Death of St. Laurence O'Toole

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XVIII

Henry now became jealous of the Archbishop, and perhaps was not overpleased at his efforts to reform these ecclesiastics. Roderic O'Connor had asked St. Laurence to undertake a mission on his behalf to the English court; but the King refused to listen to him, and forbid him to return to Ireland. After a few weeks' residence at the Monastery of Abingdon, in Berkshire, the saint set out for France. He fell ill on his journey, in a religious house at Eu, where his remains are still preserved. When on his deathbed, the monks asked him to make his will; but he exclaimed, "God knows that out of all my revenues I have not a single coin to bequeath." With the humility of true sanctity, he was heard frequently calling on God for mercy, and using the words of the Psalmist, so familiar to ecclesiastics, from their constant perusal of the Holy Scriptures. As he was near his end, he was heard exclaiming, in his own beautiful mother-tongue: "Foolish people, what will become of you? Who will relieve you? Who will heal you?" And well might his paternal heart ache for those who were soon to be left doubly orphans, and for the beloved nation whose sorrows he had so often striven to alleviate.

St. Laurence went to his eternal reward on the 14th of November, 1180. He died on the feria sexta at midnight.[4] His obsequies were celebrated with great pomp and solemnity, and attended by the Scotch Legate, Alexis, an immense concourse of clergy, and many knights and nobles. His remains were exposed for some days in the Church of Notre Dame, at Eu.

Henry immediately despatched his chaplain, Geoffrey de la Haye, to Ireland, not with a royal message of consolation for the national calamity, but to sequester the revenues of the archiepiscopal see of Dublin. He took care to possess himself of them for a year before he would consent to name a successor to the deceased prelate. St. Laurence had happily left no funds in store for the;royal rapacity; the orphan and the destitute had been his bankers. During a year of famine he is said to have relieved five hundred persons daily; he also established an orphanage, where a number of poor children were clothed and educated. The Annals of the Four Masters say he suffered martyrdom in England. The mistake arose in consequence of an attempt having been made on his life there by a fanatic, which happily did not prove fatal.[5]


[4] Midnight.—"Itaque cum sextae feriae terminus advenisset, in confinio sabbati subsequentis Spiritum Sancti viri requies aeterna suscepit."—Vita S. Laurentii, cap. xxxiii. The saint's memory is still honoured at Eu. The church has been lately restored, and there is a little oratory on the hill near it to mark the spot where he exclaimed, Haec est requies mea, as he approached the town where he knew he should die. Dr. Kelly (Cambrensis Eversus, vol. ii. p. 648) mentions in a note that the names of several Irishmen were inscribed there.

[5] Fatal.—Dr. O'Donovan gives a long and most interesting note on the genealogy of St. Laurence O'Toole, in which he shows that his father was a chieftain of an important territory in the county Kildare, and that he was not a Wicklow prince, as has been incorrectly asserted. The family removed there after the death of St. Laurence, when they were driven from their property by an English adventurer.