The general conversion of the Irish nation was reserved for St. Patrick, who was probably born at the place now called Kilpatrick on the Clyde, whence he was carried as a slave into the north of Ireland while still a youth. The degradation and darkness of the inhabitants profoundly impressed his pure and generous heart, and from the time when he regained his liberty, at the age of twentyone, he devoted himself to the divine service and the task of spreading the doctrines of salvation. After going through a course of study at Marmoutier and Lerins, he repaired to Rome. We next hear of him as accompanying St. Germanus and St. Lupus on their antiPelagian mission to Britain. Being selected by St. Germanus to preach the faith in Ireland, he went firstif we may accept the testimony of Probus to Rome to obtain the apostolic blessing. Celestine dying soon after, Patrick left Rome and journeyed towards Ireland. Hearing on his way of the death of Palladius, he went to St. Amatorex, who ordained him bishop. Landing in Ireland in 432 he attended the assembly of the Irish kings and chieftains held on the hill of Tara in that year. His reception was not very encouraging; however, he converted several, and among others the father of St. Benignus, his immediate successor in the see of Armagh.
St. Patrick fixed his principal residence at Armagh, which became the primatial see of the island. In the course of his long career, extending beyond sixty years, he visited and converted the greater part of Ireland, and established bishoprics in all the provinces. Among his chief companions and assistants were Auxilius, Isserninus, and Secundinus. The Irish people received the gospel with extraordinary readiness. St. Patrick left few writings behind him; his "Confession," a kind of autobiography, is his chief work. We have also his circular letter against Coroticus, and the canons of a synod which he held with Auxilius and Isserninus, about 453 to regulate Church discipline. In his "Confession" he does not mention the Pope or the Holy See, and Beda, in his "Ecclesiastical History," is silent about St. Patrick's mission. Hence Protestant writers have inferred that he had no mission from Rome, and preached a Christianity of his own, distinct from that of the Popes; in short, that he was a kind of Protestant. This hypothesis has been exploded by Dr. Lanigan, Bishop Moran, and others, who show that although St. Patrick, having a special object in view when he wrote the "Confession," says nothing in it about Rome, yet the history of the early Irish Church is unintelligible unless we assume a close and filial relation to the Holy See to have existed from the first. Within a century after St. Patrick, St. Columbanus, the great Irish missionary of the sixth century, said to the Pope, "The Catholic faith is held unshaken by us, as it was delivered to us by you, the successors of the holy Apostles." Another theory was put forward by the learned Usher, the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh; it was that Ireland did not owe her Christianity to Rome, nor even to St. Patrick, since she already possessed a hierarchy at the time when the saint arrived. But when the names of the bishops supposed to have belonged to this hierarchy Ailbe, Declan, Ibar, Kieran, etc. came to be examined, Dr. Lanigan was able to prove that they were all posterior in date to St. Patrick.
With respect to Beda, although it is true that he does not mention St. Patrick in his Ecclesiastical History, the circumstance singular as it must be admitted to be may perhaps be explained on the ground that he chose to confine himself strictly to the religious concerns of the Angles and Saxons. It is impossible to infer from it that Beda passed over the conversion of Ireland in silence, because he, a zealous adherent of Rome, disapproved of a work effected independently of Rome. Had he so felt, he would have studiously avoided speaking of St. Patrick in his other writings, as well as in his history. But the fact is that in both his "Martyrologies," Beda does give the name of St. Patrick. In the prose one, under March 17, he says, "In Scotia, the birthday of the holy Patricius, bishop and confessor, who first in that country preached the gospel of Christ" In his metrical martyrology, under the same day, he says, "Patricius, bishop the servant of the Lord, mounted to the heavenly court."
The death of the apostle of Ireland occurred in 493. The present sketch of the history of the Church in Ireland from that time to our own day will be divided into three periods: 1, that of sanctity, learning, and missionary energy (493800); 2, that of invasions and usurpation (8001530); 3, that of persecution (15301829). The period commencing at the lastnamed date will be regarded by our descendants, if present appearances may be trusted, as an era of restoration.
I. The Irish saints are divided by the national hagiographers into three classes. In the first, which consists of those of the earliest Christian age down to about 530, the principal figures are those of St. Patrick himself, St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Ibar, St. Declan, and St. Kieran. The second class, from 530 to 600, contains St. Coemgen or Kevin, the two Brendans, Jarlath of Tuam, and the great St. Columba or Columbkill. The third class, whose period is from 600 to about 660, contains St. Maidoc, the first Bishop of Ferns; St. Colman of Lindisfarne, Ultan, Fursey, etc. The first class, in the words of the ancient authority quoted by Dr. Lanigan, "blazes like the sun, the second like the moon, the third like the stars . . . . the first most holy, the second very holy, the third holy."
That learning, in all the branches then known was eagerly followed
by Irish students from the time of the conversion, is a
fact of which there is abundant evidence. A copious literature sprang up, consisting of monastic rules, tracts on ritual and
discipline, homilies, prayers, hymns, genealogies, martyrologies in prose and verse, and lives of saints. This literature, as was to be
expected, was partly composed in the vernacular and partly in Latin; but the bulk of it was in the Gaelic. The extant remains are
still considerable; that they are not yet more copious is explained by Professor O'Curry in a remarkable passage, which will be
in a different connection further on.
The English Beda bears ungrudging testimony to the high character of the Irish missionaries who had laboured in Northumbria, and to the general belief in the excellence of the Irish schools. "The whole solicitude of those teachers," he says, "was to serve God, not the world; their one thought was how to train the heart, not how to satisfy the appetite." The special excellence of the Irish schools was the interpretation of Scripture; thus about 650, Agilbert, a French bishop, resided a long time in Ireland "for the sake of reading the Scriptures." Some years later (664) it became a common practice with the Northumbrian thanes to visit Ireland, either with a view to greater advance in the spiritual life, or for the sake of biblical knowledge, "divinae lectionis." These last would go from place to place, attending the cells of the different masters; and so generous were the natives, that they provided for them all; "their daily food free of cost, books also to read, and gratuitous teaching."
The missionary energy of the Irish Church, commencing with a little island off the coast of Mull, which it made a basis for further operations, ended by embracing France, Switzerland, and Italy within the scope of its charity. St. Columba, of whom Montalembert in his "Monks of the West" has given to the world a graphic portraiture, founded the monastery of Hy or Iona in 563, chiefly with a view to the conversion of the Picts dwelling in the north of Scotland. For more than 230 years Iona continued to flourish, and was a centre of pure religion, education, art, and literature to all the surrounding countries. Here, as in a "sacred storehouse," rest the bones of not a few Irish, Scottish, and Norwegian kings. It was devastated by the Danes in 795, and the monks were dispersed a few years later. From Iona the monk Aidan, at the invitation of king Oswald, came into Northumbria, the Angles of which were still mostly Pagans, and founded in 633 a monastery on the isle of Lindisfarne, of which he became the first bishop. To him and his successors the conversion of the northern English was chiefly due. Lindisfarne in its turn became a great school of sacred learning and art, and its bishopric ultimately grew into the palatine see of Durham. In East Anglia the Irish St. Fursey assisted Felix the Burgundian in the conversion of the natives; in Wessex the Irish Maidulf founded the great convent of Malmesbury. In the sixth and seventh centuries Irish missionaries were active in France: Fridolin restored religion at Poictiers, and recovered the relics of St. Hilary; St. Fursey founded a monastery at Lagny; St. Fiacre settled at Paris; and Columbanus founded in Burgundy the historic monastery of Luxeuil. In Switzerland the name of the town and canton of St. Gall perpetuates the memory of an Irish anchorite, who in 613 planted a cross near a spring in the heart of a dense forest, south of the lake of Constance, and by despising the world drew the world to him. Bobbio, in Italy, was the last foundation and restingplace of St. Columbanus. In Germany, the Irish Fridolin, the hero of many a tender Volkslied and wild legend, was probably the first apostle of the Alemanni in Baden and Suabia.
The wellknown controversy respecting the right observation of Easter, which raged in the seventh and eighth centuries between those who had received a Roman and an Irish training respectively, turned on the fact that the Irish Church, from its isolation in the far west, and the difficulties of communication with the centre of unity, had fallen somewhat behind in ecclesiastical science, and not adopted the improved methods of calculation which had come into force in Latin Christendom generally.1 After there had been time for a full discussion and comparison of views, the Irish gradually came round to the better practice. At a synod held at Old Leighlin, in 630, a letter having come from Honorius I., the Roman cycle and rules for computing Easter were adopted in all the south of Ireland. At Iona and in the north of Ireland the necessary change was deferred for many years. Adamnan, Abbot of Hy, labored hard between 701 and 704 to introduce the Roman Easter, and met with considerable success. But the decisive adoption of it at Hy is said to have been due to the persuasions of St. Egbert about 716.
II. Period of Invasions.The Danes (called "Ostmen" by the Irish), appeared on the Irish coasts about the end of the eighth century. Wherever they came, they desecrated churches. burnt monasteries, destroyed books, pictures, and sculptures, murdered priests, monks, and poets. To the ferocity of the wild beast they joined the persevering energy of the Teuton; their arms were better than those of the Irish, and perhaps they had more skill in handling them. Confusion and lamentation were soon in every part of the island. Men after a while seeing the continued success of these odious Pagans, began to doubt of Providence, and to grow slack in faith. Sauve qui peut became the general feeling, and the generosity towards the Church of the converts of the age of St. Patrick underwent a selfish but not unnatural reaction in their descendants. "When foreign invasion and war had cooled down the fervid devotion of the native chiefs and had distracted and broken up the longestablished reciprocity of good offices between the Church and the State, as well as the central executive controlling power of the nation, the chief and the noble began to feel that the lands which he himself or his ancestors had offered to the Church, might now, with little impropriety, be taken back by him, to be applied to his own purposes, quieting his conscience by the necessity of the case." The beautiful Glendalough, founded by St. Kevin about 549, being near the sea, was peculiarly exposed to Danish assault; but not one of the principal monasteries Armagh, Kildare, Clonmacnoise, Slane, etc. escaped destruction at one time or other. Dublin of which the Irish name is "Athcliath" became a Danish city. From time to time the invaders were heavily defeated as in the battle of Clontarf (1014) when the victorious Brian Boru fell in the hour of victory. Gradually they adopted Christianity, lost their national language, and were blended with the natives, never having, as in England, succeeded in subjecting the whole island to their rule.
In the course of the twelfth century, the power of the O'Neils of
Ulster who had for a long period been overlords of the
whole of Ireland, declined and the O'Connors of Connaught attempted to take their place. But it was a weak and wavering
sovereignty, and the kings of the five petty kingdoms were continually plotting, combining, and making war one against another. A state
of general insecurity and lawlessness was the natural result; and though the faith of the people remained intact, moral disorder
in every form was rampant, and the discipline of the Church was often set at nought. The clergy, probably for the sake of
stability and safety, tended to cluster together under some monastic rule; and the laity, abandoned to themselves, fell a prey to gross superstitions and excesses. The Popes, by sending legates, and writing admonitory letters from time to time, attempted to reform the state of society. In the first half of the twelfth century a powerful influence for good was exerted by the admirable sanctity of St. Malachy, who died at Clairvaux under the eyes of St. Bernard, in 1148, and whose life was written by his great friend. The state of things at Armagh, when Malachy was elected to the primacy in 1125, is a good illustration of the disorder which pervaded the Irish Church. A certain powerful family had for more than two hundred years claimed the primatial chair as a hereditary possession; for fifteen generations they had made good their claim; and of these fifteen occupants of the see only six were in holy orders, the rest being married laymen, who though they did not presume to exercise the episcopal functions, enjoyed the title and emoluments of the bishopric. Celsus, the last of the series, being a good man, procured the election of St. Malachy as his successor; but the family resented this intrusion on their "rights," and presented to the see one of themselves, Murchadh by name, upon the death of Celsus. For the sake of peace, St. Malachy waited for five years before entering Armagh; on the death of Murchadh, in 1133, he was peaceably installed. In 1138 the saint visited Rome, where Pope Innocent II. received him with the highest honor, and appointed him his legate in Ireland. His zeal, but still more his saintly example, effected a salutary change in the northern parts of Ireland, where, having obtained leave to resign the primacy, he spent the last ten years of his life as bishop of the small see of Down.
At the beginning of his reign, Henry II. had obtained the approbation of Pope Adrian IV, an Englishman, for his project of entering Ireland ostensibly with a view to extirpating vice and ignorance among the natives, and attaching the island more closely to the see of St. Peter. Of this bull Henry made no use for many years, and the actual invasion of Ireland by Strongbow and other Norman knights was in a manner, accidental. For several generations things went on much as before; the English power was confined to the "Pale," or strip of country on the eastern coast; in the rest of Ireland the native princes, though they often recognized an illdefined overlordship in the English kings, reigned practically after their own fashion. Outside the Pale, Brehon, not feudal law prevailed. One benefit, at least, resulted: the Normans were great builders; and noble churches of stone soon covered the land. It is true that in this reform they were preceded by St. Malachy, who had built a church of stone at Bangor, near Carrickfergus, to the great amazement of the natives, who had, till then, seen only their own ingeniously constructed edifices of timber and wickerwork.
Three great Irish synods were held in the twelfth century. At the first, that of Kells (1152), at which a Roman cardinal presided, the metropolitan dignity of the three sees of Cashel, Dublin, and Tuam was solemnly recognized; but the primacy over the whole island was still reserved to Armagh. At the second, that of Cashel (1172), held immediately after the invasion, Church property was declared to be exempt from the exactions of the chieftains, the regular payment of tithes was enjoined, and it was ordered that all matters of ritual should be arranged in future "agreeably to the observance of the Church of England" in other words, according to Roman usage. The third synod, that of Dublin (1186) passed several canons of ritual; it is chiefly noted for a sermon, preached before it by Gerald de Barri, or Cambrensis, in which, while praising the orthodoxy and the continency of the Irish clergy he lamented that too many of them were addicted to intemperance.
Many of the English Normans who settled in Ireland after the invasion adopted by degrees the dress, customs, and laws of the natives, and became no less intractable than they in their attitude towards the English government. An effort was made to stop this process by the Statute of Kilkenny (1367), which made it treasonable for those of English descent to marry, or enter into the relation of fosterage, or contract spiritual affinity with the natives; and forbade to the same class, on pain of forfeiture of property, the adoption of an Irish name, or the use of the Irish language, dress, or customs. But this statute was to a great extent inoperative, and from the date of its enactment to the time of Henry VIII. there were two parties in continual opposition to the government, the "English rebels," and the "Irish enemies." The demarcation between, English and Irish which the civil government thus did its utmost to maintain, was partially introduced, and with the most unhappy results, into the administration of Church affairs. In the counties of the Pale it was scarcely possible for an ecclesiastic of Irish race to obtain preferment The invasion by the Scots under Edward Bruce in 1315, though ultimately defeated, caused great confusion, and called forth during its continuance many tokens of sympathy from the Irish clergy. This, says Mr. Malone, was made a pretext for "throwing off the mask,'' and under colour of disloyalty Irishmen were excluded from all the higher dignities and benefices. Yet it would appear that this exclusion could not have extended much beyond the Pale; for if we examine the lists of bishops occupying the Irish sees in 1350, we find that out of thirtythree names, eighteen are certainly Irish, thirteen English, while two may be doubtful. All through this time of confusion and disunion a strong religious feeling was abroad, animating the men of both races alike, and directing them to common objects. In the thirteenth century we hear of 170 monasteries being founded; about 55 in the fourteenth; and about 60 in the fifteenth. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to found universities: one at Dublin (1320), by Archbishop Bicknor; the other at Drogheda, by the Parliament which sat there in 1465.
III. Period of Persecution. By the aid of Brown, the Archbishop of Dublin, an Englishman, who had embraced the
Lutheran opinions, Henry VIII. had some success in imposing his doctrine of the royal supremacy on the Irish clergy. Under Mary
all progress in this direction was reversed. Soon after the accession of Elizabeth, in 1560, a packed Parliament was convened
at Dublin which passed an Act of Uniformity, declaring the royal supremacy over the Church, and imposing the
Protestant Prayerbook. By many Protestant writers it has been maintained that the bishops, with the exception of two, either approved
of or acquiesced in the new order of things, and that the people for many years frequented the churches where the English
was performed. The falsehood of all such statements has been exposed by the Bishop of Ossory. The real state of the case appears to have been this. The Archbishop of Dublin, Curwin, conformed to Protestantism, and O'Fihel, Bishop of Leighlin, did the same. The conduct of four bishops (Ossory, Ferns, Cork, and Clonfert) is more or less suspicious. The remainder of the Irish hierarchy, viz. the Archbishops of Cashel and Tuam (the see of Armagh was vacant), two bishops holding sees in the Pale (who were deprived by the government), and sixteen other bishops of suffragan sees, remained faithful to their canonical obligations. As these bishops died, or as, in the course of the Elizabethan wars the government was able to consolidate its power in the remoter parts of Ireland, the cathedrals, Church lands, and other Church property were made over to Protestant bishops and ministers appointed under the Act of Uniformity. The Catholic Bishop of Kilmore, Richard Brady, was expelled from the see so late as 1585. The Holy See did all that it could to support the oppressed Church of Ireland, and animate the clergy to meet their sufferings with an unbending fortitude. A nuncio was sent to reside at Limerick, money and arms were liberally provided, the intervention of Spain solicited, and Irish ecclesiastics visiting Rome welcomed and assisted. Except in the case of Dublin, the seat of the AngloIrish government, where the see was left vacant for many years from the absolute impossibility of any prelate residing there in safety, the successions of bishops in all the Irish sees appear to have been regularly maintained through all the period of persecution.
The cause of learning, to which the Irish Church had been ever devoted, could not but suffer in this prolonged conflict. Before the change of religion in England there had been some encouraging signs of progress in the reconciliation of the races through the influence of a common interest in intellectual pursuits. Among the distinguished Oxford students of the first thirty years of the sixteenth century, a considerable proportion were Irishmen, and it is impossible to doubt that had peace and religious unity been preserved, this resort to the English universities would have gone on increasing until it bore its natural fruit in the establishment of a great university on Irish soil. The change of religion in England cut off the supply of Irish students; Catholicism became a persecuted creed; and the effect on learning its professors, seats, implements, and productions may be understood from the following vigorous passage: "From about the year 1530, in the reign of the English king Henry VIII., to the year 1793, the priests of Ireland were ever subject to persecution, suppression, dispersion, and expatriation, according to the English law; their churches, monasteries, convents, and private habitations were pillaged and wrested from them; and a Vandal warfare was kept up against all that was venerable and sacred of the remains of ancient literature and art which they possessed. When, therefore, we make search for the once extensive monuments of learning which the ecclesiastical libraries contained of old, we must remember that this shocking system continued for near 300 years; and that during all that long period the clergy the natural repositories of all the documents which belonged to the history of the Church were kept in a continual state of insecurity and transition, often compelled to resort to the continent for education, often forced to quit their homes and churches at a moment's notice, and fly for their lives, in the first instance to the thorny depths of the nearest forest or the damp shelter of some dreary cavern, until such time, if ever it should come as they could steal away to the hospitable shores of some Christian land on the continent of Europe."
Under James I. and Charles I., the Catholic clergy having been now stripped of all their property, and the laity of a considerable portion of theirs, some toleration was extended by the government to Catholic worship. The terrible rising of 1641 was the commencement of a war of eleven years, ending with the surrender of Galway in 1652. Innocent X. sent the Archbishop of Fermo (Rinuccini) as his nuncio to Ireland in the autumn of 1645, with considerable supplies of arms and money. Unfortunately dissension arose in the national ranks; a moderate section of the clergy, with most of the Catholic gentry and laity, were for aiding the King against the Parliament, and not exacting from him very stringent conditions; but the bulk of the population, supported by the nuncio and the inferior clergy, were for turning the war into a struggle for complete religious freedom and national independence. Cromwell transported his victorious army to Ireland in 1649, and by several successful sieges, followed by bloody military executions, broke the strength of the resistance. The conquest of the island was completed by his lieutenants. The sufferings of the Irish clergy during, and still more after, the war, were indescribable. Bishop O'Brien of Emly was executed by Ireton's order (1651) after the fall of Limerick. Bishop Egan of Ross was murdered by Ludlow's soldiers in 1650. In the same year Bishop McMahon of Clogher, being in command of a body of Irish troops, fell into the hands of the Puritans, and, though quarter had been promised, was hanged. A letter of Dr. Burgatt, afterwards Archbishop of Cashel, written in 1667, says that in the persecution begun by Cromwell "more than 300 [clergy] were put to death by the sword or on the scaffold .. . . ; more than 1000 were sent into exile, and among these all the surviving bishops," except the Bishop of Kilmore, who was too old to move. The Puritan soldiers put every priest to death whom they fell in with; and yet so close a tie of affection bound the clergy to their native land and their people, that even in 1658, about the worst time of all, there were upwards of 150 priests in each province. The regular clergy were no better off; the Acts of the General Chapter of the Dominican Order held at Rome in 1656, mention that out of 600 friars who were in the island in 1646 not a fourth part were left, and of fortythree convents of the order, not one remained standing.! All these horrors the Puritans pretended to justify, as done in retaliation for the massacre of Protestants in 1641. That a great number of persons were cruelly put to death at the time of that rising is undeniable; but, as Lingard points out, the main object pursued was not the murder of the Protestants, but the recovery of the confiscated lands. He significantly adds, That they [the Irish] suffered as much as they inflicted cannot be doubted"
The exiles, both priests and laity, were cast on the French coast in a state of such utter destitution, that, but for prompt
and ample relief, many must have perished. Happily a saint was at hand to help them. St. Vincent of Paul, filled with
compassion for these victims of war and fanaticism, collected money and clothing for them, and provided them all with homes and
he even sent considerable supplies to Ireland. The Bishop of Ossory also gives detailed proof of the unwearied solicitude of the Holy See for many years after the Cromwellian invasion, in procuring succours of every kind for the Irish Catholics, and itself aiding them with money to the utmost of its power.
The Act of Settlement (1660) legalised the Cromwellian spoliations; but the Catholic worship was tolerated all through the reign of Charles II. At the Revolution, the Irish espoused the cause of their king, who, whatever quarrel the English might have with him, had done Ireland no wrong. Neither the letter nor the spirit of the constitution enjoined that the Irish Parliament and people should change their king whenever it might suit the English people to change theirs. But, in the absence of effectual aid from abroad, the superior resources of the stronger nation crushed the resistance of the weaker; and a period commenced for the Irish Church and people sadder than any that had preceded it. The writings of Burke, and among recent publications Mr. Lecky's "History of the Eighteenth Century," paint in detail the picture of Ireland ruined and outraged by the penal laws. Whatever iniquitous law and crafty administration could devise to destroy the faith of the people was tried during the gloomy century which began at the Revolution, but all to no effect. The ill success of the American war compelled the English government to propose the first relaxation of the penal laws in 1778. From that time the Irish Church has been step by step regaining portions and fragments of the rights of which she was deprived in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Church was disestablished in 1869. The last twenty years have seen the island covered with beautiful religious edifices cathedrals, parish churches, convents, colleges, etc. Of such a people it may be justly said: In much experience of tribulation they have had abundance of joy, and their very deep poverty hath abounded unto the riches of their simplicity."
The following is a list of the Irish sees, of which four are metropolitan and twentyfour suffragan:
Province of Armagh.
Armagh. Meath. Derry. Clogher. Dromore. Raphoe. Down and Connor. Ardagh Kilmore.
Province of Dublin.
Dublin. Ossory. Kildare and Leighlin. Ferns.
Province of Cashel.
Cashel and Emly. Waterford and Lismore. Cork. Cloyne. Killaloe.
Limerick. Ross. Kerry.
Province of Tuam.
Tuam. Elphin. Achonry Galway Kilmacduagh arid Kilfenora Clonfert.
Mitred Abbot: The most Rev. the Abbot of Mount Melleray, Cappoquin.
(Lanigan, "Ecclesiastical History of Ireland," 1829; Plowden, "Historical Review of the State of Ireland," 1803; Malone, "Church History of, Ireland," 3d edition, 1880; Moran [Bishop of Ossory], "Spicilegium Ossoriense;" "Essays on the Origin, Doctrine, and Discipline of the early Irish Church," 1864; "Historical Sketch of the Persecutions suffered by, the Catholics Ireland under Cromwell and the Puritans" .)
1 The erroneous practice was not that of the Quartodecimans [Easter, Cycle], for the Irish always waited for Sunday before celebrating the feast; it consisted in keeping Easter from the fourteenth to the twentieth day of the first month, instead of from the fifteenth to the twenty-first; the consequence being that when Sunday fell on the fourteenth, Easter began to be kept on the evening of the thirteenth day, that is, before the occurrence of the Paschal full moon.
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