Homily delivered by Father Gerald McCarthy on Aodh Ruadh’s feast day, September 10, 1978.
Aodh Ruadh died on September 10, 1602, 376 years ago today. After his defeat at Kinsale he had gone to Spain to seek help, but although he waited for it for eight months, until his death, no help came. He had lost all he loved: the Church he had fought to defend would be outlawed in Ireland for the next 200 years. As he waited in Spain, he learned that his own people were massacred and his allies defeated, and he was even blamed for the loss. Yet, through it all, Aodh never lost his faith or his famous, burning love for God.
The saints are meant to set an example for us to follow, and Aodh was an example to us in many ways. Saint Paul wrote that faith, hope, and love abide and the greatest of these is love. Aodh showed these virtues throughout his life.
Aodh’s faith is best seen in the Battle of the Curlew Mountains. The English governor Clifford was marching against him with a force ten time greater than Aodh’s, and Aodh’s advisers told him not to fight. But Aodh said it was not the size of the armies that decided a battle but the power of God, and that he who trusts in the Trinity is victorious. He said to his soldiers, “My blessing on you, true men! Have no dread or fear of the great number of the soldiers of London, but put your hope and confidence in the God of glory.”
The day before the battle was the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, and Aodh had his army fast in honor of the Blessed Virgin. He spent the night in prayer, and invited his soldiers to hear Mass and receive Communion with him in the morning. After Mass, he stood before his men and said:
“Soldiers, through the help of the Holy Virgin, Mother of God, we have ere this at all times conquered our heretic foe.
In her name yesterday we fasted.
Today we celebrate her feast.
So then in the Virgin’s name, let us bravely fight and conquer her enemies.”
That day, on Mary’s feast-day, a fraction of Aodh’s army met the entire English force and completely defeated them. Everyone said that they had won not through force of arms but by the power of Aodh’s prayers.
Aodh excelled also in the virtue of hope. It was this quality that enabled him to try to escape from his English captors at age 18. He walked 40 miles through the snow and at last was re-taken. Yet his hope still did not fail him. He tried again a year later, and this time, although he nearly froze to death, he succeeded in reaching his parents’ home.
It was hope that gave him the courage to try to defend his country and his faith when nearly all of Ireland was conquered and the odds were overwhelmingly against him. And hope certainly sustained him during his months of waiting in Spain.
“The greatest of these is love, St. Paul wrote, and Aodh excelled in love for his God, his people, and even his enemies. His passionate love for God and the Church has become a legend. The poem “Dark Rosaleen” tells of his love for the Church and for Mary:
All day long, in unrest,
To and fro do I move.
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love.
The heart in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen…
Over hills, and through dales,
Have I roamed for you sake.
All yesterday I sailed with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne at its highest flood
I dashed across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen…
My own Rosaleen!
For there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lightened through my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!”
Through the long years of war, Aodh frequently said he longed for peace so that he could become a friar of the Fransican order. This lifelong ambition was fulfilled on when he became a monk while on his deathbed.
He loved the holy sacraments, and had his confessor constantly with him. Before he undertook anything, he confessed, grieved for his sins, and received Communion. And it was his love for God and the Church that inspired him to spend his entire life in the defense of his faith.
Because he loved God, Aodh also loved other people. His life is full of incidents in which he sacrificed himself for the sake of others. When he was a prisoner in Dublin Castle, as little more than a child, he “lamented day and night” not for himself but for the suffering of his people. When he escaped from the castle, he stayed behind to help a weaker companion, helped and even carried him through the snow, and nearly died to save him; when he was rescued and regained consciousness, he immediately forgot his own needs and tried to revive his friend. As King of Tyrconnell, he once risked his life to warn a group of his soldiers who were about to ride into a trap.
Aodh loved the poor and needy, and his reign was remarkable for the care given to them. He gave shelter throughout his realm to the poor and the homeless, and was called “the pillar of support, the bush of shelter, and the shield of protection for all that were weak.” When thousands of refugees from Connacht came to him, he housed them in his castles and farmhouses, and had his people feed them, then drove the English invaders from Connacht in order to restore them to their homes.
Aodh loved not only his own people, but even his enemies, according to our Lord’s command. He fought only out of necessity, to save his Church, not from any love of war. When he returned from his captivity and found his land terrorized by the English who had occupied Donegal Monastery, he at once captured them. He told them to leave quickly and not further profane the church, and to leave behind the property they had stolen. Then he did a thing unheard of in the sixteenth century: he let them go.
It has been said that Aodh invaded Connacht in order to avenge the old men, women, and children the English had thrown from the bridge at Enniskillen. If so, it was no eye-for-an-eye revenge, for he ordered his soldiers not to harm women or those under 15 or over 60 years of age. This, too, was unheard of in his time.
When the English invaded his kingdom in 1600, he offered safe passage through his kingdom for those who wished to leave. In fact, he was so merciful that the oppressed English soldiers deserted to him during the war, so often that it was a major problem to the English.
It was said that Aodh bore always a look of affection on his face. If so, it was because he was full of faith, hope and Christian love. Like all the saints, he lived a life that is an example for all of us. Let us pray for his beatification, and that he may one day be officially numbered among the saints.