Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Saint Bairrfhionn of Druim-Cuilinn, May 21

May 21 is the commemoration of Saint Bairrfhionn, a saint linked in popular tradition to two of the most famous of the Irish saints, Colum Cille and Brendan. For this saint Bairrfhionn is said to have preceded Saint Brendan as a voyager, and to have provided the inspiration for the Navigator of Clonfert. This link obviously touched a chord with Canon O'Hanlon, from whose account the following has been distilled:

ST. BAIRRFHIONN, PATRON OF DRUIM-CUILINN, OR DRUIM-CULLEN, KING'S COUNTY, AND OF CILL-BAIRRFHINN, NOW KILBARRON, COUNTY OF DONEGAL. [SIXTH CENTURY.]

There was a celebrated saint of the sixth century, called Barrindeus, who has a place among the saints of the second rank, in that Catalogue, published by Ussher. Probably he was no other, than Barrfind of Druimm Cuilinn, mentioned in the Metrical Calendar of St. Oengus, at the 21st of May, thus translated into English by Dr. Whitley Stokes:-

''Timothy a marvellous martyr:
a great company of divine wheat :
zealous Colman a leper:
Barrfind of Druimm Cuilinn".

That he was born, somewhat early in the sixth century, seems to be the natural inference drawn, from the pedigree ascribed to him. It is thought, he was identical with a holy man, also called Barind, or Barindan, and Barrfionn, who lived in another part of Ireland. At this date, likewise, the name Barrfinn Droma Cula appears, in the Martyrology of Tallagh. The Bollandists enter in like fashion the feast of Barrinus or Barrindus of Druim-chulin, at the 21st of May. If correct, in his identification with the Barinthus, mentioned in the Acts of Brendan the Navigator, and if a relation to the latter, his name is found, in all the old Lives of that celebrated saint, and he is also known as Barint and Beryne. From the recorded particulars of his pedigree, as furnished by Marianus O'Gorman and Cathald Maguire, we may safely infer, that he was born in the north of Ireland. This holy man is said to have descended from the race of Conall Gulban, son to Niall. His father was Muredoc, son of Eochod. This latter was son to Conall Gulban. Another statement has it, that his father was Muiredacli, son of Fiacha, son to Niall of the Nine Hostages. Didhuat, daughter of Meachar, was his mother. Thus, he was a near relation of the great Columkille, according to the pedigree made out for our saint; although it appears to be difficult to establish the exact degree of consanguinity, owing to the discrepancies of genealogy found in various conflicting accounts. It is said, that St. Bairrfhion was a disciple to the illustrious founder of Iona. If so, this must have been before the latter left Ireland, to settle in Scotland. Bairrfhionn, or Barrind, is said to have flourished, about A.D. 590 ; and, it is probable enough, that he lived at a much earlier period—especially, if he was a contemporary with and related to St. Brendan the Navigator. This is the expressed opinion of Colgan: however, there may be a misconception, regarding the individuality of the St. Barinthus—supposed to be of Kerry—with the holy man here mentioned. The name of our present St. Barind or Barrfionn has been connected with an undoubtedly ancient place, called Druim Cuillin.. St. Columkille founded a church, at this place, in the sixth century. Now, it is mentioned, in Prince O'Donnell's Life of St. Columba, that Barrind was the companion of his journeyings and of his labours. It is probable, St. Columb placed St. Bairrfhionn in charge of this missionary centre, if reliance be had upon statements, regarding his station and rank; although he is not now traditionally remembered, in Druim-Cuilinn. Its topographical meaning is the Ridge or Long Hill of the Holly, It is now known as Drum-Cullin, situated in the south of Eglish, or Fircall Barony, in the King's County. The old church in ruins is still to be seen there; and, it stands on the ancient boundary, between Meath and Munster. .. Here, St. Bairrfionn was Abbot of Druim-cuillin, in the territory of Fearceall, upon the confines of Leinster and Munster.. Even yet, as it appears, the memory of St. Barrfionn has been intertwined with local topography; for, near Drumcullen, there is an eminence called Knockbarron—in Irish Cnoc-Barrind—and it may be Anglicized, " the hill of Barrind." He must have been a person of great importance in his day, thus to have left his name behind in that place, after a lapse of thirteen centuries; and, as we shall see, at a spot far away from the religious house here, his fame is still preserved, in the name of an ancient church and of a parish, much nearer to his native soil.

From Drumcullen St. Barrfionn emigrated, most probably, towards the north of Ireland; and, there he is said to have fixed the site for a religious establishment, of some sort, and in a very retired situation. That place is now known as Kilbarron, "the church of St. Barrind," scarcely three miles distant from Ballyshannon. The greater part of this town is included, within the present parish, which extends along the River Erne, from the vicinity of Belleek to Donegal Bay.

Here, St. Barfhionn, Barrindeus, or Barrinthus, is said to have founded a monastery, during the sixth century. Beside the river called Fuinnseanach, and near the sea, St. Barind dwelt, at a time when St. Columba returned from Seangleann. There, both holy men had a conference. There, too, was miraculously sent from Seangleann the staff of St. Columba. As St. Barind had inspiredly declared it left in that place, and as it fell near them, a fountain of water gushed out at the spot; and afterwards, it was called Bachall Barrinn, Latinized Baculum Barrindi, owing to the miracle which had occurred, as preserved in the local tradition. Kill-Barrind old church is still to be seen, within a parish, now known as Killbarron, in the barony of Tirhugh, and county of Donegal.

Belonging to an early period, and to the second class of Irish Saints, as by many has been thought; St. Barrind is also said to have been the first European discoverer of the American Continent, for, as related in the Acts of St. Brendan, there was a Father Barrindan, who had informed that celebrated navigator, about his own wonderful adventures, while away from Ireland on the great ocean. It is supposed, too, that from Kilbarron, in conjunction with his disciple, Mernoc, St. Barrind sailed off in search of a great western island. This he is supposed to have found, when he landed on the shores of the American Continent. They travelled for fifteen days, before reaching the end of it. Moreover, it is said, that he returned to Ireland, when the glowing descriptions he gave of that distant region induced St. Brendan the Navigator to adventure in the same direction. That western country, in which St. Barrind travelled, is called "a Land of Promise of the Saints," and that which the Lord would grant to successive races " in the latter times". Modern commentators have just reason for referring this prophetic passage to the extraordinary emigration of Irish people and missionaries to America, during the present century.

St. Barrind died, on the 21st of May, and some time, it is thought, before the close of the sixth age. Most probably, his first removal from Drumcullen to Killbarrind may suggest the idea, that he was buried in the latter place, with which his memory appears to have been most associated. Marianus O'Gorman and Cathal Maguire, referring St. Barrindus to both places, has his feast, at the 21st of May. The Martyrology of Donegal mentions, that veneration was given on this day to Bairrfhionn, Bishop of Druim-Cuiliun, and of Cill-Bairrfhinn, to the north of Eas-Ruaidh—now the well-known waterfall designated Assaroe, and a chief feature of interest to all northern tourists... At this date, also, St. Barinnus was venerated in Scotland, together with St. Colman, both Irish saints. An Irish Calendar commemorates Barrfionn Bishop from Druim-Chuilinn, and from Kilbarfinn, near Easruadh to the north. Under the head of Druim Cuilinn, and at the 21st of May, Duald Mac Firbis enters, Bairrfionn bishop. It seems probable, therefore, that this primitive saint exercised the episcopal as well as the abbatial functions, in the ministry in the early Irish Church.

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