March 30 is the feastday of a well-travelled saint, Mochua or Cronan of Balla, County Mayo. The name Mochua is a hypocoristic form of the name Cronan (among others) and there are almost 60 saints of the name Mochua recorded in the list of homonymous saints. The saint of Balla has a surviving Life dating from the 14th or 15th century. Although he is now associated with the western province of Connaght, our saint is by birth an Ulsterman, who receives his monastic formation at the monastery of Bangor under the tutelage of its founder, Saint Comgall. Mochua is also linked in the hagiography to Saint Fechin of Fore before finally establishing his own foundation at Balla. The Life records various miracles, some of which involve the saint's abbatial emblems of authority - his bell and his baculus or staff- which Canon O'Hanlon is pleased to bring us in his account below, taken from Volume III of his Lives of the Irish Saints.
St. Mochua or Cronan, Abbot of Balla, County of Mayo.
[Sixth and Seventh Centuries ]
Among the saints of Connaught most venerated by its people—especially in Mayo—may be ranked the present holy man. The Bollandists have—in six chapters and twenty-one sections—the Acts of St. Mochua, or Cronan, of Balla, at the 1st of January. These were translated into Latin, from an Irish collection, and they were transmitted by Philip O'Sullevan Beare, from Madrid, in 1634. Not knowing the natal day of the present saint, these Acts were published, on the first day of the year. There are only a few verbal differences, between this and the version of it, as introduced by Colgan, in his work, at the present date.
To this legendary Irish Life, he has added some additional comments of his own, together with separate notes, illustrating the subject of his text. The father of our saint is called Becan, or Beggan, son of Barr, son to Nathi, son of Lugad, son to Dalann, in Ultonia, according to the Sanctilogy of the Irish Saints. His mother is called Comma—or according to another Manuscript Cumnea—the daughter of Conamal, son of Machtan, or Machadan, and she belonged to the Dalbuanican tribe. Besides two elder brothers, she had three sisters, Brusecha, Luchada, and Tudela. Somewhat more uncouth sickly, and lame, than their other children, the parents of Mochua formed a low opinion of his mental attainments, and they assigned to him the humble position of a shepherd. But, the Almighty, having regard to the virtues and future miraculous gifts of his servant, had other wise designs,which were destined to call him from his despised station, and to enrol him among the greatest men. Accordingly, when the justly-renowned Abbot and founder of Bangor, one day had entered Beccan's house—a vision of Angels flying over it attracting his attention—St. Comgall asked how many sons were in the family. The head of it replied, that only two boys were deserving of his notice, and two girls, while Mochua, then very young, was engaged in tending sheep. The Abbot desired to see him, nevertheless, and having a Divine intuition regarding his future sanctity, Comgall predicted, that Mochua should be promoted from his humble rank, to become a shepherd of men. Wherefore, the Abbot declared he should be transferred to the religious school of Bangor, and there he was brought up in a knowledge of sacred literature, and in a holy course of discipline. He wrought many miracles, likewise, as stated in the Irish Life. Among other favours granted, he prayed for a childless mother, and, soon afterwards, the conception of a holy son, called Dabius, took place.
While at Bangor, St. Mochua was greatly distinguished for his austerities, for his works of charity, and for his vigorous resistance to all the assaults of Satan. When thus tried sufficiently, Comgall ordered him to seek another place, and there to build a church and a monastery. Mochua asked his superior to indicate its proper site. Legendary, no doubt, is the statement, that St. Comgall pointed to a well, which was near, and directed that it should move to the spot, where Mochua was to establish his religious house; and, where it stopped, there it seemed to the holy Abbot, the Almighty should be pleased, if his disciple dwelt.
Having selected a colony of monks, and adopting the advice of St. Comgall, Mochua took leave of Bangor. The well seemed to rise in the guise of vapour, and to accompany the band in upper air, as if threatening to rain, while the atmosphere around was very bright and serene. The pilgrims stopped on their way, until the cloud preceded them. Mochua told his companions, they should follow it, and that they should only stop, wherever it rested. Accordingly, the cloud led them to the town, called Goelia, which was in the territory of Ferros. There Gabrenus, the Bishop, and the fellow-disciple of St. Mochua, lived. He was a most faithful friend, ready to resign his place to the visitor. But, because the cloud did not come down there, Mochua deemed it ineligible. Guided by the aerial sign,our saint next came to Fore, in Westmeath, where the celebrated Abbot Fechin then dwelt, with a great number of monks. The position of their monastery was beneath a dry hill, where a mill had been erected, by some workmen, while no water was found to turn it. It had just been finished,when Mochua arrived, and St. Fechin with other priests there thought, that through their visitor's merits, water must be supplied. After some consultation,it was resolved, that all should repair to Lough Lene, about two miles distant from the place. The architect, who had constructed that mill, was present, and he remarked, they had undertaken to accomplish a very arduous work. "To men, indeed, it seems difficult," said Mochua, "but to God, it is very easy." Then Mochua, with the end of his baculus slightly bored the ground, near the banks of the lake, while Fechin and the priests present acted in like manner. Immediately, the water began to pass through a subterranean channel, and under the adjoining hill, until it rushed out, with great force, on the opposite side. Thence, the stream was conveyed to the millwheels, which put in motion, both the upper and the lower grinding-stones.
However, Mochua had an intuition, that he must leave St. Fechin, and he then proceeded towards the Shannon river, which he crossed. There he was in the province of Connaught, and in the territory of Omania, or Hy-Many. There, too, he was very hospitably received by the queen, called Ballgela, and by her chiefs. They asked him to take up his residence with them, but he was obliged to visit Kellach, son of Ragallus, or Ragallach, who was King over Connaught, and who dwelt near the Lake Raminium. At this time, the king was engaged in the sport of hunting a stag, which driven to extremities bounded from a steep precipice, on the shore of the lake, and swam to a rock, which was surrounded by its waters. A singularly wild legend is then related, regarding a man, who, having heard from the lips of Mochua, that the Almighty could preserve from death, whosoever might swim after the stag he, with the concurrence of the king, plunged into the water, swam towards the rock, and killed the quarry. Afterwards, returning to the king, with his captive, the man was devoured by the lake monster, that was a cause of dread to all swimmers. The king reproached Mochua on account of the prediction he had given; but, the saint, betaking himself to prayer, the monster vomited forth unhurt that man he had swallowed, and thenceforth, no other person was ever known to have fallen within his jaws. The king and his attendants, greatly astonished at this miracle, gave thanks to the Almighty; and, thenceforward, Mochua was held in reverence and love, not alone by that ruler, but also by his successor, Kennfaela, the son of Colgan.
After leaving this place, he passed the river Rodba, or Robe, and came to the province of Keara. He was now in his thirty-fifth year, and he stopped at a town named Nemus Darbrechum, or Reo-Dairbrech. No longer did he observe the guiding cloud in the air, so that his anxious companions and himself began to look for the premised fountain, in that locality. While thus engaged, a rustic met them, and they were informed, that not far off, a well—never before discovered—had lately sprung up; and,as the Latin version has it, " Cinctum Balla, id est, lorica," got as a new name Balla, or Mochua Ballensis. Now it is known as Ballagh, or Ball, in Mayo County. Here, the saint and his companions recognised the subsiding well, which had moved from Bangor, in Ultonia, and giving thanks to God, they resolved on founding their monastery. However, the chieftain of Ofiachra, or Hy-Fiachra, and who is called Eacha Minnechus, was resolved on disputing his right, and with that intention, one hundred of his best men approached. But, while on their way, a multitude of beautiful Angels were seen flying over a grove, so that when they beheld the venerable Mochua himself, they were moved by his pious exhortations, and they willingly bestowed, not only the grove, but the adjacent fields, on God's holy servant, thus confirming the grant of King Kellach. There, Mochua caused a church to be built, and it was consecrated by three bishops. This place is distinguished, for the remains of a round tower, the upper part of which, although wanting, shows a measurement of fifty feet in height. The ruins of a small church are near it. The building stone and workmanship appear coeval with the tower. In one of the walls, an inscription of great antiquity is shown.
At Balla, or near it, our saint wrought many miracles. One of these was in favour of a woman, who complained that she was childless. Soon afterwards, she conceived and bore two sons: one was called Lukencaria and the other was named Scanlan. Another of his miracles caused four salmon, chased by sea-calves, to approach the nets of fishermen, who laboured in vain at their calling, before the arrival of our saint. Most of the miracles related are evidently of a legendary character, and could hardly deserve place in a serious narrative, save for some incidental statements, by which they are accompanied, and which have references to names of places and of persons, as also to old manners and customs. Thus, the use of his staff in drawing a line to separate sheep from their lambs, and his releasing from a ludicrous position the thief, who had stolen a great quantity of his wheat, and who had placed it in a sack on his back, but who could neither move a step, nor throw down his burden, may be instanced. Again, we are told, that Mochua had sent a messenger to one Felan. He was obliged to pass a long and narrow winding of the sea, having high and rocky precipices around it. Two fierce women, named Beca, daughter to Cuchorag, and Lithbena, daughter to Attreph, had each a basket, suspended by ropes, to intercept travelers passing one way or the other. Those viragos caught the letter-carrier of Mochua in their basket, about the middle of the recess, and then, they hauled it up from the ground. Being supernaturally admonished, regarding this misadventure of his servant, Mochua went thither to effect his release. For a time, the saint remonstrated with those women, and at last he redeemed the man from durance, Beca demanding his hood as a reward, while Lithbena did not require any price. The saint's exhortations, moreover, had the result of bringing those women and their fathers to a better course of life.
There was an island, called Inis Amalgaidh, Latinized, Insula Amalga, in the principality of Mogia, and this the holy man desired to enter, yet no boat was at hand. Praying to God, the land swelled to such a degree, that he was able to pass over with dry feet. He healed many persons, and among the rest, in the name of the Holy Trinity, he expelled a demon from a man long possessed. From Lathlech, son of Kennfaela, he removed a great and disagreeable tumour, which was transferred to his bell, and the man was healed. The yellow jaundice, or a great superabundance of bile in the system, was at that period a sort of plague, among the people of Muregide.The medical skill of all Ireland was tested, but without avail; wherefore, it was resolved by them, to implore the Divine aid, through the prayers ofMochua. No less than two thousand five hundred infected persons flocked to Balla. Their holy intercessor prayed; health succeeded, and the marked colour of their faces disappeared, having been transferred to the baculus of the saint. Thenceforward, it was known as "the pale staff." In token of gratitude, the Muregide and their posterity placed themselves under the protection of Mochua, in memory of their wonderful preservation and cure. A man paralysed was brought to the saint, who invoking the powerful name of Jesus restored him to the use of his limbs. Even Mochua is said to have brought to life a youth, who died, when he had prayed to the Almighty.
Having wrought these and other great wonders, in the sixty-fifth year of his age, the holy servant of God was called away, to enjoy the eternal reward of all his merits. His death is recorded, at A.D. 637, according to the Annals of Clonmacnoise. Those of the Island and of Senat Magh Nensis agree, in reference to the year. The Bollandists have a brief notice of Mochua de Balna in Kera regione de Conacie, at this date, as found in the Martyrology of Tallagh; while, they observe, he is called Mochua Balla primo Cronanus, by Marianus O'Gorman, In the published Martyrology of Tallagh. So we find, at the 30th of March, Cronan Balna, i Ceara, i Connachta. But, in the Franciscan copy, hardly so much remains legible, in connexion with his name and feast, at this date. St. Aengus in his Festilogy commemorates St. Mochua of Balla; so does the Calendar of Cashel, so does Marianus O'Gorman, and Cathal Maguire; and, all are agreed, in assigning his festival to this date. At the 30th of March, the Martyrology of Donegal records the feast of Mochua, Abbot of Balla, in Ceara, Connaught. This is all that can be related, and of an authentic character, regarding the present holy man.
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