Monday 3 February 2020

Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, February 3

February 3 is one of two feast days found in the Irish calendars for Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh, County Galway. As I have already posted an account of this important monastic founder on his main feast day, October 29 here, today we can enjoy an article from a late nineteenth-century English clerical visitor to Kilmacduagh, Canon Wilfrid Dallow. It is particularly interesting to note how Dallow was inspired to visit Kilmacduagh after seeing an entry at February 3 for Saint Colman in an eighteenth-century British martyrology. He gives a good account of the locality and the ruins that he found there and like many Victorian writers is drawn to the wildness and remoteness of their location.


JULY, 1892.

"FEB. 3. In Ireland, the happy decease of the holy prelate, St. Colman MacDuach, first Bishop of Kilmacduach, in the seventh century." Ever since these words met the writer's eye in an old British Martyrology, which he became possessed of some twenty years ago, he conceived a strong desire to visit the spot once sanctified by so great a saint. It may be well to mention here, that this small, but rare tome (printed for "W". Needham, over against Gray's Inn Gate, in Holborn, London, 1761), though styled a British Martyrology, contains a list also of the saints of the "sister-isle." The above entry of St. Colman occurs in a supplementary list of saints, in which, under Feb. 8th, we have also St. Colman of Clonard. In the first part of the work occur many saints of this name, whose memory have long been famous in Ireland. It may interest the reader to notice them here. Thus:

"August 8th. The commemoration of St. Colman, who, from a monk of St. Columb's Monastery, in the Isle of Hy, was made third Bishop, of Lindisfarne. He was a prelate of most amiable character, in regard to his perfect disinterestedness, his moderation and humility, as well as his fervour in the service of God, and his zeal for the salvation of souls. (S. Bede, 1. 3, c. 26.) He resigned his bishopric anno 664, and retired into Ireland, where he founded the Monastery of Inys-bo-finde for the Scots, and that of Mayo for the English, which was so renowned of old for piety and religion, as to count at once no fewer than one hundred saints, all living in great continency and simplicity, by the labour of their hands, under a rule and canonical abbot by the example of the venerable Fathers. St. Colman went to our Lord, anno. 676, and is honoured in the Aberdeen Calendar on the 18th of February."

This was the bishop who had the famous dispute with St. Wilfrid of York, at the Council of Whitby, concerning the time of keeping Easter. On September 3rd, occurs St. Colman, the founder of the Church (and Diocese) of Cloyne; and on October 13th, one of those Irish saints, whose memory is greater abroad than at home, and whose shrine exists to this day in central Europe. The following is the brief but interesting entry in the British Martyrology of this saint, who, as St. Colomanus, occurs on the same day in the Roman Martyrology: "In Austria, the festivity of St. Colman, a holy pilgrim of the Scottish nation, who, returning from the Holy Land, was taken, upon suspicion of being a spy, and put to most cruel torments, which he bore with invincible patience and courage, still maintaining his innocence, and offering up all his sufferings to God. He was at last hanged between two thieves, October 13th, 1012, God bearing testimony to his innocence and sanctity, by many miracles; by occasion of which his body was, not long after, translated to the town of Merck, where it is kept with great veneration to this day." Over and above the various saints of this name, there is commemorated on June 29th, "divers holy bishops, abbots, and other religious men of the name of Colman, to the number of two hundred and thirty; all honoured of old amongst the saints, in that Island of Saints."

On a bright afternoon in July last, the writer started from Gort, in Galway, to visit the ruins of Kilmacduagh , which are about three miles distant. These comprise what are styled Seven Churches, a round tower, and an episcopal residence, all which once formed the seat of that ancient diocese, christened the "Kil" or Church of St. Colman MacDuagh. It may here be mentioned that this old see, along with the neighbouring one of Kilfenora, in Clare, have for many years formed one diocese. But for the reason, we presume, that even the two sees thus united form but a small charge for one bishop, the clergy being under thirty, they were recently annexed to that of Galway. Kilmacduagh now forms part of the diocese of Galway, and Kilfenora is entrusted to the "perpetual administration" of the Bishop of Galway. As we approached these interesting remains, the lofty round tower, with its conical cap, was conspicuous at a considerable distance, thus discharging the very duty it was probably built for, that of guiding the stranger to that secluded abode of piety and learning! In Miss Stokes' Christian Antiquities of Ireland this tower is placed in the second class of round towers, in which "the stones are roughly hammer-dressed, rounded to the curve of the wall, decidedly though somewhat irregularly coursed." The small windows are of most primitive shape, the heading composed of two stones leaning together so as to form a point. The doorway is, as usual, about twelve feet from the ground. This tower is situated near the south-west corner of the chief church : and, what is unique, it leans some three or more feet out of the perpendicular, which would point to an earthquake or landslip having occurred. Wakeman, in his Guide to Ireland, states that this is said to have been erected by the famous architect Gobhan Seer, who reared the round towers of Antrim and Glendalough.

The cathedral is a cruciform edifice, of considerable size, and contains in the south transept an old altar still in situ. It is said that, when some years ago a terrible epidemic was raging in the neighbourhood, and playing sad havoc amongst the poor people, they earnestly requested that Mass be said in the ruins. Accordingly the parish priest offered up the holy sacrifice on this lonely altar, surrounded by his devout flock, and tradition has it that their prayers were successful. Their patron, St. Colman, interceded for his suffering clients, and the disease was stayed.

One portion of this old cathedral shows signs of great antiquity. The wall is not built in regular courses, and the presence of a cyclopean doorway, blocked up since the fourteenth century, favours the belief that this part is coeval with St. MacDuagh himself. It is supposed to belong to the original church erected by Guaire Aidhne, King of Connaught, for his sainted kinsman.

In a field hard by, at the north-west of the large burial ground, stand the remains of a church which belonged to a mediaeval priory. At the east end of the chancel are two long narrow lancet windows, of a thoroughly Irish type, with very deep splay on the inside, and with a stone moulding running all round. In England, it seems to have been an almost general rule to put an odd number of windows in the east wall ; but in Ireland we find frequently twin windows over the high altar of the older churches, as in the great church Iniscleraun, at Clonmacnoise. In the same field, near the high road, are the fragments of the bishop's residence, and in a field at the opposite side of the road a solitary ruin of another venerable church.

About a mile from Kilmacduagh, at a spot called Tiernevin, stands a small but elegant new church, lately erected by the zealous parish priest of Gort, the Very Rev. Jerome Fahy, V.G. It serves, as it were, as a "chapel of ease" to the parochial Church of St. Colman MacDuagh. It has one special, pleasing feature, and one which might be utilized more generally by architects, viz., the windows are a correct copy of those in the neighbouring old cathedral of the diocesan patron. This reproduction forms an interesting souvenir of the ancient pile raised to the memory of so great a saint. We would say to our architects, "Go, and do likewise." In the many ruins scattered up and down the Three Kingdoms, we have a prolific wealth of carving, such as we see but too rarely copied in our modern churches. Surely, if a new church be required in the neighbourhood of a ruined church or abbey, the architect, instead of working out some crude ideas on his office desk, might give the new fabric at least a window or door that shall be a correct reproduction of the old pile in the vicinity.

The next day was devoted to a long but interesting expedition to the actual " kil," or cell of St. Colman's, far away from all human habitation, in the Burren Mountains of "Clare. In driving along through Galway into the latter county, nothing could exceed the wild and desolate appearance of the country: few trees, no hedges, walls composed of stones, loosely put together without mortar, and the entire surface of the land littered with stones of every shape and size. Wherever, in rare cases, a piece of land had been reclaimed and transformed into a potato patch, the stones, which had been removed, made a good sized pile, some feet in height. Mr. Frazer thus describes this wild region: "The general features of the greater part of the Barony of Burren are altogether different from those of any other part of the country. In the central portion of this district the entire surface seems one unbroken mass of limestone, and the bare hills, rising from the shore to an elevation of 1,134 feet, in regular receding terraced flights, presents a vast amphitheatrical outline. The disjointed rocks composing the surface of this immense circular acclivity, though not deposited with all the precision of the trap-rocks, are laid generally in horizontal lines, giving to the whole at a distance a regular and formal character. These limestone terraces abound in deep fissures, chinks, and crevices, in which find shelter the most rare and varied specimens of ferns and other wild plants. The whole county of Clare is remarkably rich in plants not usually found in other places, but particularly in the district of Burren, along the sea shore, and around Ballyvaughan and Blackhead.”

At a certain point, the high road had to be left, and alighting from the car, we started over the stony fields, which showed but little sign of footpath, to continue on loot our pilgrimage to the cave of St. MacDuagh. Under the broiling sun of a July noon-day this was anything but a comfortable and easy task. Although our party had a clever Irish antiquarian for their "guide, philosopher, and friend," yet, with no sign-post, nor human dwelling visible in the landscape, it seems a matter of considerable doubt whether we should have ever reached our goal had not a native guide turned up.

This was a poor lad, who, with that wonderful knowledge of holy places, wells, &c., peculiar to the Irish peasantry, led us all successfully to the cell of St. Colman, and also a thing of no small value brought us back safely to our car. It is only fair to say that his exertions were encouraged by the promise of a monetary consideration, and that he received from us a "thank-offering," which would be to him a good wages for the services rendered. As we slowly tramped along, or rather picked our way among the rough stones, so thickly strewn around, our path gradually mounted each moment higher and higher. On turning round to rest awhile in the blazing sun of noon-tide, there opened out to our gaze a distant view of Galway Bay and the Twelve Pins of Binnabola.

As we neared that part of the Burren Mountains known as the "Eagle's Nest," where we were to find the rocky recess once sanctified by the presence of St. MacDuagh, the ground lost all semblance of a field, and became one great mass of dark carboniferous limestone. To the geologist this portion of Ireland is a valuable field for study, and certainly, to the most untutored eye, the rocky floor presented a unique spectacle not to be seen elsewhere. The whole surface is split up into numerous long and deep fissures, in the cool clefts of which grew the hart's-tongue fern and many others. The brilliancy and profusion of the wild flowers, which flourished everywhere around us, was truly delightful, and fully bore out the reputation this district bears as a good hunting-ground for the lovers of botany. Here the hare-bell, of a blue unusually deep, large mauve-tinted wild geraniums, and the golden rod were mingled with various ferns, amidst which the wild "maiden-hair" was conspicuous. But most attractive of all was a beautiful white flower, which belonged to a very short-tufted plant, creeping along the clefts of the rock. This we discovered subsequently was a rather rare plant, the Octopetala or mountain Averts, in form like a rose (to which family it really belongs), with a stalk but two inches long, covered with dark green leaves with a silvery lining. Another curious plant which abounds here, but is uncommon in the British Isles, is a tall thistle with a golden, blossom (Carlina vulgaris). Its petals dry in the sun, and thus it becomes a kind of everlasting flower. In one very extensive portion of the rocky floor we came upon a vast number of most curious impressions of feet of horses, dogs, and occasionally a clear outline of a human foot.

As to these extraordinary marks on the limestone rocks, a most interesting legend is told. It was the great Easter festival, and St, Colman and his companion sat down to their frugal meal of coarse bread, roots and herbs, washed down by no stronger drink than that provided by the limpid well, which is there to this day. The latter regarded the humble fare with undisguised disgust, and complained not unnaturally that their menu was but a sorry one for so great a solemnity. He pathetically contrasted their table with that of Guaire, King of Connaught, the saint's kinsman, in the neighbouring palace of Kinvarra. Meanwhile, the good Prince, along with his court, had sat down to dinner, about to whet his appetite with the more sumptuous viands, for which St. Colman's companion was sighing. His majesty, in that goodness of heart which a tempting feast after the Lenten austerities naturally inspired, cried out, "Would that this food might go to some creatures more in want of it than we are, if such be Christ's pleasure!" No sooner had he uttered these words than, in the words of the chronicler (Colgan), lo! a wonder appeared. For straightway the dishes were uplifted from the table, and borne by invisible hands from the palace. As can be well imagined, the King arose in hot haste, and, along with his retinue determined to pursue his Easter dinner, and see the end of a prodigy so startling. ' As the royal cortege swept along on their good steeds towards the Burren Mountains, the people, hearing of the wonder, and led on by a like curiosity, ran after the King's train, "turmatim!" As soon as all had come in sight of our saint in his mountain fastness, eating his poor meal, and saw the dishes deposit themselves (or ought we not to say laid by angels' hands ?) before him, lo! another prodigy took place no less startling than the " passage of the dishes!" For whilst explanations were demanded, probably peremptorily, by the hungry monarch, whose appetite thus deluded would not put him in the happiest frame of mind, the feet of all were fastened to the rock! "Haerent equites, haerent pedites," &c. The horsemen and the astonished people were literally rivetted to the ground, and that, too, in a way they had never dreamed of. Only by the prayers of St. Colman were they liberated, and once more free to pursue their homeward journey. To this day the surface of the bluish limestone rock bears innumerable exact impressions of horses' feet, human feet, and also a few cases of dogs' paws. Ever since it is known as " Boher-na-maes," that is, the "road of the dishes."

It is the fashion of some folks to sneer at all Irish legends, and it must be admitted that there is to be found at times a certain fairyland lore in some of the lives of the saints. But in defence of this "passage of the dishes," it may be urged that the story is not a whit more remarkable than some of those approved of in the lives of the saints. For sixty years a raven brought bread to St. Paul, the first hermit, to a convent of hungry Dominicans, two angels dispensed a heaven-sent meal. And if, under the Old Law, God fed Elias, at one time by the aid of ravens, and at another with bread brought by angels, surely "His arm is not shortened." Therefore, why may His power not have been shown to the murmuring companion of St. Colman as well as to Guaire and his rude courtiers, in proving by a miracle the love he bore alike to the "man of God" at Burren as well as to the Prophet on Horeb! As to impressions of the mysterious feet in the rock, many will not give such a ready credence to this part of the story. Most will hold that they are probably geological marks in the limestone, and the plaguy modern critics will tell us that they occur regularly in certain conditions in 'rocks of that nature. All we say to the reader is, visit the place, and judge for yourself. Clear the rocky floor of the dust, and admit that the impressions are most clearly evident, and if not miraculous, they are at least extremely curious, we might say unique, in the country.

After having crossed the "Boher-na-maes," we at length arrived at the object of our pilgrimage. Amidst a profusion of bush and brake, there lay before us the cell of St. Colman. On creeping in we found it to be a natural hollow, capable of holding about three persons, the loose stones in the far end being thrown together as to form a rude bed. What an awe-inspiring thought that in this hole in the earth dwelt a saint so renowned, and that from this wilderness of limestone rock, like the Baptist of old, came forth the first bishop of that ancient see, to be henceforth named after him, the "Church of the Son of Duagh"-Kilmacduagh. We could but kneel down at the entrance of this austere abode, and gazing into that small and dark recess where Colman communed with his Creator, we prayed aloud together, proud to be children of the same glorious Church which his virtues adorned.

At a short distance from the "cell " stood four walls in a ruinous condition of what was once a small chapel or oratory. If this can hardly claim to have been erected in the lifetime of St. Colman, and used by him, yet it is of considerable antiquity, and must have been in use for many centuries, and from its very lonely position would have been a suitable spot, in times of persecution, for the people to gather together for the proscribed liturgy. On exploring the precincts of the cave, we came upon a " holy well," and what was pointed out as a botanical curiosity, a magnificent hawthorn-tree, without a single thorn on any of its branches. The thick trunk bore traces of having been chipped away by pilgrims, who wished to carry away souvenirs of so holy a spot.

Having retraced our steps to where the car awaited us in the high road, we hastened to visit, in another part of the Burren Mountains, the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey. It was erected by that illustrious King of Munster, Donald Mor O'Brien, whose royal munificence founded the cathedrals of Cashel, Killaloe, and Limerick, as also the abbey of Holy Cross, and many other religious houses. Surely such a name as his is well worthy to stand beside the greatest mediaeval sovereigns of Europe, who were in their day the stalwart champions of Mother Church. Corcomroe was a daughter of Innislaugh, on the Suir, founded by the same O'Brien, and later on it became subject to the great abbey of Furness, in Lancashire. Its title, "De petra fertili," is surely meant for irony, since a more barren region it is impossible to imagine. Let us rather suppose that this ancient title, under which the abbey figures in ancient records, is not to be taken as a case of " lucus a non lucendo," but that the energy of St. Robert's children redeemed the arid land, as nowadays their brethren have done at Mount Melleray, and that finally this desert place smiled, and became a "fruitful rock!"

Wakeman, in his Guide, says: "The effect of this ruin rising in stony solitude is very striking. To the southward and eastward, as far as the eye can reach, nothing but grey rocks, mingled at wide intervals with scanty patches of grass, is visible. One might spend days within the walls without seeing a human being." In this abbey the Cistercian monks buried King Connor, killed at the battle of Sudinae (Siudaine), as also the princes slain in the year 1267 and 1317. The life-size effigy of Connor O'Brien, in an arched recess of the north wall of the chancel, is most interesting, as showing in what manner an Irish prince was dressed in those days. There is only one other of the kind to be seen in Ireland, viz., that of Crov-Dearg O'Connor, King of Connaught, in the Dominican priory of Roscommon. The king is represented as lying on a cloak, similar to the feriola, the ribbon of which appears across his breast, where the left hand is grasping some object, probably a cross or reliquary. The right hand holds a sceptre, and the long robe falls in elegant pleats to the feet, which are covered with a kind of primitive 'brogues," like those which have been found in the bogs. The crown is sadly defaced, but the shaven face bears a pleasing expression, and the long-flowing locks are curled, after the fashion of the Irish " coolin." The irony of fate is shown by the inscription on a plain slab in the ground close by which covers the rival prince who slew O'Brien at Sudinae. It runs thus : " This is the burial-place of O'Loughlan, King of Burren." Standing in the wall, above the royal effigy, is a good has relief of a mitred abbot or bishop, the ample dalmatic being seen below a long-flowing chasuble, the collar of which is somewhat ingenious in pattern. The right hand is uplifted in blessing, and the left grasps a short crozier, with a spiral crook. A good engraving of the chancel of Corcomroe, and also of the royal tomb, can be seen in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquarians, illustrating a valuable article on "The" Normans in Thomond," by T. J.Westrop, M.A., for 1891, page 381. Above the double-arched sedilia, at the Epistle side of the high altar, which still remains in situ, is a curiously-carved ornament, evidently a discipline of three knotted cords. On the ground near the wall is a rather unique tombstone made of wood (!) if such an expression can be used.

A little less than a mile from Corcomroe we again come upon traces of the first Bishop of Kilmacduagh. At a spot called Oughtmama there are ruins of three churches, which tradition says are dedicated to St. Colman, who, having resigned his episcopacy in all lowliness and humility, came here to end his days in peace and solitude.

Before closing this article, we must allude to one other spot, where the memory of so great a saint is yet green, viz.. Aran-more. The three isles of Aran are at the mouth of Galway Bay, to which they are a kind of natural breakwater, and on the largest isle, called Aran-more, or Great Aran, there are the ruins of a very primitive church, dedicated to St. Colman MacDuagh. A very interesting account of these remains, with illustrations, can be seen in Harper's Magazine for March, 1881. This Teampul MacDuagh is a beautiful little church, built of huge undressed stones, with a truly cyclopean doorway, which is said to be an almost perfect copy of an entrance into an Egyptian tomb.

It would be an interesting question to find out whether St. Colman ever came to Aran. The idea seems most natural, when we consider that the school of St. Enda gave Aranmore a world- wide celebrity, so that it was styled " Aran of the Saints." It must have been well known to our saint, and hence it is very likely that he left his wild abode in the Burren, to visit this school of sanctity, to confer with his holy contemporaries. If this Teampul MacDuagh was not of his erection, at least it must have been very shortly after his time, as it is of the most primitive type. This latter supposition would go to show what an early character for sanctity was possessed by our saint, who, from a multitude of Colmans, stands out as St. Colman MacDuagh.

One relic is yet left to remind us of his authority, the shattered remains of wood and bronze that compose his pastoral staff, now kept in the Museum, at Dublin. But if his staff is fragile, his power and memory is yet great in the land, wherein he governed, as a faithful shepherd, the fold committed to his care. One feature is especially beautiful in the Catholic Church in Ireland, namely, that along with her faith, the " Island of Saints" has kept her hierarchy unbroken, and has clung to the original titles of her sees from time immemorial. Alas ! with us in poor England, all that bright dream has vanished! In place of the sweet names of York and Lichfield, Hereford and Worcester, redolent with holy memories of a Wilfrid and a Chad, a Thomas-a- Cantalupe and a Wulstan, we have the modern uneuphonious names of ugly towns, Middlesborough, Birmingham, &c. And so, even to-day, the Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh sits in the Chair of Colman, and wields the crozier over the selfsame district, one enlightened by the virtues and zeal of the first sainted occupant of that venerable see! May we conclude by wishing, with all due respect, the present most reverend occupant "ad multos annos !"

Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 13 (1892), 900-911.

Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2020. All rights reserved.


Mary said...

A very interesting read- enlightning and informative. Astonishing the amount of ground covered by this Saint to nurture and build up the Church in very difficult times. May his good work be continued in our time.

Marcella said...

Glad you enjoyed the article, Mary and Amen to everything you said.