Friday, April 13, 2018

Sad Times for the Irish in the States

The fortunes of the Irish have fallen mighty low in the [u]nited States.  One gets a sense of just how low by reports of the popularity of the TV sitcom Roseanne, which broke a ratings record with its re-launch:

The series withwinds (revolves) around the working-class family of Roseanne and John Conner, who live in a fictional Illinois town.  The choice of last name could very well have been an afterthought, but if it wasn’t, it is either an extreme bit of unintended irony or very disrespectful, for the name ‘Conner’ is one of kingly lineage: 

It is common outside Ireland for the clan name O' Connor to lose its Gaelic identity and to be found spelt as Conor, Connor, Connors, Connar and Conner, but all are originally descendants of "Conchobhair". Historically the clan is the most famous of the Irish, representing the last true Irish Monarchy.  . . .  

Source:, opened 11 April 2018

Possibly the best known group are the O'Conors of Connacht whose surname is taken from Conchobhar, King of Connacht (d.971), direct ancestor of the last two High Kings of Ireland, Turlough O'Connor and Roderick O'Connor.

Source:, opened 11 April 2018

Connelly is a patronymic surname, the shortened form O’Connor, which in turn is an Anglicization of the Gaelic Ó Conchobhair or Ó Conchúir, meaning "descendant of Conchobhar." The name Conchobhar is thought to mean "lover of hounds," from the Gaelic con, meaning "hound or wolf," and cobhair, "aid, or desiring." The Connor name is also thought to denote strength and leadership, from conn, meaning "wisdom, strength, counsel," plus cobhair.

The O'Connors descend from several distinct royal Irish families and clans; they are from Clare, Derry, Galway, Kerry, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and the province of Ulster.

Source:  Kimberly Powell,, opened 11 April 2018

But the Conners of the Roseanne world are anything but noble.  John and Roseanne are a couple of crude slobs who use even moments of prayer to sling political barbs.  Their children and grandchildren are mean, self-absorbed, and sexually confused.  Amazingly, this ugly fare is being enthusiastically gobbled up by the backcountry, where a large number of Irish settled (from Kansas City to Cincinnati to Pittsburg:

The South was also settled by a large number of Irish, and also many Scots and a few Welsh (though too much stress ought not to be placed on the Celtic element alone, as is sometimes done; the dominant plantation culture of Dixie was, after all, a product mainly of southwestern England).  Thankfully, though, in her remembrances of her Irish roots, the South aims for higher virtues than those presented in Roseanne:

 . . .

The first settlement of English-speaking Catholics beyond the Allegheny Mountains was not located in the north but in the south, and in my own state of Kentucky at that. It endures to-day, after having given to this country one of its greatest and most scholarly churchmen, Bishop Spalding. (Applause.) The children of the pioneers of Kentucky, almost without exception, learned their first lessons in log cabins under the teachings of that strange but gifted race of men, the wandering Irish schoolmasters, who founded the old field schools of the South and to whom the South is largely indebted for the seeds of its culture.

 . . .

It was a Kentucky Irishman, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, who performed the first operation for ovariotomy—performed it on a kitchen table with a mad husband standing over him with a drawn revolver, threatening to shoot him if his wife died under the knife. But he went ahead and it was a successful operation, and it has brought relief and life and sanity to millions of women all over the world. It was a Kentucky Irishman and a soldier, Theodore O’Hara, who penned perhaps the most beautiful lyric poem, and certainly the sweetest tribute to the brave in our language, the immortal “Bivouac of the Dead.” It was another Kentucky Irishman, the saintly poet-priest, Father Ryan, whose hand wrote those two fondest poems in memory of the Lost Cause, “The Conquered Banner” and “The Sword of Robert E. Lee.”

 . . .

To-night you have heard a tribute, and a deserved one, to little Phil Sheridan of the North, but I want to couple his name with that of a Southern Irishman, the son of an Irish refugee, Pat Cleburne of Arkansas, one of the most gallant leaders that the Civil War produced. (Applause.) Pat Cleburne died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of Christendom in his stocking feet because as he rode into battle that morning he saw one of his Irish boys from Little Rock tramping barefooted over the frozen furrows of a wintry cornfield and leaving tracks of blood behind him. So he drew off his boots and bade the soldier put them on, and fifteen minutes later he went to his God in his stocking feet. Raleigh laid down his coat before Good Queen Bess, and has been immortalized for his chivalry, but I think a more courtly deed was that of the gallant Irishman, Pat Cleburne. For one was kowtowing before royalty and the other had in his heart only thoughtfulness and humanity for the common man afoot.

Sam Houston, the first President of the Lone Star State, was a Tennessee Irishman, Irish through and through, and the present President of the United States, a Southerner also, is half Irish. One of the most distinguished members of the Supreme Court in recent years was a Kentucky Irishman, John M. Harlan, and to-day two of the men who sit on that tribunal are Irishmen— White of Louisiana, the distinguished and honored Chief Justice, and McReynolds of Tennessee.

 . . .

 . . . I suppose I could go on for hours, if your patience held out—and my throat—telling of the achievements of Irishmen, and of the imperishable records that Irishmen have left on the history of that part of the Union from which I came, but to call the roll of the great men who have done great things and won achievement and fame south of Mason’s and Dixon’s line since there was such a line, would be almost like running through the parish registers of the counties of Ireland, both north and south. Indeed, in my opinion, it is not altogether topography or geography or climate that has made the South what it is, and given it those distinguishing characteristics which adorn it. The soft speech of the Southerner; his warm heart, and his hot head, his readiness to begin a fight, and to forgive his opponent afterwards; his veneration for women’s chastity and his love for the ideals of his native land—all these are heritages of his Irish ancestry, transmitted to him through two generations. The North has put her heroes on a pension, but the South has put hers on a pedestal. There is not a Southern hamlet of any size to-day that has not reared a bronze or marble or granite monument to its own defenders in the Civil War, and there is scarce a Southern home where at the knees of the mother the children are not taught to revere the memories and remember the deeds of Lee and Jackson and Forrest, the Tennessee Irishman, and Morgan, the Kentucky Irishman, and Washington, and Light Horse Harry Lee, and Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the Carolinas. I believe as firmly as I believe anything on earth that for that veneration, for that love of heroism and for that joying in the ideals of its soil, the South is indebted mainly to the Irish blood that courses through the veins of its sons and of its daughters.

No, ladies and gentlemen, the lost Irish tribes of the South are not lost; they are not lost any more than the “wild geese” that flew across the Channel from Ireland were lost. They are not lost any more than the McMahons who went to France, or the O’Donnells who went to Spain, or the Simon Bolivars and the O’Higgins who went to South America, or the O’Farrells and the O’Briens who went to Cuba. For their Irish blood is of the strain that cannot be extinguished and it lives today, thank God, in the attributes and the habits of and the customs and the traditions of the Southern people.  . . .

 . . .

But even these attainments are a concession to worldliness, a settling for the good rather than the best.  For they fall short of the best achievements of the Celtic folk, which are exemplified in the lives of their Orthodox monks and nuns before the ravages of the Great Schism began:

 . . .

At the present time, there is an increasing interest in Celtic Christianity in Western Europe and North America. Various problems of the present age naturally compel thoughtful and sensitive individuals to ponder what wrongs have been committed throughout history and why Western civilization faces such problems, be they practical or spiritual in nature. There appears to be a nostalgia for a unified perspective, a renewed vision and approach to both the spiritual and the material world. Perhaps, without being fully understood, this nostalgia, as such, finds a refreshing spring of pure water in Celtic Christianity, in the saintly personalities and poetry of its monks. Here, the searching soul comes upon a new perspective and unified vision of reality. But this pleasing discovery is not always accompanied by the realization that Celtic Christians found this same renewed perspective only through a long, arduous, and often painful spiritual struggle—one which opens the way for Divine Grace to effect the interior changes that enable a person to see reality in such a wholesome way.

In his day, Julius Cæsar noted that the entire Gallic nation was very religious.1 Of course, he was speaking about pagan Celts, but a deep religiosity has been a characteristic of the Celts in general over the centuries, and especially during the Christian era. Alexander Carmichael, who collected folklore in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during the nineteenth century, is another, more recent witness to the deep religiosity of the Celts. He observed that the music of their hymns had a distinct individuality, which resembled, but was clearly distinct from, the old Gregorian chants of the Church. He ventured the opinion that this peculiar and beautiful music was that of the old Celtic Church.2 Nor have the Celtic Saints been forgotten:

Isabel Mac Eachainn said that a widow woman at Tabal, Mull, had a cow ill with the tarbhan (swelling from surfeit), and she was wringing her hands and beating her breast to see her beloved cow in pain. At that moment she saw Calum Cille, Columba, and his twelve disciples in their curachan (little boat or coracle), rowing home to Iona. The widow ran down to the rudha (point) and hailed Calum Cille, and asked him to heal her cow. Calum Cille never turned a dull ear to the poor, to the penitent, to the distressed, and he came ashore and made the ora to the white cow, and the white cow rose upon her feet and shook herself and began to browse upon the green grass before her.

‘Go thou home, bronag, and have faith in the God who made thee and in Christ the Saviour who loved thee and died for thee, and in thine own self, and all will go well with thee and with thy cow.’

Having said this, Calum Cille rejoined his followers in the curachan and resumed his journey to Hi. There was no one like Calum Cille, no one, my dear. He was big and handsome and eloquent, haughty to the over-haughty and humble to the humble, kind to the weak and wounded.3

Ireland and the other regions inhabited by Celts abounded in churches and monasteries during the first millennium of the Christian era. Celtic Bishops and Priests led their flocks to spiritual perfection, to holiness. Of course, not everyone attained such heights, but there were surprisingly many who did; it was not without reason that Ireland was called Insula Sanctorum (the Island of Saints). The Celtic spiritual Fathers (anamcharas and periglours) helped to heal the interior wounds of their spiritual children; they gave them strength and courage for further spiritual struggles. On the ancient Celtic holy sites in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere rested the glow of that cæleste Lumen (heavenly light), shining from the faces of the Celtic monks who had advanced in spiritual life and attained theosis (deification).

Celtic clergy helped to spread the Christian Faith in a peaceful and blessed way. Some time toward the end of the sixth century, there began an exodus from Ireland of the Scotti peregrini, among whom was St. Columbanus. They contributed greatly to a spiritual and cultural renaissance on the European continent. It is possible that their missionary efforts reached as far as the territory of the present Czech Republic. One might say that all of this was too beautiful to last forever. The Holy Spirit, at work in the local Celtic Churches, produced this wonderful blossoming, which gave form to the very best and most beautifully distinctive qualities and gifts of the Celtic peoples. Yet, one of the greatest tragedies of Church history is the withering of this very special blossom of Celtic Christianity on the stalk of the Church.

As I became more deeply acquainted with Celtic Christianity, through reading the ancient lives of Celtic Saints and visiting the holy sites in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England, I became convinced of a deep inner spiritual unity between Celtic Christianity, which has almost vanished, and Orthodox Christianity. This deep inner unity is not surprising; spirituality is living dogmatic theology, dogmatic theology reified in life. The confession of the Orthodox Faith formed the same spirituality in the Celtic peoples that it did in other peoples and cultures that confess Orthodox Christianity. Thus, Celtic Christianity has not perished completely. Its holy places retain their unique spiritual atmosphere and a pilgrimage to them can enrich anyone who is appropriately motivated and spiritually sensitive. The Celtic lands produced numerous Saints who are alive in God and who are helping those who turn to them with faith in their prayers.

The Origins of Monasticism in the West.

Gilbert Hunter Doble has written that, "the most characteristic feature of the Celtic Church was its preference for the monastic and eremitic life," and that, "the history of the Celtic Church is largely a history of monks and monasteries."4 Monasticism, like Christianity, has its origin in the East and quickly spread through Palestine, Egypt, and Syria to the West.  . . .

 . . .

Monasticism: Martyrdom and Militia Christi. 

Great effort is necessary to enable a believer to traverse the path of spiritual perfection. A degree and form of spiritual combat (askesis) is required of all Christians. The path to theosis is difficult. It is truly the way of the Cross, a narrow path leading to life everlasting. In fact, St. Athanasios the Great compares the ascetic or eremitic life of St. Anthony the Great to a daily martyrdom.19a A homily in archaic Irish, probably dating from the last quarter of the seventh century, also speaks of martyrdom:

Now there are three kinds of martyrdom, which are accounted as a cross to a man, to wit: white martyrdom, green (glas) and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man’s abandoning everything he loves for God’s sake, though he suffer fasting or labor thereat. Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labor he frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a cross or death for Christ’s sake, as happened to the Apostles in the persecution of the wicked and in teaching the law of God.20

This division of bloodless martyrdom into "white" and "green" is peculiar to Irish monasticism, "white" representing the first great step in renunciation of the world, and "green" the practice of exceptional austerity within the ascetic life.20a

The comparison of monasticism with martyrdom is very apt and is related to the concept of spiritual life as combat: the struggle with one’s self and with the fallen spirits who assail true Christians who labor for spiritual perfection. For this reason the Celtic tradition regarded monasticism as the Army of Christ (Militia Christi) and the monk as a soldier of Christ (miles Christi).21 Young men, in their effort to emulate the heroism of their ancestors, entered monasteries. Instead of fighting in the Fianna (the Celtic army), they joined the Militia Christi to wage war against the evil spirits and sin.22

External Asceticism.

Celtic Christians took the spiritual life very seriously, and to attain their spiritual goal they employed various forms of external asceticism, such as standing in cold water, "cross vigils" (cross figell, from crux vigilia), or the "ascetic practice of praying all night long with arms outstretched in the form of a Cross,"29 and prostrations (slectain), that is, kneeling down and touching one’s forehead to the ground. "There was an anchorite in Clonard, a man of great asceticism. He made two hundred prostrations at Morning Prayer, a hundred at each hour of prayer, and a hundred at vigils. In all, he made seven hundred each day."30 "In a Culdee text from around the eighth century we learn that monks were normally not to perform more than two hundred prostrations daily."31 Such prostrations continue to be a part of the liturgical life and prayer rule of both monks and lay people in the Orthodox Church.

In addition, regulations concerning fasting have always been an important part of the external asceticism of monastics. Abstaining from meat and discretion in drinking wine were monastic traditions from the earliest times in the Christian East, and in the Rule of Cormac Mac Ciolionain (ca. 900) it is stated that a monk should renounce meat and wine.32

Prayer: Praxis and Theoria. 

The heart of monastic life was prayer: private prayer and participation in the communal Divine services in Church. According to John Ryan, "A very large proportion of the Irish monks progressed so far in prayer that they were capable of unbroken contemplation. The evidence for this is the growth of the anchoretical habit."33 Although we do not find in Irish sources a description of the method of interior prayer, the fruits of the spiritual struggles of the Celtic monks indicate that noetic prayer was learned from the same sources that have been preserved and elaborated upon in the Orthodox East. This ascetic tradition distinguishes between two aspects of the spiritual life: praxis and theoria. Praxis consists in the purification of the heart from passions, with the help of prayer, obedience, fasting, vigil, silence, the chanting of Psalms, and patience in tribulations. This corresponds to the process of purification, the first degree of the spiritual life. Theoria is the illumination of the intellect (nous) and the vision of the uncreated glory of God. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, praxis is the way to theoria. Theoria is identified with the vision of uncreated Light, uncreated Divine energy, the union of man with God, theosis. Thus, theoria, vision, and theosis are closely related. There are various degrees of theoria: illumination, Divine vision, or a prolonged vision which may last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Noetic prayer is the first stage of theoria. A person is granted theoria through praxis, and when this state of theoria ceases, he resumes praxis anew.34

The biographer of St. Samson of Dol says that the Saint never ceased to pray either during the day or during the night (cf. I Thessalonians 5:17). Like some Desert Fathers, St. Samson sometimes appeared transfigured. Once, when certain persons went to call him to a council, they saw his face shining like that of an Angel. The same is recorded about the Egyptian Desert Fathers Abbas Or and Theonas.35 According to St. Gregory Palamas, Adam, before his fall into sin, was originally clothed in the garment of glory, of Divine Light and splendor. He participated in the Divine Light. The light at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor manifested to the Apostles not only the future glory of the Kingdom of God, but also this lost state of the beatitude of Adam in Paradise before the fall. Before the fall, the natural elements did not harm man. Animals looked to man as to their King and rendered him service. In the Saints, those who attained the illumination and deification lost by Adam, the same phenomenon is observed: wild animals are not afraid of them, do not harm them, and serve them faithfully. They recognize their King in the Saints, as it was in the beginning. Many such accounts are found in the lives of Celtic Saints.36

 . . .

Selfless Love, Spiritual Freedom, Spiritual Realism

When a person attains purity of heart, his selfish love is transformed into selfless love for God and his fellow man. He loves others without expecting anything in return. He loves independently of whether others love him. When selfish love is changed into selfless love, the spiritual struggler becomes a real human being. The cure of man consists in this transformation.42 With this higher level of spiritual life comes spiritual freedom and a true, rather than a legalistic or external, understanding of monastic life. This can help elucidate the behavior of the Celtic monks—for example, their travels (peregrinatio) during the days when Celtic Christianity was flourishing. All outward things served them as means for attaining a spiritual goal.

Metropolitan Hierotheos observes that many people think that the rigor of the ascetic struggle makes a man hard and insensitive to the problems of life, as well as indiscreet in giving advice. But in fact, the opposite is true. When one lives the ascetic life in a godly way, in deep humility, he removes the mask of fragmentation and becomes a real man. Then he acts naturally, understands the questions and problems of others, and can provide practical and realistic guidance.43 Thus, it was written of the Optina Elder St. Ambrose (†1891), that he knew that everything in life has its value and its consequences; thus, there was no question which he would not answer with compassion and goodwill. For example, he advised an old woman about how to care for her turkey-hens.44 When another woman asked another Optina Elder, St. Nektary (†1928), about how she should serve the Lord, the Elder replied: "From the time that you entered into lawful marriage, you have continuously served the Most Holy Trinity. For a woman, lawful marriage is the beginning of her service to the Most Holy Trinity."45

St. Adomnan also preserved an interesting story from the life of St. Columba. The wife of a certain man named Lugne, who lived on the island of Rechru (Rathlin), had an aversion to her husband, because he was very ugly. She did not want to enter into marital relations with him. When the Saint learned about this, he tried to talk to her, but she told him that she was prepared to do anything, if only he should not ask her to do that. She even expressed her willingness to enter a convent. The Saint replied: "What you suggest cannot rightly be done..., for it is forbidden to separate what God has lawfully joined together." St. Columba proposed that all three of them should fast and pray to the Lord. The Saint prayed for them during the night. The next day, St. Columba asked her if she was ready to enter a convent, and she confessed that during the past night her heart had been changed from hate to love.46 The few examples cited here demonstrate that spirituality is a living dogmatic theology. Because, in the first millennium for the Christian age, the Celtic Churches confessed the same orthodox Faith as the Orthodox Church, it is not surprising to find a deep inner unity between Celtic Christian spirituality and traditional Orthodox spirituality.

With all due respect to Prof Richard Weaver, this is the true ‘older religiousness’ of the South.  This height of holiness is not a fable, nor does it belong only to a few places and times.  Rather, it is found wherever the Orthodox Church has gone and will go, from the day of Pentecost until the end of the world: from Carthage to Kiev, from Salzburg and Shanghai to Spruce Island.  Such holiness is the true calling of the South, as for every people.  It will manifest itself in Dixie as the Orthodox Church becomes more deeply rooted here.  Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas (born Robert Royster in Teague, Texas; reposed in 2011) may be the first-fruits of the Orthodox saints of the South:

But as long as the South remains united to the diseased American culture that produces and praises works such as Roseanne, her growth in holiness will continue to be greatly stunted.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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