Wednesday 29 May 2013

Saint Brunsecha of Killyon, May 29

May 29 is the feast day of an early female monastic, Brunsecha the Slender, linked with the parish of Killyon, County Offaly. The story of this saint takes a rather shocking turn when her beauty proves irresistible to a local chieftain who kidnaps and rapes her. Help is at hand, however, in the person of the elder Saint Ciaran, who humbles this rogue and restores life to his victim. Canon O'Hanlon's account also introduces us to the saintly mother of Saint Ciaran, the lady Liadania, who provides sanctuary for the ill-used Brunsecha, and he is in homiletic mood at the end of the piece:


The Martyrology of Tallagh simply records this holy woman, at the 29th of May, as Brunsica, Virgin. Allusion is made to her by the Bollandists, at this date, relying on the foregoing statement, and on other Irish authorities. In these allusions to her, however, there is no account of any place, where she was specially venerated. We find, likewise, on this day, a festival set down, in the Martyrology of Donegal, in honour of Briuinseach Ceal, or the Slender; here, also, she is said to have been a daughter to Crimhthann, of Magh Trea. Whether this was her natal place, however, or that in which her memory had been specially venerated, we cannot determine. From the epithet here applied to this saint, it is probable, she was slender in figure, and this bodily condition may have been partly the result of her well-practised austerities during the conventual state.

In the table postfixed to the Martyrology of Donegal, it is remarked, that a St. Buriena, a virgin of Ireland, was venerated, at a town bearing her name, in England, on the 29th of May. We have no certain record, elucidating the Acts of this saint; but, to adopt a conjecture of Colgan’s she was identical with St. Brunechia, or Bruinecha, alluded to in the Lives of St. Kieran of Saigir. An English translation of the Irish Life of this latter holy Patriarch had been lent to the present writer, which varies in some few particulars from one of those published in Latin, by Father John Colgan. This writer had promised to say more about her, than he had furnished, in the Acts of St. Kieran, at that day.

The holy virgin St. Brunsecha or Briuinseach Ceal is said to have been the daughter of a Munster chieftain, and to have embraced a religious life, under direction of St. Liadan or Lidania, mother to St, Kieran, in the Monastery of Kill-Liadhuin, now Killion or Killyon, in the parish of Drumcullen, and barony of Eglish, in the King's County. According to one statement, Killiadhuin was founded, about the beginning of the fifth century; but, this is too early a date for its erection. The feast of St. Liedania has been referred to the 11th of August, in the Martyrologies of Marianus O'Gorman, of Cathal Maguire, and of Donegal. By this pious matron Liadania, the devout novice Bruinseach was trained to the practice of every virtue; yet, we cannot ascertain, at what exact period she entered upon a religious state and profession. The hamlet of Killion has only a small population, but it is placed in the midst of a picturesque neighbouring country. The site of St. Liadhain's former convent lies close to the high road—on the south side—leading from Birr to Kinnetty. There can be no doubt, but that a celebrated religious establishment was here, and at a very early period. Two round towers on a small scale, about 17 feet high, and of rude masonry, stood in the graveyards of Seir-Kieran and of Killion, the places of St. Kieran and of his mother St. Liedhain. They seem to have been attached to other buildings, and to have been used as sacristies or Dearthachs. There are no remains of St. Liadhane's primitive convent now existing..

Being exceedingly beautiful, a chieftain, named Dymma, of the HuaFiach or Ui Fiachach district, conceived an unlawful desire of taking Brunsecha away by force, from the convent where she lived; and, he accomplished such a purpose, with the assistance of his retainers. He then detained her for some time, in his castle. During this period, he extorted from her the rights of a husband. Hearing of this violence, St. Kieran went to Dymma, to remonstrate with him, on behalf of Brunsecha; but, the chieftain refused to restore her to liberty. He even derisively told the saint, he would not release the lady, unless it should happen, on the following morning, that the heron's note awoke him from sleep. At this time, which appears to have been in the winter season, although a great fall of snow covered the ground, yet, it did not obstruct the place, where Kieran and his companions were. On the following morning, the piping of a heron was heard in the castle, contrary to a usual natural course. Surprised and moved by this miraculous occurrence, Dymma prostrated himself in penitence, at the feet of St. Kieran, and he released Brunechia, although she had been already pregnant. On her release, St. Kieran conducted his spiritual daughter back to Kill-Liadhuin, now Killyon, and left her, as before, under the charge of his mother.

However, Dymma appears to have felt regret, after separation of that lady from his home. He then went towards the monastery, in which she lived, to repeat his former violence. When Brunechia heard of his approach, she became terrified, to such a degree, that her sudden death ensued. Seeing what had occurred, Dymma demanded of St. Kieran—who it appears was present— how he had dared to kill his wife; for such, he declared Brunechia to be, and he had determined she should so continue. He threatened, at the same time, to expel the saint, from this part of the country. Then, Kieran replied: "Thou hast no power over me; for, the omnipotent God, so long as He wills it, hath given thee only a shadow of earthly power; therefore, I shall remain in this my place, contrary to thy will." Shortly afterwards, the chieftain was chastised for this insolence, towards God's servant. On returning to his castle, he found it enveloped in flames. A very dear son, named Dunchad, had been left, at this time, sleeping in one of its apartments, when a nurse, despairing of his preservation, cried out with a loud voice: "I commend thee, my child, to the protection of St. Kieran of Saigir." This boy was found alive and unharmed, after the castle had been entirely consumed. Dymma felt moved by such a miraculous preservation of his son; and, in company with a saint, named Aidus, he went to St. Kieran, promising to perform whatever should be required of him, as a proof of his penitence. He presented Dunchad and another son, saying, as he had been absolved from his sins, through the holy bishop, that henceforth he and his posterity should be subject to St. Kieran. Having received the blessing of the saint, he departed; while sorrowful on account of the death of Brunecha, Kieran went to that place, where her body lay. He prayed with great earnestness, for her restoration to life. This prayer was heard, for the virgin arose from the sleep of death. She subsequently lived, in her state of religious profession, for many years.

It is supposed, that if not the first nunnery erected, at least Kill-Liadhain must have been among the very early nunneries, in Ireland. This appellation which it received is said to have been derived from Kill, or Ceall, meaning "a place of retirement," or "a cell," joined to Liadana, or Liadhain, the name of its foundress. Again, the latter proper name, pronounced Leean, gave rise to the modern denomination of Killyon. The little river, called Comcor, runs beside that place, where her religious house was founded; and, while St. Kieran had his monastery at Seir-Kyran, within the territory of Ely, yet was his mother's nunnery within the territory of Fearcall, in the kingdom of Meath. How long St. Brunsecha lived, under the rule of St. Liadania, is not known, nor whether she succeeded as superioress over that nunnery, founded by her and by her celebrated son St. Kieran. It seems likely, however, that she survived both of these holy contemporaries.

The year of our saint's death is not recorded; but, it happened, most probably, within the sixth century. The festival of St. Brunsecha occurs, on the 29th of May, according to the Martyrologies of Tamlacht, of Marianus O'Gorman, of Maguire, and of Donegal. In another Irish Calendar, at the iv. of the Calends of June —May 29th— her feast is recorded. She was venerated, also, at Magh-trea, according to various accounts. This place we may assume to be identical with Magh Treagha, in Teathbha territory— said to be the same as Moytra, in the barony and county of Longford.

We cannot doubt, that many of our native chiefs abused their authority, in a very unhappy manner; but, our saint had compassion for the weakness of their nature, especially when their state or vocation did not incline them to exalted perfection. Sincere contrition for sin pleaded effectively for their absolution, and it is to be hoped, that after grievous offences, they were mindful of God's mercies towards them. If frequently they yielded to violent assaults of temptation, and to wild impulses of passion; their faith in atonement was a motive always urging them to bewail their past transgressions, knowing there was joy in Heaven for one sinner doing penance, more than for ninety-nine just who needed not penance.

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