Book Review

Irish Saints (1964) Review


While I am not Catholic, Christian, or religious in any way, I am of Irish heritage. That’s the reason I bought Irish Saints at a used book stall in a flea market so many years ago. I found it in a box a few days ago and decided to read it for the first time. Ireland has many, many saints, both major and minor as the author Robert T. Reilly makes a point to write. Irish Saints is an introduction to 12 individual saints through brief biographies. Some of them may be familiar, and some of them may not be. Nothing goes in depth as there’s only 169 pages. Below are the 12 saints included, along with my thoughts after reading each individual mini-biography. I’ll review Irish Saints as I would a short story collection.

St. Patrick (418?-493?) – The best known of all the twelve individuals chronicled. If you know nothing of Ireland, if you know nothing of saints, you do know St. Patrick. You know the day, March 17, his day, said to be the day of his death. Shamrocks and snakes are tales of myth, legend, and folklore. Through this brief introduction, St. Patrick appears as a man who loved the Irish people, and took whatever strides he could to protect them.

St. Brigid (453?-524?) – The woman known as “Mary of the Gael.” Second in reverence to St. Patrick among the saints of the Emerald Isle. A name which might not be familiar. It’s said she has her own day, February 1, and is the saint of the common man. She’s credited with founding Ireland’s first order of nuns, seven other virgins who walked beside her and took their vows with her.

St. Brendan (484-572) – The navigator. If, like me, you’re a fan of Ancient Aliens, you’ve heard this name a time or two across the series. Of the three saints thus far, I find him to be the most interesting. A full biography wouldn’t be a bad study. He inspired both Dante and Columbus by his travels in different ways. As he’s said to have reached the Americas long before Columbus or the Vikings, some suggest he’s the man behind the “Quetzalcoatl” legend of Mexico and similar legends throughout South America.

St. Columcille (521-597) – A name I’m not familiar with, and most of you aren’t either. Of the four, the least impressive, though he was a poet. Nothing in the text sticks out as overly remarkable.

St. Columban (540?-615) – Another name unknown to me, and I’m sure many of you. Again, nothing special sticks out other than a few tales about charming bears on a few separate occasions.

St. Malachy (1095-1148) – While I had heard the name, I wasn’t familiar with him. It appears that of the saints so far, both before and after taking a vow, he led the easiest life.

St. Laurence O’Toole (1128-1180) – The final Irish canonized saint until the modern era. Yet another name most of us aren’t familiar with, and the first so far with a full name. As with the previous saint, it seems the passing years have marked an improvement on the lives for the most part. However, there were still periods of suffering in his life.

St. Oliver Plunkett (1629-1681) – A man not only worthy of sainthood, but a martyr for his country. Plunkett’s story begins and unfortunately ends with the cruel, unlawful, and inexcusable treatment of the Irish, regardless of religion at the hands of the English. Of all the saints, his is the saddest story. Persecuted for his homeland and religion, Plunkett’s path to sainthood marks him as a hero and symbol of injustice among his people. Like St. Brendan, I’d like to read a full biography. Plunkett died in 1681, but wasn’t canonized until 1975, which is another injustice he suffered.

Mother Catherine McAuley (1787-1841) – I’m not familiar with this woman, but she is the founder of the Sisters of Mercy. A strong, independent woman holding strong to her religious beliefs and convictions regardless of what anyone else thought or said. She did so in an age when women didn’t or couldn’t, and in an area where Catholics had great difficulty. Her strength and determination are commendable.

Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856) – The Apostle of Temperance. He led the charge against intoxicating spirits, making him my least favorite figure thus far. He was able to come over to America and continue his temperance movement. No miracles, just a movement, and it fell apart following his death.

Matt Talbot (1856-1925) – I don’t know the reason for Talbot’s inclusion. Even the book makes it clear he wasn’t canonized as of the publishing. Talbot wasn’t a clergy member. By most accounts and definitions, he was what one might call, including myself, a religious nut. A harmless religious nut, but one all the same.

Bishop Edward J. Galvin S.S.C. (1882-1956) – Galvin founded the Columban Fathers. While an Irishman, he comes across as more of a Chinese saint. His missionary work and point of impact wasn’t in Ireland or to benefit the Irish people, but in Asia, China in particular.

Copyright © Drew Martin 2017


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