Monday 29 December 2014

Saint Maedóc of Lismore, December 29

December 29 is the feast day of a saint of the monastery of Lismore, Saint Maedóc. In the Irish annals the successors to Saint Carthage of Lismore are sometimes styled as abbots and sometimes as bishops. The Martyrology of Donegal gives our saint the latter title:


MAEDHOG, Bishop, of Lis-mór.

Here is a brief reminder of the history of Lismore and its founder:

The church and monastery of Lismore, which grew to be one of the renowned centres of ancient Irish learning and piety, owed its foundation to St. Mochuda of the 7th century. Mochuda, otherwise Carthage, was a native of Kerry, and he had been abbot of Rahan in Offaly. It is probable that there had been a Christian church at Lismore previous to the time of Mochuda, for in the Saint's Life there is an implied reference to such a foundation. Be this as it may, Mochuda, driven out of Rahan, with his muintir, or religious household, migrated southward, and, having crossed the Blackwater at Affane, established himself at Lismore in 630. In deference to Mochuda's place of birth the saint's successor in Lismore was, for centuries, a Kerryman. Lismore grew in time to be a great religious city, and a school of sacred sciences, to which pilgrims from all over Ireland and scholars from beyond the seas resorted. The rulers of the great establishment were all, or most of them, bishops, though they are more generally styled abbots by the Annalists. Among the number are several who are listed as Saints by the Irish Martyrologies, scil:

Maedoc, bishop of Lismore ... . .. Nov. 29.

Rev. Patrick Power, Waterford & Lismore - A Compendious History of the United Dioceses (Cork, 1937), 5-6.

Not for the first time I notice that Father Power's quotation of the feast days from the Martyrologies seems to be out, for in both the Martyrology of Donegal and in the Martyrology of Gorman our saint is listed at December 29 and not November. I assume this is a typo.

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Friday 26 December 2014

Saint Iarlaithe of Tuam, December 26

Although his feast is now celebrated on June 6 in Ireland, the Irish calendars record the commemoration of Saint Iarlaithe (Iarlath, Jarlath) of Tuam at December 26. The Martyrology of Donegal makes mention of his reputation for ascetic spiritual practices as well as for prophecy. The entry ends with an intriguing prediction that 'three heretical bishops' would be among his successors before Mael, 'the first powerful man' would make things right once again:


IARLAITHE, Bishop, of Tuaim-da-Ualann, in Connacht. He was of the race of Conmac, son of Fergus, son of Ross, son of Rudhraighe, from whom the Clanna-Rudhraighe are called; and Mongfinn, daughter of Ciordubhan, of the Cinel Cinnenn, was his mother. He used to perform three hundred genuflexions every night, and three hundred genuflexions every day, as Cuimin, of Coindeire, states. Thus he says :

" The noble Iarlaithe loves,
A cleric who practised not penury,
Three hundred genuflexions each night,
Three hundred genuflexions each day."

It was Iarlaithe that predicted every bishop that would come after him at Tuaim. And he predicted that Mael would come after the three heretical bishops who were in his city, &c. This is the quatrain which speaks of the Mael, viz. : 
"The Mael the first powerful man."

 Below is an account of Tuam from the Moran edition of Archdall's Monasticon Hibernicum, which contains some interesting information on the rediscovery of the relics of Saint Iarlaithe in the seventeenth century:

St. Jarlath is said to have made it a cathedral in the beginning of the sixth century; and it is also said that a city was built here in honour of this exemplary bishop. His remains were preserved at Tuam, in a chapel called Temple-na-scrin, i.e. the church of the shrine. After the death of this saint, we meet with three persons who are expressly said to have been abbots of Tuam, viz.: Cellach, son of Eochad, who died in the year 808; Nuadat Hua Bolchain, abbot and anchorite, who died 3rd October, 877; and Cornac, son of Kieran, abbot of Tuam and prior of Clonfert, who died in 879.
The festival of St. Jarlathe, now kept on the 6th of June, is marked in our calendars on the 26th of December, on which day he is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal. He was born in the 5th century, and is said to have received in his childhood the blessing of St. Benignus, of Armagh. He established a religious house at Cluainfos. i.e., “the valley of retreat," about a mile from the present town of Tuam, and subsequently erected the church and monastery of Tuam. St. Jarlathe was remarkable for his austerities, and in the poem of St. Cuimin of Connor, on the characteristic virtues of the Irish saints, he is styled “one who practised not penury," and who made three hundred genuflections each day, and the same each night He died about the year 540. His relics were preserved in a rich shrine in a separate church, thence called Skreen, in the town of Tuam. Dr. John Lynch, writing in 1672, describes a portion of the old walls of this Skreen as still standing, though the place was then used as a barn. He adds that in the beginning of the century, while some men were engaged in threshing corn, they remarked something shining in the floor; removing the clay, they found a rich ornamental case enclosing the relics of St. Jarlathe — " Cupream thecam quinquangularem S. Hierathii Reliquias includentem:" this was brought to Dr. Daniel, the Protestant Archbishop, who privately handed it over to the Roman Catholic Vicar-General, Francis Kerevan, by whom it was consigned to a good Catholic family for safe keeping. Colgan speaks of these relics as still preserved in his time. During the episcopate of Aed O'Hoisin, the cathedral was built through the munificence of Turlogh O'Connor, Monarch of Ireland.

Rt. Rev. P.F. Moran, ed., M.Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum, Volume II, (Dublin, 1876), 225-227.

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Tuesday 23 December 2014

Saint Temnióc of Clonfert, December 23

23. The passion of eight hundred fair martyrs with sixty noble ones who were slain: with my Temnióc of the king-folk of truly good Clúain fertae.
Thus does the Martyrology of Oengus read for December 23. The scholiast tells us a little more about 'my Temnióc':
23. Temneóc i.e. from Clúain ferta Molua, i.e. the cook of Molua of Clúain ferta.
Saint Molua was the founder of a monastery at Clonfert-Molua or Clonfert-Mulloe as it is also known. There is an entry for his life here. Our saint was a member of the monastic household. Archbishop John Healy in his classic survey of the monastic schools of Ireland has this to say about Saint Temnióc's domain - the monastic kitchen:
One of the most necessary buildings for a laura or monastery was the kitchen — the cuicin in Irish, or culina in Latin. St. Patrick's 'kitchen' at Armagh was seventeen feet long,and is spoken of as one of the principal buildings within the lis, or monastic enclosure. The Tripartite Life of the Saint in the same place tells us that the Great House was twenty- seven feet in length, and consequently much longer than the ' kitchen' with which it seems to have been connected. The Great House—if not the church—was in all probability the refectory or dining-room, which is more generally and appropriately called in Irish, the proinn-teach, or dinner-house. It is doubtful if we have any specimens of the Refectories or Kitchens of our earliest monasteries still surviving, because as a rule they were composed of perishable materials.....

The ordinary meal for the 'family' was barley or oaten bread, with milk when it could be had, and a little fish, perhaps sometimes eggs. Flesh meat was rarely allowed except on high festival days or when distinguished strangers came to the monastery. The brethren were then allowed a share of the good cheer provided for the strangers. There was, however, except for those labouring in the fields, only one meal in the day — the Columban Rule borrowed from Bangor expressly says that the fare was to be plain and taken only in the evening, that is, after noon. Vegetables, porridge, and baked bread are the principal items mentioned as allowable, and barely as much as would support life. Excessive abstinence from food, however, was to be deemed a vice, not a virtue; but to some extent a monk was to fast every day. The 'order of refection, and of the refectory,' is one of the most interesting portions of the Rule of St. Carthach of Lismore. He allows an ample meal for the workman and special delicacies for the sick. On Sundays and other festivals of the year, especially on the greater festivals, meals were increased.' From Easter to Pentecost was also a season of full meals "without fasting, heavy labour, or great vigils." The Summer and Winter Lent are more bitter to laics than to monks, for to the latter all seasons should be as Lent. The meal was to be at vesper time only, except from Easter to St. John's Day, when a refection was also allowed at noon. The bell was to be the signal for the meal, but first there was a Pater with three genuflections in the church; then the meal was blessed. Alleluia was sung, and a benediction pronounced by the Senior, who said, "God bless you." The meal was followed by thanksgiving, after which all retired to their cell for private prayer preparatory to vespers. Wednesday and Friday were generally fast days.
Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars by the Most Rev. John Healy (6th edition, Dublin, 1912), 96, 101-2.

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Monday 22 December 2014

Saint Ultan Tua of Clane, December 22

December 22 sees the commemoration of an Irish saint with an interesting Lenten discipline - Ultan Tua 'the Silent' of Clane, County Kildare. The Martyrology of Oengus records:
22. May Tua's prayer which is not speech, protect us (and) Itharnaisc, with bright Emene from the brink of silent Berbae.
to which entry the scholiast has noted:
22. May Tua’s prayer protect me, i.e. Tuae from Tech Tuae in Hui Faelain, the same as Ultan of Tech Tuae. Idea Tua 'silent' dicitur etc.
The later Martyrology of Donegal records the ascetical practice Saint Ultan pursued during Lent which gave rise to his reputation as the quiet man:
ULTAN TUA, and IOTHARNAISC, two saints who are at Claonadh, i.e., a church which is in Ui Faelain, in Leinster. This is the Ultan Tua who used to put a stone in his mouth in the time of Lent, so that he might not speak at all.
Father Michael Comerford, in his diocesan history of Kildare and Leighlin, records something of the locality in which these saints flourished, and notes a tradition that they were brothers to another monastic, Maighend, abbot of Kilmainham. He claims though that the Martyrology of Donegal gives their feast at December 23, but as we have seen above, they are listed at December 22:

THE Parish now so called comprises the ancient parochial districts of Clane, Mainham, Dunadea, Timahoe, Dunmurghill, Ballynefah, and Balrahen.


In ancient records the name of this place is given in two forms; Claen-Damh, i.e., “the field of oxen;” and Claen-Ath, i.e., “the field of the Ford.” It is referred to in the Forbais Edair, “The Siege of Howth,” an ancient historic tale, which Professor O’ Curry treats of in his 12th Lecture (MS. Materials of Irish History). This passage is summarized in the Loca Patriciana, (note p.113). The Ford of Clane was in the first century the scene of the tragical death of Mesgegra, King of Leinster, who fell here in single combat with Conall Cernach, the champion of Ulster, who had pursued him hither whilst flying from the siege of Howth. Aithirne, the Ultonian poet, surnamed Ailghesach, or the Importunate,-so called from the fact that he never asked for a gift or preferred a request but such as it was especially difficult to give or dishonourable to grant,-had been sent to the court of the King of Leinster at Naas, for the purpose of picking a quarrel with the people of that Province. He had been hospitably received by King Mesgegra, and had many gifts bestowed on him; but this only made him the more importunate, and at last he insisted on getting 700 white cows with red ears, a countless number of sheep, and 150 of the wives and daughters of the Leinster nobles to be carried in bondage into Ulster. To these tyrannical demands the Leinster men apparently submitted; but having pursued Aithirne to Howth, they rescued their women. The Ulster men, however, having been reinforced, the Leinster forces were routed. Conall Cearnach, the most distinguished of the heroes of the North, pursued Mesgegra to take vengeance for the death of his two brothers who had been slain at Howth. He overtook him at the Ford of Clane, where a combat ensued between them in which Mesgegra was slain and beheaded. Conal placed the king’s head in his own chariot, and, ordering the charioteers to mount the royal chariot, they set out northwards. They had not, however, gone far, when they met the queen of Leinster, attended by 50 ladies of honour, returning from a visit to Meath. “Who art thou, O woman?” said Conall. “I am Mesgegra’s wife,” said she. “Thou art commanded to come with me,” said Conall. “Who has commanded me?” said the queen. “Mesgegra has,” said Conall. “Hast thou brought me my token?” said the queen. “I have brought his chariot and horses,” said Conall. “He makes many presents,” said the queen. “His head is here, too,” said Conall. “Then I am disengaged,” said she. “Come into my chariot,” said Conall. “Grant me liberty to lament for my husband,” said the queen. And then she shrieked aloud her grief and sorrow with such intensity that her heart burst, and she fell dead from her chariot. The fierce Conall and his servant made there a grave and mound on the spot, in which they buried her, together with her husband’s head, from which, however, he extracted the brain. This queen’s name was Buan, or the Good (woman); after some time, according to a very poetical tradition, a beautiful hazel tree sprung up from her grave, which was for ages called Coll Buana, or Buan’s hazel. The Tumulus beside the river at Clane is supposed to mark the grave of King Mesgegra and his queen. (O’ Curry, p. 170, & seq.)

A Monastery was founded at Clane at a very early period. Colgan refers to a Church having been here before the middle of the sixth century. It is recorded that St. Ailbe of Emly, whose death is assigned in our Annals to have taken place in the year 527, resided here for some time, and, on leaving, presented his cell to St. Senchell, who afterwards founded a monastery at Killeigh, and died there on the 26th of March, 549.

The Martyrology of Donegal, at May 18th, records “Bran Beg of Claenadh, in Ui-Faelan, in Magh-Laighen,” and at Decr. 23rd, “Ultan-Tua and Jotharnaise, two Saints who are at Claonadh, i.e. the Church which is in Ui-Faelain, in Leinster. This is the Ultan-Tua who used to put a stone in his mouth at the time of Lent, so that he might not speak at all.” Fr. Shearman, Loca Pat., remarks that Taghadoe, i.e. Teach Tua, or “Tua’s house,” near Maynooth, would mark his connexion with that locality rather than with Clane; but he might have been, as then was usual, abbot of both communities. These two Saints were brothers of Maighend, Abbot of Kilmainham, and were sons of Aed, son of Colcan, King of Oirgallia, vivens A.D. 518. Aed became a monk at Llan Ronan Find, where he died, May 23rd, 606. These dates throw some light on the Monastery of Clane. (Note, p.114.)

A.D. 702. A battle (was fought) at Claen-ath, by Ceallach Cuallann, against Fogartach Ua Cearnaigh who was afterwards King of Ireland, wherein Bodhbhehadh of Meath, son of Diarmid, was slain, and Fogartach was defeated. (Four Masters.) In the Annals of Ulster this event is thus recorded:-“A.D. 703. Bellum Cloenath, ubi victor fuit Ceallach Cualann, in quo cecidit Bobhcath Mide mac Diarmato. Fogartach nepos Cernaig fugit.”

A.D. 777, (recte 782) Banbhan, Abbot of Claenadh, died. (Four Masters.)

A.D. 1035. Clane was plundered by the foreigners; but the son of Donnchadh, son of Domhnall, overtook them, and made a bloody slaughter of them. (Id.)

A.D. 1162. A Synod of the clergy of Ireland, with the successor of Patrick, Gillamaclaig, son of Ruaidhri, was convened at Claenadh, where there were present twenty-six Bishops, and many Abbots, to establish rules and morality amongst the men of Ireland, both laity and clergy. On this occasion the clergy of Ireland determined that no one should be a lector in any Church in Ireland who was not an alumnus of Ard-macha (Armagh) before. (Id.) The following is a passage from Colgan on this subject:- “Concilium Cleri Hiberniae, praesidente Comorbano Patricii, Gelasio Roderici filio, servatur in loco Claonadh dicto; in quo comparuerunt viginti-sex Episcopi, et plurimi abbates; et praescriptae sunt tam clero quam populo Hiberniae constitutiones, bonos mores, et disciplinam concernentes. Illa etiam vice clerus Hiberniae sancivit ut nullus in posterum in ulla Hiberniae Ecclesia admittatur Faerleginn (id est, Sacrae Paginae seu Theologiae Professor) qui non prius fuerit alumnus, hoc est, Admachanam frequentaverit Academiam.” (Trias Th., p. 309.)
A more recent writer has commented on the locality Tech Tua:
Taghadoe (Tech Tua), however, is named for another saint, Ultan Tua (the Taciturn Ulsterman). The Taghadoe settlement had strong links with Clane and at one time shared its abbot with the Clane monastery.
Hermann Geissel, A Road on the Long Ridge-In Search of the Ancient Highway on the Esker Riada (Newbridge, 2006), 12.

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Saturday 20 December 2014

Saint Ursan of St Ursitz, December 20







On December 20 we commemorate an Irish saint who travelled to Europe with Saint Columbanus and laboured among the Alemanni in the Swiss Jura - Ursan 'The Bear Man'. Below is an account of his life by Roísín Ní Mheara:

Ursan or Ursin as he came to be known, is an Irish monk with a book and a heraldic lily as his attribute. A saint of the great Burgundian abbey of Luxeuil, he belongs to the group that joined Columban on an arduous Alemannic mission which led them into the utmost eastern limits of Frankish suzerainty, the far end of Lake Constance. Changes at the Merovingian court with a new hostile ruler brought the campaign to an abortive end. The brotherhood dispersed. Columban headed south for Italy... Ursan with a comrade named Fromont, of whom we know little, retraced his steps down the river Rhine towards Basel. They reached the abandoned Roman post of Verena, now Zurzach, and took course up the Aare tributary to the lake of Biel in Helvetia, where there are traces of a brief sojourn, before launching out into the forests of the Swiss Jura, then a no man's land for the taking.
A prehistoric route led from Biel up through a gorge of the river Birs, and over it the pair must have trudged into the wilds until they reached the coast of Mount Terri. For them the prospect from the height would have been tantalising – Alsace with its fruitful plains to the north and further west, beyond the Vosges mountains. Burgundy with their home monastery Luxeuil. Was that perhaps their aim? Did fatigue overcome them here? We can only guess. Certain is, that in Ursan's immediate vicinity lay a deep and tortuous river gorge, cutting deeply into the rock of the primeval forest surrounding him, and in its density fugitives of German Alemannic stock were putting up a fight for survival. The plight of these pagans was to be Ursan's destiny. Here where the river Doubs (dubh indeed, the Celts had christened it well) blocked by Mount Terri, makes a hairpin turn our peregrinus decided to cast his lot. As a result, by the Middle Ages a sedate little town had emerged in the dark valley, dutifully walled with a bridge over the Doubs, its inhabitants grouped round the monastery of St.Ursitz, the site or seat of Ursan. The town in the French idiom answers to Saint-Ursanne.

Above on the plateau of Mount Terri where two tired disciples of Columban stopped and decided to part, it all began. Fromont travelled on to find a place of his own liking. This is today the little town of Bonfol, with its parish church under his patronage.

Ursan, the Bear Man

In the meantime Ursan was causing quite a flurry in the Doubs valley by making himself at home in a cave on the slope of Mount Terri beside a fresh mountain spring. Known to be the habitat of a brown bear, the hillside was considered off-limits for humans. But it became apparent that the poor hermit remained unmolested by the bear, who even ceded his den for him to sleep in. Soon curiousity got the better of fear and up Mount Terri the Alemanni clambered in growing numbers to pay their respect to the ‘Bear Man’ as they called their guest. Indeed the nickname is all hagiography has to offer in the way of identification (latinized ‘Usinicus’, ‘Ursinicus’). The name Urs being widespread we will call him Ursan.

Was it the hermit’s gentle manner or the message of cheer he bought? Some salutary charisma must account for his popularity for huts were set up in the small clearing before the cave, the source became a spring of spiritual refreshment and the nucleus of a Christian cell was born. The site being limited, Ursan was persuaded to descend into the valley and space was made on the riverside to accommodate those who considered themselves his followers. With a sanctuary dedicated to St. Peter, after Ursan’s home church in Luxeuil, the rudiments of a religious settlement were provided. The Rule observed was naturally that of Columban – the principal Order of the Western Church.
Ursan did not confine himself to preaching, He built an asylum for the many immigrants he found weakened and bowed down with the hardships of those Dark Ages... Tradition recalls the pack animals Ursan kept for the benefit of mountain dwellers. We hear too of his iron handbell, an instrument of Irish make – an innovation!- later to become an honoured relic. Deeply mourned when he died around the year 620, the Alemanni buried their ‘Bear Man’ in his oratory, and for a long time afterwards his eremitic community adhered to the precepts he had laid down for them. This is known from the records of St. Wandregisel (Wandrille). As a young Frank nobleman Wandregeisel, impressed by the example of Ursan, spent some time in the Doubs hermitage after the saint’s demise, an experience that changed the course of his life. He became a strong advocate of Columban’s teaching, founding many important monasteries in France, such as Fontanelle at the mouth of the Seine. He did not forget Ursan either, for it was Wandregeisel who, with wealth at his disposal, transformed the shacks of the initial hermitage into a monastery of stature fit to house the remains of a saint.

…Entering, church splendour awaits the visitor in a mixture of period elements and trappings that blend surreptitiously. A golden crown above the high altar with its oil painting depicting the glorification of Ursan signalizes the presence of his remains under the mensa in a medieval sarcophagus, hidden behind a costly silk antependium. Large effigies of the apostles Peter and Paul guard his sanctuary… Earlier on, the founder’s tomb was kept in a spacious crypt built by the Augustinians in the twelfth century under the apse for pilgrims to file through.

Grateful to the canton of Jura for crediting the work of our lonely evangelist, we may complete our tour with a visit to the ‘Eremitage Saint-Ursanne’, a Gothic scenario with the Bear Man sculptured reclining pensively with his missal in a cave opening, much to the astonishment of a wooden bear planted before him!

Let us hope that ‘La Fontaine de Saint Ursanne’, the source on the slope of Mount Terri, still serving the town with its pure drinking water, will never run dry, figuring as it does the spirit of Columban, that turned a dark Swiss mountain hideaway into a beacon of light burning still.

Roísín Ní Mheara, Early Irish Saints in Europe - Their Sites and their Stories (Seanchas Ard Mhacha, 2001), 145-149.

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Friday 19 December 2014

The Life of the Holy Virgin Samthann

December 19 is the feast of Saint Samthann of Clonbroney and last year's post on her life can be found here. The Life of Samthann is known mainly from an early 14th-century manuscript, Rawlinson B.485. Richard Sharpe, who has studied the various collections of Irish saints' Lives argues that the 'Oxford group' in which the Life of Samthann is included may have originated in the Longford/Westmeath region. Saint Samthann's monastery of Clonbroney was in County Longford, so this may explain why her Life forms part of that collection. Unusually among the monastic saints, Samthann was not the founder of her community and I looked at the circumstances in which the leadership of Clonbroney was passed to her in last year's post. Furthermore, the Life does not include an account of her birth and early years, as one usually finds in other saints' Lives. Dorothy Africa, who has published a translation of the Life of Saint Samthann, comments on some of the text's other unusual features, the first of which we will now turn to:
Except for the omission of an account of her early life, the Life of St. Samthann follows the general pattern of Irish saint’s Lives. It has, however several distinctive features worthy of comment. Few saints Lives display such an opening sequence as this one, with the protagonist entering her own life sound asleep and hurtling within a few sentences into full dramatic action. It is common, however, in the Lives of women saints for the saint to struggle heroically to avoid a marriage forced upon her by parents and kin. Fosterage was a common practice in Ireland for children of both sexes. Usually a woman’s own family, not her foster father, would make arrangements for her marriage, but if they were distant, as appears to be the case here, responsibility might pass to a fosterer.
Dorothy Africa, trans., Life of the Holy Virgin Samthann, in T. Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography - An Anthology (Routledge, 2001), 99.

So, here is that dramatic beginning to the Life of Saint Samthann, taken from a translation made by two Irish priests, Fathers Diamuid O'Laoghaire and Peter O'Dwyer:

Samthann's father's name was Diamramus, and her mother's Columba. As she matured her foster-father, Cridan, king of the Ui Coirpri, gave her in marriage to a nobleman. Before the marriage solemnities were celebrated, the nobleman saw at midnight something like a ray of the sun extended through the roof of the house onto the bed in which Samthann was sleeping with the king's two daughters. Amazed by the unusual vision of light at such an hour, he rose immediately and, advancing toward his spouse's bed, found that her face was illumined by that ray. He was very happy that he was gifted with a spouse who was surrounded by heavenly light.
The following night, when the solemnities had been celebrated, both were entering the marriage bed, as is customary, when her husband said to her, "Undress yourself so that we may become one". But she replies, "I ask you to wait until all who are in this house are asleep." Her husband agreed. After a short time tiredness overcame him. Then Samthann gave herself to prayer, knocking at the doors of divine mercy so that God might keep her virginity unblemished. And God heard her prayer, for about midnight that town in which they lived seemed to outsiders to be on fire. A flame of extraordinary magnitude was seen ascending from the mouth of the holy virgin to the roof of the house. A mighty cry was raised outside in the town and those who were asleep within were awakened. Together, they hastened to extinguish the fire.
In the meantime the holy virgin Samthann hid herself in a cluster of ferns nearby. The fire vanished immediately without doing any damage to the town. When morning came, her foster-father, the king, set out to look for her. When he found her, she said to the king, "Was your town burned last night?" The king replied, "No." She said, "I thank God that it was not burned." Then she spoke to the king again, "Why did you wish to give this poor servant of the Almighty God to any spouse without her consent?" The king replied, "All right, I will not give you to a man, but let you be the judge." Samthann said, "This is not my decision: as of now you give me as a spouse to God and not to man." Then the king said, "We offer you to God, the spouse whom you choose." Then she, with her husband's permission, entered the monastery of the virgin Cognat where she remained for a time.

'Samthann of Clonbroney" in E.C.Sellner, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints (Indiana, 1993), 194-5.

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Thursday 18 December 2014

Saint Maignenn of Kilmainham, December 18

December 18 is the feast of a County Dublin saint, Maignenn (Maignan, Magnenn) whose name is still recalled today in the placename Kilmainham. Saint Maignenn is a fascinating saint whose Vita contains many weird and wonderful episodes which rather shocked some of the 19th-century churchmen who wrote about the lives of the saints. He had, for example, a ram which used to carry his prayer books, as the Martyrology of Donegal explains in its entry for the day:


MAIGHNENN, Bishop and Abbot, of Cill-Maighnenn, near Athcliath. He was of the race of Colla-da-crioch. Sinell, daughter of Cenannan, sister of Old Senchell the saint, was his mother. He had a ram which used to carry his psalter and his prayerbook. There came a certain robber and thief, and stole the ram. Maighnenn, with his thrice nine clerics, went after the robber to his house. The robber denied having stolen the ram by oath on the relics, and on the hand of Maighnenn himself. The ram was cut up in quarters in a hole in the ground, after the robber had eaten what was in his belly. The ram spoke below in the hole. Maighnenn and his thrice nine persons looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God for this miracle. But the robber was deprived of his eyesight, and their strength left his feet and his hands, and he said in a loud voice, "For God's sake," said he, "O Maighnenn, do not deprive me of the light of heaven for the future." When Maighnenn heard the repentance of the sinner, he prayed fervently to God for him, and he recovered his eyesight again, and he was eminent in religion as long as he lived. And the name of God and of Maighnenn was magnified by that miracle.

In his notes to Archdall's Monasticon Hibernicum, the then Bishop of Ossory P.F. Moran lamented "It is a pity that such a ridiculous fable should usurp the place of more authentic history about this holy man." Yet modern scholars would readily recognize a number of hagiographical motifs from this story of the ram and the robber. First, there is the slight done to the saint's honour by the robber, who compounds his sin by swearing his innocence not only on the relics but on the very hand of the saint himself. That cries out for punishment and it is duly delivered as his perjury is exposed by the miraculous cries of the ram. The thief is then deprived of his eyesight, and this is a motif which operates on more than one level, denoting spiritual blindness for example and recalling the encounter between Christ and the blind man in the Scriptures. Then there is the fact that this 'ridiculous fable' is actually a vehicle for conveying the mercy and sanctity of Saint Maignenn whose actions lead to a sinner being turned around and to the name of God being magnified. I think, therefore, that Bishop Moran perhaps missed the point of this hagiographical account with all of its rich symbolism - the three times nine clerics in attendance on the saint, the fact that a beast is subject to his will and the ability of Maignenn to successfully intercede for a sinner such as this - all tell me quite a lot about this holy man and in a much deeper way than 'authentic history' might have done.

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Wednesday 17 December 2014

Saint Crunnmael of Iona, December 17

The Martyrology of Oengus has a beautiful entry for December 17:
17. May Victor's host protect us
after the triumph of a deed of valour,
that we may attain splendid bliss
Jesus, Mary's great Son.
The scholiast's notes, however, point to a number of other saints who may also claim to be commemorated on this day:
17. Victor, i.e. a martyr; and Senchaid of Hui Aeda in Bregia, Lazarus and Moliac, and Crunnmael (abbot) of Iona, and Maedoc son of Mursan here.
The Martyrology of Gorman reads a little differently:
The noble translation of Ignatius: Lazarus and Martha, gentle ones, chaste relatives of Christ: Senchad along with them, my Liacc. Crundmael the vigorous whom I mention, my beautiful Aedoc whom thou entreatest.
whilst the latest of the Martyrologies, that of Donegal, omits the mention of Lazarus in favour of a quartet of Irish saints:
CRUNNMAEL, Abbot of Ia Coluim-cille.
MAEDHOG, son of Mursan.
I found it interesting that the Martyrology of Gorman had identified Lazarus as the biblical Lazarus of Bethany, the man whom Christ raised from the dead after four days in the tomb. I wondered if he had a feast day in his own right and wasn't surprised to see Wikipedia claim that:
No celebration of Saint Lazarus is included on the General Roman Calendar, but his memorial is traditionally celebrated on December 17.

I haven't been able to find out any more about the other Irish saints mentioned on this day, but the succession of the abbots of Iona is mentioned in the sources. The succession at Iona, initially at least, tended to remain within the wider family of Saint Columba. It has been estimated that of the first thirteen successors of Saint Columba, at least ten were related to the family of the founder. Our saint is listed as the tenth abbot of Iona, immediately succeeding Saint Adamnan, Saint Columba's most famous biographer. In an appendix to his 1874 edition of Adamnan's Life of Columba, Irish Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, quotes the Chronicle of Iona:

X. CONAMHAIL, 704-710.
707. Dunchadh principatum Iae tenuit.
710. Conamail mac Failbhi, abbas Iae, pausat.

If I am correct in assuming that this Conamhail is our saint, and his is the only name from the list of abbots which fits, then his abbacy would have taken place at the time when Iona was dealing with the debate on the Paschal Dating Controversy. Indeed, earlier scholars were puzzled by the fact that the annals appear to show that there was more than one person claiming to hold the abbacy of Iona at the same time. In this case Conamhail is listed for the period 704-710, yet in 707 his successor Dunchadh is listed as having already been abbot, and Dunchadh too shares his tenure with other abbots. Nineteenth-century scholars speculated that this may reflect some sort of 'schism' at Iona between those who favoured the Roman Easter dating versus those who did not. Alternatively, or additionally, the split may have concerned dynastic, familial rivalries between various branches of the wider family of Saint Columba and thus led to two different individuals both claiming to be abbot of Iona. Modern scholar Richard Sharpe, however, is not convinced that the evidence is there for any kind of schism, pointing out:

If the situation here were one of different parties recognizing different abbots, it is hard to understand why the annals should enter all of them impartially and without explanation...Rather than conjecture a schism, we should admit that it is impossible to interpret how the abbacy was occupied during this period.
Richard Sharpe, ed and trans, Life of Saint Columba, (Penguin Classics, 1991), 75.

Obviously this is one more area of the history of the Irish Church that would repay further study.

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Tuesday 16 December 2014

Saint Mo-beóc of Loch Garman, December 16

The Irish calendars agree in commemorating the feast of a Saint Mo-beóc or Bean on December 16. His precise identity though seems to be something of a mystery and the subject of some confusion with that of a later Scottish namesake. The prefix mo meaning 'my' regularly occurs in the names of Irish saints -Molua, Molaise etc - and indicates an affectionate or diminutive form of a proper name. The Martyrology of Oengus first commemorates a Bishop Valentinus and then:
the feast of my excellent Beóóc,
from lustrous Ard Cainroiss.
The scholiast's notes do not add much:
My-Beóóc, i.e. of Loch Carman. Or my Beóóc of Loch Derg in the north.
The 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman also honours this saint as:
my Pióc a strong ingot(?).
and the notes there add:
from Ard Camrois on the brink of Loch Carman in Húi Cennselaig and from Ross Cain in Cluain Fergaile in Delbna Tire [da locha]
The later Martyrology of Donegal has a fuller entry, but one which only serves to deepen the confusion, as it introduces a Scottish Bishop Beanus of Aberdeen:

MOPHIOG, of Ard-Camrois, on the margin of Loch Carman, in Ui-Ceinnsealaigh ; and of Ros-caoin, in Cluain Fergaile, in Dealbhna of Tir-da-loch.
[Mobheog in Aengus, i.e., Beanus;(see in the Roman Martyrology; vide Usuard, Molanus,) first bishop of Aberdeen or Ardon, i.e., from Ard, whence the error, as if from Ard-bishop, i.e., from Ard, and from this Abardonensis.]
The translator of the Martyrology adds in a footnote:
The note within brackets is in the later hand. It is intended to account for a supposed error of the Roman Martyrology in styling Beanus bishop of Aberdeen. That Mophiog, Mobheoc, and Beanus, are the same, requires no proof ; but the supposition that espug Arda was read episcopus ab Ardo [ bishop of Ard ], and this then corrupted to episcopus Abardo or Abardonensis, is scarcely admissible. The case is this. Molanus text of Usuardus has, at this day, "In Hybernia, natalis Beani, primi episcopi promotus est." Scotichron. iv. 44. (Vol. i. p. 227, ed. Goodall.) The foundation charter of this church, granted by Malcolm ii., A.D. 1010, "Episcopo Beyn de Morthelach" is preserved in the Register of the Diocese of Aberdeen (vol. i. p. 3, Spalding Club), and though called in question by the able editor, Professor Innes, (Pref. p. xiii.) is, at least, a collateral evidence as to the existence of Bishop Beyn or Beanus in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen. It is to be observed that the St. Beanus or Bean of the Scotch Calendar, whom the Breviary of Aberdeen and Adam King commemorate at the 26th of October, is a different person, being venerated at Fowlis in Stratherne, and probably identical with S.Beoan of Tamhlacht-Menan, who appears in the Irish calendars at the same day. Camerarius correctly assigns "Sanctus Beanus episcopus Murthlacensis dioecesis" to the 16th of December, (De Scotorum Fortitu-l p. 202). See Collections of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Spalding Club) vol. i., p. 142.

Thus it appears that some sort of confusion has entered into the preservation of the memory of an Irish saint Beóc commemorated on December 16 with a saint of the same name whose feast fell on October 26 and who was further confounded with an 10th/11th-century Scottish bishop of Aberdeen. The Martyrology of Oengus written about the year 900, of course knows nothing of this later bishop, the scholiast though is uncertain as to the locality in which our saint Beóc may have flourished, although all the calendars have preserved Loch Garman (County Wexford). Neither do we know at what date this saint may have flourished.

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Monday 15 December 2014

Saint Mughain of Cluain-Boirenn, December 15


On December 9 we commemorated two of the daughters of Oilill, Feidhealm and Mughain. I mentioned then that Mughain has a second commemoration on December 15, at least in the locality of Cluain-Boirenn, which Pádraig Ó Riain identifies as possibly being modern Cloonburren, County Roscommon. It is only one of a number of localities associated with this holy lady, Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints lists various others, including Kilmoon in County Clare where traditional devotion continued at the holy well up until the early nineteenth century, even though a feast day was no longer remembered for the saint. The Martyrology of Donegal records:

MUGHAIN, Virgin, of Cluain-Boirenn.

whilst the earlier Martyrology of Gorman notes:
15. F. 
Mogain [1] against every great battle. 
[1] a virgin, from Cluain Bairenn.

Reading Professor Ó Riain's research leaves the impression that this holy woman was once an important saintly figure, even if today her reputation is much more obscure.

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Sunday 14 December 2014

Saint Cormac, December 14

 On December 14 the later Irish calendars commemorate a Saint Cormac, described as a Bishop. The Martyrology of Gorman records his memory in poetic style: 'Cormac be on our behalf for indulgence' with a note adding that he is a bishop. The Martyrology of Donegal records: 'CORBMAC, Bishop, of the race of Eoghan, son of Niall.' Pádraig Ó Riain comments in his Dictionary of Irish Saints that this episcopal holy man belonged to a branch of the Ceinéal Eoghain located on the eastern side of the Inishowen barony of County Donegal. Apart from the commemoration of Bishop Cormac in the calendars on this date, however, nothing else is known of him.


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Saturday 13 December 2014

Saint Colum of Terryglass, December 13

December 13 is the feast of a saint known for his ascetic life - Saint Colum of Terryglass, County Tipperary. Saint Colum (also known as Columba or Colman) was a disciple of Saint Finnian of Clonard, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, and features among that elite group known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He was chosen by the 'Tutor of the Saints of Ireland' as the man to give his master the Holy Communion on his deathbed, as the Irish Life of Saint Finnian explains:
2646. Once he sent his pupil, even bishop Senach, to find out what the folk of his school were doing. Different, in sooth, was that at which each of them was found, yet all were good. Colomb, son of Crimthann, was found with his hands stretched forth, and his mind contemplative in God, and birds resting on his hands and on his head. When that was told to Findian he said : ' The hands of that man,' saith he, 'shall give me communion and sacrifice at the ending days.'
And this prophecy was fulfilled in a miraculous fashion:
2769. Now, when it came to the ending days of this holy Findian, his guardian angel sent him to Inis Mac n-Eirc on Luimnech, and brought Colomb, son of Crimhthan [with his gillie], with his book-satchel, on two clouds to Clonard. And Findian received communion and sacrifice from his hand, and sent his spirit to heaven at the end of a hundred and forty years.
Whitley Stokes ed.and trans. Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, (Oxford, 1890).

The Irish Calendars agree in recording Saint Colum's feast on December 13. The entry for today in the early Martyrology of Oengus reads:
13. For the dear multitudinous day,
may they come with many thousands,
Baethan the pious of Cluain,
Colomb the abstinent of Tir (dá glais).
while the later Martyrology of Donegal gives some information on the translation of the saint's relics:
COLUM, of Tir-dá-glas, son of Ninnidh, of the race of Cathaoir Mór, king of Erin, who is of the race of Labhraidh Lorc, son of Ugaine Mór, etc. ; and Mincloth, sister of Caemell, daughter of Ceannfionnan, son of Ceis, son of Lughar, was his mother.
Him Aenghus calls Colum Mac Crimhthainn, and other authors call him Mac Ui Cremhthannain. It was he that gave the sacrifice to Finnen, of Cluain-Eraird ; and he was a disciple of Finnen.
Macaoimhe, of Tir-dá-ghlas, and Odhran brought his relics to Inis Cealtra, as Ciaran of Saighir had foretold in his own Life, chap. 6, and as Mochaemhog had foretold when he was baptizing Odhran.
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Friday 12 December 2014

Saint Finnian of Clonard, December 12

December 12 sees the commemoration of one of our most important Irish fathers of monasticism - Finnian of Clonard, 'tutor of the saints of Ireland'. Below is a paper on the life of Saint Finnian from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record which records what is traditionally known of him. Modern scholars are engaged in a debate as to whether Finnian of Clonard, Uinnau the Briton, Finnian of Moville, Finbarr of Cork and Ninnian of Candida Casa are all one and the same person. In the nineteenth century, however, when this paper was written, all of these saints were viewed as distinct individuals, and the writer brings together some of the stories told of Saint Finnian as founder of Clonard and of the many saints who flourished under his tutelage.


SAINT FINNIAN of Clonard, " Tutor of the Saints of Ireland," lived in the sixth century. He was a native of Leinster ; his birthplace is generally supposed to have been near the present town of New Ross. Saint Finnian was of the race of Ir, and belonged to the Clan na Rudhraidhe. His name appears to be a diminutive of Finn, "white." He was a contemporary of Finnian of Moville, whose name comes next in the list of saints of the second class.

Saint Abban baptized Finnian, and at an early age he was placed under the care of Bishop Fortchern of Trim. With him he remained thirty years. At the end of that period Finnian proceeded to Britain, and settled at Kilmuine or Menevia, where he placed himself under David, Gildas, and Cadoc. David was grandson of an Irish prince, Bracan. He taught St. Aidan of Ferns, was first Bishop of Menevia, and died A.D. 589. Gildas was the author of De Excidio Britannia, according to the Annals of Ulster. He died A.D 570. Cadoc is represented as cousin to St. David, and was a pupil of St. Thaddeus, an Irishman. Saint Finnian is said to have founded three churches in Britain, but they have not been identified. While a monk at the monastery of St. David, Finnian on one occasion was asked to supply the place of oeconomus, or house steward, in the absence of the monk who generally filled that office. Finnian replied that he would be unable to do so, as he was unprovided with the necessary requirements for carrying wood and provisions. His superior having insisted on his undertaking the task, Finnian obeyed, and we read in his life that an angel came to his assistance. What before had seemed an impossibility he was able to accomplish by the aid of this heavenly messenger.

How long Finnian remained at St. David's monastery is uncertain. Lanigan thinks he returned to Ireland about A.D. 520. Before leaving Britain Finnian determined to undertake a journey to Rome, but an angel warned him not to do so, but to return to his own country " Redite ad vestras plebes, Deus enim acceptat intentionem Vestram." Finnian was accompanied to Ireland by several friends, among whom special mention is made of Biteus and Genoc. On his passage to Ireland, says Dr. Lanigan, he stopped a while with his friend Caimin, and landed at the port Kille-Caireni, in Wexford.

Finnian sent messengers to Muiredeach, sovereign of Ky-Kinsellagh, asking permission to enter his territory. The king generously acceded to his request, and came himself to see Finnian, in whose presence Muiredeach prostrated himself on the ground, and promised the saint a site for a monastery. Saint Finnian erected an establishment at Achadh Abhla ; i.e., “Field of the Apple-Tree," which now bears the name Aghowle, or Aghold, in the barony of Shillelagh, County Wicklow. It was anciently called Crosalech. Here St. Finnian resided for sixteen years. At Mughna, County Carlow, he erected another monastery, and is said to have lectured there for seven years on the Sacred Scriptures. It is probably while there that he preached on one occasion in presence of St. Brigid.

We now approach the most important event in St. Finnian's life in his settlement at Clonard, County Meath, which during his lifetime became the most celebrated sanctuary in Ireland for piety and learning. Cluain-Eraird i. e., Erard's Lawn or Meadow is the derivation given by O'Donovan. Erard was a man's name, very common in Ireland, signifying lofty or noble. Again, we find it related in the saint's life that an angel appeared to him directing him as to where he should take up his abode. Saint Finnian entered Clonard repeating the psalm " Haec requies mea in Saeculum Saeculi hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam."

The date of the saint's arrival at Clonard is said to be about A.D. 530. It is a matter of doubt whether St. Finnian was a bishop. The Four Masters simply term him abbot. Such is the title accorded to him in the Martyrology of Donegal and other Irish calendars. Dr. Lanigan seems to think that St. Finnian was only abbot. It is, doubtless, a fact that Clonard was an episcopal see, but it is quite possible that it did not become so till after Finnian's time. His successor at Clonard, St. Seanach, is called bishop by the Four Masters. The school of Clonard in a short time became famous in Ireland. Those great men who were afterward called the Twelve Apostles of Ireland came to seek instruction from Finnian viz., Columba, the two Brendans, Ciaran of Saigher, his namesake of Clonmacnoise, Columb of Tir-da-ghlas, Mobhi Claraineach, Molaish, Canice, and Ruadhan of Lothra. Three thousand scholars are said to have been educated at Clonard during the saint's lifetime, and the holy founder was justly termed "Magister Sanctorum Hiberniae sui temporis." In the Life of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise we read : " In schola sapientissimi magistri Finniani plures Sancti Hibernise erant ;" and in that of St. Columb of Tir-da-ghlas : "Audiens famam S. Finniani Episcopi de Cluain-Eraird, ut Sacram Scripturam addisceret accessit ;" and, lastly, we find it said of St. Ruadhan :"Legens diversas Scripturas et multum proficiens in eis." Colgan enumerates thirty two saints who received instruction from St. Finnian, and bears testimony of the fame of Clonard, where students assembled from various parts of Europe.

Saint Finnian did not permit his multifarious labours in behalf of learning to interfere with his duties towards the needy and afflicted. We read in his life that he was a father to all who sought help from him: " Flebat cum flentibus." "Infirmabatur enim cum infirmis." On a certain occasion a bard named German presented St. Finnian with a beautiful poem, in which many of his virtues were extolled; the bard demanded from the saint not gold or silver, or any worldly substance, but only fertility of produce in his lands. Finnian answered him, and said : "Sing over water the hymn which thou hast composed, and sprinkle the land with that water." The bard did as he was directed, and his land produced abundant fruit.

In the historical tale "The Expedition of the Sons of Carra," published by O' Curry in his MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, we have a description of St. Finnian's interviews with the three brothers, who had plundered the churches of Connaught. O 'Curry observes that while these tales often contain matter without resemblance to facts, we are not to reject them wholly on that account, but rather make allowance for poetic embellishment, at the same time having good ground for believing that a foundation of truth exists. The story is as follows : -

" Three brothers actuated by an evil spirit plundered the churches of Connaught. In their wicked enterprise they were joined by a band of adventurers as daring as themselves. They commenced by pillaging the Church of Tuam, and never ceased till they had laid waste more than half the churches of the province. When the three brothers arrived at the Church of Clothar, they determined to kill the old man, who was the Airchennech of that place ; he was their grandfather; but he, though suspecting their evil design, treated them with kindness, and assigned to them a comfortable resting-place. Lochan, the eldest of the three brothers, that night had a vision, which alarmed him so much that he became conscience-stricken. He saw represented before him the eternal joys of heaven and the torments of hell. When morning came he acquainted his brothers of what he saw, and like him they felt remorse for their wicked deeds. The brothers Carra sought the pardon and prayers of their grandfather. They took counsel with the old man as to what course they should pursue in order to obtain God's forgiveness and to make reparation for the past. He told them to repair to St. Finnian, the great teacher, and to submit themselves to his spiritual direction. The Ua Carra immediately put off their warlike attire, and donned the garb of pilgrims, and with staves instead of swords hastened to Clonard. At their approach the inhabitants fled, for the fame of their evil deeds had spread far and wide. St. Finnian alone came out to meet them ; the brothers threw themselves on their knees, and besought his friendship and pardon. ' What do you want, said Finnian.' ' We want,' said they, ' to take upon us the habit of religion and penitence, and henceforward to serve God.' ' Your determination is a good one,' said Finnian, ' let us come into the town, where my people are.' They entered the town, and Finnian took counsel with his people respecting the penitents. It was decided that they should be placed for the space of a year under the direction of a certain divinity student, with whom alone they were to converse during that period. The Ua Carra faithfully complied with the mode of life laid out for them, and when the year expired presented themselves before St. Finnian for his benediction. The saint blessed them, saying, ' You cannot restore to life the innocent ecclesiastics whom you have slain, but you can go and repair, and restore as far as is in your power, the churches and other buildings which you have ruined.' The sons of Ua Carra took an affectionate leave of St. Finnian, and as the Church of Tuam was the first which suffered from their plundering, they wished it to be the first that they should restore. They repaired it, and proceeded from place to place, making amends for the injury they had inflicted on the churches of Connaught. Having restored all the churches but one, the Ua Carra returned to St. Finnian, who inquired if they had finished their work. They replied, 'We have repaired all the churches but one.' ' Which is that?'asked Finnian. 'The Church of Ceann Mara (Kinvara),' they said. ' Alas !' said the saint, ' this was the first church you ought to have repaired the church of the holy man Coman ; return now, and repair every damage, you have done to that place.' The brothers obeyed St. Finnian's command, and restored the church. By the advice of St. Coman they built a canoe, and undertook a voyage on the Atlantic Ocean."

Thus far the tale refers to St. Finnian ; the voyage and its results does not come within the scope of this paper.

St. Finnian's mode of life was very austere, his usual food was bread and herbs ; on festival days he allowed himself a little beer or whey ; he slept on the bare grounds, and a stone served him for a pillow.

In his last illness the saint was attended by his former pupil St. Colomb, of Tir-da-Ghlas, who administered to him the Holy Viaticum. The Four Masters record his death A.D. 548; but the year 550 or 551 appears to be the correct date. It is stated in some of our annals that Finnian died of the plague ; there is no doubt that the plague was in Ireland during this period, viz., 548 and 551. In the Chronicon Scotorum, under 551, we read : "A great mortality, i. e., the Chronn Conaill." St. Finnian is enumerated among its victims.

This great saint is commemorated by Oenghus in the following verse :

" A Tower of Gold over the sea,
May he bring help to my soul,
Is Finnian fair, the beloved root
Of the great Cluain-Eraird."

St. Finnian's sister, St. Regnach, was Abbess of Kilreynagh, near the present town of Banagher, King's County.

Hardy, in his Descriptive Catalogue of British History, mentions four lives of St. Finnian: viz., Ex. MS. Salmanticensis (which is given by Colgan) ; MS. Life, Duke of Devonshire ; MS. Trinity College, Dublin, referred to by Bishop Nicholson in his Irish Historical Library ; and MS. Bodleian Library, which begins thus : " Fuit vir nobilia in Hiberniae partibus." (Hardy's Catalogue, p. 128, vol. i., part 1.)

December 12th (the day of his death) is observed as his Feast.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 13 (1892), 810-815.

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Thursday 11 December 2014

Saint Fuinche of Abbeylara, December 11

December 11 is the feast day of an Irish woman saint, Fuinche of Abbeylara, County Longford. Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints identifies her as one of the four daughters of Feargna, all of whom were associated with Abbeylara and subject to Saint Brigid of Kildare. Fuinche is one of a dozen of this name to be found on the list of homonymous saints. Her geographical location brought to mind the founder of the Longford monastery of Clonbroney mentioned in The Life of Saint Samthann:

5. At that time the foundress of Clonbroney, the blessed virgin Fuinech, dreamt that sparks of fire in the likeness of Saint Samthann came and consumed the whole monastery, and then rose up in a great flame. She told her dream to the sisters and gave this interpretation: "Burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, Samthann will make this place shimmer by virtue of her merits and in the splendour of miracles". For that reason, Fuinech sent for Samthann and gave her the community.

Dorothy Africa, trans., Life of the Holy Virgin Samthann, in T. Head, ed., Medieval Hagiography - An Anthology (Routledge, 2001).

I wondered, therefore, if this holy woman and our saint of December 11 may be the same individual. Certainly the notes in the Martyrology of Gorman at the name 'Funech' on this day read 'of Clúain Brónaig' (Clonbroney). The Martyrology of Donegal also makes the same identification in its entry for the day:


FUINEACH, of Cluain Bronaigh.

Saint Fuinche's successor, Saint Samthann, will celebrate her own feast day in eight days time, but I am pleased that we can commemorate the less well-known foundress also. The names of other abbesses of Clonbroney appear occasionally in the Irish Annals from the mid-eighth to the early ninth centuries and rarely after this period. The last obit for an abbess of this foundation is recorded in 1163. As Samthann's death is ascribed to the year 734, this would place Saint Fuinche also in the first half of the eighth century.

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Wednesday 10 December 2014

Saint Scannlach of Ard Scannlaighe, December 10

December 10 is the commemoration of an obscure female saint of County Meath, Scannlach of Ard Scannlaighe. The Martyrology of Donegal records:

SCANLACH, of Ard-Scanlaighe, in Cinel-Ardgail. She was of the race of Laeghaire, son of Niall.

The Martyrology of Gorman notes 'young gentle Scanlach whom I will praise' among the saints it lists for this day. Despite this lovely tribute we have few other details about our saint, although Pádraig Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints musters some interesting evidence from genealogical sources. This associates her with a grandfather called Colum Cúile, who is also regarded as a saint and with Saint Rónán of Dromiskin 

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Tuesday 9 December 2014

Saints Feidhealm and Mughain, daughters of Oilill, December 9

The Martyrology of Oengus devotes its entire entry for December 9 to the praise of two daughters of Oilill (Ailill) whom it describes rather beautifully as 'the two suns of the east of Liffey':
9. Comely are the two daughters of Ailill,
who is not to be concealed: 
fair is the host of their day - 
the two suns of the east of Liffey.
The scholiast notes add:
9. the two maidens, i.e. Mugain and Feidlimid: in Cell ingen n-Ailella (* the church of Ailill's daughters') in the west of Liffey they are, beside Liamain.
of Ailill, i.e. son of Dunlang, king of Leinster, was their father, and in Cell Ailella in the east of Mag Lifi sunt simul Mugain and Liamain.
In Cell ingen Ailella in Mag Laigen they are.
The later Martyrology of Gorman reproduces the details of their church and patrimony, describing these saintly Leinster princesses as 'the mild ones'. They are also listed in the Martyrology of Donegal.

Interestingly, Pádraig Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints notes that the name of a third sister, Eithne, is present in the genealogical sources but absent from the martyrologies. That immediately called to mind the sisters Ethnea and Fidelmia, daughters of King Laoighaire, who are commemorated on January 11, (at least according to the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan). These saintly siblings are the subject of a touching episode from Patrician hagiography which I have posted here. The overlap between the stories does not end there, for the daughters of Oilill are also received into the Church by Saint Patrick, along with their father and uncle:
Thereafter Patrick went to Naas. The site of his tent is in the green of the fort, to the east of the road, and to the north of the fort is his well wherein he baptized Dunling's two sons (namely) Ailill and Illann, and wherein he baptised Ailill's two daughters, Mogain and Fedelm; and their father offered to God and to Patrick their consecrated virginity. And Patrick blessed the veil on their heads.
W. Stokes, ed.and trans., The Tripartite Life of Patrick, Part 1 (London, 1887), 185.

It seems from Ó Riain's  research that Mughain was the more important of the pair as her name occurs in other sources and she was also remembered on December 15, the octave of this feast, at Cluain Boireann, which may now possibly be identified with Cloonburren in Roscommon.

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Monday 8 December 2014

Saint Ecbrit the Saxon, December 8

There is a rather intriguing saint who occupies the entire entry of the Martyrology of Oengus for  December 8:
8. The triumph of humble Egbert,
who came over the great sea:
unto Christ he sang a prayer
in a hideless coracle.
The scholiast has noted:
8. Ichtbrichtan, i.e. from Diln Geimin in Ciannachta of Glenn Geimin, or in Mayo of the Saxons, in the west of Connaught. Or in Connaught, i.e. in Mayo of the Saxons in Cera. Vel in alio loco diuersi diuerse sentiunt. Or of Tulach leis of the Saxons in Munster, and Bercert is his name. Or Icht-ber etc., i.e. Ichtbricht who is in Tech Saxan ('the House of the Saxons') in Hui Echach of Munster, and he is a brother of Benedict of Tulach leis of the Saxons. And a brother of theirs is Cuithbrecht, and in the east [i.e. in Britain] he remained.

'Mayo of the Saxons' is inextricably linked to the Paschal Dating Controversy, as following the adoption of the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter at the Synod of Whitby in 664, Saint Colman of Lindisfarne led a group of monastics unwilling to accept the new practice back to the west of Ireland. Saint Colman founded a monastery on the Island of Inisboffin where he and his brethern, which included a number of Saxon monks, could continue with the Irish practices but tensions arose and eventually a separate foundation was made on the mainland. This was known as Mágh nEó na Saxan or Mayo of the Saxons. Mayo of the Saxons developed quite a reputation as a monastic school under the leadership of Saint Gerald and continued to attract English students.

As we have seen from the scholiast's notes above though, there is some uncertainty as to where exactly our saint Ecbrit or Egbert fits into the picture. His memory was certainly passed on, for the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman also records 'Ecbyrht' on this day and the Martyrology of Donegal has a note on 'ECBRIT, or Icbrit. Marianus. He seems English' added by a later hand. The earlier scholiast raised the possibility that this Saint Ecbrit may be related to Berechert of Tullylease, who is commemorated on December 6. In my post on Saint Berechert, whose identity is equally problematic, there was mention of a tradition that he was one of three Saxon brothers. The translator of the Martyrology of Oengus, Whitley Stokes, however, raises another possibility in his index to the work:
Ichtbrichtan, Dec. 8, pp. 256, 258, probably the Northumbrian Egcberct who persuaded the community of Hi to adopt, the catholic Easter and the coronal tonsure, Baeda H.E. III. 4, v. 9, 22, Reeves Col. 379.
Now this Northumbrian saint does have a distinct identity recorded in the sources. Below is an account of him from Archbishop John Healy's work on the monastic schools of Ireland:
Another eminent saint and scholar of foreign origin .. was Egbert of Northumbria. Bede gives a very interesting account of this eminent man. He was sprung from the nobility of Northumbria, and appears to have been born in A.D. 639.

With another young noble named Ethelun, Egbert went over to Ireland, like the crowds of his countrymen, 'to pursue divine studies, and lead a continent life.' They sojourned in the monastery, called in Irish Rathmelsigi... Colgan says that this monastery of Rathmelsigi was in Connaught ; but he does not specify, and probably did not know, the exact locality. In the Martyrology of Donegal, we find reference to "Colman Rath-Maoilsidhe " (at Dec. 14th ) which is in all probability the monastery referred to by Colgan. This Colman is different from Colman of Innisbofin, whose festival day is the 8th of August. It is not improbable that his monastery was situated at the place called Rath-maoil, or Rath-Maoilcath, both of which were situated near Ballina, on the right bank of the Moy. Everything points to the fact that most of the young Northumbrian nobles and ceorls, who came to the West of Ireland in crowds at this period, landed in the estuary of the Moy, and then going southward, took up their abode, or founded their religious houses wherever they could obtain suitable accommodation. St. Gerald's Abbey of Mayo was not then established (in a.d. 664) ; and so Egbert and his companions put themselves under the guidance of St. Colman, or some of his successors, in this monastery of Rath-Maoilsidhe.

Just then the terrible Yellow Plague made its appearance in Ireland, and carries off one-half of its population. All the companions of Egbert and Ethelun were cut off by the plague ; and now they themselves were attacked, and became grievously ill. Then Egbert, whilst he had yet a little strength remaining, rose up in the morning, and going out of the chamber of the sick, he sat down alone, and began to think of his past sins ; and he asked God's pardon for them with many tears. He prayed, too, earnestly that God would not yet take him out of the world, but would give him time to atone by his good works for the sins of his youth. And if God deigned to hear his prayer, he vowed never to return again to his native Britain, but to live as a pilgrim in some strange land ; and, moreover, to recite the Psalter dailv, and to fast continuously for twenty-four hours once a week. When he returned to the sick chamber, Ethelun, his companion, was asleep ; but presently awaking, he told Egbert that his prayer was heard by God ; then he gently rebuked him, for he had hoped that together they would go into life everlasting. Next day Ethelun died ; but Egbert recovered from his sore sickness, and lived to be ninety years of age, when he departed from this life.

He was ordained a priest; "and his life," says Bede,"adorned the priesthood, for he lived in the practice of humility, meekness, continence, justice, and all other virtues."He loved the Irish greatly, and lived amongst them for fifty years (a.d. 664-715), preaching the Gospel, teaching in his monastery, reproving the bad, and encouraging the good by the bright example of his blameless life. He not only kept his vow, but he added to it, says Bede ; for during the whole Lent he took but one meal in the day, and that was nothing but bread in limited quantity, and thin milk from which the cream had been skimmed off. Whatever he got from others—and he got much—he gave to the poor.

For many years he had been resolving in his mind to sail round Britain, and go to Germany to preach the Gospel to the pagan tribes who dwelt there, and who were kindred to his own nation of the Angles. But God had willed otherwise. There was in Egbert's monastery an old monk who had many years before been minister to Boisil, Abbot of Melrose, an Irish foundation in Scotland. Now one morning after matins, Boisil appeared to this aged monk, who at once recognised his old master, and commanded him to tell Egbert that it was God's will that he should give up his proposed journey to Germany, and go rather to instruct the Columbian monasteries in the right method of keeping Easter, and of tonsuring the head.

Egbert fearing that this vision might be a delusion, still continued his preparations for Germany, and did not obey the direction given by Boisil. Then that saint appeared for a second time to his minister, and commanded him to make known to Egbert, in a more imperative way, what it was God willed him to do. " Let him go at once," he said, " to Columba's monastery of Hy, because their ploughs do not go straight, and he will bring them into the right way." Moreover, the ship in which he was preparing to set out for Germany was wrecked in a storm, and thrown upon the shore, leaving, however, his effects intact. Egbert, taking this as a further manifestation of the Divine will, gave up his project of going to Germany, and set sail for Iona. Wictbert, however, one of his associates in religion in Ireland, went in his stead, and for two years preached the Gospel in Friesland, but reaped no harvest of success amongst the pagans. So he returned once again to Ireland, and gave himself up to serve God during the rest of his life, as he was wont to do before his departure, in great purity and austerity; "so that if he could not be profitable to others by teaching them the faith, he took care to be useful to his own beloved (Irish) people by the example of his virtues."

Now when this holy father and priest, Egbert, beloved of God, and worthy to be named with all honour, came to the monastery of Iona, he was honourably and joyfully received by the community. He was also a diligent teacher, and carried out his precepts by his example, so that he was willingly listened to by all the members of the community. The effect of his frequent instructions and pious exhortations, was that at length the community of Hy consented to give up the inveterate tradition of their ancestors in religion, and adopt the new discipline, which by this time had been received everywhere else throughout the Irish Church. Now surely, this was, as Bede observes, a wonderful dispensation of Providence, that these very monks of Iona, who were the first to preach the Gospel in Northumbria, should afterwards be persuaded by this Northumbrian priest to accept the correct discipline and true rule of spiritual life. And stranger still, it was on Easter Day, the 24th of April, a.d. 729, that this man of God went to his eternal rest ; whereas, but for his exertions, that Easter festival would not have been duly celebrated on that day, but, in accordance with the unreformed system, would have been celebrated in that year towards the end of March, whilst the rest of the Church was observing the fast of Lent.

Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars by the Most Rev. John Healy (6th edition, Dublin, 1912), 591-593.

So here we have a Saint Egbert, an Englishman who comes to study in the west of Ireland and who is clearly linked to the Paschal Dating Controversy. Yet the one obvious difficulty in being able to accept Stokes' identification with our saint is that this individual is said to have died on the very day of Pascha itself, whereas the Irish sources commemorate him on December 8. There is also no mention of this Saint Egbert being one of a number of brothers.

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Sunday 7 December 2014

Feast of the Birth of Saint Colum Cille, December 7

December 7 marks the feast of the birth of Saint Colum Cille (Columba), an event still remembered in the oral tradition and locality of Gartan, County Donegal. Another account of this feast can be read at my other site here, but below is an account of Gartan and its famous son from a 19th-century antiquarian guidebook.


St. Columbkille was born at Gartan, in the territory of Tirconnell, near the base of the Glendowan mountains.

Manus O'Donnell chief of Tir-Connell, who died in 1532, has furnished the fullest collection of the acts of St. Columba, the patron saint of Tir-Connell... Manus O'Donnell records how it was he who had ordered the part of this life which was in Latin, to be put into Gaelic, and who ordered the part that was difficult (i.e. very ancient Irish,) to be modified, and who gathered and put together the parts scattered through the old books of Erin, and who dictated it out of his own mouth with great labour and a great expenditure of time in studying and arranging all its parts, as they are left here in writing by us, in love and friendship for his illustrious Saint, Relative and Patron, to whom he was devoutly attached".

In this work Manus O'Donnell describes the territory of Gartan. "That land, Gartan, which lies in the County of Tir-Connell is desolate, even to the appearance of a wilderness, on account of the very lofty mountains which take up its whole extent to the north, but a declivity which is adjacent to the more cultivated plains and exposed to the rays of the sun, and lakes situate at the foot thereof, render it most delightful in the Summer season".


St. Columbcille was born on the 7th December, A.D. 519 (as Colgan, has the date), O'Donnell gives 520, and Reeves gives 521, as that most likely to be the true period; he was forty-two years of age when he removed to lona; his death occurring there thirty-four years later.

Around Gartan as the birth-place of St. Columbcille, shall always be centered a portion of the interest and veneration that is attached to his name.

The parish of Gartan extends north to Calabbar Bridge, where the road to Dunlewy branches off. Its western boundary skirts west of the Dooish mountain, as it rises 1994 feet over the waters of Lough Glen-Veagh. Through a chasm formed by some mighty convulsion, the Lough extends for a distance of about three and a-half miles in length, by an average of about four hundred and fifty yards in breadth. Here is ' Lone Glenveagh". The weird beauty of the place must be seen, it cannot be painted or sufficiently described...

...As we proceed south, its eastern confine passes through the centre of Lough Kibbon, (a corruption of its Irish name Loch-mhic-Ciabain) we reach Gartan Loch, or Lough Beagh, sheltering amidst the more "cultivated plains", mentioned in 1532 by Manus O'Donnell. This Lough extends in a south-westerly direction about two and a-half miles, with a more sinuous foreground, and is from a quarter to half a mile in width. Here on its banks St. Columbcille was born.

The lines of St. Mura of Fahan cited by O'Donnell and the O'Clery's are: "He was born at Gartan by his consent; And he was nursed at Cill-mic Neoin [Kilmacrennan] and the son of goodness was baptized at Tulach Dubhglaise [Temple-Douglas] of God".

Dr. Reeves observes that the local traditions decidedly confirm this Irish account. The writer, several years ago traversed every spot of this district, and stood on the flagstone pointed out by the people as St. Columbkille's Stone, that marks the place where it is traditionally stated he was born. This stone is to be seen to the S.W., in the townland of Lacoo.

The stone is about eighteen feet in circumference, and is indented with about sixty holes of average depth of two and a half inches. The flagstone itself is about six inches thick.

W.J. Doherty, Inis-Owen and Tirconnell - being some account of Antiquities and Writers of the County of Donegal (Dublin, 1895), 13-16.

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Saturday 6 December 2014

Saint Berehert of Tullylease, December 6

The Berechtuine Stone
December 6 is the feast of another saint whose identity and day of commemoration raise the same sort of difficulties as that of Saint Gobban - Saint Berehert founder of a monastery at Tullylease, County Cork.

The Martyrology of Donegal records:


BERETCHERT, of Tulach-leis.

but gives no further details. So what else do we know of this saint? Below is a short paper on Saint Berehert which summarizes some of the sources for his life. I originally sourced this from the Tullylease parish website but can no longer find a working link:

St. Berehert of Tullylease
by V. Rev. Robert Forde, P.E. 
At the Synod of Whitby, in northern England, held in 664 A.D., the majority of those present voted to accept the Roman system for deciding the date of Easter. St. Colman, Abbott-Bishop of Lindisfarne with others disagreed and decided to return to Ireland where they established two monasteries, one for the English monks in Mayo and an island monastery for the Irish monks. 
Tradition tells us that a young Saxon Prince from Winchester left the group, travelled across Ireland and came to Tullylease, which was then a stronghold of Druidism. Despite firm opposition he established a large monastery which lasted for over 700 years - he was named Berehert. 
In the Annals of the Four Masters the death of Berichter is recorded 'Berichter of Tullach-leis died on 6 December, 839.' If this entry is accurate, the monastery founded by Berehert, almost 150 years before, was well established, and here we commemorate a later Abbot. 
In 1230 we find the following entry in the Annals: 'A holy monk, chief Master of Carpenters in Tullach-leis died today'. This entry is important as it clearly shows the extent and the national reputation of the schools and workshops of Tullylease monastery.
The Monastery also excelled at metalwork. The beautiful cover of St. Patrick's Bell, now in the National Museum, was decorated by a family of Noonans, who were closely associated with Tullylease. 
The Berechtuine Stone 
The Monastery had large stone-carving workshops. Many of these stones are still extant. The most famous is the Berechtuine Stone, incised with a Greek cross, expertly carved and ornamented, with inscriptions in Latin and Greek. The Greek text reads : 'XPS' which is the abbreviation for Christus or Christ. The other corner of the stone is missing and probably contained the Greek letters for Jesus.' IHS' 
The Latin inscription translates: 'Whoever reads this inscription, let him pray for Berechtuine." For many years, it was accepted that Berechtuine was another name for Berehert and this beautiful monument was erected to honour the Founder. A long article by Professor Henderson of Cambridge and Professor Okasha of University College, Cork on the carved stones of Tullylease showed conclusively that they were two separate people. Therefore, we honour two saints in Tullylease! 
This Berechtuine Stone is dated about 800 A.D. The extant monastic buildings that we see today date from about 1200 to 1500 
About 1200, the Monastery took the 'Rule of The Canons Regular of St. Augustine' and in 1415, Henry IV annexed the Monastery to the Priory of Kells in Kilkenny. From Tullylease, at least five other churches were founded in Munster, and probably a foundation in Leinster and one in Connaught. 
In 1993, the historian Dr. Daphne Pochin Mould took an aerial photo of the site in mid-December, on a clear frosty evening. A large portion of the 'massive external enclosure bank of the early monastic site' showed clearly on photo. It is now possible to trace the external original boundaries of the monastery. 
The people of Tullylease are very proud of the Monastery. They take great care of it, and they are most grateful that Bishop Magee chose the Tullylease as a special place of Pilgrimage for Jubilee 2000.

Now this writer has established two conflicting traditions about Saint Berehert, one that he was a Saxon prince who came to Ireland after the Synod of Whitby and the other that he was a 9th-century monastic bearing the same name as his founder. But there is a further complication as Saint Berehert has also been identified with a saint commemorated on 18 February. This is a Saint Nem, Bishop of Drum Bertach, an even earlier figure associated with Saint Patrick. O'Hanlon in his entry for 18 February records:
St. Nem, Bishop of Drum Berthach. This holy man is entered in the "Martyrology of Tallagh," as Nem, Bishop of Droma Bertach. By some writers, this saint has been confounded with a St. Beretchert, Berichter or Berechtuine, of Tullylease, county of Cork—thought to be locally called St. Ben or St. Benjamin. This identification, however, admits of very great doubt. The Martyrology of Donegal records on this day Nem, Bishop of Drum Berthach. It seems difficult to identify this place, but, very possibly, it may be in or near Tullylease. We may ask, too, if the St. Nem of our Calendars could have been corrupted into the local pronunciation of Ben. This seems, at least, possible. Colgan thinks, the present saint may have been St. Patrick's disciple, who was set over Tullachrise, in the diocese of Connor. It is said to have been one of the churches St. Patrick erected in Dalaradia. Under the head of Druim-bertach, Duald Mac Firbis records, Nemh, Bishop of Druim Bertach, at February the 18th.
There is thus no doubt that a Saint Nem is commemorated on February 18 but how he became identified with our Saint Berehert is unclear. Interestingly, O'Hanlon also records that:

'Every male child, born on St. Berechert's day, is called by his name, which is regarded as the Irish for Benjamin. We are told, that from remote times, the saint's day has been unaccountably transferred from the 6th of December to the 18th of February. At the former date, we shall have more to state, in reference to St. Berechert.'
Alas, O'Hanlon did not live to publish his December volume so we cannot know what other evidence he might have presented.

So, it would seem that we cannot identify the person of Saint Berehert commemorated on December 6 with any certainty. I am intrigued by the process which has led the monastic founder of Tullylease to be identified with a 5th-century Patrician Bishop, a seventh-century Saxon refugee and a ninth-century Irish monastic. Which is the real Saint Berehert? I'm not sure if we can ever know.

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