seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of St. Columba

St. Columba, also called Colum or Columcille, Irish abbot and missionary Evangelist is born on December 7, 521, in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal) in the north of Ireland. He is credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission. He also founds the important abbey on Iona, which becomes a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry and is highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts. Today he is remembered as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba studies under Saints Finnian of Movilla and Finnian of Clonard and is ordained into the priesthood around 551. He founds churches and the famous monasteries Daire Calgaich, in Derry, and Dair-magh, in Durrow.

Columba and his twelve disciples erect a church and monastery on the island of Iona (c. 563) as their springboard for the conversion of Scotland. It is regarded as the mother house and its abbots as the chief ecclesiastical rulers even of the bishops. Columba gives formal benediction and inauguration to Áedán mac Gabráin of Dunadd as king of Dál Riata.

Columba accompanies Aidan to Ireland in 575 and takes a leading role in a council held at Druim Cetta, which determines the position of the ruler of Dál Riata in relation to the king of Ireland. The last years of Columba’s life are apparently primarily spent in Iona, where he is already revered as a saint. He and his associates and successors spread the gospel more than any other contemporary group of religious pioneers in Britain.

Columba dies on Iona and is buried in 597 by his monks in the abbey he created. In 794 the Vikings descend on Iona. Columba’s relics are finally removed in 849 and divided between Scotland and Ireland. The parts of the relics which go to Ireland are reputed to be buried in Downpatrick, County Down, with St. Patrick and St. Brigid or at Saul Church neighbouring Downpatrick.

Three Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba with some degree of certainty. Excavations in 1958 and 1959 revealed Columba’s living cell and the outline of the original monastery.

St. Columba’s Feast Day, 9 June, has been designated as International Celtic Art Day. The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, great medieval masterpieces of Celtic art, are associated with Columba.

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Opening of Assembly’s College, Belfast

assemblys-college-belfastAssembly’s College, Belfast, opens for the training of Presbyterian clergy on December 5, 1853.

The Renaissance Revival style building with its grand Doric porch and Baroque attic is designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect of the main building at Queen’s University Belfast and built with Scrabo stone at a cost of £5,000. Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné of Geneva participates in the opening ceremony alongside Henry Cooke, President of the Faculty. The five other professors in the new college are John Edgar, Robert Wilson, William Dool Killen, James G. Murphy and William Gibson.

There is a large influx of students in the wake of the 1859 Ulster revival and the south wing with its dining hall and student accommodations is added in 1869. Princeton Theological Seminary has an important influence in the shaping of the ethos of the College during this period as the Reverend Roberts Watts, who is appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in 1866, hopes to make “Belfast another Princeton.” The north wing with its wood-panelled chapel is designed by John Lanyon, son of original architect, and completed in 1881. The first degrees under the Royal Charter are conferred in 1883. However, the death of Watts in 1895 marks the beginning of the end of the Princetonian influence. A partial union takes place between the faculties in Belfast and Magee in 1922.

The newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland meets in Assembly’s College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont is being built with the House of Commons meeting in the Gamble Library and the Senate in the College chapel. During this period the College conducts classes in a house and provides library resources in a house on University Square. In 1926 the College becomes a Recognised College of Queen’s University. During this period the College comes under criticism for its embrace of theological liberalism. This culminates in a charge of heresy being brought against Professor James Ernest Davey in 1926-27. The College officially reopens in October 1932 and the inaugural lecture is delivered by the Scottish Historian Robert Rait.

Between 1941 and 1948 the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the city police, use the College as its own headquarters are bombed in the Belfast Blitz. In 1953, to mark the College’s centenary year, Prof. Davey is elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

In 1976 theological teaching at Magee College in Derry, County Londonderry, ceases and the two colleges amalgamate in 1978. The new college, constituted by an Act of Parliament, is named Union Theological College.

Today Union Theological College offers a full range of courses in Theology. The professors of the College constitute the Presbyterian Theological Faculty Ireland (PTFI) which was granted a Royal Charter in 1881 to confer academic degrees. The PTFI still awards degrees, diplomas and certificates. The majority of students are enrolled for degrees and diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate, through the Institute of Theology of the Queen’s University of Belfast, in particular the BTh, BD, MTh and PhD.


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)


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Death of Saint Laurence O’Toole

st-laurence-o-tooleLorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Eu, Normandy, France on November 14, 1180.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 25 years old, he is elected Abbot of the monastery. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of the Danish city of Dublin. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between the King of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. The English King, Henry II, does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence O’Toole is canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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Death of Jonathan Swift, Satirist & Essayist

jonathan-swiftJonathan Swift, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who becomes Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, dies in Dublin on October 19, 1745.

Swift is born in Dublin on November 30, 1667. His father, an attorney, also named Jonathan Swift, dies just two months before he is born. Without steady income, his mother struggles to provide for her newborn. Moreover, he is a sickly child. It is later discovered that he suffers from Ménière’s disease, a condition of the inner ear that leaves the afflicted nauseous and hard of hearing. In an effort to give her son the best upbringing possible, Swift’s mother gives him over to Godwin Swift, her late husband’s brother and a member of the respected professional attorney and judges group Gray’s Inn. Godwin Swift enrolls his nephew in the Kilkenny Grammar School (1674–1682), which is perhaps the best school in Ireland at the time. His transition from a life of poverty to a rigorous private school setting proves challenging. He does, however, make a fast friend in William Congreve, the future poet and playwright.

At age 14, Swift commences his undergraduate studies at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1686, he receives a Bachelor of Arts degree and goes on to pursue a master’s degree. Not long into his research, huge unrest breaks out in Ireland. The king of Ireland, England and Scotland is soon to be overthrown. What becomes known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688 spurs him to move to England and start anew. For 10 years, Swift works in Surrey‘s Moor Park and acts as an assistant to Sir William Temple.

During his Moor Park years, Swift met the daughter of Temple’s housekeeper, an 8-year-old named Esther Johnson. They become lovers for the rest of their lives until Johnson’s death. It is rumored that they marry in 1716 and that Swift keeps of lock of Johnson’s hair in his possession at all times.

During his decade of work for Temple, Swift returns to Ireland twice. On a trip in 1695, he takes all necessary requirements to become an ordained priest in the Anglican tradition. Under Temple’s influence, he also begins to write, first short essays and then a manuscript for a later book. Temple dies in 1699. Swift completes the task of editing and publishing Temple’s memoirs. He then leans on his priestly qualifications and finds work ministering to a pea-sized congregation just 20 miles outside of Dublin. For the next ten years, he gardens, preaches and works on the house provided to him by the church. He also returns to writing. His first political pamphlet is titled A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome.

In 1704, Swift anonymously releases A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books. Tub, although widely popular with the masses, is harshly disapproved of by the Church of England. Ostensibly, it criticizes religion, but Swift means it as a parody of pride. Nonetheless, his writings earn him a reputation in London and when the Tories come into power in 1710, they ask him to become editor of The Examiner, their official paper. After a time, he becomes fully immersed in the political landscape and begins writing some of the most cutting and well-known political pamphlets of the day, including The Conduct of the Allies, an attack on the Whigs. Privy to the inner circle of Tory government, he lays out his private thoughts and feelings in a stream of letters to his beloved Stella. They are later published as The Journal to Stella.

When he sees that the Tories will soon fall from power, Swift returns to Ireland. In 1713, he takes the post of dean at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. While leading his congregation at St. Patrick’s, he begins to write what would become his best-known work. In 1726, at last finished with the manuscript, he travels to London and benefits from the help of several friends, who anonymously publish it as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, more simply known as Gulliver’s Travels. The book is an immediate success and has not been out of print since its first run.

Not long after the celebration of this work, Swift’s longtime love, Esther Johnson, falls ill. She dies in January 1728. Her death moves Swift to write The Death of Mrs. Johnson.

In 1742, Swift suffers a stroke and loses the ability to speak. On October 19, 1745, Jonathan Swift dies. He is laid to rest next to Esther Johnson inside Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


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Birth of Philip Embury, Methodist Preacher

Philip EmburyPhilip Embury, Methodist preacher and a leader of one of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States, is born in Ballingrane, County Limerick on September 21, 1729.

Embury’s parents are members of the colony of Germans that emigrate from the Palatinate to Ireland early in the eighteenth century, and in which Methodism co-founder John Wesley labors with great success. The colony forms from refugees from the War of the Spanish Succession. Embury is educated at a school near Ballingrane and learns the carpentry trade. He is converted on Christmas day 1752, becomes a local preacher at Court-Matrix in 1758 and marries Margaret Switzer that fall.

In 1760, due to rising rents and scarce land, he goes to New York City and works as a school teacher. In common with his fellow emigrants, he begins to lose interest in religious matters and does not preach in New York until 1766 when, moved by the reproaches of his cousin Barbara Heck, sometimes called the “mother of American Methodism,” he begins to hold services first in his own house on Barrack Street, now Park Place, and then in a rigging loft on what is now William Street. The congregation thus forms what is probably the first Methodist congregation in the United States, though it is a disputed question whether precedence should not be given to Robert Strawbridge, who begins laboring in Maryland about this time. Before this, he and Barbara Heck worship along with other Irish Palatines at Trinity Church in Manhattan, where three of his children are baptized.

The first Methodist church is built under Embury’s charge in 1768, in association with Thomas Webb and others, on the site of the present John Street United Methodist Church. He himself works on the building as a carpenter and afterward preaches there gratuitously. In 1769, preachers sent out by John Wesley arrive in New York City, and Embury goes to work in the vicinity of Albany at Camden Valley, New York, where he continues to work at his trade during the week and preaches every Sunday. He and several others receive a grant of 8,000 acres to develop for the manufacture of linen. He organizes among Irish emigrants at Ashgrove, near Camden Valley, the first Methodist society within the bounds of what becomes the flourishing and influential Troy Conference.

Philip Embury dies suddenly in Camden, New York in August 1775, in consequence of an accident in mowing. He is buried on a neighboring farm but in 1832 his remains are removed to Ashgrove churchyard and in 1866 to Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York, where a monument to him is unveiled in 1873, with an address by Bishop Matthew Simpson.

(Pictured: Portrait of Philip Embury by John Barnes, Salem, 1773)


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St. Columba Encounters Monster in Loch Ness

columba-and-loch-ness-monsterSt. Columba is said to have encountered the Loch Ness Monster on August 22, 565.

Columba is trained by Irish monks. However, his youthful Christianity is skin-deep while his passions are strong. He is partly responsible for the battle of Cul-drebene in which many men lose their lives. Repentant, he sails to Britain as “a pilgrim for Christ” and founds the monastery of Iona, from which Christianity spreads across North Britain. He himself travels and preaches, establishing several churches and monasteries.

Revered as a saint, his life is written by Adomnán. In reporting Columba’s life, Adomnán gives what appears to be the first written account of the Loch Ness Monster.

Traveling in Scotland, Columba has to cross the Loch Ness. On its banks, he sees some of the Picts burying a man who had been bitten by a water monster while swimming. The body had been pulled from the loch with the aid of a hook by rescuers who had come to his assistance in a boat.

Despite the danger, Columba orders one of his followers to swim across the loch and bring back a boat that is moored on the other side. This man’s name was Lugne Mocumin. Without hesitation, Lugne strips for the swim and plunges in.

The monster, robbed of its earlier feast, surfaces and darts at Lugne with a roar, its jaws open. Everyone on the bank is stupefied with terror, everyone except Columba, that is. A firm believer in the authority of the crucified Christ, he raises his hand, making the sign of the cross. Invoking the name of God, he commands the beast, saying, “You will go no further, and won’t touch the man; go back at once.”

At the voice of the saint, the monster flees as if terrified, “more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes,” says Adomnán. The heathen are amazed. Everyone who witnesses the sight gives glory to the God of the Christians.

The authenticity of this event remains in doubt. To begin with, Adomnán’s account is written over a hundred years after the alleged events. Furthermore, different versions of the story disagree with one another. One has Columba raising the monster’s first victim from the dead by laying his staff across his chest.

This is only one of many extraordinary events in Adomnán’s account. According to him, Columba drips with prophecies and predictions that come true. He makes water into wine like Jesus, draws water from a rock like Moses, calms a storm at sea, provides a miraculous draught of fishes, multiplies a herd of cattle, drives a demon out of a milk pail, and cures the sick. A book owned by Columba could not be destroyed by water. Through his prayers he kills a wild boar, stops serpents from harming the inhabitants of a certain island. Angels and manifestations of divine light attend him throughout his life. Adomnán’s account has so many incredible tales that it is unbelievable.

(From “Columba Encountered Loch Ness Monster” by Dan Graves, MSL published on Christianity.com)