seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of William Rokeby, Statesman, Cleric & Archbishop of Dublin

William Rokeby, a leading statesman and cleric in early sixteenth-century Ireland, dies at Kirk Sandall, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, on November 29, 1521. He holds the offices of Bishop of Meath, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He is commemorated in the Rokeby Chapels in two Yorkshire churches, St. Oswald’s Church, Kirk Sandall, and Halifax Minster.

Rokeby is born at Kirk Sandall, eldest of the five sons of John Rokeby (died 1506). His younger brother, Sir Richard Rokeby (died 1523), is Comptroller of the Household to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later Treasurer of Ireland. He retains a deep affection for Kirk Sandall and returns there to die. He goes to school at Rotherham, studies at the University of Oxford and becomes a fellow of King’s Hall, later Trinity College, Cambridge. He becomes vicar of his home parish in 1487 and is transferred to Halifax, another town for which he has a deep attachment, in about 1499. In 1507 he is made Bishop of Meath.

On the death of Walter Fitzsimon in 1511, Rokeby becomes Archbishop of Dublin. It has been suggested that his elevation is due at least in part to his English birth, as the Crown is anxious to place Englishmen high up in the Irish hierarchy. No doubt his brother’s close connection to Wolsey also plays a part. He is Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1512 to 1513 and from 1516 to 1522.

Writer Roderick J. O’Flanagan believes that Rokeby is a good and diligent Lord Chancellor, although he does not leave behind many written judgments. He is clearly a trusted servant of the Crown; in particular, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, the Lord Deputy, Surrey, with the approval of Henry VIII, choose Rokeby in 1520 as mediator in the feud between Maurice FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, and Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond, which has become exceptionally bitter.

As Archbishop Rokeby makes a reputation as a peacemaker, settling a long and bitter dispute between the Dean and Chapter of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He gives permission to Gerald FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Kildare, for the original foundation of Maynooth College, which is suppressed in 1535. He is frequently at the English Court, so often indeed that he is accused of neglecting his official duties back in Ireland. He participates in the christening of the future Queen Mary I in 1516 and the ceremony by which Wolsey receives his cardinal’s hat.

As Archbishop of Dublin, Rokeby is best remembered for the Synod of 1518. The Synod prohibits the use of any tin chalice at Mass, and the disposal of Church property by laymen; and attempts to regulate the procedure for dealing with intestate estates, the payment of tithes and burial fees and the rules for admission to the clergy. Rather comically, he strictly forbids clergymen to play football.

Rokeby is appointed Archdeacon of Surrey on March 27, 1519. By 1521 his health is failing, and he retires to Kirk Sandall, where he dies on November 29. In his will he leaves £200 to rebuild St. Mary’s Church, Beverley, whose tower had collapsed the previous year.

Rokeby makes elaborate provisions in his will for the disposal of his remains. In accordance with his wishes, his body is buried in St. Oswald’s Church, Kirk Sandall, but his heart and bowels are buried in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Halifax (now known as Halifax Minster). Mortuary chapels are erected at both spots, which still exist today.

O’Flanagan praises Rokeby as a good man, a good bishop and, so far as we can tell from the scanty records, a good judge. Irish author F. Elrington Ball, while acknowledging his good qualities, suggests that he was a failure as Irish Lord Chancellor, due partly to his frequent absences in England.

(Pictured: Halifax Minster, where Rokeby’s heart is buried)


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First Meeting of the General Synod of Ulster

The first recorded meeting of the Presbyterian General Synod of Ulster is held at Antrim, County Antrim, on September 30, 1691.

The Synod (or General Synod) of Ulster is the forerunner of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It comprises all the clergy of the church elected by their respective local presbyteries (or church elders) and a section of the laity.

In 1726, the Synod expels ministers, grouped together as the Synod of Antrim, who refuse to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Later there is a further secession by those who, insisting on the sole kingship of Christ, reject the Confession. In 1763 they organise a distinct Reformed Presbyterian Church, and in 1811 establish their own provincial synod. In 1746, some of the more doctrinaire Calvinists withdraw, forming the Secession Synod.

Within the mainline Synod there is a continuing distinction between ‘Old Light‘ supporters of theological orthodoxy and ‘New Light‘ elements more inclined to defer to conscience rather than doctrine. In the first decades of the 19th century, positions harden with New Light ministers adopting a Unitarian or Arian skepticism regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1829, when the leading conservative evangelical, Henry Cooke, succeeds in pressing the General Synod for a firm declaration of Trinitarian belief they withdraw to form their own Remonstrant Synod.

The departure of the latitudinarian party makes possible a reconciliation with the earlier Seceders. Purged of its heterodox elements, in 1840 the Synod of Ulster joins with the Secession Synod to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.


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Birth of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin

Daniel Murray, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, is born on April 18, 1768 at Sheepwalk, near Arklow, County Wicklow.

Murray is the son of Thomas and Judith Murray, who are farmers. At the age of eight he goes to Thomas Betagh‘s school at Saul’s Court, near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. At sixteen, Archbishop John Carpenter sends him to the Irish College at Salamanca, completing his studies at the University of Salamanca. He is ordained priest in 1792 at the age of twenty-four.

After some years as curate at St. Paul’s Church in Dublin, Murray is transferred to Arklow, and is there in 1798 when the rebellion breaks out. The yeomanry shoot the parish priest in bed and Murray, to escape a similar fate, flees to the city where for two years he serves as curate at St. Andrew’s Chapel on Hawkins Street. As a preacher, he is said to be particularly effective, especially in appeals for charitable causes, such as the schools. He is then assigned to the Chapel of St. Mary in Upper Liffey Street where Archbishop John Troy is the parish priest.

In 1809, at the request of Archbishop Troy, Murray is appointed coadjutor bishop, and consecrated on November 30, 1809. In 1811 he is made Administrator of St. Andrew’s. That same year he helps Mary Aikenhead establish the Religious Sisters of Charity. While coadjutor he fills for one year the position of president of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Murray is an uncompromising opponent of a proposal granting the British government a “veto” over Catholic ecclesiastical appointments in Ireland, and in 1814 and 1815, makes two separate trips to Rome concerning the controversy.

Murray becomes Archbishop of Dublin in 1825 and on November 14, 1825 celebrates the completion of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. He enjoys the confidence of successive popes, and is held in high respect by the British government. His life is mainly devoted to ecclesiastical affairs, the establishment and organisation of religious associations for the education and relief of the poor. With the outbreak of cholera in the 1830s, in 1834 he and Mother Aikenhead found St. Vincent’s Hospital. He persuades Edmund Rice to send members of the Christian Brothers to Dublin to start a school for boys. The first is opened in a lumber yard on the City-quay. He assists Catherine McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1831 professes the first three members.

Edward Bouverie Pusey has an interview with Murray in 1841, and bears testimony to his moderation, and John Henry Newman has some correspondence with him prior to Newman’s conversion from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. A seat in the privy council at Dublin, officially offered to him in 1846, is not accepted. He takes part in the synod of the Roman Catholic clergy at Thurles in 1850.

Towards the end of his life, Murray’s eyesight is impaired, and he reads and writes with difficulty. Among his last priestly functions is a funeral service for Richard Lalor Sheil who had died in Italy, and whose body had been brought back to Ireland for burial. Murray dies in Dublin on February 26, 1852, at the age of eighty-four. He is interred in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, where a marble statue of him has been erected in connection with a monument to his memory, executed by James Farrell, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Fine Arts.

(Pictured: Portrait of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, by unknown 19th century Irish portrait painter)


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Death of Saint Gelasius of Armagh

Saint Gelasius of Armagh B (AC), also known as Giolla Iosa and Gioua-Mac-Liag, dies on March 27, 1174. The son of the Irish poet Diarmaid, Saint Gelasius (meaning `servant of Jesus’) is the learned abbot of Derry for sixteen years. He is consecrated Archbishop of Armagh c. 1137, when Saint Malachy resigns and serves as Primate of Ireland until 1174.

During his long episcopacy, Gelasius has to deal with the events before and after the Norman invasion, including the alleged Donation of Ireland by Pope Adrian IV to Henry II of England, Henry’s arrival in Ireland in 1171, and Pope Alexander III’s confirmation of everything granted by Adrian IV.

Gelasius reconstructs the Cathedral of Armagh and, in 1162, consecrates Saint Laurence O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin, although the invasion and settlement of Dublin by Norsemen means that the Christians of that see are looking more to Canterbury than Armagh. That same year, during the Synod of Clane in County Kildare, a uniform liturgy is ensured throughout Ireland by requiring that only Armagh-trained or Armagh-accredited teachers of divinity may teach in any school attached to the Irish Church.

Gelasius is an indefatigable prelate. He makes constant visitations throughout Ireland, reorganizes old monasteries, and convenes synods. He is said to be the first Irish bishop to whom the pallium is sent. Pope Eugene III’s papal legate, Cardinal Giovanni Paparoni, brings four pallia with him to the Synod of Kells in 1152 for the archbishops of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam. The records of this synod include the first mention of tithes in Irish annals, which Cardinal Paparoni proposes but none of the participants support. The matter of tithes and the Peter’s Pence is an important consideration in subsequent negotiations between Pope Adrian IV and Henry II of England.

Gelasius convenes another synod at Armagh in 1170 in the hope of finding some means to expel the Anglo-Normans, who had invaded the country the previous year, before they become too entrenched. In 1171, Henry II of England arrives, lavishly entertains the civic and ecclesiastic Irish leaders, and requests the convening of the Synod of Cashel, during which he presents a plan for improving the Church of Ireland. At this time there is no mention of any claim of Canterbury or the Donation. However, the eighth canon of the synod decrees that the Irish Church will celebrate the Divine Office according to the usage of the Church of England, which is still Catholic at the time.

The bishop of Armagh does not attend the Synod of Cashel. At the time he is occupied in a visitation of Connacht and Ulster in an attempt (in concert with the high king) to organize a defense of Ireland. He realizes that Henry II has duped many Irish princes by masking his true intentions.

The following year Henry II falls under interdict for his murder of Saint Thomas Becket. When news of HenryII’s penitential, bare-foot walk to the shrine of Saint Thomas and his plans for the `uplift’ of the Irish Church reaches Rome, Pope Alexander III confirms the Donation of Ireland made by Pope Adrian IV. Shortly thereafter the Church of Ireland became English, the School of Armagh is closed (c. 1188) and the last native bishop of Armagh until the Reformation dies in 1313.

(From: “Saints of the Day – Gelasius of Armagh” by Katherine I Rabenstein, CatholicSaints.Info (www.catholicsaints.info) | Pictured: Arms of the Archbishop of Armagh, in the Church of Ireland)


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Birth of Reverend John Abernethy

john-abernethyJohn Abernethy, Irish Presbyterian minister and church leader, is born at Coleraine, County Londonderry on October 19, 1680. He is the grandfather of the surgeon John Abernethy.

Abernethy’s father, also named John, a Presbyterian minister, accompanies Patrick Adair on a deputation from the general committee of Ulster presbyterians, who present a congratulatory address to William III in London in 1689, and obtain from the king a letter (November 9, 1689) recommending their case to Meinhardt Schomberg, 3rd Duke of Schomberg.

At the age of 13, Abernethy enters the University of Glasgow and, upon concluding his course there, goes on to the University of Edinburgh, where he soon moves in the most cultured circles. Returning home, he is licensed to preach from his Presbytery before he is twenty-one. In 1701 he is called to accept charge of an important congregation in Antrim. After an interval of two years, mostly spent in further study in Dublin, he is ordained there on August 8, 1703. He becomes a noted debater in the synods and assemblies of his church and a leading evangelist. He has been described as being at this time “the young minister of Antrim … a man of studious habits, heretical opinions, and remarkable ability.”

In 1712, he is devastated by the loss of his wife, Susannah Jordan. Five years later, he is invited to the congregation of Usher’s Quay, Dublin, and also to what is called the Old Congregation of Belfast. The synod assigns him to Dublin. After careful consideration he refuses and remains at Antrim. This refusal arouses disapproval and a controversy follows, with Abernethy standing firm for religious freedom and repudiating the ecclesiastical courts. The controversy and quarrel bears the name of the two camps in the conflict, the “Subscribers” and the “Non-subscribers.” Abernethy and his associates sow the seeds of the struggle (1821–1840) in which, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Cooke, the Arian and Socinian elements of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are thrown out.

Much of what Abernethy contends for, and which the “Subscribers” oppose bitterly, is silently granted in the lapse of time. In 1726, the “Non-subscribers” are cut off, with due ban and solemnity, from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. In 1730 he moves to Wood Street, Dublin. It is said of him that, although a “Non-subscriber,” he is a Trinitarian. However, Dr. Cooke states that Arianism “made very considerable progress under the patronage of high names, as Abernethy, the author of a very excellent work upon the Attributes, who gave it a great deal of eclat.”

In 1731 comes the greatest controversy in which Abernethy is involved. It is nominally about the Test Act, but actually on the entire question of tests and disabilities. His stand is against all laws that, upon account of mere differences of religious opinions and forms of worship, exclude men of integrity and ability from serving their country.

Abernethy is nearly a century in advance of his age. He has to reason with those who deny that a Roman Catholic or Dissenter can be a “man of integrity and ability.”

John Abernethy dies on December 1, 1740.


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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)