Friday 31 October 2014

Saint Faolán of Fosses, October 31

The month of October ends with the commemoration of an Irish saint still remembered in Belgium - Faolán (Foillan, Feuillen, Pholien), who founded a monastery at Fosses and was a brother of the noted Irish missionary saint and visionary, Fursa. Like Saint Donatus of Fiesole who is also commemorated this month, Faolán too was a promoter of the cult of Saint Brigid of Kildare in his adopted homeland. Dom Louis Gougaud gives the following short account of him:
In the footsteps of St. Fursa (+ c. 650) and of his two brothers Foillan and Ultan, whom the Belgians call Feuillen and Ultain, one treads on more solid ground. The official cult of Fursa goes back to Merovingian times. He is the patron of Peronne, where his tomb is preserved, and of seven other parishes of the diocese of Amiens. Several chapels and wells also keep alive his memory in Picardy.

The tomb of St. Fursa was a spot beloved by Irish piety. Foillan and Ultan were among the first to cross the sea to visit it as pilgrims. Foillan did not stay long in the monastery of Peronne; soon he went to dwell at Nivelles, another place where the Scotti were personae gratae.

Foillan received as a gift from Itta, wife of Pipin II, Mayor of the Palace, and mother of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, the land of Fosses on which he founded a monastery. He perished, murdered by brigands, in the forest of Seneffe.

The town of Fosses still holds his memory in high veneration. Every seventh year it celebrates, amid a great concourse of pilgrims and much ceremony, the procession or march of St. Foillan. The neighbouring places send as their delegates armed "compagnies." It takes nearly the whole day to bear the bust of the saint over the traditional course. At each station -of which there are seven- the "compagnies" fire a salute.

Liege, which has a church dedicated to St. Brigid, has another under the invocation of St. Foillan, as have also Omezee and other Belgian towns and villages. Devotion to St. Foillan has even reached Aix-la-Chapelle where a parish church and a guild, both very old, are placed under his patronage.

Dom Louis Gougaud, O.S.B., Gaelic Pioneers of Christianity - The Work and Influence of Irish Monks in Continental Europe (VIth - XIIth cent.) (Dublin, 1923, 128-30.

A more recent examination of the work of Irish saints in Europe by scholar Roísín Ní Mheara, found that apart from the septennial celebratory march in honour of the saint mentioned by Dom Louis, there are many other traces remaining of Saint Foillan:
Faolán was returning to Fosses after visiting his brother Ultán for the feast of St Quentin when he fell into the hands of marauders in a wood near Le Roeulx. Tradition affirms that after a search of two months it was St Gertrud [of Nivelles] herself who discovered Faolán's incorrupt body. With a great display of pomp and mourning the bier was carried by the nobles back to Nivelles. Gertrud had a church built in Le Roeulx with a priory for Irish monks. This was later taken over by Fathers of the Augustinian Premonstratensian Order, who were thrown out in the course of the French Revolution. All we find in Le Roeulx today is a parish church with a side-altar dedicated to St Faolán. It also posseses a relic of the Irish martyr.
Faolán had founded the royal abbey of Fosses in 635 and in 1083 his martyred relics were translated there. Roísín Ní Mheara describes some of the other features of the church at Fosses:
In Fosses itself there are many items to arrest one's attention in what is now the parish church of Saint-Feuillen. A tableau at the altar of St Ultán depicts the legend of the bloodstained dove bringing news of Faolán's murder to his brother in Saint-Quentin (a reminder of the visionary gift Ultán shared with his brother Fursa). All three brothers are shown in one of the tableaux in the choir, being christened in Ireland by St Brendan.
Roísín Ní Mheara, Early Irish Saints in Europe - Their Sites and their Stories (Seanchas Ard Mhacha, 2001), 67-69.

Saint Faolán is commemorated on the earliest surviving Irish calendar, the Martyrology of Oengus, on October 31:
C. Pridie cal. Novembris.

31. Quintinus fair, crucified;
Faelán, with many bands,
they declare, with a host
of fathers, the lofty end of
to which the notes add:
Faelán. i.e. Fursu's frater, i.e. an abbot in Gaul, i.e. Fursa's brother, and he was a martyr.

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Thursday 30 October 2014

Saint Colman of Cammus Comghaill, October 30

October 30 presents us with the feast of yet another Saint Colmán and thus with yet another mystery as to his precise identity, location and feast day. The Martyrology of Donegal records:

COLMAN, Abbot, of Cammus Comghaill, on the brink of the Bann; or of Lann Mocholmog: and he was maternal brother to Mocholmog of the Lann.
Bishop Reeves' mid-nineteenth century account of the northern dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, identified 'the Lann' as the parish of Magheralin, County Down:
Lan.—Now the parish of Magheralin. The church was founded by St. Colman or Mocholmoc, whose death Tigernach records at the year 700: "Colman Linduacaill obit". "Colman of Lin-duacall died". Or, as the Four Masters, a year earlier: "Colman Linne Uachaille decc. an XXX Marta". "Colman of Linn-uachaill died on the 30th of March". Hence it is sometimes called Lann-Da-Cholmoc, or Lann-Mocholmoc, which both signify ' the church of Colman'; for the syllables Da or Do, in the sense 'your', and Mo, in the sense 'my', were prefixed to saints' names, as Colgan observes, "honoris et singularis observantiae causa".

Rev. W. Reeves, Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore (Dublin, 1847), 110.
This identification was challenged, however, by another Anglican cleric who placed the location of Saint Colmán's foundation at Annagassan, County Louth:
Monastery or Linn Duachaill.—It is in the townland of Linns, close to the village of Annagassan, that we find the first trace of an ecclesiastical establishment in the Parish of Gernonstown. St. Colman MacLuachan is said to have founded a church or monastery here in the seventh century. It was known by the name of Linn Duachaill (i.e.. Duachaill's pool), or Linn Uachaill from a demon named Duachaill, who is said to have infested the place and terrified the neighbourhood until destroyed by St. Colman. Duachaill's pool is still pointed out at the junction of the Clyde and Dee before they enter the sea at Annagassan. Dr. O' Donovan once thought that Linn Duachaill was Magheralin. Co. Down, and at first Bishop Reeves seems to have had the same opinion. But both those antiquaries found it necessary to correct their opinion on becoming acquainted with the topography and traditions of Annagassan. For Linn Duachaill was on the banks of the river called Casan Linne (Martyr. Doneg., Mar. 30, p. 91, cp Colgan Acta SS., pp. 792-703), and this river is mentioned in the "Circuit of Ireland " as lying between the Vale of Newry, or Glen Righe, and Ath Gabhla on the Boyne. The name " Casan''="paths" survives in Annagassan. According to Joyce (Names of Places, p. 373) "Casan " was originally joined with "Linne Duachaill" and became shortened to " Casan linne," which is preserved in Annagassan=Ath-na-gcasan, "the ford of the paths." Dr. Todd, who has an important note on the subject in " Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gall," p. lxii., says, Annagassan=Aonach g Casain, i.e., the " Fair of Casan." Joyce's interpretation is, I think, to be preferred, as the people still speak of the "Pass of Linns " and this pass, as pointed out, lay further up the River Glyde, about a quarter of a mile from Duachaill's pool, and near the spot where the monastery founded by St. Colman is believed to have stood.
Colgan has collected all the traces of this Saint Colman Mac Luachan (in his Acta SS., p. 792-3). From Colgan we learn that his mother's name was Lessara, and that he and another Colman were uterine brothers and living at the same time, but his father was of the Hi Gualla or Gaillfine, an Ulster race, while the father of the other Colman was of the royal family of Meath. It appears that he had two or three churches — Camus-juxta-Bann, Lann Mocholmoc, or Linn Duachaill, and perhaps Lann Abhaic and Lann Ronain in Down and Dromore. In his churches he was commemorated on March 30 and October 30, and he is held eminent for his sanctity. The other Colman was commemorated on June 17. There is in the Annals some confusion between these Colmans; but St. Colman of Linn Duachaill, called also Mocholmoc, died on March 30, 699.
Rev. J. B. Leslie, History of Kilsaran Union of Parishes in the County of Louth, (Dundalk, 1908), 89-91.

Thus it seems, and not for the first time, that the problem of distinguishing homonymous saints named Colman has left us with a question mark over the relationship between the saint commemorated on October 30 and the saint commemorated on March 30.

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Wednesday 29 October 2014

Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, October 29

October 29 is the feastday of Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, a saint of the west of Ireland who was related to the ruling house of his district. In the account below, which has been distilled from various chapters of Father Jerome Fahey's diocesan history, the writer presents an engaging portrait of Saint Colman's devotion to the monastic life and includes the most famous episodes from his Life - the fly, the cock and the mouse which assisted him and the miracle of the Easter feast:

Amongst the Saints who made the reign of the pious King of Connaught memorable, there is none whose sanctity is so revered, and whose name is so enthusiastically honoured throughout the district of Aidhne, as is St. Colman, son of Duagh. The diocese of Kilmacduagh, of which he was founder, perpetuates his name; and through its various parishes he is still piously invoked as a powerful and holy patron.

His connection with the king was of the most intimate kind, being united to him by ties of intimate friendship as well as by those of kindred.

In the Martyrology of Donegal, we find him referred to as "Colman Bishop, i.e. Mac Duagh of Cill Mic Duach in Connachta; he was of the race of Fiachra, son of Eochaid Muidhmheadoin; great were his virtues and miracles."

This authoritative reference to him as Bishop of Kilmacduagh, and also to his parentage, helps effectually to remove all difficulties as to his identity. The name of Colman was indeed a favourite one with the holy men of the period. This will be abundantly evident from the fact that the Martyrology of Donegal commemorates as many as one hundred and thirteen Saints who bear the name of Colman. But from out of this multitude whose name he shares, the individuality of the holy son of Duagh, of the princely race of Fiachra, is clearly fixed.

...We can have no difficulty as to the particular period to which St Colman's public life may be referred. There is no doubt that it is to be referred to the close of the sixth and the opening of the seventh century. Our fuller knowledge of the history of his distinguished contemporaries, removes all difficulty on that head. But the exact or approximate date of his birth can be only a matter of conjecture. Neither have we any historical evidence of the particular place of his birth. We have, however, a well-defined tradition, always accepted in the diocese of Kilmacduagh, which fixes the village of Corker, in the present parish of Kiltartan, as the place of his birth. The same interesting tradition which tells us of the place of his birth, preserves also some interesting circumstances in connection with it.

Rhinagh, the Saint's mother, when in an advanced state of pregnancy, became the object of the king's jealous hatred. The reigning king was Colman, father of Guaire. He had heard that, according to a prophecy of authority, Rhinagh's son was destined to surpass in greatness, all others of his illustrious lineage. Dreading the jealous hostility of the king, which she thus unconsciously excited, she was obliged to fly. But the hostility of the king pursued her. She was seized by his minions, and cast, with a heavy stone tied around her neck, into the deepest portion of the Kiltartan river. She was miraculously preserved from drowning, however; and the stone lies still by the river margin, an object of interest to many.

It was in the adjoining solitude at Corker that the infant was born, who was indeed destined to bring upon the district "a thousand blessings which time has brought to ripeness."

The anxious mother laid her new-born babe under the friendly shelter of a spreading ash, and waited impatiently for some one who might at least pour on its head the waters of regeneration. And though the tradition here loses itself in one well known to be applied by poets and hagiographers to St. Patrick, it may be undesirable to destroy its continuity. It continues to tell us how two aged clerical pilgrims approached the anxious mother. One was blind and the other lame. Being unable to procure water to administer baptism, they invoked the Divine aid; and lo! a fountain gushed forth from under the shelter of the tree. After administering baptism, the pilgrims washed in the waters of the fountain and were healed. The grateful monks besought the mother to entrust them with the safety and education of the child — a permission which, under the circumstances, must have been gladly accorded to them by Rhinagh.

The holy well at which St. Colman is said to have been baptized, still remains at Corker, and bears his name. It is held by the people of the village and surrounding district in the highest veneration. " Rounds " are still performed there ; and it is confidently asserted in the locality that the supernatural efficacy of the water is still frequently proved. The venerable ash has disappeared, but its place is supplied by a cluster of venerable hawthorns, which will please the lovers of the picturesque, as well as those to whom the legendary history of our Saints is dear.

However much we regret that we are ignorant of the names of those good monks who undertook to guard Rhinagh's holy child in his infancy, and to educate him in his early years, we must at least admire the success with which they sheltered him from the jealousy of the king. Even now we are unable to glean even the smallest particulars regarding the history of his early years. It is only in his mature years, after he had already entered the sanctuary, that we can obtain even a shadowy glimpse of him as he is engaged in his missionary labours or personal austerities.

He reappears in the celebrated island of Aranmore, then widely known as Aran of the Saints. Its reputation as a sanctuary of piety rivalled that of Lerins and of Iona. In fact, Western Europe had not many more remarkable homes of piety than "Ara-na-Naomh."

St Colman's stay in Aranmore must have been considerable, as he built there two churches, which, according to Dr. Kelly, are attributed to St Colman, both by "history and tradition."...But the seclusion of Aranmore was not deep enough to satisfy the yearnings of St. Colman. He resolved to hide himself in some deeper solitude, that he might abandon himself more completely to the influence of that all absorbing spirit of prayer and mortification with which he was then so deeply imbued.

The closing years of the sixth century, which witnessed St. Colman's departure from Aranmore, are memorable for a new development in the religious life of the nation. The monastic life had attained in Ireland a development probably unparalleled. If not the golden age of Ireland's holiness, our early writers speak of the effulgence of its sanctity in comparison with subsequent times, as the brightness of the moon compared with that of the stars.

There were, before the close of the century, clear evidences that the hermit's life was preferred by many to the usual community life of the monk. It may be that our stern ascetics regarded the influx of native and foreign students to our monasteries, as obstacles to high and intimate union with God. It is certain that the desire to live in complete solitude became very general, and marks a new epoch in the religious life of Ireland. The hermits of the period are known as a distinct order of Irish Saints. This "Third Order" of Irish Saints, as they are called, numbered one hundred, and were nearly all priests. "They dwelt in deserts, and lived on herbs, water, and alms; they shunned possessing private property." There were amongst them also some few bishops, amongst whom we find the name of St. Colman. Dr. Lanigan assures us that this Bishop Colman of the Third Class was, "according to every appearance," St. Colman of Kilmacduagh.

Indeed, there can be no doubt that St. Colman Mac Duagh sought in the depths of the Burren forests, for perfect solitude and seclusion to commune alone with his Creator, like another Anthony or Hilarion. The career of austere and exalted sanctity on which we now see him entering even recalls the desert life of the Baptist, who fed on the locusts and honey of the desert. A spirit of profound humility, a love of retirement and mortification, where virtues which he had hitherto cultivated with assiduity, and which constituted leading traits in his character. But the solitudes of Aranmore, and the sacrifices and austerities practised there by the holy disciples of St Enda, seemed insufficient to the generous soul of St Colman Mac Duagh. He resolved to give himself to the practices of penance and contemplation with all the ardour of his soul in complete solitude and retirement.

Colgan informs us that St Colman retired to Burren accompanied by a solitary attendant, while his old enemy and namesake, Colman, father of Guaire, yet occupied the throne of Connaught. And it is not improbable that a knowledge of the cruel persecutions to which his mother had been subjected by her royal kinsman, made him regard it as a matter of grave importance to conceal as much as possible the place of his retirement. Though we cannot fix the date, we can form an accurate approximate judgment as to the time of his retirement into Burren. Guaire did not succeed to the throne of Connaught till A.D. 604. His brother Loigneun succeeded his father Colman, and reigned for seven years. As it was in Colman 's reign that our Saint retired to his hermitage, the period of his retirement could not be later than the last decade of the sixth century. We are informed by Colgan that St. Colman wrote from his retirement to St Columba, then in lona, seeking spiritual direction; and we know the death of St Columba occurred in A.D. 597.

Our Saint constructed his little oratory at the base of the frowning cliff of Ceanaille. Tradition points to a cave close to the oratory in which he sought shelter and repose. A crystal fountain supplied him with drink, the wild herbs of the forest were his only food, and the skins of the wild deer formed his coarse and scanty raiment either in summer heats or wintry snows. Here shut out from all human converse, and dead to all earthly things, he led a life of the highest spirituality. His fasts, like his prayers and vigils, were interrupted only by the necessities of failing nature. So absorbing did his sense of Divine love become, that he was frequently wrapped in ecstasy, and enjoyed the most abundant spiritual consolations. He had, however, his moments of aridity, when God seemed to withdraw Himself from His servant It was in one of those moments of spiritual trial that he wrote to St. Columba. Colgan's brief reference to the Apostle of Iona's reply, shows us that it was full of friendly sympathy and of respect for St. Colman's sanctity. He reminds St. Colman that the great losses complained of presupposed the existence of abundant spiritual treasures. Such friendly banter can be easily understood, when we remember they were kinsmen. And as St. Columba himself had traversed those Burren solitudes, and erected a church in one of its deepest valleys, — Glan Columkille, — it is possible that they may have been personally acquainted.

Keating writes: "Mac Duagh was retired into the wilderness for the benefit of his devotion. He had no living creature about him except a cock, a mouse, and a fly. The use of the cock was to give him notice of the time of night by his crowing, that he might know when to apply himself to his prayers. The mouse, it seems, had his proper office, which was to prevent the Saint from sleeping above five hours within the space of twenty -four; for, when the business of his devotion, which he exercised with great reverence and regularity upon his knees, had so fatigued his spirits that they required a longer refreshment, the mouse would come to his ears and scratch him with his feet till he was perfectly awake. The fly always attended on him when he was reading. It had the sense, it seems, to walk along the lines of the book; and when the Saint had tired his eyes, and was willing to desist, the fly would stay upon the first letter of the next sentence, and by that means direct him where he was to begin."

For seven long years our Saint lived on in his Burren hermitage, completely hidden and unknown...Yet the time was fast approaching: when he should leave his beloved retreat, and stand before his kindred and the world, as a burning light and an ornament to the episcopacy.

The accession of Guaire to the throne of Connaught in the opening years of the seventh century was destined to mark a new and a bright era in the religious life of the clans of Hy Fiachtach Aidhne; and the son of St. Colman's inveterate enemy was raised up by God to become at once his friend and powerful patron.

The Hospitable King had his principal residence at Kinvara; and yet, though living at Kinvara, he seems to have had no knowledge of the presence of his holy kinsman in Barren. The king at length discovered the hermitage, and became so deeply impressed with the holy solitary's sanctity, that he urged him to accept the episcopal charge of the territory of Aidhne. Such a discovery was perhaps inevitable. But our annalists speak of it as brought about by supernatural agency, to which some of our mediaeval writers have added some incredible marvels of the usual legendary character. The narrative is given at length by Colgan, who takes it from the Menology of Aengus.

Our Saint had spent the Lent in the usual exercises of austerity. And on Easter morning, after reciting the divine office and offering the sacred mysteries, he inquired of his youthful attendant if he had procured anything special for their repast in that great and joyous feast. His attendant replied that he had only procured a little wild fowl in addition to the herbs which were their usual fasting fare, and began to repine at the severity of a life which even on so joyous a festival brought them no legitimate relaxation. He contrasted their position with that of those who had the good fortune of forming Guaire's household. The Saint, seeing with concern that his attendant's patience was nigh exhausted, commended the matter to God, and urged that the King of Heaven and Earth, whose servants they were, could easily supply a feast, and strengthen his attendant's failing confidence, if such were His Divine pleasure. And as to Guaire's royal banquet, to which reference was made, and of which his chieftains and retainers were then about to partake, it might, if it so pleased Providence, be transferred from the palace to the hermitage.

The banquet was being set on the royal tables at Durlus while the Saint was yet speaking. And there can be no doubt that it was a sumptuous one, and worthy of His Majesty's characteristic love of hospitality. The old writers recount with evident satisfaction the important additions to the feast which had been procured specially for the occasion by the king's huntsmen. Before sitting down to the feast, the king exclaimed, with unusual impressiveness, "Oh, would it pleased Heaven that this banquet were set before some true servants of God who require it; as for us, we might easily be provided with another." He had no sooner spoken than the dishes were removed by invisible hands. All were struck with astonishment. The king, amazed at the marvel, summons his mounted guard, that they may follow, and discover, if possible, the destination of the dishes. All his retinue follow in hot haste, and are accompanied by a motley crowd of women and children from the district through which they pass. Meantime, the dishes had reached the Burren hermitage, and were set down in the open space in which the Saint and his disciple were wont to partake of their scanty meals. On seeing them, the disciple exclaimed, " O father, behold the reward of thy patience! Let us thankfully partake of the food sent us by our good God." Our Saint, however, would first know with certainty whence they had come, and is informed by an angel that the feast was sent in response to his prayers, and through the benevolence of the king. Meantime, the unexpected arrival of His Majesty with his retinue and followers filled them with alarm. Their astonishment at discovering the oratory and cell was increased by seeing the banquet spread before the holy hermit and his attendant, who, with thankful hearts, and, it may be assumed, with good appetites, were about to partake of the good things thus bountifully provided for them by Heaven. But our Saint, with a full confidence in the protection of Heaven, commanded that his unexpected visitors should not approach till he and his disciple should have partaken of the feast so providentially provided for them. And here another marvel occurs. Riders and pedestrians alike are unable to move. The level limestone ledges bear to the present day the footprints, as it is piously thought, of that motley gathering; Colgan, who gives the legend, must have thought so. No doubt this singular phenomenon of the footprints on the rocks must have been in the days of Colgan, and in the still more remote times of Aengus, much more striking than it is in our time. But the ascent or approach through the mountain gorge is in our time, as in Colgan's and centuries earlier, called " Bohir na Maes," i,e, the road of the Dishes. Thus did it please God to manifest in a most striking manner the singular sanctity of His servant to the king and the assembled multitude. The favour which he found with God was thus manifested to the world, despite his humble efforts to hide himself, as well from the admiration as from the hostility of men. At the king's entreaties, all were again set at liberty through the Saint's prayers; and they returned to publish throughout Aidhne the sanctity of the holy solitary, and the extraordinary things which it pleased Heaven to do through the efficacy of his prayers.

The character of the holy Solitary of Burren, thus providentially made public, won for him at once the esteem of his clansmen. His austerities and his miracles were on the lips of all, and the public joy was increased by the knowledge that he was a representative of one of the noblest of the tribes of Hy Fiachrach. Meantime, the king, his relative, was urgent in his request that St. Colman should found a monastery, and also assume episcopal charge of the territory of his kinsman. The office of abbot and bishop were frequently united. It did not always happen in those days that bishops exercised episcopal jurisdiction. They were more numerous in our early Irish Church than in modern times. As Montalembert puts it, "they were in many cases incorporated as a necessary but subordinate part of the ecclesiastical machinery with the great monastic bodies." But in most cases, as in the case of our Saint, the abbot who was invested with the dignity of bishop also exercised episcopal jurisdiction, and in such cases their jurisdiction was coextensive with the territory or tribe or clan to which they belonged. Thus it happened that the jurisdiction of St. Colman Mac Duagh extended over the entire territory of Aidhne, the patrimony of the southern Hy Fiachrach, and that the ancient boundaries of the territory continued in after times to mark the boundaries of the diocese of Kilmacduagh...

In earnest prayer St. Colman sought the Divine guidance, and it was soon revealed to him that the king's requests were in conformity with the will of Heaven. It was furthermore revealed to him, that the site of his monastery and cathedral would be miraculously pointed out to him. His girdle was to drop to the earth of itself, on the particular place on which the monastery was to be founded. When gazing from the elevated tablelands near his Burren hermitage, over the territory of Aidhne, he may perhaps have noted specially the solitudes towards the south-east, where the lakes and swamps spread out towards the undulating forest lands. At the north-western side of the diocese, the monastery of St. Colga, at Kilcolgan, was a centre of light and guidance for the surrounding districts. The example of St. Sourney, the teachings and example of St. Foila, were additional powerful incentives to sanctity in the same districts. The most remote districts of Aidhne, which were those on the south, appealed perhaps most strongly to the charity of Colman. And besides, those solitudes amongst which Colman was about to construct his monastery, while favourable to monastic quiet and holy contemplation, were dangerous to travellers. His monastery there would prove a refuge to many to whom the dangerous passes of those low-lying lands might otherwise prove fatal.

Certain it is that our Saint proceeded thither, and discovered, by the anticipated sign of the girdle falling, that it was the destined site of his monastery. "As he journeyed through the forest," says Colgan, "his cincture fell on a certain place, not far from his former cell, and there he built his monastery, which, from his name, is commonly called Kilmacduagh." This girdle continued to be long preserved with religious care by his kinsmen, the O'Shaughnessys. It was in their possession in the thirteenth century ; and even centuries later, in Colgan's time, they retained it still. It was studded with gems; and it possessed the marvellous property of fitting all who were chaste, though it could not be used by the unchaste, no matter how emaciated.St. Colman was now face to face with a great work. It was a holy work, the results of which were destined to endure. It was a work which would inscribe his name on the hearts of a grateful people, who would transmit it, with the memory of his virtues, from generation to generation.

King Guaire, with characteristic generosity, not only granted the required site for the cathedral and monastery, but granted also large endowments for its future maintenance. This was not all. His Majesty sent several teams of oxen to procure the necessary materials. He sent numerous labourers and skilled artisans to carry out the work.There can be no doubt that the date of the foundations at Kilmacduagh was A.D. 610.

But while his diocese rejoiced in the blessings which his labours and presence brought them, he was himself filled with a consciousness of his own unworthiness, and he longed to be free from the lieavy burden of the episcopal charge. He was weary of the praises of men, and lie wished to hide himself in solitude once more, and there await his approaching dissolution. Even during the years of his public labours, his mind frequently went back to his beloved solitude in Burren. He treasured the memory of those happy days which he spent there, with no intenuption which might divert his thoughts from the contemplation of holy things. For him there was society in solitude; and in the "pathless woods," there was enduring attractiveness, for he could there commune without interruption with his Maker.

As he well knew, the Burren forests sheltered many a lonely glen; and he knew from experience their fitness for a life of austerity and prayer. They seemed to invite him once more ; and at length he resolved to retire thither, and hide himself from the praises and admiration of all.

The little valley of Oughtmama was the secluded spot in which he chose to spend the remaining days of his life. It stands within the valley of Corcomroe, and not far from his former hermitage. The rugged mountains rise steeply round it, forming a girdle which completely hides it.

Here, then, in his beloved retirement, our Saint awaited his approaching dissolution with the assured confidence of the just. Indeed, the hour was near, when he was to be summoned to exchange a life of unceasing austerity and labour for a life of unending bliss. He longed to be dissolved and be with his God. Bequeathing his body to his cathedral church at Kilmacduagh, and leaving to his diocese the rich inheritance of his example and the fruits of his labours, he is believed to have yielded up his soul to his Maker on the 29th of October A.D. 632, in the pontificate of Honorius I.

It is stated by Dr. Lanigan, I know not on what authority, that St. Colman died on the 3rd of February. Other writers have also attempted to fix his feast on the 3rd of February. It is so fixed by the Abbot of Knock, — Marianus O'Gorman, — and also by the Martyrology of Tamlaght. Nor can it be supposed that the Martyrology refers to any other of the many Saints who bore the name of Colman, as it refers to him expressly as Colman, "son of Duagh."

Ware and Harris, however, very properly remark that the 3rd of February is not the day on which his feast is observed in the diocese of Kilmacduagh. And though the Martyrology of Donegal gives the 3rd of February as the date of his festival, it is careful to add that "Ua Sechnasaigh says that the festival of Mac Duagh is on the 27th (recte 29th) of the month of October, for he was his own patron and his relative.' And the learned editors of the Martyrology — Todd and Reeves — add, in explanation of the text, that " this was probably 'The O'Shaughnessy,' or head of the family at the time when this work was compiled, and whose testimony our author intimates was the more worthy of credit, because St. Colman Mac Duagh was the patron Saint of his tribe, and of the same race."

As a matter of fact, the festival of St. Colman Mac Duagh has been observed in the diocese of Kilmacduagh from time immemorial on the 29th of October.

Rev. J. Fahey, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (Dublin, 1893).

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Tuesday 28 October 2014

Saint Dorbéne Foda of Iona, October 28

October 28 is the feastday of an eighth-century abbot of Iona (Hy, Ia), Dorbéne Foda (Dorbéne the Tall), whose death is recorded at the year 713. The Martyrology of Donegal for this day lists:


DORBÉNE FODA, son of Altaine, Abbot of la Coluim Cille. He is of the race of Conall Gulban.
There is a puzzling duplication of abbots recorded among the successors of Saint Columba at this time and our saint was recorded as having been appointed during the tenure of Dúnchadh (710-717). Earlier scholars suggested that this duplication of abbots may reflect some sort of split at Iona over the contentious issue of the dating of Pascha, a theory which continues to be debated today. T. M. Charles-Edwards in his recent contribution on the Abbots of Iona to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accepts that this split was 'almost certainly the reason why in the early eighth century there were often two abbots of Iona'. He suggests that Dúnchadh was the 'Roman' abbot appointed during the tenure of the 'Hibernian' abbot Conamail. Charles-Edwards speculates that our saint Dorbéne was another 'Hibernian' abbot, but fellow-scholar Richard Sharpe is less willing to accept the 'schism' theory and believes that it is impossible to say exactly what was going on with the Iona abbatial succession at this time. In any case, it seems that the abbacy of our saint Dorbéne was short-lived as this extract from a history of Iona explains:
11. Dunchadh (710-717). The annals date his appointment three years before his predecessor's death. He may have begun as a coadjutor abbot, or there may have been factions over the Easter question, and nominations by both parties. This unhappy controversy gave trouble in Iona from Adamnan's time until the inevitable transition to the general usage of the Church had been made.

In Dunchadh's third year, 712, Coeddi, called Bishop of Ia, died. He was probably a bishop resident in the monastery. In the next year, Dorbene Fada, or the Tall, "obtained the cathedra of Ia," but died within five months. This record of his appointment (apparently) to the abbacy in the middle of Dunchadh's term of office is strange, but resembles Dunchadh's own beginning. The writer on Dorbene in the Dictionary of Christian Biography says that a schism in the monastery "is in itself improbable, and has no authority in the annals." He prefers the explanation that Dorbene was appointed a tanist abbot, or coadjutor with right of succession. The record of the death of a tanist abbot in 937 (next chapter) shows that the custom existed in Iona.

The oldest existing copy of Adamnan's Life of St. Columba is written by a scribe who says at the end, "Whosoever readeth these books on the miracles of Columba, let him beseech the Lord for me, Dorbene, that after death I may possess eternal life." Critics have no doubt that the writer is Dorbene Fada; and, as he died only nine years after Adamnan, he very probably copied the book, when a monk under him, at the time of its composition. The manuscript is the oldest one of ancient Scotland that has come down to us. It is in the Public Library at Schaffhausen, but came from Reichenau, a monastery on Lake Constance, originally founded by St. Columbanus. The manuscript must have been carried to the Continent in days when zealous missionaries and learned teachers of the Celtic Church were well known in Europe. A century later, we find an Abbot of Reichenau writing, in Latin verse, the praises of the Iona martyrs of 825.

Rev. E. Trenholme, The Story of Iona (Edinburgh, 1909), 62-63.

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Monday 27 October 2014

Saint Colman of Seanbotha, October 27

October 27 is the feastday of yet another Irish Saint Colman, this one associated with the locality of Sean Botha, which the great 19th-century scholar John O'Donovan identified as the present day Templeshanbo, County Wexford. Father Jerome Fahey gives the following account of Saint Colman in his diocesan history of Kilmacduagh:

In the Martyrology of Donegal we find the following notice of St Colman Hy Fiachrach: "Colman Ua Fiachrach of Sean Botha in Ui Ceansealaigh. He is of the race of Fiachra." We find a supplementary notice of the Saint, which casts much additional light on his descent, in the Customs of Hy Fiachrach.

Here we are told that his mother was Fearamhla, sixth in descent from Dathy, and fifth from Fochaid Breac, ancestor of St. Colman Mac Duagh. "And she was the mother of St. Colman, the son of Elochaid, who is, i.e, lies, interred at Sean Bhotach in Hy Censiolaigh." And in the Martyrology of Donegal it is added, " He is of the race of Fiachra." We also find, on the same authority, that the "three O'Suanaighs," memorable amongst our early Saints, were his brothers, as were also St Aodhan of Cluain Eochaille and St Dichlethe O'Triallaigh.

We find in the life of St Maidoc, that he was a contemporary of St Colman of Kilmacduagh. St. Colman Ua Fiachrach was therefore a contemporary as well as a kinsman of Guaire, King of Connaught It is therefore not improbable that he may have built his church at Kinvara for the convenience of his pious relative and his court He afterwards became abbot of the monastery at Seanbotha, in which he was interred.

The church of Seanbotha is identified by O'Donovan as that now called Temple-Shambo, "which is situated at the foot of Mount Leinster, in the barony of Scarawalsh and county of Wexford." The monastery of Temple-Shambo was probably founded by himself. His festival was observed there on the 27th October, the exact date on which his feast is fixed in the Martyrology of Donegal.

Rev. J. Fahey, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (Dublin, 1893), 31.

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Sunday 26 October 2014

Saints Nasad, Beoan and Meldan of Tamlach Mellan, October 26

We are in County Down for the commemoration of an intriguing trio of saints, Nasad, Beoan and Meldan, on October 26. They flourished in a locality near Loch Bricenn, known today as Loughbrickland, which has a man-made island or crannóg dating back to prehistoric times. In the extract below from a paper of 1905, Canon Lett, a clergyman antiquary, summarizes what is known of them from the Irish calendars and gives an account of an ecclesiastical bell found there:
As I am writing about the ancient and modern island in Loughbrickland, I would like to say something about the ancient church of this parish, the present name of which is Aghaderg, as I believe it was situated close to the lough...

In the "Martyrology of Aengus," at the 26th of October, the gloss on the names Nasad, Beoan, and Meldan is "three saints from Britain, and are [interred] in one church, i.e. Tamlacht Menand at Loch Bricrend, in Iveagh, in Ulidia." And the " Calendar of the Four Masters " mentions but two names "Beoan Bishop and Mellan, of Tamlach Mellan, on Loch Bricrenn." These authorities would lead one to understand that the ancient church was on the shore of the lough; and though there is no trace of a church or churchyard, there is the name of the townland Ballintaggart, i.e. ' the priests' place.' Bounding the lough on the west, and adjoining it on the south-east, is the townland of Shankill, i.e. 'the old church.' …

…This interesting spot, which retains the name of Briclan, otherwise Bricrenn, has given the name of the chief, who resided here 2,000 years ago, to the lough and the modern village.

…A small handbell, of the usual square pattern of ancient Celtic Ecclesiastical bells, was found about the year 1835 at the site of the monastery; it passed into the possession of Mr. Fivey, who resided at Union Lodge on Lough Shark, now called, but erroneously, Loughadian. Mr. Fivey parted with the bell to Mr. Bell, engineer and artist, of Dungannon, who made a collection of Irish objects of antiquity; and, at Mr. Bell's death, it went, with the other curios, by purchase, to the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, where it, no doubt, is, though I have been unable to identify it. A man named Francis Mead, resident in Drumsallagh, who died fifteen years ago, and who had been present when the bell was discovered, described it to me as "an old, squared-shaped bell, of thin brass, one side being burned or broken out in part, and it had no tongue in it." A pensioner of the Royal Artillery, named David Beatty, who lived near the monastery, and Dr. Mc Kean, who was the dispensary doctor of the district, told me they recollected the finding of the bell, and they likewise described it as above.
Canon H. W. Lett, 'The Island in Lough Briclan (Loughbrickland, County Down)' in Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland Vol. 35 (1905), 253-254.

The entry in the Martyrology of Oengus reads:
26. Nassad, Beoan, Mellan,
in every way I weave them together
and I would be most interested to know more of the story behind these three British saints and of how their names came to be woven together in the history of County Down.

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Saturday 25 October 2014

Saint Laisren of Ard-mac-Nasca, October 25

October 25 is the feast of a saint from my own part of the world - Laisren of Ard-mac-Nasca, on the shore of Lough Laoigh. Lough Laoigh, the 'lake of the calf', is the ancient name of Belfast Lough and Ard Mac Nasca, 'the height of the son of Nasca' is the village of Holywood, County Down. A nineteenth-century parish priest of Holywood, Father James O'Laverty, wrote a five-volume history of the northern diocese of Down and Connor, and naturally he has much to tell us of his own patron:

The ruined church of Holywood occupies the site of a very early ecclesiastical structure, which was built by, or at least presided over by St. Laisren, whose festival was kept on the 25th of October. The Felire of Aengus the Culdee, who died A.D. 819, treating of the saints whose festivals occur on that day, says :—" Laisren the Great, son of Nasca, i.e., Laisren, son of Nasca of Ard-mac-nasca, on the shore of Lough Laig, in Ultonia." Of St. Laisren little is known; Colgan supposes that he is the St. Laisren, son of Nasca, who with his brothers, St. Gobban and St. Graphan, were placed in a monastery, which St. Carthagh, of Lismore, erected in Inispict, now called Spike Island, Co. Cork. St. Carthagh studied under St, Comgall in Bangor; and it is likely, that the sons of Nasca, having formed his acquaintance in Bangor, accompanied him on his return to Munster. They studied under his spiritual care in the great monastery which he erected in Rathyne, Co. Westmeath; and they afterwards formed three of the twelve monks, whom he placed in the monastery erected by him on Spike Island about the year 620. Gobban seems to have been bishop of that monastery, and his festival was observed there on the 17th of March, We cannot ascertain the date of St. Laisren's return to Ulster, or of his taking charge of the monastery of Holywood, but we find him mentioned as one of the Irish ecclesiastics, to whom the Roman clergy addressed a letter in the year 642. The primate and the chief clergy of the North of Ireland, addressed to Pope Severinus, in the year 640, a letter, in which they besought his decision regarding the proper mode of calculating Easter, about which there was then a great controversy raging throughout this part of Ireland.The Pope died before their letter reached Rome, but it was answered by the Roman clergy in a letter, which is preserved in Venerable Bede's History of the Anglo-Saxon. Church. The reply of the Roman clergy makes known to us the names of those who solicited the decision of Rome. It is addressed—" To the most beloved and holy Thomian, Columban, Cronan, Dimma, and Baithan, bishops ; to Cronan, Ernian, Laistran, Scallan, and Segienus, priests; to Saran, and other Irish doctors and abbots." Thomian was primate, he died in 660. Columban was bishop of Clonard, he died in 652. Cronan was bishop of Nendrum or Mahee Island, in Strangford Lough, and in all probability was bishop of the diocese of Down, he died in 642. Dimma was bishop of Connor, he died in 658. Cronan was abbot of Moville, near Newtownards, he died 650. Ernian was abbot of Torey Island, he flourished about 650, Laistran is intended for Laiseran of Ardmacnasca, or Holywood, the mistake is caused by the similarity of the letters T and E in ancient manuscripts. Scallan was abbot of Bangor, he died in 662. Segienus was abbot of lona from 623 to 652. Saran died in 661...

...The ancient gloss on the text of Aengus — Laisren, son of Nasca, of Ard-mac-Rasca, on the banks of Lough Laigh, in Ultonia— describes very accurately the site of the ancient church of Holywood, the ruins of which stand in the vicinity of the large funereal mound, which is now in the pleasure grounds of Mr. Read, of Holywood. That mound was certainly the Ard - mac - Nasca—the height, or mound of the son of Nasca—and received its name from St. Laiseran, the son of Nasca. Our readers will readily understand that the sepulchral mound was named the Mound (Ard) of the son of Nasca, merely because it stood in the grounds adjacent to his church. It belongs, however, to a period long antecedent to the time of St. Laiseran, and was erected to cover the remains of some mighty chief, whose tomb, being the recognised place for the religious and deliberative assemblies of the neighbourhood, became the most important place in the district; and some spot adjacent would consequently be selected as site of the Christian church. It is on this account that we find churches near the great sepulchral mounds of Dundonald, Ballyrichard, Donaghadee, Holywood, Ballymaghan, the Knock, and every other great sepulchral mound in the diocese of Down.

The church of Holywood stood, a few perches to the north of the mound, on the banks of Lough Laoigh exactly as described in the ancient gloss. We have no account of any of the successors of St. Laiseran, but the church must have been held in high estimation for its sanctity, since the adjoining townland, which was called Ballyderry (the town of the wood), was named as early as the period of the English Invasion,—Sanctus-Boscus or Holy Wood,—from its proximity to the church.

Rev. James O'Laverty, An Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor, Vol. II, (Dublin, 1880), 190-193.

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Friday 24 October 2014

Saint Colman, October 24

I have often alluded on this blog to the problem of trying to disentangle Ireland's homonymous saints.  I must admit that my heart sinks when I see the name Colman in particular on the calendars. I therefore had to give a wry smile when reading the entry for this day in the Martyrology of Donegal:



Another COLMAN.

Yes, indeed, another Colman, I'm afraid I can tell you nothing more about either. The Martyrology of Tallaght records a Colmani meic Fuidicain at this date so it looks as if one of this pair had a patronymic attached to his name. Let's leave the last word to the Martyrology of Gorman:
24. C

two Colmans reckon ye with them, the gentle ones, I will praise them.

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Thursday 23 October 2014

Saint Dalbach of Cúil Collainge, October 23

October 23 is the feastday of a County Cork saint associated with the asceticism of the Céile-Dé movement, Dalbach of Cúil Collainge. This saint features in a poem, the Oentú Maelruain, listing the particular disciples of the Céile-Dé leader Maelruain of Tallaght. The locality, Cúil Collainge, is identified by Father Peter O'Dwyer in his commentary on the poem as being close to Castlelyons, County Cork. Father O'Dwyer also estimates that Saint Dalbach would have reposed around the year 800. Below is the entry for the saint's feast from The Martyrology of Donegal plus the notes which state that Cúil Collainge was founded by Saint Abban:


DALBHACH, of Cuil Collainge. He was of the race of Oilioll Flannbeg, son of Fiacha Muilleathan, son of Eoghan Mór, son of Oilioll Olum. Cuimin, of Coindeire, states, in the poem which begins, "Patrick of the fort of Macha loves," that this saint was a great performer of penance, and that he never touched his hand to his side as long as he lived. Thus he says :

"The fair Dalbhach, of Cúil, loves
To practise intense penance;
He never touched his hand to his side
As long as he retained his soul."

Abán was he who blessed at Cúil Collainge first. Life of Abán, chap. 11.

Who blessed. That is, who in founding a church gave his blessing to the place. The Life of S. Abban, as published by Colgan, says, at chap. 20, "Deinde sanctus Dei venit ad terram Huath Liathain, et ibi cellam, quae dicitur Ceallcruimthir, prope civitatem Culcollingi, vel Cillculen, aedificavit : et alios ex discipulis suis ibi dimisit." Actt. SS. p. 615 b.

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Wednesday 22 October 2014

Saint Donatus of Fiesole, October 22

22 October is the feastday of Saint Donatus of Fiesole, an Irishman who, accompanied by his faithful companion Andrew, set off on a pilgrimage to Rome and ended up being chosen as a bishop. He is a wonderfully attractive character, a man of deep holiness yet one who who was also a significant figure at the very highest levels of both church and state. Neither were his talents restricted to diocesan administration, for Donatus had a reputation as a scholar too. I find him especially interesting as a biographer of Saint Brigid of Kildare and as a promoter of her cultus in Italy. More about this can be found at my other site here. Here we will look at the life of our scholarly bishop as told by Margaret Stokes in her book 'Six Months in the Apennines or A Pilgrimage in Search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy':

Oct. 22, A.D. 824-874.

THE name of Donatus of Scotia stands high in ecclesiastical dignity as that of one among the early prelates who worthily occupied the chair of Fiesole, and Monsignore Francesco da Cattani da Diacceto, Florentine gentleman and Bishop of Fiesole, has thus recorded his merits : —

" He whose duty it is to guide the young in the way of good works and good actions may well follow the holy footsteps of that most perfect youth Donatus. In him wisdom and learning grew with increase of years, and his memory was stored with all things most worthy. In the government of the flock committed to him, he was diligent as Moses, faithful as Abraham, chaste as Joseph, just as Phineas, courageous in battle as David, and following our Saviour Christ in love and charity.

" He was born in the kingdom of Scotia, of noble parents, sprung from a long line of ancestors, all true to that faith which shone forth in Donatus from his earliest years. To this he added learning, so that he surpassed all his contemporaries, not less in intellect than in devotion, while he shunned the company of wicked men and such as loved vain things, even as the psalmist saith, 'I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, and will not sit with the wicked'.

“As the boy grew in wisdom and learning, the memory of his sayings was preserved, even as the pure Virgin preserved the sacred utterances of her Son, as it is written, 'His mother kept all these sayings in her heart'. He went forth teaching and directing all who heard his words, thus shedding abroad the light of that knowledge which had been vouchsafed to him, and it was said of him, 'Yea, he loved the people ; all the saints are in his hand ; and they sat down at his feet ; everyone shall receive his words.""

The subject of this eulogy was born about the year 774 in Ireland, during the reign of Aedh Ornidhe. Many incidental circumstances have given rise to the belief that he was educated at the school of Iniscaltra — Holy Island on Lough Derg. A long metrical life of St. Brigid of Kildare was found in an ancient manuscript in the library of Monte Cassino. The prologue to this poem was written by Donatus of Fiesole, and the poem itself is the work of the writer Caolan, who calls himself a monk of Iniscaltra. There are also certain allusions to Iniscaltra in the body of the poem itself, which suggest that the writer was familiar with this place. Thus the poet speaks of the wide water of the river Shannon, in which is Keltra with its company of wise men living under the rule of Benedict...

It happened at the time when Donatus was a teacher in Ireland, that there lived in the same country a noble virgin named Brigid, and her brother Andrew, a comely and gallant youth. Andrew was the elder of the two, and her constant guide and counsellor. It was their custom from earliest childhood, when they walked out together on their way to school, as they passed the church door, to pause and enter reverently and pray, which service they also repeated at every hour that they could save from sleep. Nor were there any poor or miserable that did not leave the house of Andrew comforted, so deeply was love to the unhappy rooted in his heart ; his parents meanwhile were careful that he should be taught the art of riding, as befitted his high rank. As time passed on, a rumour reached the ear of brother and sister that a great teacher, named Donatus, had arrived from many miles distant, who could still further instruct them in divine philosophy, and Donatus having already heard of the great promise of this youth Andrew, took him to his school, and soon came to love him as a son. The kindly greeting with which he was received caused Andrew more satisfaction to his heart than he could express, and an old Latin writer has said of these two holy men : "The greatest happiness of Donatus was theinstruction of Andrew ; the greatest enjoyment of Andrew was in obedience to Donatus."

One day, as they were both standing at the gate outside the city (cashel) walls, discoursing, as was their wont, upon things human and divine, Donatus revealed to his disciple that he had long desired to journey into distant lands, to visit all the holy places throughout Italy, and then to seek a spot where none would know him, so that, far removed from family and friends, he would be free to give up his life to the service of God, desiring to imitate Heraclitus, who ceased not to mourn over human suffering.

Andrew, unable to part from his beloved master, prayed that he might go with him on this journey, and thus these two servants of God determined to depart. So fixed on Heaven were their hearts, that they showed no sorrow in parting, and paid no heed to the opposition of their people.

Great was the grief of Brigid when she learned their project, yet not even her tears could turn them from their course. The unhappy sister said, " Brother dear, why dost thou leave me? When shall we see one another again ? " They clung to one another in a close embrace, and their hot tears showed the tender love that bound them. At last, Andrew with much gentleness put his sister from him. "Go in peace," she said, and pray to God for thy sister, abandoned here in sorrow."

Then the two pilgrims, followed by their friends and families, went down the island to the sea-coast, where they embarked upon a ship whose sails soon swelled in the wind, and bore them to a foreign shore. They had scant money or provision for their journey, since they meant to beg their way from place to place, and having landed, they set off on foot with staff and bag, contented and humble in spirit. They rested at the monasteries where the relics of the saints were kept and honoured, and they often turned aside to visit certain hermitages in almost inaccessible places, where they might hold converse with holy anchorites who had resigned the world. As throughout their pilgrimage they greatly desired to visit every possible place where a holy sanctuary was to be found, in their careful search for such they came upon the beautiful mountain of Fiesole, where were the shrines of numberless martyrs and many stations of the cross.

In those days the people of Fiesole, having been deprived of a pastor, were in difficulty about the election of a new one, because of the civil discords that had sprung up after the recent devastations of the Northmen. The nobles and the people were at variance, and the state was passing through a crisis of great difficulty and danger. Then the good men of the city prayed fervently to God to the end that he might save their tottering state from civil war and mercifully provide them with a good pastor. Having thus prayed with all their might, the righteous petition of this multitude reached the ear of Him who sleepeth not, and He sent them aid in the following manner, as is related by the old historian of Donatus : —

"It was while the dismayed city of Fiesole was in this condition that the men of God, Donatus and Andrew, had turned thither in their wanderings through Tuscany, and, like other travellers, wearied with the great height they had climbed, and tired with their journey, they entered the hospice as the night closed in. Now it happened that at the moment of their arrival the abbey of Fiesole was filled with a great crowd of people in deep distress because they had been deprived of a pastor's care. With one voice they implored that He who brought Israel up out of Egypt might protect them with His right hand, and might deign to preserve their church by some angelic visitation. While the people thus prayed aloud, Christ worked a new miracle for them, and brought Donatus and his friend Andrew to the church door.

"As they ascended the steep hill from the river's side, the bells of the city on the instant rang forth, and the lamps burst miraculously into light of themselves. The people of Fiesole, amazed at this miracle, ran hither and thither through the city in all directions and in great confusion, asking in terror what might this portent mean. Impelled by their trust in God, they hurried down the hill to the abbey ;' men, women, and children of all ages, knelt there in tremblings and sobs and tears, and piously raising their hands to heaven, made prayer to God that He would deign to show them the meaning of this miracle. Suddenly a silence fell upon the multitude, and a voice proclaimed, 'Receive the stranger who approaches, Donatus of Scotia ; take him for your shepherd. When the voice of the Lord had ceased, the people, not knowing what to do, remained in prayer. Then behold the men of God, Donatus and Andrew, having just entered the city, went to the abbey where the congregation were at prayer, and believing it to be a feast day, marvelled to see the dismayed people praying in alarm and suspense. Advancing slowly, they stood in silence awaiting the result.

"Then a certain poor man standing by, and happening to see the strangers, inquired of them whence they came and whither they were bound, and by what name they were called. Donatus, with his usual simplicity, answered humbly, 'We are both men of Scotia. He is named Andrew, I Donatus. We came on pilgrimage to Rome.' And the poor man, remembering the divine voice he had just heard, straightway cried aloud, 'Citizens, the man is here of whom the Lord has spoken.' Then, clasping Donatus in his arms, he led him up the steps, the people crowded around, and cried with one voice,Eia Donatus Pater Deodatus ! (Hail ! Donatus, O Father given of God!) Ascend the bishop's chair, that you may lead us to the stars, that with you for our shepherd we may reach to the pastures of Heaven, and that through your intercession we may find salvation.' Then the gentle Donatus, trembling, and on the very verge of tears, spake thus from his pure heart : —

'Spare ye me,
O brothers ! vain is your offering to me ;
You would learn to deplore my sins.
You who should not trust me to teach the people.'

When he had said these words, the multitude made answer : —

'As when the eastern sun doth visit us on high.
So hath Christ led him here out of the west ;
Here then let us meet this holy man ;
Here, in Fiesole, let us elect him.
For behold, Donatus is declared worthy
By Christ, Who is our Lord.
Let him then be led to the throne,
For Donatus is given us for a father.
If he still strives to resist,
Yet must he still be elected.'

Then Donatus tremblingly said, Men and brethren, why do ye vainly strive to turn from his vows the desire of one who hastens on his journey. Why compel one so unworthy to become your pastor? A stranger mean and abject, half barbarous, and almost ignorant of your manners. Let him toil on that journey on which he started. By these and like words, and with much modesty, he strove to avoid the burden, but as he resisted, so much the more vehemently did the multitude insist upon their choice. At length his resistance was overborne by the people, and he was enthroned in the chair of Fiesole."

After his consecration, writes the old biographer, " Donatus appeared so apt and devoted that it seemed as if he had always filled that office to which he had been lately appointed. For he was liberal in almsgiving, sedulous in watching, devout in prayer, excellent in doctrine, ready in speech, holy in life ; his countenance betrayed the serenity of his spirit, and the gentleness of his speech revealed the tenderness of his heart. He would weep bitter tears if any report were brought to him of sin committed by those under his rule, so that he could say with the prophet, My tears have been my meat day and night. In his aspect he was terrible to sinners, mild to penitents, feared in his severity, and revered in his mildness. Happy Scotia, which brought forth such a one ; let Hibernia rejoice, which sent forth such a teacher ; let Fiesole and the whole province of Tuscany be glad."

Public Life of Donatus.

Circa 840.

The first public event recorded in the life of Donatus, after he was raised to the episcopal chair, is that of his presence at the coronation of Louis II in Rome... Donatus returned to Fiesole after this exciting time in Rome, and seems to have continued to rule his diocese there in quiet for the next sixteen years, while Pope Sergius II. was succeeded by Leo IV. (847-855), who did much for the advancement of the arts, adding adornments of precious stones to the cross given by Charles the Emperor to the Basilica Constantiniana, finishing the decorations and mosaics of the churches of St. Martin and St. Silvester, and building the church of the Quattro Coronati in Rome. Also, having defeated in battle the Saracens who besieged Rome, he employed the prisoners in re-edifying those churches which the Saracens had heretofore ruined and burnt, and in building the wall about the Vatican, which from his own name he called Urbs Leonina. Then after the three years' pontificate of his successor, Benedict III., we come to Nicholas I., during whose reign as Pope, Donatus again visited Rome, when he was present at a Lateran Council that sat in the year 861 against John, Archbishop of Ravenna...

The Death and Burial of Donatus.

It remains to tell in what manner the saint laid aside the burden of the flesh and reached the green pastures, for all the days of his life he had given no rest to his soul, but was occupied with prayer or study, or the business of the church, or care for the widow and the orphan. But at last, when God willed that his labour should end, he was seized with a fatal illness. Feeling his end approaching, he called the brethren together ; having received the sacrament, he admonished them that they should live as holy and just men, and with lifted hands he poured forth prayers and vows to the Lord, and commended them to God and to the service of His word. Scarcely was his prayer ended, when behold ! a great multitude of the people came around him weeping and saying, "Oh, holy minister of God, have pity on our grief! Holy Father, have mercy upon us! hearken to the words of those who call upon Thee! Give warmth back to those, limbs that are now grown cold !"

Hearing these words, Donatus blessed the whole multitude with the benediction of the saints, and moved by their sorrow he poured forth this prayer in the presence of the crowd : —

" O Christ, the virtue and splendour of God, the wisdom of the Father,
Begotten without time and before all ages ;
Who, being born of a Virgin, didst take our form,
Nourished and suckled at the breast of a mother ;
Who dost cleanse our sins in holy baptism,
So that a new offspring descends from heaven ;'
Who destroyed the noxious power of the forbidden fruit,
Who healed our wounds with His blood,
Who by dying gave us life, and redeemed us from death.
And who when buried, changed the law of the grave,
By rising up from death and destroying its bitterness ;
Who formerly destroyed Tartarus, and the realms of gloomy Pluto ;
Who overcame the floods of greedy Acheron ;
Who hurled down the wicked enemy into the pit.
He arose, and led the captive captive to the right hand of the Father,
And thousand, thousand virtues praise His victor)'.
Thou also who hast deigned to suffer for our sins.
Thou who hast given the kingdom of heaven to the wretched.
Grant me power to climb the lofty stair of Paradise,
Open the gates of Life to me who duly knock,
Let no proud or greedy enemy overtake me.
Let no strange hand touch me or snatch away my prize ;
But do Thou, O Christ, receive Thy humble servant.
That I, though trembling, may deserve to see those glorious guests,
That I may behold the company of saints, rejoicing with Thee,
Thou who rulest with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages."

Having uttered these words, Donatus signed his brethren and his spiritual children with the cross, and the old man was gathered to the fathers, and full of days went on his way to heaven, and his disciples laid him in a stone coffin in the same place where the other holy bishops were laid, and carved upon his tomb the epitaph that Donatus himself had written : —

"Here I, Donatus, sprung from Scotish blood,
Alone in this tomb, among the worms and dust dissolve.
For many years I served the kings of Italy,
Lothair the Great and Louis the Good.'
For more than eight lustrums and seven years
I was ruler in the city of Fiesole;
I dictated exercises in grammar to my pupils,
Metrical schemes, and the lives of the blessed saints.
You traveller, whoever you are, for Christ's sake
Be not unwilling to behold my tomb.
And pray to God, who rules in highest heaven,
That He may grant to me His blessed kingdom."

The old biographer of Donatus, at the conclusion of his history, adds these lines : —
" Let us therefore all unite and say.
Oh, saint of God and beloved confessor.
Father and pontiff.
Educator and nourisher, ruler and shepherd.
Help with thy prayers the destitute and fallen.
Have pity on the widow and the captive.
Help the orphan and the weak.
Help those who live to-day, and those who will come after,
Give aid to those who live and those who die ;
Refuse not, we beseech thee, to listen to our prayers,
Who though imprisoned in the bonds of iniquity,
Yet so far as their ignoble nature may permit.
Make offering of these things to their superiors.
Them we implore with all our might
To amend that which is faulty, and to be indulgent to
All that which is worthless, and to pity our presumption,
And since we cannot of ourselves mount to the pastures of Paradise,
Help us to pray that so we may entreat the aid of Jesus Christ,
To whom, with the Holy Trinity, are all things, world without end."


According to the Roman martyrology the feast of S. Donatus, Bishop and Confessor, was annually kept at Fiesole, in the cathedral of which town he was buried. Also, in the British martyrologics, Donatus Scotus is honoured as the chief patron of Fiesole, and his feast was celebrated on the 22nd October, the day of his death. His feast is now celebrated throughout the whole of Ireland on the same day, in accordance with a decree of Benedict XIV., quoted by Thomas de Burgh, issued on the 1st July, 1747.

I have learned that the body of Donatus is no longer buried in the church here called the Badia, or abbey. His bones are now laid in the cathedral of Fiesole, where his relics were removed along with those of SS. Romolus and Alexander, and buried in the chapel of the sacrament.

It appears that, on the occasion of a great festa in honour of the final overthrow of Napoleon, held on the 14th, and 16th days of August, 1814, the vicar, wishing to give the thanksgiving service due impressiveness, proposed to the chapter that not only should they expose to the gaze of the faithful the crucifix to be brought from the neighbouring oratory of Fonte Lucente, but also all the remarkable relics in the old abbey were to be taken from their places and laid upon the altar in the sight of the congregation.' The bones of the patron of the church, who lived A.D. 60, S. Romolo, were then all taken, excepting his head, and laid in a marble tomb beneath the altar. This was opened, and the relics were removed for three days to a gilded coffer, along with the bones of S. Alessandro, S. Donato, and S, Andrea Corsini. At the end of the ceremony the holy relics were restored to their places, especially those of S. Romolo, which were carefully laid back again in the tomb beneath the altar. In 1827-28, works of restoration were carried on, and repairs were made in the choir and crypt ; again, in 1838, a government grant of 500 scudi toscani enabled them to carry on repairs and restorations. It was during the episcopate of Bishop Ranieri Mancini, A.D. 1787-1814, that the altar of S. Donato was erected in the cathedral. The head of the saint is enshrined in a silver bust in the church of S. Domenico (see fig. 86).

" It appears," writes P. Bargilli (p. 128), "that in 1795 Bishop Mancini sought permission to remove the remains of the body of S. Donatus from the abbey of Fiesole, where it had been originally buried. After some delay he succeeded, and wishing to revive the devotion of the people to their holy bishop, he resolved to make a solemn ceremony of the translation, and to have a public festival in honour of the Virgin Brigid. But the disturbed state of the country at the time so distracted the minds of the people of Tuscany, that he had to effect the translation of the relics of Donato in the most private possible manner. Therefore, in the evening of the 5th May, 1810, the bishop and a few of his canons went to the old abbey and took the relics out of the tomb. They laid them in a wooden coffin, and secretly transported them to Fiesole, hoping that in better days they might be able to give them the due honour then forbidden by the unhappy circumstances of the time. Pending the erection of the altar within the cathedral, the relics were consigned to the guardianship of the Curato Romolo Pelagi, to be kept in his private oratory. The design for the altar was finished and the materials were ready, when a letter arrived from Paris condemning the good bishop to exile.

" The canons, moved by inexpressible grief, met to consult together in this crisis. They wrote an affectionate letter of condolence to their prelate, and added prayers to their ritual for the return of their bishop to his diocese, and the restoration of peace to their country.

"Bishop Mancini had been Napoleon's constant and avowed opponent, condemning his actions as unjust and unrighteous; therefore it was in vain that the noblest citizens of Florence united with the clergy of Fiesole to entreat that this unjust sentence might be revoked. The good bishop died in exile on the l0th February, 1814, and when his will was opened, it was found to contain an injunction that the altar for the relics of S. Donatus should be built as soon as possible. The order was carried out by his relation, Lancilotto Mancini, when he had obtained the new bishop's consent. It was finished in June, 1817, and the coffin was prepared to receive the sacred bones, which were carried to it in solemn procession upon St. Peter's day. The sorrow for the death of their beloved bishop was soon alleviated by the news of the fall of the dreaded conqueror, who had overrun Italy and devastated the Church. The cathedral resounded with songs of thanksgiving."

In all this history of the translation of the bones of S. Donatus there is no mention made of the ancient sarcophagus, with the Latin epitaph written by the saint himself, and carved by his disciples on his tomb. It would be most interesting to discover at what time this monument disappeared.

The Bishop of Fiesole, Benozzo Federighi, in 1440 ordered a picture to be presented to the cathedral, representing Our Lady between St. Peter and St. Paul, S. Donato and S. Alessandro. It is not certain who the painter of this picture was, but this much is certain, that Federighi ordered the picture to be executed; his arms may be seen on a shield at the side of the step, which is divided into compartments, each illustrating scenes in the life of the saint painted above.

Margaret Stokes, Six Months in the Apennines or A Pilgrimage in Search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy (London and New York, 1892), 227-276.

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Tuesday 21 October 2014

Saint Siollan of Moville, October 21

In the calendar appended to his Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore, Bishop William Reeves notes on October 21:

' S. SIOLLAN, abbot of Magh Bile'.

The Martyrology of Gorman commemorates him as:

'Sillán, a prince who was not evil and cruel'

and the notes add:

'Sillán the Master, i.e. great-grandson of Garb, abbot of Mag bile.'

This latter information is also found in the entry for October 21 in the Martyrology of Donegal which records:

' SIOLLAN, the Master, Mac Ua Gairbh, abbot of Magh-bile.'

Saint Siollan is the second saint of the monastery of Moville to be commemorated this month, as another of its abbots, Sinell, has his feastday on October 1. Here's a reminder of the history of this foundation from Archbishop Healy:

Moville, or Movilla, is at present the name of a townland less than a mile to the north-east of Newrtownards, at the head of Strangford Lough, in the county Down. This district was in ancient times famous for its great religious establishments. Bangor, to which we shall refer presently, is not quite five miles due north of Moville...Further south, but on the western shore of the same Lough, anciently called Lough Cuan, were the Abbey of Inch, the famous Church of Saul, in which St. Patrick died, and the Church of Downpatrick, in which he was buried with SS. Brigid and Columcille. And in one of the islands in the same Strangford Lough, now called Island Mahee, quite close to the western shore, was that ancient monastery and school of Noendrum, of which we have already spoken. Religious men from the beginning loved to build their houses and churches in view of this beautiful sheet of water, with its myriad islands and fertile shores, bounded in the distance by swelling uplands, that lend a charming variety to this rich and populous and highly cultivated county.

...Finnian is said to have returned to Ireland and founded his school at Moville about the year A. D. 540, that is some twenty years after his namesake of Clonard had opened his own great school on the banks of the Boyne. The name Maghbile means the plain of the old tree, probably referring to some venerable oak reverenced by the Druids before the advent of St. Patrick. At present there is nothing of the ancient abbey-school except a few venerable yews to mark the city of the dead, and an old ruined church on the line of the high road from Newtownards to Donaghadee. This old church, which was one hundred and seven feet in length, in all probability did not date back to the original foundation of the place, although it undoubtedly stands on the site of St. Finnian's original church. The spot was aptly chosen, sheltered by an amphitheatre of hills from the winds of the north and east, and commanding far away to the south a noble prospect of Lough Cuan's verdant islets and glancing waters.

St. Finnian died in A.D. 589, according to the Annals of Ulster, at a very great age.

Monday 20 October 2014

Saint Fintan Moeldubh, October 20

October 20 is the feast day of a Saint Fintan or 'Fintan Moeldubh', who may have been especially venerated as a patron of Ossory, a kingdom and diocese of south-central Ireland. Confusion arises, as we shall see, because some of the Irish calendars list 'Fintan Moeldubh' as a single individual, while others suggest that there is both a Fintan and a Moeldubh commemorated on this day as two separate individuals. Saint Fintan Moeldubh is traditionally held to have been the second abbot of the monastic school of Clonenagh. The evidence, and the difficulties it presents, has been examined by a 19th-century writer on the history of the Diocese of Ossory, Father Edward Carrigan:
St Fintan of Durrow, Co Laois


In the Annals of the Four Masters, Durrow is referred to as Daurmhagh Ua nDuach; and, in the Martyrology of Donegal, as Dermhagh Ua nDuach. Both forms of the name signify the same thing, viz., the Oak Plain in [the territory of] Ui Duach.

St. Fintan was formerly the Patron of Durrow. His feast was celebrated here, according to Bishop Phelan's List, on the 16th Nov. It is impossible, however, to identify the Saint with any degree of certainty. The likelihood is, that he is identical with a St. Fintan, by some, surnamed Moeldubh. St. Fintan Moeldubh was the second Abbot of Clonenagh, having been appointed to that office by the founder of the monastery himself, St. Fintan macGaibhrene ui Echach, as he lay on his death-bed:

"When, therefore, his [i.e. St. Fintan macGaibhrene's] death was near at hand, knowing the day of his departure, he called his people around him, and, with the permission and blessing of the brethren and the saints who had come to visit him, their holy father, he himself appointed in his seat after him, a man noble by race and morals, and named by the same name, i.e. Fintan Moeldubh."

In 599 or 600. St. Fintan Moeldubh administered the last rites of the Church to St. Canice, when dying, at Aghaboe. At this time he may have been in charge of the monastery of Durrow for he cannot have succeeded to the abbacy of Clonenagh till some years later, if it be true, as recorded in the Three Fragments of Annals, that St. Fintan macGaibhrene ui Echach did not die till 610. St. Fintan Moeldubh died, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, in 626.

The difficulty of a satisfactory identification of the Patron of Durrow is rather increased than otherwise by our Irish Martyrologies, as will appear from the following:

(a) The text of the Calendar of Aengus, at Oct. 20th, has the quatrain:

"Fintan Moeldubh-great that shout!-
A fair sun at that mountain
Of those splendid Eoganacht."

On this passage, Aengus's scholiast, in the Leabhar Breac, comments as follows:

"Fintan Moeldubh, i.e. Fintan Moeldubh in Ui Duach in Ossory, and of the Eoganacht Chaisil is he, and at Dermag Hua nDuach in the north of Ossory he is. Or, Fintan and Maeldubh are two saints, and in Cluain Immorroiss in Offaly is Maeldubh, and, quod verius [est], he was also brother of St. Comhghan of Glenn Uissen.

"Now as to Maeldubh, some say that he was of the Eoganacht Chaisil. However, according to the truth of the history of the men of Ireland, he is of the seed of Brian, son of Echaid Muidmedon. ……………Maeldub, son of Amalgaid, son of Fothad, son of Conall glun, son of Brian, son of Echaid Muidmedon.
"And it is that Maeldub that took Fechin of Fore into fosterage with him, and sent him to learning."

(b) The Martyrology of Donegal, at the same day (Oct. 20), commemorates Fintan and Maeldubh, as two distinct saints, thus:

"Maeldubh, son of Amhalgaidh, of Cluain-Immorrois in Ui Failghe; or of Dermagh in Ui Duach in the north of Ossory. He was of the race of Brian, son of Eochaidh Muighmedhoin.
"Fionntain, of Derrnagh in Ui Duach."

(c) Similarly, at the same day, the Martyrology of Tallaght has the two separate entries:

(d) Again, on the same day, the Calendar of Cashel has:

"St. Fintan Maeldubh of the territory of Eoghanacht Cassil, and the instructor of St. Fechin: that he is also sprung from the same territory of Munster, Marianus O'Gorman and Aengus Increased, testify at the cited day."

These extracts help to establish one point, at least, and that is, that the feast-day of the St. Fintan, venerated as patron at Durrow, was not the 16th Nov., as Bishop Phelan's List states, but the 20th of October.

The traditions of Durrow throw no light on St. Fintan's history; neither do they preserve the memory of his festival day. His holy well, called "Fintan's Well," or rather " Fantan's Well," is within Lord Ashbrook's demesne, at the distance of about 100 yards from Durrow bridge. At its head, firmly embedded in the earth, is the rough limestone pedestal of a small cross; the socket is 5 in. long, and about the same in width and depth. The cross itself has been long missing. The small inch lying between the holy well and the river Erkina is called [St.] "Fantan's Island."

THE MONASTERY OF DURROW - The foundations of what was traditionally known as "Durrow Monastery," remained till 1835, about 60 yards north-west of the churchyard of Durrow, between the base of the "Castle Hill" and the small stone bridge crossing the Erkina at this point. The monastery was founded by St. Fintan; but nothing further appears to be known about it. If it survived the middle of the 12th century, it was probably destroyed soon after, in 1156 or 1157, when the army of Muircheartach O'Lochlainn, King of Ulster, burned Daurmhagh Ua nDuach and other monastic centres in its neigbourhood.
Rev. E. Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Vol. 2 (1905).

Tradition also links Saint Fintan Moeldubh with the 'Apostle of Connemara', Saint Fechin of Fore. A biographer of Saint Fechin records this incident following the repose of Saint Fintan:
Saint Fintan Maeldubh, the second abbot of the famous monastery of Clonenagh, was a warm friend and admirer of Fechin, and seems to have wished his monks to take Fechin as their superior. When Fintan died in 626, Fechin went to Clonenagh, where the monks gave him Fintan's staff and chrism-vessel and vestments, willed probably to Fechin by his dear friend, but the monks declined to have a stranger over them, even though the stranger were a Saint Fechin.

Some think that it was on this occasion that Fechin parted from Clonenagh without giving the monks his blessing. What it really was which gave him offence is not known. Conscience however reproached him afterwards for giving way to anger, and, as the legend tells us, he was miraculously transported back to the monastery of Clonenagh where he gave a cordial blessing to all the religious.
Rev. J.B. Coyle, The Life of Saint Fechin of Fore - The Apostle of Connemara (Dublin, 1915), 47.

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Sunday 19 October 2014

Saint Cronan of Tomgraney, October 19

October 19 is the commemoration of a County Clare saint, Cronan of Tomgraney. The Martyrology of Donegal records:
CRONAN, of Tuaim Greine.
The website of the Clare County Library has a page which explains the origins of the place name associated with our saint and which mentions him as the founder of its monastery. Sadly by the nineteenth century, the Ordnance Survey scholar, John O'Donovan, was dismayed to find that little local knowledge of the saint had survived, not even the memory of when his feast day was commemorated. Another nineteenth-century source, the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literaturealluded to some of the difficulties in disentangling the founder of Tomgraney from others of the same name:
Cronan (Croman, or Chronan) is a very frequent name in Irish hagiologies, and has several synonyms, as Cuaran, Mochuaroc, and frequently Mochua, Cron and Cua having in Irish the same meaning.
13. Of Tuaim-greine (now Tomgraney, in the barony of Upper Tulla, County Clare), commemorated October 19. This saint appears twice in the Mart. Doneg., first in the original hand at October 19; and next in the second hand, on the authority of Mar. O'Gorman, at November 1. Among the saints of the family of St. Colman of Kilmacduach (Feb. 3), or house of the Hy-Fiachrach, Colgan gives "St. Cronan, son of Aengus, son of Corbmac, etc., February 20 or October 19;" and Mart. Doneg. at February 20 also mentions that there is a Cronan with this pedigree (Todd and Reeves, Mart. Doneg. pages 55, 279,293; Colgan, Acta Sanctorum, page 248, c. 2).
James Strong and John McClintock, eds., The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Haper and Brothers; NY; 1880). [extract from online edition here.]

Modern scholar, Pádraig Ó Riain in his dictionary entry for the saint explores the evidence from literary sources and place names and confirms the difficulties of the earlier hagiologists in establishing a single identity and feast day for this saint.

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