In 1492, a bloody battle erupted in Dublin between two noble Irish families, the Fitzgeralds of Kildare and the Butlers of Ormond. This bloody hostility was waged over which of the two families should secure the position of Lord Deputy, a powerful political office.
The stakes were high, and the fighting was fierce. When the intensity of the conflict reached a fever pitch, Black James, the nephew of the Earl of Ormond, took his men and retreated into the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
In hot pursuit, the Fitzgeralds reached the cathedral just as the door was closed and barred.
Outside, Gerald Fitzgerald, realizing the mounting tragedy and trauma inflicted because of the fighting, sought to end the conflict. He called to Black James and the Butlers on the inside, promising that he “undertooke on his honor that he should receive no villanie.”
His offer of putting an end to the fighting and to live in peace, however, fell on deaf ears. The Butlers, fearing this was only a ploy, luring them into an ambush, stayed firmly anchored behind the door.
While Gerald Fitzgerald was sincere in his desire for peace, it seemed the families were locked in a stalemate. The Butlers barricaded behind the door on one side, and the Fitzgeralds amassed on the opposite side. Neither side would budge.
Then in a moment of resolute tenacity and courageous daring, Gerald Fitzgerald called for a spear to be brought to him. He took the spear and gouged a hole into the center of the heavy wooden door.
Through that hole, he reached out his arm and offered his hand to Black James in a gesture of peace. They shook hands, and slowly the great door came open. The two leaders embraced, and their clans were reconciled.
The work of peacemaking is difficult and dangerous work. As long as each side stays entrenched in their present fears and past wounds, which the Fitzgeralds and Ormonds could have easily done, the way forward to a peaceful future is blocked.
Only when someone of courage, like Gerald Fitzgerald, is willing to take the risk of being the first to reach their hand toward the other in an act of friendship and reconciliation can peace be possible. There are no guarantees in peacemaking, only daring and risk.
For Gerald Fitzgerald, the risk eventually became worth taking. Why? It became worth taking because the certainty of bloodshed and suffering was far worse than the risk of peacemaking.
The calculus was simple. Their bitter feud would have lasted for generations, each one hating the other, living in fear of the other, plotting the destruction of the other. But, Gerald Fitzgerald realized this was no way to live, with only darkness on every horizon.
If he had remained filled with hatred for his enemy and fueled by zeal for revenge, more lives would have been lost, more property destroyed and more suffering endured. This was absolutely certain.
But, in hopes of a better world and a brighter future, he took the risk of making peace. Black James, on the other side of the door, grasped his hand in friendship and shared the risk. Peace was won.
Today, this old wooden door remains prominently displayed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin as a timeless reminder of a day when, together, Gerald Fitzgerald and Black James, for the good of their own families and land, agreed it was better to take the risks of making peace than to bear the certainties of waging war.
As it was on that day, may it soon be in ours.