Ua Tuathail, Lorcán (O'Toole, Laurence) (c.1128–1180), archbishop of Dublin and saint, belonged to the north Leinster dynasty of Uí Muiredaig, and was son of Muirchertach Ua Tuathail (qv), king of northern Leinster, and a daughter of Cerball grandson of Bricc, a dynast of Uí Fháeláin. He had two full-brothers, Gilla-Comgaill (d. 1176) and Dúnlaing (slain 1178), and a full-sister, Sadb. From his father's other marriages, he had four half-brothers – Augaire Ruad, Áed, Tuathal, and Conchobar – and two half-sisters, Mór and Gormlaith. Despite the claim of his Latin Life, the ‘Vita S. Laurencii’, that he was the youngest of his father's children – an ‘addendum’ to a large family – it seems more likely that his mother was actually his father's second wife. Later tradition places his birth at the hill-fort site of Mullach Roírenn (Mullaghreelion, Co. Kildare).
While still a boy, as his Life attests, Lorcán became a hostage at the court of Diarmait Mac Murchada (qv), overking of Leinster. Presumably, this happened after the great purge of 1141 when Muirchertach, lately promoted to the regional kingship and distrusted by his suzerain, was obliged to yield one of his sons as hostage to guarantee his loyalty. According to the Life, the young Lorcán was at first treated harshly, his predicament being eased only when his father threatened to revolt. Gradually, relationships between his family and the overking improved and he was placed in care at Glendalough. He received his education at the ecclesiastical settlement, and later acknowledged a great debt to his ‘spiritual father’ there – a bishop to be identified, perhaps, with a certain Ua Noídenáin (d. 1148). He joined the religious community while still in his teens.
The indications are that by the early 1150s Lorcán's father had reached an accommodation with Mac Murchada; in 1152, the synod of Kells confirmed the boundaries of the diocese of Glendalough so that they encapsulated the regional kingdom of Uí Muiredaig. At around the same time, Lorcán's sister Mór was married to Mac Murchada. The couple had a daughter, Aífe (qv), who later married the Anglo-Norman earl Strongbow (Richard de Clare (qv)). The support of Mac Murchada (now his brother-in-law) was probably an important factor in the appointment of Lorcán, at the young age of 25, to the abbacy of Glendalough (the third member of Uí Muiredaig to attain that dignity) in succession to Dúnlaing Ua Cathail (d. 1153). There are even stronger grounds for suspecting the involvement of Mac Murchada in Lorcán's elevation to the archbishopric of Dublin after the death of Gregory (qv) in 1161, at a time when Mac Murchada had strengthened his hold on the Hiberno-Norse kingdom and was making his mark on its ecclesiastical affairs. It appears that Lorcán had declined the bishopric of Glendalough in 1157 because he knew the more valuable see of Dublin would fall vacant before long, his explanation, however, being that he had not reached the canonical age of 30 years.
While political considerations may have promoted his advancement, the account of Lorcán's ascetic life, his charity, and his dedication to pastoral responsibilities seems authentic. Initially as abbot and later as archbishop, he practised the strictest austerities – but with such modesty that his penance was rarely obvious to company. He wore a hairshirt under fine robes, attended feasts at which he drank wine so diluted as to be little more than tinted water, ate bread mixed with ashes, and abstained from meat. In addition, he strove to relieve poverty and distress throughout the region, distributing foodstuffs and other necessities to the needy and drawing unstintingly on his family fortune. To renew his own spiritual strength Lorcán often withdrew, in imitation of the hermit Cóemgen (qv), to a cave known as ‘St Kevin's bed’ above the Upper Lake at Glendalough, where he fasted and prayed. He continued with this practice even after he became archbishop.
An ardent supporter of church reform, Lorcán adopted the rule of Arrouaise and was probably responsible for introducing the Augustinian canons of Arrouaise to Glendalough; the priory of the Holy Saviour to the east of the valley is one of several north Leinster sites with architectural similarities that seem to reflect the patronage of Mac Murchada. Not long after his consecration in 1162, by Gilla Meic Liac (qv), archbishop of Armagh, he introduced the Augustinians to the archiepiscopal see, where they formed the chapter of Holy Trinity (later Christ Church). His ongoing commitment to church reform is demonstrated by his prominent role at the synod of Athboy in 1167 (and later at Clonfert in 1179) under the patronage of high-king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (qv), which enjoined disciplined behaviour on clerics and laity alike.
Lorcán understood that there was a more pressing need for fundamental reform of behaviour and attitudes than for diocesan reorganisation and reassessment of monastic rules. As for the socio-political environment in which he worked, available sources show that warfare and civil disorder were almost endemic in twelfth-century Ireland, much of the violence being directed against the church and its personnel. Moreover, even if he did benefit from dynastic support, he was nonetheless aware of the implications of political interference. Presumably there were major difficulties for the new archbishop in reconciling the agendas of the Leinster dynasties – his own included – with the ideals of church reform, which sought to end hereditary ecclesiastical succession and to enforce clerical celibacy.
Compromise on certain reformist principles in the interests of political expediency is suggested by the appointment to abbatial office of his nephew Thomas (d. p. 1214; perhaps a son of his eldest brother Augaire Ruad), seemingly a non-celibate cleric. Nor was the succession of Thomas achieved without conflict. The ‘Vita S. Laurencii’ implies that there was unrest at Glendalough after the elevation of Lorcán to Dublin; but its claim that his immediate successor in the abbacy was a ‘usurper’ may be questioned. The fact that Archbishop Lorcán and Cináed Ua Rónáin, bishop of Glendalough, were joined by the abbot, whose name is garbled as ‘Edenigmus’, to witness Mac Murchada's endowment of the Augustinian priory of All Hallows, suggests that this ‘usurper’ was accepted by the political and ecclesiastical establishment of his day. As it happens, the date and precise circumstances in which the transfer of abbatial power at Glendalough took place are equally unclear. Perhaps it occurred in 1163, when the ecclesiastical settlement was burned (although the record does not state that this burning was deliberate, or name an agent), or in 1166 during Mac Murchada's enforced absence from his kingship. In either event, the insistence of Lorcán's hagiographer that Thomas was elected by the clergy and laity of Glendalough because of his worthiness, and not his lineage, hints at some controversy.
The matter of clerical celibacy also deserves attention in the light of Lorcán's commitment to reform. The indications are that Thomas, whether or not he was in priest's orders, was a married man: a son and a grandson of the abbot of Glendalough, who were witnesses to early thirteenth-century charters, seem to have been his progeny. There is little reason to doubt the testimony of the Life regarding Thomas's religious character; it is said that his prayers, joined with those of his uncle, once healed a possessed woman. Yet the unequivocal opposition of the reformists to married priests or lay abbots, and to kinship as a deciding factor in ecclesiastical succession, leaves unresolved issues in regard to Lorcán's relationship with his own royal relations.
The dilemma for Lorcán as both churchman and dynast was greatly increased by developments that followed the reinstatement of Mac Murchada as overking of Leinster with the support of Strongbow. As the combined army of the overking and the English earl advanced on Dublin in the summer of 1170, Lorcán was chosen by the leading citizens to negotiate on their behalf – not only because of the prestige of his ecclesiastical office but because of his in-law relationship with Mac Murchada. That Lorcán's reputation apparently suffered little damage, when a party of English under Miles de Cogan (qv) seized control of the town during the negotiations, suggests that he was held in high esteem. Significantly, other sources do not corroborate the allegations of Gerald (qv) of Wales that Lorcán actively organised armed resistance to Strongbow, when he asserted his claims to rule Leinster after the death of Mac Murchada in early May 1171. For its part, the ‘Vita S. Laurencii’ emphasises the archbishop's exertions on behalf of the people, even at great risk to himself, during the two sieges of Dublin in 1171 – by the Hiberno-Norse ruler Asgall (qv) in May and by Ua Conchobair in the autumn. The balance of this source is underlined by its account of the second siege, during which Lorcán was chosen as negotiator by Strongbow – now a relative, following his marriage to Aífe.
In all likelihood, the submission of Lorcán to King Henry II (qv) at Dublin in December 1171, along with so many Irish rulers (including his brother, Gilla-Comgaill, king of Uí Muiredaig), represented a recognition on his part of political realities. Nonetheless, it appears that he had faith in the support expressed by King Henry for church reform; his prominent role in the synod of Cashel, summoned by Henry in 1172, suggests as much. It is probable that he also had expectations that King Henry and Strongbow, now the king's viceroy, would use their combined influence to stabilise the political situation in Ireland. Any hopes that such stability might be achieved, however, were soon dashed. The offensives launched by several Irish kings in 1173, when Strongbow and other leading nobles were summoned to help King Henry in France, and the retaliation directed by the viceroy the following year – which extended into parts of the country not yet brought under English crown control – were doubtless a cause of great anxiety to Lorcán. Gradually he found himself involved in making representations to King Henry on behalf of Irish interests that strove to hold back the expansion of the English colony. Chosen as an ambassador by Ua Conchobair, he was present at the council of Windsor in 1175 – although available evidence suggests that his friend Cadla Ua Dubthaig (qv), archbishop of Tuam, took a more central role in negotiations.
Several developments in the years immediately following indicate a growing sense of frustration on Lorcán's part, as the treaty of Windsor unravelled. Although the agreement acknowledged that the English king held Leinster and Meath while Ua Conchobair (now tributary to King Henry) retained his high-kingship over the other provinces, inadequate provision for enforcement left English earls and Irish regional kings alike free to pursue their own interests. Against this background of increasing instability, it is likely that Lorcán advised Uí Muiredaig to seek confirmation of the possessions of Glendalough from Strongbow; certainly, a charter to Abbot Thomas, reaffirming earlier grants by Mac Murchada, was witnessed by the archbishop and his niece, Aífe. It seems that, with the death of Strongbow in May 1176 (Lorcán officiated at his funeral), whatever chance there still was of restraining expansionist elements within the English colony evaporated; for Lorcán and his dynasty it meant that the guarantor of their privileges was gone. Coincidentally, the same year saw the death of his brother Gilla-Comgaill, and the succession of Dúnlaing to the kingship of Uí Muiredaig.
Following the rapid expansion of the English colony, which included an invasion of Ulaid by John de Courcy (qv) and the effective abandonment of the treaty of Windsor in May 1177, a partition of Leinster took place. Lordship of the province's north-eastern sector was taken by the new viceroy, Hugh de Lacy (qv), leaving William Fitz Audelin (qv) with the south and west which encompassed the realms of Uí Muiredaig. In 1178 Lorcán's brother Dúnlaing, confronted by displaced dynasts from north-east Leinster and subsequently by English forces from Waterford, was killed in a skirmish. It is probable that Lorcán, after the dispossession of Uí Muiredaig from ancestral territories in Co. Kildare, collaborated in resettling remnants of his dynasty on ecclesiastical lands of Glendalough – even if Abbot Thomas played a more prominent role. It can be inferrred from the record that land-holdings were conveyed by the archbishop to his nephew the abbot around this time. More to the point, it can be observed that, in the closing years of his life, relationships between Lorcán and King Henry deteriorated dramatically.
In 1179 Lorcán was summoned by Pope Alexander III to attend the Lateran council. While crossing through England en route to Rome, he was warned by King Henry (who no longer trusted him) not to pursue any course of action prejudicial to English interests. He persuaded the papal court, however, that the Irish ecclesiastical and political establishment was threatened by English expansionism. Consequently, he obtained papal bulls securing the rights of the archdiocese of Dublin and the diocese of Glendalough – which the English administration wanted to suppress – and returned to Ireland as papal legate, which placed him in a stronger position than before. In this capacity he consecrated Tommaltach Ua Conchobair (qv), a nephew of Ruaidrí, to the archbishopric of Armagh. By all accounts, King Henry was enraged by Lorcán's assertion of independence but, having already drawn papal ire by his murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, he could not risk confrontation with Pope Alexander or his special envoy. When Lorcán travelled to England on behalf of Ua Conchobair the following year – apparently on a diplomatic mission relating to a disagreement over the payment of tribute – the king refused to treat with him. Learning that King Henry had instead departed for France, he followed him but was taken ill with fever on the way. He died at the priory of Eu in Normandy on 14 November 1180, aged only 52.
Almost immediately, the community of Eu adopted the cause of Lorcán's canonisation, dispatching one of their number to Ireland to interview acquaintances of the late archbishop and secure material for writing his Life. The English churchman John Cumin (qv), who succeeded Lorcán in the see of Dublin, supported the case for his elevation to sainthood although he was in conflict with Lorcan's nephew Thomas over the status of Glendalough. Lorcán Ua Tuathail was canonised by Pope Honorius III in 1226. His body remains at Eu, under an elaborate altar-tomb surmounted with an effigy in the chapel of St Laurent, where it attracts many pilgrims. His relics were enshrined there, although some of them were later sent to Christ Church cathedral in Dublin. He is regarded as the patron saint of Dublin.