridge
THE IRISH LANGUAGE AND LETTERS
Douglas Hyde, LL.D.
NATIVE IRISH POETRY
IRISH HEROIC SAGAS
IRISH PRECURSORS OF DANTE
Sidney Gunn, M.A.
IRISH INFLUENCE ON ENGLISH LITERATURE
Edmund C. Quiggin, M.A.
IRISH FOLK LORE
Alfred Perceval Graves
IRISH WIT AND HUMOR
Charles L. Graves
THE IRISH THEATRE
THE IRISH LITERARY REVIVAL
Horatio S. Krans, Ph.D.
IRISH WRITERS OF ENGLISH
P.J. Lennox, B.A., Litt. D.
THE GLORIES OF IRELAND
THE ROMANCE OF IRISH HISTORY
By SIR ROGER CASEMENT, C.M.G.
The history of Ireland remains to be written, for the purpose of
Irishmen remains yet to be achieved.
The struggle for national realization, begun so many centuries ago,
is not ended; and if the long story offers a so frequent record of
failure, it offers a continuous appeal to the highest motives and a
constant exhibition of a most pathetic patriotism linked with the
Irish wars, throughout all time, have been only against one enemy,
the invader, and, ending so often in material disaster, they have
conferred always a moral gain. Their memory uplifts the Irish heart;
for no nation, no people, can reproach Ireland with having wronged
When, at the dawn of the Christian era, we first hear of Ireland from
external sources, we learn of it as an island harboring free men,
whose indomitable love of freedom was hateful to the spirit of
Agricola's advice to the empire-builders of his day was that Rome
should "war down and take possession of Ireland, so that freedom
might be put out of sight."
It was to meet this challenge of despotism that the Scotic clans of
Alba turned to their motherland for help, and the sea was "white with
the hurrying oars" of the men of Erin speeding to the call of their
Highland kinsmen, threatened with imperial servitude.
The first external record we possess thus makes it clear that when
the early Irish went forth to carry war abroad, it was not to impose
their yoke on other peoples, or to found an empire, but to battle
against the Empire of the World in the threatened cause they held so
dear at home.
In this early Roman reference to Ireland we get the keynote to all
later Irish history--a warring down on the one hand, so that freedom
might be put out of sight; an eternal resistance, on the other, so
that it might be upheld.
It was this struggle that Ireland sought to maintain against every
form of attack, down through Danish, Norman, Tudor, Stuart, and
Cromwellian assault, to the larger imperialism of the nineteenth
century, when, as Thierry, the historian of the Norman Conquest,
tells us, it still remained the one "lost cause" of history that
refused to admit defeat. "This indomitable persistency, this faculty
of preserving through centuries of misery the remembrance of lost
liberty and of never despairing of a cause always defeated, always
fatal to those who dared to defend it, is perhaps the strangest and
noblest example ever given by any nation."
The resources Ireland opposed to her invaders have been unequal to
the founding of a great state, but have preserved a great tradition.
The weakness of Ireland lay in the absence of a central organization,
a state machine that could mobilize the national resources to defend
the national life. That life had to depend for its existence, under
the stress of prolonged invasion, on the spontaneous patriotism and
courage of individuals. At times one clan alone, or two clans,
maintained the struggle. Arrayed against them were all the resources
of a mighty realm--shipping, arms, munitions of war, gold,
statecraft, a widespread and calculating diplomacy, the prestige of a
great Sovereign and a famous Court--and the Irish clan and its
chieftain, by the sheer courage of its members, by their bodily
strength and hardihood and feats of daring, for years kept the issue
When Hugh O'Neill, leagued with Red Hugh O'Donnell, challenged the
might of Elizabeth, he had nothing to rely upon but the stout hearts
and arms of the men of Tir-owen and Tir-Conail. Arms and armaments
were far from Ulster. They could be procured only in Spain or
elsewhere on the continent. English shipping held the sea; the
English mint the coinage. The purse of England, compared to that of
the Ulster princes, was inexhaustible. Yet for nine years the
courage, the chivalry, the daring and skill of these northern
clansmen, perhaps 20,000 men in all, held all the might of England at
bay. Had the Spanish king at any time during the contest made good
his promise to lend effective aid to the Irish princes, O'Neill would
have driven Elizabeth from Ireland, and a sovereign State would today
be the guardian of the freedom of the western seas for Europe and the
world. It took "the best army in Europe" and a vast treasure, as Sir
John Davies asserted, to conquer two Ulster clans three hundred years
ago. The naked valor of the Irishman excelled the armed might of
Tudor England; and the struggle that gave the empire of the seas to
Britain was won not in the essay of battle, but in the assay of the
It is this aspect of the Irish fight for freedom that dignifies an
otherwise lost cause. Ever defeated, yet undefeated, a
long-remembering race believes that these native qualities must in
the end prevail. The battle has been from the first one of manhood
against might. The State Papers, the official record of English rule
in Ireland, leave us rarely in doubt. We read in that record that,
where the appeal was to the strength or courage of the opposing men,
the Irish had nothing to fear from English arms.
Thus the Earl of Essex, in a despatch to Elizabeth, explained the
failure of his great expedition in 1599 against O'Neill and
O'Donnell. "These rebels ... have (though I do unwillingly confess
it) better bodies and perfecter use of their arms than those men whom
your Majesty sends over." The flight of the Earls in 1607 left
Ireland leaderless, with nothing but the bodies and hearts of the
people to depend on. In 1613 we read, in the same records, a candid
admission that, although the clan system had been destroyed and the
great chiefs expropriated, converted, or driven to flight, the people
still trusted to their own stout arms and fearless hearts:
"The next rebellion, whenever it shall happen, doth threaten more
danger to the State than any heretofore, when the cities and walled
towns were always faithful; (1) because they have the same bodies
they ever had and therein they had and have advantage of us; (2) from
infancy they have been and are exercised in the use of arms; (3) the
realm by reason of the long peace was never so full of youths; (4)
that they are better soldiers than heretofore their continental
employment in wars abroad assures us, and they do conceive that their
men are better than ours."
And when that "next rebellion" came, the great uprising of the
outraged race in 1641, what do we find? Back from the continent sails
the nephew of the great O'Neill, who had left Ireland a little boy in
the flight of the Earls, and the dispossessed clansmen, robbed of all
but their strength of body and heart, gathered to the summons of Owen
Again it was the same issue: the courage and hardihood of the
Irishman to set against the superior arms, equipment, and wealth of a
united Britain. Irish valor won the battle; a great state
organization won the campaign. England and Scotland combined to lay
low a resurgent Ireland; and again the victory was not to the brave
and skilled, but to the longer purse and the implacable mind. Perhaps
the most vivid testimony to these innate qualities of the Irishman is
to be found in a typically Irish challenge issued in the course of
this ten years' war from 1641 to 1651. The document has a lasting
interest, for it displays not only the "better body" of the Irishman,
but something of his better heart and chivalry of soul.
One Parsons, an English settler in Ireland, had written to a friend
to say, among other things, that the head of a colonel of an Irish
regiment then in the field against the English would not be allowed
to stick long on its shoulders. The letter was intercepted by the
very regiment itself, and a captain in it, Felim O'Molloy, wrote back
"I will doe this, if you please. I will pick out 60 men and fight
against 100 of your choise men, if you do but pitch your campe one
mile out of your towne, and then, if you have the victory, you may
threaten my colonel; otherwise do not reckon your chickens before
they be hatched."
It was this same spirit of daring, this innate belief in his own
manhood, that for three hundred years made every Irishman the
custodian of his country's honor.
An Irish state had not been born; that battle had still to be fought;
but the romantic effort to achieve it reveals ever an unstained
record of personal courage. Freedom has not come to Ireland; it has
been "warred down and kept out of sight"; but it has been kept in the
Irish heart, from Brian Boru to Robert Emmet, by a long tale of blood
shed always in the same cause. Freedom is kept alive in man's blood
only by the shedding of that blood. It was this they were seeking,
those splendid "scorners of death", the lads and young men of Mayo,
who awaited with a fearless joy the advance of the English army fresh
from the defeat of Humbert in 1798. Then, if ever, Irishmen might
have run from a victorious and pitiless enemy, who having captured
the French general and murdered, in cold blood, the hundreds of
Killala peasants who were with his colors, were now come to Killala
itself to wreak vengeance on the last stronghold of Irish rebellion.
The ill-led and half-armed peasants, the last Irishmen in Ireland to
stand in open, pitched fight for their country's freedom, went to
meet the army of General Lake, as the Protestant bishop who saw them
says, "running upon death with as little appearance of reflection or
concern as if they were hastening to a show."
The influences that begot this reverence for freedom lie in the
island itself no less than in the remote ancestry of the people.
Whoever looks upon Ireland cannot conceive it as the parent of any
but freemen. Climate and soil here unite to tell man that
brotherhood, and not domination, constitutes the only nobility for
those who call this fair shore their motherland. The Irish struggle
for liberty owes as much, perhaps, to the continuing influence of the
same lakes and rivers and the same mountains as to the survival of
any political fragments of the past. Irish history is inseparably the
history of the land, rather than of a race; and in this it offers us
a spectacle of a continuing national unity that long-continuing
disaster has not been able wholly to efface or wholly to disrupt.
To discover the Europe that existed before Rome we must turn to the
East, Greece, and to the West, Ireland.
Ireland alone among western lands preserves the recorded tradition,
the native history, the continuity of mind, and, until yesterday, of
speech and song, that connect the half of Europe with its ancestral
past. For early Europe was very largely Celtic Europe, and nowhere
can we trace the continuous influence of Celtic culture and idealism,
coming down to us from a remote past, save in Ireland only.
To understand the intellect of pre-Roman Gaul, of Spain, of Portugal,
and largely of Germany, and even of Italy, we must go to Ireland.
Whoever visits Spain or Portugal, to investigate the past of those
countries, will find that the record stops where Rome began. Take
England in further illustration. The first record the inhabitants of
England have of the past of their island comes from Roman invasion.
They know of Boadicea, of Cassivelaunus, the earliest figures in
their history, from what a foreign destroyer tells them in an alien
All the early life of Celtiberians and Lusitanians has passed away
from the record of human endeavor, save only where we find it
recorded by the Italian invaders in their own speech, and in such
terms as imperial exploitation ever prescribes for its own
advancement and the belittlement of those it assails. Ireland alone
among all western nations knows her own past, from the very dawn of
history and before the romance of Romulus began, down to the present
day, in the tongue of her own island people and in the light of her
own native mind. Early Irish history is not the record of the
clan-strivings of a petty and remote population, far from the centre
of civilization. It is the authentic story of all western
civilization before the warm solvent of Mediterranean blood and iron
melted and moulded it into another and rigid shape.
The Irishman called O'Neill, O'Brien, O'Donnell, steps out of a past
well-nigh co-eval with the heroisms and tragedies that uplifted
Greece and laid Troy in ashes, and swept the Mediterranean with an
Odyssey of romance that still gives its name to each chief island,
cape, and promontory of the mother sea of Europe. Ireland, too, steps
out of a story just as old. Well nigh every hill or mountain, every
lake or river, bears the name today it bore a thousand, two thousand,
years ago, and one recording some dramatic human or semi-divine
The songs of the Munster and Connacht poets of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries gave to every cottage in the land the ownership
as well as the tale of an heroic ancestry. They linked the Ireland of
yesterday with the Ireland of Finn and Oscar, of Diarmid and Grainne,
of Deirdre and the Sons of Usnech, of Cuchulainn the Hound of Ulster.
A people bred on such soul-stirring tales as these, linked by a
language "the most expressive of any spoken on earth" in thought and
verse and song with the very dawn of their history, wherein there
moved, as familiar figures, men with the attributes of gods--great in
battle, grand in danger, strong in loving, vehement in death--such a
people could never be vulgar, could never be mean, but must repeat,
in their own time and in their own manhood, actions and efforts thus
ascribed as a vital part of their very origin. Hence the inspiration
that gave the name of Fenian, in the late nineteenth century, to a
band of men who sought to achieve by arms the freedom of Ireland. The
law of the Fenian of the days of Marcus Aurelius was the law of the
Fenian in the reign of Victoria--to give all--mind, body, and
strength of purpose--to the defense of his country, "to speak truth
and harbor no greed in his heart."
Some there are who may deny to Finn and his Fenians of the second and
third centuries corporeal existence; yet nothing is surer than that
Ireland claims these ancestral embodiments of an heroic tradition by
a far surer title of native record than gives to the Germans
Arminius, to the Gauls, Ariovistus, to the British, Caractacus. This
conception of a national life, one with the land itself, was very
clear to the ancient Irish, just as it has been and is the foundation
of all later national effort.
"If ever the idea of nationality becomes the subject of a thorough
and honest study, it will be seen that among all the peoples of
antiquity, not excluding the Hellenes and the Hebrews, the Irish held
the clearest and most conscious and constant grasp of that idea; and
that their political divisions, instead of disproving the existence
of the idea, in their case intensely strengthen the proof of its
existence and emphasize its power.
In the same way the remarkable absence of insular exclusiveness,
notwithstanding their geographical position, serves to bring their
sense of nationality into higher relief.
Though pride of race is evident in the dominant Gaelic stock, their
national sentiment centres not in the race, but altogether in the
country, which is constantly personified and made the object of a
sort of cult.
It is worth noting that just as the Brehon Laws are the laws of
Ireland without distinction of province or district; as the language
of Irish literature is the language of Ireland without distinction of
dialects; as the Dindshenchus contains the topographical legends of
all parts of Ireland, and the Festilogies commemorate the saints of
all Ireland; so the Irish chronicles from first to last are histories
of the Irish nation. The true view of the Book of Invasions is that
it is the epic of Irish Nationality." (Professor Eoin MacNeill, in a
letter to Mrs. A.S. Green, January, 1914.)
The "Book of Invasions", which Professor MacNeill here speaks of, was
compiled a thousand years ago. To write the history of later Ireland
is merely to prolong the "Book of Invasions", and thus bring the epic
of Irish resistance down to our own day. All Irish valor and
chivalry, whether of soul or of body, have been directed for a
thousand years to this same end. It was for this that Sarsfield died
at Landen no less than Brian at Clontarf. The monarch of Ireland at
the head of a great Irish army driving back the leagued invaders from
the shores of Dublin Bay in 1014, and the exiled leader in 1693,
heading the charge that routed King William's cause in the
Netherlands, fell on one and the same battlefield. They fought
against the invader of Ireland.
We are proudly told that the sun never sets on the British Empire.
Wherever an Irishman has fought in the name of Ireland it has not
been to acquire fortune, land, or fame, but to give all, even life
itself, not to found an empire, but to strike a blow for an ancient
land and assert the cause of a swordless people. Wherever Irishmen
have gone, in exile or in fight, they have carried this image of
Ireland with them. The cause of Ireland has found a hundred fields of
foreign fame, where the dying Irishman might murmur with Sarsfield,
"Would that this blood were shed for Ireland", and history records
the sacrifice as made in no other cause.
Ireland, too, owns an empire on which the sun never sets.
Sigerson: Bards of the Gael and Gall; O'Callaghan: History of the
Irish Brigades; Mitchel: Life of Hugh O'Neill; Green: The Making of
Ireland and its Undoing, Irish Nationality, The Old Irish World;
Taylor: Life of Owen Roe O'Neill; Todhunter: Life of Patrick
Sarsfield; Hyde: Love Songs of Connacht, Religious Songs of Connacht;
O'Grady: Bog of Stars, Flight of the Eagle; Ferguson: Hibernian
Nights' Entertainment; Mitchel: History of Ireland, in continuation
of MacGeoghegan's History.
THE ISLAND OF SAINTS AND SCHOLARS
By CANON D'ALTON, M.R.I.A., LL.D.
Unlike the natives of Britain and Scotland, the Irish in
pre-Christian times were not brought into contact with Roman
institutions or Roman culture. In consequence they created and
developed a civilization of their own that was in some respects
without equal. They were far advanced in the knowledge of metal-work
and shipbuilding; they engaged in commerce; they loved music and had
an acquaintance with letters; and when disputes arose among them,
these were settled in duly constituted courts of justice, presided
over by a trained lawyer, called a brehon, instead of being settled
by the stern arbitrament of force. Druidism was their pagan creed.
They believed in the immortality and in the transmigration of souls;
they worshipped the sun and moon, and they venerated mountains,
rivers, and wells; and it would be difficult to find any ministers of
religion who were held in greater awe than the Druids.
Commerce and war brought the Irish into contact with Britain and the
continent, and thus was Christianity gradually introduced into the
island. Though its progress at first was not rapid, there were, by
431, several Christian churches in existence, and in that year
Palladius, a Briton and a bishop, was sent by Pope Celestine to the
Irish who already believed in Christ. Discouraged and a failure,
Palladius returned to Britain after a brief stay on his mission, and
then, in 432, the same Pope sent St. Patrick, who became the Apostle
Because of the great work he did, St. Patrick is one of the prominent
figures of history; and yet, to such an extent has the dust of time
settled down on his life and acts that the place and year of his
birth, the schools in which he was educated, and the year of his
death, are all matters of dispute. There is, however, no good reason
to depart from the traditional account, which is, that the Apostle
was born at Dumbarton in Scotland, in the year 372; that in 388 he
was captured by the Irish king Niall, who had gone on a plundering
raid into Scotland; that he was brought to Ireland and sold as a
slave, and that as such he served a pagan chief named Milcho who
lived in what is now the county of Antrim; that from Antrim he
escaped and went back to his own country; that he had many visions
urging him to return to Ireland and preach the Gospel there; that,
believing these were from God, he went to France, and there was
educated and ordained priest, and later consecrated bishop; and then,
accompanied by several ecclesiastics, he was sent to Ireland.
From Wicklow, where he landed, he proceeded north and endeavored, but
in vain, to convert his old pagan master Milcho; thence he proceeded
south by Downpatrick and Dundalk to Slane in Meath, where, in sight
of Tara, the high-king's seat, he lighted the paschal fire. At Tara
he confounded the Druids in argument, baptized the high-king and the
chief poet; and then, turning north and west, he crossed the Shannon
into Connacht, where he spent seven years. From Connacht he passed
into Donegal, and thence through Tyrone and Antrim, after which he
entered Munster, and remained there seven years. Finally, he returned
to Armagh, which he made his episcopal see, and died at Saul, near
Downpatrick, in 493.
St. Patrick wrote two short works, both of which have survived, his
_Confession_ and his _Epistle to Coroticus_. In neither are there any
graces of style, and the Latin is certainly not that of Cicero or
Livy. But in the _Confession_ the character of the author himself is
completely revealed--his piety, his zeal, his self-sacrifice, his
courage in face of every danger and every trial. Not less remarkable
was the skill with which he handled men and used pagan institutions
for the purposes of Christianity; and equally so was the success with
which his bloodless apostolate was crowned.
One great difficulty which St. Patrick had was to provide the people
with a native ministry. At first he selected the chief men--princes,
brehons, bards--and these, with little training and little education,
he ordained. Thus, slenderly equipped with knowledge, the priest,
with his ritual, missal, and a catechism, and the bishop, with his
crozier and bell, went forth to do battle for the Lord. This
condition of things was soon ended. In 450 a college was founded at
Armagh, which in a short time grew to be a famous school, and
attracted students from afar. Other schools were founded in the fifth
century, at Noendrum, Louth, and Kildare. In the sixth century arose
the famous monastic schools of Clonfert, Clonard, Clonmacnois, Arran,
and Bangor; while the seventh century saw the rise of Glendalough and
St. Patrick was educated in Gaul, at the monasteries of Marmoutier
and Lerins; and, perhaps as a result, the monastic character of the
early Irish church was one of its outstanding features; moreover it
was to the prevalence of the monastic spirit, the desire for solitude
and meditation, that so many of the great monastic establishments
owed their existence. Fleeing from society and its attractions, and
wishing only for solitude and austerity, some holy man sought out a
lonely retreat, and there lived a life of mortification and prayer.
Others came to share his poverty and vigils; a grant of land was then
obtained from the ruling chief, the holy man became abbot and his
followers his monks; and a religious community was formed destined
soon to acquire fame. It was thus that St. Finnian established
Clonard on the banks of the Boyne, and St. Kieran, Clonmacnois by the
waters of the Shannon; and thus did St. Enda make the wind-swept
Isles of Arran the home and the resting place of so many saints.
Before the close of the sixth century, 3,000 monks followed the rule
of St. Corngall at Bangor; and in the seventh century, St. Carthage
made Lismore famous and St. Kevin attracted pious men from afar to
his lonely retreat in the picturesque valley of Glendalough.
And there were holy women as well as holy men in Ireland. St. Brigid
was held in such honor that she is often called the Mary of the Gael.
Even in St. Patrick's day, she had founded a convent at Kildare,
beside which was a monastery of which St. Conleth was superior; and
she founded many other convents in addition to that at Kildare. Her
example was followed by St. Ita, St. Fanchea, and many others; and if
at the close of the sixth century there were few districts which had
not monasteries and monks, there were few also which had not convents
Nor was this all. Fired with missionary zeal, many men left Ireland
to plant the faith in distant lands. Thus did St. Columcille settle
in Iona, whence he converted the Picts. Under his successors, St.
Aidan and his friends went south to Lindisfarne to convert
Northumbria in England; and the ninth abbot of Iona was the saintly
Adamnan, whose biography of St. Columcille has been declared by
competent authority to be the best of its kind of which the whole
Middle Ages can boast. Nor must it be forgotten that the monasteries
of Luxeuil and Bobbio owed their origin to St. Columbanus; that St.
Gall gave his name to a town and canton in Switzerland; that St.
Fridolin labored on the Rhine and St. Fursey on the Marne; and that
St. Cathaldus was Bishop of Tarentum, and is still venerated as the
patron of that Italian see.
And if we would know what was the character of the schools in which
these men were trained, we have only to remember that Colgu, who had
been educated at Clonmacnois, was the master of Alcuin; that Dicuil
the Geographer came from the same school; that Cummian, Abbot and
Bishop of Clonfert, combated the errors about the paschal computation
with an extent of learning and a wealth of knowledge amazing in a
monk of the seventh century; and that at the close of the eighth
century two Irishmen went to the court of Charlemagne and were
described by a monk of St. Gall as "men incomparably skilled in human
learning". The once pagan Ireland had by that time become a citadel
of Christianity, and was rightfully called the School of the West,
the Island of Saints and Scholars.
With this state of progress and prosperity the Danes played sad
havoc. Animated with the fiercest pagan fanaticism, they turned with
fury against Christianity, and especially against monks and religious
foundations. Armagh, Clonmacnois, Bangor, Kildare, and many other
great monastic establishments thus fell before their fury. Ignorance,
neglect of religion, and corruption of manners followed, and from the
eighth to the twelfth century there was a noted falling off in the
number of Irish scholars. At home indeed were Cormac and Maelmurra,
O'Hartigan and O'Flynn, and abroad was John Scotus Erigena, whose
learning was so great that it excited astonishment even at Rome. The
love of learning and zeal for religion lived on through this long
period of accumulated disasters. After the triumph of Brian Boru at
Clontarf, there was a distinct revival of piety and learning; and,
when a century of turmoil followed Brian's fall and religion again
suffered, nothing was wanted to bring the people back to a sense of
their duty but the energy and reforming zeal of St. Malachy.
Gerald Barry, the notorious Anglo-Norman, who visited Ireland towards
the close of the twelfth century, has been convicted out of his own
mouth when he states that Ireland was a barbarous nation when his
people came there. He forgot that a people who could illuminate the
Book of Kells and build Cormac's Chapel could not be called savages,
nor could a church be lost to a sense of decency and dignity that
numbered among its children such a man as St. Laurence O'Toole.
Abuses there were, it is true, consequent on long continued war,
though these abuses were increased rather than lessened by the coming
of the Anglo-Normans, and to such an extent that for more than two
centuries there is not a single great name among Irish scholars
except Duns Scotus.
The fame of Duns Scotus was European, and the Subtle Doctor, as he
was called, became the great glory of the Franciscan, as his rival
St. Thomas was the great glory of the Dominican, order. But he left
no successor, and from his death, at the opening of the fourteenth
century, till the seventeenth century the number of Irish scholars or
recognized Irish saints was small. Yet, in the midst of disorders
within, and despite oppression from without, at no time did the love
of learning disappear in Ireland; nor was there ever in the Irish
church either heresy or schism.
The attempted reformation by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth
produced martyrs like O'Hurley and O'Hely; and there were many more
martyrs in the time of the Stuarts, and especially under the short
but sanguinary rule of Cromwell.
Those were the days of the penal laws, when they who clung to the old
religion suffered much. But nothing could shake their faith; neither
the proclamations of Elizabeth and James, the massacres of Cromwell,
nor the ferocious proscriptions of the eighteenth century. The priest
said Mass, though his crime was punishable by death, and the people
heard Mass, though theirs also was a criminal offence; and the
schoolmaster, driven from the school, taught under a sheltering
hedge. The clerical student, denied education at home, crossed the
sea, to be educated at Louvain or Salamanca or Seville, and then,
perhaps loaded with academic honors, he returned home to face poverty
and persecution and even death. The Catholic masses, socially
ostracised, degraded, and impoverished, shut out from every avenue to
ambition or enterprise, deprived of every civil right, knowing
nothing of law except when it oppressed them and nothing of
government except when it struck them down, yet clung to the religion
in which they were born. And when, in the latter half of the
eighteenth century, the tide turned and the first dawn of toleration
appeared on the horizon, it was found that the vast majority of the
people were unchanged, and that, after two centuries of the most
relentless persecution since the days of Diocletian, Ireland was, in
faith and practice, a strongly Catholic nation still.
On a soil constantly wet with the blood and tears of its children, it
would be vain to expect that scholarship could flourish. And yet the
period had its distinguished Irish scholars both at home and abroad.
At Louvain, in the sixteenth century, were Lombard and Creagh, who
both became Archbishops of Armagh, and O'Hurley who became Archbishop
of Cashel. An even greater scholar than these was Luke Wadding, the
eminent Franciscan who founded the convent of St. Isidore at Rome. At
Louvain was John Colgan, a Franciscan like Wadding, a man who did
much for Irish ecclesiastical history. And at home in Ireland, as
parish priest of Tybrid in Tipperary, was the celebrated Dr. Geoffrey
Keating the historian, once a student at Salamanca. John Lynch, the
renowned opponent of Gerald Barry the Welshman, was Archdeacon of
Tuam. And in the ruined Franciscan monastery of Donegal, the Four
Masters, aided and encouraged by the Friars, labored long and
patiently, and finally completed the work which we all know as the
_Annals of the Four Masters_. This work, originally written in Irish,
remained in manuscript in Louvain till the middle of the nineteenth
century, when it was edited and translated into English by John
O'Donovan, one of Ireland's greatest Irish scholars, with an ability
and completeness quite worthy of the original.
On the Anglo-Irish side there were also some great names, and
especially in the domain of history, notably Stanyhurst and Hammer,
Moryson and Campion and Davies, and, above all, Ussher and Ware.
James Ware died in 1666, and though a Protestant and an official of
the Protestant government, and living in Ireland in an intolerant age
and in an atmosphere charged with religious rancor, he was, to his
credit be it said, to a large extent free from bigotry. He dealt with
history and antiquities, and wrote in no party spirit, wishing only
to be fair and impartial, and to set out the truth as he found it.
James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, was a much abler man and a much
greater scholar than Ware. His capacity for research, his profound
scholarship, the variety and extent of his learning raised him far
above his co-religionists, and he has been rightly called the Great
Luminary by the Irish Protestant church. It is regrettable that his
fine intellect was darkened by bigotry and intolerance.
Far different was the character of another Protestant bishop, the
great Berkeley, of Cloyne, a patriot, a philosopher, and a scholar,
who afterwards left money and books for a scholarship, which is still
in existence, at the then infant Yale College in New England. He
lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, when the whole
machinery of government was ruthlessly used to crush the Catholics.
But Berkeley had little sympathy with the penal laws; he had words of
kindness for the Catholics, and undoubtedly wished them well. Nor
must Swift be forgotten, for though he took little pride in being an
Irishman, he hated and despised those who oppressed Ireland, and is
rightly regarded as one of the greatest of her sons.
The short period during which Grattan's parliament existed was one of
great prosperity. It was then that Maynooth College was established
for the education of the Irish priesthood. But Catholics, though free
to set up schools, were still shut out from the honors and emoluments
of Trinity College, the one university at that time in Ireland.
Still, Charles O'Connor, MacGeoghegan, and O'Flaherty were great
Catholic scholars in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
In the following century, while Protestant ascendancy was still
maintained, the Catholics had greater scope. Away back in the days of
Queen Elizabeth, Campion found Latin widely spoken among the
peasantry, and Father Mooney met country lads familiar with Virgil
and Homer. In 1670, Petty had a similar story to tell, in spite of
all the savageries of Cromwell and the ruin which necessarily
followed. And in the eighteenth century the schoolmaster, though a
price was set on his head, was still active. With an inherited love
of learning, the Irish in the nineteenth century would have made
rapid progress had they been rich. But their impoverishment by the
penal laws made it impossible for them to set up an effective system
of primary education, and until the national school system came into
existence in 1831, they had to rely on the hedge-schools. Secondary
education fared better, for the bishops, relying with confidence on
the generosity of their flocks, were soon able to establish diocesan
colleges. And in higher education, equally determined efforts were
made by the establishment of the Catholic University under Cardinal
Newman. But in this field of intellectual effort, in spite of the
energy and zeal of the bishops, in spite of the great generosity of
the people, so many of whom were poor, and in spite of the fame of
Newman, it is failure rather than success which the historian has to
Nor has the love of the Irish for religion, any more than their love
of learning, been lessened or enfeebled by time. The mountain side as
the place for Mass in the penal days gradually gave way to the rude
stone church without steeple or bell; and when steeple and bell
ceased to be proscribed, and the people were left free to erect
suitable houses of sacrifice and prayer, the fine churches of the
nineteenth century began gradually to appear. The unfettered exercise
of freedom of religious worship, the untiring efforts of a zealous
clergy and episcopate, the unstinted support of a people, who out of
their poverty grudged nothing to God or to God's house, formed an
irresistible combination, and all over the country beautiful churches
are now to be found.
In every diocese in Ireland, with scarcely an exception, there is now
a stately cathedral to perpetuate the renown of the patron saint of
that diocese, and even parish churches have been built not unworthy
to be the churches of an ancient see. At Armagh, a cathedral has been
built which does honor to Irish architecture, and worthily
commemorates the life and labors of St. Patrick, the founder of the
primatial see; at Thurles, a cathedral stands, the chief church of
the southern province, statelier far than any which ever stood on the
Rock of Cashel; at Tuam, a noble building, associated with the memory
of John MacHale, the Lion of the Fold of Judah, perpetuates the name
of St. Jarlath; at Queenstown, the traveller, going to America or
returning from it to the old land, has his attention attracted to the
splendid cathedral pile sacred to St. Colman, the patron saint of the
diocese of Cloyne; and if we would see how splendid even a parish
church may be, let us visit the beautiful church in Drogheda,
dedicated to the memory of Oliver Plunkett.
Nor are these things the only evidence we have that zeal for religion
among the Irish has survived centuries of persecution. Columbanus and
Columcille have still their successors, eager and ready as they were
to bring the blessings of the Gospel to distant lands. In recent
years an Irish-born Archbishop of Sydney has been succeeded by an
Irish-born Archbishop; an Irishman rules the metropolitan see of
Adelaide; and an Irish-born Archbishop of Melbourne has as his
coadjutor a former president of the College of Maynooth. In South
Africa, the work of preaching and teaching and ruling the church is
largely the work of Irish-born men. In the great Republic of the West
the three cardinal-archbishops at the head of the Catholic Church
have the distinctively Irish names of Gibbons and Farley and
O'Connell; and in every diocese throughout the United States the
proportion of priests of Irish birth or descent is large.
Nor must the poorer Irish be forgotten. How much does the Catholic
Church, both in Ireland and in America, owe to the generosity of
Irish-American laborers and servant girls! Out of their scanty and
hard-earned pay they have contributed much not only towards the
building of the plain wooden church in the rural parishes, but also
of the stately cathedrals of American cities. And many a church in
old Ireland owes its completion and its adornment to the dollars
given by the poor but generous Irish exiles.
And if the zeal of the Irish for religion has thus survived to the
twentieth century, so also in an equally remarkable degree has their
zeal for learning. We have evidence of this in the numerous primary
schools in every parish, filled with eager pupils and presided over
by hard working teachers; in the colleges where the sciences and the
classics are studied with the same energy as in the ancient monastic
schools; and in Maynooth College, which is the foremost
ecclesiastical college in the world. And if there are now new
universities, the National and the Queen's, sturdy and vigorous in
their youth, this does not imply that Trinity College suffers from
the decreptitude of age. For among those whom she sent forth in
recent times are Dowden and Mahaffy and Lecky, to name but three, and
these would do credit to any university in Europe.
It would be difficult to find in any age of Irish history a greater
pulpit orator than the famous Dominican, Father Tom Burke, or a more
delightful essayist than Father Joseph Farrell; and who has depicted
Irish clerical life more faithfully than the late Canon Sheehan,
whose fame as a novelist has crossed continents and oceans? O'Connell
was a great orator as well as a great political leader, and Dr. Doyle
and Archbishop John MacHale were scholars as well as statesmen and
bishops. We have thus an unbroken chain of great names, a series of
Irishmen whom the succeeding ages have brought forth to enlighten and
instruct lesser men; and Ireland, in the twentieth century, is not
less attached to religion and learning than she was when Clonmacnois
flourished and the saintly Carthage ruled at Lismore.
Joyce: Social History of Ancient Ireland (Dublin, 1903); Lanigan:
Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1822); Healy: Ireland's
Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1896), Life and Writings of St.
Patrick (Dublin, 1905); Bury: St. Patrick and his Place in History
(London, 1905); Ussher's Works (Dublin, 1847); Reeves: Adamnan's Life
of St. Columba (Dublin, 1851); Worsae: The Danes in Ireland (London,
1852); Moran: Essays on the Early Irish Church (Dublin, 1864);
Stokes: Ireland and the Anglo-Norman Church (London, 1897); Mant:
History of the Church of Ireland (London, 1841); Bagwell: Ireland
under the Tudors (London, 1885-90); Moran: Persecutions under the
Puritans (Callan, 1903); Murphy: Our Martyrs (Dublin, 1896); Meehan:
Franciscan Monasteries of the Seventeenth Century (Dublin, 1870);
Lecky: History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1902);
O'Connell's Correspondence (London, 1888); Wyse: History of the
Catholic Association (London, 1829); Doyle: Letters on the State of
Ireland (Dublin, 1826); O'Rorke: Irish Famine (Dublin, 1902); Gavan
Duffy: Young Ireland (London, 1880); Plunkett: Ireland in the New
Century (London, 1904); O'Riordan: Catholicity and Progress in
Ireland (London, 1905); MacCaffery: History of the Church in the
Nineteenth Century (Dublin, 1909); Healy: Centenary History of
Maynooth College (Dublin, 1905); D'Alton: History of Ireland (London,
IRISH MONKS IN EUROPE
By Rev. Columba Edmonds, O.S.B.
St. Patrick's work in Ireland was chiefly concerned with preaching
the faith and establishing monasteries which served as centres of
education. The great success that attended these efforts earned for
Ireland the double title of Island of Saints and a Second Thebaid.
The monastic institutions organized by St. Patrick were characterized
from their commencement by an apostolic zeal that knew no bounds.
Sufficient scope was not to be found at home, so it was impatient to
diffuse itself abroad.
SCOTLAND: Hence in the year 563 St. Columcille, a Donegal native of
royal descent, accompanied by twelve companions, crossed the sea in
currachs of wickerwork and hides, and sought to land in Caledonia.
They reached the desolate Isle of Iona on the day preceding
Many years before, colonies of Irishmen had settled along the western
parts of the present Scotland. The settlement north of the Clyde
received the name of the Kingdom of Dalriada. These Dalriadan Irish
were Christian at least in name, but their neighbors in the Pictish
Highlands were still pagans. Columcille's apostolate was to be among
both these peoples. Adamnan says that Columcille came to Caledonia
"for the love of Christ's name", and well did his after-life prove
the truth of this statement. He had attained his forty-fourth year
when King Conall, his kinsman, bestowed Iona upon him and his
brethren. The island, situated between the Dalriadans and the Picts
of the Highlands, was conveniently placed for missionary work. A
numerous community recruited from Ireland, with Columcille as its
Abbot, soon caused Iona to become a flourishing centre from which men
could go forth to preach Christianity. Monasteries and hermitages
rapidly sprang up in the adjacent islands and on the mainland. These,
together with the Columban foundations in Ireland, formed one great
religious federation, in which the Celtic apostles of the northern
races were formed under the influence of the holy founder.
St. Columcille recognized the need of securing permanence for his
work by obtaining the conversion of the Pictish rulers, and thus he
did not hesitate to approach King Brude in his castle on the banks of
the River Ness. St. Comgall and St. Canice were Columcille's
companions on his journey through the great glen, now famous for the
Caledonian Canal. The royal convert Brude was baptized, and by
degrees the people followed the example set them. Opposition,
however, was keen and aggressive, and it came from the official
representatives of Pictish paganism--the Druids.
Success, too, attended Columcille's ministrations among the
Dalriadans, and on the death of their king, Aidan Gabhran, who
succeeded to the throne, sought regal consecration from the hands of
Columcille. In 597 the saint died, but not before he had won a whole
kingdom to Christ and covered the land with churches and monasteries.
Today his name is held in honor not by Irishmen alone, but by the
Catholics and non-Catholics of the land of his adoption.
There are other saints who either labored in person with Columcille
or perpetuated the work he accomplished in Caledonia; and their names
add to the glory of Ireland, their birth-land. Thus St. Moluag (592)
converted the people of Lismore, and afterwards died at Rosemarkie;
St. Drostan, St. Columcille's friend and disciple, established the
faith in Aberdeenshire and became abbot of Deer; St. Kieran (548)
evangelized Kintyre; St. Mun (635) labored in Argyleshire; St. Buite
(521) did the same in Pictland; St. Maelrubha (722) preached in
Ross-shire; St. Modan and St. Machar benefited the dwellers on the
western and eastern coasts respectively; and St. Fergus in the eighth
century became apostle of Forfar, Buchan, and Caithness.
DISTANT ISLANDS: But Irish monks were mariners as well as apostles.
Their hide-covered currachs were often launched in the hope of
discovering solitudes in the ocean. Adamnan records that Baitan set
out with others in search of a desert in the sea. St. Cormac sought a
similar retreat and arrived at the Orkneys. St. Molaise's holy isle
guards Lamlash Bay, off Arran. The island retreats of the Bass,
Inchkeith, May, and Inchcolm, in the Firth of Forth, are associated
with the Irish saints Baldred, Adamnan, Adrian, and Columcille. St.
Maccaldus, a native of Down, became bishop of the Isle of Man.
Remarkable, too, is the fact that Irish monks sailed by way of the
Faroe Islands to distant Iceland. These sailor-clerics, who settled
on the southeast of the island, were spoken of by later Norwegians as
"papar." After their departure--they were probably driven away by
Norwegian pagans--these Icelandic apostles "left behind them Irish
books, bells, and croziers, wherefrom one could understand they were
But St. Brendan, the voyager, is the most wonderful of the mariner
monks of Ireland. He accomplished apostolic work in both Wales and
Scotland, but his seafaring instincts urged him to make missionary
voyages to regions hitherto unknown. Some writers, not without
reason, have actually maintained that he and his followers traveled
as far as the American shore. Be this as it may, the tradition of the
discoveries of this Irish monk kept in mind the possibly existing
western land, and issued at last in the discovery of the great
continent of America by Columbus.
NORTHUMBRIA: Turn now to Northumbria. Adamnan writes that St.
Columcille's name was honored not only in Gaul, Spain, and Italy, but
in Rome itself. England, however, owes to it a special veneration,
because of the widespread apostolic work accomplished within her
borders by Columcille's Irish disciples. The facts are as follows:
Northumbrian Christianity was well-nigh exterminated through the
victory of Penda the pagan over Edwin the Christian, A.D. 633. St.
Paulinus, its local Roman apostle, was driven permanently from his
newly founded churches. Meanwhile Oswald and his brother Edwith
sought refuge among the Irish monks of lona, and received baptism at
their hands. Edwith died and Oswald became heir to the throne. A
battle was fought. The day before he met the pagan army, between the
Tyne and the Solway, Oswald beheld St. Columcille in vision saying to
him: "Be strong and of good faith; I will be with thee." The result
of this vision of the abbot of Iona was that a considerable part of
England received the true faith. Oswald was victorious; he united the
kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia, and became overlord of practically
all England, with the exception of Kent. There was evangelization to
be done, and St. Oswald turned to Iona. In response to his appeal,
the Irish bishop, St. Aidan, was sent with several companions. They
were established on the island of Lindisfarne, in sight of the royal
residence at Bamborough. These monks labored in union with, and even
seemed to exceed in zeal, the Roman missionaries in the south under
St. Augustine. However great the enthusiasm they had displayed for
conversions in Iona, they displayed still greater on the desolate
isle of Lindisfarne. In the first instance St. Aidan and his monks
evangelized Northumbria. Want of facility in preaching in the
Anglo-Saxon tongue was at first an obstacle, but it was speedily
overcome, for king Oswald himself, who knew both Gaelic and English,
came forward and acted as interpreter.
When St. Aidan died in 651, Iona sent St. Finan, another Irish
bishop, to succeed him. Finan spread the faith beyond the borders of
Northumbria and succeeded so well that he himself baptized Penda,
king of the Mid-Angles, and Sigebert, king of the East Saxons. Diuma
and Cellach, Irish monks, assisted by three Anglo-Saxon disciples of
St. Aidan, consolidated the mission to the Mercians.
ANGLIA: While Christianity was thus being restored in Northumbria,
other Irish apostles were teaching it in East Anglia. St. Fursey,
accompanied by his brother St. Foillan and St. Ultan and the priests
Gobham and Dicuil, landed in England in 633, and began to labor in
the eastern portions of Anglia. In his monastery at Burghcastle, in
Suffolk, the convert king Sigebert made his monastic profession, and
in the same house many heavenly visions were vouchsafed to its
The South Saxons had in Dicuil an apostle who founded the monastery
of Bosham in Sussex, whence originated the episcopal see of
Chichester. Another Irish monk named Maeldubh settled among the West
Saxons and became the founder of Malmesbury Abbey and the instructor
of the well-known St. Aldhelm.
Thus did Irish monks contribute to the conversion of Great Britain
and its many distant islands. They built up the faith by their holy
lives, their preaching, and their enthusiasm, and wisely provided for
its perpetuation by educating a native clergy and by the founding of
They were not yet satisfied, so they turned towards other lands to
bring to other peoples the glad tidings of salvation.
GAUL: In 590 St. Columbanus, a monk of Bangor in Ireland, accompanied
by twelve brethren, arrived in France, having passed through Britain.
After the example of St. Columcille in Caledonia, they traveled to
the court of Gontram, king of Burgundy, in order to secure his help
and protection. During the course of the journey they preached to the
people, and all were impressed with their modesty, patience, and
devotion. At that epoch Gaul was sadly in need of such missionaries,
for, owing partly to the invasion of barbarians and partly to
remissness on the part of the clergy, vice and impiety everywhere
prevailed. Columbanus, because of his zeal, sanctity, and learning,
was well fitted for the task that lay before him. One of his early
works in Burgundy was the founding of the monastery of Luxeuil, which
became the parent of many other monasteries founded either by himself
or by his disciples. Many holy men came from Ireland to join the
community, and so numerous did the monks of Luxeuil become that
separate choirs were formed to keep up perpetual praise--the "laus
perennis". But Columbanus did not remain at Luxeuil. In his strict
uncompromising preaching he spared not even kings, and he preferred
to leave his flourishing monastery rather than pass over in silence
the vices of the Merovingians. He escaped from the malice of
Brunehaut, and, being banished from Burgundy, made his way to
Neustria, and thence to Metz. Full of zeal, he resolved to preach the
faith to the pagans along the Rhine, and with this purpose set out
with a few of his followers. They proceeded as far as the Lake of
Zurich, and finally established themselves at Bregentz, on the Lake
By this time his disciple St. Gall had learned the Alemannian
dialect, which enabled him to push forward the work of
evangelization. But Columbanus felt that he was called to labor in
other lands while vigor remained to him, so, bidding his favorite
follower farewell, he crossed the Alps and arrived at Milan in
northern Italy. King Agilulph and his queen, Theodelinda, gave the
Irish abbot a reverent and kind welcome. His zeal was still unspent,
and he worked much for the conversion of the Lombard Arians. Here he
founded, between Milan and Genoa, the monastery of Bobbio, which as a
centre of knowledge and piety was long the light of northern Italy.
In this monastery he died in the year 615, but not before the arrival
of messengers from King Clothaire, inviting him to return to Luxeuil,
as his enemies were now no more. But he could not go; all he asked
was protection for his dear monks at Luxeuil.
It has been said most truly that Ireland never sent a greater son to
do God's work in foreign lands than Columbanus. The fruit of his
labors remained; and for centuries after his death his influence was
widely felt throughout Europe, especially in France and Italy. His
zeal for the interests of God was unbounded, and this was the secret
of his immense power. Some of his writings have come down to us, and
comprise his Rule for Monks, his Penitential, sixteen short sermons,
six letters, and several poems, all in Latin. His letters are of much
value as evidence of Ireland's ancient belief in papal supremacy.
SWITZERLAND: Gall, Columbanus's disciple, remained in Switzerland. In
a fertile valley, lying between two rivers and surrounded by hills,
he laid the beginnings of the great abbey which afterwards bore his
name and became one of the most famous monasteries in Christendom.
St. Gall spent thirty years of his life in Helvetia, occupying
himself in teaching, preaching, and prayer. He succeeded where others
had failed, and that which was denied to Columbanus was reserved for
Gall, his disciple, and the latter is entitled the Apostle of
Other districts had their Irish missionaries and apostles. Not far
from St. Gall, at Seckingen, near Basle, St. Fridolin was a pioneer
in the work of evangelization.
Towards the close of the seventh century St. Kilian, an Irishman,
with his companions, Totnan and Colman, arrived in Franconia. He was
martyred in Wuertzburg, where he is honored as patron and apostle.
Sigisbert, another Irish follower of St. Columbanus, spread the faith
among the half-pagan people of eastern Helvetia, and founded the
monastery of Dissentis in Rhaetia.
St. Ursanne, a little town on the boundaries of Switzerland, took its
origin from another disciple of St. Columbanus.
OTHER APOSTLES AND FOUNDERS: Desire for solitary life drew St. Fiacre
to a hermitage near Meaux, where he transformed wooded glades into
gardens to provide vegetables for poor people. This charity has
earned for Fiacre the title of patron saint of gardeners.
St. Fursey, the illustrious apostle of East Anglia, crossed over to
France, where he travelled and preached continuously. He built a
monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne, and was about to return to East Anglia
when he died at Mezerolles, near Doullens. St. Gobham followed his
master's example, and like him evangelized and founded monasteries.
St. Etto (Ze) acted in like manner. St. Foillan and St. Ultan,
brothers of St. Fursey, became apostles in southern Brabant.
The monastery of Honau, on an island near Strasburg, and that of
Altomuenster, in Bavaria, owe their foundation to the Irish monks
Tuban and Alto, respectively.
Not far from Luxeuil was the Abbey of Lure, another great Irish
foundation, due to Deicolus (Desle, Dichuill), a brother of St. Gall
and a disciple of St. Columbanus. So important was this house
considered in later times that its abbot was numbered among the
princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Rouen, in Normandy, felt the influence of the Irish monks through the
instrumentality of St. Ouen; and the monasteries of Jouarre, Rebais,
Jumieges, Leuconaus, and St. Vandrille were due at least indirectly
to Columbanus or his disciples.
Turning to Belgium, it is recorded that St. Romold preached the faith
in Mechlin, and St. Livinus in Ghent. Both came from Ireland.
St. Virgilius, a voluntary exile from Erin, "for the love of Christ",
established his monastery at Salzburg, in Austria. He became bishop
there, and died in 781.
Moreover, the Celtic Rule of Columbanus was carried into Picardy by
St. Valery, St. Omer, St. Bertin, St. Mummolin, and St. Valdelenus;
but the Irish Caidoc and Fricor had already preceded them, their work
resulting in the foundation of the Abbey of St. Riquier.
ITALY: Something yet remains to be said of the monks of Ireland in
Italy. Anterior to St. Columbanus's migration, his fellow countryman,
St. Frigidian (or Fridian), had taken up his abode in Italy at Monte
Pisana, not far from the city of Lucca, where he became famed for
sanctity and wisdom. On the death of the bishop of Lucca, Frigidian
was compelled to occupy the vacant see. St. Gregory the Great wrote
of him that "he was a man of rare virtue". His teachings and holy
life not only influenced the lives of his own flock, but brought to
the faith many heretics and pagans. In Lucca this Celtic apostle is
still honored under the name of St. Frediano.
St. Pellegrinus is another Irish saint who sought solitude at
Garfanana in the Apennines; and Cathaldus, a Waterford saint, in 680,
became Bishop of Taranto, which he governed for many years with zeal
and great wisdom. His co-worker was Donatus, his brother, who founded
the church at Lecce in the Kingdom of Naples.
Of the two learned Irishmen, Clemens and Albinus, who resided in
France in the eighth century, Albinus was sent into Italy, where at
Pavia he was placed at the head of the school attached to St.
Augustine's monastery. Dungal, his compatriot, was a famous teacher
in the same city. Lothair thus ordained concerning him: "We desire
that at Pavia, and under the superintendence of Dungal, all students
should assemble from Milan, Brescia, Lodi, Bergamo, Novara, Vercelli,
Tortona, Acqui, Genoa, Asti, Como."
It was this same Dungal who presented the Bangor psalter to Bobbio;
therefore it may be reasonably conjectured that he came from the very
monastery that produced Columbanus, Gall, and Comgall.
Fiesole, in Tuscany, venerates two Irish eighth-century saints,
Donatus and Andrew. The former was educated at Iniscaltra, and Andrew
was his friend and disciple. After visiting Rome, they lingered at
Fiesole. Donatus was received with great honor by clergy and people
and was requested to fill their vacant bishopric. With much
hesitation he took upon himself ihe burden, which he bore for many
years. His biographer says of him that "he was liberal in almsgiving,
sedulous in watching, devout in prayer, excellent in doctrine, ready
in speech, holy in life." Andrew, who was his deacon, founded the
church and monastery of St. Martin in Mensola, and is known in
Fiesole as St. Andrew of Ireland, or St. Andrew the Scot, that is,
HOSPITALIA: Thus Irish monks were to be found in France, Belgium,
Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, and even in Bulgaria. So numerous
were they and so frequent their travels through the different
countries of Europe that hospices were founded to befriend them.
These institutions were known as "Hospitalia Scottorum" ("Hospices
for the Irish"), and their benefactors were not only pious laymen but
the highest ecclesiastical authorities. Sometimes the hospices were
diverted to purposes other than those originally intended, and then
Church Councils would intervene in favor of the lawful inheritors.
Thus in 845 we read that the Council of Meaux ordered the hospices in
France to be restored to the dispossessed Irishmen. In the twelfth
century Ireland still continued to send forth a constant succession
of monk-pilgrims, renowned for faith, austerity, and piety.
RATISBON: Special monasteries were erected to be peopled by the
Irish. The most renowned of these dates from 1067, when Marianus
Scotus ("Marianus the Irishman"), with his companions, John and
Candidus, left his native land and arrived in Bavaria. These holy men
were welcomed at Ratisbon by the Bishop Otto; and on the advice of
Murcherat, an Irish recluse, took up their residence near St. Peter's
church at the outskirts of the city. Novices flocked from Ireland to
join them and a monastery was erected to receive the community. In a
short time this had to be replaced by a still larger one, which was
known to future ages as the Abbey of St. James's of the Scots (that
is, Irish) at Ratisbon. How prolific was this parent foundation is
evidenced from its many offshoots, the only surviving monasteries on
the continent for many centuries intended for Irish brethren. These,
besides St. James's at Erfurt and St. Peter's at Ratisbon, comprised
St. James's at Wuertzburg, St. Giles's at Nuremberg, St. Mary's at
Vienna, St. James's at Constance, St. Nicholas's at Memmingen, Holy
Cross at Eichstatt, a Priory at Kelheim and another at Oels in
Silesia, all of which were founded during the twelfth or thirteenth
century, and formed a Benedictine congregation approved of by Pope
Innocent III., and presided over by the Abbot of Ratisbon. These
Irish houses, with their long lines of Celtic abbots, in the days of
their prosperity did much work that was excellent and civilizing, and
rightly deserve a remembrance in the achievements of Ireland's
Ratisbon and its dependent abbeys, as is set forth in the papal
briefs of 1218, possessed priories in Ireland, and, from these,
novices were usually obtained.
But evil days came for the Congregation of St. James, and now it is
extinct. The subjugation of Ireland to England, says Wattenbach,
contributed no doubt to the rapid decline of the Scotic (that is,
Irish) monasteries. For from Ireland they had up till then been
continually receiving fresh supplies of strength. In this their
fatherland the root of their vitality was to be found. Loss of
independence involved loss of enterprise.
SCHOLARSHIP AND INFLUENCE: Irish monks were not only apostles of
souls, but also masters of intellectual life. Thus in the seventh
century the Celtic monastery of Luxeuil became the most celebrated
school in Christendom. Monks from other houses and sons of the
nobility crowded to it. The latter were clearly not intended for the
cloister, but destined for callings in the world.
There were outstanding men among these missionaries from Ireland. St.
Virgilius of Salzburg in the eighth century taught the sphericity of
the earth and the existence of the Antipodes. It was this same
teaching that Copernicus and later astronomers formulated into the
system now in vogue.
St. Columcille himself was a composer of Latin hymns and a penman of
no mean order, as the Book of Kells, if written by him, sufficiently
proves. In all the monasteries which he founded, provision was made
for the pursuit of sacred learning and the multiplication of books by
transcription. The students of his schools were taught classics,
mechanical arts, law, history, and physics. They improved the methods
of husbandry and gardening; supplied the people, whom they helped to
civilize, with implements of labor; and taught them the use of the
forge, an accomplishment belonging to almost every Irish monk.
The writings of Adamnan, who spent most of his life outside his
native land, show that he was familiar with the best Latin authors,
and had a knowledge of Greek as well. His "Vita S. Columbae" ("Life
of St. Columcille") has made his name immortal as a Latin writer. His
book "De Locis Sanctis" ("On the Holy Places") contains information
he received from the pilgrim bishop Arculfus, who had been driven by
a tempest to take refuge with the monks of Iona. On account of the
importance of the writings of Adamnan and because of his influence in
secular and ecclesiastical affairs of importance, few will question
his right to a distinguished place among the saintly scholars of the
Irish monks, abroad as well as at home, were pre-eminently students
and exponents of Holy Scripture. Sedulius wrote a commentary on the
Epistles of St. Paul; John Scotus Erigena composed a work, "De
Praedestinatione" ("Concerning Predestination"); Dungal was not only
an astronomer, but also an excellent theologian, as is clear from his
defence of Catholic teaching on the invocation of saints and the
veneration of their relics. His knowledge of Sacred Scripture and of
the Fathers is exceedingly remarkable.
St. Columbanus, besides other works, is said to have composed an
exposition of the Psalms, which is mentioned in the catalogue of St.
Gall's library, but which cannot now be identified with certainty.
The writings of this abbot are said to have brought about a more
frequent use of confession both in the world and in monasteries; and
his legislation regarding the Blessed Sacrament fostered eucharistic
Marianus Scotus is the author of a commentary on the Psalms, so
precious that rarely was it allowed to pass beyond the walls of the
monastic library. His commentary on St. Paul's Epistles is regarded
as his most famous production. Herein he shows acquaintance with
Saints Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, and Leo, with Cassiodorus, Origen,
Alcuin, Cassian, and Peter the Deacon. He completed the work on the
17th May, 1079, and ends the volume by asking the reader to pray for
the salvation of his soul.
TRANSCRIPTION: In all the monasteries a vast number of scribes were
continually employed in multiplying copies of the Sacred Scriptures.
These masterpieces of calligraphy, written by Irish hands, have been
scattered throughout the libraries of Europe, and many fragments
remain to the present day. The beauty of these manuscripts is praised
by all, and the names of the best transcribers often find mention in
monastic annals. The work was irksome, but it was looked upon as a
privilege and meritorious.
It remains to speak of that glorious monument of the Irish monks, the
abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland. It was here that Celtic influence
was most felt and endured the longest. Within its walls for centuries
the sacred sciences were taught and classic authors studied. Many of
its monks excelled as musicians and poets, while others were noted
for their skill in calligraphy and the fine arts. The library was
only in its infancy in the eighth century, but gradually it grew, and
eventually became one of the largest and richest in the world. The
brethren were in correspondence with all the learned houses of France
and Italy, and there was constant mutual interchange of books, sacred
and scientific, between them.
They manufactured their own parchment from the hides of the wild
beasts that roamed in the forests around them, and bound their books
in boards of wood clamped with iron or ivory.
Such was the monastery of St. Gall, which owes its inception to the
journey through Europe of the great Columbanus and his
monk-companions--men whose lives, according to Bede, procured for the
religious habit great veneration, so that wherever they appeared they
were received with joy, as God's own servants. "And what will be the
reward," asks the biographer of Marianus Scotus, "of these
pilgrim-monks who left the sweet soil of their native land, its
mountains and hills, its valleys and its groves, its rivers and pure
fountains, and went like the children of Abraham without hesitation
into the land which God had pointed out to them?" He answers thus:
"They will dwell in the house of the Lord with the angels and
archangels of God forever; they will behold the God of gods in Sion,
to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever."
Lanigan: Ecclesiastical History of Ireland (Dublin, 1829);
Montalembert: Monks of the West (Edinburgh, 1861); Moran: Irish
Saints in Great Britain (Dublin, 1903); Dalgairns: Apostles of Europe
(London, 1876); Healy: Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars
(Dublin, 1890); Barrett: A Calendar of Scottish Saints (Fort
Augustus, 1904); Stokes: Six Months in the Apennines (London, 1892),
Three Months in the Forests of France (London, 1895); Fowler: Vita S.
Columbae (Oxford, 1894); Wattenbach: Articles in Ulster Journal of
Archaeology, vol. 7 (Belfast, 1859); Gougaud: Les Chretientes
celtiques (Paris, 1911); Hogan: Articles in Irish Ecclesiastical
Record, 1894, 1895; Drane: Christian Schools and Scholars (London,
THE IRISH AND THE SEA
By WILLIAM H. BABCOCK, LL.B.
The beginning of Irish navigation, like the beginning of everything
else, is hidden in the mist of antiquity. Vessels of some kind
obviously must have borne the successive waves of immigrants or
invaders to the island. Naturally they would remain in use afterwards
for trade, travel, exploration, and war. Irish ships may have been
among those of the Breton fleet that Caesar dispersed at Vannes after
an obstinate struggle. Two or three centuries later we find Niall of
the Nine Hostages making nautical descents on the neighboring shores,
especially Britain: and there is every probability that ships of the
island conveyed some at least of the "Scots" (Irish) whom Gildas in
the sixth century describes as joining the Picts in furiously
storming the Roman wall.
The equally adventurous but more pacific work of exploration went on
also, if we may judge by that extraordinary series of Irish
sea-sagas, the _Imrama_, comprising the Voyages of Bran, Maelduin,
the Hui Corra, and St. Brendan--the last-mentioned deservedly the
most famous. These vary in their literary merits and in the merits of
their several parts, for they have been successively rewritten at
different periods, receiving always something of the color, belief,
and adornment which belonged to the writer's time; but under all may
be dimly traced, as in a palimpsest, the remote pagan original. At
their best they embody a lofty and touching poetry very subtle and
significant, as when we read of Bran's summoning by a visitant of
supernatural beauty to the isles of undying delight, where a thousand
years are but as a day; his return with a companion who had been
overcome by longing for Ireland and home; the man's falling to ashes
at the first touch of the native soil, as though he had been long
dead; and the flight of Bran and his crew from the real living world
to the islands of the blessed. At least equally fine and stirring is
St. Brendan's interview with the exiled spirit of Heaven, whose "sin
was but little", so that he and his fellows were given only the
pleasing penance of singing delightfully, in the guise of beautiful
birds, the praises of the God who showed them mercy and grace, amid
the charms of an earthly paradise. "Then all the birds sang evensong,
so that it was an heavenly noise to hear."
It is not very surprising that St. Brendan's legend, with such
qualities in prose and verse, made itself at home in many lands and
languages, and became for centuries a widespread popular favorite and
matter of general belief, also influencing the most permanent
literature of a high contemplative cast, which we might suppose to be
out of touch with it altogether. Certain of its more unusual
incidents are found even in Arab writings of romance founded on fact,
as in Edrisi's narrative of the Magrurin explorers of Lisbon and the
adventures of Sinbad related in the Arabian Nights; but perhaps here
we have a case of reciprocal borrowing such as may well occur when
ships' companies of different nations meet.
The most conspicuous, insistent, and repeated feature of all these
_Imrama_ is a belief in Atlantic islands fair enough or wonderful
enough to tempt the shore dwellers of Ireland far away and hold them
spell-bound for years. It is easy to ascribe these pictures to sunset
on the ocean, or the wonders of mirage; but all the time, within long
sailing distance, there actually were islands of delightful climate
and exceeding beauty. These had been occasionally reached from the
Mediterranean ever since early Carthaginian times, as classical
authors seem to tell us; why not also from Ireland, perhaps not quite
so distant? It is undoubted that the Canary Islands were never really
altogether forgotten, and the same is probably true of the Madeiras
and all three groups of Azores, though the knowledge that lingered in
Ireland was a distorted glimmering tradition of old voyages,
occasionally inciting to new ventures in the same field.
Some have supposed, though without sufficient evidence, that Saint
Brendan even made his way to America, and parts of that shore line in
several different latitudes have been selected as the scene of the
exploit. His first entry into serious geography is in the fine maps
of Dulcert, 1339, and the Pizigani, 1367, both of which plainly label
Madeira, Porto Santo, and Las Desertas--"The Fortunate Islands of St.
Brandan." That there may be no possibility of misunderstanding, the
Pizigani brothers present a full-length portrait of the holy
navigator himself bending over these islands with hands of
benediction. The inscription, though not the picture, was common,
thus applied, on the maps of the next century or two, and no other
interpretation of his voyage found any place until a later time.
Of course the fourteenth century was a long way from the sixth, when
the voyage was supposed to have been made, and we cannot take so late
a verdict as convincing proof of any fact. But it at least exhibits
the current interpretation of the written narrative among geographers
and mariners, the people best able to judge; and here the interval
was much less. The story itself seems to corroborate them in a
general way, if read naturally. One would say that it tells of a
voyage to the Canaries, of which one is unmistakably "the island
under Mount Atlas", and that this was undertaken by way of the Azores
and Madeira, with inevitable experience of great beauty in some
islands and volcanic terrors in others. Madeira may well have been
pitched upon by the interpreters as the suitable scene of a
particularly long tarrying by the way. Of course magic filled out all
gaps of real knowledge, and wonders grew with each new rewriting.
Whatever Brendan did, there is no doubt that Irish mariner-monks,
incited by the great awakening which followed St. Patrick's mission,
covered many seas in their frail vessels during the next three or
four centuries. They set up a flourishing religious establishment in
Orkney, made stepping stones of the intervening islands, and reached
Iceland some time in the eighth century, if not earlier. The
Norsemen, following in their tracks as always, found them there, and
the earliest Icelandic writings record their departure, leaving
behind them books, bells, and other souvenirs on an islet off shore
which still bears their name.
Did they keep before the Norsemen to America too? At least the
Norsemen thought so. For centuries the name Great Ireland or
Whitemen's Land was accepted in Norse geography as meaning a region
far west of Ireland, a parallel to Great Sweden (Russia), which lay
far east of Sweden. The saga of Thorfinn Karlsefni, first to attempt
colonizing America, makes it plain that his followers believed Great
Ireland to be somewhere in that region, and it is explicitly located
near Wineland by the twelfth century Landnamabok. Also there were
specific tales afloat of a distinguished Icelander lost at sea, who
was afterward found in a western region by an Irish vessel long
driven before the storm. The version most relied on came through one
Rafn, who had dwelt in Limerick; also through Thorfinn, earl of the
Brazil, the old Irish _Breasail_, was another name for land west of
Ireland--where there is none short of America--on very many medieval
maps, of which perhaps a dozen are older than the year 1400, the
earliest yet found being that of Dalorto, 1325. Usually it appears as
a nearly circular disc of land opposite Munster, at first altogether
too near the Irish coast, as indeed the perfectly well-known Corvo
was drawn much too near the coast of Spain, or as even in the
sixteenth century, when Newfoundland had been repeatedly visited,
that island was shifted by divers mapmakers eastward towards Ireland,
almost to the conventional station of Brazil. Also, not long
afterwards, the maps of Nicolay and Zaltieri adopted the reverse
treatment of transferring Brazil to Newfoundland waters, as if
recognizing past error and restoring its proper place.
The name Brazil appears not to have been adopted by the Norsemen, but
there is one fifteenth century map, perhaps of 1480, preserved in
Milan, which shows this large disc-form "Brazil" just below Greenland
("Illa Verde"), in such relation that the mapmaker really must have
known of Labrador under the former name and believed that it could be
readily reached from that Norse colony.
It seems altogether likely that "Brazil" was applied to the entire
outjutting region of America surrounding the Gulf of St.
Lawrence--that part of this continent which is by far the nearest
Ireland. Besides the facts above stated, certain coincidences of real
geography and of these old maps favor that belief, and they are quite
unlikely to have been guessed or invented. Thus certain maps,
beginning with 1375, while keeping the circular external outline of
Ireland, reduce the land area to a mere ring, enclosing an expanse of
water dotted with islands; and certain other maps show it still
nearly circular externally, and solid, but divided into two parts by
a curved channel nearly from north to south. The former exposition is
possible enough to one more concerned with the nearly enclosed Gulf
of St. Lawrence and its islands than with its two comparatively
narrow outlets; the second was afterward repeated approximately by
Gastoldi's map illustrating Ramusio when he was somehow moved to
minimize the width of the Gulf, though well remembering the straits
of Belle Isle and Cabot. There are some other coincidences, but it is
unnecessary to dwell on them. Land west of Ireland must be either
pure fancy or the very region in question, and it is hardly
believable that fancy could guess so accurately as to two different
interpretations of real though unusual geography and give them right
latitude, with such an old Irish name (Brazil) as might naturally
have been conferred in the early voyaging times. That an extensive
region, chiefly mainland, should be represented as an island is no
objection, as anyone will see by examining the maps which break up
everything north of South America in the years next following the
achievements of Columbus and Cabot. There was a natural tendency to
expect nothing but islands short of Asia.
It seems likely, therefore, that America was actually reached by the
Irish even before the Norsemen and certainly long before all other
Babcock: Early Norse Visits to North America, Smithsonian Publication
2138 (1913); Baring-Gould: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages;
Beauvois: The Discovery of the New World by the Irish; Cantwell:
Pre-Columbian Discoveries of America; Daly: The Legend of St.
Brandan, Celtic Review, vol. I, A Sequel to the Voyage of St.
Brandan, Celtic Review, Jan. 13, 1909; Hardiman: The History of
Galway; Hull: Irish Episodes of Icelandic History; Joyce: The Voyage
of Maelduin; Nutt: The Voyage of Bran; Stokes: The Voyage of Maelduin
(_Revue Celtique_, vol. 9), Voyage of Snedgus (_Revue Celtique_, vol.
9), Voyage of the Hui Corra (_Revue Celtigue_, vol. 14); Moran:
IRISH LOVE OF LEARNING
By REV. P.S. DINNEEN, M.A., R.U.I.
"The distinguishing property of man," says Cicero, "is to search for
and follow after truth. Therefore, when disengaged from our necessary
cares and concerns, we desire to see, to hear, and to learn, and we
esteem knowledge of things obscure or wonderful as indispensable to
our happiness." (_De Officiis_ I., 4).
I claim for the Irish race that throughout their history they have
cut down their bodily necessities to the quick, in order to devote
time and energy to the pursuit of knowledge; that they have engaged
in intellectual pursuits, not infrequently of a high order, on a low
basis of material comfort; that they have persevered in the quest of
learning under unparalleled hardships and difficulties, even in the
dark night of "a nation's eclipse", when a school was an unlawful
assembly and school-teaching a crime. I claim, moreover, that, when
circumstances were favorable, no people have shown a more adventurous
spirit or a more chivalrous devotion in the advancement and spread of
Love of learning implies more than a natural aptitude for acquiring
information. It connotes a zest for knowledge that is recondite and
attainable only at the expense of ease, of leisure, of the comforts
and luxuries of life, and a zeal for the cultivation of the mental
faculties. It is of the soul and not of the body; it refines,
elevates, adorns. It is allied to sensibility, to keenness of vision,
to the close observation of mental phenomena. Its possessor becomes a
citizen of the known world. His mind broadens; he compares,
contrasts, conciliates; he brings together the new and the old, the
near and the distant, the permanent and the transitory, and weaves
from them all the web of systematized human thought.
I am not here concerned with the extent of Ireland's contribution to
the sum of human learning, nor with the career of her greatest
scholars; I am merely describing the love of learning which is
characteristic of the race, and which it seems best to present in a
brief study of distinct types drawn from various periods of Irish
In the pre-Christian period the Druid was the chief representative of
the learning of the race. He was the adviser of kings and princes,
and the instructor of their children. His knowledge was of the
recondite order and beyond the reach of ordinary persons. The esteem
in which he was held by all classes of the people proves their love
for the learning for which he stood.
Patrick came: and with him came a wider horizon of learning and
greater facilities for the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge.
Monastic schools sprang up in all directions--at Clonard, Armagh,
Clonmacnois, Bangor, Lismore, Kildare, Innisfallen. These schools
were celebrated throughout Europe in the earlier middle ages, and
from the fifth to the ninth century Ireland led the nations of Europe
in learning and deserved the title of the "Island of Saints and
Scholars." Our type is the student in one of these monastic schools.
He goes out from his parents and settles down to study in the
environs of the monastery. He is not rich; he resides in a hut; his
time is divided between study, prayer, and manual labor. He becomes a
monk, only to increase in devotion to learning and to accentuate his
privations. He copies and illuminates manuscripts. He memorizes the
Psalms. He glosses the Vulgate Scriptures with vernacular notes. He
receives ordination, and, realizing that there are benighted
countries ten times as large as his native land beyond the seas, and,
burning with zeal for the spread of the Gospel and the advancement of
learning, sails for Britain, or passes into Gaul, or reaches the
slopes of the Apennines, or the outskirts of the Black Forest. The
rest of his life is devoted to the foundation of monasteries to which
schools are attached, to the building of churches, and to the
diffusion around him of every known branch of knowledge. He may have
taken books from Ireland over seas, and, of these, relics are now to
be found among the treasures of the ancient libraries of Europe.
Columcille, Columbanus, Adamnan, Gall, Virgilius occur to the mind in
dwelling on this type.
The hereditary _seanchaidhe_, who treasured up the traditional lore
of the clan and its chief, was held in high honor and enjoyed
extraordinary privileges. He held a freehold. He was high in the
graces of the chief, and officiated at his inauguration.
An important type is the Irish ecclesiastical student abroad in the
penal days. School teaching, unless at the sacrifice of Faith, was a
crime in Ireland, and the training required for the priesthood had to
be obtained on the continent. The Irish out of their poverty
established colleges in Rome (1628), Salamanca (1593), Seville
(1612), Alcala (1590), Lisbon (1593), Louvain (1634), Antwerp (1629),
Douai (1577), Lille (1610), Bordeaux (1603), Toulouse (1659), Paris
(1605), and elsewhere. As late as 1795 these colleges contained 478
students, and some of them are still in existence. The young student
in going abroad risked everything. He often returned watched by
spies, with his life in danger. Yet the supply never failed; the
colleges flourished; and those who returned diffused around them not
only learning but the urbanity and refinement which were a striking
fruit and mark of their studies abroad.
Another type is the Irish scribe. In the days of Ireland's fame and
prosperity and of the flood-tide of her native language, he was a
skilled craftsman, and the extant specimens of his work are
unsurpassed of their kind. But I prefer to look at him at a later
period, when he became our sole substitute for the printer and when
his diligence preserved for us all that remains of a fading
literature. He was miserably poor. He toiled through the day at the
spade or the plough, or guided the shuttle through the loom. At
night, by the flare of the turf-fire or the fitful light of a
splinter of bogwood, he made his copy of poem or tract or tale, which
but for him would have perished. The copies are often ill-spelt and
ill-written, but with all their faults they are as noble a monument
to national love of learning as any nation can boast of.
In our gallery of types we must not forget the character whom English
writers contemptuously called the "hedge-schoolmaster." The
hedge-school in its most elemental state was an open-air daily
assemblage of youths in pursuit of knowledge. Inasmuch as the law had
refused learning a fitting temple in which to abide and be honored,
she was led by her votaries into the open, and there, beside the
fragrant hedge, if you will, with the green sward for benches, and
the canopy of heaven for dome, she was honored in Ireland, even as
she had been honored ages before in Greece, in Palestine, and by our
primordial Celtic ancestors themselves. The hedge-schoolmaster
conducted the rites, and the air resounded with the sonorous
hexameters of Virgil and the musical odes of Horace.
In the Irish-speaking portions of the country the hedge-schoolmaster
was often also a poet who wrote mellifluous songs in Irish, which
were sung throughout the entire district and sometimes earned him
enduring fame. Eoghan Ruadh O'Sullivan and Andrew MacGrath, called
_An Mangaire Sugach_ or "the Jolly Pedlar," are well-known instances
of this type.
The poor scholar is another type that under varying forms and under
various circumstances has ever trod the stage of Irish history. From
an ancient Irish manuscript (See O'Curry, _Manners and Customs_, II,
79, 80) we learn that Adamnan, the biographer of St. Columcille, and
some other youths studied at Clonard and were supported by the
neighborhood. The poor scholar more than any other type embodies the
love of learning of the Irish race. In the schools which preceded the
National, he appeared in a most interesting stage of development. He
came from a distance, attracted by the reputation of a good teacher
and the regularity of a well-conducted school. He came, avowedly
poor. His only claim on the generosity of his teacher and of the
public was a marked aptitude for learning and an ardent desire for
study and cultivation of mind. He did not look for luxuries. He was
satisfied, if his bodily wants were reasonably supplied, even with
the inconveniences of frequent change of abode. A welcome was
extended to him on all sides. His hosts and patrons honored his
thirst for knowledge and tenacity of purpose. He was expected to help
the students in the house where he found entertainment, and it may
not have been unpleasing to him on occasion to display his talents
before his host. When school was over, it was not unusual to find him
surrounded by a group of school-companions, each pressing his claim
to entertain him for the night.
Despite the hospitality of his patrons, the poor scholar often felt
the bitterness of his dependent state, but he bore it with
equanimity, his hand ever eagerly stretched out for the prize of
learning. What did learning bring him? Why was he so eager to bear
for its sake
"all the thousand aches
That patient merit of the unworthy takes"?
Sometimes he became a priest; sometimes his life was purposeless and
void. But he was ever urged onward by the fascination of learning and
of the cultivation of the nobler part of his nature.
As might have been expected, the Irish who have emigrated to the
American and Australian continents have given touching proof of their
devotion to the cause of learning. I have space only for a few
An Irish workman in the United States, seeing my name in connection
with an Irish Dictionary, wrote to me a few years ago to ask how he
might procure one, as, he said, an Italian in the works had asked him
the meaning of _Erin go bragh_, and he felt ashamed to be unable to
A man who, at the age of three, had emigrated from Clare in the
famine time, wrote to me recently from Australia in the Irish
language and character.
An old man named John O'Regan of New Zealand, who had been twelve
years in exile in the United States and forty-eight on the Australian
continent, with failing eyesight, in a letter that took him from
January to June of the year 1906 to write, endeavored to set down
scraps of Irish lore which he had carried with him from the old
country and which had clung to his memory to the last.
"In my digging life in the quarries," he says, "books were not a part
of our swag (prayerbook excepted). In 1871, when I had a long seat of
work before me, I sent for McCurtin's Dictionary to Melbourne. It is
old and wanting in the introductory part, but for all was splendid
and I loved it as my life." (See _Gaelic Journal_, Dec., 1906.)
Joyce: A Social History of Ancient Ireland (2 vols., 2d ed., Dublin,
1913); Healy: Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars (Dublin, 1890),
Maynooth College Centenary History (Dublin, 1895); O'Curry: Manners
and Customs of the Ancient Irish, (3 vols., Dublin and London, 1873),
Manuscript Materials of Irish History, reissue (Dublin, 1873);
Carleton: Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, especially vol.
3, The Poor Scholar; Montalembert: The Monks of the West, authorized
translation, (7 vols., London, 1861); Meyer: Learning in Ireland in
the Fifth Century (Dublin, 1913); Dinneen: Poems of Eoghan Ruadh
O'Sullivan, Introduction (Dublin, 1902), The Maigue Poets,
Introduction (Dublin, 1906); Boyle: The Irish College in Paris
1578-1901, with a brief sketch of the other Irish Colleges in France
(Dublin, 1901); Irish Ecclesiastical Record, new series, vol. VIII,
307, 465; 3rd series, vol. VII, 350, 437, 641.
IRISH MEN OF SCIENCE
By SIR BERTRAM C.A. WINDLE, Sc.D., M.D.,
_President, University College, Cork_.
We may divide our survey of the debt owed to Ireland by science into
three periods: the earliest, the intermediate, and the latest.
In the earliest period the names which come before us are chiefly
those of compilers such as Augustin, a monk and an Irishman who wrote
at Carthage, in Africa, in the seventh century, a Latin treatise on
_The Wonderful Things of the Sacred Scripture_, still extant, in
which, in connection with Joshua's miracle, a very full account of
the astronomical knowledge of the period, Ptolemaic, but in many ways
remarkably accurate, is given. There are, however, three
distinguished names. Virgil the Geometer, _i.e._, Fergil (O'Farrell),
was Abbot of Aghaboe, went to the continent in 741, and was
afterwards Bishop of Salzburg. He died in 785. He is remembered by
his controversies with St. Boniface, one of which is concerned with
the question of the Antipodes. Virgil is supposed to have been the
first to teach that the earth is spherical. So celebrated was he that
it has been thought that a part of the favor in which the author of
the _Aeneid_ was held by medieval churchmen was due to a confusion
between his name and that of the geometer, sometimes spoken of as St.
Dicuil, also an Irish monk, was the author of a remarkable work on
geography, _De Mensura Provinciarum Orbis Terrae_, which was written
in 825, and contains interesting references to Iceland and especially
to the navigable canal which once connected the Nile with the Red
Sea. He wrote between 814 and 816 a work on astronomy which has never
been published. It is probable, but not certain, that he belonged to
Dungal, like the two others named above, was an astronomer. He
probably belonged to Bangor, and left his native land early in the
ninth century. In 811 he wrote a remarkable work, _Dungali Reclusi
Epistola de duplici solis eclipsi anno 810 ad Carolum Magnum_. This
letter, which is still extant, was written at the request of
Charlemagne, who considered its author to be the most learned
astronomer in existence and most likely to clear up the problem
submitted to him.
Before passing to the next period, a word should be said as to the
medieval physicians, often if not usually belonging to families of
medical men, such as the Leahys and O'Hickeys, and attached
hereditarily to the greater clans. These men were chiefly compilers,
but such works of theirs as we have throw light upon the state of
medical knowledge in their day. Thus there is extant a treatise on
_Materia Medica_ (1459); written by Cormac MacDuinntsleibhe
(Dunleavy), hereditary physician to the clan of O'Donnell in Ulster.
A more interesting work is the _Cursus Medicus_, consisting of six
books on Physiology, three on Pathology, and four on Semeiotica,
written in the reign of Charles I. of England by Nial O'Glacan, born
in Donegal, and at one time physician to the king of France.
O'Glacan's name introduces us to the middle period, if indeed it does
not belong there. _Inter arma silent leges_, and it may be added,
scientific work. The troublous state of Ireland for many long years
fully explains the absence of men of science in any abundance until
the end of the eighteenth century. Still there are three names which
can never be forgotten, belonging to the period in question. Sir Hans
Sloane was born at Killileagh, in Ulster, in 1660. He studied
medicine abroad, went to London where he settled, and was made a
Fellow of the Royal Society. He published a work on the West Indies,
but his claim to undying memory is the fact that it was the bequest
of his most valuable and extensive collections to the nation which
was the beginning and foundation of the British Museum, perhaps the
most celebrated institution of its kind in the world. Sloane's
collection, it should be added, contained an immense number of
valuable books and manuscripts, as well as of objects more usually
associated with the idea of a museum. He died in 1753.
The Hon. Robert Boyle was born at Lismore, in the county Waterford,
in 1627, being the fourteenth child of the first Earl of Cork. On his
tombstone he is described as "The Father of Chemistry and the Uncle
of the Earl of Cork", and, indeed, in his _Skyptical Chimist_ (1661),
he assailed, and for the time overthrew, the idea of the alchemists
that there was a _materia prima_, asserting as he did that theory of
chemical "elements" which held good until the discoveries in
connection with radium led to a modification in chemical teaching.
This may be said of Boyle, that his writings profoundly modified
scientific opinion, and his name will always stand in the forefront
amongst those of chemists. He made important improvements in the
air-pump, was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal Society, and
founded the "Boyle Lectures." He died in 1691.
Sir Thomas Molyneux was born in Dublin, in 1661, of a family which
had settled in Ireland about 1560-70. He practised as a physician in
his native city, was the first person to describe the Irish Elk and
to demonstrate the fact that the Giant's Causeway was a natural and
not, as had been previously supposed, an artificial production. He
was the author of many other scientific observations. He died in
We may now turn to more recent times, and it will be convenient to
divide our subjects according to the branch of science in which they
were distinguished, and to commence with
of whom Ireland may boast of a most distinguished galaxy.
Sir William Rowan Hamilton (b. in Dublin 1805, d. 1865), belonged to
a family, long settled in Ireland, but of Scottish extraction. He was
a most precocious child. He read Hebrew at the age of seven, and at
twelve, had studied Latin, Greek, and four leading continental
languages, as well as Persian, Syriac, Arabic, Sanscrit, and other
tongues. In 1819 he wrote a letter to the Persian ambassador in that
magnate's own language. After these linguistic contests, he early
turned to mathematics, in which he was apparently self-taught; yet,
in his seventeenth year he discovered an error in Laplace's
_Mecanique Celeste_. He entered Trinity College where he won all
kinds of distinctions, being famous not merely as a mathematician,
but as a poet, a scholar, and a metaphysician. He was appointed
Professor of Astronomy and Astronomer Royal whilst still an
undergraduate. He predicted "conical refraction," afterwards
experimentally proved by another Irishman, Humphrey Lloyd. He twice
received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society: (i) for optical
discoveries; (ii) for his theory of a general method of dynamics,
which resolves an extremely, abstruse problem relative to a system of
bodies in motion. He was the discoverer of a new calculus, that of
Quaternions, which attracted the attention of Professor Tait of
Edinburgh, and was by him made comprehensible to lesser
mathematicians. It is far too abstruse for description here.
Sir George Gabriel Stokes (born in Sligo 1819, d. 1903) was, if not
the greatest mathematician, at least among the greatest, of the last
hundred years. He was educated in Cambridge, where he spent the rest
of his life, being appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in
1849, and celebrating the jubilee of that appointment in 1899. He was