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Presentation by Joe Canning

Part 1 - Distinguished visitors

Joe CanningAt the beginning of November 1607a group of almost one hundred Irish people, most of them from Ulster, arrived in Leuven and remained there until the end of February of the following year. They had left Ireland with the intention of going to Spain. The reason why they had left Ireland will become clearer later, as will also the answer to the question, if they were going to Spain how did they come to be in Leuven. The group contained representatives of some of the most prominent families in Ulster. Among them were three chieftains, namely, Cuchonnacht Maguire, lord of Fermanagh, Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell and chief of the O'Donnells, and Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and chief of the O'Neills, the leading family in Ulster. The last-named was, certainly up to that time, the most powerful man in Ireland, and he would become one of the outstanding figures of Irish history.

Hugh O'Neill, Earl of TyroneThe departure of this group from Ireland turned out to be a critical event in Irish history. It has been popularly referred to as 'the flight of the earls', but this term is a misrepresentation of what happened. To understand it fully it is necessary to go back to December 1601. At the end of that month a decisive battle took place at Kinsale in County Cork at the end of what has been called the Nine Years' War. During this war the Irish did have some notable successes but they would have to rely on foreign help to gain the ultimate victory. In September 1601 a Spanish expeditionary force disembarked at Kinsale but was quickly besieged by the English under Mountjoy. The arrival of the Irish, led by Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell, left the crown forces trapped between the Irish and Spanish armies. What appeared to be a winning position was lost because of a decision of the Irish to mount a dawn attack. The Irish were routed. The Spanish agreed to withdraw, while the Irish made their way back to Ulster. Following some hard bargaining O'Neill agreed to submit and the terms were contained in what became known as the Treaty of Mellifont (March 1603). O'Neill was granted a pardon and a new patent for his lands; he abandoned the title The O'Neill but crucially retained control of O Cahan, his principal vassal. His position was consolidated at a subsequent meeting with the English Privy Council.

However, the terms did not please some of the English government officials based in Ireland, a few of whom, assuming that O'Neill's lands would be confiscated, were expecting a share in the spoils. As a result they made a point of making life difficult for him. His salmon fisheries were appropriated by the viceroy, large sections of his estates were taken from him under various pretexts, those parts of his territory which were considered church lands were claimed by the newly appointed Protestant bishops, and the guarantee of freedom of conscience was not honoured. O'Neill sent many letters of complaint to London. At first nothing was done in response, but eventually he was invited to London to discuss his grievances. However, O'Neill had friends in the English court and they warned him that on his arrival in London he would be arrested, charged with treason, sent to prison and probably executed. Secret messages passed between O'Neill and the Irish in Flanders and in Spain, while to all appearances he was preparing for a journey to London in compliance with the orders of King James. Finally, as a result of much activity behind the scenes, a small fishing vessel sailed into Lough Swilly in County Donegal in the early days of September 1607. O'Neill and O'Donnell and a group consisting of relations and followers had already assembled. Maguire, who had been involved in obtaining the ship, was already on board. There were ninety-nine people on the vessel when it set sail on 14 September 1607.

O'Neill's departure was not merely an attempt to escape from arrest. His plan was to go to Spain and make personal contact with King Philip whom he hoped to convince of the advantages, both religious and political, for Spain as well as for Ireland, of a military expedition designed to break English power in Ireland. Whether he would have succeeded, had he reached the King's presence, is impossible to tell, but it is certain that King James and his ministers were very fearful lest he would, and took extraordinary pains to prevent him from making personal contact with the Spanish monarch.

When O'Neill and his companions set out from Donegal it was their intention to land at La Coruna in northern Spain, but they were blown very much off course in a northerly direction. On 4th October 1607, after twenty days at sea and with less than a barrel of water left on board they landed at the mouth of the River Seine in Normandy at a place called Quillebeuf. The various stages of their journey are recorded by the chronicler Tadhg Ó Cianáin, one of the ninety-nine on board, who accompanied them to Rome. One of the features of the Earls' journey was how closely the English followed their movements. As soon as their presence became known, the English ambassador in Paris made strong representations to the French king, Henry IV, and asked that O'Neill and his companions be arrested and sent to England. This was refused by King Henry whose answer was "France is free". However, he did not allow them to travel directly to Spain.

As they travelled north through French territory they were concerned that English agents might yet succeed in having them arrested. Once in Spanish territory they felt relatively safe and indeed the reception they received in various towns along their route must have greatly encouraged them. For instance, when they reached the town of Ath, the governor came outside the walls to greet them and as they entered the town a salvo of artillery was fired in their honour. During the first week in November they arrived in Brussels. Here they were welcomed and entertained by the Marquis Spinola, the commander-in-chief of the Spanish army in Flanders, and by the Archduke Albert and his wife, the Infanta Isabel, governors of Flanders.

Marquis SpinolaArchduke Albert

They reached Leuven on 9 November. It is important to remember that this group of Irish was at the centre of frequent diplomatic exchanges between England and Spain. A treaty had been drawn up between the two countries in 1604. As already stated, the English wanted the Irish leaders arrested and returned for trial for treason, while the Spanish, remaining very sympathetic to the Irish cause, wanted to avoid doing anything that might lead to a break in relations with England. The English spared no effort in keeping themselves informed about the movements of the Irish group. Ó Cianain seems to have been unaware of the activities of the English or if he did he decided to omit them from his chronicle, and as a result we have to rely on the English State papers to complete the picture.

Referring to the stay of the Irish in Leuven Ó Cianain tells us that O'Neill stayed in a hostel called the 'Emperor's House', probably located on the Keizersberg, and O'Donnell in another house. Ó Cianain continues: They remained thus for ten days. Then Sir William Stanley, an old knightly, soldierly Englishman who had been in the service of the king of Spain came to visit them. Stanley was born into a family that had remained loyal to Rome. He gained his military experience in the Spanish army. On returning to England he joined the Elizabethan army in the fight against some of the leading clans in Ireland. At the close of this campaign he went to the Netherlands in command of a force, which included more than a thousand Irishmen, sent by Elizabeth to assist the Dutch against the Spanish. While defending the town of Deventer in 1587, Stanley and his men recognised that they felt a greater sympathy towards the Spanish and Belgian Catholics than towards the Protestants of England and Holland; accordingly they changed sides and handed the town over to the Spaniards. It was the intention of the Earls to spend only a short time in Leuven before setting out for Spain, but to leave their ladies and part of their retinue there. For this reason they rented what Ó Cianain describes as two "beautiful palaces".

The chronicler continues: On Sunday 25th November, the princes [and their retinue] thirty horsemen in all, set out. They found before them in Jodoigne a troop of the Archduke's cavalry to escort them. They remained that night in a little village called Perwez [having journeyed] six leagues on a bad ugly road. On the next day they went in great sleet three leagues to Namur. When they entered the city a post from Brussels with letters from the Archduke overtook them, ordering them not to proceed any further until alternative directions should reach them and to turn back to Leuven again. They sent a second post to the Archduke to know why they were being hindered. The order they received was to return to Leuven. They did so. They travelled on their backward journey six leagues to a small town named Wavre. They were somewhat afraid that night because of the insecurity of the town, and the enemy, Gramoures' [Maurice of Nassau] army, lay in proximity to them. Next day, the 29th of November, Thursday by the day of the week, they went six leagues to Leuven. They rested and remained in Leuven until 28th February following.

Ó Cianain then goes on to describe the extreme weather conditions that prevailed in Flanders at that time. There was a very great snow and frost at that time, so that horses and coaches and wagons might travel on all the lakes and rivers of the country. Only by God's grace could the Regular Orders of the Church perform their course of Masses, offices, sermons, and prayers in the churches. An Irish father of the Order of St. Francis … stated in the presence of O'Neill that he endured such cold while celebrating High Mass in the monastery that portion of his fingers shed large quantities of blood.

River ScheldtAt Antwerp people went on to the frozen River Scheldt to eat and drink, to sport and dance, but the number was so large that the ice cracked and there was panic as the strong current separated it from the banks. Those who were on the banks threw in ropes and poles and as a result all but five were saved.

According to Ó Cianain the princes spent Christmas time in Leuven in pleasure and enjoyment, with as much display and costliness as they could. The nobles of the city used to come to make amusement for them with musical instruments, dances and performers. Spanish noblemen who were in the city were accustomed to visit them. News was received from Ireland that one of O'Neill's brothers and two other Irish leaders had been imprisoned and that the MacMahon chieftain and another of O'Neill's relations had been killed. The chronicler comments: All this ill news dispirited the princes, yet they rendered thanks to the heavenly Trinity for every event that befell them. Shortly afterwards they received the good news that MacMahon was living.

At this point Ó Cianain, as is his custom, departs from his narrative to relate an episode which had no connection with the Irish group. It concerns two soldiers who stole a crown from a church dedicated to Our Lady. They tried to escape during the night but they became so disorientated that they found themselves back in the church. When they were found out by the clergy they admitted their crime and the matter would have rested there. However, the authorities in Brussels heard about it and ordered that the men be hung. In addition two women, to whom the soldiers had confided their crime before their attempt at escape incurred the wrath of the people; according to Ó Cianain they were stripped, and no offer or condition that they made was accepted, but they were scourged disgracefully and mercilessly round the city and through the great market place.

On the 8th February an incident occurred which caused some surprise among the residents of Leuven, and as it involved one of the Irish party Ó Cianain gives a full account of it. On the day in question the weather became somewhat wet and damp. A certain amount of thaw set in the small rivers, though the ice of the large ones did not break. On the river which comes to Leuven there was a small branch going round the outside of the walls near the two palaces where the lords were. There was an extremely small streamlet entering this branch and flowing from a garden between the two palaces. A certain man of the Earl's people, who was going with some message to the palace where O'Neill was, saw a very large salmon in a small hole in a plank on the stream. He drew a weapon at once and killed the salmon. He brought it to the Earl, and came then to O'Neill's presence. All the nobles of the city who were near them came to see the salmon. They were surprised at its size, and that he was got where he was found. They said they never saw during their lives, and never heard from those who lived before them, that a salmon was ever got on the river of Louvain, or on that particular branch of it.

On 18th February they travelled first to Mechlin where they dined with Sir William Stanley. Ó Cianain gives a description of this city and its cathedral. He adds: There is the tomb of an Irish saint in that church. God performed many miracles and wonders through him. He was the son of the King of Ireland. The people of the city venerate and reverence very much the tomb and image of that saint because of the greatness of the miracles God did through him. There are lighted waxen torches over the tomb both day and night, with divine service continually.

Next day they travelled to Antwerp where the river was still frozen over. After they had arranged accommodation they went to visit the castle. According to our chronicler it is one of the greatest fortresses in Christendom. After describing how it was defended he says: They allow no nation at all to see or examine the work, except Spaniards and Irishmen. The following day was spent viewing the city, the walls attracting particular attention. In his description of these Ó Cianain mentions a wide ditch round them but says that they could not see its depth because of the great sheet of ice. He goes on to say that in spite of the previous disaster large numbers of people were sporting and dancing on the frozen river. The following is Ó Cianain's record of the next day's activities: The next morning they went on a visit to the Irish College in the city. That college was very beautiful, with numerous apartments and many students. They heard High Mass that was sung, with sweet melodious organs and instruments of all kinds. Petarcha, a Spaniard of noble birth, was in charge of the college. He insisted on their being present at a banquet with him. Afterwards he brought them to see his own house. He gave to O'Neill and the Earl two images of the Virgin Mary … They then went to see the house and garden of the Burgomaster, the chief officer of the town. Very pretty and beautiful was that sight, with many statues and pictures of apostles, saints, and holy people, made of pure white marble. Their next visit was to a place,where, according to Ó Cianain, the glasses were made. Exquisite and wonderful and skilful was the method and manner in which was made and prepared from the beginning the fire in which they are produced. It had been continually lighted by day and night for eleven years before that. If a cessation or quenching should once come on its flames and blaze, not less than five hundred pounds would be spent in kindling it again before one glass could come out of it complete. After a visit to the town hall which was closed because of the war their last call was to a house, which according to our chronicler, was called a 'guest-house' and in it there were sleeping-rooms and dining-rooms prepared … for every traveller of every nation in Christendom. They then returned to Leuven.

In spite of the fact that they had been very hospitably received in Leuven and had been able to do a lot of sight-seeing, the Earls had not forgotten the reason why they had left Ireland, namely to go to Spain to obtain King Philip's approval to send a force to Ireland. With this in mind they wrote to Madrid on a number of occasions to press their case; at least two of the letters have survived. However, they were also faced with another problem; the Archduke was becoming unhappy with their presence in his territory and wanted them to move on. This is clear from the second letter, dated December 17 1607, they say: Having arrived in these States, in safe haven as we thought, for our sins and God permitting, another misfortune has befallen us. His Serene Highness orders that we leave his States so that he may keep a promise he made to the King of England and to his ministers and, as he understands that Your Catholic Majesty does not wish that we go to Spain, he says that neither does he wish that we remain in his dominions. This has caused us much sorrow and astonishment for, even if we had committed some crime against the King of England, which we did not do, since all we did was to escape from a threat to our consciences and to our lives, we believe that, in view of our past services, His Highness has the obligation of showing us more favour than this. Since we do not know whom we may trust with our lives if we leave Your Majesty's dominions, we humbly beg Your Majesty, in consideration of our services, to remedy without delay this difficult situation in which we find ourselves. As God is our witness, we would rather have chosen to die in our own country than to see ourselves treated in this manner by a Prince in whom, after Your Majesty, we placed our greatest trust, and our concerns are not so much for the danger to ourselves as for the sorrow and scandal this will cause to the other Catholics and the pleasure and satisfaction it will give to the heretics to see us thus treated. The only consolation which remains to us is our hope that Your Majesty will not abandon us, as we have cause to believe from the procedure of the Marques de Guaadaliste who has shown himself in this matter to be a very worthy minister of such a Catholic Monarch as Your Majesty, whom God may keep as we, your loyal servants, wish. Lovayana. 17 December 1607.

Earls letters to Madrid

The Spanish solution to the dilemma in which they found themselves - maintaining good relations with England as against continuing sympathetic to the Irish cause - was to gain time by recommending that the Irish party should go to Rome. On Thursday 28th February, 1608, the princes, with their retinue, set out for Italy, in all thirty-two riding on horseback. Their ladies had a coach. Among those left behind in Leuven were two sons of O'Neill and one son of O'Donnell. They arrived in Rome on 29th April

Earl's journey

The Earls' journey through northern France and Flanders

On their journey from Flanders they had many experiences - some pleasant, some unpleasant. On 9th March they were given a reception in Nancy by the Duke of Lorraine, much to the disgust of the English. They had a set-back on 17th March as they crossed the Alps. At a place called the Devil's Bridge one of the horses which was carrying some money fell down a cliff. Ó Cianain continues the story: Great labour was experienced in bringing up the horse alone, but the money decided to remain blocking the violent, deep, destructive torrent which flows under the bridge through the glen. Further attempts on the following day to retrieve it proved to be unsuccessful. On 22nd March they crossed Lake Lugano by boat. The next stop was the city of Milan which was under Spanish control. They stayed here for approximately three weeks as the Earls were determined to stay here until they received a definite answer from King Philip to proceed either to Spain or to Rome, having made their preference very clear. The Spanish ambassador informed the King that he had convinced the Earls that going to Rome was the best option. On 22 April the Irish party went to Loreto to visit the Holy House.

On their arrival on the outskirts of Rome at the Milvian Bridge - the place where Roman generals were ceremoniously received after successful campaigns - they were met by the Irishman, Archbishop Lombard, and representatives of the cardinals who brought with them fifteen coaches most of which were drawn by six horses. They drove through the principal streets of Rome and then to St. Peter's. A palace had been set apart for them by the Pope and they proceeded to it. They were received by Pope Paul V on 4 May and were present at the canonisation of St. Francesca de Roma on 29 May.

The Earls at the canonisation of St. Francesca de Roma

The Earls at the canonisation of St. Francesca de Roma

However, in spite of all these demonstrations of respect, the question of going to Madrid to obtain Spanish aid for an expedition to Ireland was still on the agenda. As one writer puts it: From now on the Spanish ambassador in Rome is at the centre of the diplomacy, informing Philip III that the Pope is "exceedingly parsimonious" and informing the Pope that "in the present circumstances the King cannot openly send help to Ireland". The ambassador quickly became an admirer of O'Neill and pleaded with Philip for an increased grant for the maintenance of the Earls and their party. But as the years go by and O'Neill's requests to the Spanish king are left unanswered or ignored - for help against the Ulster plantation in 1609, for mediation in seeking reconciliation with King James in 1610, for the restoration of his lands in 1612, for permission to move to Spain in 1613 and 1614 - the plight of the exiled leader becomes pitiable in the extreme. His sons, Hugh and Henry died in 1609 and 1610, and his fellow chieftains were also dead. O'Donnell and Maguire died within a month of each other in the summer of 1608, all these deaths apparently caused by the unfavourable climatic conditions.

Some biographers have represented O'Neill as senile in his last years, being blind and very fond of drink. However, his letters which have survived in Spain prove otherwise and show that his mind remained alert and his hopes undimmed until the end. By 1614 he was planning his most determined effort to return to Ireland with Spanish aid. In March 1615 he declared to the king of Spain that rather than live in Rome he would prefer to go to his native land with a hundred soldiers and die there in defence of the Catholic faith and his fatherland. His dispatches to Spain became more militant in this year of the so-called Ulster conspiracy, when several young men, including O'Neill's nephew, were executed on charges of plotting to release the Earl's youngest son, Conn, and other persons, and to seize several Ulster towns. As a precaution, the boy was transferred to London, and his father's reaction is made very clear in a letter to a member of the Spanish Council of State: a son of mine is even now being raised in heresy, but I trust in God that the blood he has in his veins will not permit such a deception, and that one day he will avenge for me this outrage.

O'Neill died on 20 July 1616. He was buried in the church of S. Pietro in Montorio in Rome beside his son and Rory O'Donnell. The expenses of the funeral were paid by the Spanish ambassador in Rome.

Part 2 - University students

From its foundation the University of Leuven attracted students from the British Isles, particularly from Scotland. While large numbers of English and Scottish students had been attending from the early fifteenth century, Irish students started attending only from 1548 onwards. There were many reasons why Irish students would want to come to Belgium. Many of their fellow citizens were already in the country serving in the Irish regiments which were part of the Spanish army. Before this time Irish students would have gone to Cambridge or Oxford, but following the changes introduced by Henry VIII the Irish would not have been welcome there. The majority of the Irish students were either priests or were preparing for the priesthood, and as Leuven University played a prominent part in the Counter-Reformation it was an appropriate place for them to study. Leuven would also have been an attractive place for the Irish because of its proximity to Brussels where the papal nuncio, who was the link between Rome and the Irish Church, had his residence.

A list of Irishmen who were students at Leuven between 1548 and 1797 has recently been compiled by a Belgian scholar. The list contains 1171 names. Five of them became archbishops of Armagh and three became bishops of three other Ulster dioceses. A number of them suffered for their faith. Unfortunately, the place of origin in Ireland is not given in approximately one third of the names, and so it is impossible to give the exact number of those born In Ulster, but in the case of those whose birth place is given one hundred and fourteen were born in Ulster. A number of the others were very much involved in Ulster affairs. The lives of three former students will be looked at in some detail. Two of them attended the university in the early modern period, while the third was there in the twentieth century. One of them was not from Ulster but is included because of his involvement in the affairs of that province.

HUGH O'DONNELL

Hugh was a son of Rory, Earl of Tyrconnell and was a member of the group who arrived in Leuven in November 1607. Born in 1606, he was within three weeks of his first birthday when he was taken away from Ireland forever. He was recommended 100 escudos a month as a grant from the Spanish government. He was left behind in Leuven when the two earls departed for Rome in February 1608. He was educated by the Augustinian nuns and the Franciscans, and spent time as a page at the Archduke's court. He registered as a student at the University in 1621. In the university register he is described as "princeps", that is "prince". The Franciscan, Flaithrí Ó Maoil Chonaire, who was one of the most important persons in Irish affairs at this time, looked after his welfare. After his father's death in Rome he took the title of Conde de Tyrconnel. It was recommended in 1627 that he be made joint-leader (with Seán Ó Neill) of the forces in Flanders that were to undertake an invasion of Ireland. He was appointed a colonel of the Spanish army in 1632 and a special Irish regiment was established for him to command. In the same year he married Anne Margherita Boussu, daughter of the Countess Boussu. He was drowned in a naval battle against the French near Barcelona in the summer of 1642.

PETER LOMBARD

Peter LombardPeter Lombard was born in Waterford around 1554 and belonged to an important mercantile family. After his education In Ireland he entered Leuven University in 1572, where he began the study of philosophy. He completed the course in 1575 and was named the outstanding student of the year. He went on to obtain a doctorate in philosophy and theology. As well as lecturing in theology he also taught Aristotelian philosophy to great acclaim. After ordination he acquired some benefices and in 1598 he was designated a canon of Cambrai Cathedral. In the same year he was sent to Rome to represent the University in a controversy. His presence in Rome was soon availed of by Hugh O'Neill, who, incidentally, had won his greatest victory over the English in that year, and who had already made good diplomatic use of a number of clergymen based in Rome. He appointed Lombard as his agent in Rome, to press urgently on the Pope, Clement VIII, and other influential people in Rome that the purpose of the war then going on in Ireland was primarily religious. Lombard was instructed to obtain the excommunication of Catholics who favoured Queen Elizabeth against the Irish, an indulgence for the Earl's own supporters and allies, a promise that O'Neill's voice would be listened to when ecclesiastical positions were being filled, and some measure of material aid. These efforts bore some fruit in April 1600 when Clement granted the indulgence to all who supported O'Neill's war, and conferred the title of captain-general of the Catholic army in Ireland on the Earl. Among Lombard's writings, the most famous was entitled "De Hibernia insula commentarius" which was published in Leuven after his death in 1632. It grew out of his diplomatic activity on behalf of O'Neill and gave a detailed description and analysis of Ireland, ranging from its geography to civil and religious divisions. In the closing section he took up the story of O'Neill's rebellion, strongly defending him against personal allegations, and arguing that even those who attacked his character could not deny that a victory for O'Neill would bring great benefits to the Catholic religion. He also introduced the argument, which was to become familiar in subsequent years, that Ireland could act as a springboard for bringing back Catholicism to England and to northern Europe. In 1601 Lombard was appointed archbishop of Armagh, no doubt a gesture from the Pope in favour of O'Neill. As circumstances at the time were not favourable for returning to Ireland he remained in Rome. In 1606 he is listed as a member of the household of Pope Paul V, and in the course of time he became one of the most important theological advisers in Rome. In 1608 he led the reception which greeted O'Neill and his party when they arrived in Rome, and the two shared a palace in the city for a period. However, in the course of time Lombard's politics came increasingly in conflict with O'Neill's interests and objectives. The accession of James I to the English throne had the long-term effect of convincing Lombard that the interests of Catholicism would best be served by a policy of reconciliation rather than confrontation. He even went so far as recommending to the Pope that O'Neill should not have any say in Irish episcopal appointments while he himself recommended candidates who would not be perceived as politically subversive.

During his remaining years in Rome he was involved in trying to resolve many controversial theological issues. Among these was the position of Catholics in King James's dominions. Lombard's view was that James as a legitimate, though not a Christian king, was safe from the threat of deposition and that individual Catholics were not called upon to offer any active resistance to his rule.

In theological terms, Lombard can justifiably be considered one of the most influential persons of any era. The episcopal reorganisation of the church was a central episode of the Irish post-counter-reformation , and Lombard's impact on this was considerable. Towards the end of his life he considered returning to Ireland. In 1620 he offered to take on the responsibility of apostolic visitor to the island. He received a grant of £50-00 for the journey. But late in 1623 he became ill and retired to Palombara. He never recovered his health but wasted away and finally died on 5th September 1625. He was buried in the parochial church of Palommbara.

TOMÁS Ó FIAICH

A post-graduate student of Leuven University, Tomás Ó Fiaich was born on 3rd November near the small town of Crossmaglen in south County Armagh. His parents were both teachers and he was the younger of their two boys. Educated at the local primary school and St. Patrick's College, the minor seminary in Armagh, he gained a university scholarship to St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, the Irish major seminary, where he graduated in Celtic Studies (BA, 1st class honours). After a year's illness he resumed his studies at St. Peter's College, Wexford, where he was ordained on 6 June 1948. He then attended University College, Dublin for post-graduate studies in early and medieval Irish history, obtaining an MA with 1st class honours in 1950. He spent two further years in historical studies, this time in Leuven where he gained a Licentiate in Historical Sciences in 1952.

Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich 
Archbishop of Armagh 1977-1990, Leuven 1950-52

On his return to Ireland he served for about a year in a parish. He then became a lecturer in modern history in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth from 1953 to 1959, and professor from 1959 to 1974. He served the College as registrar (1968-1970), as vice-president (1970-1974) and finally as president (1974-1977).

Ó Fiaich was fluent in Irish from an early age. His love of Irish was shown later in his lectures on Gaelic topics and in his visits to the Gaeltacht. He was active in Irish-speaking organisations and in contributing to Irish language journals, and a number of his books were written in Irish. He was chairman of the government commission on the restoration of the language (1959-1963) and of the advisory council appointed to carry out its recommendations. In 1953 he helped to found Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhacha, the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, and was editor of its journal from 1954 to 1977.

He was appointed archbishop of Armagh in September 1977 and was ordained bishop on 2nd October. He took as his motto the words Fratres in unum , an indication of his desire for reconciliation and dialogue at a time of political turbulence. While he personally aspired to a united Ireland, he issued strong statements condemning violence by republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces alike. After a visit to the Long Kesh prison in the course of the hunger strike he compared conditions there to the slums of Calcutta. He was made a cardinal on 30 June 1979 and he regarded the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in that year as the highlight of his episcopate. In his visit to Drogheda the Pope made a special plea for an end to violence. The Cardinal tried to find a conciliatory solution to the hunger strike. Among his other achievements were the renovation of Armagh cathedral and the initiation of a diocesan mission to Lagos in Nigeria. He died in Toulouse in France on 8th May 1990, after a heart attack while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

His time in Leuven gave him a taste for travel, a European outlook, and an interest in Irish links with mainland Europe, leading to television programmes, historical trips, articles, lectures, and books, all focusing on Irish-European links. While in Leuven he wrote regularly to his father, these letters have been preserved and were published in book form. There are forty-two of them, the first dated 2nd October [1950] and the last written on 2nd July 1952; sometimes he even gives the time at which he writes. The style is very homely and the content indicates his great interest in people and his desire to learn as much as he can about every place which he visits. He gives a very detailed description of his first journey to Belgium which was by rail and boat, stopping in Liverpool and London to meet old friends; he even succeeded in being late for the boat in which he had originally planned to cross over to Belgium. With regard to his studies he says that he was attending about twelve classes per week; some of these were apparently optional as they were about subjects which would be useful to him afterwards but in which there were no examinations. He used the holidays at Easter in particular to visit various parts of Europe. With a priest companion he hired a car and they made a trip of 630 miles through Belgium and western Germany listing every place visited so that his father back at home could follow it on a map. One person whom he made a special point of visiting was Paul Grosjean, the famous Jesuit scholar. After studying in Oxford Grosjean spent two years in Dublin perfecting his knowledge of Irish as some of his research was focussed on the lives of Irish saints. Ó Fiaich says of him: He is glad to meet anyone from Ireland. He did not have any examinations until the end of the second year. He had ten of these and speaks of having done very well in some and fairly well in others; the hardest as he expected was on the history of philosophy because as he says: It is not in my line. In his final letter of 2nd July 1952 he is able to tell his father: I was the only one in history to get la plus grande distinction. In this letter he also refers to the weather conditions in Leuven that July: We have had a heat-wave here for the last fortnight. I never felt anything like it before, not even in Spain. We have to stay indoors most of the time.

Part 3 - Ireland's debt to Leuven

Ireland's debt to Leuven is mainly associated with what is called the "grand project" that originated in St. Anthony's Franciscan College. However, before dealing with that, another way in which this city benefited Ireland deserves mention, namely education particularly of the clergy. In 1562 the Council of Trent had legislated that seminaries should be established to prepare the clergy for their pastoral work. However, because of the English determination to impose the reformed religion on Ireland it was impossible to establish such institutions in that country, and so they came to be founded in those European countries in which there were large numbers of Irish exiles. Of all the cities in which Irish colleges were established, Leuven stands out because it was the location for three such colleges.

The first Irish college to be set up was that of the aforementioned St. Anthony's in the care of the Franciscans. It was founded in 1606 and remained in existence - though not continuously - until the 1980's. Apart from the education of priests, this institution made an enormous contribution to Irish life and culture, aspects of which will be dealt with later.

The next to be set up was the Irish Pastoral College in 1624, and it was mainly for the benefit of secular priests. Its site is now occupied by the Fortis Bank in Vital Decosterstraat. Among its distinguished alumni were Edmund O'Reilly, who served as president and later became archbishop of Armagh, and Mathew Tighe who was professor of Greek at the University. Thomas Stapleton, several times rector magnificus of the University, died here. This college lasted until the arrival of the French in the city in 1797.

The third was the College of the Holy Cross, founded by the Irish Dominicans in 1626. It was sited at different locations, including Keizersberg. In 1650 the Dominicans undertook the erection of a large monastery and the college was combined with it. The college ceased to exist also in 1797. There is no trace of the building left but there is a very striking reminder of its existence in the name of the street where it was located which is called Iersepredikeren straat.

However, it is to St. Anthony's College and the Franciscans based there that Ireland is most indebted. As one writer has put it: The College became an intellectual powerhouse for a brave attempt to save and promote the religion, culture and language of Gaelic Ireland, and another writer says: It can be fairly claimed that the founding of St. Anthony's College was not without its effect on the general history of our country. It soon became an asylum of Irish learning, a rallying ground of Irish patriotism, a power-house of Counter-Reformation activities. The College's contribution has sometimes been referred to as the grand project, and it focussed on three main areas - history, religion and language.

Br. Michael O'ClearyA programme of historical research was initiated with the purpose of showing that the kingdom of Ireland was of equal status with other nations and not sunk in barbarism and ignorance as contemporary English language chronicles tried to make out. Hugh Ward, a Franciscan, was in charge of the research effort both in Leuven and in Ireland. In 1626 he sent Michéal Ó Cleirigh, a lay brother and member of a learned Irish family, home to Ireland to collect manuscript material and to check dates and sources with living Irish scholars. He spent eleven years in Ireland visiting monasteries, convents, and lay learned schools, transcribing and checking, and sending fresh copies back to Leuven. He had the assistance of three lay scholars. Another Franciscan scholar gave the name 'Four masters' to this group , and the work which resulted from their endeavours - officially known as 'Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland' - came to be known popularly as 'Annals of the Four Masters'. When all the relevant material had been collected Ó Cleirigh brought it back to Leuven where the work of editing took place. The finished work remained in manuscript form until the nineteenth century when it was published by the great Irish scholar, John O'Donovan.

There are a number of Irish historical works that have the word 'annals' in their titles. This is because they are simply a listing of events as they happened year by year. In the case of AFM they begin with the aftermath of the biblical flood and continued down to the compilers' own day with the death of Hugh O'Neill in 1616. The annalists had calculated that the world was 2,242 years old in the year of the Flood and so their first entry was for anno mundi (AM) 2242. Under their scheme , based on the Septuagint, the world was 5,200 years old at the birth of Christ. Thus the entry for the year AM 5191 was followed by an entry for anno Christi AD 1.

The pre-Christian entries are usually very short, often recording the name of the king and the number of years of his reign. If additional information was available it was included as can be seen in two of the entries from the page illustrated:

AM 4175 - The year of the world four thousand one hundred and seventy-five. The sixth year of Roitheachtaigh.

AM 4176 - The year of the world four thousand one hundred and seventy-six. After Roitheachtaigh had been seven years in the sovereignty of Ireland, lightning burned him at Dunseverick. It was by this Roitheachtaigh that chariots of four horses were first used in Ireland.

Signatiures of the Four MastersEntries from the 'Annals of the Four Masters'

Because the annalists were working from a Christian perspective the coming of Christianity was for them an important event and so particular attention was paid to the coming of St. Patrick. For the medieval period the lives and achievements of famous men formed the core of the entries. The final section of the work appears to show a leaning towards the O'Donnells, due probably to the fact that Ó Cléirigh family were the historian of this clan.

Another outcome of the work of Ó Cleirigh and his companions was the compilation of lives of the Irish saints. In addition to showing that Ireland was the equal of other nations another objective of this research was to establish the country's reputation for sanctity. In addition to the collecting had been done in Ireland, transcription had already started of Irish hagiographical material in the principal libraries of Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. The man who was first in charge of the project was Hugh Ward but his health quickly deteriorated before his premature death in 1635. His place was taken by John Colgan. As he had a number of other responsibilities in the Franciscan order, progress was slow. He eventually compiled seven volumes but only two these were published, one was the first in a planned four volume that would record the lives of the saints for the whole year; it was called Acta sanctorum Hiberniae and was published in Leuven in 1645. The second was entitled Triadis thaumaturgae and was published in 1647; this was concerned with Ireland's three principal saints, Patrick, Brigid and Colm Cille.

John ColganActa Scriptorum

St. Anthony's College was the location for a substantial contribution to the promotion of the Irish language when in 1614 Fr. Bonaventure received approval from Archduke Albert with financial support from the Spanish king for the setting up of a printing press for the production of material in that language. As soon as the English become aware of this development they started to protest. The English agent in Brussels wrote to the Archduke asking that it be prevented because it was against the treaty between the two countries, while King James himself protested to the Archduke saying that the resulting publications contained seditious libels which would stir up rebellion in his kingdom and asking that the books be burned.

However, most of the books were of a religious nature. Two of these deserve mention. The first is entitled Scáthán shacramuinte na haithridhe ("Mirror of the sacrament of penance"). The author was Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil, also known as Mac Aingil. He was born in 1571 in Downpatrick, Co. Down. Connected with the O'Neill family as tutor to Hugh two sons, he found his way to Spain where he joined the Franciscans in 1605 and was ordained priest. At the end of that year he was appointed chaplain to Henry O'Neill's Irish regiment in Flanders. He was involved in the setting up of St. Anthony's College and later when a piece of land was acquired for a permanent college and chapel it was he who had the responsibility of seeing the work through to completion. Eventually he became a professor in the college and served as guardian on a number of occasions. In 1623 he went to Rome to assist in the running of the Franciscan order. With Luke Wadding he was instrumental in obtaining St, Isidore's College for the theological training of Irish Franciscans, and he also helped to establish a college for the training of Irish secular clergy. He was consulted by the Vatican on the appointment of Irish bishops. When Peter Lombard died at the end of 1625, influential Irish people in Rome strongly urged that Mac Cathmhaoil be appointed archbishop of Armagh. Despite opposition on a number of different grounds his supporters prevailed. He was consecrated on 7 June 1626. While preparing to return to Ireland he suddenly fell ill and died of a tertian fever on 22 September 1626. He was buried in the chapel of St. Isidore's College. His work on the sacrament of penance, published in 1618, was written primarily for the laity and was an explanation of the Council of Trent teaching on the sacrament but with particular application to Irish conditions. Writing in a lively and lucid style, he explained the doctrinal content with vivid examples and showed himself to be a master of the rhetorical devices associated with baroque writing. Of particular interest is the fact that he referred to Ireland as a "Catholic nation", while at the same time calling James I "our illustrious king". Indeed the last section of the work dealing with indulgences was little more than a pretext for providing Irish Catholics with valid reasons for accepting James as their legitimate sovereign.

Aodh MacAingil

The second work was entitled Parrthas an anma ("The paradise of the soul"). It was written by Anthony Gearnon who was also a Franciscan. He had studied in St. Anthony's College and was ordained a priest in April 1635. In August 1643 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Spanish Netherlands and returned to St. Anthony's College. It was here that his work was published in 1645. A duodecimo volume of 503 pages there are two parts to it. The first is a catechism which is based on an earlier Irish-language catechism by Giolla Brighde Ó hEódhasa published in 1611. The second part was a prayer book largely composed of translations from the Latin missal and breviary. He made sure to avoid literary archaisms so that his work could be easily understood.

The question now arises: where is the Ulster link here? Of course, there were men from all over Ireland in the community at St. Anthony's and some of them also contributed to the great project but the credit for the success of the project must go to those whom I have mentioned and all of them, apart from Gearnon, were natives of Ulster.

Main sources

BREATHNACH, Edel & CUNNINGHAM, Bernadette (eds.). Writing Irish history: the Four Masters and their work. Bray: Wordwell, 2007.

CUNNINGHAM, Bernadette. Annals of the Four Masters: Irish history, kingship and society in the early 17thcentury. Dublin: Four Courts, 2010.

KERNEY WALSH, Micheline. "Destruction by peace": Hugh O'Neill after Kinsale. Armagh: Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhacha, 1986.

McGUIRE, James & QUINN, James. Dictionary of Irish biography. Vols. 5,6 & 7. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

MOODY, T. W., MARTIN, F. X. & BYRNE, F. J. (eds.). A new history of Ireland. Vol. Iii, Early modern Ireland, 1534-1691. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978

NILIS, Jeroen. Irish students at Leuven University 1548-1797. Leuven: Acco, 2010.

Ó FIAICH, Tomás. Gaelscrínte san Eoraip. Dublin: Foilseacháin Abhair Spioradálta, 1986

Ó MURAÍLE, Nollaig. Turas na dtaoiseach nUltach as Éirinn: from Ráth Maoláin to Rome: Tadhg Ó Cianáin's contemporary narrative ... Rome: Pontifical Irish College, 2007.

5 May 2012