Wednesday 11 June 2014

Saint Mac Tail of Kilcullen, June 11

June 11 is the feast of a County Kildare saint, Mac Tail of Kilcullen. I have tried to make Canon O'Hanlon's densely-packed account a little more coherent by introducing paragraphs to separate the various theories about the saint. I have also inserted the explanation of the saint's name from the scholiast on the Martyrology of Oengus into the main text from the footnotes.  It centres on the word tal, an adze, so mac tail is literally 'the son of the adze'.  There are different theories about the saint's genealogy and his original name, in the new Dictionary of Irish Saints, Pádraig Ó Riain presents him as a figure from the hagiography of Saint Patrick, whose Leinster credentials were challenged by the 17th-century hagiologists, the O'Clery's, who sought an Ulster connection for the saint. He adds that the Tripartite Life lists Mac Tail as one of Saint Patrick's three smiths but comments: 'Curiously, Mac Táil's name nowhere figures in the lists of those 'in orders' with Patrick, perhaps because he also thought to be Brighid's anmchara, 'soul-friend'. ' Canon O'Hanlon drops a hint of another connection with a woman, a pupil of Mac Tail's, which seems to have been the cause of some scandal. I will have to look further into this story, certainly it seems to be a common device to explain the movements of a saint from one locality, monastery or patron to another in terms of the saint being falsely accused of wrongdoing, or forced out by the envy of others etc. Saint Mac Tail appears to have ended his days as a victim of the Buidhe Chonaill, the yellow plague which devastated Ireland in the sixth century and carried off many of our holy men:



MUCH obscurity of date and personality hovers over the memorials of the present early prelate of the primitive Irish Church. It would seem, according to the account of Rev. John Francis Shearman, there were no less than three bishops, and all denominated Mac Tail, while these are severally named in connexion with Kilcullen. Regarding these bishops— if such there were—we have little information, and that is exceedingly unreliable. The Bishop, established by St. Patrick in that See, is thought by some to have been Mac Tail, the son of Dorgan, great-grandson to Aengus Mac Nadfraich, King of Cashel, who was slain, A.D. 489, at Cellosnad, now Kellestown, county of Carlow; but, this chronology should hardly agree with an appointment made by the Apostle of Ireland, as in such case, he should have been bishop for an incredibly long period. Another Bishop of Kilcullen, according to some authorities, was Mac Tail, son of Eochaidh, son to Barr, regulus of Leix. The Bishop of Kilcullen, Mac Tail, venerated on this day, is otherwise called Eogan, son to Corcran. He is said to have been son of Monach, of the Hy Barrache race, and whose father was Oilill Mor, son of Braccan, son of Fiach, son to Dairre Barrach—founder of that family— and son to Cathair Mor, King of Leinster and monarch of Ireland, who was slain A.D. 177. The truth seems to be, that the genealogists have been astray, in compiling the pedigree of Mac Tail, Bishop of Kilcullen, nor do we find reason for supposing, that a second bearing that name ever lived there in the station of its Bishop. The eldest son of Cathair Mor is said to have been Ross Failghe, from whom descended the Ui Failghe; the second son being Dairre Barrach, founder of the Hy Bairrche tribe; while Cathair Mor had other sons, named Bresal Enechglais, Fergus Loscan, Fiach Baicheda, Crimthann,  and Oilill Cetach. The sons of Dairre Barrach were Fiach, Muiredach Snithe and Eochaidh Guinech; while these are said to have settled in the country between the Slaney and the Barrow, whence they were expelled by the Hy Cinnselagh, when these grew into power. The people of the Cliu and of the Fothartha sided with the Hy Barrche, and many battles were waged between them in the fifth century. Some of the Hy Barrche were banished long before the death of Crimthan, in the year 484; while repeated acts of violence and injustice, inflicted on the family of Eochaidh Guinech, led to the murder of his own grandfather Crimthan.

On this day is celebrated the Natalis of St. Mac Tail, who was the son of a wright, if we are to credit some Irish traditions, which however, cannot be regarded as altogether reliable. But, indeed, there is a diversity of opinion as to his family and descent. It would seem, from the Martyrology of Tallagh, that he was at first called Eogan, before he acquired this name of Mac Tail. The scholiast on St. Oengus states, however, that Eogan the wright, son of Dergan, or Eogan, son of Oengus, was the father of Mac Tail:

"Mac Tail of Cell Cuilinn Céir
Son of Eochaid, of vehement Dairchen,
And this is why he is Mac Tail
Because he took the wright's tal (adze).
Oengus was his baptismal name at first
Until he took the ... ?
'Son of Adze' he (was called) thenceforward
Though he was chaste (and) was a cleric."

Others state his proper name to have been Aengus, of Lughaidh's race. The O'Clerys have it, that he belonged to the race of Corc, son of Lughaidh, King of Munster. He is said, by these writers, also, to have been brother to Colman, of Cill Cleitighe. This latter place has been identified as Kilclief, where lived two brothers, Eogan and Niall, to Diochu, of Saul,and all were sons of Trichem, a chief of Uladh. Classed among the disciples of the great Irish Apostle,  this saint Mactalius is thought to have been identical with the Maceleus, mentioned among the disciples of St. Patrick, as found in his Life,  and cited by Ussher, and by Colgan. It is probable, that Mac Tail met St. Patrick in Ulster, where his branch of the Hy Barrche appear to have been located.

Mac Tail was one of the artificers of St. Patrick, according to some old list of his household. One of the Patriarchs of our Irish Church, St. Iserninus, also called St. Fith or Id, and who is stated to have received orders with the Irish Apostle St. Patrick, afterwards devoted himself to the labours of the Irish mission. He is said to have preached in Ui-Briuin Cualann, and there to have founded Kilcullen. It has been thought, that St. Patrick first placed one of his earliest disciples, Issemin, or Iserninus, as bishop over Kilcullen where he continued in that charge, until about the year 460. We are told, that Sliabh Cuilinn was the ancient name of old Killcullen hill, having taken its denomination from a man named Cuilleann. There a monastery formerly stood, the church of which being called Cill Cuilinn, "Church of Cuilinn" gave name to the town, known as Old Kilcullen. The present holy man Mac Tail is called Bishop of Kilcullen, which is now a parish in the county of Kildare. He is supposed to have succeeded Isserninus or Fith at Kilcullen, after a.d. 460, when the latter went back to his first flock.  We have an account of the "Maiden Coinengean,'' or as she is called Cuach,  having been a pupil or daltha of Mac Tail of Cillcuillinn, and certain injurious reports were circulated regarding both master and pupil. Whether these reports were correct or otherwise cannot be ascertained; but, according to what appears to have been legendary, alone, the clergy of Leinster are said to have denounced Mac Tail.

That parish has obtained its denomination from the circumstance of the parochial church being situated in the town of old Kilcullen. This denomination has been communicated, likewise, to a barony, co-extensive with the parish. A bridge was built over the River Liffey in 1319, by Maurice Jakis, a Canon belonging to the church of Kildare. This structure gave denomination to the town, which is now known as Kilcullen bridge. It was erected about a mile north-west of this latter place. That bridge, built at the period just mentioned, is said to have spanned the Liffey in a different place from where the present Kilcullen bridge at the town crosses it. The decay of Old Kilcullen may be traced to such circumstance, and now hardly a trace of the former town appears. Towards the close of the last century to the east of the Round Tower was the shaft of a cross comprised in a single stone ten feet high, and in a garden bounding the north of the churchyard was the pedestal of another cross. The shaft of the cross remained in the year 1837, but it exceeded ten feet in height, and the pedestal was then found lying in a small field to the north of the churchyard. About eleven yards to the northwest of the tower stood part of a stone cross, about four and a-half feet high, exhibiting on the side facing the tower the figure of an Abbot or of a Bishop holding in his left hand a crozier, with a single crook. It was evidently intended to represent a crozier of the primitive ages of Christianity in Ireland; and, in his right hand there was a hatchet with a short handle. To the right of this figure was shown a bell of the primitive angular form, and under it might be seen a human figure lying on one side, with its head under the hatchet. On all the other sides were various representations, and similar to those, which are seen on Irish crosses of the same kind. A pedestal, on which probably this cross originally stood, lay adjoining a headstone, which was a few yards distant from it towards the north-east. Beside this pedestal was a tombstone exhibiting the figure of a warrior clad in mail which tradition says, represents Rowley or Rowland Eustace. In the churchyard, there is an ancient Round Tower, not exceeding fifty feet in height, with four windows. It did not appear to have been higher in the last century, but a considerable portion of the top is now broken. That part containing the windows has long disappeared, while the structure has been reduced to the height of about 30 feet. This remaining part being in a tottering state has been supported by inserting into its openings small stones bound with cement. According to tradition, and to Archdall, Old Kilcullen was a large walled town with seven gates. This writer states, that one gate only remained in his time. This was ten feet wide, with a handsome arch; but this gate does not now remain. Tradition states, that it was pulled down when coaches began to run by that town, as it stood an obstacle at that spot, where the road now bends.

Nothing seems to be known with certainty, regarding the exact term of St. Mac Tail's incumbency; although its commencement has been assigned to the latter half of the fifth century. The year 548 is said to have been that of his death, and the day was on June 11th. If such be the case, he seems to have ruled for a lengthened period over the See. It is said, that St. Mac Tail had been one of those victims to the Cronchonnuil or Cromchonnail or great plague, which desolated Ireland about that time. It is probable, he departed this life and was interred at Kilcullen. Here several bishops and abbots succeeded him, and it became a place of considerable importance, in after times. He died in the year 548, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, and those of Ulster. The Annals of Clonmacnoise place his death, however, at A.D. 550. The festival of Maic Thail the sainted is recorded at the 11th of June, in the "Feilire of St. Aengus". A festival is registered in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 11th of June, in honour of Mac Tail, Cille Cullinn. In the Martyrology of Donegal  at the same date, we find him designated as Mac Tail (i.e., Aenghus), of Cill Cuilinn in Leinster. In the Irish Calendar prepared for the Irish Ordnance Survey, at the iii. of the Ides of June—corresponding with June 11th—we have an entry of his festival.

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