On 2nd November I got the children togged out in wellies and coats and we headed off for a visit to a local cemetery and Church for the Holy Souls. We have an historical little village near us called Tomhaggard, in the Model County. I’d like to tell you a story…
Tomhaggard is the sleepiest little spot, a few houses, no shop anymore. Rural shops died a death. There’s a Church that gets a Mass every second day by a curate covering other parishes – not a rare situation now, few parishioners and fewer priests. There is a pub. That’s ok. The pub and the Church and the local shop were a rural village’s hub; at least there are two of them left.
Anyway, it could be any little village in Ireland. But Tomhaggard has a few special things, hidden as it is down boreens and round bends and off the beaten track. It has history, a holy history, a martyr, a site of bloodshed, and a haunting Irish beauty.
There are two holy wells, St James’ well and St Anne’s well. St Anne’s has a sweet statue tucked in its nook, candles, a stone prie dieu. Stations of the Cross wind around rough stone steps from St Anne’s grotto up to the Penal Chapel. The Chapel itself could be seen as neglected, in other ways it feels reserved in much the barren manner it would have been back then. A packed earth floor is lumpy and shiny… how many people have knelt there. The walls are stone, without windows, a ledge in the front wall shows where a crucifix would have sat, a few candles glowing in the dark and casting crosses on the walls. You can almost feel the prayers still hovering there in the air. You whisper without quite knowing why.
The Chapel has a nativity scene in there now, that seems like the only change excepting age. Indeed the space has a stable-like feel, it suits a nativity scene. More than anything though it reminds me that a priest was murdered not far away on the morning of Jesus’ birthday, the day we rejoice over a baby born in other hostile times, to a quiet woman, in the poorest of places. Who came to see Jesus? The shepherds and the kings; only the very humble and the very wise. Near this spot, in grass stiff with frost, in hiding, had gathered the very poor, the humble, to see Jesus, like the shepherds did centuries earlier. And as through the centuries His followers would die for Him, hated by the world, so here on this day, a life was laid down. Not the first. Not the last.
In 1653 Ireland was an impoverished and persecuted land. In 1652 Cromwell’s soldiers had defeated the Royalist and Irish Catholic Confederate armies, ending the Eleven Years War. Guerrilla warfare continued in its wake for a further year. They were turbulent times, following on the heels of the Gunpowder Plot, the flight of the Earls and the beginning of the Penal Laws with taxations and the transfer of Catholic Churches to Anglican use. Anger led to the Rebellion of 1641 and a Confederate Ireland. Enter Cromwell. Confederate Ireland was demolished, brutally demolished. Harsher Penal Laws followed and Catholic clergy were expelled. Bloodshed was to right and left, Catholics were crushed into the ground and their Mass, their Beautiful, grace filled, life giving Mass, was gone. But we Irish of course, aren’t ones for lying down. Priests stayed, risking their lives, from hedge to hiding place, to give the sacraments, to baptise infants, marry couples, hear confessions and see souls well equipped to leave this world. And yes, to say Mass. The priest would arrive by night and leave before the dawn broke.
People gathered by night at Mass Rocks hidden in furze bushes and down fields and across bogs, to receive their Saviour. Knowing their soul needed this more than it needed life itself. The Penal Chapels, small and poor and barren, supposed to be without the sacraments, would nevertheless be a place of comfort, where mothers’ fingers stepped along their rosaries and children heard the prayers of their parents and fathers came with their fear and their anger and their desperation.
This was Ireland in 1653. The people full of sadness at the fate of their country and their faith, but full of love and hope for both. Cromwell was still on the prowl for the priests who must have seemed ghostlike, there and not there.
In Tomhaggard early on Christmas morning, before the sky began to lighten, Fr Nicholas Mayler celebrated a Mass, hidden in the dark. The Mass was whispered, the people silent, communion received with thankful hearts, when a shout came from higher up the land. Soldiers were coming. Fr Mayler turned and begged his people to take the Chalice, someone save the Chalice. Mrs. Lambert hid it in her apron and ran. How her heart must have beat and her breath have come ragged as she raced, both sure of heart and yet full of terror. Fr Mayler was killed, his blood seeping out in the white frost, the seed of the faith.
Fr Mayler is buried across the road from the Penal Chapel in a 13th Century Church now in ruins. His grave is unmarked. The chalice is used again every Christmas morning when the local faithful cross the fields for mass at the site of the Mass Rock.
And here we are today, 364 years later. We have cars and wages and freedom to vote. We have rights, equalities, liberties. We have it easy in comparison to Mrs Lambert and Fr Mayler. But I do wonder, what Fr Mayler might say, should he be put back here for a day. I could find material in that question to write much more than I will here. But I know this. This man, who died for his faith, would fight today for that same faith. This man, who dashed in secret from shadow to shadow, would die again today, for what is right. This man, who knew his life was in the balance every day and carried on, also knew his faith was not a feeling, a trend, an indulgence, a whimsical fancy. It was true, and it was necessary. Like air and water and food. And here today, Ireland, whose past sons fought in ditches and on hills with pikes and farm tools for God and country, has been all but conquered by fashionable ideologies and money. All but conquered. Not quite.
There are people, dotted around Ireland, quietly staging a revolution. Not in the style of the pikemen perhaps or the 1916 rebels, but as passionate and bold nonetheless. I see them, here and there, all ages, ardent but marginalised, fire in their bellies but disregarded and dismissed. People are hurt by the anti-Catholic sentiment pervading everything. People are tired of suffering under something weirdly akin to a social penal law; where Catholics are witless or bigots or hypocrites. The spirit of Fr Mayler and all the other priests and laypeople who died for Ireland and the faith… that spirit may be burning low, we may be a remnant army, but the spirit isn’t dead. And what’s more, it’s time to rekindle it. We need to be like the shepherds on Christmas morning; be humble. We cannot do this alone, stop bemoaning our fate in isolation. It’s never going to work. Ask for help, ask God for help, ask Holy Mary for help. Place our country and our people at the feet of Holy Mary and pray often and fervently for her protection upon them. We must be like the Maji too; be wise. Remember that Our Lady told us she would triumph. We know it’s going to happen, we just don’t know when. But each prayer and sacrifice we make hastens that moment. And perhaps, with a fresh flame in this land, Ireland may be one of the few countries that doesn’t utterly fall into the depths before that Marian resurrection.
But, why now? Our country will be faced with something pivotal soon in the abortion referendum. We will be at a parting of the ways… up or down, better or worse. The country will not stay static, society doesn’t work like that. We will make a choice, and then we will follow it like a shadow that moves ever further ahead of us. It will make our country better or it will make our country worse. It is time to bring back the revolutionary Irish spirit. This is the counter revolution. It is time to fight a battle, we will see it in the material realm but its dirtiest fray will be in the spiritual. The loss or the victory, will be decided in the realm of the principalities and powers.
And that, right there, is the reason behind ‘Consecrate the 8th’. We need Our Lady so badly. Our Lord will not refuse her, and she will not refuse us. Be wise, ask for help. Be humble, ask for help. We can do this, because she can do this. We need to turn this country around, before it goes off a cliff. Please, for the love of our country, for the love of our faith, for the love of our history and the blood of the martyrs on our land, take this step. Consecrate Ireland’s 8th Amendment to the Immaculate Heart. Then go from there, consecrate yourself, consecrate your families. Do you never say a prayer? Start saying 3 Hail Marys daily. Do you say that already – then say a decade. Do you say a decade – say two. If you say two now – say another. Add a memorare to what you already do, or a morning offering. Haven’t been to Mass in 10 years – go now. Haven’t been to confession in even longer – go now. Look at what you do now, then do some more, a little more. A little more by many people is a wave of petition and grace. Because the time for sitting on the fence is past and Ireland is one of the few places left where we still have the opportunity to climb off the fence on the right side.
Join us to Consecrate the 8th
Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, Pray for Us.