On November 20 there is an entry in the Martyrology of Oengus on the commemoration of what appears at first sight to be two Irish saints - Escon and Froechán:
20. Beseech Escon with Froechan
in front of strong (Slieve) Bloom,
with the mysterious sufferings
of the hosts of Bassus below the clouds.
to which this gloss has been added:
20. Escon with Froechán, i.e. Bó-chluain in Leix in the west of Leinster. Or bishop Froechan would be proper there, ut alii putant, a little east of Clúain eidnech. Idea dicitur Esconn 'impure,' because for thirty years he was unbaptized.
I wondered what this enigmatic reference might mean and thankfully Father Michael Comerford's diocesan history of Kildare and Leighlin was able to shed some light on the puzzle:
In this immediate neighbourhood, but within the parish of Ballyfin, is Buchlone, a place with which is connected one, if not two, of our early Irish saints. In referring to this place in chapter on Ballyfin, the following curious extract was omitted: it is from the Feilire of Aengus, at 20 Nov:- "Beseech Esconn and Froechan, before strong (Slieve) Bloom." To which the gloss in Leab. Breac adds: "i.e. pray Bishop Fraecan in Bochluain in Leix, to the east of Cluain Eidnech, or (it is) episcop Froechan that is here ut alii putant, escon, i.e. thirty years was he without baptism et ideo dicitur scon, impure, sed non verum. But Guid episcop Fraechain (is the true reading), i.e. Froechan was his name, and a bishop was he, and in Bochluain he is, i.e. in Leix, and in Druim Daganda in Dalaradia. He is called Escon, because he slew a King of Leinster, i.e. by the dipping with his staff which he made at him while he (the saint) was at Bo-chluain and the king in a bathing-tub at Naas, i.esca ideo dicitur quia aquam baptismatis infudit." Dr. Whitley Stokes remarks in a note, that the meaning of this last passage obviously is that esconn is a vessel used for distributing water, and that the saint was so called because he baptized many.
Rev M Comerford "Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol. 3 (1886)
So it would appear that we are commemorating just one saint, Bishop Froechán of Buchlone, County Laois, who was given the name 'esconn' perhaps because of a connection to a baptismal vessel. He would also appear to have a northern connection as he is linked to a place in Dalariada.
I turned to Canon O'Hanlon, this time in his capacity as a local historian, since he did not live to publish a volume of Lives of the Irish Saints for the month of November, to see what he made of this mystery. He writes:
Almost forgotten at present, but yet situated near the old coachroad between Maryborough and Mountrath, is the former burial-ground of Bocluain. It is surrounded by high hedgerows of hawthorn, with some larger trees of that species now shading the grass-grown graves, and several rude headstones there, are now scarcely visible; yet, in former times, some kind of a church must have been erected on this site. In our Calendars, a St. Fraechan, Bishop of Bochluain, to the east of Clonenagh, in Laoighis, seems to have been venerated on the 20th day of November. The period when he flourished is not known to the writer; but it must have been during or before the eighth century; for he IS mentioned in the "Feilire" of St. Oengus, at the same date, and assigned to the same place. A scholiast on this passage states, that besides Bochluain in Leix, he was also venerated in Druim Daganda in Dalaradia. According to one tradition, he came from the north, accompanied by a saint called Escon. Others think the latter term is a corruption of the text, and that Epscop should be read, which should simply imply Bishop Froechan. His place is described as having been right before Sliabh Bladhma, now the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The etymon Bo-Chluain, in Irish, has been translated "the Cow's Lawn" or "Meadow." The spot here referred to lies about two miles south-west from Maryborough.
Rev. John O'Hanlon, History of the Queen's County, Volume 1 (Dublin, 1907), 215.
Canon O'Hanlon's suggestion that this troublesome word 'escon' might be nothing more than a textual corruption of the word 'epscop' (bishop) would solve this conundrum but whether it is correct I am not sure. We can at least be sure, however that a Bishop Froechán was commemorated on 20 November at this place.
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