Tag Archives: Ireland

St. Patrick – The Incident on the Hill of Slane

March 13, 2019


Hill of Slane

One of the more memorable events in the ministry of St. Patrick (385-461) was an incident that took place at the Hill of Slane in 433 AD, one year after he returned to Ireland as its second bishop. Initially St. Patrick settled in County Down, but a year later he set sail southward, and he chose the Hill of Slane as a place to proclaim Christianity in the Boyne River Valley area.

The Hill of Slane is located in County Meath, ten miles inland from the coast of the Irish Sea and west of the modern Irish city of Drogheda. It is forty-five miles south of Armagh, thirty miles north of Dublin, and has an elevation of 518 feet above the valley below.

There was another important hill in the same region, the Hill of Tara, ten miles from the Hill of Slane, and when visibility was good, it was possible to see from one hill to the other. The Hill of Tara was a cultic center where people worshiped the Celtic god of the sun, Lugh. In a primitive, prescientific society, the sun was accorded exalted importance because it is the main source of light, it brings warmth, and it makes the plants grow, and without plant food, the people perish. Consequently, pagan sun worship was deeply embedded in the fabric of the Celtic people.

King Laoghaire (also Loegaire, Laoighre or Laoire), the Celtic High King, renowned for his ferocity and brute strength, resided in Tara, and he led a fire ceremony for the druids and his subjects each year at the time of the Beltaine Festival during the Spring Equinox called the Feast of Tara. The king lit a sacred fire at the top of the hill to honor the pagan sun god, and it was left burning for a number of days. The king strictly prohibited any other fires that could be seen from Tara during the entire duration of the festival.

St. Patrick was not intimidated and defiantly disregarded the king’s order. St. Patrick boldly and bravely lit and blessed the Paschal fire and the Easter Candle during the Vigil Service on Holy Saturday night. The fire was left burning and could be seen clearly from the Hill of Tara.

St. Patrick made an emphatic statement: Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 12:46), and none other, not even Lugh, the pagan sun god. Jesus is the true light that enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9), the light shining in the midst of the darkness (Jn 1:5a). On Easter Sunday, Jesus was the light rising in glory, the light that dispels the darkness of our hearts and minds (Roman Missal, 200), the light that inflames the hearts of believers with heavenly desires and purifies the mind (Roman Missal, 198), the pillar of fire that banishes the darkness of sin (Exsultet, 208), a light that mingles with the lights of heaven, and a peaceful light shed on all humanity (Exsultet, 209).

At one time King Loegaire and the druids planned to have St. Patrick killed, but St. Patrick was so convincing and persuasive, and the king was so impressed by his extraordinary devotion, that he allowed St. Patrick to continue his missionary work in his kingdom.

The Hill of Slane served for centuries as a monastery and religious school. Today remnants of the monastery chapel and friary can be seen, as well as a tower, the college building, and a cemetery with many distinctive Celtic crosses. A statue of St. Patrick is displayed prominently at the front of the ruins.

Continue reading...

St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

January 31, 2019


St. Brigid of Kildare, Abbess and Virgin

St. Brigid (450-525) is also known as St. Brigit, St. Bridget, and St. Bride. She is revered as one of the greatest Irish saints, and along with St. Patrick, is regarded as one of the two columns upon which all of Ireland rests. Her memorial is not celebrated on the general Roman calendar, but it is celebrated on February 1 in Ireland.

St. Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, in 450. There are few historical facts available regarding her life, and much of her story may be legend. Her father reportedly was Dubhthach, the pagan Irish chieftain of Leinster, and her mother was Brocca, one of his slaves. She most likely heard St. Patrick’s preaching as a young girl, and may have been baptized by him before his death in 461.

As a young lady, she had great zeal for the spiritual life, dedicated herself to prayer, demonstrated exceptional humility and compassion, and performed many works of charity. She indicated an interest in religious life, was given her veil by St. Macaille at Croghan, and professed her religious vows before St. Mel of Armagh when she was eighteen.

St. Mel declared St. Brigid an abbess, the religious superior of a congregation of religious sisters. She gathered seven other virgins in 468 and established a community, initially at Croghan Hill, and then at Meath. In 470 she founded a double monastery in Kildare, one side for women, the other for men, and she served as the religious superior of both. St. Kieran reported that she wrote the regula Sanctae Brigidae, St. Brigid’s rule of life, the spiritual ideals for the members of the convent, as well as the specifics of its organizational structure. She is regarded as the founder of monastic life in Ireland, which had a major impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland, and later with Irish missionaries, throughout Europe.

Under St. Brigid’s leadership, the convent in Kildare became a regional center for spirituality and education. She founded a separate art school which produced many beautifully decorated manuscripts, among them the Book of Kildare.

Numerous legends circulate about miracles she performed: butter she gave to the poor was mysteriously replaced, bathwater was changed into beer, a glass of water for a leper changed into milk, sight was given to two blind men, and two women were cured of their speech impediments.

St. Brigid died in Kildare in 525 and is buried in Downpatrick with St. Patrick and St. Columba. Her symbols are a lamp, flame, or candle, St. Brigid's Crossall of which represent knowledge, because she is the patron saint of scholars. She is also the patroness of County Kildare, the country of Ireland, poets, and dairy workers.

St. Brigid is also remembered for the St. Brigid’s Cross, one of the foremost symbols of Ireland. According to the legend, she visited a pagan man who was dying, took some straw that was on the floor near his bed, wove it into the shape of a cross, showed the cross to the man, and explained how salvation is made possible through the cross of Jesus. The man was so deeply moved that he asked to be baptized.

Continue reading...

Irish immigrant way became the American way

February 22, 2012

1 Comment

Hyphenated-Americans — which includes just about all of us — will grasp a solid understanding of the challenges our ancestors faced in emigrating to the United States by taking in the history of what author James R. Barrett calls America’s first ethnic group, the Irish.

No matter if your family roots are traced back to Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia or anywhere else, the way immigrants from the Emerald Isle became Americanized and moved up the social ladder provided a blueprint for immigrants that came afterward from other countries.

Treated sometimes as less than human, parodied as dumb and dirty, the Irish were the first mass group of arrivals to U.S. shores to face hostility from those who, ironically, had emigrated here themselves, just on earlier boats.

How those Irish immigrants not only survived but came to thrive — and set the standard for immigrants from other lands to do the same — is documented superbly in “The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City.” Penguin Press has set a March 1 release date, do you think with the coming St. Patrick’s Day in mind?

Stories galore

James R. Barrett tells the story well by telling interesting, factual, funny, maddening, humiliating stories in some very readable 300 pages. A professor of history at the University of Illinois, Barrett nails down the facts of the Irish-American experience, with more than 70 pages of footnotes to back up his work.

Catholics will find nearly 50 pages focused on the religious angle of the immigrant experience, and as much as this is a history of the Irish, Barrett shows how that history impacts other, non-Irish immigrants who are Catholic. The section titled “The Parish” details how the Irish came to dominate to the point that, as Barrett writes, “By 1920, two-thirds of all Catholic bishops (three-fourths in New England) were of Irish birth or descent.”

What makes this such worthwhile reading is that “The Irish Way” isn’t depicted as always on the side of the angels, even when it comes to the church. This is history, warts and all whether we like it or not, and the warts — the machine politics, the not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know hiring practices, the racism — are historical facts.

But so too are the struggles for a “living” or “family wage,” as Barrett points out, the six-day work week, old-age pensions,  the right for labor to organize and bargain collectively, all strongly supported by the Catholic Church.

The section on the Irish immigrant in the workplace puts facts in place where many may have simply anecdotal examples passed along from ancestors. There’s real value that, in documenting the history of the Irish and their climb up the social ladder, “The Irish Way” clarifies the struggles of those from later immigrant groups — the Italians, Poles, Jews and blacks — who found the entrenched Irish a barrier to their own economic and social mobility.

The role of the stage Irishman is paid its due, and the role the immigrant Irish played in the political history of the United States is a well. In all, “The Irish Way” is history that reads as well as a novel, perhaps because it’s a history that has had such an impact on what America is today and who we are today as Americans.

Continue reading...

Is what we say in confession really private?

July 25, 2011


CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1953 classic, “I Confess,” a young priest refuses to reveal to investigators the identity of a murderer who confessed the crime during the sacrament of reconciliation. Because of that and some other circumstantial evidence, the priest himself is charged with the crime until the guilty man’s wife comes forward with the truth.

No matter what the priest in the film had heard in the confessional, the seal of confession, a church law dating back at least to the 12th century would have prohibited him from telling anyone or revealing the penitent’s identity.

Long a source of contention in court cases, the seal is now threatened in Ireland. In the wake of a report revealing that allegations of abuse by clergy were mishandled and withheld from police, the Irish government has said it plans to introduce legislation to require priests to reveal details of child abuse, even if they become known during confession. Priests who refuse would face up to five years in prison.

The seal of confession now upholds confidentiality but there is evidence that the sacrament wasn’t always so private. In the early Church, at least certain serious sins were confessed before the entire congregation and penance was done publically.

In the fourth century, St. Pacian identified three sins that had to be confessed publically: murder, idolatry and adultery. Other sin could be atoned for privately with good works. Because in civil society adultery was a capital offense for women at that time, those who confessed were given a milder penance to avoid criminal prosecution.

Gradually, both confession and penance became private. In the fifth century, Pope Leo I wrote on the importance of safeguarding the secret of confession to the bishops of three dioceses where the names of penitents and their public penances were regularly read aloud in church.

The Emperor Charlemagne made public the sacredness of the seal of confession in 813. More than three centuries later in 1151, the seal of confession became known—along with the severe punishment for violating it at that time–in a declaration that was part of a compilation of council edicts and principles of Church Law:

“Let the priest who dares to make known the sins of his penitent be deposed”, and he goes on to say that the violator of this law should be made “a life-long, ignominious wanderer.”

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) presents the obligation of secrecy to the entire Church in no uncertain terms:

“… For whoever shall dare to reveal a sin disclosed to him in the tribunal of penance we decree that he shall be not only deposed from the priestly office but that he shall also be sent into the confinement of a monastery to do perpetual penance.”

Confessors who directly violate the Seal of confession are no longer banished to a lifetime of solitary punishment but they do face automatic excommunication, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

As to whether any civil government can override a priest’s obligation to maintain the seal of confession, Canon Lawyer Edward N. Peters writes in his blog:

“The seal of confession is a not creature of civil law, rather, it rests on divine law and is articulated by canon law (see cc. 983 and 1388). Because the state has no authority over the seal of confession, it can exercise no authority over the seal by way imposing, regulating, or revoking it, in whole or even in part.”

We can trust that our confessors won’t identify us or our sins outside the confessional. Hopefully, they can trust us to defend them when they and Church teaching are attacked.

Continue reading...

Saint Patrick, The Shamrock, and The Trinity

March 16, 2011


St. Patrick at St. Nicholas in Belle River

The shamrock is a symbol both for the Holy Trinity and St. Patrick (389-461). The shamrock is a clover plant with a yellow flower and leaflets made up of a stem with three small green leaves. The plant is very common and widely distributed throughout Ireland.

St. Patrick was a zealous missionary to the Irish, a people who upon his arrival in 432 had heard little or nothing of Jesus and his gospel. St. Patrick was an energetic traveler, a determined evangelizer, and a courageous preacher, and as he canvassed the countryside he was assailed by bitter opponents who threatened his life and undermined his message, but undeterred, he made hundreds and thousands of converts.

Whether St. Patrick was speaking to local pagans who knew nothing of the Christian faith, or to neophytes, newly-baptized disciples who were not well-grounded in the truths of the faith, he was faced with the daunting task of explaining profound mysteries such as the Trinity which are so difficult to understand.

There are several popular legends about how St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity. According to one story, St. Patrick went to Connaught where he met two of King Laoghaire’s daughters, Ethne and Fedelm. St. Patrick had been unable to persuade the king to convert, but he convinced the king’s daughters. During their time of instruction St. Patrick used a shamrock to visualize the mystery of the Trinity, how a single plant with three leaves is analogous to the one Triune God with three separate and distinct Persons (Thurston, H. J., ed., Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Vol. 1, 615).

According to another legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock to help explain the Trinity in a sermon he preached directly to King Laoghaire.

According to a third legend, St. Patrick was traveling and happened upon a number of Irish chieftains along a meadow. The tribal leaders were curious about the Trinity and asked St. Patrick for an explanation. So he bent down, picked a shamrock, and showed it to them, and explained how the three leaves are part of the one plant, and how similarly the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are part of one Supreme Being.

Continue reading...

Irish humor lives in the global village

July 28, 2008


by Roddy Doyle

Ireland has changed.

The Ireland that for so many years forced its native population to leave has in recent times, seen a booming economy, so people struggling in other parts of the world are flocking to this new land of opportunity, Ireland.

Thank God Roddy Doyle is alive and well and writing to capture the turn around, and doing it in the manner that causes laugh-out-loud reading.

As always with Doyle, the humor percolates from human nature. His fiction takes advantage of the typically funny way the Irish have of dealing with life. He celebrates the joys in understated ways, but more often Doyle taps the embarrassing moments, exposing those insecurities that anyone human might laugh at, getting the largest chuckles from the instances when bigotry is revealed for what it is, when his characters realize the foot they’ve put into their own mouths, when David bests Goliath because of the big oaf’s self-righteousness.

“The Deportees” is the longest of the eight short stories, and arguably the richest. Doyle revives Jimmy Rabbitte, the main character of “The Commitments,” his story about a young Irish lad who loves soul music and puts together a soul band.

Rabbitte is grown up now, but he still loves music enough to name his children — besides Jimmy Two — Mahalia and Marvin, and wants to name the one his wife is carrying Aretha if its a girl, Smokey if it’s a boy.

He gets the idea for a band composed of members from around the globe who have come to call Ireland home, and the fun gets going big time as Jimmy opens auditions.

In all the stories, “The Deportees” included, the hard edge of dealing with racial and national prejudice rides right along side the humor.

In “57% Irish,” Doyle takes on the idea of how Irish you have to be considered one, and in “Black Hoodie” he’s crafted a combination of “Black Like Me” and “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off” that points a finger at many of our biases — and you don’t have to live on the Emerald Isle to see them in our own society and in ourselves.

He also has the wonderful ability to put himself into his characters and let them speak about their situation. And, if we learn a little bit about what a refugee to Ireland sees and feels, maybe — just maybe — we’ll be a bit more sympathetic to the immigrants who’ve come to our own land and our own communities in search of work, safety and freedom.

Fair warning: Some of the human is earthy and sexual; this is a book for mature audiences. — bz

Continue reading...