Saturday 15 February 2014

Saint Farannan of Alternan and Iona, February 15

Below is an account of the life of a saint of the Columban family, Farannan, whose feast is commemorated on February 15. It has been abridged from the entry in O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints and reflects some of the best points about the good Canon's work. He is able to access the Life of the saint from Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae, itself a translation of an earlier Irish Life. Some points of interest to note are that this saint was related by blood as well as by spirit to the great Saint Colum Cille, that Farannan was one of many prominent ecclesiastics who attended the Convention at Drumceatt, and that he practiced the austerities associated with Irish monastics, praying while submerged in cold water and using a stone as a pillow while sleeping. The well and 'bed' thus associated with him became the focus for popular devotion, particularly interesting was the record that local people observed four separate periods of annual fasting in honour of the saint.


The Life of this saint had been originally written, in the Irish language, with great accuracy and judgment. It has been translated, into Latin, by Colgan. He states, that the original writer must have executed his task, after the year 1200. Colgan gives the Acts of St. Farannan, at the 15th of February, where our Irish hagiologist remarks, that this holy confessor was different from many other Irish saints, bearing the same name. The Bollandists have only a transient notice regarding him.

According to the Irish Life, Farannan was the son of Quintus or Constans, son to Colgan, or Colga, son to Edus, son of Finnbarr, son to Eugenius, or Eoghan, son to Niall of the Nine Hostages, Monarch of Ireland. But, the virtues of our saint were far more admirable, than his nobility of birth ; for, he was more solicitous to practise piety, than the vicious are to pursue false pleasures. Both by word and by action, he was careful to reprobate vice, and to promote virtue. He practised—and apparently from early youth—great austerities against the flesh ; while, his virtues and miracles spread his fame, throughout the whole island. His example was a salutary lesson to many, for the amendment of their lives. When duly promoted to a position in the Church, he preached the Holy Gospels, with much fruit and zeal. We are told in his Life, that our saint was contemporaneous with the great St. Columkille, who, burning with zeal for the propagation of the true faith, left his native island, for the shores of Albion, that he might gain a Christian conquest over the incredulous Picts. We are also informed, that St. Columba had another reason, for seeking these shores. Some intestine divisions and strife arising among members of his family, who stood high in rank and station, at home, the saint vainly endeavoured to restore peace. Not being able to succeed, he took a resolution of leaving his native country, to which he never intended to return. The Apostle of the Picts directed his course towards Iona, where having erected a noble monastery, he became a great promoter of monastic rules and practices. St. Forannan is classed among his disciples; but, whether his novitiate commenced in Ireland, or at Iona, does not appear to be well known.

The kindred of St. Columba, in Ireland, earnestly desired this saint's presence among them, and they sent frequent messages to induce his return. He constantly refused compliance with these entreaties, until a great public necessity compelled him to revisit his native island. His object was to effect a reconciliation between the Scots of Hibernia and those of Alba. A public convention or council was called at Dromceat, in order to deliberate on those special matters. Others, of great national and ecclesiastical importance, engaged the attention of this grand deliberative assembly.

St. Columkille had another object in view, by returning to Ireland. He greatly desired the release of Scanlan, son to Kinfalius, King of Ossory, who was detained in prison by Aidus, son to Anmirach, Monarch of Ireland. This Aidus was a kinsman to St. Columba himself. The latter succeeded in this endeavour, as also in his desire of effecting peace, between the belligerent parties, and princes of the period. He was detained for some time, in Ireland. There, as we are told, he exercised spiritual rule, over various communities of religious men and women. No doubt, in a restricted sense, this was quite true. "The Acts of St. Farannan have a statement, regarding Columba, that after St. Patrick the holy Abbot of Iona had supreme power in spiritual matters over all the monks and nuns, throughout Ireland.

Before returning to Britain, St. Columba founded a church in the territory Of Cairbre. This was called Druimcliabh. Thence, he went to a place, called Easdra and, here he was met by all the bishops of the surrounding country, and by many holy persons of both sexes. The place, where this assembly was held, seems to have been Easdara, as formerly called, and at present Ballysadare, in the county of Sligo. The author of our saint's Acts says, that of Cumne's race alone, there were many men and women renowned for their sanctity. She was the daughter of Dalbronnius and a sister to Brotsecha, the mother of St. Brigid. She was celebrated for her numerous and holy progeny.

In the year 574 or 575 some authors have it about 580, according to others, 587, or 590 St. Columkille, King Aidus, and several chieftains, having assisted at the great Council of Dromceat, St. Farannan was one among the many ecclesiastics who were present. In the Life of our saint, we are told, that many persons, illustrious for their wisdom, rank and sanctity, assisted at this council. Among these, we find named, St. Cuanus, St. Garuan, bishop, St. Colman, son to Eochod, and St. Baithen, son to Brendan. All of these were related to our saint. For, we are assured, that the foregoing saints were descended from five sons of King Niall of the Nine Hostages. Thus, St. Cuanus was a descendant of Ennius, St. Garuan of Conall Crimthann, St. Colman of Leogaire, and St. Farannan of Eugenius; while, Saints Columkille and Baithen were derived, from Conall Gulban. Afterwards, accompanied by many holy persons already named, St. Columba having passed beyond the shore called Traigh-Eothuile, he visited the region of Tyr-Fiachrach, where Tibradius, the son of Maelduin, lived. This prince bestowed on him tracts of land which were delightfully situated. They were given for the purpose of building three churches. He also endowed the churches which were to be built, with ample possessions. The first of these places was called Cnoc-ara maoile, at that time; but, afterwards, it obtained the name Scrin Adhamhnain, or the " shrine of Adamnan," from the saint of this name. This church was situated in the diocese of Killala, and in the territory of Tir Fhiachrach. It was celebrated for possessing many relics, a list of which Colgan promised to give, in his notes to the Life of St. Adamnan. It is needless to add, and much to be regretted, that Colgan did not live to accomplish his design. He, also, promised to say more, regarding this church, when that future opportunity should be presented. The eminence of Mullach Ruadha, now Mullaroe, or Red Hill, rises very near it. The second church was called Kill-Chuana, from St. Cuannan, or Cuanna, who had been set over the place, by St. Columba. The third of these sites, named All na fairgsiona, was conferred by St. Columba on our saint ; and from him, in course of time, it bore the name of All-Farannan. It is Anglicized,"St. Farannan's height" or "cliff,'' and, at present, it is known as Alternan, the name of a townland, in the east of the parish of Easkey, and adjoining the parish of Templeboy. It is in the barony of Tireragh, and county of Sligo. In the immediate vicinity of Alternan, there are four townlands, called Ballymeeny, i.e., O'Meeny's town, because this family possessed them, with Cluain na g-Cliabhach and Alt-Farannain, formerly occupied by O'Rothlain. At the latter place was to be seen Dubhach Fharannain, i.e. "St. Farannan's vat or keeve." His station was situated, in the diocese of Killala, and in the ancient territory of Tyr-Fiachrach.

In this place, the saint lived a most blameless and retired life. Here, he dwelt in a cave, which was buried in the recesses of a large wood. The situation of this cavern was opposite the waters of ocean ; on which, and on the wide vault of sky above, the eyes of Farannan were almost constantly directed. Being, as it were, an exile from earth, his regards were continually fixed on Heaven ; for, although residing in the world, his desires savoured not of its love. He was desirous to acquire virtue, as many others are desirous of obtaining riches; while, he was more severe towards his own body, than mere worldlings are indulgent to themselves in pleasure, and in the gratification of corporal wants. His first concern was to thank the Creator, for all his benefits and graces ; so that, the exercise of prayer was seldom intermitted, notwithstanding the discharge of other stringent occupations. He continually chanted the church hymns or the Psalms of David. Such strains frequently awoke echoes within his lonely cave, and through the surrounding wood, being wafted afar, even over surging waves, or towards the wide canopy of sky. Thus, spiritually did he unite with celestial choirs, in celebrating the power and majesty of Him, the great Master of Creation.

From these canticles, he drew forth subjects, which served for nightly contemplations. From the close of day until aurora he was occupied in continuous vigils, or in the exercises of penance. He remained, for some time, immersed in a well of cold water, up to the armpits. A fervour of spirit within enabled him to support this frigid element around him. This well formed a sort of basin, sunk in the middle of a stream, into which a cataract of falling water flowed; and, the devotion of the people, in this locality, afterwards surrounded it with a stone wall.

After emerging from his cold bath, Farannan passed the remaining part of night sleeping on the bare ground, in a sort of excavation, which did not even correspond with the natural proportions of his body; whilst a stone served for a pillow, and another rested against his feet. Here he snatched some short and uncomfortable rest. He arose before morning's dawn to celebrate the praises of God, by reciting his office of lauds. That receptacle for our saint's wearied and macerated limbs, afterwards received the name of "St. Farannan's Bed." In the time, when lived the anonymous author of our Saint's Life, many persons made special pilgrimages to the place, in which Farannan had spent his days, hoping to obtain various favours, through his pious invocation. Even, in the seventeenth century, it was frequented by multitudes, who were drawn thither, through devotional motives. It was also believed, that many persons, and even cattle, obtained relief from various disorders, through a veneration paid to our saint. Several individuals, lying down in his bed, and offering up to God, and to the saint, their pious prayers, were cured of divers diseases. Such, also, was the reverence entertained, for whatever object had even a remote connexion with St. Farannan, that the very wood which surrounded his cave was considered to be sacred ; and, it was looked upon, as an act of profanity, to remove a single branch from any of its trees. In some few instances, it is said, God's judgments were manifested in a remarkable manner, against those who had the tenacity to disregard such a popular sentiment of veneration.

It is somewhat remarkable, that the author of our Saint's Life, although stating his festival to have been kept, on the 15th day of this month, does not inform us, if it be the date of Forannan's death. The year of his departure, likewise, is left unrecorded. This holy man's fame survived him; yet, in the immediate place of his mortal pilgrimage, he seems to have passed under another name. Thus, St. Ernan's Well, and the saint's grave, are shown on either side of the stream, which runs by Alternan Park into the Atlantic Ocean.

The present saint is mentioned in the Martyrology of Tallagh, yet merely as Farrannan mac Aedha, at the 15th of February. The Martyrology of Donegal, on this day, records Forannan, son of Aedh. In after time, when this great saint had been called, to the possession of a celestial inheritance, his memory was held in great reverence, by people inhabiting the surrounding country. Many miracles were wrought through his intercession. It was believed by the local inhabitants, that men, or even animals, belonging to the brute creation, and affected with various distempers, often found restoration to health, either by laving in the water of the well, or by drinking it. On account of many miracles and benefits, thus obtained through this saint's intercession, the inhabitants in that part of the country, to manifest their gratitude, imposed on themselves four annual fasts. One of these was always kept on the vigil of his feast, and on three other days, namely, on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Yet the seasons, in which these latter days were kept, have not been recorded, for our information.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

No comments: