Monday, 12 October 2015

Saint Becc mac Dé, October 12

D.Wright, Druidism (1924)

October 12 is the feast day of Saint Becc (Bec, Beg) mac De, whom the Irish Annals say was a sixth-century saint with a particular gift for prophecy.  He is a well-known character in mythology, where he appears in the role of druid to King Diarmaid, but Saint Becc's feast day is also recorded on the Irish calendars. The Martyrology of Donegal has this notice:
12. QUARTO IDUS OCTOBRIS. 12. 
BECC, son of De, son of Gnoe. He was of the race of Colla-dachrioch, and a celebrated prophet.
One of the prophecies attributed to this holy man concerns the birth of Saint Brendan the Navigator and is recorded in the Betha Brennain, the Irish Life of Brendan. The following text and commentary are from the work of Kerry parish priest, Father Denis O'Donahue:
There dwelt at some distance from the house of Finnlugh, a certain rich man, whose name was Airde (5), son of Fidach. At this time there came to his mansion a chief prophet of Erin, whose name was (6) Becc MacDé; Airde inquired of Becc, "What, unknown event was soon to happen there ;" and Becc answered: " There will be born this night, between you and the sea, your true and worthy king, whom many kings and princes will devoutly honour, whom he will bear with him to heaven." 
5. — Airde MacFidaigh. The mansion of this "brugaid" (great farmer) in which St. Becc was entertained when he prophesied the birth of Brendan, stood on the crest of a verdant knoll or hillock in the townland of Listrim, adjoining the parish of Ardfert, commonly called Cahirard (stone fortress on the height), but which, an accurate map of the locality, more than three hundred years old, shows to be Cahirairde (fortress of Airde). From this Fenit lies due west, "between it and the open sea according to the prophecy of St. Becc, as given in the Book of Leinster: " this night thy king is born between thee on the west and the sea." On the top of this hillock can be easily traced at present the ring of the foundations of the Cathair, which crowned its swelling slopes, showing a diameter of more than one hundred feet inside the walls, which must have been at least seven feet in thickness at the base; but of those walls, and of whatever buildings lay within them, not a stone remains in situ, all having been drawn away for building purposes during many generations. But nothing can efface the tokens of early and long occupation of the surface all around its site, for its emerald verdure, which in early summer makes it conspicuous in the landscape for many miles in all directions, can only be accounted for by its uses for man's habitation for long centuries.

6. — St. Becc MacDé. The Annals of the Four Masters record his death: "The age of Christ, 557; the nineteenth year of Diarmid; St. Becc, son of Dé, a celebrated prophet, died." His name is on the Calendars of Irish Saints for October the 12th, on which his festival was kept. He was son of Dé-Druad, sixth in descent from Mainne, son of Niall of the "Nine Hostages." There is no other reference, as far as I know, to his visit to Kerry, save what we find in the Lives of Brendan; but we may well believe that many of the early saints, such as he, came to Kerry, after St. Benignus, to visit the Christian converts there, and to promote the spread of faith and piety amongst them.

Rev. D. O'Donohue, Brendaniana: St. Brendan The Voyager In Story And Legend (Dublin, 1893), 7-9, 41-42.

The prophecy of future greatness at the time of the birth of a saint is a common theme in hagiography and Saint Becc plays the same role in the Irish Life of Saint Ciarán, this time at a site where Saint Brigid had made a prediction regarding Saint Ciarán some time before:
Becc mac De prophesied, saying there —  
Son of the wright
with choruses, with choirs.
In comely cloak,
with chariots, with chants.

R.A.S. MacAlister, ed. and trans, The Latin and Irish Lives of Ciaran, (London and New York, 1921), 69.

Saint Becc met his death in accordance with a prophecy, after himself prophesying the end in store for King Dermot. He is in the company of another Irish prophet-saint, the great Colum Cille of Iona, when the moment comes, according to the account preserved in the Egerton 1782 MS:
Dermot went to Tara and again said to Beg : "let me have certain knowledge what manner of death it is that shall carry me off."
Beg said: "that is not matter of doubt: — "in Beg's rath thou shalt drink a malt-drink of a single grain ; and there it is that thou shalt be laid, Dermot."
  "My kingdom after me — after what fashion shall it be?" asked Dermot; and then it was that Beg enunciated this: — "An evil world is now at hand: in which men shall be in bondage, women free; mast wanting, woods smooth, blossom bad; winds many, wet summer, green com; much cattle, scant milk; dependants burdensome in every country, hogs lean, chiefs wicked; bad faith, chronic killing; a world withered, raths in number."...
"Be our magicians brought to us," Dermot said, "that we ascertain whether it be the one thing that they and Beg forbode for us."
"He doubts me does he," says Beg; and thereupon in great anger and in vindictive dudgeon goes out from Dermot, having after him a great crowd that begged of him a prophecy, and so on until he saw Columbkill that awaited him. He saluted him, and Columbkill said: " it is a marvellous prophecy; from God comes this great foreknowledge that is vouchsafed thee."
"God we thank for the same," Beg answered. Columbkill enquired then: "knowest thou thine own death's day ?"
"Cleric, I know it well," quoth Beg : "there are yet seven years of my life."
"That is a grand thing for him  to whom it is so done; if indeed it be true," said Columbkill.
"It is not true," Beg said: "there are but seven months of my life."
"Good again, if it be true," said Columbkill.
"It is not true," Beg said : "there are of my life but seven hours of the day — speedily let me have communion and the sacrifice!"
Then the cleric tonsured him, gave him communion and sacrifice, and he went [presently] to Heaven. Now it had stood prophesied for Beg that before he attained to death he must utter three falsehoods [as above]; for up to that hour he never had told a lie. For the same reason also it was that Columbkill sought him out, for he knew that in that day he had to die incontinently.  

'Death of King Dermot' in S.O'Grady, ed. and trans., Silva Gadelica (I-XXXI), Volume II (London and Edinburgh, 1892), 85-86.

I have also included the vignette on Saint Colum Cille and the death of Saint Becc at my other site here but have taken that account from a different source.


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