St. Laurence O'Toole

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Laurence O'Toole

Also Known As: "Lawrence"
Birthdate: (52)
Birthplace: Castledermont, Kildare, Ireland
Death: 1180 (52)
Eu, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandy, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Muirchertach mac Gilla Comgaill Ó Tuathail and Cacht O'More
Brother of Mor O'Toole
Half brother of Donnchad Mac Gillapatrick, King Of Ossory and Áed O'Conor, King of Offaly

Occupation: Arch Bishop of Dublin
Managed by: Elizabeth Ellen Prince
Last Updated:

About St. Laurence O'Toole



Lorcan O'Toole, whose name has been anglicized Laurence, was born near Castledermot, County Kildare. His father, Maurice, was a Leinster chieftain who in the course of time was reduced to a subordinate position by the encroachments of a rival great family, the MacMurroughs. The moment came when Maurice O'Toole was compelled to hand over to the MacMurroughs his youngest son, Laurence, aged ten, as hostage for his loyalty.

At first the boy was kept in the MacMurroughs' stronghold and treated like a member of the family. But when Maurice O'Toole again became suspect of what the MacMurroughs called treachery, Laurence was taken far away and imprisoned in a herdsman's hut 'in a desert, stony place,' where he was given barely enough food to keep him alive. Two years passed before his father's overtures to relieve him were successful. The abbot of Glendalough was appointed mediator between the two families and allowed to take the boy into sanctuary. When at last Maurice O'Toole arrived in Glendalough for Laurence, he announced somewhat portentously that he intended one of his four sons to enter religion and that he would draw lots to decide which of them it should be. At this, Laurence burst out laughing, for he had long been sure of his religious vocation. No lots had to be drawn.

He remained in Glendalough and eventually became its abbot. When he was thirty-two, he was forced to leave this retreat on his appointment as archbishop of Dublin, the first native-born Irishman ever to fill that see. His elevation marked the end of Scandinavian domination in Dublin.

At a period when a precarious peace was being patched up between the MacMurroughs and the O'Tooles, Laurence's sister was given in marriage to Dermot MacMurrough. This classical villain of history treated her badly and later eloped with Dervorgilla, wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, prince of Breffni, an event commonly accepted as prelude to the Anglo-Norman invasion. Laurence was thus deeply implicated in the national disaster. He was at the storm centre of the conflict. When Dermot MacMurrough died, his daughter, Eva (who was Laurence O'Toole's niece), was married to Richard, earl of Pembroke, called 'Strongbow,' the leader of the invasion from England. The archbishop remained in Dublin through two sieges and a famine. During the first siege, he was actually negotiating peace terms with the Normans outside the gates, when some of the soldiers treacherously broke into the city and ran amok among the civilians. Ever the father of his people, Laurence had to rush from the peace talks to save the citizens from being massacred.

In all the subsequent vicissitudes of the Anglo-Norman invasion, Laurence kept steadfastly on the side of the Irish. He went twice to King Henry II as ambassador of peace. On his second embassy in 1180, Henry refused to see him in England, and Laurence followed the king to his court at Bures, near Bayeux, in Normandy. The weeks of strain and travel told heavily on the archbishop, and by the time he reached the abbey of St Victor at Eu, he was mortally ill. Someone suggested that he should make his will, and he answered: 'God knows, I have not a penny under the sun to leave anyone.' The plight of his people in Dublin troubled his death-bed and his last words revealed his thoughts: 'Alas, you poor, foolish people, what will you do now? Who will take care of you in your trouble? Who will help you?'

He was an ascetic. Even when archbishop, he continued to live in community as a canon regular of Arrouaise. He wore a hair shirt, never ate meat, and fasted every Friday on bread and water. But when he thought it his duty to entertain, nothing customary was lacking from his table, and he drank water colored to look like wine so as not to spoil the feast. To have had to leave Glendalough remained ever a personal sorrow. Every Lent he returned to that lovely valley to make a forty days' retreat in St Kevin's cave on a precipice of Lugduff mountain over the Upper Lake. He was thus the medieval link with the Celtic saints.

It was Ireland's good fortune that St Laurence O'Toole died abroad. His life was written shortly afterwards by a contemporary in Normandy, and thus his record was saved from the later upheavals in which so many precious Irish documents were lost. Fitting honor, too, was paid to his memory: a French sea port was called after him and a great Gothic church dedicated to him in Eu. Most significant of all, he was canonized only forty-five years after his death. One may safely assume that this would not have happened had he died in his own war-riven country.

Courtesy of Catholic Information Network (CIN)

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St. Laurence O'Toole's Timeline

Castledermont, Kildare, Ireland
Age 52
Eu, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandy, France