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 LaoisRev. E. Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Vol. 2 (1905).
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.
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.Rev. J.B. Coyle, The Life of Saint Fechin of Fore - The Apostle of Connemara (Dublin, 1915), 47.
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.
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