Friday, 17 October 2014

Saint Maonach of Dunleer, October 17

At October 17 the Martyrology of Donegal records:

17. C. SEXTO DECIMO KAL. NOVEMBRIS. 17.

MAENACH, son of Cláirin, Abbot of Lann Léire, A.D. 720.

A footnote adds that the year 720 is the date given for the repose of this saint in the Annals of Ulster. The place name associated with the saint, Lann Léire, is modern Dunleer, County Louth and a local researcher has made an interesting historical archive on the district available here. In the nineteenth-century Bishop Reeves sought to derive the name from the old Irish words lann, church and léire, austerity, but modern scholarship inclines to the view that it simply means 'the church in the district of Léire' rather than 'the church of austerity.' The name was in common use up until the twelfth century but after the coming of the Normans the lann element was replaced by dún, fort. The monastery of which Saint Maonach was abbot was originally founded by the saintly brothers Furadhran and Baithin. Our saint is the first abbot to be mentioned in the Annals after the founders. Thus Lann Léire must have been a foundation of some importance and various commentators have noted that no other County Louth monastery is referenced so frequently in the Irish Annals. Not only are its abbots recorded but so too are other events such as as attacks by the Vikings as well as by native marauders, culminating in the burning of the monastery in 1148.  One can only hope that Saint Maonach exercised his abbacy in less interesting times.

Pádraig Ó Riain in his Dictionary of Irish Saints records a number of later literary sources which take our saint out of his Ulster monastery and seek to place him in Munster. A poem, for example, listing those on whom Saint Seanán of Scattery could call on in a time of need include 'great Maonach, son of  Láirín'. It may be, however, that in some of these sources our saint has become confused with others of a similar name. Interestingly though, the name of Maonach, in its Latin guise of Monachus is to be found at October 17 in a fifteenth-century martyrology written in Cologne. It rather suggests that our saint, although today an obscure figure, was at one time much more well known.

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