Saturday, 7 June 2014

Saint Colman and the Water Monster

June 7 is the feastday of Saint Colman of Dromore. Below is an account of one of the stranger episodes in Saint Colman's life, his encounter with a 'water monster'. Such creatures are not unknown in Irish hagiography; the most famous encounter between a saint and a denizen of the deep is probably that of Saint Columba with a sea monster, recorded in Adamnan's Life of Columba. The author here is our own Canon O'Hanlon, this time wearing his other hat as a writer of Irish folklore under the pseudonym Lageniensis, the Leinsterman. His concluding remarks suggest that he takes the entire matter of this creature very seriously, but perhaps a Leinsterman's naivety about crocodiles can be forgiven in a country where we've never even seen a snake:

Not far from the episcopal city of Dromore, flow the lazy deep waters of the River Lagan, and often the Patron Saint, Bishop Colman, rambled along its banks in prayer and meditation. Indeed, if tradition speak the truth, often he passed over it with dry feet. But, it was well known, a great water monster lurked beneath its surface, always in quest of prey. Notwithstanding the danger of approaching him, yet, an incautious and innocent young damsel went down the bank, and stood upon some stepping-stones to beetle her linen. The wily monster sailed slowly towards her, and before she was aware of his approach, he suddenly reared his huge head from the deep, opened his tremendous jaws, and at one gulp swallowed the poor maiden alive. Although her terror was very great, yet she had presence of mind to call out, "Oh, holy Colman, save me!" Her cry was heard by the saint, and he prayed to Heaven for her release. Some of the girl's companions who stood on the bank, and who witnessed that fearful doom, set up shouts and screams. But St. Colman approached the river, and commanded the infernal beast to deliver up his prey. Then the girl he had swallowed was cast unharmed on the bank. There, to this very day, are shown the tracks of the holy bishop's feet, and that path down to the Lagan is called "St. Colman's road." The monster of the deep was afterwards banished far off, and to the shores of the Red Sea; but whether he survives in the shape of a modern crocodile—they are said to live for centuries—and sheds tears for his past delinquencies, or whether he has been long buried in the sands of Egypt, must furnish matter for further inquiry, as history and tradition are alike silent on the subject.

'Lageniensis', Irish Local Legends, No. VIII, The Water Monster (Dublin, 1896), 26-27.

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