Saturday 7 February 2015

Saint Lomman of Portloman, February 7

February 7 sees the commemoration of a saint associated with the locality of Lough Owel, County Westmeath - Lomman of Portloman. Canon O'Hanlon gives a particularly charming account of his own visit to a small island in the Lough in the course of his research into the saint's life, saying in a footnote:

Through the kind offer of Mr. De Blaquiere, who, on casually learning a clergyman's desire to see the old church there, with the ready courtesy of an Irish gentleman sent his pleasure boat and servant for the purpose, with instructions, that both were to be at the writer's disposal whatever time he might deem necessary for exploration on Lough Owel.

Weren't those the days when a gentleman would send his servant and pleasure boat to accommodate a clergyman? Page 386 of Volume II of the Lives of the Irish Saints contains a sketch of the servant rowing the Canon to the island.

Below is the account of Saint Lomman and his locality from that same volume. It is interesting to note the survival of some of the relics associated with the saint - a bachall and chain - until the mid-seventeenth-century. The chain was used as an aid to women in childbirth and would be placed around the belly of a labouring women to ensure a safe delivery. I saw an example of one of these chains or girdles in the National Museum recently. There is also at least one other Saint Lomman, said to have been a disciple of Saint Patrick and connected with Ath-Trim, but his feastday is commemorated on 11 October. Inevitably, however, there was some confusion in the sources between the two, which O'Hanlon mentions in passing.

St. Lomman, of Portloman, County of Westmeath. [Sixth Century.]
Among the many beautiful lakes of Westmeath, some may be found to rival Lough Owel, in depth, extent and variety of adjacent scenery; yet, none to surpass it in historic and topographical interest. Anciently was it called Loch Uair, and here, sometime in the sixth century, did the Blessed Lomman select a charming site for the foundation of a religious establishment, on its western banks. Lomman Locha Uair is an entry found in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 7th of February.

Portlomon or Portlemon is now a parish, in the barony of Corkaree, and in the county of Westmeath. Within its limits is Frum Hill, on the summit of which there is a remarkable rath. Portlemon House, formerly the residence of Lord De Blaquiere, is situated within a finely wooded demesne. This, likewise, encloses the ancient church, and the surrounding graveyard – both of these rise on a gently sloping green ridge, immediately over the waters of Lough Owel. The ruins, about three and a-half miles north-west of Mullingar, measure seventy-seven feet, by twenty feet four inches. A stone, deeply embedded in the clay, was disinterred some years ago. It was shaped like a coffin-lid, and it had a cross inscribed. Probably, it marked the grave of some ecclesiastic, in former times. A tourist or pilgrim, visiting Portloman, must linger long at a place, endeared by so venerable an antiquity, and by so many religious associations. Especially from the old consecrated walls, where the resting-place of so many dead contributes to sacred and solemn remembrances, enchanting scenery is presented on every side.

A vast sheet of water spreads far away, to the east and south. The ancient name of the church here seems to have been derived from the present saint, who, probably, was the founder. It was called Tempull Lommain, or " the Church of Lomman." It is likely, a monastery had been established by him, in connexion with it; yet, not at a period so far back, as might be inferred from the statement of those, who would make our saint the- son of Darerca," sister to the Irish Apostle." In this case, St. Lomman should be regarded as nephew to the latter. But, St. Lomman's family and pedigree are assigned to altogether a different stock. He sprang from the race of Conall Gulban. St. Loman was the son of Ernan, son to Cesperius, son of Lathimius, son of Fergus, son to Conall Gulban. This saint, who was the fifth, in descent, must have been a relation of the great St. Columkille; but, he appears to have flourished after the time of the latter. At least, a difference of two generations is noted, in their respective pedigrees. We may therefore set it down as highly probable, that St. Loman—although he might have been born towards the close of the sixth century—yet, did not take an active part in the affairs of life, until the seventh age had somewhat advanced. As we have mentioned, in another place, on the island of Inishmore, in Lough Gill, county of Sligo, a St. Loman is said to have founded a church, in the time of St. Columkille. It may well be questioned, if he were not identical with the present holy man. Perhaps, it might be said, St. Loman of Lough Owel migrated to Lough Gill, at some period of his life; or, it might be, that St. Loman of Lough Gill chose afterwards to live near or on Lough Owel. Yet, our previous calculations, and the data already given, seem to establish a different case. We must observe, however, the similarity of a coincidence in taste, when a St, Loman of the seventh century chose to live near the lake scenery of a loch, lovely as any could be found elsewhere in the ancient province of Meath, while a St. Loman of the sixth age selected his lake-island, in the ancient province of Connaught. As the church and residence of St. Loman, at Lough Gill, were completely insulated, so did we find a very low-lying green dot, far away from Portloman, and on the surface of Lough Owel. It was greatly our wish to visit it, and happily the opportunity was presented. After a pleasant row of two miles, in a direct course, over the still waters of the lough, and on a exceptionally warm day, the writer was landed on Church Island. Here, indeed, were found subjects for solemn consideration. A very interesting old church stands, but in a ruinous state, on the small islet. It was built of fine limestone. Interiorly, it measured thirty-five feet in length, by eighteen feet in width. The walls were three feet in thickness. An end eastern and circularly-headed window was in the gable, as yet tolerably perfect. A window can be seen in the north sidewall, while a door was in the southern side wall. The west gable has completely disappeared. Elder trees grow within and around the ruins, which are also covered with ivy. An old cemetery extended without the church, and about fifty years before, the last corpse had been conveyed to it by boats and attendants from the mainland. Two distinctly marked piles of building stones are to be seen, on the very margin of the lake, and formerly these were more elevated over its surface than at present. They, however, are the debris of old anchoretical houses, now completely dilapidated, but apparently resembling, in former times, the beehive-shaped houses to be found in the west and south of Ireland. It is said, St. Lomman built a small house, in an island of Loch Uair, near Portlomain, and this seems most likely to have been the identical place. Except at the landing-place, and on the higher earth, near the old church and its graveyard, lake-flaggers and reedy-grass lift their tops amid the waters on the islet's margins. St. Lomman is said to have lived on Alexandric herbs, of which there was a great abundance on his island. This was the Smyrnium Olus-atrum, commonly called Alexanders, which was probably a corruption of Olus-atrum. The Irish name, Alistrin, for them, is certainly a corruption of Alexandrine.

The Martyrology of Donegal enters the festival of St. Lomman, of Loch h Uair, in Ui-Mac-Uais, in Midhe, at the 7th of February. At the vii. ides of this month, we find, likewise, Lomman, confessor, in Hibernia, is set down [in the Kalendarium Drummondiense] as having departed to Christ. We are informed, that he had another festival, at the 11th of October; this, however, is a mistake. In the seventeenth century, there was a holyday to honour this saint at Portloman, near Multi-Farannain, or Multyfarnham. Then, too, his bachall or crozier was held by Walter Mac Edward [Fitzward?] in Portlommain. His chain, too, was preserved there, towards the middle of the seventeenth century. What has become of both these objects cannot at present be ascertained.

Finally, you can see a picture of the inscribed stone referred to in the text here.

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