Wednesday 2 January 2013

Saint Munchin of Limerick, January 2

January 2 is the commemoration of Saint Munchin, the patron of Limerick. Below is a text on his life from John, Canon O'Hanlon, which appeared in the 1873 edition of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record.  At this time the author would have been gathering the materials for his magnum opus, the Lives of the Irish Saints, which he began publishing in 1875. Indeed, this paper was reproduced in its entirety as the lead entry for January 2 in the first volume of the Lives.



NO man is perfect who desires not greater perfection ; and in this especially does a man prove himself a proficient in the knowledge of God, when he ever tends to the highest degree of perfection. The holy bishops of our Irish Church studied well the course to be pursued for the exercise of their pastoral charge. In charity and humility they excelled, and, therefore, it does not appear strange that so many, with a great fervour of affection, aspired to an intimate union with the true pastor of souls. Adorned with all the graces of solid virtue, the great guilt of sin had no abiding place in souls devotedly attached to the duties of their sacred profession.

Not only are conflicting opinions held regarding St. Munchin's identity with various holy men similarly named, but great doubts prevail with respect to the exact period when he lived. The best authorities on Irish ecclesiastical history seem to agree pretty generally, in calling the patron saint of Limerick the son of Sedna. From what we can learn, this parentage connects him apparently by birth, or at least by extraction, with the district in which Luiminech, so called by the old chroniclers, was situated.

Some writers believe St. Munchin of Limerick may be identical with a Mancenus, who is reputed to have been a very religious man, and a master well versed in a knowledge of the Holy Scripture. When Christianity had been first introduced by St. Patrick among the subjects of Amalgaid, King of Connaught, about A.D. 434, this Mancenus was placed as bishop over the people in that part of the country. Yet it does not seem probable, that such an efficient and a distinguished pastor had been called away from his own field of missionary labour to assume the charge of a See established at Limerick, long subsequent to the date of his appointment.

St. Munchin, called the son of Sedna, was grandson to Cas, and great-grandson to Conell of the Dalgais. He was nephew to Bloid, king of Thomond. Nothing more have we been able to collect regarding his education, pursuits, and preparation for his call to Holy Orders. Neither documentary fragments nor popular tradition aid our endeavours to clear up his personal history. It has been asserted, that St. Munchin, bishop of Limerick, built a church in the island of Fidh-Inis, which lies within the large estuary where the river Fergus enters the river Shannon. Here he is said to have lived for a long time; and it is thought possible, a St. Brigid, who was his kinswoman, may have lived there after he left it.

By the erudite local and modern historian of Limerick, we are informed, that St. Patrick crossed the Shannon, near this city, and at a place called Sois Angel, now Singland. Not long ago there was a tower at this place. The holy well, with the stoney bed and altar of the Irish Apostle, may yet be seen there. He is said to have had a vision of angels at this spot, and to have preached. Then we are told, that St. Manchin, a religious man, who had a complete knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, was appointed by St. Patrick first bishop over Limerick. He also ruled spiritually, it is said, over the subjects of Amailgaid, King of Connaught. This prince, at the time, had been a recent convert to Christianity. Notwithstanding what has been so frequently asserted in reference to this matter, if, as appears probable enough, St. Patrick founded the See of Limerick, as also the Abbey of Mungret, and if he appointed a bishop over the former, most likely he would have selected a Dalcassian to hold the office, especially were one to be found capable and worthy to assume this responsible charge. So conflicting are the statements, however, and so unsatisfactory the evidence yet brought to light, that on such a subject it would be useless to hazard a conjecture, and it seems still more difficult to form even an opinion.

St. Manchinus, the disciple of St. Patrick, and who, from his proficiency in sacred erudition, has been surnamed "The Master," is said to have flourished about the year 460. He is, therefore, to be clearly distinguished from St. Manchin of Dysert Gallen, from St. Manchin of Mena Droichit, from St. Manchin of Mohill, from St. Manchin of Leth, as also from other holy men bearing this name, since all these latter are known to have lived at a much later period. There was another St. Manchin, who was a disciple of St. Declan, of Ardmore, and who was only a boy at the time St. Patrick is supposed to have been at Limerick. It seems not unlikely, he may have been consecrated for the work of the ministry, and he might have been the first to preside over that church.

It is barely possible, but hardly probable, that Mainchin, or Munchin, of Limerick, can be identified with the learned Mainchin who presided over the monastery of Rosnat in Britain, and who was the Master of so many renowned saints. Yet the circumstances of time, of station, and of erudition, would not render this an extravagant supposition. This holy man, with one hundred and fifty of his disciples, has been invoked in the Litany of St. Oengus. Yet, it seems difficult to assign his exact festival, owing as well to the confused orthographies, Munchin, Manchen, Mainchein, and Manchan, not to speak of Mansen, Manicheus, and other varied Latinized forms, with which we meet, as also to the great number of saints thus called, but whose festival days are not sufficiently distinguished by predicates in our Martyrologies.

Certain writers confound St. Munchin of Limerick with St. Manchan of Menadrochid. Not alone are these places far apart, but the periods when both holy men flourished seem to mark a wide difference. St. Manchan of Menadrochid died A.D. 648, according to the Annals of the Four Masters. The Annals of Clonmacnoise record his demise at AD. 649. Dr. O' Donovan regards this latter date even as antecedant to his dormition.

The Annals of Ulster assign the death of Maencha, Abbot of Menadrochit, to A.D. 651. This place is now known as Monadrochid, a townland situated in the south end of Magh-Thuat, plain or parish of Offerilan. It lies about one mile north-east from Borris-in-Ossory, Queen's County.

If St. Munchin of Limerick flourished in the time of St. Patrick, we must then fairly conclude he cannot be confounded with St. Mainchein, the Wise, or Manchene, Abbot of Menedrochaidh, who died A.D. 651, or 652.

However, it is thought that St. Manchin of Limerick lived, at least two centuries, before that period, assigned by our Martyrologies to St. Manchen, Abbot of Menedrochit.



Now, St. Munchin thus belonged, as tradition holds, to the blood royal of North Munster. St. Molua and he were regarded as tutelary saints of the Thomond O'Briens. St. Munchin, called the son of Sedna, is said to have been the first founder of Mungret Monastery, regarding which a curious legend has come down in popular tradition. Some maintain, that the Priory of Mungret, within the liberties of Limerick, was first founded by St. Patrick, in the fifth century. Other writers state, that St. Nessan was the founder of this Monastery, or at least its first Abbot. Hence, probably, the place derived its name in ancient times ; for we are told it was formerly called the city of Deochain-assain. Whether before or after his appointment, as bishop of Limerick, is not stated; but, it has been thought, St. Munchin in the due course of time succeeded St. Nessan, as Abbot, over Mungret or Muingharid. This house or colony contained 1,500 monks : 500 of whom were devoted to preaching; 500 others were so classed and divided, as to have a perpetual full choir day and night ; while the remaining 500 were old men, of exemplary piety, who devoted themselves to charitable and religious works. This statement seems to have been founded on a local tradition.

Mungret parish is situated partly within the liberties of Limerick, and partly in the barony of Pubblebrien. The river Shannon forms a part of its northern boundary. Although it has been stated, on the authority of " The Psalter of Cashel," that Mungret had formerly within its walls six churches, and contained, exclusive of scholars, 1,600 religious, yet, the ecclesiastical remains now left are very inconsiderable. There is an old church in the Irish style of the tenth century. This is situated immediately to the left of the road, as you approach it from Limerick. On the inside, this church measures 41 feet in length by 23 feet in breadth. Considering its age, the walls are in good preservation. The side walls are 2 feet 10 inches in thickness and 14 feet in height ; they are built with good stones, cemented with excellent lime and sand mortar. The west gable is remarkably high and sharp at the point, while the east one is rendered obtuse, after the storms of ages. As usually the case, in old Irish churches, the doorway opens in the west gable. It is 6 feet 8 inches in height, while it is 3 feet 7 inches wide at the bottom, and it diminishes to 3 feet 4 inches at the top. A large breach in the south wall extends from the ground to the top of a round-headed window, which, excepting its top, has altogether disappeared. The east gable contains a rude round-headed window, placed at some height from the ground. On the inside it measures about 5 feet 10 inches in height, and 2 feet 8 inches in width; on the outside, it is about 3 feet 10 inches in height, and 1 foot 6 inches in width. The north wall is in very good preservation, but featureless ; the south wall is a good deal injured, and besides the window already alluded to, it contained another, now reduced to a formless breach.

According to tradition, little Kilrush is said to have been built by Rose, a sister of St. Munchin. Again, the Church of Killeely, in a parish of the same name, was dedicated to Lelia, also thought to have been a sister to St. Munchin. It adjoins Mungret parish. When the death of St. Munchen happened has not been ascertained with any degree of correctness. We are carelessly told, indeed, that St. Munchen, the first bishop of Limerick died in the year 652. No authority whatever is cited for such a statement.

It is not considered probable, by Dr. Lanigan, that the patron saint of Limerick, St. Munchen or Manchin, had been a bishop over that see. It has been remarked, likewise, that we now find nothing related, respecting the successors of St. Munchin in the See of Limerick, before the times of those Pagan Ostmen, who held Limerick by force of arms, as they did other cities. We labour under like defects and disadvantages in reference to the early origin of many among our most celebrated towns and cities.


AN impenetrable mystery seems to shroud the history of the establishment of a See at Limerick, while the acts of its patron Saint and first bishop are involved in a maze of obscurity. Various writers have endeavoured to solve the problem presented, but they have been obliged to leave much for conjecture, and this has only tended the more to perpetuate uncertainty. Some writers make this city identical with the Regia found on the map of Ptolemy, the geographer. St. Munchin is thought to have been earliest bishop over Limerick, and he is traditionally said to have founded this see and a Cathedral there, called after his name.

The first historian of this city, Ferrar, could not discover anything authentic concerning it, until about the middle of the ninth century. A still later history of the county and city of Limerick has been written by Rev. P. Fitzgerald and J. J. M'Gregor. These writers have acknowledged the obscurity in which the city of Limerick's original foundation is involved. The same historians state, that a manuscript belonging to the friars of Multifernam, designates Limerick as Rosse-de-hailleagh. Although little be known regarding Limerick before the Danes landed there, yet, its having been reputed the see of a bishop so early as the 7th century, furnishes some proof that it was a place of consequence at a very remote period.

But there can hardly be any question that the Church of Limerick had a continued succession of bishops from a very early date. To St. Munchin the foundation of Limerick Cathedral has been generally assigned. From about the middle of the sixth century, Limerick appears to have held rank among the cities of Ireland. In the second Life of St. Senan, one Denson, called bishop of Limerick, is said to have attended the funeral of Iniscathy's first abbot ; yet, it has been asserted, that there was neither a city nor a bishop of Limerick at this early period.

St. Munchin's church in this city, is said by one writer to have been founded by St. Munchin about the year 630. It is thought to have been rebuilt by the Danes after their conversion to Christianity. St. Munchin's church continued to be this city's cathedral, until after the erection of St. Mary's church. Then it would appear to have been converted to a parish church, as the new building had been considered more convenient and appropriate for cathedral purposes.

It is situated at the north end of the English town. Little is however known regarding its subsequent history, until the year 1711, a time of great excitement in Limerick. Then the church was diverted from its original purposes. It received some additions and repairs, under the superintendence of the Protestant Bishop Smyth. This old church was a plain building, 86 feet in length by 23 in breadth. It was destitute of any interesting object, except a fine monument of black and white marble, placed over the restorer's family vault.

The church, converted to Protestant purposes, received further improvements through the family exertions of Bishop Smyth. He died in 1725, and was interred in St. Munchin's Church. A gallery was erected, at the west end, in 1752. The rebuilding of this church was commenced by the Board of First Fruits, before A.D. 1827.

The site of St. Munchin's Church at the northern extremity of Limerick, is extremely agreeable ; the church-yard is 630 feet in circumference, overhangs the river Shannon, and having the old town wall for its northern boundary. A pleasant elevated terrace walk extends along it, from which a view of Thomond Bridge, the river, and the county Clare may be obtained. The parish of St. Munchin contained 2,250 acres of cultivated land, and upwards of 300 of mountain heath and bog, in A.D. 1827. Part of the parish was then situated in the King's Island, the remainder in the city's north liberties, and in the adjoining barony of Bunratty, county Clare. St. Munchin's was one of the Prebends, in the gift of the bishop. It was an entire rectory, partly within the city, and partly within the county of the city, being united to the rectory of KillConygoyn, and to the rectory and vicarage of Killonchan. In the year 1744, the Catholics of Limerick built a chapel near Thomond Bridge, on the north strand. This plain building was dedicated to St. Munchin. According to present arrangements, the parish of St. Munchin forms a cure of souls apart from the Cathedral lately built, and in a style of great architectural beauty.

The festival of the patron, St. Munchin, is celebrated as a double of the first class, in Limerick city and diocese. However, De Burgo's "Officia Propria Sanctorum Hiberniae" contains no proper office of this saint, nor indeed does any other ritualistic collection. The Office and Mass for his festival are taken from those common to a bishop and a confessor, as found in the Roman Breviary and Missal.

In the anonymous catalogue of Irish Saints, published by O'Sullivan Beare, this Saint is set down as Munchinus, at the 1st day of January. Nor can we doubt but he is commemorated in Henry FitzSimon's list, under the name Monuchinus, although the day of his feast is not entered. However, the prevailing practice at Limerick celebrates the Patron Saint's festival on the 2nd day of January. This appears, likewise, to have been the usage from time immemorial. Another feast has been assigned to a St. Mainchin, conjecturally supposed by O'Clery to have been identical with this holy bishop of Limerick. It was held on the 29th of November.

It is only in the Church of Christ true merit is recognised and worthily honoured. The world may disregard holy men, as our Blessed Saviour was once discredited and rejected by his chosen people. In a wordly sense, the saints never enjoyed ease or comfort ; and this truth must be admitted by all Christians in whatever degree or rank they live and move. Yet, the pious servants of God find it a great happiness to lay securely the foundation of a spiritual life in discharging the highly responsible duties entrusted to them during life. Beyond that goal, the good bishops and pastors of the Church point out a true inheritance to their flocks, as Moses from Mount Neho did the promised land to the children of Israel. Like that great leader and prophet too, they may rest in unknown graves, but their memories shall live in the recollection of a grateful people, even though the traditions of their age and personal characteristics may have perished in those places, once sanctified by their living presence.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 9 (1873), 569 -578.

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