Wednesday 24 July 2013

Saint Declan of Ardmore, July 24

July 24 sees the feastday of Saint Declan of Ardmore, County Waterford. Hagiographical tradition remembers him as one of the four pre-Patrician saints, credited with having been active in Munster, prior to the coming of Saint Patrick. His feastday on July 24 is marked in the Martyrology of Oengus thus:

24. If thou hast a right, O Erin,
to a champion of battle to aid thee,
thou hast the head of a hundred thousands,
Declan of Ardmore.

and in the later Martyrology of Donegal, where reference is made to some of the miracles surrounding him:


DECCLAN, of Ard-mor, son of Ere, son of Maicniadh, Bishop and Confessor. He was of the race of Eochaidh Finn Fuathairt, from whom Brighit descended, and Deitsin was the name of his mother. Colman, a holy bishop, baptized him. Life of Declan, chap. 3.

On one occasion, as he was coming from Rome, he forgot a bell (which had been sent him from Heaven,) upon a rock which was in the port, and the rock swam after him, so that it arrived before the ship in Erin, and Declan said that where the rock should touch land, there God would permit him to erect a church, and this was afterwards fulfilled. This church is situated in Deisi of Munster, where he performed many signs and miracles.

The Life of Saint Declan is available from a number of online sources, including CELT.

Below is a 19th-century summary of his life, written by Irish Anglican writer, the Rev. Thomas Olden:

DECLAN, SAINT (fl. 600-650), bishop, of Ardmore, co. Waterford, was son of Erc, a chieftain of the Desii, who was descended from Fiacha Suidhe, son of Fedlimidh Rechtmar, king of Ireland (164-174). The three sons of Fiacha had been banished from their original territory, the barony of Deece, co. Meath, and had settled in the districts in the county of Waterford still called Decies after the name of their clan. Here St. Declan was born. His parents, converted from heathenism by Colman, son of Lenin [q. v.], presented their child to him for baptism, and he gave him the name of Declan. According to the 'Book of Munster,' St. Colman was converted to Christianity in 570, and died in 600. Declan's birth must be placed between these limits. The unauthentic story accepted by Colgan, and apparently by Ussher, is that Declan was one of four bishops who preceded St. Patrick in Ireland. Having been consecrated a bishop at Rome, he was commissioned to evangelise the Irish. Afterwards, when in Ireland, these four bishops refused to obey St. Patrick on the ground that ' they were sent from Rome as he was.' In the end, however, a compromise was effected which was embodied in an Irish stanza supposed to have been uttered by St. Patrick, and which it was strictly forbidden to translate from the vernacular. In this it is said, ' Declan is the Patrick of the Desii, the Desii are Declan's for ever.' But Dr. Todd has shown that this story has no better authority than a legend which chronology summarily condemns as false.

For seven years he remained in the house of Dobran, where he was born, and was then placed in charge of Dimma, a learned Christian, afterwards bishop of Connor (d. 658). We next hear of his building a ' cell ' on ground given by Dobran in the south of the territory of the Desii, in the east of the plain called Magh Sceithi, 'the plain of the shield,' not far from Lismore. Here several persons whom he had converted to Christianity, and who afterwards became well-known saints, were placed by him.

Declan was probably at some time in Gaul, with which the Irish clergy in early times had some communication. It was while abroad that he became possessed of the article known as the duibhin. According to an early manuscript, while Declan was ' offering' in a certain town on his journey, there was sent to him out of heaven from God a small black cymbalum, which came through the window and ' stood on the altar before him, which St. Declan, receiving with joy, gave thanks to Christ and was strengthened by it against the barbarous ferocity of the heathen.' He then gave it in charge to one of his followers, ' Lunanus, son of the king of the Romans. The Scoti (Irish) called it the duibhin Declain (small black object of Declan), terming it so from its blackness, and ascribing it to St. Declan. From that day to this many wonders have been wrought by it, and it remains and is honoured in his city, i.e. Ardmore.' The duibhin is still known by the name mentioned, and there is some reason to think that it is a genuine relic of the saint. It is a small black slab of stone measuring about two inches by one and a half, and three quarters of an inch thick, on which is an incised cross. Originally of rectangular shape, it is much worn and chipped at the edges. It is believed to have been found in St. Declan's tomb, and is still credited with many marvellous cures. The statement in the ' Life' that it ' stood on the altar,' and that the sight of it encouraged the saint in his labours among the heathen, implies that it represented an altar-cross. The missionary altar of that age was a wooden slab about eight inches square. Placed on edge this slab represented the cross in a position where one with a shaft would be impossible. Cymbalum in Low Latin interchanges with symbolum, from the Greek sumbolon ton staurou, the term by which Sozomen (A..D. 440) describes an altar-cross (BlNGHAM).

After this, 'Declan came with his disciples to the sea of Ycht, which separates Gaul from Britain.' This is one of the few passages which identify muir n-Icht, or the sea of Icht, so often mentioned by Irish writers, as the English Channel. It was the sea of the Portus Iccius supposed to have been the village of Vissent or Witsand. Applying for a passage, he found the terms demanded by the sailors too high, but an empty vessel having been miraculously supplied to him, he passed over. It may have been when crossing England on this occasion that he visited St. David at Menevia. On his voyage to Ireland he was divinely guided to a spot called Ard na-gcaorach, 'the hill of the sheep,' to which he afterwards gave the name of Ardmore, 'the great height,' which it still retains. Here he fixed his church and monastery. The story of his attempt to convert Oengus, king of Munster, is disposed of by the fact that the king died in 489, nearly a century before Declan was born. Towards the close of his life he visited the original seat of his clan in Meath, where he founded a monastery and left a remarkable copy of the gospels, which was held in great honour and believed to possess miraculous powers. Here he probably placed his disciple St. Ultan of Ardbraccan (d. 657). Among the buildings at Ardmore that known as the Dormitory of St. Declan is believed by Dr. Petrie to be his primitive oratory. The year of his death is uncertain, but he seems to have lived far on into the seventh century. His day is 24 July.

[MS. E. 3, 11, Trin. Coll. Dublin ; Bollandist's Act, Sanct. torn. v. Julii, p. 590; Todd's St. Patrick, 205-14, 219 ; Irish Xennius, p. 31 ; Bingham, book viii. ch. vi. sec. xx. note; Petrie's Round Towers, p. 353 ; Ussher's Works, vi. 332, 343, 344, 355; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. i. 25; Ducange, art. ' Cymbalum , 'Book of Munster, MS. 23, E. 26, Royal Irish Academy ; Journal of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, iii. 48.]


Dictionary of National Biography edited by Leslie Stephen, Vol. XIV, (London, 1888), 267-8.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

No comments: