12 October sees the feastday of another one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, Saint Mobhi of Glasnevin, famed as the founder of a monastic school and as a teacher of some famous saints, among them Saints Colum Cille and Saint Cannice, whose feast falls the day before that of his former master. Saint Mobhi is famous also for having the rather curious adjective 'clarinech' appended to his name, this is usually translated as 'flat-faced'. The earliest Irish calendar, the Martyrology of Oengus, attempted to explain why. The entry for today reads:
12. Declare Fiacc and Fiachra, at the same time --The notes for this entry read:
great is that treasure!
my Bi, strong that triumph!
that fair flatfaced one.
Mobi, i.e. of Glasnevin on the brink of the river Liffey on the north side. Mobi son of Beoan, of Corco tri of the Luigni of Connaught. Uaine, Findbarr's daughter, was his mother. In Cell maic Taidg was he conceived and brought forth, and of a dead woman he was begotten.The later Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman records the saint as 'Clarenech ('table-face'), from Glasnevin in Fingal on the river Liffey's brink, on the north side, and Berchan was another name of his.'
Table-faced was he, for the earth pressed him down, so that he was one flat board. Mobi the Table-faced of Glasnevin in (the country occupied by) the Danes. Berchan was Mobi's name. Beoaith son of Senach was his father's name, and Huanir the Fair, daughter of Finnbarr, his mother's name. Mobi etc.
The 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal refers to Saint Mobhi's famous Glasnevin foundation and to some of its notable students:
MOBHI CLAIRENECH, [Abbot], of Glas Naoidhen in Fine-Gall, on the brink of the river Life, on the north side; and Bearchan was another name for him. The year of the Lord when he resigned his spirit was 544. He was of the race of Eochaidh Finn Fuathairt, of whom Brighit is descended; and Uanfinn, daughter of Finnbarr, was his mother. The Life of Colum Cille, chap. 35, states that Colum Cille went to Glas Naoidhen, where Mobhi Clairenech was with two score and ten persons at his school ; and among them were Cainneach, Ciaran of Cluain, and Comgall; and after the dispersion of the school, Mobhi requested of Colum Cille not to accept of any land till he should give him leave. The same life states, chap. 39, that when Colum Cille was at Doire, where the king of Erin, Aedh, son of Ainmire, was, Aedh offered that town to Colum Cille, and that Colum refused to accept of the town because he had not the permission of Mobhi, and that on his coming forth from the town, two of Mobhi's people met him, bringing the girdle of Mobhi with them to him, after Mobhi's own death, together with his permission to him to accept of land. When Colum received the girdle he said: "Good was the man who had this girdle," said he, "for it was never opened for gluttony, nor closed on falsehood." On which occasion he composed the quatrain:In his classic work on the monastic schools of Ireland, Archbishop John Healy recounts the time spent by Saint Columba at Glasnevin:
"Mobhi's girdle, [Mobhi's girdle],
Nibhdar sibhne im lo,
It was not opened for satiety,
It was not closed on a lie."
It was the custom in those days for the students to visit the various saints of Erin, who were celebrated for holiness and learning; and so we find that Columba, when he had finished his studies under Finnian of Clonard, directed his steps to the school of another great master of the spiritual life, St. Mobhi Clarainech of Glasnevin.Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars by the Most Rev. John Healy (6th edition, Dublin, 1912),296-297.
The students' cells at Glasnevin were situated on one side of the River Tolka, and Mobhi's church was on the other, at or near the spot where the Protestant church now stands. The light-footed youngsters of those days, however, found no difficulty in crossing the rapid and shallow stream at ordinary times. But when the river was swollen with heavy rains, it was no easy task to breast the flood; yet such was Columba's zeal in the service of God that on one such occasion, to his master's admiration and surprise, he crossed the angry torrent, that he might be present as usual at the exercises in the church. "May God be praised," said Columba, when he had crossed safely over, "and deliver us from these perils in future." It is said that his prayer was heard ; and that all the cells, with their occupants, were suddenly transferred to the other side of the stream, and remained there ever after.
Columba had for companions at Glasnevin St. Cannech, St. Ciaran, and St. Comgall—and during their entire lives a tender and ardent friendship united these holy men together. A pestilence which broke out in A.D. 544, and of which St. Ciaran appears to have died, scattered the holy disciples of St. Mobhi's School; so Columba resolved to return home to his native territory.
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