Page 7, 15th May 1992

15th May 1992
Page 7
Page 7, 15th May 1992 — Song of the missionaries

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Locations: Dublin, Rome, Boston, Paris


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Song of the missionaries

Terence Sheehy looks at the maturing of a precious spirit among the Irish faithful

IN THAT ancient Irish saga, the Fianna. so beloved of the Gaels and starry-eyed English tourists, Finn, the Charlie Haughey of prehistoric Ireland, and spokesman for the Fianna, was asked what music he liked best.

The music critic of these pagan times fully expected, and got: "The song of the blackbird, the scream of the eagle, the roar of the waterfall, the haying of hounds and clash of arms." This was all predictable Irish Romantic literary stuff, and is still dished out by the natives to unsuspecting tourists when really all that is required of the visitors is their money.

However, when the same critic asked Oisin. Ireland's greatest poet, and the mother and father of all the warriors of the Fianna, what music he liked hest, the answer was entirely different. Oisin told the critic what he liked hest was "the music of the thing that happens."

When you think about the statement carefully, you may become aware of the fact that the best elements in Irish life today are exemplified in the missionaries and contemplatives who have been making this music for nearly 2,000 years. Take, for example. the founding of the new order of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Drogheda.

Another classic example was the founding of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart the Benedictine nuns at Tyburn Convent near the site where Oliver Plunkett of Drogheda was the last Catholic martyr to be hanged, drawn and quartered on the Tyburn tree on I July 1681.

These missionaries and contemplatives have been created over a very long period of time. Like the best Irish whiskey, such as the "Protestant" fiushmills "Black label", this precious spirit is matured for not less than twelve years before it is taken from the barrel, bottled and sold. So it is that the "music of the thing that happens" matures over the years.

In the 1990s it is difficult to believe that the Medical Missionaries of Mary were only first thought of when Mother Mary Martin. their foundress, was a young nurse like Vera Brittain, in Malta during World War 1, aursing the Irish wounded at the tender age of 25.

Her ancestor, Cavan-horn John Martin, United Irishman and friend of Robert Emmet, was born in 1740. He founded the family timber business, for which that ''servant of God', Matt Talbot, worked during his lifetime.

Talbot died in Granby 1.ane, Dublin, in abject poverty. When his emaciated body was examined in hospital, his flesh was found to be embedded with penitential chains, and his life of heroic sanctity started to become dear.

He had "the devil riding on his back" as he knelt each morning on the steps of the Jesuit Church of St Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street, waiting for the doors to open for the first Mass of the day. His cause for beatification has made little progress in Rome, possibly because he was an exalcoholic.

When the Archbishop of Armagh, St Oliver Plunkett, went to death on the gallows of Tyburn. could he have forseen that almost 100 years after Adele Garnier's solitary adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in Paris, her order of Benedictine nuns would be in constant prayer adjacent to the site of the martyr's scaffold.

At their foundation, the Medical Missionaries, in their smart nurse-style and sensible grey uniforms, were a unique sight in Ireland. They soon swept the universities of the brightest doctors. quickly establishing themselves with qualified pharmacists and nurses. There was glamour in the sight of young Medical Missionaries flying light aircraft in Africa on their missions to the lepers.

Cardinal Cushing of Boston was the first prelate to give them substantial support. The Missionaries now number thousands in Ireland.

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