Tuesday 3 June 2014

Saint Kevin of Glendalough, June 3

Irish Wits and Worthies (1873)
June 3 is the commemoration of Saint Kevin of Glendalough. Although he is perhaps one of the most famous of the Irish saints in our own day, being the poster boy of the 'Celtic Christianity'  and ecology movements, I struggled to find an earlier account of him to reprint here. Canon O'Hanlon has a lengthy narrative spanning five chapters and over sixty pages, so I have turned instead to his predecessor in this field, Father John Lanigan (1758-1828).  Father Lanigan published a four-volume ecclesiastical history of Ireland in which he surveyed Irish religious history from the introduction of Christianity up until the thirteenth century. He drew on original manuscript sources as well as on the researches of antiquarians such as Walter Harris, Mervyn Archdall, Archbishop Usher and Edward Ledwich, reserving a particular disdain for the latter. Ledwich's 1790 work The Antiquities of Ireland (which can be read online here) contains a chapter on Glendalough coloured by the author's view of the Irish church as proto-Protestant and independent of Rome and all its evils.  Saint Kevin is presented by Ledwich as an entirely mythical figure, indeed no more than the personification of a mountain, whose cult was unknown before the 13th century. Lanigan therefore lays out the traditional account of the saint, appending copious notes both to back up what he has said and to challenge the more glaring of Ledwich's absurdities.  According to this article, in later life Father Lanigan exhibited signs of what sounds very much like dementia, so perhaps his mental condition had a bearing on his polemical, combative style. Canon O'Hanlon himself became involved with the campaign to raise a Celtic Cross as a monument to Father Lanigan at his grave in Finglas, County Dublin (see the illustration, left). So let's turn now to the account of Saint Kevin, taken from Volume II of An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland by Father John Lanigan:

...Coemgen or, as his name is written at present, Kevin, (147) was of an illustrious family in the territory of Tirtuathal, the country of the O'Tooles, His father's name was Coemlog; and his mother, who was of the princely house of Dal Messincorb, was called Coemella. (148) They were Christians, whereas we find it related that Coemgen was, when a child, baptized by Cronan a priest. (149) At the age of seven years he was placed under Petrocus a learned and holy Briton, with whom he remained for five years. (150) Being now twelve years old his parents consigned him to the care of three holy elders Eogan, Lechan, and Enna, to be educated by them in their monastery or  school, in which he applied himself diligently to his  studies during three years. (151) Next it is said that he became a disciple of Beonanus a hermit, and afterwards of a bishop Lugidus, who ordained him priest. (152) By the advice of this bishop he is said to have founded a monastery for himself at a place called Cluain-duach. (155) Then leaving some of his monks there he repaired to his own country, and formed his chief establishment at Glendaloch, (154) whence in his time or afterwards were derived several other religious houses in Leinster. At what time that monastery was founded is not recorded; but it must have been before A. D. 549, if it be true that he was abbot there when he went to pay a visit to Kieran at Clonmacnois, where he did not arrive until three days after Kieran's death. (155) It is related that on a certain occasion he visited also the three holy abbots Columb, Comgal, and Cainnich, then assembled at Usneach in Meath. (156) Having well arranged the order and discipline of this institution at Glendaloch, he retired (at what period of his life is not mentioned) to the upper part of the valley about a mile from the monastery, and there in a small place, beset with thick trees and refreshed by rivulets, led the life of a hermit for four years, practising the greatest austerities, until at length his monks prevailed on him to return to the monastery. (157) It is said, that when far advanced in years he intended to undertake a long journey, but was dissuaded from so doing by Garbhan a hermit, (158) who told him "that it was more becoming for him to fix himself in one place than to ramble here and there in his old age, as he could not but know that no bird could hatch her eggs while flying." On his end approaching he received the holy viaticum from St. Mochuorog a Briton, who had a cell to the east of Glendaloch. (159) St. Coemgen died on the 3d of June A. D. 618. (l60) Although this saint was most probably not a bishop, yet Glendaloch became not long, it seems, after his death an episcopal see, in consequence of a city having soon grown up near the monastery. (161) Some writings have been attributed to him, but except perhaps a monastic rule, without sufficient authority. (162) How great the reputation of St. Coemgen has been appears from the vast concourse of persons, who for many centuries have continued to repair on the anniversary of his death to Glendaloch, there to celebrate his festival. (l63)

(146) The only reason I can discover for placing this saint's birth in 498 is, that he is said to have lived 120 years. As he died in 618, it became necessary to go back for his birth to that year. Yet there are strong motives for doubting of his having been born so early. A brother of his St. Mocuemin, (See AA. SS. p. 586) was a disciple of Columba son of Crimthann [ib. p. 350) and abbot of Tirdaglas. Now this Columba had been a disciple of Finnian at Clonard and probably did not found his monastery until about A. D. 540. Next, among some nephews of St. Coemgen, by his sister Coeltigema, or, as some call her, Coemaca, we find St. Dagan of Inverdaoile, who lived until 640, and who does not appear to have reached a very great age. Supposing Dagan to have been born in 565, it is not easy to believe that he was the nephew of a man who was then 67 years old, unless we are to admit a very uncommon disparity betwen the ages of the saint and his sister. Now it is certain, that Dagan was really a nephew of Coemgen, In the Irish metrical acts of St. Brigid there is a very obscure passage concerning Coemgen, which Colgan has thus translated ; "Accesserat ad praelium Coemginus Celebris; nivem per tempestatem agitat ventus: Glinndalachae sustinuit crucem, ita ut repererit requiem post tribulationes." This passage has no apparent connexion with what we find in the context as to St. Brigid, unless it should be considered as a sort of comparison between the watchfulness of the two saints. If the author alluded to a transaction in St. Brigid's life time, Coemgen would, according to him, have been a grown up man before her death, and so might justly be supposed to have been born in 498. The whole matter, however, is so obscure, that I shall say no more about it.

(147) Coemgen or Coemhgen, which signifies Pulcher genitus or Fair begotten (Usher p. 936) is the same name as Kevin being thus pronounced in Irish. The letter M with the aspirate annexed (either H or a, point; sounds like V. The diphthong OE has been generally modified into the single sound E. The letter G aspirated in the middle of a word almost loses its sound, as in Tighearna which becomes Tierna. (Vallancey, Irish grammar, at G.) It is scarcely necessary to add that the Irish C was always the same as K. I would not trouble the reader with these petty remarks, were I not forced to do so by the impudent and ridiculous quibbles of Ledwich, who in a sort of chapter, full of lies and ignorance, has entered into some details concerning St. Coemhgen and Glendaloch. He says (p. 35) that the name Coemhgen was unknown until after the 13th century, and would fain make us believe that it meant not a man but a mountain. And why? Because Giraldus Cambrensis, instead of that name, writes Keiwin or Keivin and because in the life of St. Berachus it is spelled not Coemgen but Koemin, Coemin, and even Caymin. But are not these in reality all one and the same name, and applied by the authors, to whom Ledwich refers, to the celebrated abbot of Glendaloch ? Suppose a person, treating of our mighty antiquary, should write his name Leadwich, as an ingenious author, who conceals himself under the signature Anonymous, has done; or that even it were written Leadwig, it would be immediately understood as the name of the antiquary; unless some one should be so foolish as to think that it was not the name of a man, but of a compound of lead and wig, taking, agreeably to a very usual trope, wig for what is contained under it. Similar to this folly is the Doctor's mode of arguing. He was striving to show, that St. Coemgen was neither a saint nor a man, but a mere mountain in the county of Wicklow, And thus he proceeds; "Keun is the name of many mountains in Wales noticed by Camden." Then he refers us to Lhuyd (Adversar.) who reckons Ceun, a Welsh word meaning back, among those that enter in the names of mountains. Pray what has this to do with St. Coemgen? It has, says the antiquary, "because the mountain Keun at Glendaloch was metamorphosed into St. Kevin." But where is the mountain Keun at Glendaloch ? And is it thus that this barefaced quack has the effrontery to substitute his lies for history! Or is an accidental likeness between the Welsh word Ceun and the name Kevin to be received as a proof of the nonexistence of a person of the highest reputation, and who is mentioned over and over in numberless documents long prior to the Doctor's 13th century.

(148) AA. SS.p, 584-586. Harris, Writers at St. Coemgen. Ledwich takes fire (p. 35) at the account given by our genealogists of the family, whence this saint was sprung. He says that " to believe that a barbarous people, naked and ignorant as American Indians, should have preserved the pedigree of St. Kevin, is too much for the most stupid credulity." The audacity of this pseudo- antiquary is intolerable. So then in the latter end of the fifth century and in the sixth, when St. Kevin's relatives lived, the Irish were still savages. How then did he forget himself so much as to give a pompous account (p, 159. seqq.) of the Irish schools and studies not only in the sixth century, but as far back as the middle of the fifth ? Or how could he reconcile that barbarous state of Ireland with his praises of the Asiatic and Greek missionaries, whom he brings at a very early period to Ireland. ( See Chap. 1. §  5.) and with his telling us (p. 357) that there was certainly a Christian church in Ireland in the fourth and beginning of the fifth century, and that letters were then known and cultivated here? This incoherent charlatan changes his positions according as suits his convenience. When he wishes to keep out Rome and Palladius, and, above all, St. Patrick from any interference with the early Christianity of Ireland, he represents the Irish as Christians and civilized long before any one from Rome came among us; but when he takes it into his head to drive a saint, ex. c. Kevin, not only out of the calendar but likewise out of existence, he describes them as naked and the greatest of savages even in the sixth century. As to the recording of genealogies, it did not require any great degree of learning, but was practised by the most ancient nations chiefly of the East, from some of whom, together with many other practices, it was derived to the Irish, with whom, as none but an incorrigible sceptic will dare to deny, it was a favourite sort of study. Strange that Ledwich, who is so fond of the Asiatics, could express a disbelief of it, and did not rather use it as an argument to prove, that we had been instructed by Eastern missionaries. The English translator of Ware's Writers has (at ch. 13) by a huge blunder made Coemlog a plebeian, because it is said that he lived " in plebe viz.Dalmoehocoel," that is in the district called by that name.

(149) Usher, Ind. Chron. ad A. 498

(150) Usher, ib. ad A. 505. and p. 10. 8. We have already met with Petrocus (Chap. ix. §. 12.), and Usher reckons the 20 years, which he is said to have spent in Ireland, from 498 to 518. His reason for assigning them to this period was, I believe, its being said that Coemgen had been a scholar of his. But, as we have seen, (Not. 146) it may be justly doubted whether Coemgen was born as early as 498.

(151) Usher, p. 958, and Ind. Chron. ad A. 510. Instead of Eogan, one of those elders, Harris has (Bishops at Glendaloch p. 373) Dogain, owing probably to an error of the press. Hence Archdall also has the same name (at Glendaloch.) Concerning him and the other two masters of Coemgen nothing further is known ; but it may be fairly supposed that they lived not far distant from the residence of his family.

(152) Harris, Writers at Coemgen, from a MS. Life, which he had got from Louvain. Supposing St. Coemgen to have been born in 498, I know of no bishop Lugidus, by whom he could have been ordained, when arrived at the proper age for priesthood, except Lugadius (same name, I dare say, as Lugidus) bishop of Connor. (See Chap. ix. $.13.) But how account for Coemgen's going so far from his own country as the diocese of Connor.There might have been a Leinster bishop Lugidus, in the days of Coemgen's youth ; and that name was formerly very common in Ireland.

(153) Harris loc. cit.) distinguishes this place from Glendaloch ; but Hanmer, who also had a Life of St. Coemgen makes it the same and tells us, (Chronicle, &c. p. 126. New Ed.) that Glendaloch was of old called Cluayn-duach.

(154) Harris, loc. cit. Ledwich, to make a display of his learning, says [Ant. p. 33) that Glendalogh or rather Glendalough seems to be an Anglo-Saxon compound, and that the name was derived from the first Firbolgian possessors of the valley, viz. the Tuathals or O'TooIes. So then those Firbolgians were Anglo-Saxons! Oh ! mighty antiquary ! On this stupid statement it is sufficient to observe, that Glendalough is, both as a compound word and in its parts, downright Irish, consisting of Glen, valley, da two, and lough lake. The Doctor need not have gone further than Johnson's dictionary to learn that glen and lough are originally Irish words, which as well as very many others, have crept into the English language. The place has very appropriately been so called from there being two lakes in the valley. From this circumstance Hoveden (as Harris observes, Bishops p, 371) latinized the name of the see, afterwards established there, into Episcopatus Bistagniensis.

(155) Harris loc. cit. Usher p.956 and Ind. Chron. ad A. 549. I suspect that Coemgen was not an abbot at that time. Yet, not having his Life, I cannot decide on this point.

(156) This visit is placed by Harris (loc. cit.) prior to Coemgen's going to Clonmacnois. But it is plain that it must have been some years later, whereas Comgall, as will be seen lower down, was not an abbot, until, at the earliest, A. D. 555.

(157) Harris, loc, cit.

(158) This Garbhan, who is called the son of Lugadius to distinguish him from other persons of the same name, had been a disciple of Coemgen and lived near where Dublin is now situated. His memory was revered on the 9th of July. AA. SS. p. 751.

(159) It can scarcely be doubted that this was the St. Mogoroc of Delgany mentioned above. Not. 202 to Chap. viii. And hence we see that this saint lived in the 7th century.

(160) Usher, Ind. Chron. The Four masters have A. 617, which, according to their mode of computation, was the same year. Usher, (p. 956) adds or the year 622. If this was the real year of St. Coemgen's death, it will follow that he was born in 502 or late in 501, supposing that he lived unto the age of 120 years.
(See Not. 146.)

(161) In Coemgen's life we read; " In ipso loco clara et religiosa civitas in honore S. Coemgeni crevit, quae nomine praedictae vallis, in qua ipsa est, Gleandaloch vocatur." (See Usher, p. 956.) Colgan treats (at 8 Mart.) of St. Libba or Molibba a nephew of St. Coemgen, and calls him bishop of Glendaloch. If he was really such, the antiquity of that see can be traced to the early part of the 7th century ; nor do I find any sufficient reason. to controvert Colgan's assertion. As to St. Coemgen, there is nothing in his Life to induce us to think that he also belonged to the episcopal order; but, as the see was ancient, and he the founder of the monastery that gave rise to it, some writers thought that he had been bishop there.

(162) See Ware and Harris, Writers at Coemgen. Archdall says (at Glendalogh) that he wrote a Life of St. Patrick. Where he got his information I cannot discover.

(163) The mighty Ledwich says (Antiq.p. 46) that the 9th century was the era of the saintship of St. Kevin. He had already told us that St. Coemgen was not known until after the thirteenth. (See Not. 147.) Then he strives to amuse the reader with some legendary stories concerning the saint, as if to prove that, because said stories are unworthy of belief, he never existed. And, to show his deep and exotic learning, he refers to Giraldus Cambrensis, Brompton, and, wonderful to think, even to an Icelandic MS. But do not those very stories prove that St. Coemgen or Kevin was supposed to have been a real person? According to our antiquary's mode of arguing we would be authorized to doubt
of the existence of very many of the most celebrated characters of old times, in consequence of the fables, which have been intermixed with their history. In his dull irreligious manner, after placing the saintship, as he calls it, of St. Kevin in the 9th century, he adds, that in the same age St. James was given to Spain and St. Andrew to Scotland. Pray does he believe, that there were such persons as the Apostles James and Andrew ? It is difficult to guess at what he believes.

Rev. John Lanigan, An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the First Introduction of Christianity among the Irish to the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century (2nd edition, Dublin, 1829), 43-50.

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