ST. CEARA, CIAR, CYRA, CIOR, OR CERA, VIRGIN, PATRONESS OF KILKEARY PARISH, COUNTY OF TIPPERARY.
We find the name of this holy virgin variously written Ceara, Ciar, Cior, Cyra, and Cera in the Irish Menologies. Our national hagiographist, Colgan, has endeavoured to compile acts of this saint for the 5th of January; but it is probable he fell into mistakes during the process. According to his computation, she must have been born sometime about the middle of the sixth century. It seems more likely, however, that her birth took place about or after the commencement of the century succeeding. The father of this holy virgin was named Duibhre. Her origin is derived from the royal race of Conor, King of Ireland. Both in this island and in Scotland many royal and saintly descendants from this monarch flourished. As founders of families and religious houses many of those personages are distinguished.
St. Cera is said to have been a native of Muscraidhe Thire but in what particular part of the present baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond, in Tipperary county, she was born has not transpired. As she grew, however, the fame of her sanctity and miracles became widely known. A miracle having reference to her is introduced by Colgan, in which it is stated, that at the request of St. Brendan, patron of Clonfert, this holy virgin, St. Cera, by her prayers extinguished a pestiferous fire which had broken out in the region of Muscraidhe Thire." Her reputation for piety soon drew many virtuous persons to imitate her example. She was then induced to erect a nunnery, which took the name of Cill Ceire from her. It is now known as Kilkeary, near Nenagh, in the barony of Upper Ormond, county Tipperary. Here she governed a community of nuns, but not so early as the sixth century.
There appears to be no sufficient reason for supposing she lived contemporaneously with St. Brendan of Clonfert; and the story to which allusion has been already made may rest only on popular rumour, or have reference to some other St. Cera. Perhaps, indeed, as we shall see hereafter, she may have lived in the time of a St. Brendan, who was quite a different person; and in the case of homonymous saints, it may often be doubted, if legends prevailing and attributed to one of them may not rather be ascribed to some other, and to a totally distinct person.
Having ruled over her religious establishment in Muscraighe Thire for some time with great prudence and sanctity, Cera found the number of her postulants daily on the increase. She then resolved on seeking another location where she might erect a second house. Accordingly, the holy woman left Kilkeary, in company with some of her religious. She directed her course, it is said, towards Heli, or Ely O'Carroll country - but it would appear she went beyond its bounds to the northern part of the King's County. From St. Fintan Munnu she is said to have obtained the site for a nunnery, and at a place called Tech Telle. It is now known as Tehelly. There St. Fintan Munnu lived; but to St. Cera and to the five nuns who accompanied her he resigned that site. Here she is thought to have remained for some time - afterwards she returned to Kilkeary.
A learned writer supposes St. Cera's establishment was not formed at Kilkeary until after she had left Tech Telle; but for this opinion he assigns no valid reason. At all events, in Kilkeary she spent many years, which were devoted to the exercises of penance and of a holy life. To reconcile his conjecture that St. Cera lived before the death of St. Brendan the Navigator, Colgan maintains that she must have attained the extraordinary age of 120 or 130 years. This holy virgin resigned her pure soul to the Creator on the 5th day of January, a.d. 679,- but another festival to her memory is held on the 16th of October. The following stanza, from the Leabhar Breac copy of the Feilire of St. Oengus, in Irish, at the Nones of January, with its English translation, was obligingly furnished by Mr. O'Longan : —
" The call of Semeoin, the sage,
To Christ of purest form ;
A new transitory gentle sun was
Ciar, the daughter of Duibrea. "
According to this translation, the probable inference to be drawn from the foregoing would be that Ciar lived for a short time only, and yet her virtues shone brightly; while it is right to observe the commentator on this passage seemed to think she lived only a short time before St. Oengus wrote, for in a gloss he thus states: —
"not long since, or short since, she was, i.e., in Cill Chen, in Muscraidhe Thire, and she is of the race of Conaire. "
The Semeoin alluded to in the text was St. Simeon Stylites, venerated at the 5th of January. The "Martyrology of Tallagh," the "Calendar of Cashel," Marianus O'Gorman, and the "Martyrology of Donegal," commemorate a Ceara on both these days. This latter feast, however, may have reference to a different saint of the name, for we find her called Ceara, of Maghascadh. Yet it is expressly stated by Marianus O'Gorman and Charles Maguire that the present St. Cera's body was buried in the Church of Magh-ascadh. It seems doubtful enough if this can be identical with the Church of Kill-chere, where the "Calendar of Cashel" and other authorities state that her remains repose. Some confusion seems to have arisen, for there are different saints of this name represented as having been assigned to various days in our Menologies. It is conjectured by Colgan that the 5th of January must have been her natalis, or the date for St. Cera's death - while the 16th of October must refer to some other commemoration or solemnity, probably to a translation of her relics.
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