Wednesday 12 April 2023

The Holy Man of Dublin: or the Silence of Matt Talbot - Alice Curtayne

The Holy Man of Dublin or the Silence of Matt Talbot
The Anthonian Press
Dublin (1935)

It has taken me a while to track this volume down. But it was well worth it. A friend in Ireland finally laid hands on a copy for me and I am very grateful. I have encountered the name Matt Talbot a few times over the years, the only other thing I have read about his is a piece by the editor F.J. Sheed in the volume The Irish Way: Studies in Irish Sanctity from St. Patrick to Matt Talbot, but since reading this short volume I have tracked down a couple of other works including Eddie Doherty’s biography and both the shorter and longer works on Talbot by Sir Joseph Aloysius Glynn.  

A few years ago I fell in love with the works of Alice Curtayne. I first encountered the writings of Alice Curtayne through her book Twenty Tales of Irish Saints, I was captivated by her writing style and her style as a hagiographer. And I started tracking down her other writings. This is not proving an easy task. The first problem is that only 2 of her works were in print at that time. Second many of her books never had North American editions. Her first book was published in 1929. She wrote histories, most focused on saints. She wrote a few novels. And she wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines. I have also found that she wrote pamphlets for the Catholic Truth Society and other Socities. Cluny Media has released 5 of her books in reprint editions and one she contributed to, The Irish Way, mentioned above.  

This is the thirteenth title I have read by Curtayne thought a few I have read in a couple of different editions. This specific booklet was published in 1935 for The Anthonian Press, At the end it lists 9 other booklets by Curtayne in this series I have read one for certain and believe I have read 2 of the others in reprints from the  Australian Catholic Truth Society. But back to this booklet.

This is a very brief biography. It contains 6 illustrations, there are 22 pages of text including the prayer for the Canonisation of Matthew Talbot which is the end of the text. This is only followed by the List of books by Curtayne in the series and the inside back cover listing other volumes from the press. I highlighted numerous passages my first time through this volume. Some of them are:

“What was the dead man's secret? Through the manner of his death, a shaft of light had been thrown upon him. Enquiry was inevitable. It was found that the subject of it had, all his life, resisted such discovery, had shunned publicity, had gone a silent way. He had lived a simple life, marked by a sanity almost disconcerting in its completeness. Again, these factors served but to whet the public appetite for knowledge.”

“It begins to look like a life empty of incident: thirty-three years with the same firm; twenty-six years in the same room ! Yet that life so commonplace in externals held some powerful allure, something that immediately seized the public mind and has held it to this day. The very few who had known Matt could not forget him.”

“This was done and actually within a few months of Matt's death a short account of his life was written. Publication was delayed for various reasons and the booklet did not appear until the spring of the following year. Its success was unprecedented. The first edition of 10,000 copies was sold out within four days. Reprinted immediately, no less than 120,000 copies were sold in a few months and 140,000 within a year. The Australian C.T.S. immediately republished the pamphlet under the title, "A Saint in Overalls." Applications for permission to translate it began to pour in, and within a year of the original publication editions were appearing in quick succession in France, Germany (five editions appeared in the German tongue), Portugal, Spain, Italy, Holland, Poland, Hungary, Czecho-Slovakia, Yugo-Slavia, Russia and Brittany.”

“His daily time-table shows that he left himself no opportunity for this. His whole life, then, was passed between the brick-yard, or timber-yard, where he laboured, the churches, and his room. He knew nothing of the changes of the seasons except what he glimpsed of their panoply in his daily round of those drab streets. He never acquired or owned anything, living in a room in a tenement house for which he paid a weekly rent. All his possessions fitted into a little wooden box in that room: just a change of clothing and a few books and pamphlets, neatly bound by himself.”

“One fact of high importance must be disengaged from that life: Matt had been a drunkard for fifteen years and had entirely cured himself at the age of twenty-eight. It was such a conversion as one does not normally hope for, impossible without great grace and the most heroic response. The boy had begun to drink when he was twelve and a half.”

“He grappled with the drink-fiend in his blood and it was a fight to the finish. There was the problem of what to do with his evenings that he had been wont to spend in saloons. The streets with their open doors were too proximate an occasion of danger. But Matt had to get out of his crowded home. He had to go somewhere. So he began to haunt the churches.”

“He took the pledge for three months and these were the hardest. He did not know how to pray, especially after his years of neglect, and the hours in church were deadly. He simply sat there, weary, cold, dispirited, unnerved, but-holding on. At the end of the three months he renewed the pledge for a year, and then renewed it for life. It was over. But one is left with a conviction that those months of heroic endurance raised Matt to the threshold of mystical initiation.”

“He retired to this couch at ro.30 p.m., with his alarm set for 2 a.m. At this hour, he rose for his prayers. After his father's death in 1899, Matt's mother slept in a corner of his room, there being no one but this son to shelter her. She lived with him until her death, sixteen years later, and was a constant witness to his mode of life. His night vigil lasted for about an hour and a half, after which he lay down on the planks to rest until four o'clock. He then rose finally, dressed, and left the house to attend five o'clock Mass and receive Holy Communion. In after years he used to attend a later Mass {6.15 a.m.) , but he maintained the habit of arriving at the church door at 5 a.m., and he prayed, kneeling on the pavement outside the door, until the church opened. Moreover, he knelt on his bare knees, for he had slit lengthwise the knees of his trousers in order to add this mortification without attracting attention. The slits were not noticeable when Matt stood up; but the lay-brother in charge of the church observed them.”

“Once, to someone who complained to him about loneliness, he retorted: “How could you be lonely with Our Lord in His Tabernacle?” Again, in one of his rare confidences, he told someone that he had asked for the gift of prayer and had received it in abundance.”


JESUS, true friend of the humble worker, Thou hast
given us in Thy servant Matthew, a wonderful
example of victory over vice, a model of penance and of
love for Thy Holy Eucharist, grant, we beseech Thee
that we Thy servants may overcome all our wicked passions
and sanctify our lives with penance and love like his.
And if it be in accordance with Thy adorable designs
that Thy pious servant should be glorified by the Church,
deign to manifest by Thy heavenly favours the power
he enjoys in Thy sight, Who livest and reignest for ever
and ever. Amen.

100 days ' Indulgence each time.
Permissu Ordinarii Dime Dublinen.
die 15 ]unii, anno 1931.”

This is a powerful story and this intro to the man and his life was very moving. I am thankful I finally tracked down this one to read. And I plan on reading more about Matt, his life and the cult of those with a devotion to him. It was like discovering a new friend in heaven. 

Curtayne writes in a clean crisp style. A number of her books for young readers about saints are collections of stories about the size of this volume. I would love to see a published collection of her shorter works, including this one, to share the power of her writing and the holy men and women she wrote about. Another excellent volume for Curtayne. This book is a little treasure of faith and it will inspire you, and likely challenge you. It is well worth giving a read if you can track it down or if it ends up being reprinted. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books about Matt Talbot:
Matt Talbot and His Times - Mary Purcell
Matt Talbot: His Struggle, His Victory over Alcoholism - Susan Helen Wallace 
Matt Talbot - Xavier Carty 
Spotlight on Matt Talbot  - Edward O'Connor, S.J.
Matt Talbot - Simon O'Brynne 
The quest for Matt Talbot - Philip Rooney 
We knew Matt Talbot - Albert H Dolan
Matt Talbot - James F. Cassidy. 
An address to Pope John Paul II from the Parish of Matt Talbot, The Worker. 
Matt Talbot : the Irish worker's glory - James Francis Cassidy 
Matt Talbot - Albon White 
The Story of Matt Talbot - Malachy Gerard Carroll

Books and Booklets by Alice Curtayne:
A Recall to Dante
Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet
Lough Derg: St. Patrick's Purgatory
Patrick Sarsfield
Saint Anthony of Padua
St. Bernard Doctor of The Church 1933

Books Edited by Alice Curtayne:
The Complete works of Francis Ledwidge

Books Translated by Alice Curtayne:
Labours in the Vineyard by Giovanni Papin

Books Contributed to by Alice Curtayne:

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