Thursday, 18 December 2014

Saint Maignenn of Kilmainham, December 18

December 18 is the feast of a County Dublin saint, Maignenn (Maignan, Magnenn) whose name is still recalled today in the placename Kilmainham. Saint Maignenn is a fascinating saint whose Vita contains many weird and wonderful episodes which rather shocked some of the 19th-century churchmen who wrote about the lives of the saints. He had, for example, a ram which used to carry his prayer books, as the Martyrology of Donegal explains in its entry for the day:


MAIGHNENN, Bishop and Abbot, of Cill-Maighnenn, near Athcliath. He was of the race of Colla-da-crioch. Sinell, daughter of Cenannan, sister of Old Senchell the saint, was his mother. He had a ram which used to carry his psalter and his prayerbook. There came a certain robber and thief, and stole the ram. Maighnenn, with his thrice nine clerics, went after the robber to his house. The robber denied having stolen the ram by oath on the relics, and on the hand of Maighnenn himself. The ram was cut up in quarters in a hole in the ground, after the robber had eaten what was in his belly. The ram spoke below in the hole. Maighnenn and his thrice nine persons looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God for this miracle. But the robber was deprived of his eyesight, and their strength left his feet and his hands, and he said in a loud voice, "For God's sake," said he, "O Maighnenn, do not deprive me of the light of heaven for the future." When Maighnenn heard the repentance of the sinner, he prayed fervently to God for him, and he recovered his eyesight again, and he was eminent in religion as long as he lived. And the name of God and of Maighnenn was magnified by that miracle.

In his notes to Archdall's Monasticon Hibernicum, the then Bishop of Ossory P.F. Moran lamented "It is a pity that such a ridiculous fable should usurp the place of more authentic history about this holy man." Yet modern scholars would readily recognize a number of hagiographical motifs from this story of the ram and the robber. First, there is the slight done to the saint's honour by the robber, who compounds his sin by swearing his innocence not only on the relics but on the very hand of the saint himself. That cries out for punishment and it is duly delivered as his perjury is exposed by the miraculous cries of the ram. The thief is then deprived of his eyesight, and this is a motif which operates on more than one level, denoting spiritual blindness for example and recalling the encounter between Christ and the blind man in the Scriptures. Then there is the fact that this 'ridiculous fable' is actually a vehicle for conveying the mercy and sanctity of Saint Magnenn whose actions lead to a sinner being turned around and to the name of God being magnified. I think, therefore, that Bishop Moran perhaps missed the point of this hagiographical account with all of its rich symbolism - the three times nine clerics in attendance on the saint, the fact that a beast is subject to his will and the ability of Maignenn to successfully intercede for a sinner such as this - all tell me quite a lot about this holy man and in a much deeper way than 'authentic history' might have done.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Saint Crunnmael of Iona, December 17

The Martyrology of Oengus has a beautiful entry for December 17:
17. May Victor's host protect us
after the triumph of a deed of valour,
that we may attain splendid bliss
Jesus, Mary's great Son.
The scholiast's notes, however, point to a number of other saints who may also claim to be commemorated on this day:
17. Victor, i.e. a martyr; and Senchaid of Hui Aeda in Bregia, Lazarus and Moliac, and Crunnmael (abbot) of Iona, and Maedoc son of Mursan here.
The Martyrology of Gorman reads a little differently:

The noble translation of Ignatius : Lazarus and Martha, gentle ones, chaste relatives of Christ : Senchad along with them, my Liacc. Crundmael the vigorous whom I mention, my beautiful Aedoc whom thou entreatest.
whilst the latest of the Martyrologies, that of Donegal, omits the mention of Lazarus in favour of a quartet of Irish saints:

CRUNNMAEL, Abbot of Ia Coluim-cille.
MAEDHOG, son of Mursan.

I found it interesting that the Martyrology of Gorman had identified Lazarus as the biblical Lazarus of Bethany, the man whom Christ raised from the dead after four days in the tomb. I wondered if he had a feast day in his own right and wasn't surprised to see Wikipedia claim that:
No celebration of Saint Lazarus is included on the General Roman Calendar, but his memorial is traditionally celebrated on December 17.
I haven't been able to find out any more about the other Irish saints mentioned on this day, but the succession of the abbots of Iona is mentioned in the sources. The succession at Iona, initially at least, tended to remain within the wider family of Saint Columba. It has been estimated that of the first thirteen successors of Saint Columba, at least ten were related to the family of the founder. Our saint is listed as the tenth abbot of Iona, immediately succeeding Saint Adamnan, Saint Columba's most famous biographer. In an appendix to his 1874 edition of Adamnan's Life of Columba, Irish Anglican Bishop, William Reeves, quotes the Chronicle of Iona:

X. CONAMHAIL, 704-710.
707. Dunchadh principatum Iae tenuit.
710. Conamail mac Failbhi, abbas Iae, pausat.

If I am correct in assuming that this Conamhail is our saint, and his is the only name from the list of abbots which fits, then his abbacy would have taken place at the time when Iona was dealing with the debate on the Paschal Dating Controversy. Indeed, earlier scholars were puzzled by the fact that the annals appear to show that there was more than one person claiming to hold the abbacy of Iona at the same time. In this case Conamhail is listed for the period 704-710, yet in 707 his successor Dunchadh is listed as having already been abbot, and Dunchadh too shares his tenure with other abbots. Nineteenth-century scholars speculated that this may reflect some sort of 'schism' at Iona between those who favoured the Roman Easter dating versus those who did not. Alternatively, or additionally, the split may have concerned dynastic, familial rivalries between various branches of the wider family of Saint Columba and thus led to two different individuals both claiming to be abbot of Iona. Modern scholar Richard Sharpe, however, is not convinced that the evidence is there for any kind of schism, pointing out:
If the situation here were one of different parties recognizing different abbots, it is hard to understand why the annals should enter all of them impartially and without explanation...Rather than conjecture a schism, we should admit that it is impossible to interpret how the abbacy was occupied during this period.
Richard Sharpe, ed and trans, Life of Saint Columba, (Penguin Classics, 1991), 75.

Obviously this is one more area of the history of the Irish Church that would repay further study.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Saint Mo-beóc of Loch Garman, December 16

The Irish calendars agree in commemorating the feast of a Saint Mo-beóc or Bean on December 16. His precise identity though seems to be something of a mystery and the subject of some confusion with that of a later Scottish namesake. The prefix -mo meaning 'my' regularly occurs in the names of Irish saints -Molua, Molaise etc - and indicates an affectionate or diminutive form of a proper name. The Martyrology of Oengus first commemorates a Bishop Valentinus and then:
the feast of my excellent Beóóc,
from lustrous Ard Cainroiss.
The scholiast's notes do not add much:
My-Beóóc, i.e. of Loch Carman. Or my Beóóc of Loch Derg in the north.
The 12th-century Martyrology of Gorman also honours this saint as:
my Pióc a strong ingot(?).
and the notes there add:
from Ard Camrois on the brink of Loch Carman in Húi Cennselaig and from Ross Cain in Cluain Fergaile in Delbna Tire [da locha]
The later Martyrology of Donegal has a fuller entry, but one which only serves to deepen the confusion, as it introduces a Scottish Bishop Beanus of Aberdeen:

MOPHIOG, of Ard-Camrois, on the margin of Loch Carman, in Ui-Ceinnsealaigh ; and of Ros-caoin, in Cluain Fergaile, in Dealbhna of Tir-da-loch.
[Mobheog in Aengus, i.e., Beanus;(see in the Roman Martyrology ; vide Usuard, Molanus,) first bishop of Aberdeen or Ardon, i.e., from Ard, whence the error, as if from Ard-bishop, i.e., from Ard, and from this Abardonensis.]
The translator of the Martyrology adds in a footnote:
The note within brackets is in the later hand. It is intended to account for a supposed error of the Roman Martyrology in styling Beanus bishop of Aberdeen. That Mophiog, Mobheoc, and Beanus, are the same, requires no proof ; but the supposition that espug Arda was read episcopus ab Ardo [ bishop of Ard ], and this then corrupted to episcopus Abardo or Abardonensis, is scarcely admissible. The case is this. Molanus text of Usuardus has, at this day, "In Hybernia, natalis Beani, primi episcopi promotus est." Scotichron. iv. 44. (Vol. i. p. 227, ed. Goodall.) The foundation charter of this church, granted by Malcolm ii., A.D. 1010, "Episcopo Beyn de Morthelach" is preserved in the Register of the Diocese of Aberdeen (vol. i. p. 3, Spalding Club), and though called in question by the able editor, Professor Innes, (Pref. p. xiii.) is, at least, a collateral evidence as to the existence of Bishop Beyn or Beanus in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen. It is to be observed that the St. Beanus or Bean of the Scotch Calendar, whom the Breviary of Aberdeen and Adam King commemorate at the 26th of October, is a different person, being venerated at Fowlis in Stratherne, and probably identical with S.Beoan of Tamhlacht-Menan, who appears in the Irish calendars at the same day. Camerarius correctly assigns "Sanctus Beanus episcopus Murthlacensis dioecesis" to the 16th of December, (De Scotorum Fortitu-l p. 202). See Collections of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Spalding Club) vol. i., p. 142.

Thus it appears that some sort of confusion has entered into the preservation of the memory an Irish saint Beóc commemorated on December 16 with a saint of the same name whose feast fell on October 26 and who was further confounded with an 10th/11th-century Scottish bishop of Aberdeen. The Martyrology of Oengus written about the year 900, of course knows nothing of this later bishop, the scholiast though is uncertain as to the locality in which our saint Beóc may have flourished, although all the calendars have preserved Loch Garman (Co. Wexford). Neither do we know at what date this saint may have flourished.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Saint Mughain of Cluain-Boirenn, December 15

On December 9 we commemorated two of the daughters of Oilill, Feidhealm and Mughain. I mentioned then that Mughain has a second commemoration on December 15, at least in the locality of Cluain-Boirenn, which Pádraig Ó Riain identifies as possibly being modern Cloonburren, County Roscommon. It is only one of a number of localities associated with this holy lady, Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints lists various others, including Kilmoon in County Clare where traditional devotion continued at the holy well up until the early nineteenth century, even though a feast day was no longer remembered for the saint. The Martyrology of Donegal records:

MUGHAIN, Virgin, of Cluain-Boirenn.

whilst the earlier Martyrology of Gorman notes:
15. F. 
Mogain [1] against every great battle. 
[1] a virgin, from Cluain Bairenn.

Reading Professor Ó Riain's research leaves the impression that this holy woman was once an important saintly figure, even if today her reputation is much more obscure.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Saint Cormac, December 14

On December 14 the later Irish calendars commemorate a Saint Cormac, described as a Bishop. The Martyrology of Gorman records his memory in poetic style: 'Cormac be on our behalf for indulgence' with a note adding that he is a bishop. The Martyrology of Donegal records: 'CORBMAC, Bishop, of the race of Eoghan, son of Niall.' Pádraig Ó Riain comments in his Dictionary of Irish Saints that this episcopal holy man belonged to a branch of the Ceinéal Eoghain located on the eastern side of the Inishowen barony of County Donegal. Apart from the commemoration of Bishop Cormac in the calendars on this date, however, nothing else is known of him.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Saint Columb of Terryglass, December 13

December 13 is the feast of a saint known for his ascetic life - Saint Columb of Terryglass, County Tipperary. Saint Columb (also known as Columba or Colman) was a disciple of Saint Finnian of Clonard, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, and features among that elite group known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He was chosen by the 'Tutor of the Saints of Ireland' as the man to give his master the Holy Communion on his deathbed, as the Irish Life of Saint Finnian explains:
2646. Once he sent his pupil, even bishop Senach, to find out what the folk of his school were doing. Different, in sooth, was that at which each of them was found, yet all were good. Colomb, son of Crimthann, was found with his hands stretched forth, and his mind contemplative in God, and birds resting on his hands and on his head. When that was told to Findian he said : ' The hands of that man,' saith he, 'shall give me communion and sacrifice at the ending days.'
And this prophecy was fulfilled in a miraculous fashion:
2769. Now, when it came to the ending days of this holy Findian, his guardian angel sent him to Inis Mac n-Eirc on Luimnech, and brought Colomb, son of Crimhthan [with his gillie], with his book-satchel, on two clouds to Clonard. And Findian received communion and sacrifice from his hand, and sent his spirit to heaven at the end of a hundred and forty years.
Whitley Stokes ed.and trans. Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, (Oxford, 1890).

The Irish Calendars agree in recording Saint Columb's feast on December 13. The entry for today in the early Martyrology of Oengus reads:
13. For the dear multitudinous day,
may they come with many thousands,
Baethan the pious of Cluain,
Colomb the abstinent of Tir (dá glais).
while the later Martyrology of Donegal gives some information on the translation of the saint's relics:
COLUM, of Tir-dá-glas, son of Ninnidh, of the race of Cathaoir Mór, king of Erin, who is of the race of Labhraidh Lorc, son of Ugaine Mór, etc. ; and Mincloth, sister of Caemell, daughter of Ceannfionnan, son of Ceis, son of Lughar, was his mother.
Him Aenghus calls Colum Mac Crimhthainn, and other authors call him Mac Ui Cremhthannain. It was he that gave the sacrifice to Finnen, of Cluain-Eraird ; and he was a disciple of Finnen.
Macaoimhe, of Tir-dá-ghlas, and Odhran brought his relics to Inis Cealtra, as Ciaran of Saighir had foretold in his own Life, chap. 6, and as Mochaemhog had foretold when he was baptizing Odhran.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Saint Finnian of Clonard, December 12

December 12 sees the commemoration of one of our most important Irish fathers of monasticism - Finnian of Clonard, 'tutor of the saints of Ireland'. Below is a paper on the life of Saint Finnian from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record which records what is traditionally known of him. Modern scholars are engaged in a debate as to whether Finnian of Clonard, Uinnau the Briton, Finnian of Moville, Finbarr of Cork and Ninnian of Candida Casa are all one and the same person. In the nineteenth century, however, when this paper was written, all of these saints were viewed as distinct individuals, and the writer brings together some of the stories told of Saint Finnian as founder of Clonard and of the many saints who flourished under his tutelage.


SAINT FINNIAN of Clonard, " Tutor of the Saints of Ireland," lived in the sixth century. He was a native of Leinster ; his birthplace is generally supposed to have been near the present town of New Ross. Saint Finnian was of the race of Ir, and belonged to the Clan na Rudhraidhe. His name appears to be a diminutive of Finn, "white." He was a contemporary of Finnian of Moville, whose name comes next in the list of saints of the second class.

Saint Abban baptized Finnian, and at an early age he was placed under the care of Bishop Fortchern of Trim. With him he remained thirty years. At the end of that period Finnian proceeded to Britain, and settled at Kilmuine or Menevia, where he placed himself under David, Gildas, and Cadoc. David was grandson of an Irish prince, Bracan. He taught St. Aidan of Ferns, was first Bishop of Menevia, and died A.D. 589. Gildas was the author of De Excidio Britannia, according to the Annals of Ulster. He died A.D 570. Cadoc is represented as cousin to St. David, and was a pupil of St. Thaddeus, an Irishman. Saint Finnian is said to have founded three churches in Britain, but they have not been identified. While a monk at the monastery of St. David, Finnian on one occasion was asked to supply the place of oeconomus, or house steward, in the absence of the monk who generally filled that office. Finnian replied that he would be unable to do so, as he was unprovided with the necessary requirements for carrying wood and provisions. His superior having insisted on his undertaking the task, Finnian obeyed, and we read in his life that an angel came to his assistance. What before had seemed an impossibility he was able to accomplish by the aid of this heavenly messenger.

How long Finnian remained at St. David's monastery is uncertain. Lanigan thinks he returned to Ireland about A.D. 520. Before leaving Britain Finnian determined to undertake a journey to Rome, but an angel warned him not to do so, but to return to his own country " Redite ad vestras plebes, Deus enim acceptat intentionem Vestram." Finnian was accompanied to Ireland by several friends, among whom special mention is made of Biteus and Genoc. On his passage to Ireland, says Dr. Lanigan, he stopped a while with his friend Caimin, and landed at the port Kille-Caireni, in Wexford.

Finnian sent messengers to Muiredeach, sovereign of Ky-Kinsellagh, asking permission to enter his territory. The king generously acceded to his request, and came himself to see Finnian, in whose presence Muiredeach prostrated himself on the ground, and promised the saint a site for a monastery. Saint Finnian erected an establishment at Achadh Abhla ; i.e., “Field of the Apple-Tree," which now bears the name Aghowle, or Aghold, in the barony of Shillelagh, County Wicklow. It was anciently called Crosalech. Here St. Finnian resided for sixteen years. At Mughna, County Carlow, he erected another monastery, and is said to have lectured there for seven years on the Sacred Scriptures. It is probably while there that he preached on one occasion in presence of St. Brigid.

We now approach the most important event in St. Finnian's life in his settlement at Clonard, County Meath, which during his lifetime became the most celebrated sanctuary in Ireland for piety and learning. Cluain-Eraird i. e., Erard's Lawn or Meadow is the derivation given by O'Donovan. Erard was a man's name, very common in Ireland, signifying lofty or noble. Again, we find it related in the saint's life that an angel appeared to him directing him as to where he should take up his abode. Saint Finnian entered Clonard repeating the psalm " Haec requies mea in Saeculum Saeculi hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam."

The date of the saint's arrival at Clonard is said to be about A.D. 530. It is a matter of doubt whether St. Finnian was a bishop. The Four Masters simply term him abbot. Such is the title accorded to him in the Martyrology of Donegal and other Irish calendars. Dr. Lanigan seems to think that St. Finnian was only abbot. It is, doubtless, a fact that Clonard was an episcopal see, but it is quite possible that it did not become so till after Finnian's time. His successor at Clonard, St. Seanach, is called bishop by the Four Masters. The school of Clonard in a short time became famous in Ireland. Those great men who were afterward called the Twelve Apostles of Ireland came to seek instruction from Finnian viz., Columba, the two Brendans, Ciaran of Saigher, his namesake of Clonmacnoise, Columb of Tir-da-ghlas, Mobhi Claraineach, Molaish, Canice, and Ruadhan of Lothra. Three thousand scholars are said to have been educated at Clonard during the saint's lifetime, and the holy founder was justly termed "Magister Sanctorum Hiberniae sui temporis." In the Life of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise we read : " In schola sapientissimi magistri Finniani plures Sancti Hibernise erant ;" and in that of St. Columb of Tir-da-ghlas : "Audiens famam S. Finniani Episcopi de Cluain-Eraird, ut Sacram Scripturam addisceret accessit ;" and, lastly, we find it said of St. Ruadhan :"Legens diversas Scripturas et multum proficiens in eis." Colgan enumerates thirty two saints who received instruction from St. Finnian, and bears testimony of the fame of Clonard, where students assembled from various parts of Europe.

Saint Finnian did not permit his multifarious labours in behalf of learning to interfere with his duties towards the needy and afflicted. We read in his life that he was a father to all who sought help from him: " Flebat cum flentibus." "Infirmabatur enim cum infirmis." On a certain occasion a bard named German presented St. Finnian with a beautiful poem, in which many of his virtues were extolled; the bard demanded from the saint not gold or silver, or any worldly substance, but only fertility of produce in his lands. Finnian answered him, and said : "Sing over water the hymn which thou hast composed, and sprinkle the land with that water." The bard did as he was directed, and his land produced abundant fruit.

In the historical tale "The Expedition of the Sons of Carra," published by O' Curry in his MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History, we have a description of St. Finnian's interviews with the three brothers, who had plundered the churches of Connaught. O 'Curry observes that while these tales often contain matter without resemblance to facts, we are not to reject them wholly on that account, but rather make allowance for poetic embellishment, at the same time having good ground for believing that a foundation of truth exists. The story is as follows : -

" Three brothers actuated by an evil spirit plundered the churches of Connaught. In their wicked enterprise they were joined by a band of adventurers as daring as themselves. They commenced by pillaging the Church of Tuam, and never ceased till they had laid waste more than half the churches of the province. When the three brothers arrived at the Church of Clothar, they determined to kill the old man, who was the Airchennech of that place ; he was their grandfather; but he, though suspecting their evil design, treated them with kindness, and assigned to them a comfortable resting-place. Lochan, the eldest of the three brothers, that night had a vision, which alarmed him so much that he became conscience-stricken. He saw represented before him the eternal joys of heaven and the torments of hell. When morning came he acquainted his brothers of what he saw, and like him they felt remorse for their wicked deeds. The brothers Carra sought the pardon and prayers of their grandfather. They took counsel with the old man as to what course they should pursue in order to obtain God's forgiveness and to make reparation for the past. He told them to repair to St. Finnian, the great teacher, and to submit themselves to his spiritual direction. The Ua Carra immediately put off their warlike attire, and donned the garb of pilgrims, and with staves instead of swords hastened to Clonard. At their approach the inhabitants fled, for the fame of their evil deeds had spread far and wide. St. Finnian alone came out to meet them ; the brothers threw themselves on their knees, and besought his friendship and pardon. ' What do you want, said Finnian.' ' We want,' said they, ' to take upon us the habit of religion and penitence, and henceforward to serve God.' ' Your determination is a good one,' said Finnian, ' let us come into the town, where my people are.' They entered the town, and Finnian took counsel with his people respecting the penitents. It was decided that they should be placed for the space of a year under the direction of a certain divinity student, with whom alone they were to converse during that period. The Ua Carra faithfully complied with the mode of life laid out for them, and when the year expired presented themselves before St. Finnian for his benediction. The saint blessed them, saying, ' You cannot restore to life the innocent ecclesiastics whom you have slain, but you can go and repair, and restore as far as is in your power, the churches and other buildings which you have ruined.' The sons of Ua Carra took an affectionate leave of St. Finnian, and as the Church of Tuam was the first which suffered from their plundering, they wished it to be the first that they should restore. They repaired it, and proceeded from place to place, making amends for the injury they had inflicted on the churches of Connaught. Having restored all the churches but one, the Ua Carra returned to St. Finnian, who inquired if they had finished their work. They replied, 'We have repaired all the churches but one.' ' Which is that?'asked Finnian. 'The Church of Ceann Mara (Kinvara),' they said. ' Alas !' said the saint, ' this was the first church you ought to have repaired the church of the holy man Coman ; return now, and repair every damage, you have done to that place.' The brothers obeyed St. Finnian's command, and restored the church. By the advice of St. Coman they built a canoe, and undertook a voyage on the Atlantic Ocean."

Thus far the tale refers to St. Finnian ; the voyage and its results does not come within the scope of this paper.

St. Finnian's mode of life was very austere, his usual food was bread and herbs ; on festival days he allowed himself a little beer or whey ; he slept on the bare grounds, and a stone served him for a pillow.

In his last illness the saint was attended by his former pupil St. Colomb, of Tir-da-Ghlas, who administered to him the Holy Viaticum. The Four Masters record his death A.D. 548; but the year 550 or 551 appears to be the correct date. It is stated in some of our annals that Finnian died of the plague ; there is no doubt that the plague was in Ireland during this period, viz., 548 and 551. In the Chronicon Scotorum, under 551, we read : "A great mortality, i. e., the Chronn Conaill." St. Finnian is enumerated among its victims.

This great saint is commemorated by Oenghus in the following verse :

" A Tower of Gold over the sea,
May he bring help to my soul,
Is Finnian fair, the beloved root
Of the great Cluain-Eraird."

St. Finnian's sister, St. Regnach, was Abbess of Kilreynagh, near the present town of Banagher, King's County.

Hardy, in his Descriptive Catalogue of British History, mentions four lives of St. Finnian: viz., Ex. MS. Salmanticensis (which is given by Colgan) ; MS. Life, Duke of Devonshire ; MS. Trinity College, Dublin, referred to by Bishop Nicholson in his Irish Historical Library ; and MS. Bodleian Library, which begins thus : " Fuit vir nobilia in Hiberniae partibus." (Hardy's Catalogue, p. 128, vol. i., part 1.)

December 12th (the day of his death) is observed as his Feast.


Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 13 (1892), 810-815.