Tuesday 11 June 2013

Saint Riagail of Bangor, June 11

The 11th of June sees the commemoration of a ninth-century Abbot of the famous monastery of Bangor, County Down. Although not much seems to be known of the specifics of Saint Riagail's life, the annals record his death at 881, at a time when Bangor was struggling to recover from the effects of Viking raids. The Annals of Ulster at the year 821 make the rather terse entry 'The heathens invaded Bennchor the Great' and this proved to be the first of a number of assaults on Saint Comgall's foundation. Indeed, when the raiders returned the following year, the Annals of the Four Masters depict the sacrilege perpetrated on the relics of Saint Comgall as the fulfillment of a prophecy the saint himself had made:

"The plundering of Beannchair by the foreigners; the oratory was broken, and the relics of Comhghall were shaken from the shrine in which they were, as Comhghall himself had foretold, when he said:

It will be true, true, by the will of the supreme King of kings,
My bones shall be brought, without defect, from the beloved Beannchair to Eantrobh."

Saint Riagail, as Comgall's successor, was thus faced with exercising his abbacy under conditions very different to those of the monastery's golden age. Canon O'Hanlon gives this short summary of the evidence from the Annals and Martyrologies:

St. Reghuil, Abbot of Bangor, County of Down.
[Ninth Century.]

At the 11th of June, the Martyrology of Tallagh records a festival, in honour of Riagail, Bennchair. He flourished in the ninth century, and at a time when Bangor had been wasted by the Northmen. It appears to have recovered somewhat, during the period of his rule over it. In the Annals of the Four Masters, the death of this saint, called Ragallach, Abbot of Beannchair, is entered at the year 881. The Martyrology of Donegal, at this day, moreover, enters Reghuil, of Bennchor. The feast of St. Regail, of Bangor, is found also in Rev. Dr. Reeves' Calendar, at the same day.

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