Lorcán Ua Tuathail

Lorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as St Laurence O'Toole, was born at Castledermot, Kildare, Ireland, in 1128, and died at Eu, Normandy, France, on November 14, 1180; he was canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

Early life

He was one of four sons of an O'Byrne princess and Murtagh O'Tuathail, King of the Ui Muirdeaigh. The family were of the Ui Dunlaigne sub-sept, the Ui Muirdeaigh, and took their surname from Tuathal mac Augaire, the Ui Muirdeaigh King of Leinster who died in 958. They resided at Maistiu or Mullaghmast in what is now County Kildare.

However by the time of his son's birth Murtagh was subordinate to the new Kings of Leinster, the Ui Cheinnselaigh. The king from 1126 was Diarmait or Dermot McMurrough. At the age of 10 he was sent to Dermot as a hostage for his father. However at one point Murtagh's loyalty to Dermot must have become suspect as Lorcan was imprisoned for some two years in extreme austerity, and barely given enough to live on. Due to the intercession of the Abbot of Glendalough - members of Lorcan's family had been buried at one of its churches for generations - relations were amicably restored between Dermot and Murtagh.

One result of his confinement was the strengthening of Lorcan's wish to enter the religious life. The story goes that when Murtagh arrived at Glendalough for Lorcan, he stated that he would draw lots to have one of his sons made a priest, at which Lorcan laughed as he had long thought of doing so. No lots were drawn, and Lorcan stayed at Glendalough. In time he rose to become Abbot of Glendalough at the age of 26 in 1154. He was well-regarded by both the community in Glendalough and its secular neighbours for sanctity and charity to the poor.

Archbishop of Dublin

When he was 32 he was elected unanimously Archbishop of Dublin following the death of Archbishop Gregory in 1161. He was the first Irishman to be appointed to the See of this town of Danes and Norwegians; it is notable that his nomination was backed not only by the High King Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, Dermot McMurrough (who had by then been married to Lorcán's sister, Mor) and the community at Glendalough, but also the clergy and population of Dublin itself. He would later endear himself to the people of Dublin with his exertions during a famine which struck the city. He would also play a prominent part in the Irish Church Reform Movement of the 12th century, as well as rebuilding Christ Church Cathedral, several parish churches and emphasising the use of Gregorian Chant.

Exile of Dermot and the coming of the Normans

In 1166 Dermot was deposed as King of Leinster by an alliance of Irish kings and princes, led by High King Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair and King Tighernan Ua Ruairc of Breifne; Dermot had in 1152 abducted Dervorgilla, Ua Ruairc's wife and on the death of Dermot's protector, High King Muirchertach MacLochlainn in 1166, he paid the price. Exiled and with only a half-hearted promise of help from Henry II, after much wandering in Wales, England and France, he returned to Ireland with a group of penniless and down-on-their-luck Norman, Flemish and Welsh allies to help him regain his kingdom.

The expedition succeeded beyond their wildest dreams; Dermot was reinstated as King of Leinster, the Norse towns of Wexford, Waterford and Dublin captured, and the Irish under the High King defeated. To seal the alliance, Dermot offered his daughter, Aoife — who was also Lorcan's niece — in marriage to the leader of the Normans, Strongbow.

The last years of Lorcán's life were defined by these events and those that were consequent upon it. He had been in negotiations with Dermot when he and his allies laid siege to Dublin after a band of Norman knights seized the town. He acted again as mediator when the King of Dublin unsuccessfully tried to recapture his town and again when Ua Conchobair laid siege.

Synod of Cashel

The arrival of Henry II as Lord of Ireland in Dublin on 11 November 1171 served a number of purposes: first, to rein in his erstwhile Norman subjects before they established a rival Norman kingdom of their own; second, to receive the submission of the Irish kings and princes; third, to arrange a Synod at Cashel. This was to bring Ireland in line with Church observances as practised in Henry's other domains in England and France. Two of the statutes proclaimed concerned the marriage laws of the Irish clergy and the granting of the Rock of Cashel to the Church. It was also used to try to bring the Church of Ireland under the jurisdiction of Canterbury and in the process Pope Alexander III confirmed Pope Adrian IV's donation of Ireland to Henry in 1172. The implications of all this only seems to have sunk in after Henry's departure in April 1172 and to this end Ua Conchobair sent Ua Tuathail — accompanied by Catholicus, Abbot of Clonfert — to London to negotiate a settlement with Henry.

Treaty of Windsor

The Treaty of Windsor was a pact between Ua Conchobair and Henry II which acknowledged Henry's right to the Lordship of Leinster, Meath and such areas then occupied by his Norman subjects. Lorcán was able to get Henry to acknowledge Ua Conchobair's right to the High Kingship and to his lands. However, in so doing, Lorcán had to cede Henry Ua Conchobair's tribute to him.

During the negotiations, Lorcán was saying mass at the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury when he was attacked by a madman. The man had heard of the archbishop's reputation and had the idea of giving the Church another martyr; he struck Lorcán on the head, before the altar, with a club. Unlike Becket, Ua Tuathail, though knocked to the ground, was able to recover and finish the mass.

Last years and death in Normandy

Archbishop Lorcán left Ireland in 1179 to attend the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome, accompanied by five other bishops. From Pope Alexander III he received a Papal Bull, confirming the rights and privileges of the See of Dublin. Alexander also named him as Papal Legate. On his return to Ireland he kept up the pace of reform to such an extent that as many as one hundred and fifty clerics were withdrawn from their offices for various abuses and sent to Rome.

In 1180 he left Ireland for the last time, taking with him a son of Ua Conchobair's as a hostage to Henry. He meant to admonish Henry for incursions against Ua Conchobair, contrary to the Treaty of Windsor. After a stay at the Monastery of Abingdon south of Oxford - necessitated by a closure of the ports - he landed at Le Tréport, Normandy at a cove named after him, Saint-Laurent. He fell ill and was conveyed to St. Victor's Abbey at Eu. Mortally ill, it was suggested that he should make his will, to which he replied: "God knows, I have not a penny under the sun to leave anyone." His last thoughts were of his people in Dublin: "Alas, you poor, foolish people, what will you do now? Who will take care of you in your trouble? Who will help you?"

Ua Tuathail was well-known as an ascetic, wore a hair shirt, never ate meat, and fasted every Friday on bread and water. In contrast to this, it is said that when he entertained, his guests lacked for nothing while he drank water coloured to look like wine so as not to spoil the feast. Each Lent he returned to Glendalough to make a forty days' retreat in St. Kevin's Cave on a precipice of Lugduff Mountain over the Upper Lake.

Due to the great number of miracles that rapidly occurred either at his tomb or through his intercession, he was canonized only forty-five years after his death.

St Laurence's skull was brought back to Britain in 1442 by a nobleman who fought at Agincourt named Sir Rowland Standish (relation of Myles Standish). The bones were interred at the Parish Church of Chorley in England, the church is now named St. Laurence's. The bones disappeared in the Reformation under Henry VIII's rule. His heart is preserved in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.


  • Saint Laurence High School in Burbank, IL, USA is named for O'Toole
  • St Laurence's College, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia is named after St Laurence O'Toole.
  • St Laurence O'Toole National School, or Scoil Lorcan Naofa, Kilmacud and the nearby church, one of the largest in Ireland are named in his memory
  • Scoil Lorcan, an all Irish school in Monkstown is also named after him
  • St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band (SLOT) a Bagpipe Band in Dublin, Ireland, is named after St Laurence

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