Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Saint Ernin Mac Creisin of Rathnoi, August 18

August 18 is the commemoration of a County Wicklow saint, distinguished by his patronymic, Ernin Mac Creisin. It is a blessing that he is so distinguished as there are at least two dozen other saints of the same name, most of whom it is impossible to identify individually. Our saint, however, is known to us from the Life of Saint Columba by Adomnán of Iona. The author records that he heard of a prophecy about the future greatness of Saint Ernin Mac Creisin, whom he describes as 'famous through all the churches of Ireland and very highly regarded' (book I: 13) which was made by Saint Columba when he encountered the boy Ernin at the monastery of Clonmacnoise. Saint Adomnán further records that the account of the prophecy was given by Ernin himself to another abbot of Iona, Ségéne, whose feast we celebrated last week. Today's saint Ernin, however, is not the only saint of this name to be associated with the monastery of Iona, as the Life of Saint Columba records that an uncle of Saint Columba bore this name and various nephews have also been proposed. The founder's uncle and our saint, however, are two distinct individuals. Canon O'Hanlon's account below records some of the struggles that earlier hagiologists experienced in trying to sort out the individual careers of the various saints Ernin. He perhaps muddies the waters even further by introducing the evidence from the Scottish calendars that sought to identify our saint with their Saint Marnock, but until I can do some further research I would be reluctant to accept that identification at face value. As the Irish calendar entry from the Martyrology of Aengus (which I have transferred from the footnotes into Canon O'Hanlon's main text) makes clear, Ernin Mac Creisin is identified both with the locality of Rathnoi, modern Rathnew, County Wicklow, and with a hypocoristic or 'pet' form of his name which may have given rise to the idea that this Irish Ernin is also the Scottish Marnock. Finally, I could not resist reproducing the charming engraving of Rathnew from page 266 of volume 8 of The Lives of the Irish Saints, I'm sure it doesn't look like that today!

St. Ernin or Mernog, of Rathnoi, now Rathnew, County of Wicklow, and of Killdreenagh.

[Sixth and Seventh Centuries.]

The lesson of this holy man's Acts shows us, that in all times some of the greatest saints have been born with poor surroundings and prospects in life. Still the Almighty has providentially arranged to bring them to a superior station, and to perform their work well, while serving all the great requirements of religion. At the 18th day of August, St. Aengus enters the feast of St. Ernoc in his "Feilire," and to this a commentator adds an explanatory scholion. This is partly in Irish, and partly in Latin. The English translation is "My Ernóc, i.e., Ernin, i.e., a pious son (was) he. Or Cresin nomen patris ejus. Or Ernine son of Cresine of RathNoe in Hui Garrchon in Fotharta of Leinster and of Cell Draignech in Hui Dróna besides." On the lower margin is another brief note, thus translated into English: "Son of Cressine, my Ernoc, etc."

In the Martyrology of Tallagh, at the 18th of August, a festival is also entered in honour of Ernin Mac Creisin, of Raithnui, in h-Garrchon. Hence, it would seem that Creisin is to be regarded as his father. At this date, the Bollandists observe, that their predecessors had found the name of a certain Irish Erenseus at the 14th of February, according to Thomas Dempster's arrangement; but, they deferred further notice of him, to the 26th of April, the date for his feast given by Camerarius, while waiting for some more certain evidences to establish better his veneration. Their notices were further deferred to this day, the 18th of August, as Colgan indicated his feast; and, as no better account of him could be furnished, at the latter date, they place him among those saints whose festivals are pretermitted. We find, that an Ernan, called the son of Degill and of Cumenia, was also a cousin to St. Columba, who, was brother of Cumenia. However, the patronymic of the present saint sufficiently distinguishes him from St. Columba's relative. The present Ernan must have been born, probably after the middle of the sixth century, judging from the recorded date for the arrival of St. Columkille on a visit to Clonmacnoise, while St. Alither was Abbot there, and while Ernen, son of Cressen, was then a poor boy. He was little esteemed by the community, although his dejected look and threadbare dress caused him to be well known to the monks. However, he eagerly desired to welcome the illustrious visitor, with the rest of those who came forth to meet him; while barriers had been erected to restrain the pressure of a crowd collected, as the ecclesiastics moved in procession singing hymns and psalms. But, such was Ernan's humility, that he sought to avoid the public gaze. Still, he desired much to steal unobserved, and to kiss the hem of St. Columkille's garment. Having approached from behind, the great Abbot had an inspiration which caused him to stop, and to place his hand on the neck of the boy, whom he brought before his eyes. The ecclesiastics and monks who were present, wondering at the interruption, asked Columba to send away the miserable and forlorn boy. However, the holy Abbot checked them, and then, turning to the youth, desired him to extend his tongue. Having done so, the saint blessed it, and prophesied thus: "Although this boy seems ungraceful and miserable, contemn him not; for he shall please and not displease you, in a time to come; he shall make daily progress in virtue and holy conversation; so that henceforward, his wisdom and prudence are destined to improve. He shall become a worthy member in this congregation, while the Almighty shall cause his tongue to speak words of eloquence and of sound doctrine." This authentic statement, Adamnan received from a predecessor in the monastery at Iona, namely, St. Failbe, who heard Ernan himself relate this prophecy, in the presence of St. Seghine, Abbot over Iona from 623 to 652. Notwithstanding, the foregoing circumstantial narrative, this saint is said to have been the maternal uncle of St. Columba, who is named Ernanus, and who was the companion of his migration to Scotland. Now this departure for Iona must have taken place, probably before the period of the present saint's birth. This identification, and family relationship, however, would appear to have been a mistake of Colgan.

We are at a loss to know the particulars of our saint's early life, or where he had studied. It may have been at Clonmacnois, and under the direction of his senior and contemporary, the Abbot St. Alither. However, he appears to have lived afterwards at Rath Noi, and most likely he built a church there. Through all the churches of Ireland, he was celebrated. The place here mentioned, in connection with him, is the present old village of Rathnew, in the County of Wicklow, while the district of Ui Garrchon, in which it is situated, extended through the barony of Newcastle, and along the sea-shore. It is one of the few ancient places, that has escaped the chicanery and land-grabbing greed in Ireland, and which have served to confiscate commonage tenures of so many villages and lands throughout the Island, especially during the last two centuries. The villagers are free of rent, and prize their small huts and gardens to that degree, that they are disinclined to part with them for almost any money consideration. The old church ruins and burial-ground, about two miles north-west of Wicklow town, are situated in the very midst of an irregularly built group of cabins, on the high road leading towards Dublin. Only a fragment of the east gable now appears standing; but, the church formerly consisted of a nave and choir. Since their decay those walls, now level with the ground, sufficiently reveal the dimensions and plan. Interiorly, the nave measured 58 feet in length, by 20 feet in width; while the choir was 19 feet in length, by 20 feet in breadth. The cross wall was about two and a-half feet in thickness; but, all the outer walls, on an average, were nearly three feet. The graveyard is enclosed with a modern wall, and the ground-surface is considerably elevated over the adjoining lanes. The burial-ground is still much used for interments. Some pieces of dressed stones, used for former doorways or windows, lie at the head of certain graves. The people of Rathnew village and neighbourhood have no more special or interesting traditions regarding the church, than its being of extreme antiquity, and as they state, almost as old as the time of St. Patrick. The scenery around Rathnew is exquisite, as any to be found in the picturesque and romantic County of Wicklow. The fine woods and beautiful demesne of Rosana are very near this village.


It is said, that a saint named Ethernanus, or more properly Ernan, wrote St. Columba's Life, and, moreover, that he was nephew to the great archimandrite, on the side of his sister. This statement, however, seems to rest solely on the authority of Dempster. The spot known as Cilldraighnech, according to the O'Clerys, in Ui-Drona, is said to have been a place, having some connection with the present saint. It is now called Killdreenagh, a townland in Dunleckney parish, County of Carlow. The Ui Drona, or posterity of Drona, descended from Cathaeir Mar, and besides possessing the territory alluded to, they held part of the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, lying near the western side of the River Barrow, and around the town of Graiguenamanagh. Ui-Drona is now represented by the baronies of Idrone in the County of Carlow. This is the identification of his place, as arrived at by the Calendarists of Cashel and by Marianus O'Gorman. However, we believe, the Cill-draighnech having more immediate reference to our saint was the Killadrina, or Killadrenan, not far from Rathnew, and in the County of Wicklow. Of this, a notice and an illustration have been already furnished, when treating about St. Coemgin or Kevin, Abbot of Glendalough, at the 3rd day of June.

The Annals of Ulster record the death of St. Ernin, at A.D. 634. Those of Tighernach have placed it at A.D. 635. The Four Masters have no record of this saint. St. Ernan, i.e., Mernog, is recorded also in the Martyrology of Donegal at this day, as having belonged to the locality of Rath Noi, in Ui Garrchon, i.e., in Fortharta, of Leinster. The Martyrology of Marianus O'Gorman, and his scholiast, as also the Calendar of Cashel and Feilire of St. Aengus, accord his festival to the 18th of August. St. Marnan's, or Marnock's festival is referred by Bishop Forbes, to the 1st of March, or to the 18th August, where he is identified with St. Ernenus or Ernin, i.e., Mernog of Rathnoi in Ui Garchon, i.e., in Fotharta, Leinster, and of Cill-draighnech in Ui Drona. This saint is known in Scotland as Marnan, or with the diminutive termination as Marnoch or Marnock. However, although the Scottish saint Marnan or Marnock is praised for his episcopal virtues and his gift for preaching the word of God, and so far resembling the Irish St. Ernan, yet it is not probable they could have been one and the same person. It may be well to observe, that the word Mernoc is a contraction of Mo-Ernin-occ. Such a name is preserved in the two Kilmarnocks and also in Inchmarnoc, Scotland. The prefix mo, signifying "my," and the suffix occ, meaning "little," indicate the idea of affection and familiarity, as annexed to the original name. Of late years, a handsome Catholic Chapel has been built at Rathnew, by Rev. Canon William Dillon, P.P. of Wicklow, and it has been dedicated to St. Ernin.

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