Red, white and blue martyrs from the ancient Irish

Two days ago I wrote a book review about a family who travelled to an Islamic part of the world and the father who was martyred for his faith.  It’s drawn a fair bit of feedback from those more in the know than me.

But here’s a poem someone wrote off the back of it:


Isn’t martyrdom, in a sense, the easy way?

Laying down one’s life for Him, to say

with a shout in one great glorious noble act

“I love You, Lord!”

But the daily plodding on, struggling with sin,

falling, failing, grieving Him,

but going on because He is all and there’s nothing else –

is not this the harder way?

The martyr has the perfect chance to shout

this was not me, this sin, this doubt;

nor was this me, this fear, this fall –

THIS is the real me, from now on.

But I who would welcome such a chance

know no such quick release from sin

accomplished by one moment’s choice for Him,

but only a dogged ongoing “I, too, love You, Lord”

whispered by a thousand petty choices

renewed daily.

‘Not with a bang but a whimper.’

Yet does the bang exalt Him any more

than the whimper?

©JCG 2017

And it led me to think of the ancient Irish roots of red, white and blue martyrs in the Cambrai Homily.  Perhaps ironic usage of colours, given those who die for red, white and blue over the past few decades are often seen to be the very antithesis of Irish (the British).  But perhaps putting aside coincidental colour schemes, we might consider the three colours which Pope Gregory I and Jerome both commented on.

RED martyrdom: blood martyrs killed for their faith

WHITE martyrdom: outward ascetics, isolating oneself from all society in monasteries or otherwise

BLUE (or perhaps green, as it’s the Irish “glas”): inward asceticism, like fasting.

Though sometimes over the years, to get away from what sometimes was the Roman Catholic tendency of removing oneself from the world, protestants would interpret this last one as inward spiritual renewal of any variety, which I would argue is closer in balance to the original intention of the verse that inspired these colours:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24

This rich history of Christianity in Ireland stemming from 7th century documents like this, is the irony of a church now so struggling in many ways.

For those wanting to explore more of the darkness of martyrdom and individuals cases mentioned in my last blog, please check out the comments below from the responses of others.

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