Summary–Wild Irish

While Ledrede was pursuing Anglo-Irish heretics in Dublin and Ossory, ecclesiastical leaders in Dublin held an inquest against a native Irishman for denying the Trinity, the Incarnation, the resurrection, Mary’s virginity, the truth of the Bible, and papal authority—in short, for being a non-Christian. Adducc Dubh O’Toole was not alleged to have held alternative beliefs, to have questioned the priesthood, the cult of the saints, or sacraments, as Continental and English heretics often did, or to have committed any particular crimes, even against the colonists with whom his kin were at war.  His was simply a heresy of rejection. His trial and execution serve as the single specific example in a colonial portrait of the native Irish as a lawless race rife with heresy in a request for a crusade against them and those Anglo-Irish who had been infected with their heresy. John XXII’s response may be inferred from his instructions to Edward III in 1331 that Ireland’s reformation should be left to impartial parties with balanced participation by Ireland’s inhabitants, “pure Irish, and those of a mixed race.” His position was perhaps influenced by the virtually identical indictment of colonists he had heard fourteen years earlier from Irish chiefs led by Dónal O’Neill of Ulster, whose long list of complaints included “the heresy that it is no more a sin to kill an Irish person than to kill a dog or any other brute beast,” a belief and practice common among lay and religious alike.

The prosecution of Adducc Dubh O’Toole must be understood within the context of the intense ethnic tensions within the colony.  His family, the O’Tooles, posed one of the greatest threats to the Dublin colonists, and in early 1328 they united with the other major Leinster clans, the O’Byrnes and the MacMurroughs, to launch a major offensive against the Dublin colony after inaugurating Dónal son of Art MacMurrough as their king.  The threat likely seemed more menacing given the colonists’ memories of the Bruce invasion the previous decade, with which Dónal O’Neill’s remonstrance was directly linked, as with it he recognized Edward Bruce as ard rí, the high king of all Ireland. But this Leinster Irish offensive was a failure, leading to the capture of its leaders and the slaughter of its soldiers. David O’Toole, who may have been the chief of the O’Tooles for nearly seventy years, was captured and subjected to a brutal public execution: he was dragged through Dublin to the gallows tied to a horse’s tail, then hanged almost to death, cut down so he could be disemboweled, and then at last beheaded (for a recent article in the Irish press about David’s execution, see ).  These two spectacular executions of two O’Tooles seem different facets of the same colonial policy towards the clan, although why Adducc was singled out for his treatment is unclear.  Possibly he was a priest, although his history apart from his execution remains shadowy.

Adducc was said to have denied the very basics of Catholicism: he allegedly denied the Incarnation, the Trinity, the truth of the Bible, the resurrection of the dead, Mary’s virginity, and the primacy of the pope.  For this he was executed on 11 April, 1328 at Hoggen Green, where Trinity College Dublin now stands.

TCD Campanile

The people who condemned him for this were Richard de Ledrede’s only known allies:  William de Rodyerd, the dean of St Patrick’s who was still acting in the place of an absent archbishop of Dublin (Alexander de Bicknor), William de Nottingham, the precentor of St. Patrick’s, and John Darcy, the justiciar.  As Thomas de Chaddesworth had been inspired by the trial of the Templars to try the tactic against his own enemy, Philip de Braybrook, so too were these colonial leaders inspired by Ledrede’s prosecutions to try the tactic against the native Irish who had long been thorns in their side.  The three collaborated on a letter to John XXII that begs him to call a crusade against the native Irish to help complete the conquest of the island.

The letter begins by paraphrasing Laudabiliter, reminding John that Ireland was given to the king of England by Pope Adrian to extend the boundaries of Christendom. The letter erases Ireland’s long Christian history prior to the arrival of Henry II, reducing it to some ambiguous period during Edward’s predecessors’ reign when faith, peace, and charity flourished in Ireland. During the reigns of Edward II and III, however, “in that same land of Ireland, heresy and dissension have arisen and are spreading among the Irish, a sacrilegious and ungovernable race, hostile to God and humanity.” After a catalogue of crimes, “Aduk Duff Octohyl” is named as a kind of heresiarch who endangers not only native Irish but also Anglo-Irish by his perverse teachings.

According to the letter, Adducc was legitimately convicted not only of heresy and blasphemy before his spiritual judge, but also of relapse, “and because of this he was handed over to secular care to suffer his punishment.” Before his arrest, however, he led many Irish souls into damnation and unless the papacy were to lend immediate aid, many more would meet a similar fate, since neither ecclesiastical nor secular authorities dared to combat “such bad believers, founders, enablers, shelterers, and defenders” of heresy, for fear of death. Nor were the “mass of burdensome Irish” alone in their criminal conduct, for they were aided by “the very sons of iniquity, certain English born in Ireland.” Thus the letter ardently entreats the pope, “may your glorious clemency deign to call a crusade (crucesignationem) for the well-being of your soul and the souls of countless others who are fighting a just war against those evildoers.” It continues that those in the colony who were fighting the malefactors with their own resources were impotent without papal help, and ends with the request that the papacy allow penitent malefactors to return to the bosom of the church.

For decades colonial authorities had battled the Irish of the Wicklow mountains and particularly the O’Tooles, and they had experienced a greater scare in early 1328, when the Leinster Irish had united behind a native king, Dónal son of Art MacMurrough. To make matters worse, various Anglo-Irish joined Irish attacks on colonial forces and property. Moreover, many ostensibly loyal Anglo-Irish had adopted native customs and even the Irish language, a “degeneration” against which colonial authorities had legislated since 1297. The justiciar’s letter suggests that Irishness itself is heresy, proclaiming the entire Irish race as a sacrilegious people against whom a crusade must be called. The characterization of Adducc’s heresy as apostasy (renunciation of the faith) calls to mind the charges leveled against the Irish in Laudabiliter, that they had fallen away from Christianity and needed to be restored to the faith by the English, a portrayal the letter specifically invoked. As the colonial hold on Ireland became increasingly tenuous in the fourteenth century, Dublin leaders tried to persuade the papacy to help them complete the conquest that it had endorsed almost two centuries earlier, claiming themselves impotent in the face of their enemies without this outside support. Those Anglo-Irish who had joined with the native Irish and became infected with their heresy, i.e., became gaelicized, were equally to be the targets of this crusade, although it was presumably with them in mind that the letter ends with a request for clemency should any of the malefactors repent the error of their ways.

Fortunately for the native Irish, the pope was not persuaded, and nothing more came of such a tactic until 25 years later, when the colonists tried it again.  Whereas the 1328 case had occurred in the heart of the Dublin colony, this time it was on the western frontier, at Bunratty Castle, a hotspot of tensions between the native Irish and the Anglo-Irish which repeatedly changed hands between them.  Soon after the 1353 execution, the castle would be permanently lost to the colonists; the image below is of a 15th-century native Irish reconstruction.

Bunratty crop

As the execution of Adducc Dubh O’Toole had followed the defeat of his kin in ongoing warfare against the colonists, so too did the execution of two men of the MacConmaras in 1353.  But, as sketchy as Adducc’s execution may be, it is far better supported than that of the MacConmaras.  In fact, we know about this case only because a lone chronicler was interested in its aftermath.  This chronicler tells us the MacConmaras were executed because of an obscure insult to the Virgin Mary.  They were tried by Roger Cradock, who like Ledrede was an English Franciscan.  He was the bishop of Waterford, which adjoins Ossory but is several dioceses removed from Killaloe, where Bunratty is located.  Killaoe’s bishop was a native Irishman who would hold little influence over the colonial army, with whom Cradock apparently was traveling, but Cradock had no jurisdiction over Bunratty.  According to the chronicler, Cradock’s metropolitan, Ralph O’Kelly, the native Irish archbishop of Cashel, was furious when he learned of Cradock’s deed and supposedly took an army with him to attack Cradock in Waterford.  While that bit seems unlikely, clearly O’Kelly rejected Cradock’s actions, as Alexander de Bicknor did Ledrede’s in 1329.  Yet even though the prosecutors’ metropolitans rejected their actions, many modern scholars have accepted their findings, especially in the case of Adducc Dubh O’Toole and the two MacConmaras, which I find both perplexing and troubling.  As weak as the charges against these men are on their own, they beggar belief given the ongoing battles between their families and their executioners.

It’s problematic when scholars accept one version of events, written by hostile sources, especially when so much contextualizing information calls that version of events into question. Sometimes they do this because they identify favorably with Adducc Dubh O’Toole especially. Some see him as a patriot, standing up to the colonial establishment. Some who are atheists themselves see him as “a martyr for freethought” as one scholar put it (freethought being another word for atheism)—but to be technical about it, Adducc Dubh was not accused of atheism. He wasn’t said to deny God, just the Christian understanding of God, i.e., the Trinity and Incarnation. But more to the point, what Adducc Dubh O’Toole himself actually believed we have no idea—he is utterly defined by his enemies, who cast him as the incarnation of claims made by the English against the Irish since the twelfth century, claims that had been used to justify the English invasion and subsequent colonization of Ireland in the twelfth century and in the fourteenth century were being used in efforts to convince the pope to call a crusade against the native Irish so that they would be annihilated, as had happened with the Cathars in the thirteenth century. If Adducc Dubh O’Toole was a martyr for any cause, it was, to quote the Pogues, “for being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time.”

Imagine your own worst enemy. Imagine that they are the ones who determine how you’ll be remembered in the historical record. Imagine that they get to do this after they have tortured you and had you burned alive. Imagine that they did this after they had defeated your family in battle, killing many of your kin. Imagine that they hated not just you and your whole family, but your entire ethnicity, whom they wanted to wipe from the face of the earth and have burn eternally in hell. I think it’s really problematic when haters dictate the historical record, just because they are history’s victors, especially when so much contextualizing information shows just how suspect their version of events is. We owe it to their victims to try to gain greater understanding of what it is they died for. It’s definitely a little too little and a lot too late, but it does offer some small measure of justice for those who were killed under such unfair and unjust circumstances.

More importantly, we owe it to ourselves. We should try to gain greater understanding of history, not just because it’s incredibly fascinating, but because the more we understand history, the less doomed we are to repeat it. Even though these cases are particular to fourteenth-century Ireland, they have contemporary relevance. Not just because of the continuing tensions between the Irish and the English, but for all of us, for how we regard and how we treat those whom we perceive as different from us, for whatever reason.

I am reminded of Bart Ehrman’s blog in response to the recent murder of three Muslims in North Carolina.  “Heresy” is nothing new in Christianity–diversity of understandings of who Jesus is and why he matters has been there since the very beginning.  Things changed significantly once Emperor Constantine threw the weight of the state behind one particular form of Christianity, thereby enforcing their view of what was heresy and what was orthodoxy, what were dangerous lies and what was righteous truth. As Professor Ehrman writes,

early Christianity was a highly diverse phenomenon, with different early Christians having astoundingly different points of view and perspective, all of them thinking that they were ‘right’ and all the others were ‘wrong.’ . . .  Christianity . . . is diverse BY ITS VERY NATURE. Recognizing that there are, and always have been, diverse forms of the Christian religion should help us be more open to the variety and diversity of Christian belief and practice. Which should open us up to the rich variety and diversity of all belief and practice. Which should make us less centered on the view that OUR view is the only right one, and help us see that other people have other views that deserve to be considered just as much as the one we were raised with or that we subscribe to. Recognizing religious and cultural diversity in all its rich texture can help us be more sympathetic to and empathetic with people who are different from us. In other words, it is one of the ways to help fight religious and cultural intolerance. ( )

Thank you for your consideration!