Wednesday 14 August 2013

Saint Fachtna of Ross, August 14

Below is an account of Saint Fachtna of Ross, who is commemorated on August 14. It has been excerpted from a series in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record dealing with the re-issuing of the eighteenth-century writer Mervyn Archdall's classic text Monasticon Hibernicum. The updated edition was edited by  the Catholic Bishop of Ossory, the Rt. Rev. P.F. Moran, who contributed copious notes to expand Archdall's original entries. 

St. Fachnan, in Irish Fachtna, who is also called Lachtna, is patron of the See, being founder of the monastery, and Bishop of Ross in the sixth century. He was a disciple of St. Finbarr in the famous school of Loch-Eirche, and before proceeding to Ross, was abbot of the Molana monastery, near Youghal. He also, like most of the contemporary saints of Ireland, received lessons of heavenly wisdom from St. Ita, the Brigid of Munster. Ross soon became so famous that crowds of students and religious flocked to it from all parts, so that it was distinguished by the name of Ross-ailithir, that is, Ross of the pilgrims. The birth of St. Fachnan, and the future greatness of his school, were foretold by St. Kiaran of Ossory, whose mother was of his family, and who himself was born in the territory of Ross, at a place still called Traigh-Ciaran (i.e., St. Kiaran's strand), in Cape Clear Island. St. Fachnan, having lost his sight by some accident when he was somewhat advanced in years, it was restored to him through the merits of St. Mochoemog, also called Pulcherius, who was then in his mother's womb, and whose future sanctity was foretold by St. Fachnan. It is also related of our saint that it was his daily habit to retire for silent recollection and private prayer to a secluded spot on the side of a hill, near the monastery. It happened that one day he left his scroll of prayers behind him. Rain fell heavily during the night, but in the morning his prayer-book was as dry as Gideon's fleece, for the angels had built a small chapel over it. The traces of this ancient oratory may still be seen. The precise date of the foundation of the celebrated monastery of Ross cannot be fixed with certainty. Ware says it was founded about the year 590, and his opinion has been adopted by later writers. It would, probably, be more accurate to place the foundation of the monastery before the year 570, and the death of the saint about the year 590. The Life of St. Mochaemog states, that it was by the advice of St. Ita that St. Fachtna proceeded from the monastery of Ross to the parents of Mochaemog, through whose merits his sight was restored to him. St. Brendan, patron of Kerry, is also mentioned among those who visited and gave lessons of heavenly wisdom in Ross. These two facts sufficiently prove that the monastery was established before the death of St. Brendan, which took place in 577, and of St. Ita, which is marked in our Annals in 570. 

In some Latin documents our saint receives the epithet “Fachtna facundus, "St. Fachtna the eloquent:" sometimes his name is simply Latinized Sanctus Facundus.

In the Irish records he generally receives the designation of Mac Mongach, i.e., " the hairy child," because at his birth his head was covered with hair : "Fachtna, Mongach quia cumcaesarie natus," as the Calendar of Cashel explains that name. This designation betrayed Usher and others into error when they style our saint filius Monghich, "the son of Mongach." The genealogy of St. Fachtna is thus accurately given in the ' Sanctilogium Genealogicum" : " Fachtna, the son of Maonaigh, the son of Cairill, the son of Fiachna, &c., descended from Lughad, son of Ith," and from the genealogical tables, we should conclude that the holy Bishop Brandubh, whose feast is kept on the 3rd of June, and Saints Casan and Cailcin, were brothers of our saint. The O'Driscolls, in whose territory Ross was founded, belonged to the same race, and made it one of their tribe-duties to enrich the monastery and church of their patron saint with lands and other endowments. After St. Fachnan twenty-seven bishops of his tribe ruled the See of Ross, as is thus expressed in the ancient quatrain preserved in the Book of Lecan :

" Seven and twenty bishops nobly
Occupied Ross of the truly fertile lands,
From Fachtna the melodious, the renowned,
To the well-ordered Episcopate of Dongalach."

The names of these bishops are not mentioned in our annals, only their number is recorded, and their jurisdiction, which was co-extensive with the territory of Corcalaidhe. This example should serve as a .warning to the student of our Ecclesiastical History not to infer from the silence of our annals in regard to other districts, either that there was no regular succession of bishops or that there were no fixed boundaries for the ancient Sees of the Irish Church.

St. Fachtna is commemorated in all our ancient Martyrologies on the 14th of August. The entry in the Martyrology of Donegal on 14th August seems, however, at first sight to exclude St. Fachtna from the See of Ross. The whole entry for that day is as follows: "Fachtna, Bishop and Abbot of Dairinis Maelanfaidh, in Hy-Cennselach ; forty-six years was his age, and he was of the race of Lughaidh. son of Ith, according to the Seanchus : Echlech, Cuimmen, and Caemhan, three sons of Daighre : Brocadh : Dinil." (Martyr, of Donegal, page 219.) Thus all mention is omitted of Rossaihthir. There is, however, some confusion in this entry, owing, probably, to a transposition of names. We are, happily, able to detect the error by the corresponding entry in the Martyrology of Tallaght, as preserved in the Roman fragment of the Book of Leinster, which is as follows : "XIX. Kalendas Septembris. Fachtna mac Mongan o Ros Ailithir : Dinil Macintsair : Mac-intsaeir, Episcopus et Abbas Darinsi Maelianfaid : Broccain Mac Lugdach : Cummini : Coemain : Aicclig." Thus, it was not St. Fachtna who was Abbot of Darinis Molana in Hy-Kinnselagh, but St. Mac-in-tsaer ; what, possibly, gave occasion to this confusion of names, was the tradition mentioned by Lynch, that St. Fachtna, before proceeding to Ross, was abbot of another monastery called also Molana, situated on the islet of Dair-inis, at the mouth of the Blackwater. See further mention of this monastery in Archdall, at the County Waterford.

In the Felire of St. Oengus, the name of St. Fachtna occurs in the strophe for the 14th of August :

" With the calling of Fortunatus,
Over the expansive sea of ships,
Mac-an-tsaer, the noble chief,
The festival of Fachtna mac Mongach."

So also he is commemorated on the same day in the metrical calendar of Manus O'Gorman :

"Great vigil of Mary :
Gregory, and the bright hero Felix,
The just Eusebius in their company :
The sons of Daigre, with Dinil ;
Let Brocad be in their presence :
Fachtna the smooth, fair, hairy son,
Eiclec, Cummen, Coeman,
Not narrow fences this structure."

St. Cuimin of Connor, in his beautiful poem on the characteristic virtues of the saints of Ireland, thus celebrates the zeal and devotedness of St. Fachtna :

"Fachtna, the generous and steadfast, loved
To instruct the crowds in concert,
He never spoke that which was mean,
Nor aught but what was pleasing to his Lord."

It is generally supposed that the St. Fachnan, patron of Ross, is the same with St. Fachnan, patron of Kilfenora. Two circumstances strongly confirm this identity, viz. : that their festivals are now kept on the same day, the 14th of August, and that the same tribe was dominant in both territories. However, Lynch informs us that in his time (1660) the feast of St. Fachtna, the holy founder of Kilfenora, was kept on the 20th of December.

Monasticon Hibernicum, or, A Short Account of the Monasteries of Ireland in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol VII,1871, 485-488.

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