Tuesday 30 September 2014

Saint Lassar, Daughter of Lochan, September 30

Last year we remembered the commemoration of a mystery Saint Brigid at the end of September and this year we can remember an equally mysterious Saint Lassar. Canon O'Hanlon records what the Calendars have preserved of her memory:

St. Lassar, daughter of Lochain.

The published Martyrology of Tallagh registers a festival to honor Lassar, daughter of Lochan, at the 30th of September. Somewhat differently is she entered in the Book of Leinster copy. The record of Lassar is also found in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, on this day ; the commentator observes that she was daughter to Lochain. The feast of Lassar, daughter of Lochan, is entered in the Martyrology of Donegal at this date.

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Monday 29 September 2014

The Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland

As September 29 is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel I republish a 2009 post from my former blog which provides a sketch of the history of the feast in Ireland:

Canon O'Hanlon has a brief account of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland based on the surviving calendar entries for September 29:
In the Church from a very remote date, the Festival of this Head of the Angelic Host had been observed with special solemnity. In Ireland, St. Oengus the Culdee has pronounced a distinguished eulogy on him, at the 29th of September, in the "Feilire", thus translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Leabhar Breacc copy:

" At the fight against the multitudinous
Dragon of our Michael stout, victorious, the
soldier whitesided, hostful, will slay
Wrathful Antichrist."

Allusion is made to his fight with the Dragon and Anti-Christ. The Scholiast has comments which state, that Michael was Prince of the Angels, and that as a soldier he was the champion whose name is explained by 'sicut Deus' in Mount Garganus. In recording his feast at this day, Marianus O'Gorman addresses the Archangel Michael as a powerful intercessor:

"May the great Archangel Michael be a buckler to me against devils to protect my soul!"
I was intrigued by these references to Saint Michael and the battle with the Antichrist and went on to do some further reading on the subject. One of the papers I read posed the question:
The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed an extraordinary increase of interest in the archangel in western Europe. What explains the rapid growth of this cult during the period, especially in the years between 950 and 1050?
The author gives this answer:
1. The militancy of St Michael as a symbol for this turbulent epoch. This development of sacred militancy is unquestionably one of the principal reasons for the popularity of the saint.

2. Another is the increasing prominence given to St Michael as a personal protector of every Christian soul, the angelic cura animarum. Some of this interest stems from the western discovery of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius in the 9th century, with his attention to the hierarchy of spirits and the function of the archangels as messengers. Yet some of it also arises from the Celtic tradition in which during the Middle Ages St Michael was seen as a soulmate, one responsible for conducting each person after death to Judgment. Out of this tradition would come the image of Michael with his scales weighing the souls at Judgment, an image that would later become so prominent on the western facade of Gothic cathedrals.

3. A third aspect of the increasing importance of the archangel in this period is his apocalyptic role. How do we account for the growing interest in the apocalyptic Michael?...
He then looked specifically at the cult of the Archangel in Ireland:
As in so many other aspects of the Christian life of the early Middle Ages, Ireland seems also to have been a harbinger in its early interest in the cult of the apocalyptic Michael. A good example is found in the occurence of the feast of St Michael in 767. A terrifying thunder storm created a wave of panic in which the Irish, convinced the Last Judgment was about to occur, begged the archangel to intercede for them:

'The fair of the clapping of hands [so called] because terrific and horrible signs appeared at the time, which were like unto the signs of the day of judgment, namely great thunder and lightning, so that it was insufferable to all to hear the one and see the other. Fear and horror seized the men of Ireland, so that their religious seniors ordered them to make two fasts, together with fervent prayer and one meal between them, to protect and save them from a pestilence, precisely at Michaelmas. Hence came the Lamhchomart, which was called the fire from heaven' (Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters from the Earliest Period to the year 1616, ed. J O'Donovan, Vol I (Dublin 1851), pp 370-73.) The Annals of Ulster list the event under 771.

The presence of Michael in Ireland seems more manifest in a number of ways in the 10th and early 11th centuries. The archangel was depicted with his scales on a high cross at Monasterboice. He also appears in the concluding portion of the great Irish epic of salvation history, the Saltaird, c.988. In this work of over 8,000 lines, which seems to have served as one of the foundations for the later medieval interest in the Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday, Michael will summon all to the Last Judgment:

'The archangel will call a clear call over the clay of every man, upon Adam's strong seed: all the many will arise". (Lines 8229-32 of the Saltair na Rann).

The growing importance of this archangel for the Irish is additionally confirmed by the fact that sometime in the period between 950 and 1044, the most famous site dedicated to him in Ireland had his name attached to it. The jagged peak jutting 700 feet almost straight up out of the Atlantic twenty miles off the south-west Irish coast became, not simply Skellig, but Skellig Michael.

Daniel Callahan, The Cult of St Michael the Archangel and the "Terrors of the Year 1000" in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050 by Richard Allen Landes, Andrew Gow, David C. Van Meter (Oxford Univ Press US, 2003)181-204.

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Sunday 28 September 2014

Saint Dairi the Widow, September 28

September 28 is the feast of the interesting Saint Sinach Mac Dara, whose memory remains fresh among the people of the west coast of Ireland. He shares his feastday with a number of other Irish saints, among them a holy widow called Dairi. In the Irish language the word for a widow, baintreach, means literally 'a woman who ploughs', presumably because in the absence of her husband a widow is forced to undertake this arduous work for herself. Not that the Irish female saints were any strangers to hard work on the land, their Lives record that Saint Brigid herded sheep and churned butter and Saint Moninne's community preserved her hoe as a sacred relic long after her death. What the circumstances of Saint Dairi's life were I do not know, Canon O'Hanlon is able to bring us only a notice of her at this date in the Martyrology of Donegal:

St. Dairi, a Holy Widow.

We read in the Martyrology of Donegal that veneration was given to Dairi, a holy Widow, at the 28th of September. In the table, postfixed to this Martyrology, her name and distinctive state is Latinized Daria, Vidua.

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Saturday 27 September 2014

Saint Fintan, September 27

September 27 is the commemoration of one of the many Irish saints who bear the name of Fintan (Fionntain). In his account of the saint below, Canon O'Hanlon makes the case for Saint Fintan of Howth and engages in an illustrated discourse on the remaining ruins at this County Dublin site, only to finish up by saying that he doesn't have any evidence that this is the Saint Fintan commemorated today! I find this a charming, if occasionally irritating, feature of Canon O'Hanlon's work and even if we cannot conclude that the Fintan named on the Irish calendars at September 27 is Saint Fintan of Howth, I welcome the opportunity to learn of him.

St. Fionntain, or Fintan.

Nothing particular appears to be known regarding this St. Fionntain, whose name occurs, in the Irish Calendars at this date. The entry of Fintan's feast at the present day is noticed, in a line of Marianus O'Gorman's Irish metrical Festilogy. [It is translated as follows by Dr. Whitley Stokes:" Fintan himself against plunderings."] Among the many holy men having the same name, and without any other designation, it seems difficult to know when and where he lived. On the peninsula of Howth, in the vicinity of Dublin, and at a considerable elevation on the Hill, may be seen the small church or oratory of a St. Fintan. It is supposed to have been formed out of the "survivals" of at least two churches—it may be of more—one of which was of much greater dimensions than the present church, and the other was about the same size as the structure now extant. The present "St. Fintan's" appears to stand partly on the site of that early oratory. An examination of the foundations shows, that they are laid at two levels. Evidence for such conclusions are seemingly afforded, by the peculiar stone dressings of the apertures, such as found in the door, small windows, and interior recesses. There is a gable over the western door, now covered with ivy, but having an ope for a bell in its upper part; while between it and the door-way, there is a recessed circular window. The whole of the interior had been plastered with mortar, and the exterior was dashed; but, both the mortar and the dashing have fallen off, leaving only an indication that the walls had been thus treated. At the western end are traces showing, that the ends of beams resting on the side walls supported a loft, while light was afforded only from the circular window already mentioned.

A short distance from the church is the holy well of St. Fintan, but any tradition of the day when pilgrims resorted to it has not been preserved in the locality to give a possible clue, which might serve for the patron's identification. An ancient cemetery surrounds the oratory, and there are still to be seen several tombs and graves. The scenery around St. Fintan's Oratory has been described and admirably versified in a local legend, which introduces Aideen as the heroine, and records her rest under a remarkable Cromlech, in the adjoining beautiful demesne of Lord Howth. From the simple entry of his name, at this date, we do not feel warranted in connecting the present Fintan with this locality; neither is it established, on any fair grounds, that any other so called had been venerated at Howth. We find Fionntain merely set down in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the 27th of September, and the same notice is in the Irish Calendar, belonging to the Ordnance Survey Records.

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Friday 26 September 2014

Saint Colman of Ros Branduibh, September 26

September 26 is the commemoration of Saint Colman of Lann Elo, author of that wonderful collection of Irish monastic wisdom, The Alphabet of Devotion. This famous saint Colman shares his feast with another lesser-known saint of the same name, Colman of Ros Branduibh, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Colman, of Ros Branduibh.

We read in the published Martyrology of Tallagh that veneration was given, at the 26th of September, to Colman, of Ruis Branduib... A similar entry is found, at this date, in the Book of Leinster copy. Where Ruis or Ros Branduib was located we cannot ascertain. At the 26th of September, Marianus O'Gorman notices the festival of a second Colman of Ross. In a Manuscript Calendar of Professor Eugene O'Curry, Colman is named, likewise, for this day. There is a Rosbran, in the parish of St. John's, partly in the baronies of Narragh and Reban West, County of Kildare, and partly in the barony of Ballyadams, Queen's County. This is probably the nearest Irish denomination, approaching to Ros Branduibh, which can now be found; but, it is possible, some better identification may be imagined. At this same date, the Martyrology of Donegal records the name Colman, of Ros-Branduibh.

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Thursday 25 September 2014

Saint Iomchaidh of Kill Drochoid, September 25

On September 25 we commemorate a northern saint of the Ards peninsula, Iomchaidh of Kill Drochoid. His name appears on the earliest of the Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght, at this date and the 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman adds 'of Cell droichit in Ard Ulad'. The Anglican scholar bishop, William Reeves, notes the feast of Saint Iomchaidh on the calendar of saints he appended to his work on the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore, and comments:

Kill Droichid, - 'Church of the Bridge'. Now unknown. There is no river in the Ards deserving a bridge except the Blackstaff which divided the Great and Little Ards. Near this was the chapel of Gransha. (note d, p.380).

The Catholic diocesan historian, Father James O'Laverty, made another suggestion in Volume 1 of his Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor:

In the townland of Lisban there are the remains of an extensive early Christian cemetery; its site is now in part occupied by the house and farmyard of Mr. Patrick M'Grath, into the wall of whose stable is built a stone, on which is inscribed a cross. The graves in that cemetery were lined and covered with flag-stones, and in many of them were found remains of the ferns, on which were cushioned the heads of the dead. This was probably the site of "the chapel of Moyndele," which, with the church of Ardkeen, was valued in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas at ten marks.

There was in the Ards a church called Kil-droichid (the Church of the Bridge), in which the festival of St. Iomchaidh was celebrated on the 25th of September —"Iomchaidh of Cill-droichit in Ard Uladh." There is no river in the Ards which in ancient times would have been spanned by a bridge except, perhaps the Blackstaff, but it is probable that a bridge may have been built over an inlet of Lough Strangford, immediately below the site of this ancient church, in the townland of Lisban, which therefore may, with probability, lay claim to be the Kill-droichid of St. Iomchaidh.

In the townland of Gransha (Grainseach—a grange) was an ancient church, which, as it stood not far from the Blackstaff River, may have been the Kill droichid already referred to...

In his account in Volume 9 of the Lives of the Irish Saints, Canon O'Hanlon can do no more then reprise this information:

St. Iomchaidh, of Kill Drochoid, County or Down.

In the published Martyrology of Tallagh, as also in the Book of Leinster copy, we find the simple entry, Imchad, at the 25th of September. In the Feilire of Marianus O'Gorman, his name, place and feast are entered at the 25th of September. From the name of this Saint's locality, it must be Anglicised, "Church of the Bridge." Doubt exists as to the exact place where this Saint had been venerated, within that peninsula called the Ards of Ulster. There is no river in the Ards, deserving a bridge, except the Blackstaff, which divides the Great and Little Ards. The chapel of Grangia or Gransha, a townland at the south end of Inishargy parish, was situated near the Blackstaff river. The name of Iomchaidh is also entered in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date, as being of Cilldroichit, in Ard Uladh.

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Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Daughters of Cainnech, September 24

When I first saw the notice for The Daughters of Cainnech in the list of contents of saints commemorated on September 24 in Volume 9 of the Lives of the Irish Saints, I assumed that Canon O'Hanlon would be unable to bring us any details apart from the notices from the calendars. In this case, however, a County Waterford priest had written to the author with details of the lineage and locality of these holy women, whom he linked to Saint Declan. Cainnech's daughters are only one of a number of similar filial groupings recorded on the Irish calendars, the most famous of which is probably the Daughters of Leinin, whose name lives on in the County Dublin placename now Anglicized as Killiney. In some of these cases, like Leinin's daughters or the Daughters of Comgall who are commemorated on January 22, tradition records the names of the individuals who make up the group. That doesn't seem to be the case here, but the locality where the daughters of Cainnech flourished is firmly identified with Molough, near Clonmel, County Tipperary. In the 14th century the Butler family founded a nunnery dedicated to Saint Brigid of Kildare on the site, and I have reproduced the details and sketch of the ruins.

The Daughters of Cainnech, or Maghlocha, County of Tipperary. [Sixth Century.]
According to the manuscript and published Martyrology of Tallagh, the Daughters of Cainnech had veneration paid them, at the 24th of September. The Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman commemorates the festival of Cainnech's chaste daughters, at this same day. The glossographer adds, that they belonged to Maigh Locha. Their parentage and locality have been fully identified. These holy women were the children of a chieftain who lived in the time of St. Declan, patron of Ardmore, and whose castle had been saved from fire by the latter. Their place was formerly called Magh Locha, now Molough, near the great bend of the River Suir, and not many miles from Clonmel, in the County of Tipperary. There they seem to have lived in religious retirement, most probably some time in the sixth century. Of their lives, however, we find no record.

Long after that time, their place is said to have been the site for a nunnery, dedicated to St. Brigid, in the former diocese of Lismore. It is mentioned by Archdall, as being in the County of Tipperary; but, he is wrong in placing it near Carrick-on-Suir. The ruins of the old nunnery of Moylough are situated on level ground, about one furlong north of the River Suir. In the year 1840, two parts of this building remained, viz., a chapel and a lateral house; but, from the fragments of walls about them, it appeared to have been a habitation of considerable extent. The church or chapel remaining was then in a tolerable state of preservation, extending from east to west, and measuring in length on the inside 60 feet, in breadth it was 27 feet, 6 inches. Two windows were in the east gable, constructed of chiselled and brownish sand-stone. There were three windows on the southwall, but these were much disfigured and built up with rough masonry. The door-way was on the south wall, and at a distance of fourteen feet from the west gable; it was constructed of chiselled and ornamental lime-stone on the outside, and of chiselled sand-stone on the inside. The west gable had been surmounted by a belfry, having two semi-circular arches, constructed of brownish and chiselled sand-stone. The lateral house extended to the northwest of the chapel, and touching it at the north-west corner. It was fifty-five feet in length on the outside, and twenty-seven in breadth. Its walls were three feet six inches in thickness, and about fourteen feet in height.

In the Martyrology of Donegal, their festival is also inserted, at the 24th of September.

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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Saint Connich Mic Luachain, September 23

September 23 is the feast of one of the most learned and gifted saints Ireland ever produced, Adamnan of Iona. He shares his feastday on the Irish calendars with two lesser-known male saints, one of whom is a Saint Connich or Conaing Mic Luachain. As Canon O'Hanlon's entry for this saint will make clear, his precise identity has not been established. The earliest of the calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght, simply gives the name Connich and adds the patronymic 'mic Luachain', son of Luachan, without any further specifics. The great 17th-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, suggested that our saint may be the same individual as a Saint Conaing who features in the hagiography of Saint Mochoemoc. It was also suggested that he may have been a saint of this name who is mentioned in the Life of Saint Molagga. Canon O'Hanlon himself plumps for the notion that he is the Conaing Ua Daint, successor to Saint Ailbhe of Emly, whose death is recorded in various Irish annals between 657 and 660. None of these sources, however, seem to include the use of the saint's distinguishing patronymic, and although Canon O'Hanlon does not come out and say so, it seems that we cannot identify the Connich or Conaing commemorated on September 23 with any certainty:

St. Conaing, or Connich Mic Luachain.

The manuscript and published Martyrologies of Tallagh register a festival, at the 23rd of September, in honour of Connich, son of Luachain. He is also entered at this date in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, whose commentator calls him Mac Lucunain, or the Son of Lucunain. In Colgan's opinion, the present holy man appears to be identical with a certain Conagius, who is mentioned in the Acts of St. Mochoemoc, Abbot of Liathmor. He is also thought to have been the Conangius O'Daithil, who is mentioned in the Life of St. Molagga. At the year 660, we meet the death of Conaing Ua Daint, Abbot of Imleach Ibhair, or Emly, recorded. The Irish accords with the foregoing spelling of the name. St. Alveus was first Abbot and Bishop of Emly, as would appear from his Life. The successor of St. Alveus, the present Conangius, appears to be the Saint bearing such name, whose Natalis was observed on the 23rd of September, and who is called son to Luachan, by the Martyrology of Tallagh, by Marianus O'Gorman, and by the commentator on St. Aengus. There was a chapelry of a St. Cunning, in the parish of Carncastle, County of Antrim, supposed to have been Tulach or Killchonadhain, mentioned in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick. The present Saint's festival is found in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this day.

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Monday 22 September 2014

Saint Colmán of Midhe-Iseal, September 22

September 22 is the feast day of one of the many saints named Colman to be found in the Irish calendars. This particular Saint Colmán is identified by both his patronym and his locality but Canon O'Hanlon was unable to bring any further details:
St. Colman, Son of Cathbhadh, of Midhe-iseal. 
At the 22nd of September, the Martyrology of Tallagh records a festival to honour Colman, son of Cathbhadh, of Midisiul. The O'Clerys state, that Aighlenn, daughter of Lenin, was his mother. That his parents had well fulfilled their duties towards their son seems to admit of little doubt. With the other saints venerated on this day, Marianus O'Gorman calls on godly, pure-coloured Colman, son of Cathbad, to help us. The commentator adds, that he belonged to Midhisiul, interpreted Lower Meath. At the same date, the Martyrology of Donegal has an entry of Colman, son of Cathbhadh, from Mide isiul.
Modern scholarship, however, has more to say of this saint. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain's 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints identifies a Columban association for Saint Colmán and says that he features in the Life of Saint Colum Cille by Saint Adamnan. Midhe-Iseal, modern Myshall, County Carlow is not his only associated locality, for he is also linked to Slanore, County Cavan and to Ros Glanna, County Tyrone.  Nor is September 22 his only feast day for he is credited with another commemoration on September 6. If that weren't enough he is described in the calendars at September 6 as the son of Eochaidh rather than Cathbhadh. Thus, what initially appeared to be a case of just another obscure saint about whom Canon O'Hanlon struggled to write more than a few lines, is actually more complex. I propose therefore to follow up on the Columban references and bring a fresh account of the saint on his other feast day of September 6. In the meantime I can only echo the call of Marianus O'Gorman: godly, pure-coloured Colman, son of Cathbad, to help us!

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Sunday 21 September 2014

Saint Sárán of Lesan, September 21

September 21 is the feast of Saint Sárán of Lesan. There are 12 saints of this name listed in the Martyrology of Donegal, our saint is distinguished by the use of his patronymic, son of Tighernach. He is associated in that calendar with the placename Lesan in Sliabh Callan, which a note appended to one of the manuscript copies of the Martyrology of Donegal identifies as Lessan, County Derry. He is also associated with a second locality, Cluainda-acra in Cechair. In a chapter dealing with the parish of Clooney, County Clare in his book The History and Topography of the County of Clare, James Frost writes of this place:
In the Martyrology of Donegal, under the date of the 21st of September, is found the following entry:—“Saran, son of Tighernach, son of Maenach of Lesan, in Sliabh Callann, and of Cluain-da-acra, in Cehair.” O’Curry was of opinion that this Cluain-da-acra might be the Clooney of Corcomroe.[44] The church is much ruined by time. At a little distance is a holy well dedicated to St. Flannan, where rounds are yet made. In a townland of the parish, called Killeighnagh is a small burial-ground, and in another place named Mooghna, is noticed a little grave-yard and well styled Tobar Mooghna, used by persons suffering from sore eyes.

[44] See his Letter in the Ordnance Survey Papers relating to Clare, in Royal Irish Academy Library, Vol. xiv., B. 23, p. 314.

Professor Ó Riain, however, in his Dictionary Of Irish Saints locates the Cheachair on the Longford and Leitrim border.  

Canon O'Hanlon has this short account of our saint in Volume IX of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Saran mac Tiagharnaigh of Lesan, on Mount Callan, and of Cluain da-acra in Cheachair.

The name, Saran mac Trenaich, is found in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 19th of September; and this entry seems referable to the present date. The O'Clerys state, that the present holy man was the son of Tighernach, son of Maenach. At the end of those saints he commemorates at the 21st of September, Marianus O'Gorman celebrates with eulogy this holy man, invoking his intercession and that of others in the following manner: "Saran, the goodley gem, Tigernach's son, whom I choose: may they fly with me past tribulation to starry heaven as I ask!" The Irish comment on the text runs: Saran mac Tigernaigh meic Maenaigh ó Lesan i Sliabh Callann ocus o Cluain dá acra isin Cechair. Thus rendered into English: Saran, son of Tigernach, son of Maenach, from Lessan in Sliab Callann and Cluain da Acra in the Cechair.

At this date, we read in the Martyrology of Donegal, that Saran was of Lesan—said to be identical with Lessan, Londonderry County —in the Sliabh Callann, and of Cluainda-acra, in Cechair. There is a repetition, at this date, of his name, paternity and places, in the Irish Ordnance Survey Copy of the O'Clerys' Irish Calendar. A corresponding account is to be found in a manuscript copy of that Calendar, once in Mr. O'Curry's possession. The foregoing entry in the Martyrology has been extracted to furnish it.

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Saturday 20 September 2014

Saint Doroma, September 20

On September 20 we have a notice of another of our enigmatic female saints, Doroma or Daroma. The Martyrology of Oengus describes her as a 'queen':
D. xii. cal. Octobris.
Attecham na hóga
doairset ar nhdala,
ind rígain Daroma
cona slóg ron-snáda!
20. Let us beseech the virgins,
may they visit our assemblies!
may the queen Daroma
with her host protect us!
although the notes added by a later anonymous commentator describe her rather more prosaically as a 'virgin' and reduce her 'host' to 'five companions':
20. Doroma .i. uirgo. L. cum .u. socis suis.

20. Doroma, i.e. a virgin with her five companions.
I find this notice intriguing and would love to have some further details of this holy lady, but alas, that was a task which defeated Canon O'Hanlon, as he admits below:
Festival of Doroma.
The Feilire of St. Aengus has a festival at the 20th of September, for a queen named Doroma and a commentator in the Leabhar Breac copy has notes, which hardly give any additional intelligence regarding her. Nowhere can I find what might serve to throw light on her name, period or place.

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Friday 19 September 2014

Saint Comgell, September 19

September 19 is the commemoration of an elusive Irish female saint, Comgell. Her name is recorded on the earliest surviving Irish calendar, the Martyrology of Tallaght, as Comgell, virgin, and her feast is also noted on the later Martyrologies of Marianus O'Gorman and of Donegal. Like so many of our holy women, however, we have no details of when and where she flourished, thus Canon O'Hanlon can only bring us the details from the calendars:
St. Comgell or Caomhgheall, Virgin.
A festival in honour of Comgell or Caomhgheall, Virgin, is found registered in the published Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 19th of September, although the 16th of October Kalends—corresponding with the 16th of September—is substituted. A similar error occurs in the Book of Leinster entry of her name. At this same date, Marianus O'Gorman commemorates Comgell, noticed by his commentator as having been a virgin. In the Martyrology of Donegal, she is commemorated at the 19th of September.

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Thursday 18 September 2014

Saint Richardis of Swabia, September 18

Among the saints listed for September 18, Canon O'Hanlon includes an entry for a European Empress, Richardis of Swabia. Hers is a rather startling story, the wife of Emperor Charles the Fat, she was accused of adultery with her husband's chancellor and subjected to the trial of ordeal by fire. Needless to say, she survived and retired to a monastery. It seems that there was some tradition of her having been born in Scotia and thus some of the later hagiologists claim her for Ireland. In the early middle ages it was common for Ireland to be known in Latin as Scotia and only later for the term to be applied to what we now know as Scotland.  Canon O'Hanlon rarely has any difficulty in going along with the claims of sixteenth/seventeenth-century hagiologists that the offspring of alleged 'Scottish' kings can be listed among the Irish saints, although whether there actually was any link to this country is another question.

Feast of St. Richarde or Richardis, Empress and Virgin.

This saintly and noble lady is referred to, at the 18th of September, by Platius, Henry Fitzsimon, and the anonymous list of Irish Saints, published by O'Sullivan Beare, a have her classed among the Irish Saints. The Bollandists have inserted such accounts as could be collected regarding this holy woman, at this date, in a historic sylloge. They tell us, that by some recent writers, St. Richardis is said to have been born in Scotia, and to have been the daughter of a Scottish king. However, this account has been rejected and refuted by Matthew Rader. Other writers think she was born in Alsace, and that she was daughter to the Count Erchangier, of Nordgau. She was renowned for her virtues, and married the Emperor Charles le Gros. With him she was crowned and consecrated, A.D. 881, by the Sovereign Pontiff John VIII. Notwithstanding that she lived with her husband in a state of virginity, she was accused of incontinency; but, by a public trial her innocence was fully proved. With consent of the Emperor she quitted the Court and retired to Andlau on the Lower Rhine, where they had founded and endowed a monastery. There she lived for many years. After death various miracles attested her sanctity. When Pope St. Leo IX. passed through Alsace A.D. 1049, he had the body of St. Richardis raised and placed in a grand monument behind the high altar. The parish church of Etival, in the diocese of St. Die, still preserves some relics of St. Richardis, but the rich shrine which once contained them perished during the excesses of the French Revolution. It seems to have been Colgan's desire to publish her Acts, at this same date, as we find Richardis Imperatricis mentioned on the posthumous list of his MSS.

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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Saint Grellan of Hy-Many, September 17

September 17 is one of the feastdays of Saint Grellan, patron of the district of Hy-Many. An account of his life forms the lead article for this day in Volume 9 of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints. Most of the account is taken up with a long discourse on the legendary founder of the tribes of Hy-Many and of battles with the Firbolgs etc. I have omitted all of this and also the closing account of the O'Kelly family who claim Saint Grellan as a particular patron. If you would like to read this material however, you can view Canon O'Hanlon's The Life of Saint Grellan, Patron of the O'Kellys and of the Tribes of Hy-Maine as a separate booklet here or the complete entry from The Lives of the Irish Saints in a nicely-formatted pdf version here. It seems that there is a degree of confusion around the time when Saint Grellan flourished, some of his hagiographers have sought to place him in the time of Saint Patrick, which would place him in the fifth century, the 17th-century hagiologist Father John Colgan, however, believed him to have been a disciple of Saint Finian of Clonard and a participant at the Columban Synod of Easdra which would place him a century later. When time permits I shall try to see what more recent scholarship has to say. The picture of Saint Grellan on the left was taken by Andreas F. Borchert at Saint Michael's parish church at Ballinasloe, County Galway.

St. Grellan, Patron of Hy-Maine, Counties of Galway and Roscommon. [Fifth or Sixth Centuries.]

Besides the universal reverence and love, with which Ireland regards the memory of her great Apostle, St. Patrick, most of our provincial districts and their families of distinction have patron saints, for whom a special veneration is entertained. Among the latter, St. Grellan's name is connected with his favoured locality. The extensive territory of Hy-Many is fairly defined, by describing the northern line as running from Ballymoe, County of Galway, to Lanesborough, at the head of Lough Ree, on the River Shannon, and in the County of Roscommon. It extended nearly due east and west, taking in all the southern part of this last-named county. The eastern boundary ran along the River Shannon's course, from Lanesborough to Scariff, in Clare County, and west of Lough Derg. Thence, the southern and western boundaries proceeded by Feacle, on Lough Graney, County of Clare, and passed some distance west of Loughrea to Athenry; thence, they continued through Killererin parish, near Tuam, and on to Ballymoe. All of these last-mentioned localities are situated within the County of Galway.

OF this holy man Lives have been written; while one of them is to be found in a Manuscript of the Royal Irish Academy, and another among the Irish Manuscripts, in the Royal Library of Bruxelles. Extracts containing biographical memoranda relating to him are given by Colgan, and in a much fuller form by Dr. John O'Donovan, as taken from the Book of Lecan. There is also a notice of him, in the "Dictionary of Christian Biography." Colgan promised to present his Life in full, at the 10th of November; but he did not live to fulfil such promise.

It is to be regretted, that so few biographical particulars have been given in the only brief accounts we can find, regarding the Patron of Hy-Many. A very ancient copy of St. Grellan's Life is quoted by Duald Mac Firbis in his Genealogical Book, as a proof of the existence of the Firbolgs in the province of Connaught, after the period of the introduction of Christianity; and, also, it is cited, by Gratianus Lucius, in his "Cambrensis Eversus," as a proof of the fact, which he thinks it establishes, namely, that the ancient Irish paid tithes. No vellum copy of this Life is now in Dublin. There is an Irish Life of St. Grellan in paper, and transcribed by Brother Michael O'Clery. It is kept in a thick quarto volume, among the Manuscripts of the Burgundian Library, at Bruxelles. Besides this, there is a paper copy of his Life —probably containing similar matter — and preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, among its manuscripts. The Life of St. Grellan is in a quarto Miscellany of 352 written pages, copied by James Maguire, a good and faithful scribe, according to Eugene O'Curry. This transcript was finished in the year 1721, and in some place called Dubhbhaile (Black-Town). The pages are written in double columns, and chiefly Lives of Saints are to be found in it. The Life of St. Greallan is contained there, from page 235 to 240.

The usual name given to this holy man is Grellan, or Greallain, in Irish, and this has been Latinized into Grellanus. Dr. Lynch writes of him as Grillan, when alluding to the Patron of Hy-Many, in his celebrated work. According to the accounts we have of the saint, he was a contemporary with St. Patrick, and he must have flourished about the close of the fifth century. He is classed among the Irish Apostle's disciples, and this too is stated, in the tenth chapter of his own Life. He also obtained the episcopal rank, being renowned for his sanctity and miracles.

His father's name was Cuillin son of Cairbre Cluaisderg, of the Lagenians, while Eithne was the name of his mother. He was born in the time of St. Patrick, as the first chapter of his Irish Life states, and a legend is there introduced, as serving to illustrate the prognostications of his subsequent distinguished career, and especially accompanying the event of his birth.

In the time of Lugaidh Mac Laoighaire Mac Neill, a great thunderstorm was heard by all the men of Erinn, and they were astonished at its unusual loudness. They asked Patrick, the son of Alpin, what it portended. He answered, that Greallan was then born, and that he had been only six months in his mother's womb, at the time. Hence, we should infer, that he came into the world towards the close of the fifth century. Wars and commotions are said to have prevailed in Ireland, at the advent of our saint's birth. We are told, likewise, that Greallan had been fostered by one named Cairbre, probably a relation among his family connexions.

Among the many other cares of his mission, St. Patrick took charge of Greallan's education, and made him a companion. He enrolled this young disciple amongst his brethren, taking him to Ath-Cliath, Dublinne when he went there. This must have been after the middle of the fifth century. Then is quoted a poem, in which St. Patrick said, that a noble person should be in the land of Leinster. This promise was an allusion to our saint, whose purity and virtues are there praised.

A kinsman to the celebrated Colla da Chrioch chieftain in Ulster possessed great influence in Hy-Many, a territory of the Firbolgs, in the time of St. Patrick, when he is said to have visited Echin, the son of Brian, son of Eachach, King of Connaught. Eachin refused to be converted, but all his brothers embraced the faith. Eoghan, who was son to Duach Gallach, one of Eachin's brothers, was afterwards baptised by St. Grellan. On this occasion a great miracle was wrought, at a place called Achadh Fionnabhrach. When only a child, Eoghan had died, to the inexpressible grief of his parents. However, when St. Grellan beheld this afflicting state of affairs, he raised his staff, and then applied it to the body of their child. This touch caused him to be resuscitated, and it impressed a mark on their son, which was afterwards visible. As a consequence, he bore the name, by which he was best known, namely, Eoghan Scriabh, or "Owen the Striped." The miraculous crozier was thenceforward held in great veneration. It is said, that Duach Gallach was a Christian, having been baptised by St. Patrick, while the wife of Echin, called Fortrui, was aunt to St. Benignus, a favourite disciple of the Irish Apostle. The latter proclaimed that he should be a king, and that from his race kings should proceed. In fine, Eachin was baptised at Kilbennin, near Tuam.

At Achadh Fionnabhrach, Duach Gallach bestowed a tract of land, and he gave possession of it to St. Grellan. The name was even changed — owing to this peculiarity of circumstance — from Achadh Fionnabhrach to that of Craobh Greallain, which signifies, the "Branch of Grellan." This name is said in his Irish Life to have been owing to a branch, which Duach and St. Patrick gave our saint in token of possession. Here, east of Magh-Luirg, this saint is said to have built a Church, before the arrival of Maine-Mor in Connaught. When alluding to Craobh Ghreallain, Mr. O'Curry remarks, that he believed its precise situation was not known. As a token of the veneration for our saint, Duach required that every chieftain's wife should give seven garments as a tribute to Grellan and, for payment of this ecclesiastical assessment, the guarantee of St. Patrick had been asked and obtained afterwards by the local Patron.

...Afterwards, St. Grellan selected at Kilcloony the site for a church. There he built on a rising ground, or Eiscir, a little distance to the north-west of Ballinasloe town. Some ruins are yet remaining there, but it would be altogether hazardous to assert the walls date back to the fifth century. The Irish were accustomed to impose voluntary assessments of the nature, already indicated by the record we have quoted, to mark their consideration and respect for those distinguished by their ministerial works. It is stated, in the Irish Life of St. Grellan, that he received the first offspring of any brood animal; such as hog, and lamb, and foal, in Hy-Many. These tributes were regularly paid to the successors of the holy man in the church honoured by his presence and labours during life.

Notwithstanding the statements in his own Irish Life, that St. Grellan flourished in the time of St. Patrick, it seems most likely he was not then born, and, moreover, it has been stated, his father's name was Natfraich, that Grellan had been a disciple to St. Finian of Clonard, and that he assisted at the great Council at Easdra, held by St. Columkille before he returned to Scotland; wherefore, Colgan was justified in placing his career at A.D. 590. Whether or not he lived in the seventh century cannot be ascertained from any known record.

St. Grellan was honoured with particular devotion in the Church of Killcluian, diocese of Clonfert, on the 17th of September. On this day his feast occurs, according to Marianus O'Gorman, our traditions and Calendars, while he seems to have had a second festival, at the 10th of November. It seems strange, that at neither day he is mentioned in the Feilire of St. Aengus the Culdee, nor is the date for his death recorded in our Annals. However, we may fairly assume, that he lived on, until near the close of the sixth century.

St. Grellan is the principal patron of those portions of Galway and Roscommon counties, formerly known by the designation of Hy-Many; and, for many centuries, even to the present age, the crozier of St. Grellan had been preserved in the territory. Dr. Lynch declares also, that in his time this pastoral staff of St. Grellan was held in great veneration. A relic of this kind, when used as a standard, was usually called cathach, i.e., proeliator, such as the celebrated cathach of St. Columkille. This crozier of St. Grellan was preserved for ages, in the family of O'Cronghaile, or Cronelly, who were the ancient Comharbas of the saint. This term of Comharba had moreover an ecclesiastical meaning, and according to the usages which prevailed in early times, and in our country, generally it signified successor in a see, church, or monastery; but, in due course, it had a wider signification, and the Comhorba was regarded as the vicar — a legal representative of the Patron Saint, or founder of the Church. But, the word Comhorba is not exclusively ecclesiastical; for in the ancient laws of Erin, it meant the heir and conservator of the inheritance; and, in the latter sense, it is always used, in our ecclesiastical writings. The crozier of St. Grellan was in existence, so late as the year 1836, it being then in the possession of a poor man, named John Cronelly, the senior representative of the Comharbas of the saint, who lived near Ahascra, in the east of the county of Galway; but, it is not to be found at present, in that county. It was probably sold to some collector of antiquities, and it is not now known to be in the possession of any person; yet it seems incredible, that such an interesting relic could have been lost, as we have been enabled to ascertain the fact of its preservation to a comparatively recent period.

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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Saint Criotán of Bangor, September 16

Among the saints commemorated on the Irish calendars on September 16 is Saint Criotán of the County Down monastery of Bangor. The Martyrology of Gorman describes this seventh-century monastic as Criotán Certronnach Celloir Comhgaill Bennchair, which the editor, Whitley Stokes, translated as 'Critán, the Justly-Dividing, Comgall of Benchor's cellarer'.  The Martyrology of Donegal's entry expands on this to include something of the saint's genealogy:
CRIOTAN CERTRONNACH, Cellarer of Comhgall, of Bennchor.  
Eithne, daughter of Saran son of Colgan, and sister of Ronan, was the mother of Criotan Certronnach; who was so called because he used to divide fairly.
The editor's note explains that certronnach, 'divide fairly' derives from the Irish cert, 'right', 'just' and roinn or rann, 'a division'.

Saint Comgall is the founder of Bangor and thus Saint Criotán is a member of the monastic household, holding a specific office within it. Father John Ryan, in his classic study of Irish monasticism, discusses the office of cellarer, whose responsibilities are perhaps rather more important than one might think:
The cellarer (ceallóir or coic) had under his charge not only the kitchen, but the supplies upon which the kitchen depended. He had, therefore, to be a man in whom the fullest reliance could be placed. Over-generosity on his part might lead to unbecoming ease and laxity, whilst an all too rigorous regime might lead to murmuring, discouragement and discontent. Even Caesarius of Arles proved a failure when appointed to fill this office at Lérins, and had to be superseded by another. Hence much might be said in justification of a statement made in one of the later rules that the discipline of the community depends on the cellarer. [This statement is from the Rule of Ailbe, 32: 'as the food is, so will the order be'.]
John Ryan S.J., Irish Monasticism - Origins and Early Development, (2nd. edition, Dublin, 1972), 274 .

 It would seem therefore that our saint made a success of his office and was awarded the epithet of 'the justly-dividing' in recognition. We can conclude with Canon O'Hanlon's account from Volume IX of his Lives of the Irish Saints:
St. Criotan, or Critan Certronnach of Bangor, County of Down.

[Seventh Century.]

An entry of Critain is found in the Book of Leinster copy of the Martyrology of Tallagh for the 16th day of September; but, it is omitted from the published edition of Rev. Dr. Kelly. However, the festival of Critan is found in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, at this date. Veneration was given, at the 16th of September, as we find set down in the Martyrology of Donegal, to Criotan Certronnach, Cellarer of Comhgall, of Bennchor. Eithne, daughter to Saran, son of Colgan, and sister to Ronan, was the mother of this Criotan Certronnach, who was so called because he used to divide fairly. The present Saint is entered in our Calendars without such a distinction; and, therefore, we may doubt, if he filled any higher office than that of Cellarer in the Monastery. The Annals of Ulster and of the Four Masters placed his death under the year 668. The Annals of Clonmacnoise enter his decease previously to this date, and on the same year, A.D. 665, with Mochua, or Mochuo, son of Ust, who is also called Abbot of Bangor.

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Monday 15 September 2014

Saint Lassar of Clonmore, September 15

September 15 is the commemoration of one of more than a dozen female saints who bear the name of Lassar. I have given a list of the others on the page dealing with homonymous saints here. The task of separating these individuals is not made any easier by the association of today's holy lady with the place name Clonmore. Clonmore is an anglicisation of the Irish cluain mór, the large meadow and is itself shared by localities throughout the island. The most famous in terms of ecclesiastical sites is perhaps Clonmore, County Carlow and in his account below Canon O'Hanlon is informed by one of his correspondents that this is indeed the Clonmore of our saint. If this is so, she is the only female saint I have come across in connection with this monastery whose two most well-known saints are the founder Maedoc and the zealous relic collector Saint Onchu. Finally, the calendarist Marianus O'Gorman's description of Saint Lassar as bright and shining is a reference to the fact that her name is derived from the old Irish word for flame.

St. Lassar of Clonmore.

This pious Virgin, St. Lassair, of Cluain-mor, was venerated at the 15th of September, as we read in the Martyrologies of Tallagh. The name of Lasra, Lassar, Lassera or Lassair was not an unusual one among the Irish female Saints.  Of these, some are distinguished by their patronymics; others by their connexion with a particular locality; while others are not recognizable under either category. The present St. Lassar is said to have been of Cluain-mor. Many places, bearing the name of Clonmore, are found in various parts of Ireland. Mr. John McCall informs the writer, however, that the place of this holy virgin was Clonmore Maedhoc, now Clonmore, in the County of Carlow, which place has been already described at the 8th of February, when treating about St. Oncho or Onchuo, Confessor. At the 15th of September, the bright St. Lassar is invoked in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, as the shining one who is not decrepit. A commentator adds, that she was of Cluana Moir. At the present date, likewise, Lassar is noticed in the Martyrology of Donegal.  The same entry occurs in the Irish Calendar, belonging to the Ordnance Survey Records.

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Sunday 14 September 2014

'The Exaltation of Dear Christ's Cross'

September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which the 12th-century calendarist, Marianus O'Gorman, describes as 'the Exaltation of dear Christ's Cross, the great, pure, diademed standard'. Father John Ryan, in his classic work on Irish monasticism, has written of the use of the sign of the cross by the Irish monastic saints:

To invoke the divine aid against these evil powers the sign of the cross was in constant use. St. Columban, during his meditations in the woods near Luxeuil put that holy sign on his forehead frequently as a form of armour. His monks did the same whenever they left the monastery. Columban's successor at Luxeuil, the abbot Athala, had a cross erected outside his cell, so that when going out or returning he could lay his hand upon it before putting the sign of salvation upon his brow. A torch when lighted by a junior monk had to be handed to a senior to be thus blessed, and spoons when used at table had to be treated similarly by the brethern. In Iona the same custom prevailed; for it is recorded that St Columcille was displeased when the holy sign was not placed on a milk vessel (Adamnan ii, 16). The 'signum salutare' might be placed on tools and used for various pious purposes. When his uncle Ernan died suddenly on the way from the harbour to the monastery, a cross was raised on the spot where life failed him and another on the spot where Columcille stood awaiting his approach. Another cross, fixed securely in a large millstone, was erected in the place where the old white horse wept for the saint's approaching end just before his death. Caesarius of Arles shows that the practice of signing oneself with the sign of the cross was very common in Gaul. St. Patrick made the sign of the cross upon himself a hundred times during the day and night, and never passed a cross upon the wayside without alighting from his chariot and spending a while beside it in prayer. St. Jerome said it could not be made too frequently. The hermits in the Egyptian desert were wont to make the holy sign over their food and drink, before they took their repast, and one of them is credited with the statement that "where the cross passes the evil in anything is powerless."

Rev. John Ryan, S.J., Irish Monasticism - Origins and Early Development (2nd edn. 1972, reprinted Irish Academic Press, 1986), 234-235.

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Saturday 13 September 2014

Saint Mael Tolaigh of Drumbeg, September 13

Among the saints commemorated on the Irish calendars at September 13 is an obscure County Down saint who rejoices in the name of Mael Tolaig. His locality, Drumbeg, was noted by the scholarly Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, in a note (e) on page 46 of his work on the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore:

Drum.—Now Drumbeg parish.—Ord. Survey, s. 9, Down; s. 64, Antrim. The church occupies the ancient site, on a hill in the county of Down, commonly called the Drum. The parish is intersected by the river Lagan, and was sometimes styled Drom in the Lagan. The Irish word Lagan signifies, according to Mr. O' Donovan, "a hollow, or hollow district between hills or mountains" ( Hy Fiachrach, p. 223), and is applied to tracts in the counties of Mayo and Donegal. At the Dissolution, the rectory of this parish was appropriate to the abbey of Moville.

Canon O'Hanlon's account  brings the details from the calendars:

St. Maeltolaigh, of Drumbeg Parish, County of Down. 

The Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman enters the feast of Mael Tolaig, "of the strong effort," at the 13th of September. In the Martyrology of Donegal, it is mentioned, that Maeltolaigh, of Druim Niadh, in Ulster, was venerated at the same day. The place is now known, as being included within the present parish of Drumbeg, intersected by the River Lagan, and situated partly in the County of Down and partly in the County of Antrim. The Protestant church occupies the ancient site, on a hill, commonly called the Drum, in the County of Down.

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Friday 12 September 2014

Prayer of Saint Molaisse to the Holy Spirit

September 12 is the feast of Saint Molaisse of Devenish, a saint from the beautiful lakeland county of Fermanagh. A prayer attributed to Saint Molaisse was published as part of an occasional series 'Fragments from the Early Irish Church' in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which I reprint below:

1. Prayer of St. Molaissi, Abbot of Devenish. The following short poem of St. Molaissi is preserved in the ancient Liber Hymnorum, a MS. of the tenth century. There are three famous saints of the name Molaissi, in the Irish calendars, viz., St. Molaissi, son of Cairill, Abbot and Bishop of Leighlin, whose feast day is the 18th of April; St. Molaissi, son of Dealan, Abbot of Inishmurray, on 12th August; and St. Molaissi, son of Nadfraich, Abbot of Daimhinis, on the 12th of September. The Irish poem which we now publish has merely the title " Moelisa dixit", i.e., Molaissi composed this poem. But as it is attached to a Latin hymn which bears the title " Incipit imnus Lasriain, id est, Molasse Daminnse" " Here begins the hymn of Laserian, i.e., Molaissi of Devenish", all doubt is removed as to its author.

St. Molaissi of Devenish flourished in the sixth century and his death is registered in the Chronicon Scotorum, in 564: " Molaise of Daimhinis quievit" [1] in the Annals of Ulster and of the Four Masters the entry is made under the year 563. He founded a famous church and monastery in the island of Daimhinis, i.e., " Bovium insula", now Devenish in Loch Erne, not far from the present town of Enniskillen. A beautiful round tower and the ruins of the old monastery still adorn the island (Petrie's Round Towers, pp. 355, 395).

In the Felire of St. Oengus the Culdee, the name of St. Molaissi is commemorated with other saints on the 12th of September as follows:

" Celebrate the festival of Ailbhe
With Fedh, the bright, protecting,
With the festival of Laisren the chosen,
From Daiminis of the assemblies". [2]

A gloss also is added to the original text, and from it we learn that St. Molaissi was only in his thirtieth year when he attained his crown, and that he himself described his monastery in the following verse :

" A happy land we have found,
A broad lake in Sliabh Achad,
A common resort for the Gaels,
The beloved abode of God the Father".

In the curious and very ancient Irish tale entitled " The Courtship of Bec Fola", there is a passage relative to our saint which illustrates the customs of our island in those early times. Four chieftains had challenged their rivals to meet them in deadly strife in the island of Daimhinis. On the appointed day they proceeded thither in their richest attire. Seven of the combatants were soon numbered among the dead, and the only surviving one was severely wounded. The bodies of the slain were interred by St. Molaissi, and he sent four of his religious to the monarch Diarmaid, to know what was his pleasure regarding their weapons and rich ornaments. It was on a Sunday that these messengers reached the monarch's abode, and it being unlawful for the clergy to travel about on the Lord's day, it is added that Diarmaid " drew his cloak over his head that he might not see the strangers". The religious, however, told him that it was "by order of their superior and not for their own pleasure" that they had undertaken this journey: and having detailed the circumstances of the combat, they thus continued :

" The chieftains left behind them as much gold and silver as two men could carry, i.e., of the gold and silver that was on their garments and on their necks, and on their shields, and on their spears, and on their swords and on their hands, and on their tunics. We have come to know what portion of this booty you desire". The king replied: " That which God has sent to Molaissi, I shall not take from him : let him make his reliquaries of it": and the narrative adds: " This indeed was verified, for with that silver and gold, the reliquaries of Molaissi were ornamented, viz., his shrine, and his ministir [3] and his crozier".[4]

St Cuimin of Connor flourished about a hundred years later and in his poem on the Characteristic virtues of the Irish Saints, he thus speaks of Saint Molaissi:

" Molaissi, of the lake, loved
To live in a cell of hard stone :
A strangers' home for the men of Erin,
Without refusal, without a sign of inhospitality" .

Many other particulars connected with St. Molassai may be found in Lanigan, vol. ii. pag. 218. We now present to our readers the sweet prayer which he composed.


"May the Holy Spirit be around us
Be in us and be with us :
May the Holy Spirit come to us,
O Christ, forthwith.

The Holy Spirit, to abide in
Our bodies and our souls,
To protect us unto Jerusalem
From dangers, from diseases,

From demons, from sins,
From hell with all its evils:
O Jesus, may thy Spirit
Sanctify us, save us".

[1] Chron. Scotorum, trans, and edit, by W. M. Hennessy, Esq., for the Master of the Rolls. London, 1866, page 57.

[2] Leabhar Breac, fol. 48, a.

[3] O'Donovan in his Ir. Gr., pag. 438, explains ministir as indicating " a portable relic". It seems to me to be derived from the Latin word Ministerium, which often occurs in medieval writings, and which is explained by Du Cange as "mensulam juxtaaltare, in qua reponuntnr vasa ad sacrificium idonea". Our venerable Irish Abbot Dungal, in 814, when sending some silver to a brother abbot in France, thus explains the purposes for which he wished it to be employed: "Volo rogare, si vobis facile est ut iubeatis uni bono et perito de vestris fabricare illud et facere inde ministerium, calicem et patenam" (Jaffa's Monumenta Carolina. Berlin, 1867, pag. 436). It would thus be something like a portable safe for containing the sacred vessels, and perhaps the Gospels or Lectionary for the service of the altar.

[4] Copies of this tale are preserved in MS. H. 2. 16, and H. 3. 18 (T. C. D.), and in the O'Curry MSS. Catholic University.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record Vol 5, 1869, 224-227

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Thursday 11 September 2014

Saint Loarn of Bright, September 11

September 11 is the feast of Saint Loarn of Bright, County Down. He is a saint known from Patrician hagiography and Canon O'Hanlon draws upon these sources in his account below which I've broken up into sections to help make it a little easier to digest:


OUR early Pastors and teachers were truly Apostolic men. The spiritual father, as a ghostly adviser and director of his people, always attracted his flock to the practice of virtues, which he preached, not less by word, than by example. Even after death, his influences remain, and affect religiously generations that survive. Colgan promised to treat about St. Loarn, on the day for his festival, which by Marianus O'Gorman and others has been placed, at the 11th of September. This intention he did not live to accomplish, and we are not aware, that any special acts of St. Loarn now exist. According to the O'Clerys, the present holy man was the son of Darerca, sister of St. Patrick's and consequently he was a nephew of the great Irish Apostle. However, we cannot place too much reliance on this statement. But few particulars have been preserved, in reference to him. Incidentally we are told, in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, that  when the Irish Apostle was in the North of Ireland, and returning from his unsuccessful visit to his old master Milcho at Slemish, he went to Saul, and thence set out southwards towards the residence of a chief named Ros, who was brother to his first convert, Dichu. That Ross or Rus lived in Derlus, to the south of Dun-leth-glaise, now Downpatrick. Whether Loarn lived there at that time or not seems doubtful; but, it is probable, that soon after the conversion of Ros, he was appointed to rule there in the capacity of a chorepiscopus. This saint is classed among the disciples of St. Patrick and, it is likely, he was a convert to the Faith, at an early stage of the Irish  Apostle's mission. The ancient fort of Ros, known as Durlas, formerly an earthen rath, probably stood where the Castle of Bright may now be seen.
The parish of Bright, in the County of Down, was formerly known as Brettain or Brettan. In old documents, this place is variously called Brict, Brich, Brett, Bratten, Brettain, and Brichten. We are informed, that the townland, in which the Protestant church of Bright was situated, is named  Ballintubber—the town of the Well—from a remarkable spring a quarter of a mile to the north of the church, and which is supposed to have been the ancient holy well, where Ros-mic-Trichim had been baptised. This church was built in 1745, by the distinguished Protestant Dean of Down, Dr. Patrick Delany,  and the friend of the still more celebrated Dean of St. Patrick's, Dr. Jonathan Swift. St. Loarn, who was contemporaneous with St. Patrick, presided over it, in the capacity of a bishop. The church of Bright stood beside the ancient fort called Derlus, where, it seems probable, the Anglo-Normans of Lecale afterwards erected the Castle of Bright. Colgan very incorrectly infers, that the author of St. Patrick's Tripartite Life must have lived contemporaneously with this saint, from an  equivocal phrase introduced. Archdall has it, that Loarne was bishop or abbot at Bretain.

In the Acts of our national Apostle, a curious legend is related regarding St. Loarn, who was present at the grave of St. Patrick, when the top, belonging to a boy who was there playing with other boys, rolled into a hole made in the holy man's sepulchre. One of these playmates endeavoured to draw forth the top, but found his hand firmly held. St. Loarn was sent for and he came to the spot. Then addressing St. Patrick, he cried out: "Why, O holy senior, do you hold the hand of this innocent child?" Immediately the boy's hand was loosed from this thrall.

The modern Protestant church of Bright occupies the original site of the ancient structure, and near it are the ruins of an old castle. The church itself was a dependency on the See of Down before the Anglo-Norman Invasion; and about A.D. 1178 John De Courcey confirmed its possessions to Malachy, Bishop of that See. Shortly afterwards, under the name of Brichten, Malachy annexed it to the Abbey of St. Patrick, of which he was ex officio abbot. The church and the grave-yard surrounding it are situated on a high natural bank of earth, from which the descent is very rapid on the north and south sides ; but the other sides are on a level with the adjacent fields.  The church-yard is about an acre in extent. A fosse, about twenty feet broad and ten or twelve feet deep, was on the northern side. This fosse extended from the western termination of the high bank to the end of that same bank. On the south side and with the banks, it enclosed about two and a half Irish acres.  Some notices of this church occur in our mediaeval rolls and annals.  In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV., the Church of Brich was valued at Eight Marks; or rather in that of Pope Clement V., and carried out A.D. 1306. During the Invasion of Ireland, by Edward Bruce, the Scots and Irish burned the Church of Bright, it being full of persons of both sexes at the time. After the Dissolution, the tithes of Bright were leased in 1583 to the Earl of Kildare. In 1609, Bright alias Beaten was annexed, by charter, to the Deanery of Down. In 1622, its church was returned by the Protestant Bishop as in ruins. These were removed when the Protestant church was built. In the adjoining fields stone-lined graves are frequently found.
According to the Martyrology of Donegal, a festival was celebrated at the 11th of September, in honour of Loarnn, Bishop of Cill Chunna. The only modern parish denomination we find resembling Cill Chunna is the present Kilcooney, in the barony of Clare and County of Galway; yet, it does not seem this had any special connection with the present Saint. In a passage of the Martyrology of Donegal, St. Loarn is called Bishop of Inrec Nechtain. However, the correct reading is Inrechan, or Inreathan. This is described as a "civitatula" or little city, and it has been identified with Breatain or Bright. The site of 'his ancient church is now occupied by the Protestant house of worship.
According to Colgan's conjecture, in all probability, St. Loarn did not survive beyond the middle of the sixth century, or the year 540; but as we have already seen, his opinion rests on the false supposition, that the second writer of St. Patrick's Life lived contemporaneously with Loarn. However, it seems likely enough, this holy man lived into the earlier part of the sixth century. At the iii. of the September Ides—corresponding with the present date—his feast is entered by Marianus O'Gorman, and in the local Calendar, compiled by the Rev. William Reeves.

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Wednesday 10 September 2014

Saint Senach, son of Buidi, September 10

September 10 is the feast of Saint Senach, son of Buidi. His name first appears in the earliest of the Irish calendars, The Martyrology of Tallaght, but as it's a name shared by an number of saints it is difficult for Canon O'Hanlon to bring specific details, although he concentrates on the saint Senach with Patrician associations in his account below:

St. Senach, son of Buidi.

[Possibly in the Fifth Century.]

Veneration was given to a Senaig Gairbh—as he is called—at the 10th of September, according to the published Martyrology of Tallagh. In that copy contained in the Book or Leinster, while we have Senaig Gairb on one line in large letters, mac buidi seem to follow in smaller characters in the space underneath, and immediately over Findbair. There is a saint of this name, who was placed by St. Patrick to rule over the church of Achadh-fobhuir as a bishop. This lay in the western part of Connaught.

In our Ecclesiastical Calendars, there are several persons bearing the name of Senach. One occurs in Tirechan's List. It is not improbable, that he may have been Senach of Aghagower. This was in the territory of Umalia or Hymalia. Yet, it is not certain, that he can be identified more with the present, than with any other bearing the name and mentioned in our Calendars. The following account is given by Jocelyn, in his Life of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. In the place, which is named Achadfobhair, St. Patrick had built and endowed a church with fair possessions; and, over it he appointed and consecrated as bishop Sennach, who, for the innocency of his heart, was called the Lamb of God. And he, being so consecrated, entreated of the saint that with unceasing prayer, he should labour with the Lord, to shield him in his office from the commission of all sin. Furthermore, he suppliantly besought, that the church over which he presided might not be called by his name, as was in many places the custom among the Irish people. And this he did, to preserve his lowliness, and to avoid vain glory, which is the fretting moth of all virtues. Then, understanding the worthiness of Sennach, and the simplicity of his heart, St. Patrick promised to him the fulfilment of all his desires. Blessing him and his flock, St. Patrick prophesied, that therefrom should proceed many holy and eminent priests. Serving in exceeding holiness the Holy of Holies, and being renowned for his miracles and for his virtues, Sennach entered at length into the heavenly sanctuary. More than once, Colgan calls Aghagower merely the locality of a bishop's see. Archdall places a monastery under Senach of Aghagower. But, in whatever account we have regarding him, no such thing is mentioned. If the holy man be identical, as Colgan thinks, with the former mentioned, the present Senach was greatly distinguished as a virtuous disciple of the Irish Apostle. The name of Senach, son of Buidi, appears in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date.

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Tuesday 9 September 2014

'The Glory of the Irish Race': Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise

September 9 is the feast of Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise and a modern summary of his life was posted last year here.  The account below of his life and virtues has been excerpted from a sermon delivered by a nineteenth-century Bishop of Ardagh, the Right Rev. George Conroy (1833-1878), on the dedication of a new church in honour of 'the sainted founder of Clonmacnois, whose heroic sanctity as monk, priest, and abbot, made him what Alcuin styles him: the glory of the Irish race.' The sermon illustrates the spirit of the 19th-century national and Catholic revival in Ireland very well indeed. It is filled with romantic imagery which contrasts the riches of Ireland's early Christian past with the contemporary degradation of the country, just as it contrasts the ruined churches of old with the new building arising on this occasion. The Bishop is particularly good at conveying the impact of the early training of Saint Ciarán (or Kyran as he has chosen to render the name) at the monastic school of Saint Enda of Aran. Aran exercised a particular fascination for this generation as the epitome of the harsh and lonely windswept island scenario which produced the ascetic Irish saints. We start at the point where the speaker begins to talk of 'Ireland's abiding reverence' for St. Ciarán's virtues:

That St. Kyran's virtues should never be without honour in Ireland was announced to himself thirteen centuries ago in Aran, when first he narrated to his beloved master, St. Enda, the vision that had been vouchsafed him of the future glories of Clonmacnois. He had seen the noble stream of Shannon flowing among these verdant plains, and on its banks a stately tree laden with leaves and fruits, and covering the land with its grateful shade. "That fruitful tree," explained St. Enda, "art thou thyself, for thou shalt be great before God and man, and shalt produce sweetest fruits of good works, and shalt be honoured throughout all Ireland." First fruits of these good works were the monastic virtues exercised by our saint in Aran. He entered that holy island in the bloom of his youth, and for the long years he sojourned there he was, as St. Enda described him, "the flower and strength of religious observance." His life was a pattern of humility. For seven years, well-born and scholarly as he was, he toiled with his hands at those labours which men commit to the least important of their servants. He would fain continue to the end in the practice of obedience ; and even when at length he was compelled to become the master of others, he prayed that he and his charge might still continue under the guidance of St. Enda. His austerity was marvellous. Lashed by the Atlantic waves, swept by the Atlantic blasts, the island of Aran was the home of penance and mortification. Hundreds of Ireland's saints fled to it, as the anchorets had fled to the desert solitudes of the Thebaid. "Aran", says a recent writer, "is no better than a wild rock. It is strewed over with the ruins, which may still be seen, of the old hermitages; and, at their best, they could have been but such places as sheep would huddle under in a storm, and shiver in the cold and wet which would pierce through the chinks of the walls. . . . Yes, there on that wet soil, with that dripping roof above them, was the chosen home of these poor men. Through winter frost, through rain and storm, through summer sunshine, generation after generation of them, there they lived and prayed, and at last laid down and died." Most fervent among these austere men was our St. Kyran, who made of his innocent body a martyr of penance. As day followed after day, and week after week, and month after month, for seven long years, he ceased not to sacrifice his will by minutest obedience, his body by severe labour, his repose by incessant prayer; and this with the flinty rock for his bed, with coarse and scanty food, in poor attire, exposed to frost and sun, buffeted by wind and snow. And as he was a miracle of humility and of penance, so also was he a miracle of sweetest charity. As his penitential life tells eloquently of his love for God, so the story of his parting from his brethren, when he was called away from Aran to Clonmacnois, as related in the ancient Life of St. Enda, is a proof of his loving heart towards men. As the boat that was to carry him to the banks of the Shannon was spreading its sails to the breeze, St. Kyran came slowly down from his beloved cell, weeping and surrounded by his weeping brethren. Tenderly his gaze lingered on each familiar sanctuary as he passed onwards to the beach, and there, kneeling down, he asked for the last time the blessing of the father of his soul. In sign of the charity that filled their hearts, and of the brotherhood they had contracted between themselves and those who were to come after them, a cross was erected on the spot, and the two saints said: "Whosoever in after times shall break the loving bond of this our brotherhood, shall not have share in our love on earth, nor in our company in heaven." Near to where that cross stood, a church was erected to commemorate the virtues of St. Kyran as the perfect Religious....

From Aran, St. Kyran came to this part of the valley of the Shannon, but not as yet to settle in Clonmacnois. He was now a priest, and on the island of Inis-Oenghin, in Lough Ree, he practised for eight or nine years the virtues of the perfect priest with as much fervour as he had practised on Aran those of the perfect monk. Surrounded now by disciples of his own, constituted a teacher of the faith and a dispenser of the sacraments, it was no longer permitted to him to shun altogether the concourse of men. But he did all that he could to guard from the world s tainted breath the gifts he had received and the souls that had been entrusted to his charge. St. Ambrose describes to us the attractions which islands such as those that stud the noble expanse of Lough Ree possessed for the religious men of that age. They loved, he says, those islands " which, as a necklace of pearls, God has set upon the bosom of the waters, and in which those who would shun the pleasures of the world may find a refuge wherein to practise austerity, and save themselves from the snares of life. The water that encompasses them becomes, as it were, a veil to hide from mortal eye their deeds of penance; it aids them to acquire perfect continence; it feeds grave and sober thought; it has the secret of peace; it repels the fierce passions of earth. In it these faithful and pious men find incentives to devotion. The mysterious sounds of the waves call for the answering sound of sacred psalmody; and the peaceful voices of holy men, mingled with the murmur of the waters against the shore, rise harmonious to the heavens. Here, then, did St. Kyran lead the life of the perfect priest. Here did he practise the rule of a priest's life that had been given to him at Aran, which his fellow-student, St. Carthage, has written for us, and which tells of "the patience, humility, prayer, fast, and cheerful abstinence; of the steadiness, modesty, calmness, that are due from a leader of religious men, whose office it is to teach, in all truth, unity, forgiveness, purity, rectitude in all that is moral; whose chief works are the constant preaching of the Gospel for the instruction of all persons, and the sacrifice of the Body of the great Lord upon the Holy Altar" (Rule of St. Carthage). Here did he reach the perfection to which, an ancient Irish treatise invites all priests: that "their hearts should be chaste and shining, and their minds like the foam of the wave, or the colour of the swan in the sunshine; that is, without any particle of sin, great or small, resting in his heart!" And here another church was raised to perpetuate the memory of his virtues. Alas! that church also is in ruins....

...At length the day came in which, about the year 544, he who was already the perfect monk and the perfect priest was to become also the perfect abbot, founder, and ruler of the glorious monastery of Clonmacnois. How splendid were the virtues that adorned St. Kyran as the perfect abbot, let Clonmacnois itself proclaim! It was long the most celebrated religious house in Ireland. It was the mother of countless saints. It was a treasure-house of graces. It became the chief seat of learning in Ireland. It was a school of art and literature. Kings esteemed it an honour to build its walls with their royal hands. The Emperor Charlemagne sent rich presents to it through Alcuin. The chieftains and princes of Erin bestowed their gifts upon it, until, in lands and treasures, in precious chalices and sparkling gems, in stately churches and rich crosses, it was the wonder of many lands. To be laid to rest beneath its earth, as near as might be to the relics of St. Kyran, was a privilege coveted by the noblest in the land. Bright with dew, and redrosed, as it is styled in an old Irish poem, it was not its sunny meads or its bright flowers that won for it such esteem: it was Ireland's faith in the power of its founder's intercession. And yet he to whose merits all this was due ruled over the monastery he had founded for the short space of less than a single year. After seven months of labour there, he passed to his reward, and there beyond he rests, awaiting his glorious resurrection...

Rt. Rev. George Conroy, Late Bishop of Ardagh, Occasional Sermons, Adresses and Essays (Dublin, 1888), 19-24.

Note: A hymn in praise of Saint Ciarán, attributed to Saint Colum Cille can be found at my other site here.

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Monday 8 September 2014

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady

September 8 is the feast of The Nativity of Our Lady. Like all of the major Marian feasts, this commemoration was introduced to the West from the Eastern church. The feast appears in the earliest Irish calendars with the Martyrology of Tallaght simply recording:

Natiuitas Mariae matris Iesu, the birthday of Mary the mother of Jesus.

The slightly later Martyrology of Oengus makes it clear that this is a feast rather than a fast day:

F. vi. idus Septembris.

Foraithmentar Maire,
nit marbclae for tercphit,
la Tiamdae iar sétaib
co trib cétaib martir.

8. Thou shalt commemorate Mary:
thou art not deadened on a scanty meal:
with Timothy after (the world's) ways,
and three hundreds of martyrs.

The accompanying scholiast notes spell it out:

8. ...quassi dixisset ne ieiunes in feria Marie, thou shouldst not fast on Mary's feast.

The late 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman begins it's entries for September 8 with this notice:

8. f.
Noemghein Maire móre, Great Mary's holy nativity

Canon O'Hanlon, in Volume 9 of his Lives of the Irish Saints, has this short entry on the feast, noting that in some parts of the country popular devotion at holy wells was evident on this day:

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the ancient Irish Church, the Festival of the Birth of our Divine Lord's Mother was celebrated on the eighth day of September, as we learn from the Feilire of Aengus. On this there is a short comment. About the year 695, this feast was appointed by Pope Servius. In various parts of Ireland, this festival was celebrated formerly with very special devotion, as parishes, churches and chapels had been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this was a favoured festival day. The patrons or patterns that until of late were yearly celebrated very conclusively attest it. In Kilnenor parish, County of Wexford, there is a holy well, at which a patron was formerly held on the 8th of September. According to a pious tradition, a concert of angels is said to have been heard in the air to solemnize the Nativity or Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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