Tuesday 6 December 2016

Saint Brecan of Ardbraccan, December 6

December 6 is the commemoration of a County Meath holy man, Saint Brecan of Ardbraccan. He seems to have been equated in some of the sources with a Saint Brecan of the Aran Islands and indeed there are at least ten saints who share the name.  Whether the Meath saint is the same individual as the Galway saint remains non-proven to me. The Aran saint's feast day is on May 1, but Brecan, 'Bishop of Ardbraccan' is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal at December 6, as Meath diocesan historian, Father Anthony Cogan explains:

THE Abbey of Ardbraccan, "Breacan, or Brecan's height or hill", was founded by St. Brecan, in the sixth or very early in the seventh century. St. Brecan was the son of Eochaidh Balldearg, prince of Thomond, and grandson of Carthen Finn, first Christian ruler of that territory. After having governed Ardbraccan for some time, he proceeded to the west of Ireland, and founded, on the great island of Arran, in the bay of Galway, the Church of Templebraccan, where he fixed his residence. He is said to have written some prophecies regarding the future wars of Ireland and the coming of the English. The exact year of his death is unknown, but it was probably in the sixth century. He was interred in his own church of Templebraccan, where his festival was celebrated on the 1st of May. In the Martyrology of Donegal he is called Bishop of Ardbraccan, and his festival is marked at December the 6th. The Martyrology of Tallaght commemorates him at May 1st. His tomb on which was an Irish inscription was discovered some years ago:

"This monumental stone", says Dr. Petrie, " was discovered about forty years ago within a circular enclosure known as St. Brecan's tomb, at a depth of about six feet from the surface, on the occasion of its being first opened to receive the body of a distinguished and popular Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, of the County of Galway, who made a dying request to be buried in this grave. Under the stone within the sepulchre there was also found, on this occasion, a small water-worn stone of black calp or limestone. . . . On the upper side is carved a plain cross, and around this, in a circle, the following simple inscription (Anglicised): 'A Prayer for Brecan the pilgrim'".

This venerable relic is at present in Dr. Petrie's possession. Ware makes St. Brecan flourish about 650. Dr. Petrie says he died early in the sixth century.

Rev. A. Cogan, The Diocese of Meath Ancient and Modern. Vol. I. (Dublin and London, 1862), 50-51.

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