Wednesday 22 May 2013

Saint Conald Coel of Iniscoel, May 22

As noted on May 20, there is a second festival in honour of a saint Conall or Conald Coel at May 22. It seems odd to find two saints sharing not only the same name but also the same office at the same locality, commemorated within a couple of days of each other. It seems though that Father Colgan, the great seventeenth-century hagiologist, may have believed them to be distinct individuals. I expected to find only a few lines on the second Conall in Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints, but instead, he has quite a full and interesting entry for the day:


Among the island hermits and abbots, St. Conald Coel was a remarkable saint in his day. Colgan promised to give some particulars, regarding him, on the day of his feast; but, he did not live to accomplish that object. The Bollandists only present a meagre account of him, at this date.

According to the Naemhshenchus, and other authorities, St. Conall descended from the Cinel Conaill. His father was Manius Coelius, son of Caither, son to Ennius, surnamed Bagan, son of Conall Gulban, according to the Genealogies of the Irish Saints. This holy man was Abbot over a monastery, which had been built in the Island of Inis-coel, near the mouth of Gweebarra River and Bay, on the coast of Donegal, adjoining Boylagh and Bannagh Baronies. St. Conall Cael was abbot here, and at an early period, in the history of our national church. A celebrated Christian poet, St. Dalian wrote a work, in praise of this saint; but, Colgan was not aware of its existence, in his own time. However, Dalian appears to have been his most intimate friend, and to have met his death, whilst visiting our saint, at his monastery. When that holy man's dead body was brought to Conald, the head being cut off and thrown into the ocean, our saint earnestly besought the Almighty, with fervent prayers and burning tears, to reveal that exact spot, where Dallen's head should be found. Shortly afterwards, it appeared floating on the waves, which bore it towards the shore. There, the head of Dalian was recovered; and, being united to the Martyr's trunk, it became firmly joined once more to the body.

Most probably, the 22nd day of May was that of St. Conall's death. The year of his departure is not known, but it occurred sometime in the seventh century, and this seems a probable opinion, when we come to examine his parent stem, and to compare it with that of the illustrious St. Columkille, among whose disciples this holy Abbot is classed. St. Conald Coel was buried in the church, or monastery, of Iniscoel. After the death of St. Conald Coel, his memory was held in due veneration, on the Island, where his feast was kept, on the 22nd of May. Not far from this island, on the mainland, there is a beautiful cascade, known as Eas-nangach, or the Wrinkled Cataract, descending from a great height, and tumbling down a mountain steep, near the hamlet of Lia-Conaill —no doubt, taking its name from the present holy Abbot. He is titular saint, however, and the most celebrated patron over a very extensive parish, Iniskeel, in which he is honoured with extraordinary devotion. Springing from the cavity of a rock on the Island, there is a celebrated well, which, with the church not far distant, bore our saint's name. It was yearly visited by a great concourse of pilgrims, on the 22nd of each returning May and the custom is still continued. A very curious relic, called the Bearnan Chonaill, or Bell of St. Conall, had long been preserved, in this immediate neighbourhood. That bell was enclosed in an elaborately ornamented case or shrine. There was an inscription on it, in black letter, but greatly defaced. The present St. Conall appears, also, to have been connected with a holy well and with a relig or cemetery at Bruckless, not far from Killybegs, in the parish of Killaghtee, barony of Banagh, and county of Donegal. Various interesting objects of antiquity are there preserved.

The entry regarding Conaill, Inse Cail, appears in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 22nd of May. According to the Martyrology of Donegal, veneration was paid on this day to Conall, Abbot of Inis Caoil, in Cinel Conaill. At this date, also, the Rev. Alban Butler places his festival, and he says, it was most famous. A festival of St. Conall, Abbot, is entered, likewise, in the Circle of the Seasons.

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