April Books 9) Malachy

9) Malachy, by Brian Scott

Brian Scott was one of those charming academic figures I vaguely knew during my time at the Queen’s University of Belfast from 1991 to 1996, a lecturer in Latin (finally given a personal chair as a consolation prize for being made to retire in 1995) who shared my interest in the twelfth century – indeed, he was best known for his work with F.X. Martin on Gerald of Wales’ account of the Norman conquest of Ireland, and was also good enough to cast an expert eye over my still-unpublished work on Eleanor of Aquitaine. I suppose he is probably still alive, but it’s unlikely we will meet again, so I use the past tense.

This very short book, published in 1976, is really a presentation of highlights from the life of St Malachy (1094-1148) written by his close friend St Bernard of Clairvaux. Malachy was responsible for bringing the Irish church into line with Roman practice; he was involved with much ecclesiastical intrigue and skullduggery between Downpatrick, Armagh, and Bangor, with reflections elsewhere in Ireland (especially Munster); and eventually died while visiting Clarivaux, rather as his eventual successor as Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Ó Fiaich, did in 1990.

The book is written for a popular (and pious Catholic) rather than academic audience (published by Veritas), but even so I was a bit surprised that there was no real discussion of whether the “reforms” were actually so badly needed; I guess 1976 predated a lot of the recent rise of interest in Celtic spirituality. I was even more surprised that, introducing the chapter on miracles, Scott writes of “that mysterious divine power which cannot be pinned down or defined, and which is still working today through men gifted with mysterious powers of healing and counselling.” However I was much relieved that he completely writes off the “Prophecies of St Malachy” about future Popes as a renaissance forgery.

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