Monday 7 January 2013

Saint Cronan Beg, January 7

Among other saints commemorated on the Irish calendars at January 7 is one associated with the monastic settlement at Nendrum on Mahee Island. Here is the entry for the life of Saint Cronan Beg from Volume One of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Cronan Beg, Bishop of Nendrum, County of Down.
[Seventh Century.] 
This prelate obtained his cognomen, probably owing to his being under the middle size. Cronan Beg, or "the little," bishop over the ancient Aendrum, had a festival on this day, according to the Martyrology of Donegal. The Martyrology of Tallaght simply registers Cronan, bishop, at the 7th of January. His place is now distinguished as Inis Mahee, in the county of Down. It is a portion of Tullynakill parish, and it lies about a quarter of a mile from the shore in Strangford Lough. This island is situated about thirteen miles N.N.E. from Downpatrick. The name of this present bishop will be found in a letter, written from Rome, A.D. 640, on the subject of the Pascal Controversy. In his tract on some of the Irish bishops, Duald Mac Firbis says, that perhaps this is he with whom Caendruim is placed; and his remark seems to have reference to a subsequent entry regarding the rest of Cronan, Bishop of Caondruim, who died about the year 639. Other, and more reliable, authorities place his demise at the 7th of January, A.D. 642. As may be seen, this date is only a little over a year later than the date of the epistle from Rome, addressed to him in common with other Irish bishops. Some very interesting remains of antiquity are yet traceable on Mahee Island.

The Internet Archive also houses a charming pamphlet by John Vinycomb, entitled The Monks of Mahee Island. The author provides an introduction to the site from an antiquarian perspective but quickly proceeds to his own poetry. He offers us first, this poem on the monks and then a composition on the Mermaid of Mahee, a legend of Strangford Lough. This cautionary tale concerns a temptress of the deep who beguiled one of the monks with her siren song, only for the matins bell to recall him to his vocation and to face the wrath of Father Abbot.


In olden days, as I've heard say
Old records tell the story
How men retired to deserts wild,
To praise God and His glory.

To people rude and wild they preached,
And taught the truth in sadness,
Besought the Lord to bless the land,
With thankful hearts, in gladness.

For all the good His bounty gave,
Of sunlit sea and sky,
The beauteous earth, the stars above,
The hope of heaven on high.

And some in lonely isles set up
Their church and tower round,
Beneath whose shade their prayerful lives
In benisons were bound.

In old Mahee, the sacred isle
By Strangford's silent shore,
The peaceful monks in prayer would kneel,
And aid from heaven implore.

To banish sin and shame from earth,
And touch the heart with love :
To make the world's all-sinful souls,
More meet for heaven above.

The monks are gone, their deeds remain,
Old savage habits banished :
The world is better that they lived,
Tho' church and tower have vanished.

To simple faith and honest toil
Came peace like gentle maiden :
And in her train the Arts of life
With love and blessings laden.

Hear now the words of saints of old,
Come down from ages hoary :
"O save the world from sin and strife,
And give to God the glory."

The mermaid poem is too long to cite in full here, but is accompanied by the author's own sketch of an inn sign at Kircubbin showing the watery lady in all her glory. Wonderful stuff. You can read the original in full here

Finally, the paper by Bishop Reeves on 'The Church of Nendrum', which both Canon O'Hanlon and Vineycomb cite, is also online. It can be found in Volume 8 of The Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1902), pages 13- 22 and continued on pages 58-68 of the same volume.

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