Archive for the ‘St. Paddy’s Day’ Category

How The Irish Catholics Evolved



 In 1155, to curb ” ecclesiastical” corruption, authorization was given to King Henry II to invade Ireland, in the form of a Papal bull from Pope Adrian IV. Henry I had died in 1135. The deed was done in 1169, upon authority based a lot on the remnants of a forged Roman imperial decree. As the English began their rule in Ireland.

 It had been out of the history of the times of Constantine the Great which had determined the place of the Church of Rome in western religion. It is the history of Henry VIII that left the Irish under a dominant culture. In his campaign against Catholicism, Henry VIII seized church lands, raided monasteries, and in the process, Henry’s henchmen disturbed and destroyed the burial places of the monarchs who preceded him. Henry VIII likely contributed to the destruction of the tomb of his namesake Henry I.  

 Modern historians attempt to determine whether Christian sources exaggerated the scope of the Diocletianic persecution of Christians during the times just before Constantine.  It is written of the persecutors, Galerius and Diocletian were avid, while Constantius had been unenthusiastic. Constantius was the father of Constantine the Great. Later edicts for persecution, including the calls for universal sacrifice, were not applied in Constantius’ domain. In 303, it was Diocletian who had rescinded the legal rights of Christians, demanding compliance with traditional Roman religion.

 Roman imperial decrees, not unlike papal bulls.  The emperor in those days was concerned with the spiritual life of his people.  Constantine the Great was the son of Flavius Valerius Julius Constantius (later known as Constantius Chlorus) and and woman later canonized by the Church of Rome as Saint Helena from a common law marriage. After divorcing Helena some time before 289 (if he never married her, why the divorce?), Flavius Valerius Julius Constantius (later known as Constantius Chlorus) married Flavia Maximiana Theodora (known as Theodora) in order to obtain a wife more consonant with his rising status, per the analysis. Theodora and Constantius had six children: Constantius Chlorus carried in the Tetrarchy (which lasted until 313) the title adopted from antiquity of Caessar, as an officer in the Roman army, and as part of the Emperor Aurelian’s imperial bodyguard.

 A prominent member of the court of Diocletian, Constantine had fought for Diocletian and Galerius in Asia. By late 305, he had become a tribune of the first order. Having been schooled in the East under some Christian influence, Constantine, on taking the imperial office in 306, restored full legal equality and returned confiscated property to Christians. Internecine conflict had eliminated most of the claimants to Roman power leaving colleague and rival Constantine the Great and Licinius I. Like the Church of Rome itself, Constantine was still largely untried, with questions about his legitimacy, from Helena’s cohabitation, recognized in fact but not in law, with his father. Constantine gave his favorite half-sister Flavia Julia Constantia (one of six chilren of Theodora and Constantius) in marriage to his co-emperor, Licinius.

 In the times before Constantine the Great, the Roman Empire was on the edge of extinction, with the Empire split into three competing states, as the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression. The Crisis of the Third Century, before Constantine’s rule, had  resulted in such profound changes in the Empire’s institutions, society, economic life and, eventually, religion. 

 Henry VIII upset the burial places of his namesake, putting the Irish under a dominant culture. As the son of William the Conqueror, Henry I had reigned for nearly 30 years, from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king of England in 1100, Henry’s reign was disputed by his older brother Robert, who had been away fighting the Ottoman Turks in the Crusades. Initially able to buy Robert off, Henry later came into conflict with Robert again that was resolved in 1106 as Henry’s army captured Robert in battle, imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, he was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter Maud. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter Maud’s rule was rejected by the English nobility and in the succession crisis, of people of low birth, civil war ensued through 1141.

 And so in 1155, Laudabiliter, to curb ” ecclesiastical” corruption (had this corruption been the result of the civil war?). Authorization was given to King Henry II to invade Ireland, in the form of this Papal bull allegedly by Constantine’s power, from Pope Adrian IV. The deed was done in 1169. The authority was based a lot on the remnants of a forged Roman imperial decree, allegedly dating back to Constantine the Great. As the English began their rule in Ireland, long before the Protestant Ascendancy.

 After all, Saint Patrick was a Brit from the Scottish Highlands born about 380 A.D. – not long after Constantine the Great – kidnapped at a young age, taken prisoner in 403 AD and held in captivity in Ireland, for six years. Learning a new language. An escape as a stow-away, after a 3-day journey, he was back to Britain. Then returning to this land years later as a priest. And with his knowledge of the language, changing the landscape where actually there were no snakes, if there ever had been? So you had cause to trust both British leaders and leaders in Rome.

 Island people, increasingly entangled in worldly matters, over the conflict of public and private lives: after almost four centuries, following the declaration of the independence of the Church of England from papal supremacy and rejection of the authority of Rome, a new basis for the English monarch’s legitimate claim to the rule of Ireland was found in the Crown of Ireland Act 1542. Like some updated version of Great Vowel Shift in the pronunciation of the English language in England after 1350, after the writing of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Protestant minority remained socially, politically, and economically dominant through the officially established religion or the established church. Among the Canterbury pilgrims, many began to question the authority of the established Church, perhaps following Henry VIII’s lead. Within the framework of pilgrims on a pilgrimage, written during a turbulent time in English history, with the Catholic Church in the midst of the schism that kingdoms regularly went through over the issue of inheritance, how did the pardoner,in the Canterbury Tales, view his own work? Or a king?

 There was the perceived threat to the English by the rest of the world, over the issue of Supremacy. In the world of Protestant Reformation, the Irish people were the lamb. Europe’s Catholic monarchs and the Papacy remained committed in considering Ireland a feudal fief of the Papacy, to be granted to any Catholic sovereign who managed to secure the island Kingdom from the control of its Protestant monarchs.

 And so the stories of the Spanish Armada. The discovery of the New World. The Inquisition, which never really ended. And still the Ottoman Turks in the east. Over the course of the next two centuries, the Papacy and Europe’s Catholic rulers continued to recognize Ireland as a Kingdom in its own right, while asserting the Protestant monarchy as illegitimate. Catholic Europe simultaneously would incite Catholic rebels in the island, as a means of recovering Ireland from Protestant to a Catholic sovereignty.

 The papal bull.  The last Catholic inspired invasion of England ended in failure during the Jacobite rebellion. In 1755, the Holy See recognized British sovereignty over Ireland.  Subsequent treaties with Catholic sovereigns, following British global victories during the remainder of the 18th century, ended future Catholic sovereign incitements. Until the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with Wolfe Tone. Massacres of captured rebels after almost every British victory in the rising, some on a large scale as at Carlow, New Ross, Ballinamuck and Killala, were noted. And from that point on, the native population was directed –inwardly — to their very own quest for independence. And so the celebration of this inward feast, in the wearing of the green.

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Irish Spirits


In search of an Irish spirit. The universal welcoming atmosphere of a Celtic bar, throughout the world. In search of the visible aquifers, above sea level. Places which I have found in Amsterdam, Warsaw, and Gdansk.

That you might have what I have. The philanthropy of Celtic spirit. In a secular bar last night with an Irish name. Or the secular bar last night with an Irish name.

Morticians and poets…connecting what, on the surface, seems to be the unconnected. The poetry of a mortician connecting the dead to the living. When time becomes the factor in the search for the divine. God-like. Looking for the Holy Grail but running out of time. When clocks added to the stress.

Celtic spirits. When you somehow pour yourself into the kids. We give you thanks, for some attachment to belief, Saint Patrick. To believe to some degree, about a few things about the world. About life and death and birthrights –some kind of faith, with loyalty. After so many years under a dominant culture. With the dominant culture so visible. The ones which kept peasants in debt, and stole a language. The foreigner concepts, which had oppressed peasants each day. For so long.

Irish Identity

For 13 years I attended Catholic schools in the United States, followed with attendance for four years at a Jesuit university. It was only when I finished my schooling and traveled to Ireland that I realized for the first time, based upon names, most of these friends who were Catholic, most all of my friends, are Irish Catholic. The origins of the names had been a bit invisible but any litany of these family names on my Christmas card list would make another grand Celtic song.

So of this Irish Catholic identity, is identity only an idea? Until the past generation, most European countries have been identified by its religion or its music. Whatever the denomination, worship and music were used to unite a people, to energize them to work for others. Music, worship, language and STORY could change the shape of the world and my shape within it. Identity was how I saw what I liked, and what I wanted to look like.

In 2008, I was given a book called Vanishing Ireland. The writer’s theme was that the Celtic Tiger had eroded a way of life. Or something had. It was just the way the world was becoming. There was a concern in Europe about a vanishing world. In the days of the European Union. Europeans were struggling to live in a secular world with their Christian past. Vanishing Ireland was not a book so much about vanishing Catholics in Ireland as a vanishing way of life. The Catholics were still there. But the meaning and purpose of a Catholic identity in the vanishing world of Europe Union was a concern, at least to clerical leaders. (Before the revelations of the Murphy Commission, et al.)

Why all the concern over the loss of identity? My interpretation of the world depended upon whom I had come across, of that something which seemed to build over the years, this spirit within me.

In 1993, I had stayed at a bed & breakfast in Kilkenny sixteen years after my first trip. The place was operated by a woman in her seventies. Mrs. Hefferan was long-time separated. And Ireland at the time was in the midst of an election campaign whether divorce should be legally recognized in her country. In the course of a breakfast on a Sunday morning, Mrs. Hefferan revealed what was special about Kilkenny. It was her stories about the man she married. It had not been an unhappy experience for her. She just explained what happened on an island — to an American and a French woman over tea — whether to men or to dogs. After years of breeding, she felt, the men and the Irish setters inevitably just got high strung. But still Irish men and Irish setters were appreciated the world over for their companionship.

Fifteen years later — after that holiday — a pub a day is closed in Ireland. For good. The world was changing. Was there a loss of community everywhere? So what really was vanishing? As people went their separate ways?

Laura McKenzie has dedicated her life to traditional Celtic music. It had taken years to develop. And then for the next generation to learn. “I was drawn to the culture that had produced it.” This American woman learned that it was not just the notes on paper that the music was about. The mystery was in the formation process like the Cliffs of Moher, or of playing music with an older man from Sligo. Celtic music taught that when someone was gone, their life in memory became more holy. That was identity.

Civilization was a collection of cultures and the things that drew people to the culture. To produce it, took years. It took years to learn any culture. And then it was passed along. Even in the middle of no where. That was part of the draw to this culture, which certainly involved a religious, a family dimension. Even to the those caught up in exile from a diaspora.

So what did all of this means because of St. Patrick? What was the meaning and purpose of a scattering Irish Catholic identity, fought over as a sectarian battle for too much of the twentieth century, even to the scatter-brained wild rovers?

Born about 350 years after Jesus of Nazareth died. Kidnapped at a young age. This young man from the Scottish Highlands taken prisoner in 403 AD and held in captivity. For six years. Learning a new language. An escape as a stow away. A 3-day journey back to Britain.

Returning to this land years later as a priest. And with his knowledge of the language, changing the landscape where actually there were no snakes. Had there ever been?

Baptized with names that we are not anonymous. Those Irish names so that we no longer are anonymous. History and its affect on me. I had traveled to Ireland twice. In 1994 I visited the town, the homestead that still carried the family name. This fertile land was in the middle of nowhere.

Long with conflict amongst the baptized and the unbaptized, between Protestants and Catholics, over issues of human power, music if not worship was used to unite a people, to energize them to work, from this thing called identity. For others. In the mainstream, to arrive at consensus. Over who we say we are, over who we actually are, and over who God wants us to be. Out of the middle of nowhere.

Visible, on March 17th. This has turned out to be a day not so much about shared belief any more, as shared blood. Or just a shared drink. When God really trumps nationhood. Until commercialized in the secular world. Because of St. Patrick, my family has no longer been sinning anonymously, but with an identity. Drawn era after era to other Irish people, and having a fine time. With a name that generation after generation has kept trying. Bonded by the stories.

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