Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Seven Daughters of Fergus, May 24

Canon O'Hanlon has as his fifth article for May 24 an account of a group of Irish holy women denominated by their patronymic, The Seven Daughters of Fergus. In the Martyrology of Tallaght the daughters are associated with the locality of Inis Cealtra, an island monastery in the west of Ireland which produced a couple of better-known saints, its founder Saint Caimin and the scholarly Saint Coelan, a reputed biographer of Saint Brigid. It is interesting to note that the Daughters of Fergus may have enjoyed a cultus in Scotland as the Seven Maidens of Inverey. Canon O'Hanlon's source, the work on the Scottish calendars by Bishop Forbes, doesn't seem conclusive and left me wondering if the Chapel of Inverey itself had an independent commemoration of the Seven Maidens at May 24, or if Forbes had simply tried to read across the feast from the Martyrology of Tallaght in an attempt to find an identification for these Scottish saints. His account says:

SEVEN MAIDENS.  May 24. - In Braemar is the chapel of the Seven Maidens, at Inverey, where the family of Farquharson bury their dead. - (V.D.A. p. 641.)
In the Martyrology of Tallaght, at this day, we have "Secht ningena Fergusa in Inis Cealtra." In that of Donegal, "The seven daughters of Fergus of Tigh-ingen-Ferghusa".

Alexander Penrose Forbes, D.C.L. Bishop of Brechin, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, (1872), 447. 

His source, V.D.A., View of the Diocese of Aberdeen , confirms only the dedication of the Braemar chapel to the Seven Maidens and its use as a family burying site by the Farquharson family.  The writer of a paper on the Traces of the Cultus of the Nine Maidens in Scotland, is not entirely convinced of the identification of the Inverey chapel with the Irish maidens commemorated on May 24, and states on page 260 that there is 'some doubt' surrounding this claim by Bishop Forbes.

Bishop Forbes was not the only commentator who attempted to identify these holy women, the 17th-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, sought to equate them with a group of seven nuns who assisted at the sixth-century Synod of Drum Ceatt. I'm not sure though that his evidence is any more substantial, but at least it is interesting to note that a group of female monastics were recorded as participants at this Synod.

So, we seem to be faced with a number of conflicting theories about the identity of the Seven Daughters of Fergus:

1. They are, as the Martyrology of Tallaght claims, associated with the locality of Inis Cealtra, the holy island of County Clare.  I was under the impression though that this was a male foundation.

2. They are, as Colgan claims, associated with a location called Teach na ninghean, literally 'the house of the daughters' and are perhaps to be identified with the seven nuns of Tir-na-Fiachra Aine who took part in the Synod of Drum Ceatt.

3. They are, as Bishop Forbes claims, the Seven Maidens to whom a chapel in Inverey, Scotland, is dedicated.  This theory would stand up better if the Scottish calendars recorded a feast day for these Seven Maidens on May 24th independently from the Irish. This does not, however, seem to be the case.

Canon O'Hanlon records:

The Seven Daughters of Ferghus, of Tigninghin Ferghusa, or of Inis-Cealtra, County of Galway.

The Martyrology of Tallagh records Secht ningena Fergusa in Inis Cealtra, at the 24th of May. This is now known as Inis-crealtra, an island and parish in the counties of Clare and Galway. The Bollandists also record their festival, for this day. But Colgan seems to connect them with Teach na ninghean, in Connaught. He says, they were perhaps those seven nuns of Tir-na-Fiachra Aine, who assisted at the great Synod in Dromcheat, in the year 580. The extent of Ui Fiachrach Aidhne is shown on the Irish Maps, prefixed to the "Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many, commonly called O'Kelly's Country ". A festival in honour of the Seven Daughters of Fergus, of Tigh-inghen-Ferghusa, was celebrated on this day, as we read in the Martyrology of Donegal. Under the title of the Seven Maidens, they seem to have been venerated, likewise, in Scotland.

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