Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Saint Iarlaithe of Tuam, December 26

December 26 is one of the feasts of a great saint of the west - Iarlaithe (Jarlath) of Tuam. The Martyrology of Donegal makes mention of his reputation for ascetic spiritual practices as well as for prophecy. The entry ends with an intriguing reference to 'three heretical bishops':

IARLAITHE, Bishop, of Tuaim-da-Ualann, in Connacht. He was of the race of Conmac, son of Fergus, son of Ross, son of Rudhraighe, from whom the Clanna-Rudhraighe are called; and Mongfinn, daughter of Ciordubhan, of the Cinel Cinnenn, was his mother. He used to perform three hundred genuflexions every night, and three hundred genuflexions every day, as Cuimin, of Coindeire, states. Thus he says :

" The noble Iarlaithe loves,
A cleric who practised not penury,
Three hundred genuflexions each night,
Three hundred genuflexions each day."

It was Iarlaithe that predicted every bishop that would come after him at Tuaim. And he predicted that Mael would come after the three heretical bishops who were in his city, &c. This is the quatrain which speaks of the Mael, viz. : 
"The Mael the first powerful man."
Below is an account of his life from an Anglican diocesan historian:

Iarlaithe son of Loga was of the Conmaicne amongst whom he worked and lived. His mother was Mongfinn daughter of Ciarduban of the family of Ceneann a clan of the Conmaicne. It is supposed that his father lived near Tuam. Benen son of Lugni educated and ordained him. Like other great missionary saints he was under Enda for a time. His first establishment was at Cloonfush near Tuam, where he formed a monastery about A.D. 500. His removal to Tuaim Da Gualann is said to have been made by Brendan's advice. Exposition of the Scriptures was the strong point of his school. He seems to have dealt especially with the countries of the Sodans and the Corcamoga which lay close to Tuam. Clergy came from all parts to work under him. Considering that the great work of Brendan's life was the establishment of monasteries at Annaghdown and at Clonfert, and that these seem to have been the earliest and were certainly the most important ecclesiastical centres in early times, it may be said that those parts of the county of Galway were evangelised and taught from St. Iarlath's school.

He died in his 81st year, on the 26th December or 11th February, the year unknown; Colgan thought it was not long before A.D. 540. The 6th June his festival day must have been the date of the translation of his relics, when long after his death his bones were taken up and enshrined. They were kept in the Church of the Shrine at Tuam, adjoining the Cathedral Church. It has now disappeared, but in the 16th century the Tempull na Scrine was the parish church for the eastern part of the present parish of Tuam. The western part was the parish of Tuam, having Tempull Iarlaithe as its church.

The countries of the Conmaicne Cinel Dubain and of the Sodhans and of the Corcamogha may be taken as the foundation of the diocese of Tuam, to which the Deanery of Athenry was added in later times, with many other tracts. The names of Benen and Iarlaithe alone stand out in this tract of country. Those of their fellow-workers have not survived, nor are any events of importance recorded regarding the period subsequent to them for a couple of hundred years, and then only a few names.

H.T. Knox, Notes on the Early History of the Dioceses of Tuam Killala and Achonry (Dublin, 1904), 63.

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