Friday, 28 June 2013

Saint Bigsech of Kilbixy, June 28


June 28 is the commemoration of a female saint, Bigsech, who has left her memory in the placename of Kilbixy, County Westmeath, and in the dedication of a holy well. Canon O'Hanlon draws on the work of Irish Ordnance Survey pioneer, John O'Donovan, and of Meath diocesan historian, Dean Anthony Cogan, in his account below. I note that the leper house at this locality, discussed by Father Cogan on page 578 of volume 3 of his The Diocese of Meath: Ancient and Modern, available online here, was dedicated to Saint Brigid. This 2010 newspaper report on the plans to restore the site of Saint Bigsech's church describes our saint as a 'handmaiden of Saint Brigid':

St. Bigesg, Bicsecha, or Bigsech, Virgin, of Kilbixy, County of Westmeath.

The simple entry, Bigsech, Virgin, appears in the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 28th of June. This holy woman is called the daughter of Bressal, and she was a saint of the Hy-Fiachra family. She descended from the race of Fiachra, son to Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin. The place—apparently called after this holy virgin—is written Cill Bigsighe, i.e., "the church of St. Bigseach," and it has been Anglicized into Kilbixy, now a parish, in the barony of Moygoish, in the county of Westmeath. This appears to have become an English town of considerable importance, as Sir Henry Piers, who wrote in 1682, relates. Even then it had decayed. Dr. O'Donovan visited this place in 1837, but he found only a few traces of the ancient town. These consisted of—First, the Leper house, a mere ruin; secondly, the site of the castle, but there were no remains whatever of its walls; thirdly, a moat, which had been surrounded by a circular fosse; and fourthly, the site for a gallows. There was a holy well, near the church, then bearing the name of Tobar Bighsighe, i.e., "the well of St. Bigseach." This saint appears to have had another festival, at the 4th of October. The Rev. Mr. Cogan visited this place on the 4th of August, 1863. Then he found one of the old fonts, belonging to a former church, and stuck in the wall of a donkey-stable, at one of the private entrances to the churchyard. He gives an interesting account of this ancient place. At the same date, the name of this saint occurs in the Martyrology of Donegal, with the designation of Bigsech, Virgin, of Cill-Bigsighe, in Meath.

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