Saturday 31 December 2022

A Prayer to the Saints at the End of the Year

The following prayer to the saints is found at the end of the notes to the Martyrology of Oengus after the final entries at December 31. I have previously posted a similar prayer from the Martyrology of Gorman here. Both of our martyrologists entreat the intercession and protection of the Irish saints whose feast days they have recorded for us. Saint Oengus uses the affectionate diminutive Ísucán when asking Christ to grant his prayer, which the translator Whitley Stokes has rendered as 'O dear little Jesus':
May every saint who has been, is, and will be till doom victorious division -
in Christ's pious company, may they be helping me! 
May they be helping me in heaven and on earth,
and come in their bands to work along with my soul. 
O dear little Jesus, [Ísucán] may it thus be fulfilled!

Every saint, every holy virgin, every martyr, whom I have recounted, every high apostle, 
their prayer for me to God whom I fear, may it protect me from every fierce danger!

 W. Stokes ed. and trans., The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (London, 1905, p. 263).


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Monday 19 December 2022

'Pure was her heart amid the wicked': In Praise of Saint Samthann

December 19 is the feast of Saint Samthann of Clonbroney, County Longford. She is one of only a handful of women saints to have left a written Life and I have posted some selections from the Life of Saint Samthann here. Although the Life is the most important source of information regarding this saint it is not the only one. She features in a number of other sources including the poem below, attributed to an eighth-century high king, Aodh Allán, son of Fearghal. In it the poet pays tribute to Saint Samthann's reputation for asceticism and her courage in the struggles of the monastic life:

"734: Fifth year of Aed Allan.

Saint Samtain, virgin, of Cluain Bronaig (Longford), died on December 19. It was of her that Aed Allan gave this testimony:

"Samtain for enlightening various sinners,
A servant who observed stern chastity,
In the wide plain of fertile Meath
Great suffering did Samtain endure;

She undertook a thing not easy,
Fasting for the kingdom above.
She lived on scanty food;
Hard were her girdles;

She struggled in venomous conflicts;
Pure was her heart amid the wicked.
To the bosom of the Lord, with a pure death,
Samtain passed from her trials."

Charles Johnston, Ireland, Historic and Picturesque, (Philadelphia, 1901), 226.


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Friday 16 December 2022

Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg, December 16

On December 16 the Calendar of Cashel, an eleventh-century source sadly no no longer extant, records a feast attributed by some of the nineteenth-century scholars of the saints to Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg, the County Donegal site of the Saint Patrick's Purgatory pilgrimage. Saint Dabheoc has two feasts preserved in the Irish martyrologies, one at January 1 and one at July 24. None of them mention a third feast day at December 16 and it seems, from what the Ordnance Survey scholar John O'Donovan recorded when he visited Saints' Island in 1835, that the source of today's feast is the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Friar John Colgan, who had access to the now lost Calendar of Cashel:

 Colgan,..  speaking of Daveog, the patron, .. says: St. Dabeocus is held in the greatest veneration to the present day, and his festivity is observed three days in every year, according to our Festilogies, viz., on the 1st of January, 24th of July, and 16th of December. So Marian Gorman, Cathal Maguire and the Martyrologies of Tallaght and Donegal. But the Calendar of Cashel places his festival day only on the 16th of December. 

Michael Herity, ed. Ordnance Survey Letters Donegal- Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the County of Donegal Collected During the Progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1835 (Four Masters Press, Dublin, 2000), 122-123.

Since the December feast is missing from the earliest martyrologies as well as from the 1630 Martyrology of Donegal (where we might have expected to find it), I wondered if it was possible that we were dealing with a case of mistaken identity here. That suspicion was strengthened when I noted that Professor Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints discusses another Ulster saint, Mobheóg of Artraige, at December 16. Here we are back to the familiar problem of the many different forms that the names of Irish saints can take, for Dabheoc or Dobheóg is sometimes known as Beoán, Beóg and Mobheóg. It therefore seems possible that the feast in the Calendar of Cashel, attributed by Father Colgan to Dabheoc of Lough Derg, was actually the feast of Mobheóg of Artraige observed in Wexford on December 16. But although I am not convinced that today is a feast of Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg I am nevertheless delighted to offer another reminder of his career as he is a saint to whom I feel a personal connection. I have taken part in the pilgimage at Lough Derg three times and on my first all-night vigil I was sorely tempted to give up when the going got tough. Instead I made my way to the side altar of the basilica where the statue of Saint Dabheoc stands and asked for his help to complete the rest of the vigil. I have asked for his intercession ever since and feel he is one of many Irish saints who deserves to be better known.

The account below of Saint Dabheoc and his island home has been taken from Chapter Five of Father Daniel O'Connor's 1879 guide to Lough Derg:


About two miles north of Station Island lies Saints' Island, anciently called Oilean-na-naomh, and more anciently still, St. Dabheoc's Island [This name, "Dabheoc," is usually pronounced as if written Davoc.]. In pre-Reformation times there stood on Saints' Island a venerable convent of Augustinians; and, at least down to the year 1497, this island would appear to have been the place of pilgrimage. The island is like a ring in form, and rises on all sides in gentle acclivity from the lake, its highest elevation being about forty feet above the level of the lake.

Saints' Island bears evident traces of agriculture, and of having been turned to profitable account in the days when the Canons Regular of St. Augustine were denizens of the place. The soil of the island is rank and loamy, and seems to have partaken of the ruin which has visited with such destruction its holy cloisters and churches. It is quite overgrown with coarse grass, with ferns and rushes; and in some parts of it a stunted covering of heather indicates that it has, to some extent, returned to its original state of wildness. The ruins of the sacred enclosures, monastery, churches and cemetery, are overgrown with luxuriant weeds. The island has very few trees or shrubs, if we except some slender trees of mountain ash, and some whitethorn bushes, which are really worth observing, as they are hoar with antiquity. These bushes are sparsely scattered over the island, but at its eastern extremity a dense cluster of them overshadows the debris of the buildings; and, judging from the gray, dank moss adhering to their branches, they appear to date from the time these buildings were demolished.

On the southern slope of the island were situated the convent gardens, as we may plainly infer from the
enclosures, as well as from the superior fertility of the soil. During the winter season these gardens present a more marked contrast for their verdure; and herbs and flowers are known to grow here, which are not found elsewhere through these islands and mountains.

The eastern half of the island was laid out in fields, as the remains of the earthen fences or enclosures denote. These fences are inhabited by a numerous colony of rabbits, of different colours, brown, white and black, that skip about in every direction, and in a variety of ways contribute their own little best "to lend enchantment to the scene."

The western half of the island appears to have been used as a "common" for pasture, as it is not intersected by fences, though here also the furrowed surface presents indications of its having yielded to the beneficent sway of the spade and ploughshare.The grass and hay grown on Saints' Island are said to be so rank and unsavoury as to be very noxious to cattle. Formerly, I have been informed, cattle and sheep were put to pasture on it, till the mortality which set in amongst them awakened their owners to the dangers of the situation. And thus, fortunately, the sacred precincts and ruins on the island are no longer trampled upon, dishonoured and profaned by the beasts of the field, which in other places have occasioned such injury to the ancient monuments of our country.

In the early ages of the faith in Ireland there appears to have prevailed a custom, borrowed from the pagan period, of erecting a circular earthen fort or enclosure convenient to, or around the religious houses. Thus, in Father O'Hanlon's Life of St. Fanchea, we read of her brother, St. Endeus, having with his own hands raised round his sister's nunnery, at Rossory, a large múr, or earthwork, strengthened by deep circular fosses, the remains of which are still to be seen. And Mr. Wakeman, in his Antiquities of Devenish, says that nearly all the primitive church sites in Fermanagh bear traces of such circumvallations. The writer of the present subject, from his own personal observation of some of
these sites, can fully endorse Mr. Wakeman's statement. Near the Abbey of Devenish stood a strongly-fortified rath, remains of which are still evident. The same may be said of Rossory, Inniskeen, &c. Outside Fermanagh the same custom also prevailed. At Clogher and Clones religious houses were founded, for economy sake, near forts, of which we have sufficient evidence for saying that they were erected during the pre-Christian period of our country.

On Saints' Island, also, the visitor will perceive a circular earthwork of this class, on the very summit of the island, and to the west of the monastery and cemetery. The diameter of this enclosure measures about twenty yards. A part of this circular earthwork has been intersected by the cemetery, which lies to the east of it; but as much of it, fortunately, still remains as to leave no doubt whatever as to the character and object of this primitive work. It seems strange, indeed, that this interesting object escaped
the notice of the Ordnance Survey party, and even of O'Donovan himself, who visited the island on the 28th of October, 1835. It is much to be regretted that O'Donovan did not devote more of his time and attention to this locality; as, with his rare knowledge, much that is now hopelessly lost might have been brought to light. He came, as we said, on the 28th of October, and on Hallow-Eve following he wrote, from Ballyshannon, an account of his visit to the lake, having derived, as he jocosely states, no benefit from his turas save a severe cold.

Within this fort on Saints' Island, or, at any rate, in the cemetery adjoining, it is not too much of conjecture to say that the monastery founded here by St. Dabheoc, in the days of St. Patrick, stood; and that here his order flourished till the time of the Danish invasion....

...There is an air of loneliness and desolation about Saints' Island, which is truly affecting. Silence, still as death, reigns round these holy precincts, where once the prayer of the pilgrim, the pious chant of the monks, 'mid ceremony and sacrifice, resounded. Of this island we may repeat with truth what was said of "Arran of the Saints," that the living God alone knows the number of holy persons who here await their final resurrection.

Standing on this holy island, where stood the monastery of St. Dabheoc, where stood the sanctuary of Saint Patrick's Purgatory, which during the middle ages became'the most famous shrine of penance and purification in Western Europe' the following sweet lines recur to memory: —

"God of this Irish isle,
Sacred and old,
Bright in the morning smile
Is the lake's fold;
Here where thy saints have trod,
Here where they prayed,
Hear me, O saving God!
May I be saved!"

Rev. Daniel O’Connor,  Lough Derg and Its Pilgrimages (Dublin, 1879),  26-31. 


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Thursday 15 December 2022

Saint Crónán, December 15

Yesterday we looked a trio of saints called Colmán, one of the most widely-shared names among Irish saints. Another common name borne by Irish saints is that of Crónán with nearly twenty holy men of this name recorded on the calendars. This number grows even wider when we take into consideration the hypocoristic or 'pet' form of this name, Mochua, with fifty-nine recorded on the twelfth-century List of Homonymous Saints alone. Today the Martyrology of Donegal simply records the name Crónán with no further information to allow us to distinguish him from the others who share his name.


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Wednesday 14 December 2022

'Three Colmáns to Help Us', December 14


As regular readers of the blog will know the problem of trying to disentangle Irish saints who all share the same name is never more acute than when we are dealing with saints called Colmán. There is a source called the List of Homonymous Saints, preserved in the twelfth-century manuscript known as the Book of Leinster, which lists over two hundred saints called Colm or Colmán. On December 14 we find three saints of this name listed on some of the Irish calendars. The twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman notes: 

Three Colmáns to help us

while the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal records:

COLMAN, of Rath Maoilsidhe.
COLMAN, son of Fionntan.
 The first of the trio is associated with the monastery of Rath Melsigi, modern Clonmelsh, County Carlow, a spiritual and intellectual powerhouse which prepared a number of Anglo-Saxon saints, most notably Saint Willibrord and his companions, for their European mission. In the absence of other information we cannot clarify what Saint Colmán's role was at this foundation or when he may have exercised it.

The second of the three, described as the son of Fintan offers a patronymic to distinguish himself but alas, this too does not help us locate him in time or place. 

The final Colmán sounds like a pleasant chap, álainn in modern Irish is an adjective usually translated as 'beautiful' but in its older form álaind, Whitley Stokes, the translator of the Martyrology of Gorman, has rendered it as 'delightful'.

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Tuesday 13 December 2022

Saint Colum of Terryglass at Inishcaltra

December 13 is the feast of Saint Colum of Terryglass, County Tipperary. He is also credited in the Life preserved in the Salamancan Codex with being the founder of the monastery at Inishcaltra, an island off the western shore of Lough Derg, County Clare. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain has translated The Life of Colum of Terryglass in his 2014 collection Four Tipperary Saints and below are three short extracts which deal with Saint Colum's time on the holy island of Inishcaltra. In the first we see a familiar trope from hagiography, where a saint is directed to a particular location by an angelic messenger. Then once there a source of sustenance is miraculously provided for him in the form of a sweet-tasting tree sap which also has 'the inebriating quality of wine'. Finally, we have a sample of Saint Colum's spiritual wisdom prompted by a question from one of his faithful monastics:

...An angel of the Lord then appeared to him, to say 'Arise and go to Inishcaltra'. There he found an old man by the name of Mac Reithe, to whom the angel said: 'Relinquish this island to Colum and go somewhere else as a monk of his', which he did.

Then, on the day of Colum's arrival on Inishcaltra, the Lord made a meal for him, for there was a certain tree on the island by the name of lime-tree whose sap, on dripping down, filled a vessel and had the taste of honey. The fluid had the inebriating quality of wine, and Colum and his followers were sated by this excellent liquid.

Colum then lived on Inishcaltra for a long time, and the birds of the sky clung intimately to him there, flying about his face and playing. At this, his disciple Nadh Caoimhe said: 'Why, master, do the birds not take flight from you: they truly avoid us?' Colum replied: 'Why should birds avoid a bird? Just as the bird flies, so does my mind never cease from flying to heaven'.

 P. Ó Riain, ed. and trans., 'The Life of Colum of Terryglass' in Four Tipperary Saints, (Four Courts Press, 2014), 15~ 16~ 17~, p. 13.

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Monday 12 December 2022

The Character of Saint Finnian

The Character of Saint Finnian

Finian died at Clonard, in A.D. 552. An old writer has left us the following sketch of his character: — "He was full of wisdom, as a scribe most learned to teach the law of God's commandments. He was most merciful and compassionate, and sincerely sympathised with the infirmities of the sick, and the sorrows of the afflicted; and in every work of mercy he was most ready with his assistance. He healed with mildness the mental and bodily ills of all who came to him. Towards himself he exercised the strictest discipline, to leave to others a good example. He loved all from a pure heart. He abhorred all carnal and mental vices. His ordinary food was bread and herbs, his drink water; but on the festivals of the Church, he ate bread made of corn, and drank a cup of ale, or whey. When obliged to take moderate repose, he slept not on a soft and easy couch, but rather on the bare ground, with a stone for his pillow. In a word, he was full of compassion toward all other men, but of strictness and severity to himself."

Vita St. Finian,— Colgan's AA. SS. p. 397.

W. G. Todd, A History of the Ancient Church in Ireland (London, 1845), 31.

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Sunday 6 November 2022

All the Saints of Ireland, November 6

November 6 is the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland and, since it is the date on which I started Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae in 2012, is also this site's patronal feast. As my original inspiration was the monumental Lives of the Irish Saints of John, Canon O'Hanlon (1821-1905), it seems fitting to mark the feast with this splendid tribute taken from the introduction to his very first volume. I would like to thank everyone who has supported the blog over the last decade and wish you the blessings of the Feast. Beannachtaí na Féile oraibh go Léir! Orate pro nobis omnes Sancti Hiberniae!
By the Irish prelates and religious, vast numbers of sainted persons were inscribed on our martyrologies and calendars; churches were built in their honour, and called after them; their relics were frequently preserved there, and exposed for veneration to the faithful; litanies and hymns were composed in their honour; Masses and offices were celebrated in their name; they were invoked by prayers; while every just title of religious prescription has hallowed their memory, leaving them as our guardians and intercessors in heaven.

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Tuesday 25 October 2022

'Broken in All Things Save of God': Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy


THE high Alps, snow-covered, take on, at sunset in Autumn time, such colours and blends as are to be conveyed only in music, or stored in the secret heart. Pathos and longing in the deep blue auras, magic in the silver slides passing in and out of the lanterns of moon and stars, peace and rest in the purple flowing down like a shawl to cover the beloved breasts of hills; until in the dark from the folded world rise, like breathings of children, turnings in sleep, little sighs and cries, the springs and streams of the lower levels, un-frozen as yet and running on to the Mediterranean with word of the hills and how beautiful they are in their sleep, and how holy this work is of handmaiden to them. So poetry steals out of every thought, such poetry as must have touched his heart. For look at him there, a pilgrim dragging himself on to the Italian gate of the Alps. A young man, 37 or so, but broken in all things save of God. Night is falling as he reaches Ivrea and enters the cathedral. He prays for strength to persevere, for now his heart lifts with an agonising hope. There, up in the valley of Aosta, opens out the fan of snows about the great St. Bernard, from whose heights -  oh, God, if only he can reach them! -  the 19 hills will be visible rolling down to the West and Ireland that he craves for. So he is shaken and exalted by the thousand thoughts, the folly of his adventure, the anguish for home, the phantoms that begin to rise of kinsmen clustering round him at the gates of Cork. "Welcome, welcome back -"  But look! How white he turns! The night grows harder with nipping cold, his blood congeals, his skin tingles and is stung, the nails of the coffin rivetting in - so his mind wandering begins to vision it. He staggers to a gate it is a mile beyond Ivrea on the Aosta Road - the hospice of St. Antonio - they admit him; another rover; pilgrims are frequent, not always to be trusted. He flounders to a bed in the common ward ; neglected, scorned maybe. Vespers ring out. The Brothers are at prayer; the pilgrim gives a little gasp on the floor. Suddenly the mountains topple down, the torrents run living gold, lapis lazuli and silver reef across the peaks, avalanches leap and clash like cymbals. An old feeble fellow stretched near by cries out for help: "That one there - the stranger! He is all on fire!" And the bell clangs the brethren round, and they fall upon their knees, breathless and humbled, till the phosphorescence passes from the face and hair of the departed. Oh, Mary and Joseph! a saint and of noble birth! For look what is here and they searching his coarse pilgrim clothes! A bishop's ring and the scrip from the Pope himself! And the poor man, so holy and good, and he walking and begging his way from Rome! Fling wide your gates, O Cork, and bid his spirit enter. For this Thaddeus of the royal MacCarthys is such a light of humility and faith as must outshine us all !

 D. L. Kelleher, The Glamour of Cork, (Dublin and London, 1919), 18-20.

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Wednesday 12 October 2022

The Old Age of Saint Fiacc of Sletty

October 12 is the feastday of Saint Fiacc of Sletty, a bard converted by Saint Patrick and later made a Bishop. A paper detailing his life can be read at the blog here. Below is a beautiful tribute to the saint in his old age when, despite his advancing years, there was no lessening of his ascetic discipline:

...Fiacc in his old age lived a life of extraordinary austerity. At the beginning of Lent he usually left his monastery unattended, taking with him only five barley loaves, and these strewn with ashes. He forbade any of his monks to follow him, but he was seen to go to the hills to the north-west of Sletty, a wild and solitary district. In one of these, called Drum Coblai, he had a cave which sheltered him. The hill itself has been identified with the Doon of Clophook, which is just seven miles to the north-west of Sletty. Its eastern slope 'which is steep and beetling' rises abruptly to the height of 150 feet; at its base is the cave thirty-six feet deep by twelve in width. Close at hand there was an ancient church and cemetery, doubtless founded there in honour of the saint. Local tradition still remembers him; but as he was not seen coming or going to his church at Sletty, the wise people came to the conclusion that he had an underground passage through the mountains all the way to his own church. The fame of his sanctity and austerities still clings like the mists of morning to the mountain sides of Slieve Margy, where he spent his last and holiest days.

The poet-saint sleeps amid many miracles with kindred dust in his own church of Sletty, within view of the spires of Carlow. An ancient stone cross still standing is said to mark the spot on the right bank of the river where his holy relics rest. He was one of the earliest of our native prelates, he led an austere and humble life, he was deeply attached to the person and to the memory of his beloved master St. Patrick, and his influence has been felt for many ages in all the churches of Leinster. His poetic Life of St. Patrick, to which we have already referred, is beyond doubt an authentic poem; and if so it is the earliest and most authentic of all the Lives of the Saint. In any case it is an invaluable monument of the history, the language, and the learning of the ancient Church of Ireland....

Most Rev. Dr. J. Healy, The Life and Writings of Saint Patrick (Dublin, 1905), 399-400.


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Monday 3 October 2022

The Nativity of Saint Colmán Elo, October 3

On October 3, some of the Irish calendars record the feast of the nativity of Saint Colmán Elo. The marking of the birth of this saint as a separate feast is perhaps a reflection of his importance as a scholar and monastic founder. He lived c.560–611 and the most important work ascribed to his authorship is the ascetical poem the Apgitir chrábaid (the alphabet of piety). Some modern scholars have also suggested that Saint Colmán may have been the author of the hymn in praise of Saint Patrick, traditionally attributed to Secundinus (Sechnall). I have written about this hymn, Audite omnes amantes, and reproduced a translation of it at my blog dedicated to the three patrons here. Interestingly, genealogical sources record that Colmán Elo of the moccu Béognae was a relative of Saint Colum Cille of Iona, who also has the feast of his nativity listed on the calendars at December 7. Indeed, Saint Colmán features in the Life of Columba by Adamnan and left Iona after the death of its founder in 597 to establish his own monastery at Lann Elo, modern Lynally, County Offaly. The primary feast of Saint Colmán Elo is on September 26 and a post on his life can be read at the blog here

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Sunday 2 October 2022

Saint Erc, the Bishop, October 2

On October 2 the Irish calendars list a Saint Erc but without any further details as to when or where he flourished. His name is absent from the Martyrology of Oengus but the Martyrology of Tallaght records Herci episcopi at this date. The later twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman records his name as does the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal. There are a number of Irish saints named Erc (Earc, Erk, Ercus, Herc), the most well-known of whom is Saint Erc of Slane, an important figure in the hagiography of Saint Patrick. Another is Saint Erc of Alltraighe, who features in the hagiography of Saint Brendan of Clonfert and then there is the Erc recorded in the Life of Saint Seanán as one of three bishops left behind by Seanán on Scattery Island. In addition to these saints known from hagiogaphical sources, there is also Saint Erc of Donaghmore in County Kildare whose feast also falls in the month of October, on the 27th. Pádraig Ó Riain in his Dictionary of Irish Saints suggests that since the Donaghmore saint's feast day is within the octave of the feast of the famous Erc of Slane on November 2, they may well be the same person. Is it significant too that Erc of Slane's feast falls exactly one month to the day after that recorded for Erc the Bishop?  Dean Anthony Cogan on page 61 of the first volume of his diocesan history of Meath noted that 

Colgan says that, in the old calendars, Ercus is treated of on 2nd of October and 2nd of November.
Saint Erc, therefore, provides a very good illustration of the complexities involved in trying to disentangle the feast days and individual careers of Irish saints who share the same name!

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Monday 26 September 2022

Translation of the Relics of Saint Virgilius, September 26

As there are not many commemorations of Irish saints found on the calendars at September 26, Canon O'Hanlon is forced to look further afield to fill up the September volume of his Lives of the Irish Saints. He notes that various continental sources record the Translation of the Relics of Saint Virgilius of Saltzburg at this date. Beneath this Latin name is Fearghal, an eighth-century Irishman, who embodies the missionary and scholarly ideals of Ireland in the Golden Age of the Saints. A contemporary of the English Saint Boniface, with whom he clashed, Saint Virgil established a reputation as a leading European scholar before his death in 784. His feast day, as Canon O'Hanlon notes below, is on November 27 and a paper on the life and work of this great Irish saint in Europe can be read at the blog here. Below is the account of today's feast from Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints, I regret that he does not bring more actual detail of the circumstances of the translation of the saint's relics:

Article IX. Translation of the Relics of St.Virgilius, Bishop of Saltzburg. 

By Canisius and Ferrarius, the commemoration of a Translation of the Relics of St. Virgilius, Bishop of Saltzburg, in Bavaria, takes place on this day. His Acts are more properly deferred to the 27th of November, the date for his principal festival. The Bollandists notice the Translation of his Relics, at the 26th of September.

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Sunday 25 September 2022

'A Lion of Strength': Saint Finbarr of Cork

The following abstract of the character of this holy man [Saint Finbarr] is from the Irish and Latin lives:

"His humility, his piety, his charity, his abstinence, his prayers by day and by night, won him great privileges: for he was godlike and pure of heart and mind like Abraham; mild and well-doing like Moses; a Psalmist like David; wise like Solomon; devoted to the truth like Paul the Apostle; and full of the Holy Spirit like John the Baptist. He was a lion of strength, and an orchard full of apples of pleasure. When the time of his death arrived, after erecting churches and monasteries to God, and appointing over them Bishops; Priests, and other degrees, and baptising and blessing districts and people, Barre went to Cill-na-cluana (Cloyne) and with him went Fiana, at the desire of Cormac and Baoithin, where they consecrated two churches. Then he said, it is time for me to quit this corporeal prison and to go to the heavenly King, who is now calling me to himself; and then Barra was confessed, and received the sacrament from the hand of Fiana, and his soul went to heaven, at the cross which is in the middle of the church of Cloyne. And there came Bishops, Priests, Monks, and Disciples, on his death being reported, and to honour him; and they took him to Cork the place of his resurrection, honouring him with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and the angels bore his soul with joy unspeakable to heaven, to the company of the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Disciples of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Trinity, The Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost." Amen.

 R. Caulfield, ed., The Life of Saint Fin Barre, First Bishop and Founder of the See of Cork (London, 1864),  


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Monday 12 September 2022

'This is a Great Day for Ireland': Translation of the Relics of Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy

September 12, 1897 was a day of celebration in Ireland as it marked the translation of the relics of the Blessed Thaddeus (Tadhg) McCarthy from their Italian resting-place at Ivrea to the city of Cork. I have previously reprinted a newspaper account of the festivities and a poem written for the occasion here, but below is the text of a sermon given on the day by Father Michael Antoninus Keane O.P. (1851-1921), who had been Prior at Cork for a time in the 1890s. As Thom's Irish Who's Who tells us, however, 'his principal work has been that of Friar Preacher of Missions and sermons of occasion'. Father Keane certainly demonstrates his preaching ability on this occasion and delivers a stirring sermon which draws out all the lessons of the life of Blessed Thaddeus for the congregation:



"My enemies have spoken evils against me: when shall he die and his name perish? . . . All my enemies whispered together against me. . . . But Thou, O Lord, have mercy on me, and raise me up again. . . . By this I know that Thou hast a good will for me; because my enemy shall not rejoice over me. But Thou hast upheld me by reason of my innocence; and hast established me in Thy sight for ever " (Psalm xl). 

MY Lords, Very Reverend Brethren, dearest faithful in Christ - This is a great day for Ireland. Despite her long, dark thrall, oft has wave of sunshine passed over her, and resounding Hosannas expressed the nation's feeling. Stately processions have trod our streets; now for proud escort of popular hero; now for picturesque display of municipal splendour; at one time for impressive accompaniment of the demand for national right; at another for outpouring of faith and religious feeling. But we, who marched in this morning's sun, you who lined the way, all that gazed from hill, and casement, and house-top at the long stream of clergy that flowed between the living banks of our parochial societies, enjoyed an experience not given to Irishmen for nigh seven hundred years. In that long flow of time grace has indeed come in plenteous bestowal on many a soul of our race in this Christian land, and fructified unto eminent sanctification. As we tread the land that bore us, walk her vales, climb her hills, and wander through her forests green, there lie beneath our feet the mortal remains that once enshrined spirits of exalted saintliness. But not since the year 1226, when Pope Honorius III. proclaimed the celestial glory of Laurence O Toole, the great Archbishop of Dublin, has it been given to  Ireland to see borne through her streets with full circumstance of religious homage the bones of a beatified son of her bosom. Verily "many kings and prophets have desired to see what we see and they have not seen." Our fathers, their fathers, our faithful ancestors, yearned for the gladsome pride that is ours to-day to see a son of our old land crowned with the diadem of the Church's immortality; to be authorised to come into the House of God and lift heavenward eye and heart and voice, and in public worship supplicate one of the heroes of the ethereal kingdom, and call him by an Irish name. A great day, truly, for our motherland: praised be the Lord Who has given us to share its festive joy! 

What shall I speak, brethren, of him in whose honour we are assembled? I hold in my hand a picture of the blessed one. As I gaze upon it, noting it in full detail, mind and heart discern more than eye of body can see. The holy man stands dressed in pilgrim garb. He grasps in his hand, and leans upon, a pilgrim's staff. He is at the doorstep of a plain, massive building. That building is a hospice, where simple meal and night's rest were" given to the houseless poor. His pose is as of one who has knocked at its portals and now entreats admission within its walls. He seems to say: "See my wearied condition, pity me, shelter me." Behind the saint, not seen by him, there is an angel an angel bright and fair indeed; a being of everlasting youth. The heavenly spirit holds in his right hand a mitre, in his left hand a pastoral staff, the episcopal crozier. He seems to follow after the servant of God, on whom he looks with graceful admiration. Above the angel there comes streaming down from the sky a flood of golden rays, which direct themselves towards the holy pilgrim. That picture speaks; it tells a tale and points a moral. The blessed one's person, lowly and poor; the pilgrim's rough tunic, his robe; the pilgrim's staff and wallet, his whole possession; the view presented to his gaze, the humble shelter for poor wanderers. Thus he himself; his actual experience; his immediate prospect; all lowliness and poverty. On the other hand, behind him, hidden from his eyes, held in angel hands, are the jewelled mitre and gilded crozier, emblems of honour and power; while from the sky above comes the resplendent intimation of his acceptability before God, and the promise of unending glory to come. Humiliation and hardship, his actual present; ennoblement and bliss, the eternal future; a sowing in tears by one who is to reap in joy. 

Our sacred hero's lot was cast in rough and evil times. Evil times are almost all times, for the primal disarrangement of the Divine plan by human sin made the world an evil place. But evil time and rough was that in which the brief life of Blessed Thaddeus was passed. The passion which in all the ages has led men to offend God for sake of gain, in those days prompted to almost incessant conflict of man with man. The ploughshare was exchanged for the sword. Yearning to wrest from one another much-prized worldly possessions, men thought of war, spoke of war, dreamed of war, lived in war. New elements of division, interests and feelings, introduced into our island by the partial occupation of the English invader, served, along with ancient tribal differences, to establish strong lines of demarcation, and set up a multitude of contending parties. Warmth of hostile feeling, maintaining contentions among families and septs, could scarce fail to exercise influence on ecclesiastical concerns. Princes and chieftains, eager for domination, sought to have members of their clans appointed to episcopal sees within their respective domains. Noble and wealthy looked with jealous eye at the elevation to episcopal dignity of the scion of rival Celtic houses, while Celtic tribes beheld with indignation the rilling of a vacant see by one of Norman name and blood. Nor were those feelings kept in the heart. Strong and loud protestation was uttered, angry retort made, and in an age when eloquent tongue, as means of urging a claim or assailing an enemy, was held in small esteem, the inflamed heart quickly prompted men to unsheath the sword and rush to fiery combat. Over much of the district extending west and northward of Cork city the historic sept of the McCarthys had long held royal sway, and against that ancient princely house were Norman hatred and jealousy mainly exercised. A McCarthy stood forth in place of signal honour amongst all the nobility of the land. High in Church and State from the earliest times, it is the proud boast of a McCarthy that the nobles of this great empire whose heraldic glory is most impressive are but of yesterday when compared with his ancient kingly stock. 

 It was, therefore, with eyes of wrathful jealousy the fierce clans of Munster beheld the appointment to the bishopric of Ross, in the year 1482, of young Thaddeus, in whose veins the blood of the royal McCarthys flowed. Only twenty-seven summer suns had shone upon the noble ecclesiastic, but signal virtue and eminent philosophical and theological science had won the approval of the Church authority, and prompted the unusual action of consigning to one so young the grave pastoral charge. He was consecrated in the Eternal City on the 3rd day of May. It was the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross. Providence mayhap ordained that the day should intimate to the thoughtful young prelate promise of tribulation in the career which then opened before him. Straightway he found himself involved in a sea of trouble. On his return to Ireland there stood before him a rival claimant to the see of Ross. His predecessor had an assistant bishop. The assistant, desirous of cloister life, resigned his position, but, judging at a later date that religious life was not his destined lot, he resumed his place as auxiliary administrator of the diocese. The factious spirit in the breasts of the tribal chiefs eagerly seized on the occasion for harassing, and, if possible, getting rid of, a prelate belonging to the hated McCarthy sept. It is recorded that the then Earl of Desmond had on his solemn oath declared that a McCarthy should never grasp the crozier of a Munster diocese. The machinery of intrigue was put in motion. Falsehood ever familiar instrument in the hands of unscrupulous envy was planned, formulated, and dispatched to Rome. Slanderous accusations against the holy prelate were spoken in the ears of the supreme head of the Church. The difficulty of communication between Rome and distant countries in that age rendered it no easy task for the rulers of the Church to discriminate between truth and error, or for a man traduced by evil tongues to correct the malevolent misrepresentations. Envious lying triumphed for a space over the just man; he was censured by the sovereign pontiff. Immediately he went to Rome to plead for right in his own person before the chief pastor. After lengthened inquiry had been made, authoritative announcement came to the ears of Thaddeus that the sovereign ecclesiastical power had appointed him to the more important indeed, the most important position, in a sense, in the Irish Church at that period the diocese of united Cork and Cloyne. Rome's definite pronouncement terminated the dispute. 

Oh, dearest brethren, what precious blessing to live under supreme sacred authority! How good for us that we are not as "sheep without a shepherd," but have set over us by Power Divine, a ruler unto whom all must render submission. Be the multitude of the Church's members never so vast, one there is at whose binding God the Almighty binds; at whose loosing, the Almighty looses. One, the divinely established firmness of whose authority is our safeguard against the weakness and inconstancy of our wills, and the dissensions our contending passions would entail. One superb master of all Christendom, raised so high above all human judgment, human interest, human authority, and placed so near the very God Whose vicar he is, that unto him are given the very thunders of Heaven to hurl upon the wayward one that shall dare gainsay his supreme decision. Ah, what woe humiliating woe is the condition of them that are without the fold, and yet make the blind profession that they are of the Christian Communion! Communion of belief they have not. Communion of subordination to one authority they have not. It was said to them of old by the Divine Master: "There shall be one fold and one shepherd": that design of the Christian religion we Catholics alone realise. Back to Ireland came Thaddeus to take possession of his new charge. Ere long it was made clear to him that he had also to bear the burden of new troubles. Considerable wealth was attached to his exalted position. Generations of pious Catholics had created large endowments for the united diocese. For rapacious and combative Norman chiefs there was strong temptation to political jealousy and avarice in the acquisition of ample possessions by one of the old Irish septs. The famed Geraldines, yearning for lordly sway throughout Munster, abetted by chiefs whose name and blood are to this day found over the main portion of this extensive country, seized the ecclesiastical lands. As the working of the law of spiritual gravitation ordinarily provides, wrong begat wrong. Early venture in sin led to a course of sin. The usurpers having seized the Church lands brought so far their factious impiety as to close the doors of his Cathedral Church against the lawful pastor. It was might opposing right. It meant sorrow for the young bishop. At the uplifting of his ringer a thousand Muskerry swords would have flashed through all Muskerry's plains in his defence; but arm of flesh he would not employ against the wicked ones. He bowed before the storm in meek endurance of the personal irreverence. But as bishop he was the sworn custodian of ecclesiastical rights: he had been set up as sentinel to watch the safety of the Church's goods and the assertion of pastoral authority. While therefore "fulfilling justice" in the meekness that bore the personal affront he would fulfil all justice by vindicating in an orderly manner the Church's outraged claims. Down that river once again he sailed; he went forth once more from the beautiful harbour and travelled southward to speak his plaint and demand vindication of the Church's supreme head. At the feet of Pope Innocent VIII. he knelt. The aged pontiff laid his trembling hands on the youthful bishop's head, and imparted the benediction, which, like Jehova's mandate to Moses in days of old, has emboldened many a harassed one to encounter every threatening peril and stand for God and right against ten thousand foes. Into his hands Pope Innocent gave a brief on the 7th day of July, 1492, which condemned the wicked usurpers and menaced the Church s vigorous penalties if they surrendered not the sacred property they had seized. To the then lord deputy of Ireland the holy father wrote calling upon his aid on behalf of the ill-treated prelate. At the same time the venerable pontiff did signal honour to the several chiefs of the clan McCarthy by appointing them formally and by name protectors of their holy kinsman. Thaddeus rose from his place at the pontiff's feet. Into the venerable face he looked, as did we all to whom it has been given to gaze upon the vicar of Jesus Christ, with streaming tears of blended love and awe; then bade dutiful farewell. 

He donned pilgrim's garb; came forth from the gate of the Eternal City, and turned his steps towards home. The wide Campagna he traversed, and ere long found himself in fair and favoured Umbria. Oh, how his saintly instinct must have taught him to relish the balmy air of thrice blessed Umbria! Thrice blessed, did I say? A thousand times blessed for is it not Umbria on whose soft plains and stately hills the Most High did so pour down His blessing that more saints have sprung from her than from any region in all the wide world? And, dearest brethren, may I say to you may I at least think it, and speak my thought? Methinks as the youthful prince, bishop, saint, from this old land of ours walked those vales teeming with memories of God's glorious servants, they, enthroned in Heaven, kept watch upon him, and noted with loving interest his way, and his cause, and his strange story. When he had issued from the Roman Campagna and drew nigh to Viterbo, it were meet to think that Rose, the glorious saint of the old city, looking down from high Heaven upon her natal place she who in her brief mortal life loved to pray Heaven's interposition for the Church's tranquillity it were meet to think that she looked upon the persecuted prelate and wished him thenceforth victorious peace. I wonder did he move somewhat eastward from the direct route? Surely yes, for scarce could such as he resist the magnetic power which draws all fervid Christians who traverse Italy to gaze upon and mount the fair hill from whose side Assisi smiles upon the plain beneath. I behold with mind's eye Francis, the seraph, looking with admiring interest on the Irish pilgrim prelate, and bespeaking gifts from on high upon the man to whom his sons here in Cork were to pay dutiful homage. Farther north he came upon an Umbrian city, dear to me beyond all spots the sun and moon shine upon the city that gave to earth, gave to the Church, gave to Heaven one of the fairest adornments of God's mystic kingdom, and gave to the Dominican Order one of its proudest glories, Siena - Siena, admirable to the aesthetic appreciation of the lovers of art, delightful to the Christian soul. Something leads me to think that Catherine, already more than a hundred years enthroned in Heaven, but fond of hovering in thought above her beautiful town, may have seen the servant of God pass by, and noted that he came from Rome from the Pope with the sign upon him of Peter's approval, to sustain him in conflict for the Church's weal. And, oh, how did not she in whose heart love of the Church's rights was as red-hot passion - how did she not beam ethereal smile on the young ecclesiastic from our motherland who bore upon his person the document that was to tell each loyal man and woman in this city of Cork that he was to be recognised as the ruler of the Church of God in these parts? 

Onward he came beneath the shadow of the Appenine Range. Long was the way; difficult was journeying then; weary he was and footsore. At length he beheld before him the mighty Alps. It will be arduous toil and painful he must have thought to climb their vast sides and pass their lofty peaks. His limbs are heavy with fatigue; his frame enfeebled; he drags his weary way. Pitiless rains have beat upon him; the sun's burning rays have played upon him; blinding dust has swept past him. We may conjecture that hunger came with other experiences to make up the cross he bore in holy patience; and this in a strange land, yet not strange, for to the servant of God all the earth is home our Father's house. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." This pious assurance was in Thaddeus mind, as weary and pained he pursued his toilsome way. The grass plains he trod the Great Creator had spread out; in the long-reaching vineyards each savoury fruit was His gracious formation; the mighty Alps that frowned upon him, rearing high in air their giant peaks their deep foundations God had laid, their massive sides built up, and to the saintly eye of the pilgrim they must not have seemed mere senseless things, but lordly sentinels keeping watch over the Great Master's wide domain. And when at noon the resplendent sun shed from his fiery bosom wealth of gladdening light and heat, or in soundless mid night he looked upon the gentle moon as she traced her silver path across the sky, did he not remember that each recurring day in the Divine office he was wont to call upon these heavenly luminaries to magnify the Most High, whose handiwork and obedient servants they were? So did all external things enter into his holy thought, and preach to him God's gracious power and love as he drew nigh to a city invested with historic interest, even before the Christian era, but now destined to be, till trumpet of doom shall sound, associated with the story of the servant of God. 

Not Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy has created the interest for Catholics in that Piedmontese town Ivrea; greater than he had long before trod its streets. In 431 a man who had been on Irish soil, not indeed walking the noble halls of the proud castles of McCarthy's princely house, but feeding swine on Antrim's hills, Patrick, the man of gladsome destiny for the Irish race, while wending his way to Rome to receive authorisation to preach Christianity in Ireland, made Ivrea his resting-place. It is told by some historians that it was there he received episcopal consecration. Did Thaddeus, entering its streets, become sensible of some mysterious suggestion that it was the place for an Irish bishop to rest his weary limbs? In Ivrea he did take his rest. He sought the asylum for needy travellers; he begged and received admission, and when he cast himself exhausted on the simple couch in that place of Christian shelter, his journeying came to an end. The sun went down upon him calmly sleeping after his lengthened pilgrimage. The lights went out; the solemn peace of night came and brooded over the place. God sent His herald angel to bring His faithful one's trials to an end, and bear him to his heavenly home. Alone was he when the visitation of death came. No physician to prescribe relief; no gentle nurse to soften hard experience and minister relieving draught; no faithful friend to sustain him. There may have been things no human historian has recorded. Golden-winged nurses perhaps were round about him, sent down from Heaven to minister to his enfeebled body, and then escort his soul to the eternal rest. Patrick, Fachnan, Colman, Finbarr, the Great Lord may have allowed them to come down from the sky that night to cheer and bless their faithful successor. Morning came; the prescribed round of inspection was made by those whose part it was; they found the lowly stranger in the calm sleep of death. But wherefore the cry of wonder which escaped them? Dead they perceived him; lowly of state as when he had begged charitable shelter the previous night; but brilliant light encompassed him, and a glory not of earth was round about him; the bed whereon he lay seemed enveloped in flames! The cry brought the curator of the hospice and all the attendants. Message was sent in haste to the bishop of Ivrea, announcing the startling fact. He who bore the strange tale found the bishop filled already with sensational interest produced by a dream of the night that had passed. In sleep there had flashed into his sight a saintly form clad in episcopal robes. Having shone before him for a brief space the mysterious form uprose from the earth and sailed through shining clouds to Heaven's gate. While exercised in mind over this prodigy the prelate was summoned to the hospice to see the wonder that was there. He saw the dead man illuminated by the supernatural light. They told the bishop of his coming the previous eve poorly clad, and carrying naught save his simple staff and pilgrim's wallet. The pilgrim s wallet they opened, when, lo! they found a pectoral cross, an episcopal ring, the Papal Bull which told of his appointment to the bishopric of Cork and Cloyne, and the sentence of condemnation issued against those who had usurped the temporalities of his see. A sense of awe came upon those assembled. Down upon their knees they fell, while the bishop approached and looked upon the face of the dead. It was the face that had gleamed resplendent upon him in the vision of the night, and then he knew he looked upon one of the saints of God. With reverent care they robed the body in episcopal dress. The chapter of the diocese was summoned. It was resolved to call the citizens that they might see the wondrous sight; but no need to do it. With no man's hand to swing them, out pealed the Cathedral bells. In thousands flocked the people, and a long procession escorted the remains of the illustrious dead to the stately Temple. From all the surrounding country and from the sloping sides of the Alps came in vast multitudes the faithful people, and with loud acclaim they praised the Lord in His hidden saint. 

The Cross gloom and pain while he lived; triumph on earth and in Heaven after death. Triumph on earth. Brethren, who that saw in Ivrea on that October evening in the year of 1492 a poor, wearied, footsore man knock at the hospitable door and beg a night's housing, would have dreamed that after more than four hundred years had rolled by those antique streets spanned by floral arches should fill with countless throng; that festal adornment should grace all public buildings; that immense waves of music should swell towards Heaven to give expression to the jubilant piety of prelates from many lands and vast multitudes of the people; that its Cathedral Church, draped in every beauteous colour, and aflame with a thousand lights, should be the scene of a grand, awe-inspiring celebration, all to honour the humble pilgrim whom the Church's authority had uplifted to the immortal glory of her beatified heroes? He had sown in tears; he reaps in joy. His enemies had spoken evil against him; but Thou, O Lord, didst have mercy upon him, and Thou didst raise him up again. Thou didst uphold him by reason of his innocence, and Thou hast established him in Thy sight for ever! Dearly beloved, it is well that, with sacred theory taught us in the Divine Word, we should have impressive illustration of the same in the history of God s brave servants. Momentary and light is our tribulation. Weighty and eternal the glory that accrues. The clouds shall pass, and soon; the wounds shall be healed; the burden be uplifted; the prison door flung open; our temporal bondage shall be changed into the liberty of the everlasting kingdom. Joy that men taste apart from the service of God is transient as the morning vapour; possessions of earth's dross shall come to naught; triumphant power, material aggrandisement, shall cease. But the good of God's grace, the glory of the Divine friendship, the peace of a sinless heart no incident of human life avails to affect them; they are enshrined in the soul; angels keep guard around them, and they endure for ever. I think of the great Flavian amphitheatre of pagan Rome. Gone are the piled-up thousands who thronged its mighty galleries; silent the echoes of their thundering plaudits. Caesar, who in imperial splendour sat high in state upon his burnished throne, is dead; the gilding of his coronet faded; his power and glory lost for ever. But the slave whom they set in the arena for furious beasts to feed upon who, with sign of the Cross upon him, went down before the onslaught of the hungry monsters he lives. Lives aye, reigns, "and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Reigns even on earth; the scattered bones which the palpitating lion and tiger crunched on the sands of the Colosseum are now in fair caskets enshrined, and on festal days, that shall recur to the day of doom, are borne through the vaulted aisles of gorgeous fanes and the decorated streets of earth's proudest cities. It was so with God's servants made victims of Rome's anti-Christian hate; it was so with our new patron, Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy; it is decreed to be so with us if we endure for the Lord's sake the trials that are; bear unflinching the burden of the law; adhere to right at all cost, and, in life and death, be true to God.

 Very Rev. Dr Keane, O.P., Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (London and Edinburgh, 1916), 70-80.

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Monday 22 August 2022

The Holy Wells of Achill Island


Holy wells played a large part in the preservation of the memories of the saints of Ireland, acting not only as sites where their intercession could be sought, particularly for healing, but as the focal point for the celebration of a saint's 'pattern' or feast day. They are found throughout the country, including on Ireland's off-shore islands. Below is a brief account of three of the holy wells of Achill Island, County Mayo, from a 1910 work by P.W. Joyce. The first seems to be connected to a Saint Damnet and attracted pilgrims on August 15. The second is linked to Saint Colman, who sought refuge in the west of Ireland at 'Mayo of the Saxons' following the adoption of the Roman date of Easter. Joyce records that this well too was still being visited by Achill's older people in his day. The final one is equally interesting and illustrates many of the difficulties associated with the attribution of holy wells to specific saints in folk tradition.  It is known as Saint Finan's well but Joyce is doubtful about this, I presume his remarks on the placing of a well-known prefix, in this case mo, 'my' to many saints' names explains how the Minan cliffs have been interpreted as deriving from 'Mo Finan', which he feels may be 'fanciful philology'. Instead he offers an intriguing alternative explanation concerning a former parish priest and his remarkable saddle horse! Interestingly, the Connaught Telegraph of August 8, 2022 carried a report that the holy wells of Mayo are to be surveyed by archaeologists so perhaps we can learn more of those on Achill Island in the near future:


We take the liberty of introducing the reader to the holy wells in Achill, which show that this storm-swept island was not untrodden by the saints of ancient Ireland.

There is a holy well at Kildownett, hard by the graveyard, which a tradition, but a very faint one, connects with a St. Damnet. It is still visited by pilgrims on the 15th of August. There is also one of more note at Sliabh More, called after St. Colman, the patron of Dukinella church. Probably St. Colman may have crossed over from Inish Boffin to Achill Island, in search of a suitable site for a monastery, wherein to segregate the Saxon monks who followed him and his Irish disciples from Lindisfarne. The Celts and Saxons seemed to have found it more  difficult to practice the evangelical counsels, living under the same roof. Accordingly, their prudent founder, St. Colman, left the Celts in possession of Irish Boffin and went in search of a monastic site for the Saxon brethren. He at length succeeded in founding a monastery at Mayo, which was called Mayo of the Saxons. The old people still make pilgrimages to St. Colman's well.

The third and last, which we wish particularly to describe, is situated in a scene of solitude and beauty close by the Cathedral Rocks in the Keel strand. It was, indeed, a happy thought to make it holy. The wonders of nature around, mountain majesty and thundering sea, make fitting scene for the wonders of grace; for the voice of the mountains and the voice of the sea seem to have suggested to all  the sages thoughts of the "great beyond." The sea here, especially, preaches a beautiful sermon to one who may choose to listen and: 

"Wander by the pebbly beach,
Marking the sunlight at the evening hour,
And hearken to the thoughts the waters teach - 
Eternity, eternity and power."

The well is situated under the shadow of the Minan cliffs, and is named St. Finan's well. The tradition is that St. Finan gave his name, not only to the well, but to the mountain also, which should be properly called Finan's cliff. Perhaps the practice of our fathers who placed a well-known prefix before the names of many of our saints, may explain the difficulty of deriving the modern name from Finan. This, however, is probably fanciful philology, and the usual explanation remembered by the very old people to have been parish priest of the island, and the possessor of a wonderful saddle horse, that braved every danger by night as well as by day. 

 P.W. Joyce, A Forgotten Part of Ireland, (Tuam, 1910),  58-62.

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Tuesday 9 August 2022

The Three Daughters of Ailill, August 9

The Martyrology of Tallaght, one of the earliest of the Irish calendars, lists at August 9 the feast of Tri ingena Ailella - the three daughters of Ailill. Such groupings of saintly siblings are a feature of the Irish calendars, indeed these holy ladies share their day with Cethri meic Ercain - the four sons of Ercan and Ceithre meic Dimmain - the four sons of Dioman. We are unable to learn any more about the identities of the individuals who comprise the group of Ailill's daughters, nor when or where they flourished. In Volume VIII of his Lives of the Irish Saints Canon O'Hanlon gives this brief account, noting that the Tallaght calendar is the sole source for the feast of Ailell's daughters as they are not listed on the Martyrology of Donegal, compiled by Michael O'Clery and his associates in the seventeenth century: 

Article III. Tri h. Inghena Ailalla. 

Written in this manner, we have a festival entered in the Martyrology of Tallagh, as edited by the Rev. Dr. Kelly; although we find no corresponding entry, at this day, in the Martyrology of Donegal, edited by Drs. Todd and Reeves.

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Monday 8 August 2022

Saint Beoán of Feighcullen, August 8


August 8 is the feast of Saint Beoán of Feighcullen, County Kildare. His feast is found on all of the Irish calendars and his name also preserved in genealogical sources. There he is described as one of the seven sons of Neasán from the Uí Fhaoláin branch of the important north Leinster tribe of the Uí Dhúnlainge. Three of his brothers have their own feast on the Irish calendars at March 15. Fiodh Cuilinn, the locality associated with Beoán, is modern Feighcullen, and some of the sources record that Saint Beoán was bishop there. Canon O'Hanlon brings this account of him in Volume VIII of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

Article III. St. Beoan, son of Nessan, of Feigh Cullen, County of Kildare. 
According to the Martyrology of Tallagh, veneration was given at the 8th of August to Beoan mic Nessan, in Fidh Cullend. St. Beoan, the son of Nessan, is commemorated, on this day, likewise, in the "Feilire" of St. Aengus. There is a scholion annexed, stating that he was of Fid Cuillinn in Ui-Foelain. It is now called Feighcullen, a parish, partly in the Barony of East Ophaly, but chiefly in that of Connell, County of Kildare. It contains a large tract of bog. The O'Clerys state, that he was the son of Neassan, and that he sprung from the race of Cathaoir Mor, of Leinster. Near the Hill of Allen, in the County of Kildare, Feigh-Cullen was the site of an ancient church, the ruins of which existed within the memory of some still living. The rude Baptismal trough, used at this church in primitive Christian times, is now preserved at Allen. In a field adjoining the church, the foundation of an extensive building can be traced, regarding which, however, history and tradition are silent. A Beoan is set down as a disciple of St. Patrick, but his place was Kill-fiacle in Tipperary; so that he to appears have been distinct from the present saint. The Martyrology of Donegal records him at the 8th of August as Beoan, Bishop of Fidh Chuilinn, in Ui Failge. In the Calendar of Drummond, he is entered at the same date. In conjunction with two other saints bearing the same name, we find a peculiar arrangement, in the table postfixed to this Martyrology [see picture above].

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Sunday 7 August 2022

Saint Aedhán, son of Meallán, August 7

August 7 is the feast of one of the many Irish saints called Aedhán (Aodhán, Aiden). Today's saint is distinguished by the use of a patronymic, for he is described on the calendars as the son of Meallán. Unfortunately this does not help us to identify any other information about him, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:  
Article IV. St. Aedhan, Son of Meallan. 
The Martyrology of Donegal records a festival to honour Aedhan, son of Meallan, at the 7th of August. His patronymic only enables us to distinguish him from the various other Irish saints bearing a like name; but, his period and locality seem to be unknown.

Although Canon O'Hanlon has referenced only the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal, the name of Aedhán, son of Meallán is also found on the twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman. There he is  referred to as 'slender Aedán'. His name, however, is not found on the two earliest surviving calendars, the Martyrology of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght.


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Saturday 6 August 2022

The Feast of the Transfiguration in the Martyrology of Oengus

August 6 is the day on which the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated throughout the Universal Church. However, it was not always so, as a German ecclesiastical historian explains: 

From quite an early date, this festival had been celebrated in divers churches, both East and West, on different days. The date now observed, the 6th August, was appointed for the festival by Calixtus III. in 1457, in memory of the victory over the Turks, gained by John Capistran and George Hunyadi, at Belgrade. In the choice of a day, he seems to have been influenced by the Greek calendar, where the festival had already been kept on this day.
K.A. Heinrich Kellner, Heortology: A History Of The Christian Festivals From Their Origin To The Present Day (London, 1908), 105.
One of those different days is found on the early ninth-century Irish calendar, The Martyrology of Oengus. Here the Feast of the Transfiguration is commemorated on July 26, as Canon O'Hanlon noted in his entries for this day in Volume VII of the Lives of the Irish Saints:

Article IV. Festival of Christ's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. 

According to the "Feilire" of St. Aengus, at the 26th of July, the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Divine Lord on Mount Tabor was commemorated in the ancient Irish Church. To this a comment is found affixed. In the Bruxelles copy of Usuard this Feast is also set down, and while the Bollandists give the text, they express ignorance of the source whence it had been drawn, but they refer to the 6th of August as the chief Festival held in the Universal Church.

26. At the passion of Jovianus 
with his fair train of pure gold
was the Transfiguration, at daybreak, 
of  Jesus on Mount Tabor.

 The accompanying note reads:

26. on Mount Tabor, i.e. in the tribe of Nephthalim, on a mountain of Galilee. Transfiguration of Christ etc.

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Friday 5 August 2022

Saint Earnán of Cloonrallagh, August 5

On August 5/6  the Irish calendars record the feast of Saint Earnán (Eirne, Eirnín) of Cloonrallagh. He is yet another of those Irish saints whose names are preserved along with the date of their feast days, but about whom no other details survive. The name Earnán is shared by a number of Irish saints which does not make the task of identifying the specific individual commemorated today any easier. Canon O'Hanlon in Volume VIII of his Lives of the Irish Saints seeks to associate him with Saint Colum Cille and the Columban family of County Meath:
Article IV. — St. Erne, or Ernin, of Cluana Railgech or Cluain railgheach, probably in the County of Meath.

The Martyrology of Tallagh registers Erne, of Cluana Railgech, at the 6th of August. This place bore also the denomination of Druim Relgrach, and it was situated in the territory of ancient Meath. Marianus O'Gorman furnishes an authority for this statement. This saint assisted at the great synod of Dromceat, held A.D. 580. By one writer we are informed, that St. Ernin was Abbot of Cluain Reilgeach or Druim Reilgeach, in the time of St. Columb, and that he was honoured there on the 5th day of August. This writer, treating of the religious establishments in Westmeath, yet places Cluain Reilgeach or Druim Reilgeach, in Kianechta, a territory of ancient Meath; but, he adds, that the place was probably in Meath, although now unknown. A certain Cruimther Collait is mentioned as having been from Druim Roilgech, as being one of the learned in Erinn, and as being a writer, among others, of St. Patrick's miracles.  The Rev. Dr. Lanigan also alludes to the same Collatus, a priest of Druim-relgeach in Meath; but, no more particular identification of the place is given by him. This monastery, as we are told, was situated in ancient Meath. Probably it was in the neighbourhood of Duleek. Such is the identification of Rev. Anthony Cogan, diocesan ecclesiastical historian. The present saint is commemorated by Cathal Maguire and by Marianus O'Gorman. We find it recorded, likewise, in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the 5th of August, that veneration was given to Ernin of Cluain Railgheach.

Pádraig Ó Riain's 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints mentions the genealogical sources linking him to Fearghas Caochán, brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages, whose descendants are linked to the church of Kilskeer, near Kells. He also suggests Cloonrallagh may be in County Longford or in County Westmeath.


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Thursday 4 August 2022

The Angel of Saint Lugith

August 4 is the feast of Saint Molua of Kyle. I have previously posted an account of his life here, but today we have a reminder of his many miracles in an 1878 article reprinted from The Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Messenger, official magazine of the Apostleship of Prayer, was originally founded in France in the mid-nineteenth century but quickly spread to the English-speaking world.  The article below was part of a series called 'The Angelic Year' in which episodes from saints' lives which featured the presence of angels were highlighted. Our Saint Molua, here called Lugith, was chosen for the month of August. Various versions of the Life of Saint Molua have survived and provided a wealth of material for the article's theme. Angels are found in the Lives of many Irish saints, most famously perhaps in that of Saint Patrick whose guardian angel is named as Victor. It is also commonplace in hagiography for the saint's holiness to be apparent from his earliest days and there are a number of miracles from the childhood of Molua cited in the article. Another stock element is the passing by of a noteworthy saint who recognizes the potential in the holy child and either predicts his future greatness or claims him as a protégé. Thus we see Saint Comgall (called Cougall here), founder of the monastery of Bangor in County Down, call the young Molua to be his disciple. Aspects of medieval hagiography can appear bizarre to the modern reader and we may wonder, for example, at the curious episode where Saint Molua equates the presence of sheep with that of women. Yet this is a confirmation that care of sheep was women's work in early medieval Ireland, with the Life of Saint Brigid, for example, depicting Ireland's patroness acting as a shepherdess in her early days. But it is the presence of the angel guiding and guarding Molua in life and in death which draws together all of the episodes the anonymous writer in The Messenger has chosen to honour this most interesting saint on his feast day:

 The Angel of St. Lugith.
Lugith was born, about the year 520, of very pious parents, near Mount Logher, on the west bank of the Shannon, in Ireland. He was the youngest of three sons, but the most richly endowed with heavenly gifts. The divine predilection for him was first manifested on the following occasion: His father's flocks, having strayed into a neighbor's pastures, were taken and put in pound, whereupon Sochte, Lugith's mother, went to reclaim them, taking her infant son with her. Now it happened that this neighbor had for a long time been afflicted with acancer in the breast. When Lugith entered his house, God permitted him  to see the child all surrounded with light. "Oh!" said he, "bring that child here and let him put his little hands on my head." Sochte, who carried Lugith in her arms, approached the sufferer; but the child being frightened at the excitement and groans of the sick man, began to cry when he saw his arms stretched out towards him; and while his mother, notwithstanding his resistance, was holding him over the invalid, a few of his tears fell on the cancer and immediately cured it. The cattle were restored and Sochte returned home with a joyful heart.

When Lugith was somewhat older he used to go to the fields with other children to watch the sheep. During the winter they would make a fire and gather merrily around it. One day they had lit a fire near the bed of a dried-up stream and were warming themselves by it, when suddenly a torrent, formed by the rains which had fallen higher up the country, came rushing along overflowing the banks, and extinguished the fire. Lugith ran away taking with him a brand to light a fire somewhere else; but the brand, too, went out. While the child stood looking sadly at the extinguished brand which he held in his hand, an angel appeared at his side and made the sign of the cross over it. The brand forthwith blazed up and Lugith and his companions lit another fire and warmed themselves around it.
At another time Lugith disappeared, and for a day and a night no traces of him could be found. At length, his father, Carthach, found him asleep in a field, but did not dare approach him because he saw standing near him a beautiful young man clad in white, and from the spot where the child slept there issued a fragrance sweeter than the perfume of the choicest flowers. Carthach ran to call the priests, and when one of them came, the angel vanished and the child awoke. From that day forth all earthly food lost its savor to this priest, from the impression he retained of the sweet odor embalming the innocent child.

Another day, while charged with keeping the calves apart from the cows, Lugith fell asleep again. It is needless to say that the calves and cows were soon together. Sochte perceiving this ran in all haste to awaken Lugith, and in her anger had raised her hand to strike him, when the guardian angel of the child seized her arm and stayed the stroke. Fainting with fear she fell prostrate to the ground, and Lugith ran to drive back his calves.

Being at another time at a short distance from his father and mother, but without any playmates, there came three youths and began to play with him. Joining their hands together and supporting Lugith on them, the youths, in sight of Carthach and Sochte, ascended to the skies and disappeared from view. For a great part of the day they saw nothing of him; but all of a sudden, while his afflicted parents were lamenting and praying, the three youths laid Lugith down before his mother.

About this time the holy priest Cougall was passing through that country. As he drew near the abode of Lugith's parents, he suddenly stopped, and pointing towards a certain field, he said to the monks who accompanied him: "Go and see what is down there." On reaching the field the monks found Lugith asleep in a clump of rushes, and noticed that at every breath he drew the rushes near his mouth were enveloped in flame. They awoke Lugith and brought him to the holy priest. Cougall sent for his parents and asked them if they were willing to let the child go with him, saying that he would rear and educate him. Carthach and Sochte accepted the offer with thanks, and Lugith followed St. Cougall to the monastery. One day while the child was learning his letters, St. Cougall saw an angel seated by his side and helping him to spell and encouraging him with caresses to overcome his dislike for his task.

One day when he was sent to the farm to bring the daily supply of milk to the monastery, the horse stumbled and the milk was all spilled. He was looking at the spilled milk in great distress of mind and not knowing what to do, when his guardian angel appeared and said to him: "Fill the vessels with water at yonder spring." As the water was poured in it was changed into milk, and that day the monks wondered much at the exquisite flavor of the milk which Lugith brought.

A long time after this it was the will of God that Lugith himself should become a founder of monasteries. Accompanied by some monks and taking with him five cows, he set out towards his mother's country. Here he was badly received and was considering whither he should next go, when his guardian angel told him to turn his steps towards Rosbilech. The following night an angel appeared in a dream to a rich man of Rosbilech named Bledue, and said to him: "To-morrow a monk will come hither driving five white cows with yellow ears; thou shalt offer him thy possessions, for thou shalt be a religious in his monastery." But Lugith, having heard the bleating of a sheep in the place, said to his brethren: "We shall not remain here, for where there are sheep there also are women; and where there are women, there also is sin; where there is sin, there is the devil; and where the devil is, there is hell; " and he sought a more solitary place.
One day while he was looking at a barren mountain near his monastery, his guardian angel said to him: “If thou wish it, that mountain shall become a fertile land covered with harvests and all shall be thine." “No", blessed angel," replied Lugith, "my brethren would then lose their humility." "Brethren," he used to say to his religious, "labor faithfully with your hands and nothing shall be wanting to you, and you shall become true religious."

When Lugith perceived that his end was approaching he went to visit St. Cronan, and at his departure asked for a consecrated host that he might communicate on the way. He had not travelled far when he was obliged to stop from fatigue. Turning to the monk who accompanied him, "Brother," said he, "if you saw on the one side the inhabitants of heaven and on the other those of earth, to which side would you go ?" "To the side of the inhabitants of heaven, without doubt," replied the Brother." Then give me the Blessed Eucharist that I may go to them," cried Lugith, and shortly after communion, he passed away. His death took place on Saturday, August 4, 602.

It was revealed to the Blessed Fintan that for the seven days following the death of Lugith there was extraordinary rejoicing in heaven, and an assuagement of the pains of purgatory. The occasion of this revelation to St. Fintan was the following: His guardian angel was wont to visit him twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays; but at this time he did not visit him for seven consecutive days. When Fintan saw his angel again on Sunday, the 12th of August, "Why," said he, “O angel of God, didst thou not come to me on Thursday?" "During the week just passed," replied the angel, "the angels have not visited the saints on earth; a great friend of God has come to heaven from the land of Erin, and all remained to greet him: his name is Lugith.” "I see," rejoined Fintan, "that Lugith singly has done more for the glory of God than all the rest together; find out for me in heaven, good angel, what has made Lugith so pleasing to God and to his guardian angel." An instant later the angel reappeared and said to him: "Lugith mingled sweetness and love with the rigor of his correctness, and he never humbled any of his brethren that he did not also give him new courage; as for thee, thou art too harsh with thine."
Lugith, while guardian of his brethren, had imitated the sweetness and charity of the angel who guarded himself. The angels are perfect imitators of Jesus; those who imitate their angels will find themselves at the last day living copies of Jesus.

'The Angelic Year: August - The Angel of St Lugith',  The Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Second Series Vol. 5, No. 8 (1878),  356-358.

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