Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Saint Fidarle of Rahan, October 1

October 1 is the feastday of Saint Fidarle (Fidairle, Fiodhairle, Fidharleus), an eighth-century abbot of the County Offaly monastery of Rahan. Rahan is the modern spelling of this placename, past variants include Rathen and Raithin. The Irish Raithean translates as 'a ferny place' and the locality was also known in the Irish Annals as Raithin Uí Suanaigh meaning 'the Ferny Land of the O’Swanys'. The O’Swany family were the hereditary successors to St Carthage at the monastery of Rahan from the eighth century onwards. Our saint is a member of this family as the Martyrology of Tallaght, the earliest surviving Irish calendar, makes clear in its recording of his name at this day:

Fidairle húa Suanaig 'descendant of Súanach.'

The later Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman notes not only his family but also that of his monastery:

Fidarle descendant of Suanach, (and) abbot of Rathen.

The 17th-century Martyrology of Donegal adds the recording of the date of Saint Fidarle's repose in the Annals of Ulster:

1. A. KALENDIS OCTOBRIS. 1.

FIODHAIRLE, Ua Suanaigh, Abbot of Raithin. The age of Christ when he went to heaven was 762.

Although no further information on Saint Fidarle as an individual seems to have survived, if you are interested in learning more about the monastery he once governed there is a comprehensive report by the Heritage Service of Offaly County Council available online here. It is richly illustrated with maps, drawings and photographs of the site and brings together the major historical sources in its appendices.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Saint Lassar, Daughter of Lochan, September 30

Last year we remembered the commemoration of a mystery Saint Brigid at the end of September and this year we can remember an equally mysterious Saint Lassar. Canon O'Hanlon records what the Calendars have preserved of her memory:

St. Lassar, daughter of Lochain.

The published Martyrology of Tallagh registers a festival to honor Lassar, daughter of Lochan, at the 30th of September. Somewhat differently is she entered in the Book of Leinster copy. The record of Lassar is also found in the Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, on this day ; the commentator observes that she was daughter to Lochain. The feast of Lassar, daughter of Lochan, is entered in the Martyrology of Donegal at this date.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland

As September 29 is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel I republish a 2009 post from my former blog which provides a brief sketch of the history of the feast in Ireland:

Canon O'Hanlon has a brief account of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland based on the surviving calendar entries for September 29:
In the Church from a very remote date, the Festival of this Head of the Angelic Host had been observed with special solemnity. In Ireland, St. Oengus the Culdee has pronounced a distinguished eulogy on him, at the 29th of September, in the " Feilire", thus translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Leabhar Breacc copy:

" At the fight against the multitudinous
Dragon of our Michael stout, victorious, the
soldier whitesided, hostful, will slay
Wrathful Antichrist."

Allusion is made to his fight with the Dragon and Anti-Christ. The Scholiast has comments which state, that Michael was Prince of the Angels, and that as a soldier he was the champion whose name is explained by 'sicut Deus' in Mount Garganus. In recording his feast at this day, Marianus O'Gorman addresses the Archangel Michael as a powerful intercessor:

"May the great Archangel Michael be a buckler to me against devils to protect my soul!"
I was intrigued by these references to Saint Michael and the battle with the Antichrist and went on to do some further reading on the subject. One of the papers I read posed the question:
The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed an extraordinary increase of interest in the archangel in western Europe. What explains the rapid growth of this cult during the period, especially in the years between 950 and 1050?
The author gives this answer:
1. The militancy of St Michael as a symbol for this turbulent epoch. This development of sacred militancy is unquestionably one of the principal reasons for the popularity of the saint.

2. Another is the increasing prominence given to St Michael as a personal protector of every Christian soul, the angelic cura animarum. Some of this interest stems from the western discovery of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius in the 9th century, with his attention to the hierarchy of spirits and the function of the archangels as messengers. Yet some of it also arises from the Celtic tradition in which during the Middle Ages St Michael was seen as a soulmate, one responsible for conducting each person after death to Judgment. Out of this tradition would come the image of Michael with his scales weighing the souls at Judgment, an image that would later become so prominent on the western facade of Gothic cathedrals.

3. A third aspect of the increasing importance of the archangel in this period is his apocalyptic role. How do we account for the growing interest in the apocalyptic Michael?...
He then looked specifically at the cult of the Archangel in Ireland:
As in so many other aspects of the Christian life of the early Middle Ages, Ireland seems also to have been a harbinger in its early interest in the cult of the apocalyptic Michael. A good example is found in the occurence of the feast of St Michael in 767. A terrifying thunder storm created a wave of panic in which the Irish, convinced the Last Judgment was about to occur, begged the archangel to intercede for them:

'The fair of the clapping of hands [so called] because terrific and horrible signs appeared at the time, which were like unto the signs of the day of judgment, namely great thunder and lightning, so that it was insufferable to all to hear the one and see the other. Fear and horror seized the men of Ireland, so that their religious seniors ordered them to make two fasts, together with fervent prayer and one meal between them, to protect and save them from a pestilence, precisely at Michaelmas. Hence came the Lamhchomart, which was called the fire from heaven' (Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters from the Earliest Period to the year 1616, ed. J O'Donovan, Vol I (Dublin 1851), pp 370-73.) The Annals of Ulster list the event under 771.

The presence of Michael in Ireland seems more manifest in a number of ways in the 10th and early 11th centuries. The archangel was depicted with his scales on a high cross at Monasterboice. He also appears in the concluding portion of the great Irish epic of salvation history, the Saltaird, c.988. In this work of over 8,000 lines, which seems to have served as one of the foundations for the later medieval interest in the Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday, Michael will summon all to the Last Judgment:

'The archangel will call a clear call over the clay of every man, upon Adam's strong seed: all the many will arise". (Lines 8229-32 of the Saltair na Rann).

The growing importance of this archangel for the Irish is additionally confirmed by the fact that sometime in the period between 950 and 1044, the most famous site dedicated to him in Ireland had his name attached to it. The jagged peak jutting 700 feet almost straight up out of the Atlantic twenty miles off the south-west Irish coast became, not simply Skellig, but Skellig Michael.

Daniel Callahan, The Cult of St Michael the Archangel and the "Terrors of the Year 1000" in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050 by Richard Allen Landes, Andrew Gow, David C. Van Meter (Oxford Univ Press US, 2003)181-204.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Saint Dairi the Widow, September 28

September 28 is the feast of the interesting Saint Sinach Mac Dara, whose memory remains fresh among the people of the west coast of Ireland. He shares his feastday with a number of other Irish saints, among them a holy widow called Dairi. In the Irish language the word for a widow baintreach, means literally 'a woman who ploughs', presumably because in the absence of her husband a widow is forced to undertake this arduous work for herself. Not that the Irish female saints were any strangers to hard work on the land, their Lives record that Saint Brigid herded sheep and churned butter and Saint Moninne's community preserved her hoe as a sacred relic long after her death. What the circumstances of Saint Dairi's life were I do not know, Canon O'Hanlon is able to bring us only a notice of her at this date in the Martyrology of Donegal:

St. Dairi, a Holy Widow.

We read in the Martyrology of Donegal that veneration was given to Dairi, a holy Widow, at the 28th of September. In the table, postfixed to this Martyrology, her name and distinctive state is Latinized Daria, Vidua.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Saint Fintan, September 27

September 27 is the commemoration of one of the many Irish saints who bear the name of Fintan (Fionntain). In his account of the saint below, Canon O'Hanlon makes the case for Saint Fintan of Howth and engages in an illustrated discourse on the remaining ruins at this County Dublin site, only to finish up by saying that he doesn't have any evidence that this is the Saint Fintan commemorated today! I find this a charming, if occasionally irritating, feature of Canon O'Hanlon's work and even if we cannot conclude that the Fintan named on the Irish calendars at September 27 is Saint Fintan of Howth, I welcome the opportunity to learn of him.

St. Fionntain, or Fintan.

Nothing particular appears to be known regarding this St. Fionntain, whose name occurs, in the Irish Calendars at this date. The entry of Fintan's feast at the present day is noticed, in a line of Marianus O'Gorman's Irish metrical Festilogy. [It is translated as follows by Dr. Whitley Stokes:" Fintan himself against plunderings."] Among the many holy men having the same name, and without any other designation, it seems difficult to know when and where he lived. On the peninsula of Howth, in the vicinity of Dublin, and at a considerable elevation on the Hill, may be seen the small church or oratory of a St. Fintan. It is supposed to have been formed out of the "survivals" of at least two churches—it may be of more—one of which was of much greater dimensions than the present church, and the other was about the same size as the structure now extant. The present "St. Fintan's" appears to stand partly on the site of that early oratory. An examination of the foundations shows, that they are laid at two levels. Evidence for such conclusions are seemingly afforded, by the peculiar stone dressings of the apertures, such as found in the door, small windows, and interior recesses. There is a gable over the western door, now covered with ivy, but having an ope for a bell in its upper part; while between it and the door-way, there is a recessed circular window. The whole of the interior had been plastered with mortar, and the exterior was dashed; but, both the mortar and the dashing have fallen off, leaving only an indication that the walls had been thus treated. At the western end are traces showing, that the ends of beams resting on the side walls supported a loft, while light was afforded only from the circular window already mentioned.


A short distance from the church is the holy well of St. Fintan, but any tradition of the day when pilgrims resorted to it has not been preserved in the locality to give a possible clue, which might serve for the patron's identification. An ancient cemetery surrounds the oratory, and there are still to be seen several tombs and graves. The scenery around St. Fintan's Oratory has been described and admirably versified in a local legend, which introduces Aideen as the heroine, and records her rest under a remarkable Cromlech, in the adjoining beautiful demesne of Lord Howth. From the simple entry of his name, at this date, we do not feel warranted in connecting the present Fintan with this locality; neither is it established, on any fair grounds, that any other so called had been venerated at Howth. We find Fionntain merely set down in the Martyrology of Donegal, at the 27th of September, and the same notice is in the Irish Calendar, belonging to the Ordnance Survey Records.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Saint Colman of Ros Branduibh, September 26

September 26 is the commemoration of Saint Colman of Lann Elo, author of that wonderful collection of Irish monastic wisdom, The Alphabet of Devotion. This famous saint Colman shares his feast with another lesser-known saint of the same name, Colman of Ros Branduibh, as Canon O'Hanlon explains:

St. Colman, of Ros Branduibh.

We read in the published Martyrology of Tallagh that veneration was given, at the 26th of September, to Colman, of Ruis Branduib... A similar entry is found, at this date, in the Book of Leinster copy. Where Ruis or Ros Branduib was located we cannot ascertain. At the 26th of September, Marianus O'Gorman notices the festival of a second Colman of Ross. In a Manuscript Calendar of Professor Eugene O'Curry, Colman is named, likewise, for this day. There is a Rosbran, in the parish of St. John's, partly in the baronies of Narragh and Reban West, County of Kildare, and partly in the barony of Ballyadams, Queen's County. This is probably the nearest Irish denomination, approaching to Ros Branduibh, which can now be found; but, it is possible, some better identification may be imagined. At this same date, the Martyrology of Donegal records the name Colman, of Ros-Branduibh.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Saint Iomchaidh of Kill Drochoid, September 25

On September 25 we commemorate a northern saint of the Ards peninsula, Iomchaidh of Kill Drochoid. His name appears on the earliest of the Irish calendars, the Martyrology of Tallaght, at this date and the 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman adds 'of Cell droichit in Ard Ulad'. The Anglican scholar bishop, William Reeves, notes the feast of Saint Iomchaidh on the calendar of saints he appended to his work on the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Down, Connor and Dromore, and comments:

Kill Droichid, - 'Church of the Bridge'. Now unknown. There is no river in the Ards deserving a bridge except the Blackstaff which divided the Great and Little Ards. Near this was the chapel of Gransha. (note d, p.380).

The Catholic diocesan historian, Father James O'Laverty, made another suggestion in Volume 1 of his Historical Account of the Diocese of Down and Connor:

In the townland of Lisban there are the remains of an extensive early Christian cemetery; its site is now in part occupied by the house and farmyard of Mr. Patrick M'Grath, into the wall of whose stable is built a stone, on which is inscribed a cross. The graves in that cemetery were lined and covered with flag-stones, and in many of them were found remains of the ferns, on which were cushioned the heads of the dead. This was probably the site of "the chapel of Moyndele," which, with the church of Ardkeen, was valued in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas at ten marks.

There was in the Ards a church called Kil-droichid (the Church of the Bridge), in which the festival of St. Iomchaidh was celebrated on the 25th of September —"Iomchaidh of Cill-droichit in Ard Uladh." There is no river in the Ards which in ancient times would have been spanned by a bridge except, perhaps the Blackstaff, but it is probable that a bridge may have been built over an inlet of Lough Strangford, immediately below the site of this ancient church, in the townland of Lisban, which therefore may, with probability, lay claim to be the Kill-droichid of St. Iomchaidh.

In the townland of Gransha (Grainseach—a grange) was an ancient church, which, as it stood not far from the Blackstaff River, may have been the Kill droichid already referred to...
 (p.424-425).

In his account in Volume 9 of the Lives of the Irish Saints, Canon O'Hanlon can do no more then reprise this information:

St. Iomchaidh, of Kill Drochoid, County or Down.

In the published Martyrology of Tallagh, as also in the Book of Leinster copy, we find the simple entry, Imchad, at the 25th of September. In the Feilire of Marianus O'Gorman, his name, place and feast are entered at the 25th of September. From the name of this Saint's locality, it must be Anglicised, "Church of the Bridge." Doubt exists as to the exact place where this Saint had been venerated, within that peninsula called the Ards of Ulster. There is no river in the Ards, deserving a bridge, except the Blackstaff, which divides the Great and Little Ards. The chapel of Grangia or Gransha, a townland at the south end of Inishargy parish, was situated near the Blackstaff river. The name of Iomchaidh is also entered in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date, as being of Cilldroichit, in Ard Uladh.