Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Toole, Laurence

1429387Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 42 — O'Toole, Laurence1895Thomas Olden

O'TOOLE, LAURENCE (Lorcán ua Tuathail) (1130?–1180), Irish saint and archbishop of Dublin, born about 1130, was son of Murtough O'Toole, chief of Ui Muireadaig, a territory in the south of co. Kildare. His mother belonged to the kindred tribe of the Ui Brain (anglicised O'Byrne), who held the north of the county. In 1141 Dermod MacMurrough, king of Leinster, killed Murchadh, father of Murtough, and probably about the same time compelled the latter to surrender his son Laurence, then twelve years old, as a hostage to him. The boy was sent to a barren district, where he was treated with such harshness that his father, on learning it, seized twelve of Dermod's followers and threatened to execute them unless his son were restored to him. The result was that the boy was sent by Dermod to the Bishop of Glendalough. He was kindly treated at the monastery, and received the rudiments of a religious education. Subsequently, his father desiring to devote one of his sons to the ecclesiastical life, Laurence expressed his willingness to stay at Glendalough, and he accordingly became a member of the community. When twenty-five years of age he was appointed coarbor successor of St. Kevin, that is, ruler of the monastery. It was a famous and wealthy foundation of the old Irish church, but his office was one of difficulty. Famine prevailed in the district; robber chieftains made raids on the lands of the monastery, and general disorder was rife. Religion was at so low an ebb that four priests carrying the host were robbed and beaten by banditti, who even presumed to eat the host. Laurence devoted himself to the relief of the destitute during this period, distributing corn and other necessaries, and supplementing the funds of the monastery by his own private fortune. Four years after his appointment as coarb the death took place of the bishop of the monastery, supposed by Dr. Lanigan to have been Gilla na Naemh, who had taken part in the council of Kells in 1152. Laurence was urged to accept the bishopric, but declined, alleging that he had not reached the canonical age. In Harris's 'Ware' the reason assigned is that 'the revenues of the bishoprics were infinitely inferior to those of the abbey,' Yet it was no uncommon thing for a coarb to be also a bishop in a monastery; and had he accepted the office on this occasion, he could still have retained his revenues. His real reason, apart from that of age, which was only a temporary disqualification, may have been the decree of the synod of Kells, which had assigned 'the better part of the bishoprick of Glendalough for a diocese to the church of Dublin, reserving the remainder to the Bishop of Glendalough during his life, but so that the church of Glendalough, with its appurtenances, should, after the bishop's death, fall to the Church of Dublin.' To this arrangement Gilla na Naemh must be taken as assenting, as he was present at the synod. Laurence, who favoured the ecclesiastical changes then going forward, could not consistently accept the same appointment as Gilla held.

In 1162 Gregory or Gren6, bishop of the foreigners (Danes) of Dublin, having died, Gelasius the primate appointed Laurence the first archbishop of Dublin, or Leinster as the ' Four Masters ' have it, an office which he accepted with reluctance. Gregory, who was consecrated at Lambeth, had professed canonical obedience to the English primate, but the action of Gelasius now restored Dublin to the church of Ireland, and secured, as far as possible, the adhesion of the community of Glendalough by the appointment of their coarb.

In his new position Laurence's austerities were remarkable; thrice a day he was beaten with rods (2 Cor. xi. 25); he mingled his bread with ashes (Ps. cii. 9); he wore a hair shirt under his dress, and abstained altogether from meat. In imitation of St. Kevin, the founder of Glendalough, he frequently retired to a cave there 'formed by St. Kevin s hands.' It was reached by a ladder, the lower end of whioh rested in the water. Here messages from the people who desired to consult him were conveyed by his nephew, who also brought back his replies, and it was popularly believed that, like Moses, he held communication with God. One of his earliest acts as archbishop was the conversion of the secular canons of Christ Church into canons regular of the congregation of Aroasia, which he also joined himself.

In 1167 he attended 'a great meeting convened by Roderic O'Connor [q. v.] and the chiefs of the north, both lay and ecclesiastical,' at Athboy in co. Meath, when thirteen thousand horsemen assembled. The object of it was the promotion of religion and good government, and 'many good resolutions were passed respecting veneration for Churches and Clerics and control of tribes and territories.' But great changes were at hand; for three years after Dermod MacMurrough, aided by Strongbow and his followers, appeared before Dublin and summoned the city. Laurence's position and character marked him out as a suitable ambassador on behalf of the citizens, and he endeavoured to make terms with Dermod, but while negotiations were intentionally protracted, Miles de Cogan and his party scaled the walls and obtained possession of the city in 1170. In the following year a great effort was made to exterminate the invaders, the leading spirit in the project being the archbishop, who 'flew from province to province, to every inferior district and every chieftain, entreating, exhorting, and commanding them to seize the present opportunity; 'he even appeared in arms himself, and commanded his particular troop. Through his exertions an army, estimated at thirty thousand, assembled before Dublin. Strongbow applied to Laurence to act as mediator with Roderic, who commanded the besieging force, and he commissioned him to make an offer of terms. But they were refused, and Laurence returned with an imperative order to 'the foreigners to depart the kingdom.' They, however sallied forth, surprised the besiegers, and totally defeated them. Laurence now saw that the Irish were unable to cope with the invaders, and when in 1171 Henry n arrived with a large force, and armed with the papal authority, he submitted to him. He also took part in the council of Cashel, which was summoned by the king in 1172, and which rather prematurely declared that Ireland was indebted to him for 'the benefits of peace and the increase of religion.' It was not long before Laurence found his hopes from Henry's beneficent mission disappointed, and he crossed to England to appeal to him on behalf of his people against the injuries and oppressions of the Anglo-Norman adventurers. Roderic, king of Ireland, had submitted to Henry; but finding it necessary to enter into a formal agreement with him, he employed Laurence as an ambassador, and in that capacity he attended the council of Windsor in 1175, together with two other Irish ecclesiastics. Four years after, he received a summons from Alexander III to attend the Lateran council, and, having obtained the king's permission, he proceeded to Rome; but when passing through England he was obliged to take an oath that he would do nothing prejudicial to the king or his kingdom. Nevertheless, he 'made the most affecting representations of the injustice of the English governors and of the wrongs and calamities of his countrymen.' Having obtained from the pope a bull confirming the rights and jurisdiction of the archiepiscopal see of Dublin, and also the appointment of papal legate, he returned to Dublin and resumed his functions. On one occasion he sent 140 clerics to Rome on a charge of incontinence. Dr. Lanigan attributes the misconduct of so many to the evil example of the Anglo-Norman clergy, but a more reasonable explanation is that their guilt was merely that of marrying. For the marriage of the clergy, permitted in the old Irish church, still prevailed, and did not cease for some centuries. In 1180 Laurence once more undertook the office of ambassador from King Roderic to Henry, and proceeded to England for the purpose, accompanied by a son of Roderic who was to be left as a hostage. But Henry, incensed at his proceedings in the Lateran council, refused to listen to him, and gave orders that he was not to return to Ireland. Some time after, the king having gone to France, Laurence determined to follow him, hoping that he would relent; but on his arrival at Abbeville on the Somme, he was seized with fever. He would not rest there, but hastened on to Eu, where a few days after he died on 14 Nov. 1180. His love for his own nation was the ruling passion of his life. Just before his death, speaking in Irish, he lamented the sad state of his countrymen now about to lose their pastor. 'Ah, foolish and senseless people,' he said, 'what are you now to do? Who will cure your misfortunes? Who will heal you?' He was buried in the church of Notre-Dame at Eu, where a side-chapel bore his name, and his relics were afterwards placed over the high altar in a silver shrine, some of them being afterwards sent to Christ Church, Dublin. In 1226 he was canonised by Honorius III, being the first Irishman who lived and worked in Ireland who received papal canonisation.

[Vita S. Laurentii in Messingham's Florilegiura Insulae Sanctorum, Paris, 1624; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. iv. 228-44; Giraldus Cambrensis (Rolls Ser.); Leland's Hist. of Ireland, i. 54, 57, 136; King's Hist. of the Primacy of Armagh, p. 92; O'Donovan's Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 1162, 1167, 1180.]

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