THE RAPT CULDEE.
“Such wondrous sight as once was given
In vision to the Rapt Culdee."
Thomas D'Arcy McGee.
AENGUS, like many another of the early Irish saints, sprang from a noble and even regal stock. His family, Chiefs of Dalaradians of Ulster, traced their descent in unbroken line through Coelback, Monarch of Ireland in the middle of the fourth century, up to Ir, the third son of Milesius. It seems probable, however, that Aengus, the most illustrious scion of the proud Ultonian race, was born, not in the northern province, but in some part of Lagenia. At any rate it is certain that his birth took place about a.d. 750, and that at an early age he repaired to the monastic schools of Clonenagh, in Offaly, where he applied himself with extraordinary energy to the study of the arts and sciences which formed the curriculum in the seats of learning for which the island of saints and scholars was at that time celebrated. When the long academic course came to an end, he was well versed in Greek and Latin, a distinguished Gaelic scholar, profoundly learned in the Sacred Scriptures, and a poet thoroughly skilled in the " art of the Irish," that is to say, in the use, according to the laws of a varied and elaborate versification, of the copious, sonorous, and exquisitely melodious language of the Gael.
Nor was his progress less conspicuous in a still nobler field; for, having joined the religious community at Clonenagh, he advanced by giant strides in the narrow way of the saints. His brethren, noting the ardour of his zeal and the fidelity of his observance, the sincere depth of his humility and the transcendent character of his devotion, bestowed on him a name full of sweetness and significance, calling him Angus Kele-De meaning Angus the servant or lover of God.
To have acquired thus early so high a reputation for sanctity and learning at Clonenagh was indeed remarkable, seeing that the monastery was famous for its religious discipline as well as for the number of its learned teachers, at the head of whom was at that time the erudite and holy Abbot Malathgenius. From the monastery to the well-frequented schools, and from the schools to the circumjacent territories, the fame of Aengus spread with rapidity. He was thought to excel all others in Ireland; he was regarded with singular veneration ; people came to consult him on different points, and in weighty matters; and soon he had a numerous following of friends, admirers and disciples.
Fame, albeit of so high and holy a description, was not only distasteful to the professor of learning, whose serious and absorbing pursuits required leisure and seclusion, but was uncongenial to the spirit of humility which the pious monk strenuously cultivated. He therefore asked and obtained permission to withdraw, to some extent, even from community life, and to fix his abode in a retired place where, safe from distraction, he might continue his studies and devote himself more than ever to meditation and prayer.
The retreat he made choice of was a solitary spot in the midst of woods on the north bank of the Nore, six or seven miles from the monastery, and not far from the present town of Mountrath. There he erected a little wooden oratory, and constructed a rustic hut for his habitation. Surrounded by the primeval forest stretching down to the brink of the " cold clear Nore," he spent long intervals of time poring over ancient folios, storing his memory to an extent well nigh incredible with entire books of the Sacred Scriptures, abstruse writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers, and records of the lives of saints who had flourished in every age and in every time. Three hundred times a day he adored God on his bended knees; and the entire Psalter he sang between one sunrise and another : fifty psalms in the little oratory, fifty in the open air, under a wide spreading tree, and fifty while standing in cold water. Disappointment awaited him, however. He soon found that the difficulties of a journey through the pathless woods were made very light of by his admirers and disciples, and that the river was only a highway for visitors, who floated their coracles down the current or paddled them up the stream until the hermit's fastness no longer remained inviolate.
Under these circumstances it seems to have struck the Culdee that better success might attend an attempt to hide in a crowd, and that a safer hermitage might be discovered in the open inhabited country. Something like an inspiration urged him at the same time to forego, at least for an interval, his ardent pursuit of knowledge, and to throw himself into a life of practical humility, hard obedience, and severe manual toil. He had heard of a large monastery with a numerous community situated a good way off, in a fine open tract extending between the terminating spur of a chain of mountains and the eastern seaboard of Leinster, and he made up his mind to go to that place, and, without revealing his name and condition, present himself before the abbot, craving admission to serve at the monastery in a menial capacity. In such a position, thought he, the world would leave him unmolested, and he should have ample opportunities for perfecting himself in all the lowly and essential virtues dear to God. He would mortify his love for the higher studies, hide in ashes the flame of poetic aspiration, and relinquish the exercise of his bardic accomplishments. One thing only was he now ambitious of, and this was that he might become an abject in the house of his God.
We cannot doubt that Aengus had taken good counsel and obtained the blessing of his lawful Superior when he entered on an undertaking so unusual, and set out on his journey as the poorest of Christ's poor: alone, without money in his purse, or scrip for his journey, or two coats, or even a name. Steering his course in a north-easterly direction, he proceeded pilgrim-wise, receiving a meal and a night's shelter now at a chieftain's rath, and again within some religious enclosure. One only incident of the journey has been related, and that was a memorable one. Coming to a place called Coolbanaher (near the present town of Portarlington), the traveller turned off the road and entered a church to pray there. When he had finished his devotions, he noticed in the cemetery a newly-made grave, and beheld a wondrous vision — legions of bright spirits, angels of heaven, descending and ascending and hovering over the spot, while their heavenly songs filled the air with an ecstacy of joy. Desiring to know who it could be that the ministers of God thus honoured at his place of sepulture, Aengus went to the priest of the church and asked who was buried in that grave. The priest answered that it was a poor old man who formerly lived in the neighbourhood. " What good did he do?" asked the Culdee. “I saw no particular good by him," said the priest, 'but that his practice was to recount and invoke the saints of the world, as far as he could remember them, at his going to bed and getting up, in accordance with the custom of the old devotees." " Ah! my God," said Aengus, " he who would make a poetical composition in praise of the saints should doubtless have a high reward, when so much has been vouchsafed to the efforts of this old devotee! "
Suddenly it flashed through his mind that he should do this thing as a work pleasing to God, edifying to his brethren, and beneficial to his own soul; and he saw at a glance how a metrical hymn might be composed in honour of all the saints, which he should himself recite every day as long as he lived, and bequeath as a rich legacy to the land of his birth.
Here then was an idea as vivid as an inspiration and as holy, whirling him once more into the high latitudes of poetry. The impulse to attempt this undertaking had an urgency not to be gainsaid ; he felt conscious of possessing the power to accomplish it ; and he was lifted as by the hair of the head into a region where neither fear nor misgiving, neither distrust nor diffidence, leave a blight or cast a shadow. Yes, he would raise his voice and sing a glorious song in honour of the hosts of heaven!
But how it was to be done, or when, he knew not; for it did not occur to him that he should turn aside forthwith from the path on which an earlier inspiration had set his feet. The Lord, who had bestowed on him the gift of song, would doubtless provide for the doing of His own work. And so, with the prelude of the new chant re-echoing in his soul, and the joy of the new possession elating his heart; with the thought of the old devotee in his mind, and the rustle of the angels' wings in his ears, the Culdee came out again on the tract that served as a highway, and continued his journey towards the goal he had in view, At length, having crossed St. Brigid's pastures (the Curragh of Kildare), and passed through the woods enclosing that tract on the north, he turned the mountain range at the upper extremity and came out on the open country gently sloping to the eastern sea.
There he behold the monastery of Tamlacht or Tallaght, whither he was bound, standing in all the holy simplicity of the antique time when high thinking and low living were the order of the day. A cluster of wattle huts, with a timber church in the midst, stood within the circuit of a low fence ; outside a considerable area was occupied by farm buildings and groups of rustic huts which the scholars had built for themselves ; and further off the mill, the kiln, the fishing weir, and other appurtenances of an extensive rural establishment could be observed; while along the river banks and the higher ground ascending towards the adjacent hills, the cultivated fields and well-stocked pastures testified to the industry and good management of the religious colonists. The only thing wanting was that air of antiquity which some of the larger monasteries could boast of; but this Tallaght had not had time to acquire, for its origin dated only a few years back, when in 769 St. Melruan founded the church on a site and endowment "offered to God, to Michael the Archangel, and to Melruan,”by Donnoch, the pious and illustrious king of Leinster. Already, however, the monastery enjoyed a high reputation throughout Erinn for piety and scholarship, the saintly abbot ranking among the most learned men of the day, and his community following close in the wake of their father and founder.
Weary and travel-stained, Aengus presented himself before Melruan as a poor humble stranger; and with all the earnestness which another might show when supplicating for a special favour, besought the abbot to take him into his service as a menial and appoint him to do the rough work of the monastic farm. Surprised, perhaps, that this stranger should ask so little, the abbot, nevertheless, discovered nothing in the applicant's speech or manner suggestive of a higher capacity. He granted the prayer of the willing drudge, sent him to take charge of the mill and the kiln and desired him to turn his hand to any kind of labour that might offer in the fields and works. And so, as it is related, he set to his task with right good will, reaping the com, carrying the sheaves on his back to the barn, thrashing them with a flail, loading himself with the sacks of grain, and trudging like a beast of burden to the mill. With his face begrimed with sweat and dust, his hair all tangled, and his clothes covered with chaff and straws, the Culdee looked very unlike a man of letters and " a master of verses." He hardly looked like a man at all, but he did look like what he wanted to be — an abject, and the last of human kind.
One might reasonably wonder whether he had time to say his prayers. And, indeed, if praying depended altogether on churchgoing, there would have been but a short account of his spiritual exercises. Out early and late in the barn and the fields, his opportunities for meditation cannot have been frequent, and as an old panegyrist observes, " It was not a condition meet for devotion to be in the kiln constantly drying." But this man of contemplation, this lover of deep study, this poetic soul, had not in vain spent his youth in a school of religion and learning. His well-stored memory now served him in good stead. He had subject matter for meditation in abundance, and he knew more prayers off book than many a manual contains. Moreover, like all the holy men of Erinn, and for that matter a vast number of the common of the faithful too, he knew by heart the spiritual songs composed and sung by the early saints, and preserved as a glorious heir-loom by succeeding generations. Most of these poems were indulgenced or privileged, and the chanting of them was regarded as a truly instructive, devotional, and meritorious exercise. The sublimity of the thoughts and the rhythmic elegance of the diction made the recital of the verses at once easy and delightful. Several of the hymns in constant use were of the kind called by the Irish a Lorica or breastplate, in other words, a defensive armour fashioned to keep the heart pure and to make the darts of Satan glance away. The Christian people thus buckled on their spiritual armour, and, chanting the sacred psalmody, felt ready to confront the dangers of the day and the darkness of the night. These sacred compositions, frequently of considerable length, were not merely read or spoken; they were intoned or musically recited, the Irish, like the Greeks, holding poetry and music to be inseparable. Moreover, they were sung out in full voice, not only in the church, the monastery, and the home, but in the fields and by the shore, and on the mountains, wherever in fact the prayerful heart might sigh or sing towards heaven.
First in favour, as in date, written in the most ancient dialect of the Irish, was St. Patrick's poem, " In Tara to-day, at this awful hour, I call on the Holy Trinity: " a hymn believed to be the best protection in all dangers of soul and body, a safeguard against sudden death to the person who was in the habit of devoutly reciting it, and an armour to his soul after death — a hymn which ought to be sung for ever !
Next, perhaps, came St. Sechnall's piece in praise of Patrick, “Audite omnes amantes Deum," probably the first Latin hymn composed in Ireland. An angel, it is said, promised heaven to everyone who should recite the last three stanzas at lying down and at rising up, and this it was the practice of the Irish saints to do.
The Altus of St. Columba, " Alone am I upon the mountain, O God of Heaven ! prosper my way," composed and sung in an hour of danger, was another favourite prayer, and was used with great faith by travellers as a protection when setting out on a journey. Angels are present while it is sung, says an old commentator, the devil shall not know the path of him who sings it every day, and moreover there shall be no strife in the house where it is frequently sung. Some had the pious habit of reciting the Altus, a poem of seventy lines, no less than seven times daily.
St. Coleman's Hymn, " May the Son of Mary shield us," composed at the Saint's School in Cork while a pestilence was raging — the abbot giving the first and last stanzas, and his pupils supplying the intermediate verses — was intended as a shield of protection against the perils of the hour, and continued to be fervently recited by the pious under all circumstances, but especially in visitations of epidemic disease.
Many other poems of the kind were popularly known and generally recited; and so, when the Culdee, drying and grinding, and digging and delving, sang out his Gaelic and Latin hymns in measured cadence, he attracted no observation ; he simply did as others did ; while thereby he fed his spirit with the highest and holiest thoughts, solaced his poetic soul, and fulfilled to the letter the divine precept of praying always.
And as the drudgery of his daily occupations proved no obstacle to the ultimate union of his heart with God, so in like manner the penitential course of his bodily servitude seems only to have set his soul free for surer flight into the heaven of poetry and song. Although at first sight it might appear that his surroundings were anything but inspiring, it must be allowed, on further consideration, that the situation was not without its balance of compensation. Wherever he turned, a scene of beauty met his gaze, something suggestive met his fancy. Close by were the picturesque groups of the monastic buildings, and the students' shanties, sheltered by ancestral trees. Now and then a chorus of youthful voices burst upon the silence ; the abbot's bell rang out from time to time; at the canonical hours the psalm-tones of the Divine Office, resounding from the choir, brought heaven and earth together in holiest harmony. Far and wide spread corn fields and pastures watered by a stream which, having left its wild ways in its native glens, glided past in peaceful flow. South and west extended a screen of gentle hills, rising from a wooded base, and backed by a mountain range. Viewed from the upper tract of the terman lands, these loftier eminences displayed their sides and summits royally vested in dusky purple, gold, and green, with veils of blue-grey mist and down-falling bands of silvery streams. From the same vantage ground the prospect north and east presented a still more magnificent spectacle — for a wooded plain with wide clearings extended on one side to the open sea, with its islands and headlands and changeful surface, and stretched away in another direction towards the fertile territories of Oriel and Meath.
Again, the country round the monastery was full of associations interesting to a poet and antiquary. On the hill just above the monastery ground were strewn the sepulchral monuments of Parthelon's race, many thousands of whom fell victims to a pestilence that devastated the territories round the bay in pre-Christian times : the original name of the district of Tallaght, Tamlacht Muntire Parthalen signifying that it was the plague grave of Parthelon's colony. Not far off, in a southern direction, at Bohernabreena, were the ruins of a great court or mansion of hospitality, kept by a chieftain called Da-Derga, about the time of the Incarnation of our Lord. Conary-more, the just and valorous Monarch of Ireland, while enjoying the hospitality of the master of the court, was slain by a band of pirates, who attacked and demolished the habitation. The story of the destruction of the Court of Da-Derga fanned the subject of one of the celebrated historic tales preserved in the ancient books of Erinn. Incidents less tragic, though equally striking, had invested the adjacent glens with a poetic interest, and the Thrushes' Valley (Glenasmole), through which the stream came dancing down from its fountain head on the slopes of Kippure, was the very home of legend and romance.
Like all the old Irish saints, Aengus was fond of animals. The harmless denizens of the fields and woods were liked for their innocent demeanour and interesting ways, and even the beasts of wilder nature received kindness for the sake of their Creator. History is not silent with regard to the friendship that existed between the Culdee and the birds. No doubt, both at the mill and in the corn fields the holy man had many opportunities of doing his feathered favourites a good turn, and they, as in duty bound, would have a song and a welcome for him whenever he came within view of their airy dwellings. How delightful it must have been in " the vocal woods " when thrushes and blackbirds, and a chorus of minor minstrels, poured in " full-throated ease" their tide of song, while "Aengus of the festal lays" chanted in resounding tones his praises of the hosts of heaven! Once, so runs the legend, when the disguised poet met with a severe accident while cutting branches in a thicket, the birds became excited in an extraordinary manner, and by their screams and cries seemed to lament the calamity that had befallen their comrade and benefactor.
But whatever be inferred or surmised, one thing is certain, namely, that during his servitude at Tallaght, and amidst such surroundings as these, the saint composed his famous metrical Festology of the Saints.
The poem is divided into three principal parts, with subdivisions, consisting altogether of 690 quatrains. The Invocation is written in what modem Gaelic scholars call English chain verse; that is, an arrangement of metre by which the first words of every succeeding quatrain are identical with the last words of the preceding one. The following literal translation gives the dry bones, as it were, of the Invocation, while leaving out all the colour and harmony of the verses which ask grace and sanctification from Christ on the poet's work : —
Sanctify, O Christ ! my words : —
O Lord of the seven heavens !
Grant me the gift of wisdom,
O Sovereign of the bright sun !
O bright son who dost illuminate
The heavens with all their holiness !
O King who governest the angels !
O Lord of all the people !
Lord of the people,
King all-righteous and good !
May I receive the full benefit
Of praising Thy royal hosts.
Thy royal hosts I praise
Because Thou art my Sovereign ;
I have disposed my mind,
To be constantly beseeching Thee.
I beseech a favour from Thee,
That I be purified from my sins,
Through the peaceful bright-shining flock.
The royal host whom I celebrate.
The Invocation is followed by a poem, giving in beautiful and forcible language an account of the sufferings of the early Christian martyrs, and telling how the names of the persecutors are forgotten, while the names of their victims are remembered with honour, veneration, and affection; how Pilate's wife is forgotten, and the Blessed Virgin is remembered and honoured from the uttermost bounds of the earth to its centre. Even in our own country (continues the poet) the enduring supremacy of the Church of Christ is made manifest; for Tara had become abandoned and deserted under the vain-glory of its Kings, while Armagh remains the populous seat of dignity, piety, and learning ; Cruachan, the royal residence of the Kings of Connaught, is deserted, while Clonmacnoise resounds with the dashing of chariots and the tramp of multitudes to honour the shrine of St. Kieran ; the royal palace of Aillinn, in Leinster, has passed away, while the Church of St. Brigid, at Kildare, remains in dazzling splendour ; Emania, the royal palace of the Ulstermen, has disappeared, while the holy Kevin's Church, at Glendalough, remains in full glory; the monarch, Leaghaire's, pride and pomp were extinguished, while St. Patrick's name continued to shine with growing lustre. Thus the poet goes on to contrast the fleeting and forgotten names and glories of the men and great establishments of the Pagan and secular world, with the stability, freshness, and splendour of the Christian Churches, and the ever-green names of the illustrious, though often humble founders.
Then follows the chief poem, the Festology, beginning with the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, for, says the poet —
At the head of the congregated saints
Let the King take the front place.
This Festology is not confined to the Saints of Erinn. The author tells us that he has travelled far and near to collect the names and history of the subjects of his laudation and invocation ; that for the foreign saints he has consulted St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and Eusebius ; and that from countless hosts of the illuminated books of Erinn he has collected the festivals of the Irish Saints.
The main body of the composition is divided into twelve monthly parts, and the various saints are mentioned on their respective days with allusions to their lives, their characteristics, and the localities they were connected with. Thus, when St. Adamnan, of Iona, is named in September, allusion is made to his band of brilliant associates ; and his countryman does not forget to say that it was he whom ''the glorious Jesus besought to free permanently the Irish women." On June 3rd occurs the festival of a " Soldier of Christ, in the land of Erinn," a " noble name over the billowy ocean :" Kevin, the chaste, noble warrior, whose dwelling was in the " glen of the two broad lakes." May 3rd brings " The chief Finding of the Tree of the Cross of Christ, with many virtues," the death of the noble Chief Conleath, and the great Festival of the Virgin Mary*”. The Calends of February are " magnified by a galaxy of martyrs of great valour ; and Brigid, the spotless, of loudest fame, chaste head of the Nuns of Erinn."
[*The Conception, honoured on the 8th of December, in other martyrologies, was commemorated on the 3rd of May by the Irish.]
Having mentioned and invoked the saints at their respective festival days, the poet recapitulates the preceding subject, and invokes the blessed ones in classes or bands under certain heads or leaders : the elders or ancients under Noah, the prophets under Isaiah, the patriarchs under Abraham, the apostles and disciples under Peter, the wise or learned men under Paul, and the virgins of the world under the Blessed Virgin Mary. And then follow the holy bishops of Rome and Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, under their great chiefs ; the bands of monks and learned men under Anthony and the gifted Benedict, and a division of the saints of the world under Martin. Lastly are invoked once again the noble saints of Erinn under St. Patrick, the saints of Scotland under St. Columba, and the great division of the saintly virgins of Ireland under the holy St. Brigid of Kildare.
Lastly, the Sacred bard in eloquent strain beseeches the mercy of the Saviour for himself and all mankind, through the merits and sufferings of the saints whom he has named and enumerated: through the merits of their dismembered bodies; their bodies pierced with lances, their wounds, their bitter tears ; through all the sacrifices offered of the Saviour's own Body and Blood, as it is in heaven, upon the holy altars; through the blood that flowed from the Saviour's own side; through His humanity; and through His divinity in unity with the Holy Spirit and the heavenly Father. Enumerating, still in the full swing of his melodious verse, the conspicuous examples of God's mercy as shown forth in the Scripture history, the poet returns once more to the beloved saints of Erinn, whom he regards with such extraordinary veneration, and beseeches Jesus again, through the Heavenly household, to be saved as He saved St. Patrick from the poisoned drink at Tara, and St. Kevin of Glendalough from the perils of the mountain.*
[*The above is an abstract of the analysis of the Festology in O'Curry's ''Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History" with some particulars from the Rev. Matthew Kelly's " Martyrology of Tallaght."]
Such in outline is the sublime song the Culdee composed in his heart, committed to memory, and chanted in the hearing of the woods, the birds and the heavens, as he trudged through the furrows and cut wattles in the woods of Tallaght. No doubt, as already said, he intended it for something more than the fervent expression of his own piety and faith. He intended and hoped that the people of Erinn would in his own day, and in succeeding ages, glorify. God in His saints in these very words. This is evident from certain stanzas of the poem in which he recommends it to the pious study of the faithful and points out the spiritual benefits to be gained by reciting it. But when and in what manner it should be made known to the world he could not imagine. This cause, with all else, he commended to the faithful Creator.
Years passed on in this manner, until at length the scene changed suddenly. The identity of the man at the mill with the famous Aengus of Clonenagh was discovered in a strange way. On a certain day, the Culdee being at work in the barn, one of the children of the school rushed in frightened and breathless, and hid himself in a dark comer. Aengus spoke gently to him and asked what was the cause of his trouble. The boy answered that having failed to learn his lesson he was afraid to appear before his teacher, who would be certain to punish him severely. He was then soothed and encouraged, and bidden to come forth from his hiding place. Doing as he was desired, he crept forward, laid his head against the saint's breast and fell asleep. After some time he awoke, and was then told to repeat his lesson. Immediately, without hesitation or mistake, he did so; and having received an injunction to say nothing of what had just occurred, was directed to go and present himself before his master. The latter was surprised to find a usually dull boy acquit himself so well on that occasion and the following days; could not understand how such a remarkable change had been effected, and mentioned the matter to the abbot. St. Melruan sent for the boy, and suspecting that something strange had happened, obliged the reluctant scholar to relate exactly all that had taken place in the barn. A light flashed on the abbot's mind, and he exclaimed: This can be no other than the missing Aengus of Clonenagh! Hastening to the barn he joyfully embraced the Culdee, reproached him affectionately for having deceived him so long, and bidding him join himself forthwith to the religious community, welcomed him as a heaven-sent friend and brother. Aengus, overwhelmed with confusion, threw himself at the abbot's feet and implored forgiveness for whatever cause of complaint he might have given.
From that hour until death parted them, these two gifted and saintly men continued to be fellow-labourers and bosom friends. The Culdee was appointed to lecture on the higher sciences in the upper schools, and to teach theology to the young religious, and moreover, in spite of his humility, was obliged to receive priestly ordination. For some time past Abbot Melruan had been engaged in compiling a prose martyrology, and he now hastened to secure the co-operation of his new friend in the prosecution of the work. The task was a difficult one, but the pious antiquaries achieved it, and the result of their joint labour is generally known as the Martyrology of Tallaght. According to the best authorities, it is the oldest Irish martyrology in existence, and the most copious of the kind written in any country at that period. Its full title is Martyrologium Aengusii filii Hoblenii et Moelruanii.
After some years had been spent in this way the abbot died, and received a tribute of esteem and affection from his friend, who, in the Festology , made a commemoration of Mehruan, the “Bright Sun of Ireland." Tallaght having lost its principal attraction when its founder was called away, Aengus returned to his old home at Clonenagh, where he ruled for many years as abbot, while exercising at the same time episcopal functions. Literary aspirations, however, were by no means relinquished. The Festology was finished at his own monastery, and thence made known to the world, A.D. 804, with all the form and eclat proper to the publication of a singularly beautiful and valuable work. The occasion was an interesting one. In the course of the year just cited Aedh, Monarch of Ireland, undertook an expedition against the men of Leinster, marched his forces through Offally, and encamped at no great distance from Clonenagh. Fothad, Chief Poet of Ireland, surnamed the Canonist from his knowledge of the Church canons, accompanied the king on this expedition, and Aengus took the opportunity thus afforded to submit his Festology to the judgment of the Chief Poet, the highest literary authority in the kingdom. The result was a cordial and just recognition of the extraordinary merits of the poem, a solemn approval of its publication, and an official recommendation to the nation at large to peruse and study its pages. In courteous return for a copy of the Festology presented to him by the author, Fothad gave Aengus a poem which he had himself lately written with a very important object in view. This interchange of literary amenities was the beginning of an enduring friendship between the Culdee and the Chief Poet of Ireland.
Many other works of great value, whether in plain prose or in elegant meter, are included in the list of the Culdee's writings. Among these are a collection of pedigrees of the Irish saints ; the Saltair-na-Raun or Psalter of Verses, consisting of 150 poems on the history of the Old Testament, written in the finest style of the Gaelic language of the eighth century ; and a variety of litanies in which, among a vast number of saints invoked, are several Italian, Gallic, British, and African saints who lived and died in Ireland. A very curious tract, giving an account of the mothers of some of the most remarkable Irish saints, is also attributed to the same authorship.
Authorities are not of accord as to the date of the saint's death. In all probability he departed out of this world towards the close of the first quarter of the ninth century. Clonenagh, undoubtedly, was the place of his decease, and he died the death of the saints on Friday, the 11th March. Another poet, his namesake, countryman, and contemporary, Aengus, Abbot of Clonfert-Molua, surnamed the Wise, wrote the Culdee's panegyric in a poem which tenderly laments the departure of a Master of Verses, the Sun of the Western World, the Poet of the Hosts of Heaven!
The works of St. Aengus are, at the present day, held in as high esteem by the historians, the philologists, and the Celtic scholars of the great European centres of learning, as they were in Ireland a thousand years ago. It is a wonder to all that they have not long since been collected from old books difficult of access, and issued with a translation. They are, says the editor and learned annotator of the Martyrology of Tallaght, the best, and often the only authorities, on the brightest period of the history of Ireland ; and a still more competent authority, Eugene O'Curry, doubts whether any country in Europe possesses a national document of so important a character as the Festology of St. Aengus. How much longer, we may ask, are these treasures to remain practically overlaid and hidden amidst the mass of Ireland's unutilised resources ?
The Irish Monthly, Vol.17 (1889), 21-35.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.