Friday 13 November 2020

An Irish School


According to the Martyrology of Gorman, November 13 is one of the days on which the memory of Colman i Maigh Éo is commemorated, his main feast falling on August 8. Saint Colman is also known as Colman of Lindisfarne and Colman of Inisboffin for he was the leader of those Irish-trained northern English saints who, finding themselves unable to accept the settling of the Paschal Dating Controversy in favour of the Roman date, relocated to the west coast of Ireland. This episode fitted very well with the nineteenth-century view of the 'Celtic church' as being intrinsically anti-Roman, but is read in a different context by modern scholars. In the report from an 1888 Australian newspaper below, the Archbishop of Melbourne takes the opportunity to bring Saint Colman's foundation of 'Mayo of the Saxons' to the attention of his Irish diaspora audience. I was interested to see how the contemporary efforts of religious orders to provide education for the masses are linked to this ancient monastic heritage in the final paragraph. One small point: it is claimed that Mayo translates as 'plain of the oaks' but this should read plain of the yews.

(Melbourne Advocate, June 30.)

The Hibernian Hall was well filled on Saturday night when a concert was given in aid of the building fund of St. Joseph's Hall and School, Port Melbourne, which is under the charge of the Carmellite Fathers. The Archbishop of Melbourne, the Very Rev. Prior Butler and the Rev. Father Shaffrey were present. During the interval the Archbishop delivered the following address : — 

His Grace said that as he was set down in the programme to deliver an address, and not allowed, as he desired, to remain a silent listener to the beautiful vocal and instrumental music, and to the admirable recitation, which filled the first part of the programme, he thought it would not be inappropriate— as this concert was given in aid of a Catholic school under the care of the Carmellite Fathers— to give a short chapter of history connected with a famous school, the very name and existence of which seemed to be unknown to general readers. He referred to the school of "Mayo of the Saxons." The history of this school carries us back over twelve centuries. The scenes are laid in far famed Iona, in Northumbria, in the lone island of Innisboffin, but, above all, in "Mayo of the Saxons," where this school flourished from the latter part of the seventh to the close of the sixteenth century, when its light was finally put out in the bitter strife which accompanied the attempted introduction of the Reformation into Ireland. Ethelfrid, grandson of Eda, who may be said to be the founder of the Anglo-Saxon race, being defeated in battle and slain, his sons, Oswald and Oswy, fled to the court of the King of Dalradia. By him they were sent for instruction to Iona, where during seventeen years they were taught by St. Columba'a monks secular science in addition to Christian virtue. After this long exile Oswald, having recovered the throne of his fathers, determined to rule over a Christian people. When he looked around for an apostle he naturally turned his eyes to Iona where he himself had received the faith from Irish monks. Sts. Aidan, Finan, and Coleman became in succession Bishops of Lindisfarne and succeeded in winning Northumbria permanently to the true Faith. The rule of St. Coleman was embittered by the disputes which arose between his Celtic and Saxon subjects regarding the proper time for celebrating the Easter festival. When the King sided with his Saxon subjects, St. Coleman, rather than abandon the traditions of the Irish Church, resigned his See, and taking with him the remains of his two immediate predecessors, all the Irish monks, and thirty of the Saxon monks, who had made their religious profession at Lindisfarne, sailed back to Iona. To provide a new home for his Irish and Saxon monks was his next effort. Sailing again from Iona he landed on the island of Innisboffin, off the western coast of Ireland. As the new monastery and the chapel and schools sprang up, the saint, no doubt, flattered himself that here would he end his days, and in death lie by the side of his two saintly predecessors in the See of Lindisfarne. But Saxon and Celt even then found it difficult to agree. So taking with him the Saxon monks, St. Coleman once more set sail and landed on the coast of Mayo. Here, in a large plain, covered with great oaks from which the place derived its name — Mayo means the plain of the oaks — he selected the site of the future monastery and school, which thus gets its name of "Mayo of the Saxons.'' That the school soon attained a European reputation we know from authentic history. We may not believe that Alfred the Great ever visited Mayo, or that he sent his son to be educated by Irish monks, or that Alfred's son, who is said to have died during his scholastic course, lies side, by side with the two sons of a French king beneath a mound which is still pointed out to the inquiring traveller. But the tradition of itself is a strong testimony to the fame which the school long enjoyed. We know enough from Venerable Bede, and from Adamnan, to convince us that few of the great Irish schools attained greater renown or success. Twice it was plundered, and twice burned down, but each time a new monastery and school arose from the ashes of the old. It was only in the reign of Elizabeth that it fell to rise no more. The moral which the Archbishop derived from the chapter of school history was that when an Irish monk or an Irish friar undertakes to build a school he receives great encouragement from the memory of the success of the great Irish schools of old, end when he makes on appeal for this purpose he has strong claims, not only on Irishmen, but also on the descendants of all those who in Irish schools, like that of "Mayo of the Saxons,'' received hospitality, gratuitous education, and the highest culture then attainable. 

AN IRISH SCHOOL.,New Zealand Tablet, Volume XVI, Issue 13, 20 July 1888

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