Wednesday 23 September 2015

Adamnan, the Poor Scholar

September 23 is the feast day of Saint Adamnan, abbot of Iona and biographer of Saint Colum Cille. In the episode below we see this great saint not as the accomplished churchman but as a struggling student who encounters King Finnachta and his entourage:

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Adamnan, the Poor Scholar

The sister of Finnachta invited him to come to her and feast in her dún for some days. It was before Finnachta, whom men called "The Festive", was made Ard-Righ of Erinn. He set out with a great cavalcade, and as they journeyed towards Clonard of Meath, with laughter and light words, they came upon a young student who was trudging along the road with a small cask or churn on his back. The youth, on hearing the tramp of the horses,  made a hurried attempt to move off the road: but having struck his foot against a stone he fell, breaking the cask to pieces and spilling the milk with which it was filled. The cavalcade passed on at quick speed, and the student recovering himself set out among with them, and notwithstanding their speed and his own grief kept pace with them,  a fragment of the cask at his back, until at last he attracted the notice of the king, who smiled when he saw the excitement under which he laboured. Then the king accosted him and said: "We will make thee happy again, for we have sympathy with the unfortunate and the powerless. Thou shalt receive, O student," said he, "satisfaction from me". The youth (who was afterwards no less a person than the great scholar and divine, Saint Adamnan the founder of the Church of Rath-Botha, or Raphoe in Donegal, and Abbot of Iona after Columkill) then spoke to the king, whom he did not know at the time: "O good man," said he, "I have cause to be grieved, for there are three noble students in one house, and there are three lads of us that wait upon them, and what we do is, one of us three goes round the neighbourhood to collect support for the other five, and it was my turn to do do this day; but what I had obtained for them has been lost, and what is more unfortunate, the borrowed vessel has been broken, while I have not the means of paying for it."

Then Finnachta ordered that full compensation should be made to Adamnan; and afterwards, when Finnachta was Ard-righ and the young scholar had the reputation of learning on him, the king brought him to Tara and made him his councillor. - Taken from O'Curry's Translation of an old Irish MS.

All Ireland Review Vol. 3, No. 2 (Mar. 15, 1902), p. 29

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