Friday, 27th November 2020

Remarks by President McAleese

Dia dhíbh a chairde go léir inniu ar an ócáid speisialta, ócáid stairiúil seo. Míle bhuíochas díbh as an gcuireadh agus an bhfáilte sin.

Monsignor Liam Bergin, Fr. Albert, Ambassadors, friends,

Some years just amble past without much of notable historic consequence occurring but the year 2007 is not one of them. It has already been a curious year, a blessed year for Ireland with more iconic days than you could shake a crozier at. And there has been an even more curious symmetry about these days and the anniversaries interspersed throughout this year.

The Irish are gathered in Rome to honour a remarkable Dutchman, Blessed Charles of Mount Argus, a man who spent more than a day or two in my own home parish of Belfast’s Holy Cross Ardoyne. He is to be canonised within a mere couple of weeks of a famous meeting by the Boyne where the divisive memory of another Dutchman was at last set well on the road to healing.

He is to be canonised in the year of the four hundredth anniversary of the Flight of the Earls whose leaving of Ireland provoked generations of lamentation and misery so deep that even the great poets thought Ireland was finished. But the green shoots were already growing in Irish Colleges around Europe including here in Rome.

Blessed Charles, whose pity for Ireland’s famine victims brought him to minister in Dublin, is to be canonised in an era when Ireland has come into her own; prosperous, confident, passionately European, a homeland now herself to emigrant citizens. So many of history’s problems that hung over Mount Argus and Ireland for decades before Blessed Charles arrival and generations after his death have, in this most problem-solving of generations, been tackled and tackled successfully.

And once again we gather as guests of the Irish College to be part of a new chapter in Irish history. The splendid lectures we have just heard on the 17th century thanks to Monsignor Charlie and Fr Tom reinforce just how fortunate we are to be living in this here and this now but also how much we owe to champions like Luke Wadding and his co-worker Ludovico Ludovisi, Cardinal Protector of Ireland.

The comprehensive make-over of the Irish College under Fr Albert’s direction is at last complete and it makes us all even more proud of this place that has become a home from home to so many Irish in Rome and not just the Irish, for the Lay Centre is a wonderful confluence of different faiths, of men and women of lay and clerical engaged in discussion, debate, in friendship, ever respectful, ever curious about difference.

Blessed Charles was not renowned as a preacher – in fact his English was not good and so he found it as hard to preach in English as his parishioners did to listen. I know this because I lived in two parishes where he worked and preached and the folk memory was and remains strong. What marked him out was his compassion, his care, his goodness, his capacity to bring healing through the simple joy of loving service to others. It was the people, living difficult lives in difficult times, who saw in him the hand and heart of God. It was the people who named him a saint long before his death and long before this cherished day in Rome. It was the people who knew him who handed to their children and grandchildren the memory of this good man and insisted that they keep his memory alive. He was their ally in those grim post-famine times and

so it came to be that the two great funerals of the 1890s in Ireland were those of Charles Stuart Parnell and Fr Charles of Mount Argus, each one a champion of the oppressed in a world that so easily and cruelly overlooked them.

The ‘blackbird of sweet Avondale’ and the holy priest from Holland struck a chord with multitudes of suffering people whose humanity was so shamefully abused. They believed in the innate dignity of the human person, they believed in the right of the people of Ireland to an Ireland of equals, a caring and inclusive Ireland, an Ireland energised by the genius of all her people, an Ireland reconciled by love. They did not live to see such an Ireland but they tended the fragile green shoots of hope, planted in unlikely soil over the centuries. We are the closest generation yet to such an Ireland. We drink the water. They dug the wells. What a privilege it will be to attend tomorrow’s canonisation of yet another emigrant saint whose profound love of God and of Ireland’s people blessed our homeland in countless ways and whose relevance to today’s prosperous, multicultural, European Ireland is as vital as it was to the tragic Ireland he befriended and embraced.

Liam, Albert, friends in the College, thank you all once again for making this afternoon possible.

Gurb fada buan sibh’s go raibh míle, míle maith agaibh

(Saturday 2nd June 2007)