Saturday 31 December 2022

A Prayer to the Saints at the End of the Year

The following prayer to the saints is found at the end of the notes to the Martyrology of Oengus after the final entries at December 31. I have previously posted a similar prayer from the Martyrology of Gorman here. Both of our martyrologists entreat the intercession and protection of the Irish saints whose feast days they have recorded for us. Saint Oengus uses the affectionate diminutive Ísucán when asking Christ to grant his prayer, which the translator Whitley Stokes has rendered as 'O dear little Jesus':
May every saint who has been, is, and will be till doom victorious division -
in Christ's pious company, may they be helping me! 
May they be helping me in heaven and on earth,
and come in their bands to work along with my soul. 
O dear little Jesus, [Ísucán] may it thus be fulfilled!

Every saint, every holy virgin, every martyr, whom I have recounted, every high apostle, 
their prayer for me to God whom I fear, may it protect me from every fierce danger!

 W. Stokes ed. and trans., The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee (London, 1905, p. 263).


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Monday 19 December 2022

'Pure was her heart amid the wicked': In Praise of Saint Samthann

December 19 is the feast of Saint Samthann of Clonbroney, County Longford. She is one of only a handful of women saints to have left a written Life and I have posted some selections from the Life of Saint Samthann here. Although the Life is the most important source of information regarding this saint it is not the only one. She features in a number of other sources including the poem below, attributed to an eighth-century high king, Aodh Allán, son of Fearghal. In it the poet pays tribute to Saint Samthann's reputation for asceticism and her courage in the struggles of the monastic life:

"734: Fifth year of Aed Allan.

Saint Samtain, virgin, of Cluain Bronaig (Longford), died on December 19. It was of her that Aed Allan gave this testimony:

"Samtain for enlightening various sinners,
A servant who observed stern chastity,
In the wide plain of fertile Meath
Great suffering did Samtain endure;

She undertook a thing not easy,
Fasting for the kingdom above.
She lived on scanty food;
Hard were her girdles;

She struggled in venomous conflicts;
Pure was her heart amid the wicked.
To the bosom of the Lord, with a pure death,
Samtain passed from her trials."

Charles Johnston, Ireland, Historic and Picturesque, (Philadelphia, 1901), 226.


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Friday 16 December 2022

Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg, December 16

On December 16 the Calendar of Cashel, an eleventh-century source sadly no no longer extant, records a feast attributed by some of the nineteenth-century scholars of the saints to Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg, the County Donegal site of the Saint Patrick's Purgatory pilgrimage. Saint Dabheoc has two feasts preserved in the Irish martyrologies, one at January 1 and one at July 24. None of them mention a third feast day at December 16 and it seems, from what the Ordnance Survey scholar John O'Donovan recorded when he visited Saints' Island in 1835, that the source of today's feast is the seventeenth-century hagiologist, Friar John Colgan, who had access to the now lost Calendar of Cashel:

 Colgan,..  speaking of Daveog, the patron, .. says: St. Dabeocus is held in the greatest veneration to the present day, and his festivity is observed three days in every year, according to our Festilogies, viz., on the 1st of January, 24th of July, and 16th of December. So Marian Gorman, Cathal Maguire and the Martyrologies of Tallaght and Donegal. But the Calendar of Cashel places his festival day only on the 16th of December. 

Michael Herity, ed. Ordnance Survey Letters Donegal- Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the County of Donegal Collected During the Progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1835 (Four Masters Press, Dublin, 2000), 122-123.

Since the December feast is missing from the earliest martyrologies as well as from the 1630 Martyrology of Donegal (where we might have expected to find it), I wondered if it was possible that we were dealing with a case of mistaken identity here. That suspicion was strengthened when I noted that Professor Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints discusses another Ulster saint, Mobheóg of Artraige, at December 16. Here we are back to the familiar problem of the many different forms that the names of Irish saints can take, for Dabheoc or Dobheóg is sometimes known as Beoán, Beóg and Mobheóg. It therefore seems possible that the feast in the Calendar of Cashel, attributed by Father Colgan to Dabheoc of Lough Derg, was actually the feast of Mobheóg of Artraige observed in Wexford on December 16. But although I am not convinced that today is a feast of Saint Dabheoc of Lough Derg I am nevertheless delighted to offer another reminder of his career as he is a saint to whom I feel a personal connection. I have taken part in the pilgimage at Lough Derg three times and on my first all-night vigil I was sorely tempted to give up when the going got tough. Instead I made my way to the side altar of the basilica where the statue of Saint Dabheoc stands and asked for his help to complete the rest of the vigil. I have asked for his intercession ever since and feel he is one of many Irish saints who deserves to be better known.

The account below of Saint Dabheoc and his island home has been taken from Chapter Five of Father Daniel O'Connor's 1879 guide to Lough Derg:


About two miles north of Station Island lies Saints' Island, anciently called Oilean-na-naomh, and more anciently still, St. Dabheoc's Island [This name, "Dabheoc," is usually pronounced as if written Davoc.]. In pre-Reformation times there stood on Saints' Island a venerable convent of Augustinians; and, at least down to the year 1497, this island would appear to have been the place of pilgrimage. The island is like a ring in form, and rises on all sides in gentle acclivity from the lake, its highest elevation being about forty feet above the level of the lake.

Saints' Island bears evident traces of agriculture, and of having been turned to profitable account in the days when the Canons Regular of St. Augustine were denizens of the place. The soil of the island is rank and loamy, and seems to have partaken of the ruin which has visited with such destruction its holy cloisters and churches. It is quite overgrown with coarse grass, with ferns and rushes; and in some parts of it a stunted covering of heather indicates that it has, to some extent, returned to its original state of wildness. The ruins of the sacred enclosures, monastery, churches and cemetery, are overgrown with luxuriant weeds. The island has very few trees or shrubs, if we except some slender trees of mountain ash, and some whitethorn bushes, which are really worth observing, as they are hoar with antiquity. These bushes are sparsely scattered over the island, but at its eastern extremity a dense cluster of them overshadows the debris of the buildings; and, judging from the gray, dank moss adhering to their branches, they appear to date from the time these buildings were demolished.

On the southern slope of the island were situated the convent gardens, as we may plainly infer from the
enclosures, as well as from the superior fertility of the soil. During the winter season these gardens present a more marked contrast for their verdure; and herbs and flowers are known to grow here, which are not found elsewhere through these islands and mountains.

The eastern half of the island was laid out in fields, as the remains of the earthen fences or enclosures denote. These fences are inhabited by a numerous colony of rabbits, of different colours, brown, white and black, that skip about in every direction, and in a variety of ways contribute their own little best "to lend enchantment to the scene."

The western half of the island appears to have been used as a "common" for pasture, as it is not intersected by fences, though here also the furrowed surface presents indications of its having yielded to the beneficent sway of the spade and ploughshare.The grass and hay grown on Saints' Island are said to be so rank and unsavoury as to be very noxious to cattle. Formerly, I have been informed, cattle and sheep were put to pasture on it, till the mortality which set in amongst them awakened their owners to the dangers of the situation. And thus, fortunately, the sacred precincts and ruins on the island are no longer trampled upon, dishonoured and profaned by the beasts of the field, which in other places have occasioned such injury to the ancient monuments of our country.

In the early ages of the faith in Ireland there appears to have prevailed a custom, borrowed from the pagan period, of erecting a circular earthen fort or enclosure convenient to, or around the religious houses. Thus, in Father O'Hanlon's Life of St. Fanchea, we read of her brother, St. Endeus, having with his own hands raised round his sister's nunnery, at Rossory, a large múr, or earthwork, strengthened by deep circular fosses, the remains of which are still to be seen. And Mr. Wakeman, in his Antiquities of Devenish, says that nearly all the primitive church sites in Fermanagh bear traces of such circumvallations. The writer of the present subject, from his own personal observation of some of
these sites, can fully endorse Mr. Wakeman's statement. Near the Abbey of Devenish stood a strongly-fortified rath, remains of which are still evident. The same may be said of Rossory, Inniskeen, &c. Outside Fermanagh the same custom also prevailed. At Clogher and Clones religious houses were founded, for economy sake, near forts, of which we have sufficient evidence for saying that they were erected during the pre-Christian period of our country.

On Saints' Island, also, the visitor will perceive a circular earthwork of this class, on the very summit of the island, and to the west of the monastery and cemetery. The diameter of this enclosure measures about twenty yards. A part of this circular earthwork has been intersected by the cemetery, which lies to the east of it; but as much of it, fortunately, still remains as to leave no doubt whatever as to the character and object of this primitive work. It seems strange, indeed, that this interesting object escaped
the notice of the Ordnance Survey party, and even of O'Donovan himself, who visited the island on the 28th of October, 1835. It is much to be regretted that O'Donovan did not devote more of his time and attention to this locality; as, with his rare knowledge, much that is now hopelessly lost might have been brought to light. He came, as we said, on the 28th of October, and on Hallow-Eve following he wrote, from Ballyshannon, an account of his visit to the lake, having derived, as he jocosely states, no benefit from his turas save a severe cold.

Within this fort on Saints' Island, or, at any rate, in the cemetery adjoining, it is not too much of conjecture to say that the monastery founded here by St. Dabheoc, in the days of St. Patrick, stood; and that here his order flourished till the time of the Danish invasion....

...There is an air of loneliness and desolation about Saints' Island, which is truly affecting. Silence, still as death, reigns round these holy precincts, where once the prayer of the pilgrim, the pious chant of the monks, 'mid ceremony and sacrifice, resounded. Of this island we may repeat with truth what was said of "Arran of the Saints," that the living God alone knows the number of holy persons who here await their final resurrection.

Standing on this holy island, where stood the monastery of St. Dabheoc, where stood the sanctuary of Saint Patrick's Purgatory, which during the middle ages became'the most famous shrine of penance and purification in Western Europe' the following sweet lines recur to memory: —

"God of this Irish isle,
Sacred and old,
Bright in the morning smile
Is the lake's fold;
Here where thy saints have trod,
Here where they prayed,
Hear me, O saving God!
May I be saved!"

Rev. Daniel O’Connor,  Lough Derg and Its Pilgrimages (Dublin, 1879),  26-31. 


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Thursday 15 December 2022

Saint Crónán, December 15

Yesterday we looked a trio of saints called Colmán, one of the most widely-shared names among Irish saints. Another common name borne by Irish saints is that of Crónán with nearly twenty holy men of this name recorded on the calendars. This number grows even wider when we take into consideration the hypocoristic or 'pet' form of this name, Mochua, with fifty-nine recorded on the twelfth-century List of Homonymous Saints alone. Today the Martyrology of Donegal simply records the name Crónán with no further information to allow us to distinguish him from the others who share his name.


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Wednesday 14 December 2022

'Three Colmáns to Help Us', December 14


As regular readers of the blog will know the problem of trying to disentangle Irish saints who all share the same name is never more acute than when we are dealing with saints called Colmán. There is a source called the List of Homonymous Saints, preserved in the twelfth-century manuscript known as the Book of Leinster, which lists over two hundred saints called Colm or Colmán. On December 14 we find three saints of this name listed on some of the Irish calendars. The twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman notes: 

Three Colmáns to help us

while the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal records:

COLMAN, of Rath Maoilsidhe.
COLMAN, son of Fionntan.
 The first of the trio is associated with the monastery of Rath Melsigi, modern Clonmelsh, County Carlow, a spiritual and intellectual powerhouse which prepared a number of Anglo-Saxon saints, most notably Saint Willibrord and his companions, for their European mission. In the absence of other information we cannot clarify what Saint Colmán's role was at this foundation or when he may have exercised it.

The second of the three, described as the son of Fintan offers a patronymic to distinguish himself but alas, this too does not help us locate him in time or place. 

The final Colmán sounds like a pleasant chap, álainn in modern Irish is an adjective usually translated as 'beautiful' but in its older form álaind, Whitley Stokes, the translator of the Martyrology of Gorman, has rendered it as 'delightful'.

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Tuesday 13 December 2022

Saint Colum of Terryglass at Inishcaltra

December 13 is the feast of Saint Colum of Terryglass, County Tipperary. He is also credited in the Life preserved in the Salamancan Codex with being the founder of the monastery at Inishcaltra, an island off the western shore of Lough Derg, County Clare. Professor Pádraig Ó Riain has translated The Life of Colum of Terryglass in his 2014 collection Four Tipperary Saints and below are three short extracts which deal with Saint Colum's time on the holy island of Inishcaltra. In the first we see a familiar trope from hagiography, where a saint is directed to a particular location by an angelic messenger. Then once there a source of sustenance is miraculously provided for him in the form of a sweet-tasting tree sap which also has 'the inebriating quality of wine'. Finally, we have a sample of Saint Colum's spiritual wisdom prompted by a question from one of his faithful monastics:

...An angel of the Lord then appeared to him, to say 'Arise and go to Inishcaltra'. There he found an old man by the name of Mac Reithe, to whom the angel said: 'Relinquish this island to Colum and go somewhere else as a monk of his', which he did.

Then, on the day of Colum's arrival on Inishcaltra, the Lord made a meal for him, for there was a certain tree on the island by the name of lime-tree whose sap, on dripping down, filled a vessel and had the taste of honey. The fluid had the inebriating quality of wine, and Colum and his followers were sated by this excellent liquid.

Colum then lived on Inishcaltra for a long time, and the birds of the sky clung intimately to him there, flying about his face and playing. At this, his disciple Nadh Caoimhe said: 'Why, master, do the birds not take flight from you: they truly avoid us?' Colum replied: 'Why should birds avoid a bird? Just as the bird flies, so does my mind never cease from flying to heaven'.

 P. Ó Riain, ed. and trans., 'The Life of Colum of Terryglass' in Four Tipperary Saints, (Four Courts Press, 2014), 15~ 16~ 17~, p. 13.

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Monday 12 December 2022

The Character of Saint Finnian

The Character of Saint Finnian

Finian died at Clonard, in A.D. 552. An old writer has left us the following sketch of his character: — "He was full of wisdom, as a scribe most learned to teach the law of God's commandments. He was most merciful and compassionate, and sincerely sympathised with the infirmities of the sick, and the sorrows of the afflicted; and in every work of mercy he was most ready with his assistance. He healed with mildness the mental and bodily ills of all who came to him. Towards himself he exercised the strictest discipline, to leave to others a good example. He loved all from a pure heart. He abhorred all carnal and mental vices. His ordinary food was bread and herbs, his drink water; but on the festivals of the Church, he ate bread made of corn, and drank a cup of ale, or whey. When obliged to take moderate repose, he slept not on a soft and easy couch, but rather on the bare ground, with a stone for his pillow. In a word, he was full of compassion toward all other men, but of strictness and severity to himself."

Vita St. Finian,— Colgan's AA. SS. p. 397.

W. G. Todd, A History of the Ancient Church in Ireland (London, 1845), 31.

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