Wednesday 15 May 2024

Saint Colman of Oughaval, May 15

May 15 is the feast of Saint Colmán of Oughaval in County Laois.  I have previously published a short account of this holy man by diocesan historian Bishop Michal Comerford here, but below is the entry from Volume 5 of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints. Canon O'Hanlon was born in Stradbally,  County Laois, the same parish in which Oughaval is situated and of which Saint Colmán is the patron. In his account of the local saintly hero Canon O'Hanlon makes a couple of basic points to bear in mind: First, that our knowledge of this saint is derived from his appearance in the Lives of two other Irish saints - Colum Cille and Fintan of Clonenagh; secondly, that his name Colmán also appears in some sources as Columbanus, which is not surprising since both are derived from the name Colum.  He also discusses the various ways in which the place name Oughaval is rendered and shows his customary irritation at the attempts of the later Scottish martyrologist, David Camerarius, to ignore the reality that in early medieval Europe Scotia was the name applied to Ireland and that 'Scottish' saints were actually Irishmen. One of the most interesting sections of Canon O'Hanlon's account is when he quotes Adomnán's Vita Columbae concerning the death of Colmán of Oughaval and the addition of a prayer composed on the spot by Saint Colum Cille to the existing commemoration of Saint Martin of Tours in the liturgy.  Canon O'Hanlon concludes by noting that Saint Colmán died on May 15, that would be the date of his own death in the year 1905. I am very grateful to blog reader Seán for sending me the photograph above of the commemorative plaque at Stradbally in honour of Canon O'Hanlon's many achievements:

Article IV. — St. Colman, or St. Columban, Mac Ua Laoighse, of Oughaval, Queen's County. [Sixth Century.]
His relations with the great Abbot of Iona, St. Columkille, and with St. Fintan, Abbot of Clonenagh, have given special celebrity to the present holy man. In the Martyrology of Tallagh, the name of Colman Mac h Laighsi, is simply inserted, at the 15th of May, or at the Ides of this same month. From the foregoing record, the Bollandists have given insertion to his feast, at the same date, in their collection, calling him Colmanus, filius Hua-Laigsi, seu Mac-ua-Laigse. He belonged to the race of Laoighsigh Ceannmoir, son of Conall Cearnach, a celebrated Ultonian hero, living in the first century. His pedigree occurs, in the Genealogies of Irish Saints; and, it serves to show, how Colman derived the tribe-name Mac Ua Loighse. According to this authority, he was son to Lugna, son of Eugene, son to Guaire, the son of Ere, son to Bracan, son of Lugad Eaighsech, son to Laigisius Cenn-mor, son of Conall Kearnach, who belonged to the noble Roderician family. This pedigree is evidently defective, however, in several generations as nine degrees are quite insufficient to fill five centuries. His kinsman, Oennu Ua Laighse, who died about the same time, is thirteen generations removed from Conall Cearnach. Besides the name of Colman, he is known by that of Columbanus — an exchange of names often occurring in the Lives of our Irish Saints, and applying to the same individual. Thus, we find Colman-Eala - called Colmanellus Colman, or Columbanus; again, the Colman Mor of Irish history, is also called Columbanus; while, the Colman of Bede is called Columbanus, in the Annals of Ulster, at A.D. 667, 675, and in those of Tighernach, at A.D. 676. In the Life of St. Fintan, Abbot of Clonenagh, whose Acts have been already published, at the 17th of February, we are told, that this religious youth, who is there called Columbanus, was a native of Leix, in the Leinster province. For the sake of making a pilgrimage, and of engaging in prayer, this Columbanus directed his course to the island of Iona, in order to visit St. Columba. Here, he remained for some time, and he lived with this latter holy Abbot. When Colman wished to return again to his own country, he asked Columba, how he should live there, not being able to confess his sins to the holy Abbot. St. Columba said, "Go to that pious man, whom I see standing among the Angels and before the tribunal of Christ, on each Sunday night." The holy youth asked, who and what sort of man he was. St. Columba answered, "There is a certain saintly and handsome man, in your part of the country, whose complexion is florid, whose eyes are brightly sparkling, and whose white locks of hair are thinly scattered on his head." The young man then said, "I know of no man answering to this description, in my country, except St. Fintan." Then St. Columba joyfully said to him: "He it is, my son, whom I see before the tribunal of Christ, as I have already told you. Go to him, for he is a good shepherd of Christ's flock, and he shall bring many souls with him to the kingdom of God.” St. Colman or Columbanus — as he is here called — having received permission to revisit Ireland, and having the benediction of St. Columba, afterwards set out for his own country. Coming to St. Fintan, Columban told him all that the saintly Abbot of Iona had said. The holy old man, Fintan, hearing these words, blushed deeply, so that his face seemed as if on fire. He told the young man to be careful and not to relate these circumstances to any other person, at least, during his own lifetime. This condition imposed a great restraint on Colman; for, St. Fintan, shortly after their interview, departed this life.
From the foregoing account, we may infer, that St. Colman, after his return from Iona, was still a young man, who had probably learned the rudiments of monastic discipline, under that great master of a spiritual life, St. Columkille. The date regarding St. Fintan's death is questioned. Colgan says, he died long before the close of the sixth century, and allows him to have flourished in the year 560; while Dr. Lanigan maintains it as probable, that he reached the age of about seventy, thus departing towards the year 595, or two years before the death of St. Columkille, in 597. It seems evident, that St. Colman must have commenced the foundation of a religious establishment, at Oughaval, shortly before or after the death of St. Fintan; unless we admit Dr. Lanigan's other conjecture. This historian thinks it more probable, the bishop Columbanus, mentioned in St. Fintan's Life, was a different person from the Leinster bishop, Columbanus Mac-loigse. He admits, however, that the term juvenus may be applied to a person near thirty years of age, and that Colman or Columbanus might have became a bishop, soon after the death of St. Fintan. Again, he may have died not long afterwards; that is to say, before the death of St. Columkille, Abbot of Iona. Our saint is called a Leinster Bishop, by Cumineus, and by Adamnan; and not a Bishop of Lagena, in Lagenia, as Mabillon misapprehends. Nor must we confound him with another visitor of St. Columba, and who was named Columbanus, son of Beognai. The present holy man was surnamed Mocu-Loigse, owing to his having been descended from the family of a prince, named Laigis. From him was derived the name of Leix, a large district of Leinster. There, St. Columban was bishop, and at place, called Tulach-mac-Comguile. A certain Columbanus is mentioned, with others, who made Scotland famous, for their holy lives, good example, and solid learning. This was sufficient to cause David Camerarius, to enrol him a Saint and Bishop, in his Menology, as the Bollandists remark, when setting a Feast for him, at this day. It seems probable, he may have been confounded, with the present holy man; however, on this matter, we cannot presume to offer any safe opinion. Unwilling to admit an Irish name, Dempster perverts Lageniensis into Longinensis; while he states, that the place was unknown, and that the day for St. Columbanus adtus was uncertain, being known only to God. The Scottish writer in question has treated Columbanus' Acts and memory, in his familiar style of fiction and of imagination. Colgan takes him severely to task, for his misstatements, regarding that saint, and then he proceeds to examine and to produce reasons, for the information of his readers, that so they may be enabled to judge for themselves, concerning the amount of credit due to such falsehoods. No insuperable difficulty exists, in resolving that religious young man, named Columbanus from the province of Leinster, as mentioned in the Acts of St. Fintan, into Columbanus bishop in Leinster, as found in Adamnan's Life of St. Columba. The recollection, that Leix is given, as the common country, and Columkille, as a contemporary, with the person named in either record, prevents us doubting much the identity of one and the same Columbanus. He was yet a comparatively young man, not much — if at all — exceeding thirty years of age. Admitting the supposition, it is therefore probable, that soon after Columban or Colman returned from Iona, he selected Nuachcongbail, as a site for his church. Shortly afterwards, it is probable, he was constituted a chorepiscopus or a rural bishop. The exact site for this place of settlement was at Ougheval, a townland within the parish of Stradbally, in the eastern part of the Queen's County. That church was built, also, within the ancient territory of Leix, and in the province of Leinster. The old graveyard in which Colman's church once stood, is even yet, a favourite place for interment. Oughaval is universally pronounced Ochval — but written Oakvale — in the neighbourhood. It is quite possible, that some portions of St. Columban's old church remain there; but, if so, only the foundations can lay claim, to very remote antiquity. An extraordinary pile of rubble-stone building, intended to represent an old ruined church or a monastery, now occupies the site of a medieval structure, which served for parochial services, down to the seventeenth century. It was erected by Pole Cosby, Esq., about the beginning of the last century, to serve for a family place of interment. A crypt is beneath; and, it rests on a rock-foundation. The subsoil of this cemetery is naturally a dry mould, covering a fine limestone formation. The coffins of the dead are long preserved from total decay, while the decomposition of corpses proceeds rather slowly. On the west side of this churchyard, few corpses are interred, except those of unbaptized infants. A low wall, surmounting a deep and almost circular fosse, once surrounded the graveyard; but, this has been completely obliterated, within the past few years. The burial-ground itself was considerably elevated, above the level of adjoining fields. It is possible, St. Colman combined the episcopal with the abbatial functions, at Oughaval; but, regarding this matter, we have no certain record. 

It is most probable, that he did not attain an advanced age, as he died before St. Columkille, and previous to the close of the sixth century. In Adamnan's Life of the great Abbot of Iona, he gives an account, regarding that vision of blessed Angels, who had conducted the soul of the holy bishop Columban Mocu Loigse to Heaven. There, it is stated, that on the morning of a certain day, while the monks of Iona were putting on their shoes, to engage in various labours of the monastery, St. Columkille had resolved, that it should be observed as a holiday, and that preparations should be made, for offering up the "Clean Oblation." That holy Abbot likewise ordered some addition to their breakfast, as on a Sunday. "And, to-day," said he, "however unworthy I may be, it behoves me to celebrate the mysteries of the Holy Eucharist, through veneration for the spirit of Him, who hath ascended beyond the starry vault of Heaven into Paradise, during the past night, being borne thither among holy choirs of Angels. In obedience to orders received from the saint, his monks spent the day as one of rest; and, having prepared everything for a celebration of the Divine Mysteries, with white vestments, as if it were a solemn festival, they proceeded with their Abbot to the church. But, it happened, that while the usual prayer had been chaunted, during the  progress of the holy offices, and in a measured strain, St. Martin's name was commemorated. On a sudden the holy Abbot called to his choristers, and said: "To-day you should sing for the holy bishop Columbanus," when they had come to the aforesaid name of St. Martin. The nature of this commemoration we learn, from an ancient Liturgy, and from a form prescribed by St. Aurelianus;, for the church of Arles. According to the Rev. Dr. Reeves, St. Columba seems to have composed on the spot a proper Preface for the occasion and thus, in virtue of his abbatial authority, to have instituted a festival for the church of Hy, in commemoration of the bishop's death. St. Martin was held in special veneration, by the Irish; and, therefore, we are not surprised at finding his name on the Missal, then used at Iona. And, after a short interval, certain persons that came from Leinster province to Iona brought an account, how the bishop had died on that very same night, when his departure had been revealed to the holy Abbot. The foregoing account is amplified, from the ancient Life of St. Columkille, attributed to Cummian. He also calls our saint, Episcopus Lagenensis. Then all the monks understood, that Columbanus, a bishop in Leinster and a dear friend of St. Columkille, had departed to the Lord. We think it probable, the present St. Colman or Columban died, early on the morning of the 15th of May. There can be no doubt, that in former times, this holy man was greatly venerated. The festival of Colman Mac Ua Laigse, or Columbanus Mcocu Laigse, is placed at the 15th of May, by Marianus O'Gorman, and by Charles Maguire. In the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same day, he is commemorated, as Colman, son of Ua Laoighse, of Tulach-mic-Comghaill, in Druimne Togha, i.e., Nua Congbail, in Laoighis of Leinster. There he led a holy life, and passed away to taste the waters of eternal life.

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