Sunday, 1 March 2015

Saint David and Naas




March 1 is the feast of Saint David, the patron of Wales. Ireland, however, can also claim to have a long tradition of devotion to the Welsh patron and the parish church at Naas, County Kildare, is dedicated to Saint David. As diocesan historian, Father Michael Comerford explains, the dedication can be traced back to the influence of Cambro-Norman settlers, many of whom had links to the Pembrokeshire area:

The parochial church of Naas, since the Norman invasion, has been dedicated to St. David. It is supposed that the present Protestant church occupies the site of the church of the olden time, and that portions of the walls of the ancient structure are built into the modern church. There are strong reasons for judging that the parish church of Naas, in the early Christian era, was dedicated to St. Patrick. The Egerton Tripartite (quoted by Father Shearman), recounting the miracles of our national Apostle makes mention of the Dominica of Naas. This would, in itself, go far to prove that the original church was under the invocation of St. Patrick. Dr. Joyce (Irish Names of Places), would deduce additional proof of this from the fact that the great fair of Naas was (until a few years ago) held on St. Patrick's Day. It is conjectured that William Fitzmaurice, on whom Naas was bestowed by Henry II,, finding the old church of St. Patrick either ruinous or destroyed, rebuilt it, and on the occasion, substituted St. David, the patron of his father's native country, Wales, as the Titular. (Loca Patr).

Rev. M. Comerford, 'Naas: An Historical Sketch', in Transactions of the Ossory Archaeological Society, Vol. II (1880-1883), 111-112.

Canon O'Hanlon, who has a lengthy entry for Saint David in Volume III of his Lives of the Irish Saints, also comments on the link between Saint David and the patronage of Naas, starting with the old parish church and then moving on to the building of the Church of Our Lady and Saint David, which commenced just two years before Catholic Emancipation:

"It was only natural, the ancient Welsh colonists should desire their chief patron, St. David, to be regarded as titular of Naas, in Ireland. Accordingly, at an early period, no doubt, such an honour awaited the church first raised there, to the invocation of this beloved and venerated patron. The site of the old church of St. David, at Naas, is in the centre, and on the east side of the town. It is popularly agreed, that the present walls of this church, with an ancient tower on the south-west end, are repaired portions of the old parochial church of St. David. There were three chantries formerly within it, viz. : that of the Holy Trinity, of St. Mary, and of St. Catherine. The Church of St. David is surrounded by a cemetery, where Catholic families still continue to bury their dead. Some remains of old tombs and armorial bearings, carved in stone, are found within this graveyard enclosure. The soil seems to have accumulated to a considerable height over the foundations, owing chiefly to interments continued for centuries past. No very ancient monuments, however, can be found there at present.

The old parish church, now appropriated and re-modelled for the purposes of Protestant worship, appears to rest on a part only of its original foundations. Near the side walls, traces of extension may be discovered, so as to indicate, that it had probably been cruciform in design. The foundations of one lateral transept are visible. It was known as the Lady Chapel. Another transept probably corresponded with it, on the opposite side, where a poorly-designed porch now extends. Internally, as well as externally, it is an easy matter for the antiquarian and architect to discover alterations, from a much purer type of building. Hardly in any one instance can the more recent modifications be regarded as improvements. The walls are of extreme thickness. The interior contains some tablet memorials, a rich stained glass window, an organ, &c.; but, it is deformed with a cumbersome gallery, high pews, and other unsightly obstructions and designs.

The present building has evidently undergone many alterations. It is near the site of an old castle, which, in a great measure, has been modernized, and at present serves to form a rectorial residence. It is still known as St. David's castle. The adjoining grounds and accessories are ornamental. Not far removed, an endowed grammar school is entered, through the cemetery gate. Where the steeple once stood, a huge unfinished tower was erected, nearly one hundred years since, by an Earl of Mayo. It has within it, on a slab, the following inscription :—" Ruinam invent, Pyramidem reliqui, Mayo." ["I found a ruin,"—the old Catholic erection then in ruins.—"I left this steeple in its place, Mayo." In the tower, is a bell, bearing the following inscription: "Os meum laudabit Dominum in Ecclesia S. Davidis de Naas." ("My mouth shall praise the Lord in the Church of St. David of Naas.") R. P. W. C, 1674.] Some time after the Catholics were deprived of this church, they built another, where the Moat School now is, and which served until the present building was erected.

The first stone of this commodious edifice was laid, August 15th, 1827.This church is dedicated, under the joint patronage of our Lady and of St. David. The church itself is divided into nave and aisles, by two rows of columns, the nave being 30 feet wide, and the aisles 15 feet, each. The total length, from the eastern wall, behind the high altar, to the western wall of the tower, is 138 feet; and, the height of the nave to the ridge plate 52 feet, a good and beautiful proportion. Forty years after the opening, the interior began to be finished. About twenty years after the opening, a steeple, modelled after that of Ewerby, in Lincolnshire, set up in the 14th century, was commenced, and was finished on the last day of the year 1858. It is 200 feet high. The style is what is called the transitional; that is, what prevailed between "the early English" and "the decorated" periods. The tower consists of three stages. The Priory of Great Connell, within a few miles of Naas, was dedicated to our Lady and to St. David. Canons Regular of St. Augustine occupied this religious establishment, and the Prior had a seat in the Upper House. Great Conall was founded by Meyler Fitz-Henry, Lord Justice of Ireland, in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Although St. Kieran of Clonniacnoise seems to have been the first patron saint of Ardnurcher, a parish located partly in the barony of Kilcoursey, but chiefly in that of Moycashel, county of Westmeath; yet, St. David—most likely the present one—has been patron saint for many centuries back, and there is a holy well dedicated to him, at Ballinlaban. It is still much frequented. In Mulrankin parish, county of Wexford, a patron was formerly held, on the 1st of March. Probably this was in honour of St. David. A Ballydavid Townland and Head are to be found, on an extremely remote shore of western Kerry, in the barony of Corkaguiny, not far from the old ruined church, in Kilquane parish".

Canon O'Hanlon concludes with a final reminder that there are good reasons why the Irish people should not hesitate to seek the intercession of the patron of Wales:

"It must always constitute a pleasing and truly Christian state of society,to find international kindness and courtesies, with charitable and religious offices, exchanged between the people of different countries. Such kindly relationship appears to have prevailed, on the part of our Irish ancestors and the Cambro-Britons, except on rare occasions, when ambitious, adventurous, and unprincipled leaders conducted marauding expeditions, against those exposed to their predatory incursions. The bad passions of men, thus mutually excited, led oftentimes to bloody reprisals. Nor can we doubt, but the period and contemporaries of St. David witnessed many of those devastating raids. Yet, it is consoling to find, that the holy men of Hibernia and Cambria maintained an intimacy, strengthened by bonds of mutual friendship and religious associations, even from opposite shores. Intercommunication by sea voyages brought Menevia within easy reach of Irish students, many of whom were proud to acknowledge St. David as their master in sacred and secular learning. Again, the schools of Ireland were not less celebrated, about the same time, and had been resorted to by numbers of Cambro-Britons, who spent precious years in the acquisition of similar knowledge.We have already seen, that several renowned Irish ecclesiastics are specially named, as having sought the companionship and guidance of holy David. Some of their Acts are recorded, in connexion with him, and these even serve to illustrate his biography. Encouraged by his example and emulating his piety, while cultivating their natural mental faculties. Almighty God was pleased to reserve them for a career of further usefulness, when returning once more to their native Isle beyond the waves. Hence, in life, St. David was honoured and venerated by some of our most distinguished saints, and it is only just, therefore, when he has passed from life to the happiness of immortality, that in our Island, as within his specially privileged principality, the name of this great and good bishop should be well remembered and invoked. Through his ministry, blessings descended on our forefathers, and so may his protection secure other spiritual favours for those people, who have adopted him as their special patron".

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Prayer to Saint Odhran

February 19 is the commemoration of Saint Odhran, whom tradition remembers as Saint Patrick's charioteer and as a martyr who sacrificed his life for his master. Below is a prayer to Saint Odhran, taken from the 1941 edition of the Catholic prayerbook, Saint Anthony's Treasury. The prayer to Saint Odhran sounds like a product of the 19th-century nationalist revival, there is a strong emphasis on the land of Ireland but combined with an appreciation of the saint's heroism and a desire that his 'noble sacrifice' should not be forgotten:

Prayer to St. Odran

(St. Patrick's Charioteer)


(Who gave his own life to save that of his master)

Blessed Saint Odran, faithful and loyal to God and man! you whose name is almost forgotten by those who owe you an everlasting debt of gratitude, accept our poor thanksgiving, offered in the name of all Ireland, for your noble sacrifice of your life to save that of Ireland's Apostle. You had toiled in his service long and devotedly; you had learned what priceless service he could render to God and the Irish land and, when the moment came when he or you should die, by pagan hands, quickly and resolutely you laid down your life, that your master might live and labour for the Divine Master of all.

By your crown of martyrdom so gloriously won, by your centuries of endless peace and joy, we beseech you to look down on the toiling sons of Ireland and on those who try to guide them to their eternal rest. Look down on us all, O blessed Saint! for the love of him whose heart burned with love for Ireland, and pray that the blessing of the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Ghost - may descend on us and remain with us for ever. Amen.

St. Anthony's Treasury - A Manual of Devotions (Anthonian Press, Dublin, 12th edition, 1941), 285-286.

Saint Nuad of Armagh, 19 February



A ninth-century Archbishop of Armagh, Saint Nuad (Nuada or Nodtat), is commemorated on February 19. Canon O'Hanlon records:

St. Nuad, St. Nuada or Nodtat, Archbishop of Armagh

[Eighth and Ninth Centuries.]

At the 19th of February, Colgan and the Bollandists have entered some biographical notices of this holy archbishop, who enjoyed the supreme ecclesiastical dignity in Ireland for a brief period. Nodtat or Nuada, bishop, is mentioned in the Martyrologies of Tallagh, of Marianus O'Gorman, and of Donegal, on this day. He was at first a monk, and also an anchorite. From this state of life, and even against his own will, he had been promoted to the abbatial, and thence translated to the archiepiscopal dignity. His birth-place or residence is said to have been situated at Lough Uama. This signifies the "lake of the cave," the water being said to rise out of a cavern, and the position is also assigned to Breiffny. Here, it is thought, he led the life of an anchoret. The lough, to which allusion has been made, was in the present county of Leitrim. It sometimes flowed back into that cave, whence it issued ; and, the people living on its borders especially believed, that this was an indication of the Dynast's approaching death, or that of his children. Ancient Breffny comprehended the present counties of Cavan and of Leitrim. It was divided into Upper and Lower, or East and West Brefiny. In the latter division, called Brefiny Hy-Ruairc, our saint must have lived, until he was called to a higher dignity, on the death of St. Torbach Mac Gorman. This event took place, on the 16th of July, A.D. 812. Archbishop Nuad visited Connaught, A.D. 810 or 815; and, he is there reported, to have made a reformation of some abuses, which had crept into the churches. The Catalogue of the Armagh Primates allows three complete years, for the presidency of Nuad ; but, these must be understood, with the addition of some months, reckoning from the death of Torbach, on the 16th of July, A.D. 812, to the 19th of February, A.D. 816. Other authorities, however, place his demise before this date, viz., at the year 811 or 812. Under the year 811, this passage occurs in the Annals of Ulster, "Nuad of Loch-Huama, bishop, anchorite, and Abbot of Armagh, fell asleep."

Lanigan's Ecclesiastical History of Ireland says that 'in 811 Nuad made a visitation of some part of Connaught and on that occasion relieved some churches there from an annual offering, which used to be made to that of Armagh' (Vol 3, p.252).

The Ancient List of the Coarbs of Patrick lists Nuada as the 33rd holder of the episcopal see of Armagh.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Saint Ossan of Rathossain, February 17

17 February is a date on which many saints are commemorated in the Irish calendars of whom Saint Ossan of Rathossain in County Meath is one of the lesser-known . In O'Hanlon's account below I find it curious that there are supposed to be two different saints of this name commemorated on the same day, but the earlier, Patrician saint is not as well-attested as the seventh-century Ossan whose repose is recorded in various Irish Annals.

St. Ossan, Bishop of Rathossain, County of Meath. [Seventh Century.]

Colgan has some notices, regarding this saint, at the 17th of February. He was born, most probably about, or after, the beginning of the seventh century. According to Duald Mac Firbis, we find a Bishop Ossan, from Rath-Ossain, to the west of Ath Truim. It is thought,that he died on the 17th of February, A.D. 686. He is considered to have lived, at a period, somewhat earlier, than another homonymous saint venerated here, and on the same day. Colgan thinks, that a St. Ossan, at or near Trim, is alluded to, as one of the makers of sacred vessels for St. Patrick, under the name of Essa. Yet, this is clearly irreconcilable with chronology. However this be, Ossan, Bishop, is the only mention made of him, in the Martyrology of Tallagh. The Martyrologist, Marianus O'Gorman, calls him "candidus." In a moral sense, this word indicates his character for intergrity or innocence. If it refer to his physical appearance, we may assume that he was a man of clear or fair complexion. We read, as entered in the Martyrology of Donegal, on this day, Ossan, Bishop, of Rath Ossian. His place is particularly pointed out, as being near the western gate of the ancient borough or city of Trim. The " Annals of the Four Masters " place his death at A.D. 685, while calling him Bishop of Mainistir, or "of the Monastery." The "Annals of Ulster" have his demise at A.D. 686.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Saint Forannan of Clonard, February 12

February 12 sees the feast of an eighth-century abbot at the monastery of Clonard, County Meath - Saint Forannan. O'Hanlon has a brief entry on what is known of him:
St. Forannan, Abbot of Clonard, County of Meath.
[Eighth Century.]

We read on this day, in the Martyrology of Donegal, that Forannan, Abbot of Cluain Eraird, was venerated. He is said, also, to have been Abbot of Kildare, and to have died, on the 12th of February, A.D. 740, according to the Annals of the Four Masters,- or according to those of Ulster, A.D. 744.

In his diocesan history of Meath, Anglican rector John Healy recorded something of the context for the lives of the successors to Saint Finian:
The establishment at Clonard continued to exist down to the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. It produced a long succession of men who were eminent in their day, but whose names now sound unfamiliar — such is the evanescent character of all human greatness. The annalists for the most part record for us simply their parentage and their decease. Sometimes, however, they give us small details that make us wish that they had not been so concise in all their statements, but had given us some particulars of the lives of these remarkable men . Thus they tell us of Bishop Tola, who was " a worthy soldier of Christ," and of Faelgus, who was " a wise man of Clonard." They tell of Suairleach, " bishop, anchorite, and abbot of Clonard, doctor in divinity and in spiritual wisdom, in piety and good deeds, so that his name spread over all Ireland : " and
yet again of Ruman the amiable, a bishop who was " a shrine of wisdom, illustrious, acute, a man of virgin purity," and " loved by the hosts of the assembled people." Then we have Colman, the " wise doctor," and Maelmochta, " the head of the piety and wisdom of Ireland ; " Tuathal, the bishop, who " died after a good life," and Oengus, lord of Laeghaire, who, after a life of turmoil, retired to spend at Clonard his declining days, but was followed thither by his foes, and slain by the lord of Delvin. Such entries suggest many thoughts, but it is left to the imagination to fill in the picture. They tell, however, that the place was the abode of learning and piety, where good and learned men served their generation by the will of God.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Saint Gobnait of Ballyvourney, February 11

February 11 is the feastday of Saint Gobnait (Gobnet, Gobnata) of Ballyvourney. A previous post on her life can be found here. Below is a charming account of the saint and her locality, taken from the pioneering work on Irish pilgrimage by Daphne Pochin-Mould:

St. Gobnet is one of many early Irish saints about whom there is no written record, only a continuing and deep love and devotion amongst the people of the countryside that she had travelled, and a handful of traditional stories. Her connection with St. Abban puts her in the 6th century but there is no further definition to be had about her dates. She was on the Aran Islands and founded a church there and the islanders still honour her on her day, February 11th. The tradition is that she came seeking shelter on the islands from some enemy in Co. Clare. But she was not to remain there permanently, for an angel appeared and told her that that she must go and seek a place where nine white deer were grazing. There she would found a convent and settle permanently, there she would die and there would be, in the Irish phrase, the ‘place of her resurrection’.

So Gobnet went back to the mainland and travelled over southern Ireland seeking the white deer. There are a number of old Celtic church sites and holy wells bearing her name, and most of these still seem to be venerated and visited. They include a site at Dungarvan, in Co. Waterford, and at Ballyagran near Charleville, the Kerry sites of Dunquin, looking out to the Blasket Islands, and of Cahirciveen. Not till she came to Clondrohid in Co. Cork did she meet any deer, but there she found three white ones grazing. Here is a special stone still venerated in her name, Cloch Ghobnatan, Gobnet’s stone, and it is traditional to carry a coffin deiseal once round this before the burial takes place. Next the saint met six white deer, at Ballymakeera, the next hamlet to Ballyvourney; finally at the latter place she found the full complement of deer.

St. Gobnet’s little settlement is in a place where one might indeed expect to find nine white deer grazing. The River Sullane, a tributary of the Cork Lee, takes origin in the moorland and rock of the Derrynasaggart mountains, flowing from them into a deep but spacious valley, its flanks checkered with fields, broken with woodland and coppice. Even today one can realize the kind of place it was in the 6th century, little fields amongst trees and grassy stretches of sunlit turf amongst the woods of birch and hazel and oak, where one would come upon deer grazing peacefully. Gobnet’s convent was high up on the slope of the valley, set well above the river, amongst this bosky country where the rock begins to show through the grass, and the fields end against moor and wood; from it there is a great outlook down the river valley.

There are some pleasant traditions about St. Gobnet and her nuns at Ballyvourney. How a robber tried to build a castle in the glen and how Gobnet resisted him, throwing a stone ball at his constructions as soon as he had begun them and knocking them down. The ball returned to Gobnet of itself; eventually the man tired of his fruitless labour and went away; but the miraculous stone ball is still venerated at Ballyvourney, preserved in a niche in the wall of the old church. Again, another robber came to drive off all the Ballyvourney people’s cattle. St. Gobnet was a great bee-keeper; she turned the bees onto him and he, not unnaturally, fled, leaving behind his prey of beasts. One account makes the rather unnecessary addition of each bee turning into an armed soldier for the attack. St. Gobnet is always represented in art with her bee skip, or beachaire.

The saint also stopped the plague spreading into the district, by her prayers; when illness did come she was a good nurse. One of her nuns was sick and Gobnet took her to a sequestered glen to recover, praying God that no noise or disturbance would worry the nun. Ever since not even the loudest thunder has been heard in this place. The saint was also noted for her kindness and generosity to the poor; when she was very young she was taking meat to give to the poor. She met her father, who objected violently to these practices, and demanded to know what she was carrying. She was forced to produce her basket, but it was full of flowers into which the meat had been miraculously changed.

Out of the traditions something emerges; the little community of women on the hillside, with their bees and their garden and a little farm; Gobnet helping the Ballyvourney people and curing their sicknesses. The convent is no longer there but the saint’s help remains, and to ask her assistance the crowds still come both on February 11th and on Whitsunday, when a second big pilgrimage takes place…..

D.D.C. Pochin Mould, Irish Pilgrimage (Dublin, 1955), 93- 95.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Saint Airennan of Tallagh, February 10

Below is an account of a saint commemorated on this day, Airennan, a successor at the monastery of Tallagh to its founder Maelruain. Canon O'Hanlon tells us what is known of him and speculates that Saint Airennan may even have been known to Saint Oengus the Martyrologist himself. He also refers to the confusion between our saint and the famous sapiens of Clonard, Saint Aireran, whose feast day falls in December, but both appear to be distinct learned holy men:

St. Airennan, Bishop of Tallagh, County of Dublin.

[Eighth Century.]

The Martyrology of Tallagh enters Airendan, Bishop of Tallaghta, at the 10th of February, and in the Martyrology of Donegal, we find entered, on this day, the name of Airennan, Bishop of Tamhlacht, now Tallagh, in the county of Dublin. He was born, most probably, during the earlier part of the eighth century; and, it is also likely, that he made his religious profession at, or soon after, the foundation of Tallagh, in the year 769. Under the head of Tamlacht, Duald Mac Firbis places Airennan, or Erennan, Bishop of Tamlacht, at February 10th. In the Dublin extracts, belonging to the Irish Ordnance Survey, and at the same date, in the Irish Calendar, we have this holy man's name occurring, as connected with Tamlacht. This, too, agrees with Ward's statement. As St. Melruan, the founder died, A.D. 787, or recte 792 the promotion of St. Airennan must be deferred to a subsequent period; and, accordingly, we find his death announced as Airfhindan, Abbot of Tamhlacht-Maeleruain (Tallaght), at A.D. 798, or recte 803. He therefore seems to have been the immediate successor of St. Melruan, whom he survived in office, only for a few years. He must, also, have been the companion of St. Oengus the Culdee, at Tallagh. In our calendars, we find the name of a St. Aireran, also called Aileran, surnamed "the Wise," Abbot of Clonard. The present saint's name is not very dissimilar. He is also known as Airenan, and called " the Wise." " He appears to have exercised the duties of a bishop, in addition to those of abbot. So far as we know, he is not distinguished as a writer.