Sunday 4 October 2020

The Irish Franciscan

Today is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi and below is a 1902 poem, typical of the verse found in the popular religious press of the day, in praise of The Irish Franciscan. The Franciscan Order played an important role in the history of Ireland during the Reformation period. Members of the Order are among the Irish martyrs and the martyrologists of the Irish Franciscan colleges in continental Europe recorded and preserved the memory of their sufferings. Furthermore, these colleges supplied trained clergy to return to Ireland on the Counter-Reformation mission. This poem hints at the close relationship the Franciscans enjoyed with the Irish people. The friar even becomes a part of the Irish landscape as his brown robes provide the perfect camouflage for the bog land. The landscape is a wild, lonely and windswept one; a common theme in this period which evokes the image of the past glories of the 'Celtic church'. Our Franciscan is even explicitly linked to the early Irish saints, although Saint Adamnan perhaps strains the rhyme to breaking-point:

A bare-foot friar all in brown,
Weather-beat face and storm-rent gown,
Tattered hood over shaven crown,
Travelleth as the sun goes down.

Whither ere morning goeth he?
Over the bog he moveth free;
Bog so brown it were hard to see
That brown man travelling patiently.

Hidden under his threadbare vest
He holdeth One close to his breast.
"O Lord, in what poor place of rest
This winter's eve Thou harbourest?"

Deep in the pools the red lights die,
Darkness veileth the western sky ;
Only the plover cry and cry
Amens to prayer as they vanish by.

Who are these, thou barefoot man,
Weak and weary and under a ban,
Who meet thee in the starlight wan?
Columb and Patrick and Adamnan.

Three with torches faint and white,
Threading the holes to give thee light,
Bowing before the One of might,
Thou bearest with thee through the night.

Now the dawn opes in the east,
There's the altar and here's the priest;
Welcome now to the last and least,
Who hunger for the Master's feast.

Table of rock and cloth of moss
(Gold and silver are Mammon's dross),
Rude is the stone and rude the cross,
O Christ our gain, O world our loss.

Ye banned and outlawed of the faith!
Shrive ye now with bated breath;
Hither the hunter hasteneth,
Fear not the little pain of death.

Shines the moon o'er the curling sea,
Sighs the wind in the white-thorn tree.
Forth from the bows as the gale blows free..
Swingeth a figure dolorously.

A bare foot friar all in brown,
Weather-beat face and threadbare gown,
Girdle of rope and shaven crown —
Swingeth he as the moon goes down.

— R.M.G.

The Irish Monthly, Vol. 30, No. 347 (May, 1902), pp. 270-271.

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