Monday 30 April 2018

Our Gaelic Christian Heritage (Part 2)

Grandson of High King Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles), Cormac Mac Airt came to the High Kingship about the year AD 116 and is the most glorious of the High Kings of Tara. The works of learning, wisdom and jurisprudence attributed to him, the Psalter of Tara, the Seanchas Mór (at least in original form), and the Teagasc na Ríogh attest to cultural greatness of his reign, apart from the "fruit and fatness" of the land in his time.

Of greatest interest to us is that King Cormac was reputed to have rejected the superstitions of the Druids, refusing to worship the carvings, saying that the carver deserved greater worship still. His reign was brought to an end by a grave disfiguring injury - since such disfigurements excluded the sufferer from exercising Sovereignty among the ancient Irish. He lived for some time thereafter but, his final wish was to be buried, not at the pagan burying-place of Brugh na Bóinne, but at Ross na Ríogh. His wishes were disregarded but Providence intervened to fulfill them. Sir Samuel Ferguson's poem 'The Burial of King Cormac' relates the story thus:

"Crom Cruach and his sub-gods twelve,"
Said Cormac, "are but craven treene:
The axe that made them, haft and helve,
Had worthier of our worship been.

But He who made the tree to grow,
And hid in earth the iron stone,
And made the man with mind to know
The axe's use, is God alone."

Anon to priests of Crom was brought
(Where girded in their service dread
They ministered on red Moy Slaught)
Word of the words King Cormac said.

They loosed their curse against the king,
They cursed him in his flesh and bones
And daily in their mystic ring
They turned the maledictive stones.

Till, where at meat the monarch sate
Amid the revel and the wine,
He choked upon the food he ate
At Sletty, southward of the Boyne.

High vaunted then the priestly throng,
And far and wide they noised abroad
With trump and loud liturgic song
The praise of their avenging god.

But ere the voice was wholly spent
That priest and prince should still obey,
To awed attendants o'er him bent
Great Cormac gathered breath to say:

"Spread not the beds of Brugh for me,
When restless death-bed's use is done;
But bury me at Ross-na-ree,
And face me to the rising sun.

"For all the kings that lie in Brugh
Put trust in gods of wood and stone;
And 'twas at Ross that I first knew
One, Unseen, who is God alone.

"His glory lightens from the east,
His message soon shall reach our shore,
And idol-god and cursing priest
Shall plague us from Moy Slaught no more."

Dead Cormac on his bier they laid:
"He reigned a king for forty years;
And shame it were," his captains said,
"He lay not with his royal peers:

"His grandsire, Hundred Battles, sleeps
Serene in Brugh, and all around
Dead kings, in stone sepulchral keeps,
Protect the sacred burial ground.

"What though a dying man should rave
Of changes o'er the eastern sea,
In Brugh of Boyne shall be his grave,
And not in noteless Rossnaree."

Then northward forth they bore the bier,
And down from Sleithac's side they drew
With horseman and with charioteer,
To cross the fords of Boyne to Brugh."

There came a breath of finer air
That touched the Boyne with ruffling wings,
It stirred him in his sedgy lair
And in his mossy moorland springs.

And as the burial train came down
With dirge, and savage dolorous shows,
Across their pathway broad and brown,
The deep full-hearted river rose.

From bank to bank through all his fords,
'Neath blackening squalls he swelled and boiled,
And thrice the wond'ring gentile lords
Essay'd to cross, and thrice recoil'd.

Then forth stepped gray-haired warriors four;
They said: "Through angrier floods than these,
On link'd shield once our King we bore
From Dread-spear and the hosts of Deece;

"And long as loyal will holds good,
And limbs respond with helpful thews,
Nor flood nor fiend within the flood
Shall bar him of his burial dues."

With slanted necks they stooped to lift;
They heaved him up to neck and chin;
And, pair by pair, with footsteps swift,
Locked arm and shoulder, bore him in.

'Twas brave to see them leave the shore;
To mark the deepening surges rise,
And fall subdued in foam before
The tension of their striding thighs.

'Twas brave, when now a spear-cast out,
Breast-high the battling surges ran;
For eweight was great, and limbs were stout,
And loyal man put trust in man.

But ere they reached the middle deep,
Nor steadying weight of clay they bore,
Nor strain of sinewy limbs could keep
Their feet beneath the swerving four.

And now they slide and now they swim,
And now amid the blackening squall,
Gray locks afloat with clutchings grim,
They plunge around the floating pall.

While as a youth with practiced spear
Through justling crowds bears off the ring-
Boyne from their shoulders caught the bier,
And proudly bare away the King!"

At morning on the grassy marge
Of Ross-na-ree the corpse was found,
And shepherds at their early charge,
Entombed it in the peaceful ground.

A tranquil spot : a hopeful sound
Comes from the ever-youthful stream,
And still on daisied mead and mound
The dawn delays with tenderer beam.

Round Cormac, Spring renews her buds;
In march perpetual by his side,
Down come the earth-fresh April floods,
And up the sea-fresh salmon glide;

And life and time rejoicing run
From age to age their wonted way;
But still he waits the risen Sun,
For still 'tis only dawning Day.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Latin Mass Pilgrimage to Bansha 2018

We were blessed to return for a third time to Bansha, Co. Tipperary, to pray at the grave of the mighty Canon Hayes and to visit Athassel Abbey, one of the largest ecclesiastical sites in the Country.  The sun always seems to shine in Bansha!  The welcome is always warm too.

Buildings of Ireland has a fine description of the architecture of the Church of the Annunciation.

Fittingly for the Church of the Annunciation, the Mass was held in the shadow - and offered for the intention - of the Referendum on the Protection of Unborn Life.

Nearby Golden was the birthplace of the outstanding Fr. Matthew, OFMCap, the Apostle of Temperance.  There must be something powerful in the water thereabouts.  Golden is dotted with medieval ruins and is well worth a visit by itself.  However, our target was between Golden and Bansha, the great Abbey or Priory of Athassel.

IrelandinRuins gives a snapshot of a visit there. The abbey was built for the Augustinians by William Fitz-Aldhelm de Burgho in the 12th century. Dedicated to St. Edmund, it was one of Ireland’s most extensive monasteries, covering about 4 acres of land along the banks of the River Suir.

Our Gaelic Christian Heritage (Part 1)

The various Annals of the Gaelic Race attest to the historic devotion of the Irish to Christ. However, if it is an Irish claim worthy of mention is should be an extraordinary one. Such a claim is the claim made for Conor Mac Nessa, King of Ulster about the time of Our Lord and, incidentally, associated with the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. His death is recounted in the Book of Leinster and referred to in O'Curry's, Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History

King Conor witnessed, it was said, the pathetic fallacy of the Earth shaken and darkened at the death of Our Lord upon Calvary. He understood through the prism of Natural Religion from Bacrach, his Druid, its true significance. At the cost of his own life, struggled to defend the God-Man.

That a certain knowledge of the supernatural order might also be given to mere pagans is a strange idea but not an impossible one. The Oracle at Delphi and even Virgil in his Eclogues, had some intimation of the Incarnation. Teste David cum Sybilla, as the Dies Irae puts it. That Mankind, who had once walked in the Garden with God and who had been promised a Redeemer as they were expelled, might retain some notion of the Truth is not inconceivable.

The poem of T.D. Sullivan recounts the story as follows:

The Death of King Conor Mac Nessa


'Twas a day full of sorrow for Ulster when Conor Mac Nessa went forth
To punish the clansmen of Connaught who dared to take spoil from the North;
For his men brought him back from the battle scarce better than one that was dead,
With the brain-ball of Mesgedra buried two-thirds of its depth in his head.
His royal physician bent o'er him, great Fingen, who often before
Stanched the war-battered bodies of heroes, and built them for battle once more,
And he looked on the wound of the monarch, and heark'd to his low breathed sighs,
And he said, "In the day when that missile is loosed from his forehead, he dies.


"Yet long midst the people who love him King Conor Mac Nessa may reign,
If always the high pulse of passion be kept from his heart and his brain;
And for this I lay down his restrictions:--no more from this day shall his place
Be with armies, in battles, or hostings, or leading the van of the chase;
At night when the banquet is flashing, his measure of wine must be small,
And take heed that the bright eyes of woman be kept from his sight above all;
For if heart-thrilling joyance or anger awhile o'er his being have power,
The ball will start forth from his forehead, and surely he dies in that hour."


Oh! woe for the valiant King Conor, struck down from the summit of life,
While glory unclouded shone round him, and regal enjoyment was rife-
Shut out from his toils and his duties, condemned to ignoble repose,
No longer to friends a true helper, no longer a scourge to his foes!
He, the strong-handed smiter of champions, the piercer of armor and shields,
The foremost in earth-shaking onsets, the last out of blood-sodden fields-
The mildest, the kindest, the gayest, when revels ran high in his hall-
Oh, well might his true-hearted people feel gloomy and sad for his fall!


The princes, the chieftains, the nobles, who met, to consult at his board,
Whispered low when their talk was of combats, and wielding the spear and the sword:
The bards from their harps feared to waken the full-pealing sweetness of song,
To give homage to valor or beauty, or praise to the wise and the strong;
The flash of no joy-giving story made cheers or gay laughter resound,
Amid silence constrained and unwonted the seldom-filled wine-cup went round;
And, sadder to all who remembered the glories and joys that had been,
The heart-swaying presence of woman not once shed its light on the scene.


He knew it, he felt it, and sorrow sunk daily more deep in his heart;
He wearied of doleful inaction, from all his loved labors apart.
He sat at his door in the sunlight, sore grieving and weeping to see
The life and the motion around him, and nothing so stricken as he.
Above him the eagle went wheeling, before him the deer galloped by,
And the quick-legged rabbits went skipping from green glades and burrows a-nigh,
The song-birds sang out from the copses, the bees passed on musical wing,
And all things were happy and busy, save Conor Mac Nessa the king!


So years had passed over, when, sitting mid silence like that of the tomb,
A terror crept through him as sudden the noon-light was blackened with gloom.
One red flare of lighting blazed brightly, illuming the landscape around,
One thunder-peal roared through the mountains, and rumbled and crashed under ground;
He heard the rocks bursting asunder, the trees tearing up by the roots,
And loud through the horrid confusion the howling of terrified brutes.
From the halls of his tottering palace came screamings of terror and pain,
And he saw crowding thickly around him the ghosts of the foes he had slain!


And as soon as the sudden commotion that shuddered through nature had ceased,
The king sent for Barach, his Druid, and said: "Tell me truly, O priest,
What magical arts have created this scene of wild horror and dread?
What has blotted the blue sky above us, and shaken the earth that we tread?
Are the gods that we worship offended? what crime or what wrong has been done?
Has the fault been committed in Erin, and how may their favor be won?
What rites may avail to appease them? what gifts on their altars should smoke?
Only say, and the offering demanded we lay by your consecrate oak."


"O king," said the white-bearded Druid, "the truth unto me has been shown,
There lives but one God, the Eternal; far up in high Heaven is His throne.
He looked upon men with compassion, and sent from His kingdom of light
His Son, in the shape of a mortal, to teach them and guide them aright.
Near the time of your birth, O King Conor, the Savior of mankind was born,
And since then in the kingdoms far eastward He taught, toiled, and prayed, till this morn,
When wicked men seized Him, fast bound Him with nails to a cross, lanced His side,
And that moment of gloom and confusion was earth's cry of dread when He died.


"O king, He was gracious and gentle, His heart was all pity and love,
And for men He was ever beseeching the grace of His Father above;
He helped them, He healed them, He blessed them, He labored that all might attain
To the true God's high kingdom of glory, where never comes sorrow or pain;
But they rose in their pride and their folly, their hearts filled with merciless rage,
That only the sight of His life-blood fast poured from His heart could assuage:
Yet while on the cross-beams uplifted, His body racked, tortured, and riven,
He prayed--not for justice or vengeance, but asked that His foes be forgiven."


With a bound from his seat rose King Conor, the red flush of rage on his face,
Fast he ran through the hall for his weapons, and snatching his sword from its place,
He rushed to the woods, striking wildly at boughs that dropped down with each blow,
And he cried: "Were I midst the vile rabble, I'd cleave them to earth even so!
With the strokes of a high king of Erinn, the whirls of my keen-tempered sword,
I would save from their horrible fury that mild and that merciful Lord.
"His frame shook and heaved with emotion; the brain-ball leaped forth from his head,
And commending his soul to that Savior, King Conor Mac Nessa fell dead.

Friday 6 April 2018

Latin Mass Pilgrimage to Bansha, Co. Tipperary

Traditional Latin Mass in the Church of the Annunciation, Bansha, Co. Tipperary, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, 21st April, 2018.  Followed by prayers at the grave of Canon Hayes and a visit to Athassel Abbey and Golden, birthplace of Fr. Matthew, OFMCap, the Apostle of Temperance.