O'Dangal's Vision

Patrick Weston Joyce

The great St. Martin of Tours (in France) was much venerated in Ireland, mainly on account of his connection with St. Patrick: for he was Patrick's tutor for four years, and according to some authorities he was his uncle and had a good hand in sending him to Ireland. Among other marks of reverence, churches and crosses were dedicated to him in various parts of this country, his principal church being at Desertmartin in Derry: special devotions were instituted in honour of him: and it was quite usual for Irish pilgrims to visit his tomb at Tours, or as it was called by the old Irish writers "Torinis of Martin."

On a certain occasion a pilgrim from Ireland named O'Dangal, returning from Rome, stopped at Tours on his way to make his devotions at the tomb of the saint. One morning as he was walking through the town he observed a little crowd of people a short way off busying themselves about something. Stepping up to know what was the matter, he there saw quite plainly, in the open day, his own mother Kentigern standing in the midst of the crowd distributing flesh-meat and new milk among the poor people. All were busy—very busy—and were talking at a great rate; but yet there was dead silence—not a word or sound did he hear, though he was beside them. He looked on for a while, amazed; for he was quite well aware that at that very time his mother was at home in Ireland.

He suspected that it was some baseless self-illusion, and in order to put the matter to the test—to find out for a certainty whether he saw a real vision, or if his eyes might not be playing false with him, he watched his opportunity and secretly snatched the cover of the milk vessel. He now watched his mother very attentively while he stood back among the crowd that she might not catch sight of him; and he saw that when she missed the cover she searched about for it, looking perplexed. But he retained it; and after some time the whole vision vanished from his view.

When he had performed his devotions at the tomb of the saint he resumed his journey homeward, bringing the cover with him; and after a year's absence he reached his mother's house at Ross-Allither.[1] He soon made inquiry about his vision, and found, what indeed he expected, that his mother had never been at Tours, or out of Ireland at all. But one thing she remembered quite well, that on the very morning in question she had sent for her poor neighbours and distributed meat and drink to them at her own house, in honour of St. Martin; and that while doing so she had lost in some way—she could never tell how—the cover of her milk vessel. He then showed her the cover, which she at once recognised as her own, and bringing it to the vessel, it appeared quite plain, even to O'Dangal himself—as his mother had already testified—that it was the proper cover, for it fitted exactly.

The old chronicler who relates the story concludes from this that a person who wished to pay honour to St. Martin need not put himself to the trouble and danger of a long pilgrimage; for the vision of O'Dangal clearly showed that alms-giving or any other charitable work performed in the saint's honour at his cell in Ross-Allither was as meritorious and acceptable as if it were done at "Torinis of Martin." As to this last belief, we find a statement of much the same kind in an old Irish religious piece edited in "Ériu" (vol. v., p. 25) from the Yellow Book of Lecan, by Mr. J. G. O'Keeffe:—That to be hospitable to the houseless stranger—to give him fire, bed [and food]—is as meritorious as to go all the way to Rome on a pilgrimage—which was at that remote time a long and dangerous and very expensive journey—to the tombs of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

[1] Ross-Allither [pron. Ross-Alliher] or the "wood of the pilgrims," now Ross Carbery in Cork, where there was formerly a great religious establishment. It appears from the context that there was a cell there dedicated to St. Martin.