Thursday 29 December 2016

Prayer of Saint Aireran the Wise

December 29 is the feast of Saint Aireran the Wise, a scholarly saint associated with the monastery of Clonard. Below is a paper from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record taken from a series on the legacy of Professor Eugene O'Curry, a nineteenth century scholar of the Irish Church. One of the items which O'Curry published in translation was a prayer ascribed to Saint Aireran the Wise and I reproduce the text and its introduction below. The prayer is a wonderful litany of praise in honour of the Holy Trinity. The 'great work' to which the writer of the introduction refers is O'Curry's Manuscript Materials of Early Irish History, published in 1861 and available to read online.



Prayer of St. Aireran the Wise, ob. 664.

[In the first number of the RECORD we published from the manuscripts of the late Professor O'Curry the Prayer of St. Colga of Clonmacnoise. We now publish another beautiful devotional piece from the same collection.

Speaking of ancient Irish religious works now remaining, O'Curry says (at page 378 of his great work): "The fifth class of these religious remains consists of the prayers, invocations, and litanies, which have come down to us". The Prayer of St. Colga, published in our last number, is placed by O'Curry in the second place among these documents, which he sets down in chronological order.

"The first piece of this class (adopting the chronological order) is the prayer of St. Aireran the Wise (often called Aileron, Eleran, and Airenan), who was a classical professor in the great school of Clonard, and died of the plague in the year 664. St. Aireran's prayer or litany is addressed, respectively, to God the Father, to God the Son, and to God the Holy Spirit, invoking them for mercy by various titles indicative of their power, glory, and attributes. The prayer consists of five invocations to the Father, eighteen invocations to the Son, and five to the Holy Spirit; and commences in Latin thus: 'O Deus Pater, Omnipotens Deus, exerci misericordiam nobis'. This is followed by the same invocation in the Gaedhlic; and the petitions to the end are continued in the same language. The invocation of the Son begins thus: ' Have mercy on us, Almighty God! Jesus Christ! Son of the living God! Son, born twice! O only born of God the Father'. The petition to the Holy Spirit begins : ' Have mercy on us, Almighty God ! Holy Spirit! Spirit the noblest of all spirits!' (See original in APPENDIX, No. CXX.)

"When I first discovered this prayer in the Leabhar Buidhe Lecain (or Yellow Book of Lecain), in the library of Trinity College, many years ago, I had no means of ascertaining or fixing its date ; but in my subsequent readings in the same library, for my collection of ancient glossaries, I met the word Oirchis set down with explanation and illustration, as follows:

"'Oirchis. id est, Mercy ; as it is said in the prayers of Airinan the Wise' : Have mercy on us, God the Father Almighty I" See original in APPENDIX, No. CXXI.

"I think it is unnecessary to say more on the identity of the author of this prayer with the distinguished Aireran of Clonard. Nor is this the only specimen of his devout works that has come down to us. Fleming, in his Collecta Sacra, has published a fragment of a Latin tract discovered in the ancient monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, which is entitled 'The Mystical Interpretation of the Ancestry of our Lord Jesus Christ'. A perfect copy of this curious tract, and one of high antiquity, has, I believe, been lately discovered on the continent.

"There was another Airenan, also called 'the wise', who was abbot of Tamhlacht [Tallaght] in the latter part of the ninth century; but he has not been distinguished as an author, as far as we know".

It seems to us that there are three things specially worthy of our consideration in this beautiful prayer.

In the first place, we find in it an explicit and most clear declaration of the Catholic Faith regarding the Blessed Trinity, especially the distinction of three persons, and the Divinity of each of these Divine Persons. " God the Father Almighty, O God of Hosts, help us! Help us, Almighty God! O Jesus Christ! Help us, Almighty God, Holy Spirit!"

We are in the next place struck by the extraordinary familiarity with the Holy Scripture which the writer evinces. There is scarcely one of the epithets which is not found in the sacred pages, almost in the precise words used by him, beginning with the first words, addressed to the Eternal Father. " O God of Hosts", the Deus Sabaoth of the Prophets, and going on to the last invocation of the Holy Ghost, " Spirit of love", which comprises in itself the two inspired phrases : " Spiritus est Deus", and "Deus Charitas est” We may also remark the coincidence between Saint Aireran and the liturgical prayers of the Church, especially in the invocations of the Holy Ghost found in the office of Whitsuntide and in the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation. "Tu septiformis munere: Digitus Paternae dexterae". " Finger of God! Spirit of Seven Forms".

In fine, we find our Irish saint applying to the Son of God the vision of the Prophet Ezechiel regarding the four mysterious animals: "0 true Man! Lion! young Ox! Eagle!"

The prophecy is commonly interpreted of the Four Evangelists. Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome are quoted as authorities for this interpretation. But it is worthy of remark, that Saint Gregory the Great, whilst giving the same interpretation, applies the mysterious vision also to God the Son [Hom. iv. in Ezech.]. And Saint Aireran, by adopting this opinion, seems to afford us another proof of the great familiarity of our Irish scholars with the writings of the great Pontiff and Father of the Church. And this familiarity is rendered still more remarkable, and serves to give another proof of the constant communication between Rome and Ireland, from the close proximity of the times of our Saint and of Saint Gregory.]

Prayer of St. Aireran the Wise.

O Deus Pater omnipotens Deus exerce tuam misericordiam nobis!

O God the Father Almighty! O God of Hosts, help us.

O illustrious God! O Lord of the world! O Creator of all creatures, help us.

O indescribable God! O Creator of all creatures, help us.

O invisible God! O incorporeal God! O unseen God! O unimaginable God! O patient God! O uncorrupted God! O unchangeable God! O eternal God! O perfect God! O merciful God! O admirable God! O Golden Goodness! O Heavenly Father, who art in Heaven, help us.

Help us, O Almighty God! O Jesus Christ! O Son of the living God! O Son twice born! O only begotten of the Father! O first-born of Mary the Virgin! O Son of David! O Son of Abraham, beginning of all things! O End of the World! O Word of God! O Jewel of the Heavenly Kingdom! O Life of all (things)! O Eternal Truth! O Image, O Likeness, O Form of God the Father! O Arm of God! O Hand of God! O Strength of God! O right (hand) of God! O true Wisdom! O true Light, which enlightens all men! O Light-giver! O Sun of Righteousness! O Star of the Morning! O Lustre of the Divinity! O Sheen of the Eternal Light! O Fountain of Immortal Life! O Pacificator between God and Man! O Foretold of the Church! O Faithful Shepherd of the flock! O Hope of the Faithful! O Angel of the Great Council! O True Prophet! O True Apostle! O True Preacher! O Master! O Friend of Souls (Spiritual Director)! O Thou of the shining hair! O Immortal Food! O Tree of Life! O Righteous of Heaven! O Wand from the Stem of Moses! O King of Israel! O Saviour! O Door of Life! O Splendid Flower of the Plain! O Cornerstone! O Heavenly Zion! O Foundation of the Faith! O Spotless Lamb! O Diadem! O Gentle Sheep! O Redeemer of mankind! O true God! O True Man! O Lion! O young Ox! O Eagle! O Crucified Christ! O Judge of the Judgment Day! help us.

Help us, O Almighty God! O Holy Spirit! O Spirit more noble than all Spirits! O Finger of God! O Guardian of the Christians! O Protector of the Distressed! O Co-partner of the True Wisdom! O Author of the Holy Scripture! O Spirit of Righteousness! O Spirit of Seven Forms! O Spirit of the Intellect! O Spirit of the Counsel! O Spirit of Fortitude! O Spirit of Knowledge! O Spirit of Love! help us.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol.1 (1865), 63-4.

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Tuesday 27 December 2016

God's Fine Disciple: An Irish View of Saint John the Apostle

"Disciple of the Lord,
ever-angelic John,
a goodly, handsome-haired man,
with bright blue eyes,
red-cheeked and fair of face,
with gleaming teeth and dark brows,
red-lipped, white-throated,
skilful and dextrous,
with supple lithe fingers,
fair-sided, light-footed,
noble, slender and serene,
bright with holiness,
friend of Christians,
expeller of the dark devil,
God's fine disciple"

'Episodes from the Life of John, the Beloved Disciple' in Maire Herbert and M. McNamara, trans., Irish Biblical Apocrypha: Selected Texts in Translation (Edinburgh, 1989), 92.

On December 27 the Irish calendars record what the Martyrology of Gorman describes as 'The chief feast of John the Apostle'. I have already written about the Irish tradition concerning the apostle John in a post which can be found here. In it you will find some other selections from the Irish apocryphal writings on the Apostle John, writings which draw on common sources but which reflect distinctive Irish embellishments of the text. They are preserved in a 15th-century manuscript, the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum.

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Saturday 24 December 2016

The Christmas Eve Massacre of 986

The good people at Medievalists.Net have made a summary of a paper by Scottish academic Thomas Owen Clancy on the Christmas Eve Massacre by the Vikings at Iona in 986 available at their site. In it the writer presents an analysis which takes these events beyond 'simple Viking vandalism' and places them in the wider context of the political and ecclesiastical rivalries of the region. Read it here.

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Thursday 22 December 2016

Saint Evin of Monasterevin, December 22

December 22 is the feast of Saint Evin, founder of Monasterevin, County Louth. Below is an excerpt from an early twentieth-century paper submitted to the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society. The author was a member of the landed aristocratic class, for at this time it was commonplace for local antiquarian societies to enjoy the active patronage of the great and the good. In her article the Countess of Drogheda takes the story of Monasterevin up to the seventeenth century, but I have omitted the later history in order to focus on Saint Evin.  There is a link to the online source for the journal at the end of the post so if you wish to keep reading you can continue at the Internet Archive:



THE town of Monasterevin derives its name from the monastery founded there by St. Evin or Emhin in the sixth century. It is said that St. Abban had preceded St. Evin in remote times, and had founded a monastic house; but it was St. Evin who brought a number of monks from his native province of Munster, and the place which had previously been called Bos-Glas, which means the Green Wood, now came to be called Bos-Glas-na-Muimneachy or Bos-Glas of the Munster men.

Colgan thus writes of St. Evin —

"Saint Evin betook himself to Leinster, and at the bank of the River Barrow he raised a noble monastery, called in that age Ros-Glas, and which, from the number of monks who followed the man of God from his own country of Munster, was called Ros-Glas of the Munster men.

This holy man was famous for many and great miracles, and the monastery on account of the reverence paid to its first founder, stood in so great honour with posterity, that it was held a most safe sanctuary, and no one presumed to offer violence or injury to the holy place, who did not soon afterwards suffer the severity of the Divine vengeance."

It was also said that after his death there was a bell belonging to St. Evin '' which was held in so great veneration that posterity were accustomed to swear on it as a kind of inviolable oath, and to conclude controversies by the virtue of this oath.''

St. Molua of Clonfert (4th Aug.) speaks of '' having visited the Abbot of St. Evin in his monastery not far from the Barrow, which that most holy man, St. Abban, had originally founded."

The year of St. Evin's death is not recorded anywhere; but his festival was held on the 22nd of December, and his death probably occurred in the sixth century. St. Evin wrote a Life of  St Patrick, partly in Latin and partly in Irish ; and it is said to contain many more details of St. Patrick's life and mission than there are in any other Life of the Saint. In the Calendar of Angus he is called '' Pure Emhin from the brink of the dumb Barrow." The well that springs at a little distance from the present mansion was in all probability originally St. Evin's well.

The precise period at which the original Monastery of St. Evin fell into decay is not known; probably it was amongst the many religious houses that suffered from the depredations of the Danes in the ninth and tenth centuries. The "Annals of Clonmacnoise," at the paragraph chronicling the year 1002,
well describes the work of destrnction perpetrated by these infidel hordes in these words —

"The whole realme was overrunn by the Danes. The Churches, Abbeys, and other religious places were by them quite razed and destroyed, or otherwise turned to base and servile purposes.

"Almost all the gentlemen of any account were turned out of their Lands. Yea, some of the best sort were compelled to servitude and bounden slavery. Indeed it was strange how men of any fashion could use other men as the Danes did use the Irish men at that time. But King Bryan Borua was a Salve to cure such sores: all the physick in the world could not help it elsewhere: in a short time he banished the Danes; made up the Churches and Religious houses; restored the people to their antient possessions, and, in fine, brought all to a notable reformation."

Some years later the monastery having again become ruined, it was refounded towards the close of the twelfth century by Dermod O'Dempsey, Lord of Offaly, as a Cistercian Monastery, and called Ros-Glas or de Rosea alle.

The Charter of Foundation of the monastery was as follows : —

"Dermot O'Dempsey, King of Offaly, to all his nobles, clergy, and laity, both present and to come. Greeting, I make known to you all, that I, Dermot O'Dempsey, King of Offaly, by the consent of Murdoch O'Conor have given and confirmed to God and the Monks of the B.V.M. of Rosglas, land on which to build a Monastery in honour of the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and of St. Benedict the Abbot, as a perpetual eleemosynary. These are the lands which I Dermot O'Dempsey have given and confirmed to the aforesaid Monks of Rosglas in remission of my Sins and of the Sins of my Parents, the site of the Monastery of Rosglas, and all the lands with their appurtenances, and with the men belonging to the same lands. All these I give and confirm to the aforesaid Monks, to be held as a free, pure, and perpetual eleemosynary for the health of my soul, and the souls of my predecessors. Wherefore I will and command that the aforesaid Church of Rosglas and the Monks and brethren serving God therein, may have and hold the aforesaid lands, with all their liberties, viz., in woods and plains, meadows and pastures, and morasses in waters and fisheries, in roads and paths, in ponds and mills, in turbaries, and all mountains and valleys, and in all other places and things appertaining to the same lands, free quit and solutias from any customs and exactions, and from all secular duty.


"Nehemiah, Bishop of Kildare.
Donatus, Bishop of Leighlin.
Filan, the son of Filan.
Flan O'Demesi.
Hekinech O'Demesi.
Donchad O'Demesi.
Fin O'Demesi.
Aed O'Demesi.
Culballinuss O'Duin [O'Dunne].
Congal O'Kelly
Rocner Denoulla.
Kelach mac Aulaf."

et alliis multis.

"The Annals of the Four Masters" record the death of this Dernot O'Dempsey in the year 1193, and in 1199 it was mentioned that the Abbott of Ros-Glae "was at his request allowed by the General Chapter of the order to celebrate in his own house the Feast of St. Evin," which shows that the original founder was still held in high veneration....

The Countess of Drogheda, 'Monasterevin' in Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. IV (1903-1905), 231-244.

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Monday 12 December 2016

Saint Finnian of Clonard - Tutor of the Saints of Ireland?

2640. Thereafter the saints of Ireland came to Findian from every point to learn wisdom by him, so that there were three thousand saints along with him; and of them, as the learned know, he chose the twelve high bishops of Ireland. And the learned and the writings declare that no one of those three thousands went from him without a crozier, or a gospel, or some well-known sign; and round those reliquaries they built their churches and their monasteries afterwards. [1]

Thus does the Irish Life of Saint Finnian, as preserved in the Book of Lismore, record the tradition of the master of Clonard as the 'tutor of the saints of Ireland' and commissioner of its 'twelve apostles'. J. F. Kenney, in his classic study of the sources for early Irish history, commented:
This became a fundamental idea of Irish hagiography and almost every saint living within a century of his time is represented to have been a pupil of the founder of Clonard. [2]
But, bearing in mind that one of the first rules of hagiography is that it reflects the times of its writer rather than the times of its subject, how far back can this tradition actually be traced? The Life of Saint Finnian survives in both Irish and Latin versions, but within manuscript collections of a much later period than their sixth-century subject. The Latin Life is found in the fourteenth-century Codex Salamanticensis, the Irish Life in the fifteenth-century Book of Lismore. Other manuscript copies and variants of both are also extant. In the 1950s Kathleen Hughes undertook a series of studies of Saint Finnian [3] and argued that the Irish Life was earlier than the Latin, going back to an original of the ninth or tenth century. She believed it was compiled at Clonard by a monastic writer steeped in the history and traditions of his house and its founder. The Latin Life, whilst it may have originally been in circulation before the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in the twelfth century, was reworked under their influence and in her view lacked the 'primitive' elements of the Irish. Contemporary scholar, Padráig Ó Riain, however, is unconvinced by this thesis and favours the view that the Irish Life could represent an adaptation of a Latin Life which is not itself early. Indeed, the composition of the Lives may owe less to a ninth or tenth-century monk of Clonard drawing on a body of proudly-remembered local tradition about his founder, and more to the orders of Augustinian canons founded in the twelfth century in Clonard and other locations associated with Saint Finnian. In this context, what Ó Riain describes as the
'almost unholy haste with which Finnian is transported to south Wales, and shown to be on the best of terms with three of the principal saints of that area, David, Cadog and Gildas' 
would have played well with the Anglo-Normans, most of whom had family connections in that area. [4] The various Lives of Saint Finnian would require more systematic and extensive study before more definitive conclusions can be reached. It is interesting though to see that the Normans and the continental religious orders who followed in their wake, both of whom are presented as the destroyers of the spirit and legacy of the 'Celtic church' in popular myth, in this case may actually have been the people behind the preservation of some of those charming stories of our early native saints.

Blog Links for Further Reading:

On the blog I have posted a paper on the life of Saint Finnian here and an account of his monastic school here. There is also an introductory post on the Twelve Apostles of Ireland here. The illustration of the Clonard baptismal font has been taken from P.W. Joyce, A Smaller Social History of Ireland (1906), p.138.


[1] W. Stokes, ed. and trans., Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford, 1890), 226.

[2] J. F. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical - An Introduction and Guide (reprinted edition, Dublin, 1979), 375-6.

[3] The studies comprise the following:

'Saint Finnian of Clonard', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 25 (1952), 76-78.

'The Historical Value of the Lives of Saint Finnian of Clonard', English Historical Review, 66 (1954), 13-27.

'The Cult of Saint Finnian of Clonard from the Eighth to the Eleventh Century', Irish Historical Studies, 9 (1954), 353-372.

'The Offices of S. Finnian of Clonard and S. Cianán of Duleek', Analecta Bollandiana, 73 (1955), 342-372.

'Additional Note on the Office of S. Finnian of Clonard, Analecta Bollandiana', 75 (1957), 337-339.

These have been conveniently collected in a single volume issued by Variorum Reprints as Kathleen Hughes, Church and Society in Ireland A.D. 400-1200 (London 1987), edited by David Dumville.

[4] Padráig Ó Riain, A Dictionary of Irish Saints, (Dublin, 2011), 319.

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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Saint Brecan of Ardbraccan, December 6

December 6 is the commemoration of a County Meath holy man, Saint Brecan of Ardbraccan. He seems to have been equated in some of the sources with a Saint Brecan of the Aran Islands and indeed there are at least ten saints who share the name.  Whether the Meath saint is the same individual as the Galway saint remains non-proven to me. The Aran saint's feast day is on May 1, but Brecan, 'Bishop of Ardbraccan' is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal at December 6, as Meath diocesan historian, Father Anthony Cogan explains:

THE Abbey of Ardbraccan, "Breacan, or Brecan's height or hill", was founded by St. Brecan, in the sixth or very early in the seventh century. St. Brecan was the son of Eochaidh Balldearg, prince of Thomond, and grandson of Carthen Finn, first Christian ruler of that territory. After having governed Ardbraccan for some time, he proceeded to the west of Ireland, and founded, on the great island of Arran, in the bay of Galway, the Church of Templebraccan, where he fixed his residence. He is said to have written some prophecies regarding the future wars of Ireland and the coming of the English. The exact year of his death is unknown, but it was probably in the sixth century. He was interred in his own church of Templebraccan, where his festival was celebrated on the 1st of May. In the Martyrology of Donegal he is called Bishop of Ardbraccan, and his festival is marked at December the 6th. The Martyrology of Tallaght commemorates him at May 1st. His tomb on which was an Irish inscription was discovered some years ago:

"This monumental stone", says Dr. Petrie, " was discovered about forty years ago within a circular enclosure known as St. Brecan's tomb, at a depth of about six feet from the surface, on the occasion of its being first opened to receive the body of a distinguished and popular Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, of the County of Galway, who made a dying request to be buried in this grave. Under the stone within the sepulchre there was also found, on this occasion, a small water-worn stone of black calp or limestone. . . . On the upper side is carved a plain cross, and around this, in a circle, the following simple inscription (Anglicised): 'A Prayer for Brecan the pilgrim'".

This venerable relic is at present in Dr. Petrie's possession. Ware makes St. Brecan flourish about 650. Dr. Petrie says he died early in the sixth century.

Rev. A. Cogan, The Diocese of Meath Ancient and Modern. Vol. I. (Dublin and London, 1862), 50-51.