Did you know that Saint Valentine has a very special connection to Ireland? In fact, if you visit a special church in Dublin City, you may come across a surprising reminder of this connection……
Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things with you? I hope the weather is treating you half-decent in your own part of the world – we’re doing fair enough here in County Cork, with even the daffodils starting to show their flowers. A sure sign of early spring! Now, if you’re interested in how your Irish surnames came about – and the strands of Irish story and heritage wrapped up in them, well then – you’ve come to the right place. I’m having a cup of Barry’s tea as we start today’s letter – I do hope you’ll join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself.
Today, just for the day that’s in it – we are going to focus on a particular first name: Valentine. Happy Saint Valentine’s Day to you!
If you ever have a chance to visit Whitefriar street in Dublin City, do take a few moments to head into The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The chances are that you will not be alone. It is likely that you’ll see a few couples through the day – stopping at a shrine on the right side of the church. This is where you will find the remains, and relics, of Saint Valentine – many couples come here through the year to ask for his guidance in their lives together. Maybe you have visited already?
So, how did these relics arrived in this part of the world? Well, that’s a story for another day – or maybe one you can look up if you are a happy Googler. However, I thought it would be nice to share a story of Saint Valentine – and then we’ll have a look at how his name worked its way into some of the families of Ireland.
Very little is known about Saint Valentine. In fact, it is unsure as to whether he was a single person or a combination of a few early Saints. However, we are not going to let the facts get in the way of a good story! One of my favourite legends of Saint Valentine goes something as follows.
Valentine was a Christian citizen of early Rome who possessed special healing abilities. One day, a jailer arrived to see him, accompanied by his young daughter who had been blind from birth. He had heard of Valentine’s healing powers, and was wondering if he could cure even this permanent situation. Well, Valentine gave the man ointment for her eyes and asked for her to return each week.
Over time, he also became a teacher to the little girl – he described the world around them, and the world of books – and over time she learned to see the world through his eyes. Even though the little girl’s sight was never restored during this time, the girl and her father returned each week. One week, Valentine was no longer there – he had been arrested for his religious beliefs, and his medicines were destroyed by the authorities. He had also been sentenced to death. From his prison cell, Valentine wrote one last note to his little friend – and handed it to the jailer for his daughter. Valentine was executed the following morning.
The jailer went home and gave this note to his little girl. She opened it and felt a flower inside – and, as the little girl pointed her eyes down to the flower in her hand, she saw the brilliant colours of a yellow Crocus flower for the first time in her life! Her eyesight had been restored. She asked her father to read the message. All it said was: “From your Valentine.” And so we have the tradition of giving tokens of friendship and love at this time of the year. Now, isn’t that a story worth believing? Perhaps all those couples in Whitefriars church in Dublin are looking for a similar light in their life together.
Do you have a Valentine in your family tree? I know two Valentines myself, it is quite a popular boys’ name here in Ireland – however, it is almost always shortened to “Val”. As you probably know, most Irish families had first names (often saint names) that were very popular in their family. Sometimes, the first name was even popular right across one surname. I have one myself – Michael is a very numerous name across the Collins surname – and was so even before the “Big Fella” came along.
We discovered that the name Valentine was particularly popular in parts of Galway – especially in the Connolly, Conneely, Kelly, King, Duggan and Mannion families. Over in Dublin and Wicklow, the Byrnes seemed to enjoy using the name for their newborns. Other names that have quite a few Valentine’s among their ranks were the Ryan, Walsh(e), Brooks, Brown(e), Murphy and Russell families. Any of these names in your family tree?
That’s it for this week. Slán to you – and a very Happy Saint Valentine’s Day from here in Ireland!
Mike & Carina.