Wednesday 21 August 2013

Saint Senach of Clonard, August 21

August 21 is the feastday of a saint associated with the monastic school of Clonard, County Meath, Senach, a successor to Clonard's founder, Saint Finnian. The Benedictines appear to have assigned Senach's feastday to August 3, I am not sure why as the Irish calendars agree that his commemoration is on August 21, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:



In the Martyrology of Tallagh, a festival is entered at the 21st of August, in honour of Sinach, Bishop, it is said, of Cluand Iraird. In the very early metrical Calendar of St. Aengus, and known as the "Feilire," we are recommended on the 21st of August, to ask the prayers of the eloquent bishop of Clonard, Senach. In that copy found in the " Leabhar Breac," the following stanza occurs, at this date, and the English translation is given by Whitley Stokes, LL.D.

"Beseech on Vincentius' feast
to help thy soul
bishop Senach the eloquent,
of vast Clonard"

It seems probable, likewise, that some further light has been afforded, regarding his connexion with another place in ancient Meath. A commentator on the copy of this calendar, found in the Leabhar Breac, has added, that Senach was tutor of Ailbe, and successor of Finden, and that his place was in Cluain Fota Fine, in Fir Tulach, i.e., Cluain Fota Librein.

St. Senach was born, probably about the earlier part of the sixth century. When the holy founder of Clonard, St. Finian, had established his celebrated school there, he became tutor to many of the great saints of Ireland. The family origin of the present holy person is not known ; but according to the following account, Senach appears to have been abducted from his parents, if they were then living, and at a very early age.

In the Life of St. Finnian, of Clonard, it is stated,that at one time, some wicked persons came by night to the place where he then dwelt, called Escair Branain ;and they brought with them a boy, who being wearied with travelling was left upon the glebe, belonging to St. Finnian's Church. This holy man, on the following morning, came to the boy, and after giving him proper instructions, he received tonsure, at the instance of the abbot. We are told, that having a prophetic knowledge, this boy should succeed as abbot; St. Finnian gave him every necessary instruction, and imbued his mind with a knowledge of letters. Following the order of the biographical narrative, we are led to infer, that the early lessons of Senach were received at Escair-Branain or Ard-bren-n Domnuich, and which at a later time received the denomination of Airdleac. It is supposed, that St. Finian did not leave that place, until about A.D. 530; when, it is likely, those then under his tuition followed their master to his new foundation at Clonard.

It would appear, that our saint afterwards studied at Clonard, and that St. Finian reposed great confidence in him. Here, too, Senach had the great advantage of companionship with that galaxy of holy, learned and eminent men, who subsequently shed such a lustre on the glorious Irish Church of the sixth century.

We are told, that St. Finnian, wishing to know how his disciples were employed, sent Senach one day to see them at their several tasks. Our saint found them all engaged at work, although differently employed; some being occupied in manual labour, while others were studying the Holy Scriptures. Among them, St. Columba, son to Crimthann, was found in prayer, with his hands extended towards Heaven, while birds alighted on him. When Senach related this circumstance to his master, Finnian said: "He it is, who shall administer the holy Sacrament to me, at the hour of my departure."

It seems most likely, that Senach lived under the rule and discipline of his celebrated master, St. Finian, until the latter departed this life, on the 12th of December, and about the middle of the sixth century. Senach profited so much by those lessons of piety and of learning he had received in earlier years, that in course of time, he became the chosen successor of Finnian.

Whether or not, Senach immediately succeeded St. Finnian, as Abbot of Clonard, is unknown; however, our saint enjoyed this dignity not long after his death, and we may suppose, his character well qualified him. He also discharged the office of Bishop. The Martyrology of Donegal, at the 21st of August, styles him Senach, Bishop, of Cluain-fhoda Fine, in Fir-tulach, i.e., Cluain-fhoda Librein. However, an error committed by the commentator on the "Feilire" of Aengus, as found in the Leabhar Breac copy, appears to have led the O'Clerys to mistake the locality, which had special connexion with the memory of this holy prelate. We do not know of any Finnen connected with Cluain-fhoda Fine or Cluain-fhoda Librein, now Clonfad, in the barony of Fertullagh, and county of Westmeath, whereas St. Finian was the well-known patron of Clonard in the county of Meath. To this latter place must be assigned the present holy man, notwithstanding contrary statements. But, it must not be forgotten, that the relics of St. Finian were long preserved at Clonfad, and it is thought, also, that he founded its monastery, although St. Etchen is held to have been its chief patron. The present saint seems to have succeeded soon after St. Finian's death, and to have had a long term of rule, both over the monastery, and as bishop. He died on the 21st day of August, A.D. 587. At this same year is the following record, "St. Seanach, Bishop of Cluain-Iriard, died". Probably this saint was connected both with Clonfad, or Cluain-foda-fine in Westmeath, as likewise with Clonard, in the county of Meath. The monastery of Cluain-foda Libren is supposed to have perished during the Danish wars, although it seems to have remained to the close of the tenth century. Under the head of Cluain Foda-Fine, Duald Mac Firbis likewise enters Senach, bishop, adding that he was from Cluain-foda-fine, in Fera tulach, i.e., Cluain foda-Librein. We are informed, moreover, that the comarb and disciple of St. Finnen of Clonard, was this bishop Senach. The feast of St. Senaich is entered in the Kalendar of Drummond, at the 21st of August.

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