Kenny visits 7th century monastery in Italy

Taoiseach pays tribute at tomb of St Columbanus ahead of EU meeting

Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a news conference in Riga on June 6th. Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a news conference in Riga on June 6th. Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Mon, Jun 10, 2013, 18:21

It is not quite the Taoiseach you expect. The last time he was out here, he was busy explaining just why he had closed down Ireland’s Embassy to the Holy See. Back home, Enda Kenny finds himself at loggerheads with sections of the Irish Church hierarchy over the government’s proposed limited abortion legislation.

Yet, here is, like the best boy in the class enjoying every moment of a visit to the tomb of Saint Columbanus, the man whose curriculum definitely proves that the Irish, or at least the Irish monks of the early Church, did indeed “save civilisation”.

Bobbio is a small, remote sort of place high in the hills above Piacenza in the region of Emilia Romagna.

For years Irish pilgrims, VIPs or otherwise, have been coming here to pay homage to Columbanus. The Taoiseach offered his own tribute to the 7th century monk who founded a monastery here in 614 when he suggested that the saint could be seen as a truly European figure.

“As a former teacher myself, I am well aware of the history and tradition of educators, missionaries and saints from Ireland.

“ I am well aware of the history and the origins of Columbanus. Back in the sixth century, he was writing in a letter to one of the popes about ’Totus Europa’, I suppose politicians today might look back on that with interest.

“It is also indicative of the fact that Ireland made an enormous, disproportionate contribution, beyond our own shores. If we can learn from this, if we can learn what co-operation and collaboration can actually achieve, it would be much better for our future.”

In truth of course, the Taoiseach is not in Italy today to take a walk down the memory lane of early Irish Church history. He is here for a pre-European Council meeting this evening with Italian prime minister Enrico Letta.

However, not long after taking office, he made a promise to Fr Tommy Murphy, an old schoolboy friend from St Gerard’s, Castlebar, who just happens to have been Superior General of the Columbanus Fathers worldwide for most of the last five years.

That promise was simple enough. If ever the chance came to stop by at Bobbio, whilst passing through Italy, then the Taoiseach would oblige. Given that the Columbanus Fathers are currently preparing to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of his death in 2015, today was as good a day as any.

So it was that the Taoiseach went up and down Bobbio, visiting the town museum, the tomb of Columbanus himself and the handsome Ponte Vecchio over the river Trebbia.

In a scene that had its moments of the Fellinesque, as Mr Kenny made his way around the almost empty town (the tourist season is not what it used to be), he was man-to-man marked by the local mayor and the parish priest.

Still, it makes a change from what was awaiting him - namely Irish presidency talk about youth unemployment, digital markets and EU-USA negotiations.