Monday, April 30, 2012

The chains that bound a free man

by Patrick Montague

THE CULT of Matt Talbot began in the mortuary of Jervis Street Hospital in Dublin, when the chains on his body were discovered.

He had been picked up unconscious in a Dublin street. and died without regaining consciousness. The interest in him spread like a forest fire all over the country and throughout the world.

Not the least of the reasons for this was his very obscurity and the difficulty in piecing -together any relevant facts even about his identity.

Sir Joseph Glynn succeeded in putting together a biography of this obscure Dubliner. and within less than two years it was circulating in more than a dozen languages.

The enormous interest in Matt Talbot has never been fully explained. While his extraordinary personal sanctity seems beyond question. it is also a fact that from the moment of his death he was headline news. Few Irishmen have caught the imagination of his people to the same extent nor indeed the attention of the world at large.

All this is at least partly due to the circumstances of his death. It happens also that his much publicised escape from alcoholism coincided with growing modern concern about this social problem.

His lowly social status made him something of a symbol of the ordinary people in the poor areas of Dublin.

His life was dreary. his education was almost nil. his material prospects negligible. He seemed destined to die in the same obscurity had the accident of his death. in hospital not revealed the chains round his body.

Inevitably curiosity was aroused and his very obscurity increased the widespread interest. His cult was immediate and has grown to proportions seldom equaled, considering that there are people still alive who can recall the excitement caused by his death.

His intercession is frequently invoked and his devoted followers have long considered devotion to him as the surest route to divine favour.

At the age of 28 he suddenly altered his entire lifestyle. Instead of spending all the time he could in public houses, he made God the centre of all his thoughts.

He introduced extraordinary austerities into his Ilk to keep his mind constantly on the spiritual lite. The chains on his body were one thing.. The wooden planks and wooden pillow on his bed were others.

He prayed from 2 am till 4 am and was waiting daily outside church for the Mass at 6 am.

One of those who was able to recall this strange ascetic figure at this early Mass was an altar boy who later testified to his sanctity. This was Sean T. O'Kelly, President of Ireland.

Matt Talbot's sanctity was intensely personal. He did not attempt to influence others directly. He did not in any way exhibit his devotion.

Indeed he kept it to himself so successfully that even now no one knows just when he began his privations. He shared his life entirely with Almighty God.

Even those with whom he worked knew nothing of his intense spirituality beyond the fact that he remonstrated with them at any sign of irreverence in their talk or behaviour.

Intense asceticism was a well-known feature of Irish life in the early centuries of Christianity. Most Irishmen would say it was a passing phase consistent with the times.

Matt Talbot showed that this was not the case. He was the modern example of the ancient monks of Ireland. He showed that this kind of example is as relevant today as it was fourteen and fifteen centuries ago.

The intense interest he has aroused has shown that many people in the world can be deeply impressed and affected by such personal example.

The canonisation of Matt Talbot is confidently expected at all levels of society. If and when it comes about, he is already elected by devoted followers to be the hope and inspiration of all problem drinkers whose desperate need for such hope and inspiration exceeds that of most other sections of mankind.

Note:  Additional articles about Matt Talbot from this archive can be found at