Wednesday 27 February 2013

Saint Comgan of Gleann Ussen, February 27

On February 27 we commemorate an Abbot of Gleann Ussen, modern Killeshin, County Laois. There is some confusion around the identity and period in which Saint Comhghán (Comgan, Comhdan) flourished. Some of this has arisen due to conflicting accounts about his pedigree in the Irish genealogies, but also because of the attachment of the suffix 'cend-inis' to his name in some of the calendars. This is found in the entry in the Martyrology of Oengus for 27 February:

With the suffering of Abundus,
Great his gifts of poems ;
The feast of Comgan, Cend Inis,
The finding of the head of
John [the Baptist].

In the nineteenth century Margaret Stokes translated this epithet as meaning 'without reproach', but some of the earlier hagiographers appear to have believed that Cend Inis (Ceann Innis or Kean-Indse) was a place in Munster associated with the saint and assigned him to the period of the seventh century. Canon O'Hanlon, however, believes that he actually belongs to the ninth century and is more firmly associated with Gleann Ussen. As he explains:

That St. Comgan was connected with Gleann-Ussen appears, from the authority of the Menelogium Genealogicum, the Martyrologies of Tallagh, of Cashel and of Marianus O'Gorman. This was the name of a remarkable glen, situated in the territory of Hi-Bairche, about two Irish miles to the west of Carlow. There exists a considerable portion of the ruins of an ancient church, called Cill Ussin, anglice Killeshin.

At Killeshin, St. Diarmaid or Diermit is said to have built or presided over a church or monastery; and, this must have been as late as the ninth century, if we are to identify him with that Diarmaid, Abbot of Gleann-Uissean, whose death is recorded at A.D. 874. Now, Comgan is generally allowed to have succeeded him ; but, at what particular date is not clearly ascertainable, for we cannot find any well-known allusion to him in our Annals.

We find him placed after St. Diarmaid, in the government of Killeshin Monastery, and he cannot have enjoyed this position, before the close of the ninth century. Probably this was about the time, when our St. Comgan was abbot over that establishment.

At this day, he is commemorated in our Irish Calendars. We find the simple entry, Comgan, of Gliuni Usin, inserted in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 27th of February. St. Oengus the Culdee, likewise, has placed his festival in the Feilire. The Martyrology of Donegal reads:

COMMAN, Mac Ua Theimhne.

COMDHAN, [i.e., Diarmaid,] of Glenn-Uissen, son of Diarmaid, son of Deghadh, of the race of Cormac Cas, son of Oilill Oluim ; and Ethne, daughter of Feidhlimidh, son of Tighernach, was his mother.

The Kalendar of Cashel, the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, and the Martyrology of Cathal Maguire, have entered his festival, at the 27th of February. This holy man appears to have been greatly venerated, in Ireland, where his Office, containing nine Lessons, was formerly recited.

At the iii. of the March Kalends, or at the 27th of February, we learn from the Kalendar of Drummond, that in the Island of Hibernia, the Natalis of the holy Confessor Comgan, who went to Christ, was celebrated. No further biographical statements, in reference to him, have been preserved.
In his authoritative 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints, Pádraig Ó Riain upholds Saint Comhghán's identification with Killeshin and that cen dinnis means without  reproach. He has been confused with another saint Diarmuid of Gleann Uisean, but they are two distinct individuals. Ó Riain suggests that the importance of Gleann Uisean is reflected in its early twelfth-century 'chief teacher' Duibhlitir Ua hUathghaile who wrote a version in Irish of the Sex Aetates Mundi, the Six Ages of the World. Saint Comhghán himself appears in a list of saints whose aid is sought for the men of Leinster in a poem attributed to Saint Moling. Saint Comhghán thus seems to be a good example of a saint who was once  ranked as an important saint of Leinster with a notable monastic foundation, but who is now shrouded in obscurity. 
Note: This post was first published in 2012 and revised in 2024.

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