11 January 2022
I was invited this week to be part of a group working on a new brochure and tourist guide to Askeaton, Co Limerick. During a meeting in the Civic Trust offices earlier this week, I learned about the ruins of the famine hospital, and went in search of them mid-week.
After hearing about the Famine Hospital, I went in search mid-week for the hospital ruins in Cloonreask townland, where they are fenced off behind the Deel Manor estate.
Askeaton suffered through the Great Famine, although there are few tell tales of famine times apart from the memory of the old hospital where patients were treated during the famine. The famine or fever hospital was set up to take care of the dying and the very ill.
It is said locally that before the Famine, this building was a treatment centre and a home for people suffering from leprosy. It seems that leprosy may have occurred in the Askeaton area, and a stream near the four roads also refers to leprosy – Lochan Lobhar, or the ‘Lepers’ Pond.’
The population of Askeaton in 1841, four years before the Great Famine, was 1,862. However, 40 years later, the population in 1881 was 804, and today it is about 1,137. The figures tell ting graphically how Askeaton, once a walled borough electing two MPs to the Irish Parliament, has never fully recovered from the impact of the Great Famine.
The ruins of the Famine hospital can still be seen on the main Askeaton bypass, opposite the turn off to the Wyeth plant and they are fenced off from the Deel Manor estate.
A busy week begins this morning, with meetings in Askeaton, Limerick and Dublin throughout this week. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.
I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:
1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February);
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Saint Eithne and Saint Fidelma, the daughters of King Laoghaire, are commemorated traditionally in Irish church calendars and in the Roman martyrology on 11 January.
These sisters were the daughters of King Laoghaire of Connacht, and among Saint Patrick’s first converts to Christianity. They received the veil of religion from his hands, and the tradition is that g immediately after receiving Holy Communion from him they gave up their innocent souls to God.
The name Fidelma means ‘beauty’ or ‘constant,’ and the name Eithne means ‘kernel of a nut or seed.’
The story is told that one summer day Eithne and Fidelma, who were barely out of childhood and full of fun, went for their daily bath in a private place near the palace, a place to which no one ever came so early in the morning. But on this day they were surprised to hear voices and see tents encamped on the grassy slope near the pool.
They could hear the notes of a strange language and every now and again a sweet voice broke into song and mingled with the song of the birds in the nearby woods and the murmuring of the river. Saint Patrick and his companions, who had arrived during the night with a message for the King of Connacht, were praying the Divine Office in Latin.
Finally, each group noticed the other.
The older princess asked, ‘Who are you, and where do you come from?’
Saint Patrick hesitated, and then said: ‘We have more important things to tell you than just our names and where we’re from. We know who the one true God is whom you should adore …’
The girls were delighted and something seemed to light up inside them, to make a blinding white blaze in their hearts and minds. They knew at once that this was real, true news and asked a torrent of questions:
‘Who is God?’
‘Where does he live?’
‘Will he live forever?’
Saint Patrick answered each question quickly and simply. He, too, was delighted: the light that blazed up in the girls was in the man, too, and the three lights together made a tremendous glow. Everyone else stood listening, witnessing the saintly man and the young women in conversation in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
‘Oh, tell us how to find the good God. Teach us more about the kind Jesus, who died upon the Cross. Tell us more, more, more,’ the princesses urged. But there was no need for more; the two had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Patrick led them to their bathing pool, and there he baptised them. For a short time after, Eithne and Fidelma were quiet and deep in prayer. Meanwhile, Saint Patrick prepared to say Mass. Then the princesses began again.
‘I want to see Jesus Christ now,’ said Eithne.
‘And so do I,’ echoed Fidelma. ‘I want to be with him in his home forever.’
Saint Patrick was moved by this loving longing. He gently explained that they would not be able to see God until after their death. They were still young, so it would be a long time before they could see him as he is.
The girls pondered this as Saint Patrick began to celebrate the Eucharist. Everyone was still, but the river and woods seemed to sing God’s praises. Then the youngest man rang a small bell and all bowed their heads. Christ was present, and Saint Patrick beckoned the princesses forward and gave them Holy Communion.
For a while, the princesses looked so happy and so beautiful that they were like angels.
It said Saint Eithne and Saint Fidelma died on 11 January 433.
Mark 1: 21-28 (NRSVA):
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (11 January 2022):
We pray for new mothers, that they might feel supported at this exciting and nervous time in their lives.
Yesterday: Archbishop William Laud
Tomorrow: Saint Aelred of Rievaulx
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org