Thursday, 21 October 2021

Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh, October 21

October 21 is the feast of Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh,  whose death, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, occurred in the eighth century: 

The Age of Christ, 767. Maelaithgen, Abbot of Cluain-Eidhneach [died].

John O'Donovan, ed. and trans, The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Vol. I, (Dublin, 1856), p.371.

Cluain-Eidhneach, modern Cloneagh, County Laois was an important monastic foundation established, possibly in the sixth century, by Saint Fintan (feast February 17). The feast of his eighth-century successor Maelaithgen is recorded on the Irish calendars at October 21. On this day the late eighth/early ninth-century Martyrology of Tallaght lists 'Moelanaigh (Maelathgein)', the late twelfth-century Martyrology of Gorman 'Mael-Aithcen without folly' and the seventeenth-century Martyrology of Donegal  simply 'Maelaithghein'. There is, however, a link between our abbot and another of the historic Irish calendars, The Martyrology of Oengus, for the Life of Oengus the Martyrologist (feast March 11) records that he began his career at Clonenagh under the tutelage of Saint Maelaithgen. The great seventeenth-century hagiologist, Father John Colgan, noted this link when writing of Oengus in his Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae

Inspired from his earliest infancy with an ardent desire of Christian perfection, he  embraced the religious life in the monastery of Cluain-edhneoch ... where, under the care of the holy Abbot Malathgenius, he made so rapid a progress in learning and in the science of the saints that in a short time no name in Ireland ranked higher, both for profound and sacred erudition, and for all the virtues of the religious state.

Rev. Matthew Kelly, Dissertations Chiefly on Irish Church History, (Dublin, 1864) p.209-210.

The date of his feast at October 21 and his reputation for holiness and learning are all that seems to have been preserved of the memory of Saint Maelaithgen of Clonenagh.

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

Saint Gall and the Miracle of the Fishes

 October 16 is the feast of Saint Gall, the Irish Apostle to Switzerland. I have previously introduced him and his formidable monastic superior, Saint Columbanus, here. The relationship between the two was not always a harmonious one and they eventually went their separate ways. My earlier post includes an account of a posthumous miracle of healing attributed to the intercession of Saint Gall, now we can look at another miracle in which he features. This one involves the catching of fish and was recorded in the Life of Saint Columban by the Monk Jonas. In the healing miracle Gall appears as the aged and venerable Abbot of the monastery which bears his name, but here he is at an early stage of his monastic career under the authority of his own master, Columbanus. This miracle is rich in scriptural allusions and echoes the Miraculous Draught of the Fishes recorded in chapter five of the Gospel of Saint Luke. There the disciples have been unsuccessfully trying for a catch throughout the night and are sceptical when Jesus commands them to let down their nets, but obeying find that they catch so many fish they can hardly bring them ashore. The Apostle Peter is overcome by his sense of unworthiness but is told "Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men (Lk. 5:10). Since Columbanus and his companions had left Ireland to evangelize in continental Europe this analogy too is fitting. And, of course, when Saint Gall obeys his master the reward is great:

19. At another time he [Columban] was staying in the same wilderness, but not in the same place. Fifty days had already elapsed and only one of the brethren named Gall was with him. Columban commanded Gall to go to the Brusch and catch fish. The latter went, took his boat and went to the Loignon river. After he had gotten there, and had thrown his net into the water he saw a great number of fishes coming. But they were not caught in the net, and went off again as if they had struck a wall. After working there all day and not being able to catch a fish, he returned and told the father that his labor had been in vain. The latter chid him for his disobedience in not going to the right place. Finally he said, "Go quickly to the place that you were ordered to try." Gall went accordingly, placed his net in the water, and it was filled with so great a number of fishes, that he could scarcely draw it.

D. C. Munro, ed., Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol. II, Life of St. Columban, by the Monk Jonas, No. 7, (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press), p.12.


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Thursday, 23 September 2021

'A Vessel of Wisdom and a Man Full of the Grace of God': Saint Adamnan of Iona

September 23 is the feast of Saint Adamnan, a seventh-century Donegal saint who was the ninth abbot of Iona and one of the most prominent churchmen of his time. I recently treated myself to a copy of a new book on the saint by Brian Lacey, Adomnán, Adhamhnán, Eunan: Life and afterlife of a Donegal Saint, published by Four Courts Press in May of this year and look forward to reading a modern scholar's reappraisal of this fascinating man. Although he is generally best known as the hagiographer of and successor to Saint Colum Cille of Iona, there remains a more local aspect to the cult of Saint Adamnan who is the co-patron of the Donegal diocese of Raphoe, a connection which has a chapter of its own in Lacey's book. In the seventeenth century Micheal O'Clery compiled The Martyrology of Donegal, whose entry for this day contains a summary of what had been handed down about local hero, Adamnan. It presents him as an abbot, ascetic, and mystic who is sustained by a vision of the Christ child for three days and who is further associated with an apocalyptic vision of heaven and hell. It concludes with a reference to the List of Irish Parallel Saints in which our native holy men are viewed as local equivalents of major Christian figures, with Saint Adamnan likened to Pope Sylvester:


ADAMNAN, son of Ronan, of the race of Conall Gulban, son of Niall, as to his stock. His mother was of the race of Enna, son of Niall. Ronat was her name. This is the Adamnan who was six and twenty years in the abbacy of I-Coluim-Cille. On a certain day that he was at Hi, he meditated in his mind to remain for three days and three nights in his church alone praying to the Lord, and he remained to the end of that time without coming to the monastery at all. They sent some mature men to the church to know how the cleric was, for they thought he was too long absent from them. They looked through the key-hole, and they saw a little boy with brilliance and bright radiance in the bosom of Adamnan. And Adamnan was thanking and caressing the infant; and they were not able to look at him any longer by reason of the divine rays which were around the boy. They were certain that it was Jesus who was in the shape of an infant, delighting Adamnan in this manner, and also that he was his satisfaction and gratification during these three days and nights.  He was a vessel of wisdom, and a man full of the grace of God, and of the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, and of every other wisdom; a burning lamp which illuminated and enlightened the west of Europe with the light of virtues and good morals, laws, and rules, wisdom and knowledge, humility and self-abasement. These are his churches, namely, Rathbhoth, Druim-Thuama, in Cinel-Conaill; The Scrin, in Tir Fhiachrach Muaidhe and other churches besides. Seventy-seven years was his age when he sent his spirit to heaven, His body was interred with great honour and respect at Hi, and his body was removed to Erin after some time.

It was to Adamnan were revealed the glory of the kingdom of heaven and the pains of hell, as contained in the Vision of Adamnan,which was copied from the Leabhar-na-hUidhre.  And thenceforward it was the glory of heaven and the pains of hell he used to preach. The Life of Ciaran, of Cluain, states, chap. 47, that the order of Adamnan was one of the eight orders that were in Erin.

A very ancient old-vellum-book, of which we have spoken at 1st of February, at Brighit, and at 17th March, at Patrick, and at 9th of June, at Colum Cille, &c., states, that Adamnan was, in his habits and life, like unto Silvester the Pope.
J.H. Todd and W. Reeves, eds, John O'Donovan, trans. The Martyrology of Donegal: A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland, (Dublin, 1864) pp. 255-257.

 Dr Lacey comments:

The Martyrology entry doesn't tell us anything new or even anything very interesting about Adomnán, made up as it is of extracts from earlier texts and stock hagiographical phrases. But it does tell us how the great seventh-century Donegal intellectual and scholar, Adomnán,was perceived by one of the greatest intellectual and scholarly Irishmen, also from Donegal, about a thousand years later.

Brian Lacey, Adomnán, Adhamhnán, Eunan: Life and afterlife of a Donegal Saint (Dublin, 2021), p. 214.


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Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Prayer of Saint Atty

A couple of days ago I reprinted a poem by Philadelphia resident Patrick J. Coleman on the founding of the diocese of Achonry by Saint  Nathy.  Now we have another of his poetic offerings, this time in praise of Achonry's female patroness Saint Attracta and her role as peacemaker and protectress.



KING Connor made an edict old:
"A royal palace I will build;
Tribute I order of the gold,
From every clan and craftsman's guild.

"Tithings of scarlet and of silk,
Curtain and screen of regal woof
Deep-uddered heifers, rich in milk,
And bronze and timber for the roof.

"From Leyney's lord, in token due
Of fealty, I will ordain
A hundred masts of ash and yew,
A hundred oaks of pithy grain."

"Saint Atty, keep us safe from scath
And shield us in the battle crash!
For roof of royal house or rath
We will not render oak or ash!"

Thus lowly prayed the Leyney clan,
While sang the birds in bush and brake.
As fast they mustered, horse and man,
To face the foe by Gara's lake.

For, wroth' at heart, came Connor's clan;
Ah, Christ! they made a horrid front,
With red spears bristling in the van.
And shields to brave the battle-brunt.

From wing to wing in wrath they rolled,
Crested with helmets all afire.
Of burnished bronze or burning gold.
To martial measures of the lyre.

A dreadful war! the blessed saints
Defend to-day the Leyney clan!
For they must reel before the steel
Of such a hosting, horse and man.

From sounding sheaths the swords flamed out,
The clattering quivers echoed loud,
From their dark ranks the battle shout
Broke out, as thunder from the cloud.

"Saint Atty, keep us safe from scath!"
Thus made the Leyney men their prayer ;
When lo! adown the forest path
Trooped, lily-white, a herd of deer!

Broke from the branching thicket green,
While mute the watching warriors stood;
Such gracious deer were never seen
In Irish fern or Irish wood;

And, mighty marvel, on their backs.
Bound by a maiden's tresses gold.
Clean-hewn as if by woodman's axe.
The tribute of the wood behold !

Nor paused the sylvan creatures sweet,
But gliding onward, like to ghosts.
Cast off the wood at Connor's feet
In wondrous wise betwixt the hosts;

Then vanished in the forest green.
While mused amaze the king and kern;
And nevermore from then were seen
In Irish wood or Irish fern.

Down dropped the sword to thigh and hip,
"God's will be done, let hatred cease!"
Rose up the cry from every lip.
And harps attuned a chord of peace.

Yea, "blessings broke from every lip,
To God and to His saints above.
And hands that came for deadly grip
Were mingled in fraternal love.

" 'Gainst scath or scar our battle-shield
Is Atty, saint of Leyney's clan!"
They sang, as homeward from the field
They hied, unscathed, horse and man.

For in her chapel in the wood
The boding war had Atty seen,
And for the people of her blood
Made prayer amid the forest green.

And men do say that on that day
She saved the Leyney clan from scath,
Such power there is when lowly pray
The pure of heart and keen of faith.

And still when autumn gilds the lea,
And scythes are shrill in meadows ripe,
The rural pageant you may see
Sporting with jocund dance and pipe.

The village women you may mark
In Leyney, at Saint Atty's well.
Ere yet hath trilled the risen lark
In golden mead or dewy dell.


*Saint Atty is the loving name of the people of Achonry for Saint Attracta, the patroness of the diocese.

The Irish Monthly, Volume 18 (1890),80-82 



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Monday, 9 August 2021

The Founding of Achonry


Today is the feast of Saint Nathy, patron of the Diocese of Achonry. Below is an 1889 poem by an Irish-American contributor to the Catholic press of his day, Patrick J. Coleman, which recounts the founding of the diocese and the part played by Saint Finnian of Clonard in its establishment. Saint Finnian is depicted in hagiography as a teacher and guide to other Irish monastic saints and his Life includes the episode on which the poem is based. The idea of a monastery's location being decided by divine intervention is a common trope in hagiography and here it provides the context for the relationship between the senior saint, Finnian, and the junior, Nathy. Modern scholars suggest that such stories really reflect the church politics of the time when the saint's Life was written. Nathy himself is not the subject of a written Life but his small foundation was sufficiently important to merit the recording of its establishment in the Life of Saint Finnian:


THUS saith the legend of the bard: 

To do the holy will of God, 

To Leyney's land from old Clonard 

Afoot the saintly Finnian trod. 

Then laid on Nathy in his cell, 

Below the hill, anointed hands; 

And gave him crozier, book, and bell. 

As bishop-prince of Leyney's lands. 

With knitted brows of doubt he frowned 

Where he should set the comer stone 

Of Nathy's church,— on level ground, 

Or on the purple mountain cone ? 

So Finnian slept, revolving deep, 

And while he slept, an angel face 

Of glory whispered in his sleep, 

“Lo, Nathy will appoint the place” 

Because of comfort of the words, 

Soul-glad went Finnian o'er the land, 

About the singing of the birds 

Of dawn, with Nathy hand in hand. 

And while they went, behold, a field 

Through which a silver stream did run,
Shone like a warrior's golden shield 

In battle opposite the sun. 

The lark sang shrilly o'er the trees, 

The finch and linnet in the bowers; 

There was a drowsy drone of bees, 

Gold-girdled in among the flowers. 

And since his heart was pure, and he 

Loved all things for their native worth, 

“Lo," Nathy said, “God giveth me 

Unto mine own this plot of earth. 

“Here will I build my church, and make 

Mine altar and my lowly cell. 

Where morning music of the brake 

Will mingle with my matin bell." 

And even as he spoke there came, 
Knee-deep in flowers across the ground,

The master of the field, aflame 

With anger, at his side a hound; 

And laid rude hands upon the twain. 

On Finnian and on Nathy mild,
Who stood with eyes upon the plain

And simple-hearted as a child. 

Then sudden wrought a mighty sign 

Unto the master of the plot,

That so by miracle divine 

For God he might possess the spot. 

A spear's cast from the place there lay 

A rock, in stature like a man, 

A swarthy crag of mossy gray. 

And many cubits in the span. 

Nor thinking any thought of ire. 

Nor saying aught of mild reproof, 
In heart with holy zeal afire, 

Went Nathy from the man aloof. 

Then raising psalms of prayer, while sweet, 

Dim glory shone about his face. 

He blessed the rock, which, at his feet. 

Broke sundered to its flowery base. 

Prone at the feet of Finnian fell 

The prince, and gave the field; and so 

Was builded there Saint Nathy's cell 

In Ireland's golden long-ago. 

And well in woe have clung to God 

The shepherds, who have bravely prest 

O'er paths that Nathy's feet have trod
In sweet Achonry of the west.

Patrick J. Coleman.

Philadelphia, April 30, 1889. 

 * The diocese of Achonry, which takes its name from a small village in County Sligo, includes portions of Sligo, Mayo, and Roscommon. St. Nathy (whose feast is the 9th of August) was the first bishop of the diocese, about the year of our Lord 630. The legendary circumstances of his consecration by St. Finnian of Clonard, whose disciple he was, are narrated in these verses. His present successor is the Most Rev. John Lyster, D.D. The name of Leyney still survives in the barony Leyney, in Sligo, originally the patrimony of the Clan O'Hara.  

The Irish Monthly, Volume 17 (1889), 315-317.

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Wednesday, 4 August 2021

A Legend of Saint Molua


August 4 is the feast of Saint Molua, an entry on whose life can be found here. Below, is a charming vignette from the Irish Celtic Revival scholar, Maud Joynt (1868-1940), which records the grief of a little bird at the saint's passing:


ONCE there lived in Ireland a saint called Molua son of Ocha, who loved all living creatures and was of all living creatures beloved. On the day of his death it chanced that a certain holy man, Maelanfair son of Anfadach, was walking in the woods and he saw a little bird perched on a bough and making great lamentation.

"Oh, my God," said he, "what can have happened? I will not taste food till it be revealed to me!"

 Then an angel appeared to him and said: "Be no longer troubled, O cleric. Molua the son of Ocha is dead and all living creatures bewail him; for he loved everything that lives and breathes, and throughout his life he never killed any creature, great or small; wherefore men mourn not more for him than do the beasts and the little bird thou seest yonder."

Maud Joynt, The Golden Legends of the Gael, (Dublin, n.d.), Part II, 81.

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Tuesday, 6 July 2021

A Hymn in Honour of Saint Moninne

July 6 is the Feast of Saint Moninne of Killeevy, one of three women saints along with Brigid and Bronagh important to the people of the historic kingdom of Oriel in south-east Ulster. She is also one of the handful of Irish female saints with an extant written Life. There are many fascinating aspects to Saint Moninne. One was her reputation for asceticism, the Life of Monenna preserved in the Codex Salamanticensis calling her 'the daughter of John the Baptist and the prophet Elias'. Whilst asceticism was certainly a feature of the Early Irish Church, it is unusual to see a female saint being described in this way. The other was her 'manly spirit' for her female body is no barrier to Moninne's wholehearted pursuit of the eremetical way of life. There is thus a distinct flavour of the desert spirituality of Saint Anthony the Great to the life of this County Armagh abbess. In addition to the Salamanca Life there is also a Vita Sanctae Monennae compiled by a tenth or eleventh-century Irish monk called Conchubranus. He takes Moninne out of her Irish hermitage and portrays her as a pilgrim to Rome and founder of  churches in England and Scotland. The twelfth-century Abbot Geoffrey of Burton was convinced that Conchubranus was writing about his own abbey's founder and expanded the Irish monk's text into The Life and Miracles of Saint Modwenna. There has been a great deal of research into Saint Moninne and fresh translations of her various Lives in recent years. Mario Esposito (1887-1975) first published the text of the Life by Conchubranus in 1910 and included two abcderarian hymns in honour of the saint as an appendix. As a tribute to Saint Moninne on this her feast day I reproduce the opening verse from the first hymn and the closing verse of the second:
Deum deorum dominum, 
Autorem vite omnium, 
Regem et sponsum uirginum 
Sempiternum infinitum, 
Invocemus perualidum 
Sancte Monenne meritum, 
Ut nos ducat post obitum 
In regni refrigerium.

Let us invoke God, Lord of gods,
Creator of the life of all,
King and spouse of virgins,
everlasting, infinite,
and the very strong
merit of holy Monenna
that she may guide us after death
to the refreshing of the kingdom.
Sancta Monenna,
lux huius mundi ascendit, 
in candilabro nitidum sponsum 
sicut sol in meridie. 
Qui regnas in secula seculorum. Amen. 
The holy Monenna,
light of this world,
ascended to her shining spouse
in a candelabrum like the midday sun.
Who reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Mario Esposito,  Ymnus Sancte Monenne Virginis in Appendix to "Conchubrani Vita Sanctae Monennae." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature 28 (1910), 202-51.


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