Sunday, 26 May 2013

Saint Becan of Cluain-Aird-Mobecog, May 26


May 26 is the commemoration of Saint Becan, a County Tipperary saint known not only from the record of his own Life, but also that of Saint Abban. In his account of the saint in Volume 5 of his Lives of the Irish Saints , Canon O'Hanlon attempts to identify the locality in which this holy monastic flourished and demonstrates the role which placename evidence plays in this process. As you will see in his account below he comes up with three distinct strands of tradition relating to Saint Becan, one connected with the Life of Saint Abban, another connected with Saint Colum Cille and a third relating to King Diarmaid. I wondered therefore if there may be more than one Saint Becan whose lives have been conflated here and a check with the new reference work A Dictionary of Irish Saints by Pádraig Ó Riain confirmed this suspicion. Becan of Toureen, County Tipperary shares his May 26 feast with the County Wicklow Becan, to whom the Columban association belongs. The Becan who restored the King's son to life is Becan of Emlagh, County Meath, whose feast is on April 5. So, today's saint is Becan of Toureen, County Tipperary, formerly Cluain-Aird-Mobecog who is a different individual both from Becan of Churchtown, formerly Stagonnell, County Wicklow and from Becan, son of Cúla, who performed the miracle associated with King Diarmaid. In Canon O'Hanlon's account below, however, we will meet all three:

ST BECAN OF CLUAIN-AIRD-MOBECOG, IN MUSCRAIGE BREOGHAIN, COUNTY OF TIPPERARY, OR OF TIGH-CHONAILL, NOW STAGONNELL, IN UI-BRIUN CUALANN, COUNTY OF WICKLOW.
[SIXTH CENTURY.]

IT is to be deplored, that so many literary memorials of the past have perished, and thus deprived us of information, it should now be so desirable to collect. Among these, seems to have been included the Life of this present holy man; for, we find it on record, that it had once existed. He flourished at an early period, since he is mentioned with eulogy, in the Metrical Calendar of St. Oengus the Culdee. The Acts of St. Becan were promised by Colgan for the 26th of May; but, he did not live to carry out such a purpose. The Bollandists notice Becanus of Cluain-aird, at this same date; however, they only give references to the Manuscript Martyrology of Tallagh, and to Colgan's allusions, in the Acts of St. Abban. In the "Felire" of Oengus, and in O'Clery's Irish Calendar, it is stated, that Beccan of Cluain-ard was otherwise called Mobecoc. Another form of his name was Dabhecog. We read of a Becan, son to Eoghan, son to Murchadh, of the race of Fiacha Muillethan, son to Eoghan Mor, son of Oilioll Olum. This genealogy agrees with Rev. Dr. Jeoffrey Keating's account of St. Beacan's stock; although we find, elsewhere, a different pedigree. The scholiast on St. Oengus tells us, that the present St. Becan was the son of Lugaid, son to Tuathan, son of Aed, son to Fergus, son of Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Yet, a somewhat different genealogy is made out for him, at the 26th March, where he is called the brother of St. Corbmac. St. Becan, as we read, was the son of Eugene, son of Marchad, son of Muredach, son of Diermit, son of Eugene, son of Alild Flanbeg, son of Fiach Muillethain, son to Eugene the Great, who was son to Alild Olum.

Notwithstanding, what has been thus related of his pedigree, the "Sanctilogium Genealogicum" states, that this saint was a son, not of Eugene, but of Marchad; and, it then gives his genealogy, in the order related, as deduced from a Life of St. Corbmac, one of St. Becan's brothers. Our saint had four brothers, who were sons of the same father, and they are thus named—St. Culan, St. Enuines, or Euinus, St. Diermit, and St. Boedan, or Baitan. Two of these saints sought a happy retirement from worldly concerns, in the province of Connaught; one of them dwelt in Leinster; and the other in Ulster; while our saint, with his brother Culan, remained in their native province of Munster, where these became devoted to the practices of a religious life. This saint was brother of Cuimin a hermit, according to the title of an Epistle. He was a recluse in Hy, as we learn in the Table, postfixed to the Martyrology of Donegal. In the Life of St. Abban, it is stated, that on one occasion, he visited the northern part of that country, where the mountain called Crott was situated. It is now known too as Mount Grud, in the territory of Muscraighe, at present Anglicized Muskerry. A legendary story is told about Diarmaid, King of Ireland, who is said to have killed his son Breasal, in a fit of passion. The king afterwards lapsed into a settled melancholy; and, at last, he sought consolation from St. Columkille, who advised him to visit St. Beacan, then living in a poor cell, on the north side of Mount Grott. Kill-Beacain is also a name for the church of our saint, who is reverenced at this place. When King Diarmaid and St. Columkille arrived there, St. Beacan was engaged digging a ditch to surround the graveyard, and working in his wet clothes, for it was a rainy day. Perceiving that the King of Ireland approached, our saint cried out: "O murderer, down to the ground upon your knees." Instantly, the king dismounted from his horse, and prostrated himself before the saint. Then St. Columkille informed Becan about the object of their visit, and that the king was almost distracted with grief, reflecting on the barbarous deed he had perpetrated. No solace was left him but prayers to heaven, that God would be pleased to pardon the offence and restore his son to life. Then, St. Columkille presumed, that so religious a person would not refuse to intercede for the king, since his life and happiness were immediately concerned. Moved with compassion, St. Becan prayed with great fervour to heaven three different times. As the legend relates, Breasal was restored to life, and presented to his father, who received him with inexpressible joy. Afterwards, the king held our saint in great esteem and veneration, on account of this miracle he had wrought.

In the parish of Killardry, or Killaldriffe, Cluain-ard, meaning "the high lawn" or "meadow," was the ancient name of that place, on which Kilpeacan’s old church now stands… About ten yards west of the church, are the pedestal and lower part of what appears to have been a stone cross. A few perches south-east of the church is Tobar Peacaion, or Peacawn's well, having a circular ring of stone work surrounding it. Several scattered fragments of flags, evidently tombstones, are in the north-west corner of this church. A few yards from the south-east corner and towards the east, a few stones, fixed in the ground and having the western edge cut or hammered, are called by the people " the Altar. It has an associated legend. Before the year 1830, pilgrims used to visit Peacawn's church from places several miles distant. The patron day here was kept, on the 1st of August, as a strict holy day by the people, and devotions were performed, also, on Good Friday. From an entry, in one of our Irish Calendars, it would seem, that some doubt attaches to the exact habitation of our present saint. The ancient territory of Muscraighe Breoghain is comprised, however, in the present barony of Clanwilliam, in the south-west of Tipperary County. We learn, that St. Abban had consecrated the church, called Cill-Bhecain, in Muscraighe-Chuirc, on the north side of Siiabh gCrot, during the reign of Diarmada Mac Fearghusa Ceirbheoil. There, it is said, a great and most regular monastery was established, by St. Abban; and, it went by the name of Cluain-aird-Mobhegoc or Mobecoc, having been called after the present St. Becan, who was venerated, at that place, on the 26th of May. There St. Abban, also, as we are told, founded the monastery of Cluain Findglaise. However—according to another and probably a more reliable authority— Cluain-aird-Mobecoc was built by St. Becanus, and over it he ruled; while, it was called the monastery of Killbecain, after him. Even, the compiler of St. Abban's Life seems to have had some idea of this statement; since it is allowed, that St. Becan resided there until death. The Life of St. Abban states, that Abban himself blessed a church at Cluain-aird Mobecoc, and that he left Becan in it, and that he left the office of the holy Church, in every church which he blessed.

However this may be explained, at Cluain-aird-Mobecoc St. Becan was known as a most holy and religious recluse. We are told, that he lived contemporaneously with St. Columkille and with King Diarmit, son of Cervail. Consequently, we may infer, that he flourished in the sixth century. His whole lifetime was spent in a most penitential manner. He frequently fasted for three whole days. His nights were spent in watching, and his days in constant prayer. With tears, and on bended knees, St. Beccan bewailed his supposed manifold imperfections. He erected a stone cross, in the open air, and outside of his monastery. Whether cold or warm, stormy or serene, each day he sang the entire Psalter, beside that cross; on which account, it was afterwards held in great popular veneration. This place was also called, Ceall na nder, or "the cell of tears," by many; on account of penitential tears shed by persons, seeking God's mercies, through the intercession of St. Becan. It would appear, also, from O'Clery's Irish Calendar, that this place had been situated, within the ancient territory of Muscraighe Breogain, which now forms part of Muskerry Barony, in Cork County. Among the landed denominations of the O'Donovan property, at Montpelier, which were furnished to the Irish Ordnance Survey Department, and all of which are in the East Division of West Carberry barony, and county of Cork, we see the names of Loughrott, Upper Loughrott, alias Crott, in the parish of Dromdalyege. The writer is unable to state, if these etymons formed any part of the Mountain Crott alluded to; nor, on the modern maps does it seem easy to identify that place, formerly called Cluain-aird-Mobhegoc, or Kilbeacan.

The author of St. Abban's Life appears to have visited the monastery of Becan; for, this writer says, he could confidently assert, he never heard of a more religious community than that of our saint, nor did he ever see a mere beautiful and regular monastery. In the Life of Abban published by Colgan, there is a glowing eulogy pronounced on this saint Becan, or Mobecoc. Twice do we find the entry of the death of Beccan of Cluain-Iraird or Ard, in the Annals of the Four Masters. The first entry, at A.D. 687, is evidently a mistake. The second entry, at 689, "Dabhecog, of Cluain-ard, died," agrees with that, in the Annals of Ulster. In the "Feilire" of St. Oengus, at the 26th of May, it is remarked of St. Beccan, that he loved vigils, and Cluain Ard was his house. However, the scholiast in the "Leabhar Breac " copy of this Metrical Martyrology states, that he was of Cluain Mobecoc in Muscraige Breogain in Munster, or at Tech hui Conaill in Hui-Briuin Chualann.

At this date, the published Martyrology of Tallagh simply enters the name, Becan of Cluana aird; but, his name has been associated with another place, and in quite a different province. In the Martyrology of Donegal, we read, that on the 26th of May was venerated, Becan of Cluain-aird Mobecog, in Muscraighe Breoghain, or of Tigh Chonaill, in Ui Brinin Cualann. This territory was called, likewise, Feara Cualann, or Fercuolen, in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and of King James I. Then, it was considered to be coextensive with the manor of Powerscourt, near Bray, in the county of Wicklow; but, anciently, it was more extensive. Its old church is sometimes called Temple Becan, after the present saint. It was also denominated Teghgumnill, or Tigh-Chonaill, and it is now known as Stagonnell, or Stagonil…

In the Irish Martyrology of the Irish Ordnance Survey Office, now preserved in the Royal Irish Academy's Library, there is a notice of this saint, at the 26th of May. At this date, likewise, the Kalendar of Drummond records the veneration entertained for our St. Beccan, even in Scotland. Each day of this saint's life was marked by some miracle, which is found recorded in a very ancient Life, written, it has been supposed, by a contemporary. Most probably, this Life had been composed, at least some little time after his death. It may have abounded in legendary matter, like that found in the acts of many other native saints; but, as a learned French author observes, the traditions of Irish legends comprise within themselves an interest and a charm, which cannot entirely disappear, even when recorded by the least accomplished writer.

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