September 25 is the feastday of Saint Finbarr (Findbarre, Barrind, Barra, Bairre, Barry) of Cork. He is a saint who can really be said to typify the differences in approach between today's hagiological scholars and those of the past. Modern scholars are working on the assumption that Finbarr of Cork is not a distinct individual, but a manifestation of the cult of the Briton, Uinnau or Ninian, who was also remembered as Finnian of Clonard and Finnian of Moville. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain edited the scholarly edition of the Life
of Saint Finbarr, the Beatha Bharra
, and also wrote an accompanying subsidiary publication 'The Making of a Saint: Finbarr of Cork 600-1200'
. Here is a summary:
Beginning with an account of the spread of the cult of St Finbarr countrywide from its probable place of origin in the North of Ireland, the author traces the history of the church and diocese of Cork down to about 1200, when the local bishop commissioned the earliest known Life of the saint. The historical circumstances that gave rise to the production of this Life, and of those that followed it, are then discussed in detail. Although spurious in almost every respect, the veracity of the biography composed for the saint remained in the main unchallenged until Professor Ó Riain reexamined it.
No such doubts, of course, were entertained about the identity of Saint Finbarr by previous generations and below is a 19th-century account of the saint which presents what was traditionally believed about him. The writer is Bishop (later Cardinal) P.F. Moran, who edited a revised version of the eighteenth-century clergyman antiquary Mervyn Archdall's classic text Monasticon Hibernicum. Bishop Moran added copious notes to expand the original entries, and the new publication was serialized in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, from which the following has been extracted:
The site of the present city of Cork was, in the beginning of the sixth century, a low, marshy tract, through the centre of which flowed the waters of the Lee. When this river overflowed its banks the whole country presented the appearance of an immense lake, which was called in those early times Lough Eirce.
It was at the source of the river Lee, near Lough Allua, that St. Finbarr erected his first cell ; and to the present day that district, now situated in the parish of Inchigeelagh, recalls his memory in the classic name of "Gougane Barra" which means " the lonely retreat of St. Finbarr." Thence, however, he soon removed to the banks of Lough Eirce, and erected there his chief school and monastery, which became so illustrious for its learning and sanctity, that innumerable students and pilgrims flocked to it from every part of our island. "Here in this solitude the saint laid the foundation of his monastic establishment : it grew rapidly, became a crowded city, a school for learning, a college for religion, a receptacle for holy men, a sanctuary for the oppressed, an asylum for the poor, an hospital for the sick." (Hairs Ireland, ii., 214.)
From the peculiarity of the site chosen for the monastery, the city received its name of Corcach Bascain, or simply Corcach, that is, 'a marsh.'
Colgan has given a short account of this famous school, and preserved the names of some of the most illustrious saints who flourished there: "After these things, St. Barra came to a place which in the Irish language is called Loch-Erce, near which he constructed a monastery, to which, as to the abode of wisdom, and sanctuary of all Christian virtues, disciples flowed in crowds from every quarter in so great numbers, through zeal of holiness, that, from the multitude of the monks and cells, it changed that desert, as it were, into a large city : for from that school which he instituted there, numerous men came, remarkable for holiness of life and the praise of learning, amongst whom were conspicuous St. Eulangius or Eulogius, the instructor of St. Barra himself, St. Colman, of Dore Dhunchon, St. Bathinus, St. Nessan, St. Garbhan, son of Findbarr, St. Talmach, St. Finchad of Rossailithir, St. Lucerus, St. Cumanus, St. Lochinus of Achadh-airaird, St. Carinus, St. Fintanus of Ros-coerach, St. Euhel de Roscoerach, St. Trellanus of Druimdraighniche, St. Coelchuo, St. Mogenna, St. Modimochus, St. Sanctanus, and St. Lugerius, son of Columb. All these, and many others that came from that very celebrated school, by the merits of holiness and virtue, constructed cells in different places, and consecrated themselves and all these to St. Barra, their father and master, and his successors." (Acta Sanctorum, p. 607.)
The name of St. Findbarr holds a prominent place in the early history of the Irish Church. St. Cuimin of Connor, in his poem on the characteristic virtues of our saints, writes :
"Fin-Barr, the torch of wisdom, loved
Humility towards all men ;
He never saw in pressing distress
Any one whom he would not relieve, "
To the ancient list of Irish saints, which illustrates their lives by comparison with the saints of other nations, St. Finbarr, who is styled "Bishop of Minister and Connaught," is placed in parallel with St. Augustine, the apostle of England.
(Liber Hymnorum, I.A.S., p. 70. )
The martyrology of Donegal marks St. Bairre's festival on the 25th of September. The martyrology of Tallaght on that day gives the feast of Barrind Corcaige, but adds, on the 26th of September vel hic. Barrind Corcaighe. In the famous Catalogue of the Three Orders of Irish Saints, published by Fleming and Usher, the name of S. Barrindeus appears among the saints of the second order. Marianus O'Gorman, in his metrical martyrology, prays:
"May the noble Baire from Corcach
Be before me to the great land,
For he is blooming-sweet to the poor."
St. Oengus, in his Felire, also commemorates on the 25th of September :
"The solemnity of the beloved man,
The festival of Bairre from Corcach."
And the note is added in the Leabhar Breac: "This is the festival of Bairre from Corcach : he was of the race of Brian, son of Eochaidh Muidhmhedhoinn, and it is in Achadh Cill-Clochair, or Drochait, in Aird-Uladh on this day with Bairre." There is evidently an omission in this note, which is thus supplied in the Roman MS. of the felire : "Of the race of Brian Mac Eochaidh M. was Bairre of Corcach, and it is in Achadh Cill-Clochair. or at Drochait in Aird-Uladh, that his festival is kept ; or it is the feast of Iomchadh that is kept in Cill-Clochair at Ard-Uladh on this day with Bairre."
Two ancient Latin lives of St. Finbarr were published by Mr. Caulfield in 1864. In the Irish life preserved in the Brussels MSS. the virtues of the saint are thus compendiated : "His humility, his piety, his charity, his abstinence, his prayers by day and by night, won him great privileges : for he was godlike and pure of heart and mind, like Abraham ; mild and well-doing, like Moyses; a psalmist, like David ; wise, like Solomon; firm in the laith, like Peter; devoted to the truth, like Paul the Apostle; and full of the Holy Spirit, like John the Baptist. He was a lion of strength, and an orchard full of apples of sweetness, When the time of his death arrived, after erecting churches and monasteries to God, and appointing over them bishops, priests, and other degrees, and baptising and blessing districts and people, Barra went to Kill na-Cluana (i.e. Cloyne), and with him went Fiana, at the desire of Cormac and Baoithin, where they consecrated two churches. Then he said, ' It is time for me to quit this corporeal prison, and to go to the heavenly King who is now calling me to Himself.' And then Barra was confessed, and received the Holy Sacrament from the hand of Fiana, and his soul went to heaven, at the cross which is in the middle of the Church of Cloyne ; and there came bishops, priests, monks, and disciples, on his death being reported, to honour him. And they took him to Cork, the place of his resurrection, honouring him with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs ; and the angels bore his soul with joy unspeakable to heaven, to the company of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and disciples of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
We will not attempt to give in detail any sketch of the life of this great saint. A few facts will suffice for our present purpose: "This most holy and elect of God, and most worthy priest, Barr(it is thus his ancient Latin life begins), was born of the sept called Ibruin-Ratha, of Connaught, whose territory in after times became the Diocese of Enaghdune." He had for his master a religious named Corporius, styled in our Irish calendars Mac-Cuirp, who himself had been trained to piety in Rome, in the monastery of St. Gregory the Great. St. Finbarr was remarkable for miracles from his infancy ; and it is recorded in his life that, in company with SS. Colgu, Maedhoc, and David, and twelve religious of his own monastery, he made a pilgrimage to Rome. St, Gregory the Great predicted his promotion to the episcopate, which was fulfilled on his return to Ireland ; and at the same time a fountain of oil, symbolical of the abundance of graces with which his ministry should enrich our Church, sprung forth in that spot, " close to the altar, where a cross was in after times erected, and where the saint's remains were also for a time deposited." (Lynch's MS. Hist.)
Having governed his monastery and see for seventeen years, St. Finbarr was summoned to his heavenly reward, and the 25th of September is marked in all the ancient calendars for his festival. It was at the monastery of Cloyne, fifteen miles from Cork, that St. Finbarr rested in peace ; but his remains were translated to his own great monastery, and being deposited for a while beneath the monumental cross at his cathedral church, they were subsequently encased in a silver shrine, and exposed to the veneration of the faithful. They were thus preserved till the year 1089, when, as the Annals of Innisfallen relate, "A fleet, with Dermot O'Brien, devastated Cork, and carried away the relics of Barre from Cill-na-Clerich."
St. Nessan, the immediate successor of St. Finbarr, was also renowned for his sanctity: he died in the year 551. So numerous were the holy men who flourished here, or wished their remains to be interred in the great Sanctuary of Lough-Eirce, that St. Oengus, about the year 800, writes:
"Seventeen holy bishops, and seven hundred favoured servants of God, who rest in Cork with Barri and Nessan, whose names are written in the heavens all these I invoke unto my aid, through Jesus Christ." And again, he invokes all the saints who, by their prayers and penitential deeds, had sanctified that district : "Three hundred and fifty holy bishops, three hundred and fifty priests, three hundred and fifty deacons, three hundred and fifty exorcists, three hundred and fifty lectors, three hundred and fifty ostiarii, and all the saints, with the blessing of God, in Loch Eirchi, in the territory of Muscraighe and Hy-Eachach Cruadha, as is said :
"The protection of Loch Irchi,
In which is a sweet-toned bell :
Numerous as leaves upon trees,
Are the saints who around it dwell.
"All these I invoke to my aid, through Jesus Christ." - (Irish Ecelesiastical Record, vol. iii., p. 391.)
Among the sacred treasures of Cork was preserved a copy of the Gospels, transcribed by St. Finbarr, and encased in a precious shrine: " Evangelium sacris Sancti Barrii digitis exscriptum librum gemmis auroque ornatum. " (Lynch's MS.)
Towards the close of the 10th century, Columb Mac Kieregan sent this relic, borne by two priests, as a protection to Mahoun Mac Kennedy, King of Munster. It was brought back stained with that prince's blood, and our annalists relate that Bishop Cormac, raising his hands to heaven, uttered a prophecy (inserted in the ' Wars of the Danes,' p. 93,) in which, execrating the dread sacrilege which had been perpetrated, he prophetically foretold the future fate of the murderers....
MONASTICON HIBERNICUM, OR, A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE ANCIENT MONASTERIES OF IRELAND.