January 15 is the feast of Saint Ita of Killeedy
. In 2006 County Waterford man, James Dunphy, published a book called St Ita: the Forgotten
. He brought together a collection of episodes from
the saint's Life, the Vita Santae Ytae
interspersed with folklore, poems, prayers and photographs from a
variety of locations identified with the saint. Among the stories Mr Dunphy collected is this one on pages 185-7 concerning the building of
Gortroe Church, County Cork, from a lady born in 1907 and named in honour of Saint
Early one morning, Hannah O'Neill, grandmother
of Ita O'Neill, had a dream, a vision about St. Ita. Many centuries ago,
their ancestor and his people had lost their lives in a battle in
Gortroe defending the young Ita from the 'Mad Prince'. Now, Ita, the
Warrior Princess, wanted a church and school built on the site of the
In the morning before rising, Hannah O'Neill made
her husband promise he would do all in his power to carry out the
saint's wishes and make them known to the people of Clonpriest and the
surrounding area. Everybody agreed that as a people they should give it
their best effort. Where was the money to come from, now that times were
poor? God and St. Ita would provide when the time came, they said. So
..it was decided they they should go to Lord Ponsonby and
ask him for a site. He was amenable towards the proposal and not only
did he provide a site, he donated some money to start the effort going.
It was suggested that anybody with relations in America should contact
them and ask them to raise funds for their church too.
relations in Boston, so some of the emigrants went to the Bishop there
to ask for permission to raise funds. One such emigrant was Sean
O'Donnacadha from Killbarrymeaden. He came from a parish and townland
where St Ita was well known and had a job as a foreman in a construction
After two years or more, he had a significant amount
of money raised, but now his troubles began. He had many begging letters
from churches in Boston and his own county Waterford. His sister and
her husband told him he should send money home to his mother and orphan
daughter. He even got threats to hand over the money to some
undesirables. The honourable man that he was, he refused to bow to any
of the requests to him and sent the money home with a trustworthy man
from Gortroe whose father had died.
When the work began, help
came from all quarters. All the farmers gave a horse and cart and there
were several stonemasons among the locals. ..John O'Neill was foreman
and he devoted all his time to building St. Ita's church. It was
finished in 1907, eight years after the Virgin Ita appeared to Hannah
O'Neill. A beautiful stained glass window which was donated by Hannah
and her husband John depicts our saint Ita and there is also an
inspiring picture of St. Ita measuring 6ft by 4ft, which was
presented by a young girl, Kate O'Neill. It cost the magnificent sum of
five pounds at that time.
There is a photograph of this
painting and it indeed looks most impressive, depicting the saint much
as Saint Brigid appears in iconography of the period - as an abbess with
her staff, holding a church in her hand. Nonagenarian Ita O'Neill, born
in the same year as the church was completed, was looking forward to
celebrating its centenary and I very much hope that she did.
struck me about this account was that although these events took place
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they read like
something straight out of the pages of medieval hagiography. All of the
classic elements seemed to be there - the sense of place and link to the
saint, her will revealed through a dream/vision and difficulties in
fulfilling the saint's wishes overcome by the fidelity of the humble
parishioners to the task they had undertaken. I found the sense of
continuity with the medieval past in this modern narrative quite
Below are the details of the book from Amazon's US site: Product Description
Ita: The Forgotten Princess is the result of inspiration James Dunphy
received after the death of a dear friend some years ago. In the
intervening time, he has spent many months in researching the story of
this unique Saint, who was born a Princess, became a Holy Woman and
Warrior and who was the cause of the conversion of many to Christianity.
Her battles with the Druids; her ministry to the people of Munster and
Leinster in the southern half of Ireland and the story of her own
spirituality, form the basis of this fascinating story about a woman and
Saint who is sometimes forgotten in this modern age, but reminders of
whom appear regularly in churches and placenames around Ireland and in
the lands where our Missionaries laboured for centuries.
and again, Princess Ita, daughter of King Kennfoelad and Queen Necta,
born on the banks of the River Suir, and with Divine help, proved too
powerful for the forces of darkness which opposed the introduction of
Christianity to Ireland.
The story of St. Ita, her sister
Eannaigh and her association with her fellow Saints of the time, Declan,
Brendan, Mochoemog and Finnan is a fascinating one and guarantees that
St. Ita will never be forgotten in her native place.
Paperback: 222 pages
Publisher: Trafford Publishing (January 27, 2006)
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