St Laurence O'Toole (Lorcán Ó Tuathail) was born in Castledermot, Co.
Kildare in 1128. He became Abbot of Glendalough in 1153 and Archbishop of
Dublin in 1162. He died in Eu in Normandy on the 14th of November 1180 and was
canonised in 1225. His eventful life can be summarised under eight headings.
Laurence's father was Maurice O'Toole, King of Hy Murray. When Laurence
was 10 he was given as a hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who
treated him with great harshness. The boy was sent in chains to a remote area
where he was ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed. For two years, the king's son
learned what it was to experience real poverty and oppression.
After two years, Dermot was forced to release Laurence and send him
monastery, where his father could reclaim him. When Maurice arrived,
he found his son had fallen in love with the life of the monks and
he gave him permission to join the community. Laurence was only 25
when he was elected Abbot, and he proved to be the greatest Abbot
of Glendalough since St Kevin its founder. He encouraged learning,
built new churches and renewed -monastic life by bringing in monks
from the continent. He was unfailing in his care for the poor and
sold the monastery treasures to feed famine victims.
In 1162 Laurence became the first Irish Archbishop of the Danish city of
Dublin. Many of the citizens were no more than nominal Christians and he made it
his duty to deepen their faith and reform their lives. He introduced Augustinian
monks from France to Christ Church Cathedral to reform the liturgy and he became
a member of their community. He continued his works of charity, especially towards
homeless children, whom he led and housed in his own residence.
Laurence was a man of prayer. He rose in the early hours to sing the office
with the other monks in the cathedral and often stayed on afterwards, deep in
prayer. Then he would walk for a time in the graveyard, watching and praying over
the city as it woke to another day. When his duties allowed him, he liked nothing
better than to escape to Glendalough and spend a few days in solitude in a
lakeside hermitage which could be reached only by boat.
The Normans landed in Ireland in 1190. The following year they besieged
Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. Laurence met Strongbow to arrange a
peace but the Normans attacked while the talks were going on. They seized the
city, and began killing the citizens and looting their houses. Laurence saved the
lives of many by the sheer force of his presence and he carried the bodies of others
in his own arms to be buried. In spite of many setbacks, he was to continue his
efforts as peace-maker to the end of his life.
For the last ten years of his life, Laurence was a constant traveller. He often
visited England in his efforts to bring about peace between the two countries. Sea
travel was hazardous and shipwrecks were common. More than once, his ship was
caught in a Violent storm and its safe arrival was attributed to the power of his
prayer. Travellers believed that when he was on board, they had nothing to fear.
His efforts were not entirely in vain. In 1175 he was one of the signers of the Treaty
of Windsor between England's King Henry II and lreland's High King, Roderick
Laurence led the six Irish bishops who attended the Third Lateran Council in
Rome in 1179. Pope Alexander III was so impressed that he appointed him Papal
Legate to Ireland with the responsibility of reforming the Church in Ireland and
defending it against attack. On his return, Laurence summoned a council of the Irish
Church at Clonfert which took firm action against the abuses of the time. It was only
his death that prevented him from completing his work of reformation.
Laurence left Dublin for the last time in the spring of 1180. His mission was
to settle a dispute that had arisen between the English and Irish Kings. Henry II, the
man responsible for the murder of St Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
received him badly, abused him roundly and forbade him to return to Ireland. Then
he went to visit his dominions in Normandy. Laurence followed him, sick and
exhausted though he was. He died in the monastery at Eu, without having met the
King. His tomb in Eu rapidly became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles were
attributed to his intercession. He was canonised in 1225.
The above summary of the life of St Laurence O'Toole is based on THE MAN
IN THE MIDDLE by Desmond Forristal, published by Veritas, which is
recommended for further reading and which can also be got from Amazon Book's Secure website.