FLORENCE Ensch, the ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to Ireland, paid a visit to Co Carlow to retrace the medieval connection between Carlow and Luxembourg through St Willibrord, patron saint of Luxembourg and the first apostle of the Netherlands. In AD 690, 1,032 years ago, he, along with 12 others, departed down the River Barrow after spending 12 years at the famed Co Carlow monastic settlement of Rath Melsigi before heading off to continue his mission in Europe.
During her visit, Ambassador Ensch met with cathaoirleach Brian O’Donoghue, members of Carlow Co Council and council management, including chief executive Kathleen Holohan, along with bishop Denis Nulty and representatives of St Laserian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin.
Ambassador Ensch is the first resident ambassador of Luxembourg to Ireland, having been appointed in November 2021. She was accompanied on her visit by her colleague André Flammang, deputy head of mission and consul.
The visit was also significant in that it was her first official visit outside Dublin and her first visit since moving full-time to Ireland in recent weeks. Ambassador Ensch stated that it was appropriate that her first visit outside of Dublin should be to Co Carlow, where the strongest links between the two countries began in the seventh century.
Cllr O’Donoghue said: “As part of the historic visit, ambassador Ensch visited the site of Rath Melsigi, Ireland’s most important ecclesiastical settlement in the seventh and eighth centuries, where Willibrord spent 12 years being trained under the guidance of St Ecgberct of Rath Melsigi and Iona. She stood beside the restored medieval cross of Rath Melsigi ‒ all that now remains of this famous monastery in Co Carlow. This cross symbolises a significant connection between Co Carlow and Echternach, Luxembourg’s oldest town, where Willibrord established his major European monastery.”
Ambassador Ensch said: “I look forward to building on the strong historical and cultural ties that exist between Carlow and Luxembourg, thanks to Willibrord and Echternach. It is my wish that the resident Luxembourg embassy in Ireland will help unlock new opportunities for co-operation also in other areas. During our memorable visit, we were delighted to discover the numerous attractions that Co Carlow has to offer. Thank you to all involved for the wonderful Carlovian hospitality.”
As part of the visit, Ambassador Ensch visited several locations in the town and county with Willibrord connections. In the Cathedral of the Assumption, she saw the relic of St Willibrord, which is on permanent display since 2017 when it was presented by the people of Echternach to say tthank you to Co Carlow for instilling in Willibrord his missionary zeal. In Carlow County Museum, as well as getting an overview of the county’s history, she viewed the specific Willibrord exhibition that summarises the importance of Rath Melsigi and the impact of Willibrord’s mission.
The ambassador also paid a courtesy visit to Visual. In the afternoon, she visited Rath Melsigi, thus continuing the 1,032-year connection between Co Carlow and Echternach.
She continued her journey of retracing Willibrord’s footsteps at St Laserian’s Cathedral and the nearby holy well in Old Leighlin.
The cathedral was the site of an earlier monastery at which the bishop of Leighlin resided and where Willibrord and his colleagues would have been ordained in advance of their mission, which left in AD690.
The Most Rev Denis Nulty, bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, welcomed Ambassador Ensch and her colleague Mr Flammang.
“I am delighted you both have come to visit us and in doing so retraced the steps of Willibrord and his companions, who brought the faith and culture to Luxembourg. You are most welcome and we look forward to deepening our ties and connections. May this be the first of many such visits.”
Luxembourg native and graduate of Trinity College Dr Michel Summer, an expert in St Willibrord, summarised the international importance of Willibrord and Rath Melsigi.
“There are few individuals whose career illustrates the cultural, religious and political ties which existed between Ireland, Britain and the continent in the early Middle Ages as much as Willibrord’s. His many journeys, which reached from Ireland to Rome, shows that the late seventh and early eighth centuries were not a ‘dark age’ but a crucial stage in the formation of the networks that connected Carolingian Europe,” said Dr Summer recently.
St Willibrord is honoured each year by the people of Echternach when they host a UNESCO World Heritage Status ‘hopping procession.’ Later this year, a major exhibition looking at the international perceptions of Luxembourg city and Echternach over the last three centuries will be opened in Luxembourg. It is believed that Co Carlow’s connection will form a part of this important exhibition