Tuesday 7 October 2014

Saint Dubhthach Mac Ua Lugair, October 7

On October 7 some of the later Irish calendars of the saints record the name Dubhthach. This name does not appear in either The Martyrology of Tallaght or that of Saint Oengus, but the 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman lists Dubhthach, along with three other saints not mentioned on the earlier calendars. The 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal repeats this information and speculates that Dubhthach may have been mentioned in the hagiography of Saint Moling, as one of those who accompanied the saint in his mission to relieve the Leinstermen of the payment of a tribute known as the Borumha:


DUBHTHACH. I think this is he whom Moling mentions as having gone with himself to seek a remission of the Borumha from Finnachta, king of Erin. This is what he says in the work called the Borumha itself:

"Dear the three who met the difficulty,
Who went with me for my welfare,
Dubhthach, Dubhan, who concealed sorrow,
And Cuan of Cluain-mor."

The name Dubhthach is borne by a number of Irish holy men but is also known from the pre-Christian era. The most famous pagan bearer of the name is perhaps the chieftain Dubhthach, father of Saint Brigid of Kildare.

Our Dubhthach also started life as a pagan, for he appears in the hagiography of Saint Patrick as one of the early converts. There he is depicted as a poet who along with his pupil. the future Saint Fiacc of Sletty, encounters our national apostle at that fateful Eastertide at Tara. King Laeghaire, knowing that Saint Patrick will be calling, instructs his court to give him a cool reception. Let's allow Archbishop John Healy to bring us the details of what happens next:
They were all surprised when they saw Patrick, with his attendants, in the very midst of the hall ; but, in obedience to the King's command, no one rose to do him homage except only Dubthach Maccu Lugair, the chief of  the poets of Erin, and also a youth, then a poet student, namely Fiacc, who afterwards became a wondrous bishop, whose relics now repose in Sletty. Patrick blessed them, for it was not only an act of faith, but a brave, nay, a daring act of faith; and Dubthach, we are told, was the first who believed on that day, and his faith justified him.
Dubthhach's courage and his learning are great assets to the Patrician mission. Fifteen years after he was granted the privilege of being the first believer from Tara, Saint Patrick consults Dubthhach on choosing a bishop:
When Patrick met Dubthach he besought the poet to recommend to him a suitable person to be made bishop from amongst his own disciples. The chief poet of Erin had a large school of bards under his direction. The course of training continued for many years, and the disciples usually accompanied the master when making his rounds. But Dubthach was now growing old, for he was chief poet of Erin when he first met Patrick at Tara some fifteen years before and rose up to do him honour against the king's command. Fiacc was there, too, a mere stripling at the time, but already in training for the bardic order. He was a nephew of the king-poet, being his sister's son, and hence was from the beginning a special favourite of Dubthach.
Needless to say, despite all of this Dubthhach selflessly proposes his star pupil and Fiacc, equally selflessly, accepts ecclesiastical rather than bardic high office.

 Dubhthach's service to Patrick does not end there, for he is also an important figure in the legal sphere. The hagiographical accounts present the reform of the Irish laws as a joint collaboration between the pair:
Dubthach Mac Ua Lugair, the Arch Poet of Erin, was the very first to rise up to do honour to Patrick and accept his doctrine. Afterwards he became Patrick's fast friend, and most sagacious counsellor. He was ready, as in the case of Fiacc of Sletty, to hand over to Patrick his most promising pupils for the service of the infant Church. In the reform of the Brehon Laws his services were simply invaluable, for as Chief Poet he had a professional knowledge of the whole Brehon Code, and was thus enabled to exhibit, as we are told, to Patrick, 'all the judgments and all the poetry of the men of Erin, and expound  every law which prevailed amongst the men of Erin, through the law of nature and the law of the seers, and in the judgments of the island of Erin and in the poets.' Chiefly through his assistance Patrick was enabled to produce an expurgated code of the ancient laws of Erin, and  secure its adoption by the King and the chiefs of Erin. For such services Patrick was duly grateful to Dubthach, and to all the Bardic Order, and he always welcomed its junior members into the service of the infant Church.
Most Rev. J Healy, The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick (Dublin, 1905), 149-150, 391, 568-569.

I am left with the impression that Dubhthach is a man whose life straddles two different worlds - the pagan and the Christian - but whose learning and courage are equally valued in both.

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