Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blessed Charles Canonised – Holy Well at Ballymore

Fr. Charles (Houben), a Passionist priest of Mount Argus in Dublin who died 1893, was Canonised on Sunday June 3rd 2007, by Pope Benedict X1V in Rome.
What is of local interest is that there is a well in Ballymore Eustace blessed by Fr. Charles, the now St. Charles.

About thirty years ago, as I strolled along the riverbank on a Summer evening I met Paddy Ryan, owner of the old Woollen Mill or factory as it is commonly known, down by the Liffey. He enquired if I was alright. No, I replied, I am not. I was standing in physical confrontation with one of his obstinate Goats, a big white one, standing defiantly in my way.
Whoosh, said Paddy, in goat language, and the creature disappeared into the deep foliage then beginning to envelope the area. It was the same big goat who some time later stood looking in through the doorway of Hugh O’Neill’s shop (now Mace) for full ten minutes, refusing to move, imprisoning those inside the shop and in mute imperviousness to all pleadings from those outside, until that is, it saw the gleeful smile and dress code worn by Kieran Langan, owner of the Butcher’s shop next door. The goat sauntered off in dignified elegance.

“Did you ever hear of Fr. Charles,” Paddy asked. I had a vague recollection of the name. There is a small well over here, famous for its cures after being blessed by Fr. Charles. I’ll show it to you. “He was fierce popular in Dublin for his cures and miracles. I don’t encourage pilgrims for fear they’ll break a leg and sue me.” Could the leg not be fixed again at the holy well? We went to the side of the house and in a small wooded area Paddy lifted a broken branch, exposing a granite slab from under which the well waters flowed. A sheet of lead lay under the upper slab, and to the right, a cup hook was lodged in the stonework. The water was crystal clear and refreshing to drink.

John Andrew Houben was born in the village of Munstergaleen in the Netherlands during December 1821, the fourth child of a family of ten, whose father ran a flour mill. Having served a short time in the army he joined the Passionate fathers in 1845, being received by their provincial, Fr. Barberi, who was also to receive John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church some short time later. Under the religious name of Charles Andrew, he was ordained in 1850. Within two years he was sent on mission to England. In 1857, Fr. Charles was sent to Ireland to assist the sparse clergy of the day in their work at Mount Argus (Harolds Cross) which at that time was farmland country, three miles from the city. Dublin at that period was an unholy den of brothels, prostitution, poverty and pubs. Fr. Charles was no academic but he had a natural gift of communication while maintaining a devout attention to his vocation. People responded to his sincerity and slowly his reputation for goodness drew a fervent and sizeable discipleship.
A further reputation for the cure of physical and emotional illnesses was gradually accorded to him, eventually becoming so widespread that reputations themselves were at stake. The medical profession, recognising the possibility of ungodly confusion between their expertise and financial incomes, against Fr. Charles’ miraculous cures led to a doctor’s dilemma and Cardinal Cullen was exhorted to banish Fr. Charles altogether. He refused.
Under pressure however, Fr. Charles was transferred back to England, though for an entirely different reason – an accusation of Simony, the sale of or traffic in sacred things for money, even though it was not his act. Dublin crooks, realising the value that people placed on water blessed by him, labelled their bottles “Blessed by the Holy Man of Mount Argus”, making a lucrative income for themselves. Fr. Charles was removed from the controversy and sent to England in 1866 and not recalled until 1874 to spend the last nineteen years of his life in Ireland. In the intervening years, his popularity had not waned and belief in his holiness and curative powers grew substantially. Vast crowds assembled prior to his arrival at various venues including Glendalough and Rathdrum, seeking his blessings and intercessions.
Fr. Charles died at Mount Argus on January 5th 1893, his death featuring prominently on the front pages of that morning’s newspapers. His funeral, it is said, drew more mourners than that of Parnell who pre-deceased him by two years.
I am not aware of the date of Fr. Charles’ visit to Ballymore Eustace, but can well understand his interest in the woollen mill here from his own family background.
Last week I went to photograph the well for The Bugle, but was so stung by nettles and ripped by briars that I would make do with the little phial of water I collected from the well years ago.
Paddy Ryan, gentle sentinel of that arbour of tranquillity passed through this life in 1988, the same year Fr. Charles was beatified by Pope John Paul 2nd.
As for that chameleon-like white goat – may its spirit ever stand guard at the closed gates of the old mill until they are re-opened perhaps as a Park with its millrace still running in memory of those who persevered and preserved, as silent tribute to a village, ancient to time itself. Michael Ward.

Photo attached.

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