January 20 is the feast of Saint Molagga of Timoleague. This County Cork saint was extremely well-travelled; tradition credits him with having been a student of Saint David of Wales as well as having gone on to found churches in Scotland. He is also associated with a number of localities in Ireland, not to mention with a number of other Irish saints, and thus I would be interested to see how modern scholars assess the career of Saint Molagga. To introduce his life however, I am reproducing some extracts from an article on Timoleague in a nineteenth-century Catholic magazine which summarizes all of the traditional stories about this most interesting saint:
...Timoleague is just an easy, half-Englished way of pronouncing the Irish words meaning the "House of Molaga"; and Molaga was one of the early Saints when Ireland was young in the Christian faith for which it has suffered so much. Like many another Saint of that time, he had much to do with his brother missionaries of the Celtic race in Scotland and Wales; and his own life was spent in much travelling to and fro, studying and founding monasteries and doing any good work that came to hand, even to spreading the culture of bees in his own Ireland.
It is common enough among these early Irish Saints and yet it is strange, when one comes to think of it that they have left their names bound up with all the different periods of their country's history. This is because of the work done so well by them during their busy lives, and of the work done after they were dead and gone by the devotion of the common people to them through the succeeding centuries. Thus, in the case of Molaga, we have a few antique bits of building in the rude, primitive style of the early Celtic Christians, dating from himself or his disciples and telling a story of zeal for the glory of God's house and the salvation of souls. Then we have the fine "Abbey" built much later in his honor by friars who came over from Italy hundreds of years after his death. And, in their turn, these splendid arches now stand broken and open to the day with only the ivy to clothe them round about, and the birds and winds to make music where the priests once sang to the glory of God and the Saint God gave them Molaga....
It was in the territory of Fermoy, on the bound of the present barony of Condons and Clangibbon, far toward the north- eastern corner of County Cork, that our Saint was born, in the old principality of the O'Keefes which was long known as the Roches' country. He was of the family of the O'Dugans, possessors of this territory of the "woodland," as it was called. His parents were humble tillers of the ground, as were many who were kin to the petty Kings then governing the land. They had long been childless, and had all their hopes in the heavenly kingdom. One day, as they were sowing a ridge of flax on the south side of the road that runs along the little river Funshion, a troop of priests passed by travelling somewhither with St. Cummin the Long at their head. The Saint foretold to them that they should bring forth a son to their old age, as did Abraham and Sara; "that he would be a friend of learning, and that he should sit in the smooth hill of the plain as Abbot of the school."
When the child of prophecy was born, his parents brought him to the Cross of the Dun or neighboring Fort; and, behold, St. Cummin was at the ford awaiting to baptize one with whom, indeed, he was to be connected all his life. Here, later on, arose the church of Aghacross. Its ruins remain by the bend in the river ; and beside it is still an ancient well, consecrated to the Saint and flowing with its clear waters by lone Molaga's holy cells.
The cells of the Saint, which he built for himself and his disciples in the rude fashion of the time, have still their ruins on his "smooth hill of the plain." They are in the Saint's own parish of Tempul Molaga ; for his name, as we have said, remains everywhere here, however far away and dim may be the memories of the period in which he lived. On the southern slope of the hill, with the mountain stream winding below, the cashel or termon wall encloses an open space in which are the early oratory, a church of later date, another square building, and two of those crosses which speak so pathetically of the faith of Erin. The oratory is some twenty feet from the church. A great ash tree overshadows its eastern window, inside which according to ancient custom stood the altar whereon Christ -the mystic Day spring and Orient from on high- was offered in the Holy Sacrifice, even as now in the nearest and scarcely less humble parish church. Forty years ago there were six of these trees, and the walls stood much higher; but everything is slowly disappearing before the hand of man. So much the more necessary is it that the holy associations of the place should be preserved while there is yet time. Eighty feet away and still along the southern side of the hill, are four pillar stones as if to mark a boundary. To the west stretch afar the Galty Mountains in swelling waves, blue in the distance and mingling nearer the deep shadows of retreating valleys with the great russet spots on greenclad slopes which form so characteristic a picture in the memory of the tourist through Southern Ireland.
Molaga -a young Culdee or Irish monk- did not long remain in the monastery after the years of his studies were over. He had gathered together a few disciples in this spot. But there were still Druids and idolatrous practices in the country ; and he felt himself driven forth, sore at heart, from the midst of so many evils. So he set out for Connor in Ulster, where there had been a bishop since the time of the Apostle St. Patrick. It still forms a bishop's see, though long since united under one head with Down. Like the other holy men of his day, he carried a bell with him to give sign of the exercises of devotion. It was lost by him on the way, and its recovery was the occasion of founding a church (now Kill-foda in O'Neil-land East), whose lands were afterward called the Termon of the bell, while the "priest's mistake of his bell " passed into a proverb. From this he wandered on into Scotland and down to Wales, to the disciples of the great St. David of Menevia, a title which in our own day after centuries of forced apostasy on the part of the Welsh people has again been given to a Catholic bishop's see.
After some time spent in Wales, the Saint returned to his own country. He had received during his stay in other lands, first, the name by which we know him for Mo-laga is the kind-hearted Irish way of saying " My Lachen," the name bestowed on him by the religious children of St. David ; and second, a bell presented to him in memory of the religious ties he had formed with them. This present was enough to leave his name to a place in Wales, long called Boban-Molaga.
St. David had always been in communication with his Celtic brethren of Ireland, and another of his disciples - Modomhnog, or Dominic of Ossory- had brought home with him from the Welsh monastery a swarm of bees, the culture of which he introduced among the Irish monks. But by this time " My Dominic's" bees were in need of another trained hand for their due care; and the services of our own Saint were eagerly demanded by the chieftain of what is now Dublin, as soon as he arrived there on his way homeward. He took this as an indication of the will of Providence ; for he was ever distrustful of the voice of flesh and blood in seeking again his native region among the hills of Munster Liath-Muine. So a church and land were given him a little to the north of what is now Balbriggan town ; and the King of Dun Dubhline ordered that every person in his domains should pay the Saint a pighin or penny every three years for his support, while he was to take charge of the patriarchal swarm of the Irish bees. In the midst of the blessed ground where the dead of his race are still laid away in the hope of the same resurrection which he preached, are the ruins of his old chapel of Lambeecher in Bremore, which is nothing else than the good Welsh name Llan-beachaire or "Church of the Beeman." ...
We next find St. Molaga amid St. Kieran's Seven Churches of Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon, the greatest of the ancient Irish establishments of religion and learning. About this time his old neighbors of Fermoy came to beg him to return to his own monastery of Tulach-mhin the smooth hill on the plain. They promised him many things, even fifty white milch cows every successive year ; and when he sent them away, they simply came back to him accompanied by their beseeching wives and children. He could no longer withstand so earnest entreaties ; and henceforth, to his death, his name is associated with his native home. It afterward became known by his name as Labba or Leaba Malaga "the Bed of Molaga;" for there, as all tradition has it, his mortal remains still lie awaiting the resurrection. ...
One of the latest acts of the Saint had been to imperil his life for his brethren by ministering to them in the time of the terrible "yellow plague" the Buidhe Chonnuil...
It is not in connection with his last resting-place, but with the great Abbey called by way of excellence the "House of Molaga" Teach-Molaga that our Saint's name is chiefly known. Colgan, the historian of the Irish Saints, gives on the 20th of January " the feast of St. Molaga, Confessor, Patron of the Church of Timoleague." This was probably the site of one of the Saint's primitive monasteries; but its present memories date only from the coming of the Franciscans, in 1240.
The Messenger, Vol. VI (xxvi). January, 1891, 3-18.
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