Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Ruadan's Protection

To the monastery of Lothra in Tipperary came, toward the twilight of a summer's day, King Dermot, accompanied by a handful of his followers. Before dismounting the King sent to inquire of a monk who in the cool of dusk was hoeing the vegetable garden where he might find the venerable Abbot.

"At this hour he will be at prayer in his cell," said the monk.

"Then lead me thither," commanded the King, alighting from his horse.

Having arrived at the Abbot's hut, King Dermot, interrupting the vesper song, the strains of which could be heard within, beat loudly on the door. The chant ceased, and after a short pause Abbot Ruadan himself stood outlined in the doorway against the yellow light of a lamp burning on the bare altar of his cell.

"The King speaks," announced Dermot, "and craves admittance."

For all answer or welcome, Ruadan, stepping aside, permitted the King to enter. Once within the narrow quarters Dermot possessed himself of the only seat in the cell, a low stool standing on a rush mat, and, squaring himself upon it after the manner of kings who are in the habit of considering that the humblest chair occupied by them becomes a throne, began:

"You, Abbot Ruadan, know that I, Dermot, son of Kervail, have by my long-continued and hard-sustained effort, both in warfare and conciliation, brought all Ireland to a state of peace. In order to make the subjection of my adversaries conclusive, I sent heralds to the castles of all the nobles and bade them go in my name and receive pledge of faith and fealty. One of these, Mac Lomm, advanced, so it is claimed, with his spear held in his mouth. Taking this as an insult, as a symbol of the bit in the mouth, Odo of Connaught, whose castle had thus been entered, had the hardihood to slay my herald. Fearing my wrath, which he knew must bring him speedy punishment, Odo fled for his life from his castle and sought refuge in Muskerry with his cousin, Bishop Senach. But Senach, wise in his time, and knowing that I must soon come up with his mother's sister's son, has smuggled off Odo to a place of greater safety. I have cause to think that the culprit has come here for protection. I know you, good Father, I know your saintly reputation. On your bare word I am ready to rely, for I know that lies dwell not in your mouth. Tell me then, straight: where is Odo?"

Ruadan, who had during this speech stood motionless, with serious and attentive eye fixed on the King, now shifted his position, and shrugging his shoulders, while his glance sought the rafters overhead, said with a guileless air which he trusted to disguise the deeper meaning in his eyes:

"In faith, Sire, I know not where this Odo may be, unless he is under your chair—I cannot tell."

To these words the King replied: "Upon your word I have given my word to rest satisfied, nor will I even look under the stool, which is so low it would not harbour a cat!"

He rose with difficulty from his lowly seat and took his leave.

But the King had not fared many miles when those often wise counsellors, second thoughts, began to whisper in his ear. Without hesitation he wheeled his horse about, and followed by his wondering attendants, returned to Lothra. Making straight for the Abbot's cell, he entered unannounced, pushed aside the stool he had lately occupied, picked up the rush mat, discovered the trap door beneath it, sent down his men to search the cellar under the hut, from which Odo was soon produced, with whom as his prisoner the King rode away without further ado.

With as little delay, Ruadan and his monks, who had stood by powerless to defend the man in their keeping, now followed the King's train in hot pursuit, nor stopped until they had reached Tara, the King's capital.

Dermot, having cast his captive into a dungeon, paid no heed to this mob of monks who had come swarming into the town not long after his arrival. All through the day following the night of his journey to and from Lothra the King took not the least notice of Ruadan, who, after ringing his bell in the square to call together the Brothers and whoever else of the populace should wish to join them, had spent the entire day in prayer and psalm singing. But on the second night, determined though he was to remain undisturbed by the doings of the Saint and his followers, the King's sleep was troubled, his dreams were disquieting. He thought he saw a great tree chopped down, and waking up at the crash of the falling trunk, he realized that what he had heard in sleep was only the voices of the monks still at their psalm singing out under his windows. However, he felt that the dream was of evil omen, and he could rest no longer, so rising, weary and at the end of all patience, he went out, and standing on the high step of his doorway, he roared angrily at Ruadan:

"Your community, monk, shall be scattered!"

If Dermot was exasperated at hearing the interminable psalms and prayers, it may be judged that Ruadan might also have been somewhat weary of singing them for close upon twenty-four hours on end, without stopping for sleep or food; so his retort shot back swift and hot:

"Your kingdom shall first be scattered, and I live to see it, Sire, though none of your sons survive to occupy your throne after you!"

"The place that knew you shall be desolate," stormed Dermot, "and the sow root it up with her snout!"

No Irishman, whether Saint or sinner, was ever with reason accused of slowness in the uptake.

"May your proud city of Tara be blotted out centuries before that, and left for ever uninhabited!" cried Ruadan.

With true relish in the exercise of the natural Hibernian talent for imprecation, Dermot hurled his next shaft:

"May your vile frame be a prey to corruption and one of your limbs wither away and your eye be diseased, that your light be turned to darkness!"

"Sure!" retorted Ruadan, catching it and returning as good: "And may those that hate you tear your head off and twist off every arm and leg first!"

"May the wild pig dig up the foundations of your steeple!" said Dermot, his anger cooling and imagination flagging.

And Ruadan also, now, with abating ardour, replied: "May that leg of yours, stuck up in front of me, never know the peace of the grave, and the like to all your body!"

To which Dermot, quite recovered of his wrath, answered with an appreciative grunt:

"You are protector of the lawless, whereas I endeavour to keep order in the country; you and the like of you are the confusion of my kingdom. However, as you are the elect of God—go your ways, and take the offender with you, but you shall pay me his price!"

Thus did the scene end, and although Ruadan might not, in this exchange of amenities, be thought to have figured as befitted a Saint—still—a Saint and a very good Saint he was, with power to perform wonders. As he had neither there not at Lothra the price necessary for the ransom of Odo, the necessary miracle came to pass. Thirty sea-green horses rose out of the ocean and galloped all the way to Tara; these Ruadan gave to Dermot. Not long after the King won a race with one of them, which was evidently considered sufficient compensation for the release of Odo, for presently the thirty sea-green horses galloped away again, plunged into the sea-waves, and were seen no more.