Monday 23 June 2014

The Legend of Saint Mochaoi of Oendruim

The Legend of Saint Mochaoi of Oendruim

by Seamus O Cuisin

ST MOCHAOI was born about 420 A.D.; founded the abbey of Oendruim (pronounced Endrim; i.e.,"the single ridge"), on the beautiful island bearing that name, about 450; and died in the year 496 or 497. For several centuries the abbey, in which education and monasticism were combined, occupied a prominent position, and from it emanated a number of subsequent founders of similar institutions. Between 974 and 1178 history is silent in regard to it; but it is certain that, from its position on Loch Cuan (Strangford), which was infested by Danish marauders, it came in for a large share of their devastating attentions. From its affiliation, in 1178, with an English religious establishment, it seems to have fallen into a condition of decay; and in 1450 it is simply noted as a parish church in the charge of the Bishop of Down.

The island of Oendruim or, as it is now called, Mahee, from Inis Mochaoi, in memory of its patron saint and founder is situated most picturesquely on Strangford Lough, about seven miles from Comber, and is approachable on foot or car by a fine modern causeway, which crosses an intervening island. On the shore end of the island may be seen many remains of the stone buildings which superseded the original wooden structures in the history of this venerable, romantic, but popularly-neglected shrine. These remains include the stump of a round tower; traces of extensive foundations, once partially laid bare by the late Bishop Reeves, and now almost entirely hidden from sight again; the site of the harbour, where anchored "ships" from Britain; evidences of a God's-acre, hallowed by long time and association ; and a fairly complete castle of a later period. The circuit of the island can be made on foot leisurely in a couple of hours, and the walk affords a view of the extensive waters of the once Dane-infested lough, the distant hoary walls of Greyabbey, the haunts of Saint Patrick, the scene of the death of Ollamh Fodhla, and the daring and unscrupulous deeds of De Courcy, and many other places of interest.

Baile Draigin (Ballydrain) about half-way between Comber and Mahee Island is so called from baile, a place, and Draigin, a blackthorn tree; and the reader will observe the connection between this place and the story. No trace of a church, however, has yet been discovered at Ballydrain.

Rudraide (pronounced Rury) is the modern Dundrum Bay.

The idea contained in the following verses has been variously rendered by several eminent authors. The incident in which it is here embodied may, however, be fairly claimed as the oldest version the original in fact.

Quoth good Saint Mochaoi of Oendruim:
"I will build for Christ my master
Here a church, and here defend Him
And His cause from all disaster."
Seven score youths cut beam and wattle;
Seven score hands unseared in battle
Their unstinted aid did lend him,
Fast and ever faster.

But though arm, and voice loud-ringing,
To a test of toil defied him,
Right and left the wattles flinging,
Not a tongue could dare deride him;
For, before them all, he stood
Finished, waiting. Not a rood
From the spot a bird was singing
In a thorn beside him.

Sang no bird in ancient story
Half so sweet or loud a strain:
Seaward to the loch of Rudraide,
Landward then, and back again
Swelled the song, and trilled and trembled
O'er the toiling youths assembled,
Rang around 'mid summer glory
There at Baile-draigin.

Far more beautiful the bird was
Than the bright-plumed bird of bliss,
And the Abbot's feeling stirred was
To its deepest depths, I wis ;
'Til, as from the fiery splendour
Moses saw, in accents tender
Spake the bird, and lo! the word was:
"Goodly work is this."

"True," quoth Saint Mochaoi of Oendruim,
" 'Tis required by Christ my master
Here to build, and here defend Him
And His cause from all disaster :
But my blood mounts high with weening
Of this gracious word the meaning."
Nearer then the bird did tend him,
Fast and ever faster.

"I shall answer. I descended
From mine angel soul's compeers,
From my home serene and splendid
To this haunt of toil and tears;
Came to cheer thee with a note
From an angel's silvern throat."
Then he sang three songs: each, ended,
Made a hundred years.

There, through days that dawned and darkened,
With his wattles by his side,
Stood the island Saint, and hearkened
To that silvery-flowing tide ;
Stood entranced, and ever wonder'd
'Til had circled thrice a hundred
Years, o'er fields life-lade or stark, and
Cuan's waters wide.

Then, when came the final number,
Ceased the angel-bird its strain,
And, unheld by ills that cumber
Mortals, sought the heavenly plain.
Then the Saint, in mute amaze,
Round him turned an anxious gaze,
And from that far land of slumber
Came to earth again.

There his load, 'mid weed and flower,
Lay beside him all unbroken,
'Til, with thrice augmented power,
From his holy dream awoken,
Up he bore it to his shoulder,
Broad, and not a hand's-breadth older.
Scarce, thought he, had passed an hour
Since the bird had spoken.

Toward his island church he bore it.
Lo! an oratory gleaming,
And " To Saint Mochaoi "writ o'er it.
"Now," quoth he, "in truth I'm dreaming.
Say, good monk, at whose consistory
Shall I solve this mighty mystery,
And to form of fact restore it
From this shadowy seeming?"

So he spake to one who faced him
With a look of mild surprise,
One who swiftly brought and placed him
'Neath the Abbot's searching eyes.
Leave him there. Not mine to rhyme of
Deeds that filled the later time of
Him who, fain though years would waste him,
Ages not nor dies.

Ends the wondrous old-time story
Of the bird's long, lethal strain,
Sung through summers hot and hoary,
Winters white on mount and main ;
And the monks, to mark the mission
Of the bird so says tradition
Built a church to God's great glory
There at Baile-draigin.

Ulster Journal of Archaeology,  Vol 10 (1904), 100-103.

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Χρήστος said...

Saint Brigid of Kildare and the starving hound: "Her overflowing kindness of heart was not confined to human beings: it extended even to the lower animals. Once while she lived in her father's house, a party of guests were invited, and she was given some pieces of meat to cook for dinner. And a poor miserable half-starved hound limped into the house and looked longingly at the meat: whereupon the girl, quite unable to overcome her feeling of pity, threw him one of the pieces. And when the poor animal, in his hungry greediness, had devoured that in a moment, she gave him another, which satisfied him. And to the last day of her life she retained her tenderness of heart and her kindness and charity towards the poor."

Χρήστος said...

Saint Patrick and the doe: "Many of the Irish saints were fond of animal pets; and this amiable trait has supplied numerous legends to our literature. St. Patrick himself, according to Muirchu's seventh-century narrative, showed them a good example of tenderness for animals. When the chief Dare gave the saint a piece of ground at Armagh, they both went to look at it: and on their arrival they found there a doe with its little fawn. Some of St. Patrick's people made towards it to kill it: but he prevented them; and taking up the little animal gently on his shoulder, he brought it and laid it down in another field some distance to the north of Armagh, the mother following him the whole way like a pet sheep."


Marcella said...

Thanks for these. I have been planning to run a series of 'Irish Saints and Beasts' for some time, but am too busy right now with Irish language exams to organize the posts. The whole motif of saints and beasts comes from the eastern church being first found in the traditions of the desert fathers, It is a very interesting topic and I hope once the exams are over to get back to the research.

Χρήστος said...

I really hope to see more posts from you about this subject. Your blogs are full of information's about the Celtic saints which I couldn't find by myself. So, I was very happy to discover your blog. At Mount Athos, here in Greece, lives a monk in a monastery who loves very much the Celtic saints. He traveled to Ireland many times and he has written two wonderful books about the relationship of the Celtic and the Eastern Byzantine Church. The first book is going to be translated into English.