An Irish Mentor

Have you ever had an Irish Mentor in your life? In this letter, we look at the story of one such man - a very special mentor to Carina at a time when it was well needed!

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An Irish Mentor

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland. It’s a bring day here in County Cork – and shaping up to be a very nice day for the sea and maybe a few photographs. I hope you are doing well wherever you are in the world today – and the weather isn’t treating you just fine!

I’m having a nice drop of water from the well as I write, cool and sweet, so why don’t you join me with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we settle into today’s letter! Carina and myself are delighted with the arrival of this Letter, which has a significance as it marks the official 3rd birthday for the Letter from Ireland!

Thank you so much for your attention, kind words, questions and stories over that time – both here on the letter and in the Green Room. There is an old saying in Irish:

“Giorraíonn beirt bóthar”

which means “Two people shorten the road” – and we do feel that having your company here on the Letter makes it a very enjoyable Irish Heritage Journey! Last week, I wrote a letter all about the “typical” first names in old Irish families (or as someone suggested, the “approved list”) – you can read that letter here.

I received so many replies talking about the pride (and frustration) of having certain names in the family. When I read back over the letter, I realised that I left out one boys name that features strongly in the south-east of Ireland –  especially among the Irish-Norman families such as Butler, Roche, Power and Fitzgerald – Edmund. Do you have any Edmund in your family tree?

One Given Name, One Surname and One Irish Mentor. 

Carina received the sad news last week of the passing of an old friend and mentor of hers – Brother Angelus of the Presentation Brothers here in Cork. He was also known as Edmund “Ned” Fitzpatrick.

There was an old Kingdom in Ireland that covered what is known today as County Kilkenny – and it also covered a part of County Laois. It was known as, and inhabited by, the Osraige (pronounced Ossary – meaning “people of the deer”). For a thousand years, they had carved out this land between the warring Kingdoms of Munster and Leinster. They were also at the forefront of much of Ireland’s history, as their land was one of the first “visited” by the Vikings and then later the Normans.

“Gilla Pádraic” was the name of their king in the late 900s, and his descendants assumed the surname of “Mac Giolla Phádraig” (son of the follower of Patrick) when surnames first came into use in Ireland. The other dominant families of the Osraige were O’Brennan, O’Brody, Broderick, O’Carroll, O’Dea, O’Dunphy, O’Horahan, O’Kealy, O’Keveny, MacBreen and O’Phelan/O’Whelan. Any of your family names there?

The Giolla Phádraics and the Osraige were at the forefront of the Norman invasion after 1170AD – and much of their land was acquired by the arriving Norman families. You can read all about the Normans and Fitzpatricks in this part of Ireland in Conor Kosticks brilliant book (written as a novel) – “Strongbow: The Norman Invasion of Ireland“. Highly recommended!

However, the Mac Giolla Phádraigs still prevailed and remained dominant in this area for hundreds of years after the arrival of the Normans. In 1537, they were granted the Barony of Upper Ossary – and the family assumed the English surname of “FitzPatrick” for the first time. They became the only Irish Gaelic family to use “Fitz” as part of their surname.

By the mid 1600s – the power of the Fitzpatricks, and most of the old Norman families, was on the wane in this part of the country – and their name and people spread over many parts of Ireland. However, it still retained a strong number in their original territory – Counties Kilkenny, Laois, Carlow, Waterford and Tipperary.

Edmund “Ned” Fitzpatrick was one of those descendants. He was born in Newcastle in the south of County Tipperary and at the age of seventeen, he decided to take up orders as a Presentation Brother  – he eventually became known as Brother Angelus.

Brother Angelus Fitzpatrick

Brother Angelus Fitzpatrick

One day, Carina arrived at the school where Angelus was principal in the early 1980s. It was a time of high unemployment in Ireland, and she was a young teacher fresh out of college. Angelus introduced her to his staff, saying “here is a young girl looking for a start. You were like her not so long ago – let’s see if we can find her some work”. Needless to say, Carina was thrilled at this reception and first worked as a substitute teacher – but soon became a permanent member of staff at the school.

Angelus was a tall man with a soft voice and the huge hands of his farming ancestors. Everywhere he went he brought a love of gardening, and the cultivation of flowers and vegetables.

What Carina remembers most about him was the way he embodied the ethos the Presentation order. His sense of service, obedience, community and strong focus of the growth and potential of others were all plain to see. Whenever he walked into the staff room, the conversation “moved up a tone or two” – as he was probably one of the most learned men Carina had met, but also humble and curious enough to be a true listener.

He used to mysteriously say “One day I will be gone – like an Arab packing up his tent in the night” – and so he did disappear one day, only to turn up as principal of Milltown school in County Kerry. Over the next year, Milltown experienced the “Angelus effect” as the windows of the town were brought alive with the most beautiful flowers – all cultivated and boxed up by Angelus in his spare time.

And so it is – people come into our lives and touch us in a way that we both treasure and remember. They move on, but they leave something very precious behind them – something that makes us a better person through their wisdom, guidance, kindness and compassion. These were all qualities that Brother Angelus shared generously with Carina, and many others, through a long life of serving others.

Rest in Peace, Brother Angelus – Edmund “Ned” Fitzpatrick of the Osraige – you have left the world a better place for your presence. I do hope that you too have been fortunate enough to experience the guidance and compassion of a such an Irish mentor in your life!

Slán for this week,

Mike and Carina.

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