Friday, 2 October 2015

Saint Giallán of Killelan, October 2

October 2 is the second commemoration on the Irish calendars of a County Kildare saint, Giallán of Killelan. His earlier feast day is September 6 at which time I posted the following information regarding him:
Professor Pádraig Ó Riain, in his 2011 Dictionary of Irish Saints reveals that the saint is associated with the County Kildare locality of Killelan, probably originally Ceall Ghialláin. The Giallán of this place is described in a scribal note found in the Martyrology of Tallaght at October 2 which refers to a Leinster prince called Oinmhe, a hostage with Saint Brigid of Kildare. He is then renamed Giallán, from the Irish word for a hostage giall. October 2 seems to be the main commemoration of Saint Giallán, but his name is recorded on September 6 in the Martyrology of Tallaght, although this is the only Irish calendar where it appears on this day.
The scribal note records how the prince was given as a hostage, first to another ruler and then subsequently to Saint Brigid, in order to secure the submission of his father:


Onme (i.e. simul) or Omne son of the king of Leinster. And he was given as a hostage to the king of Leth Cuind, and he gave him into Brigit's hand that she might on his account obtain submission a patre suo, et aliquo die dixerunt discipulae Brigitae ei: ' 'tis lovely the little hostage (giallán) is to-day,' said they. 'Giallán will be his name for ever,' said Brigit. And that is the one who is in Cell Giallain in Ui Muiridaig.

It seems that the little hostage made quite an impression on Saint Brigid and her household!

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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Michael - 'one who is like unto God'

In this extract from a homily for the feast of Saint Michael preserved in the Leabhar Breac, the writer lays out the nine Orders and Grades among the angels and the ways in which they aid mankind. It ends with a summary of the ways in which the great Archangel is 'like unto God'. Irish devotion to Saint Michael reflected an awareness of his role as the 'weigher of souls' after death, a motif which finds expression on Irish high crosses, as well as his role as the champion in the battle against the Antichrist, which was mentioned in the eighth-century poetry of Blathmac, as well as in the Martyrology of Onegus:

"At the fight against the multitudinous Dragon
of our Michael stout, victorious,
the soldier whitesided, hostful,
will slay Wrathful Antichrist."

The Leabhar Breac, the 'Speckled Book' dates to the 15th-century but contains a collection of materials, some of which are much earlier in date. When this particular homily dates from I don't know, but certainly Irish devotion to Saint Michael and his place in the Irish Antichrist tradition can be established at least as far back as the eighth-century. The anonymous homilist writes:

Now, there are nine Orders and nine Grades among the angels of Heaven, as the Scripture enumerates. Seraphim are the first grade, i. e., 'burning,' because they burn with the love of the Lord for ever without intermission in the presence of God. Cherubim are the second grade, the translation of this name being 'multitude of knowledge and wisdom' ; for it is they who drink most abundantly of the well of the knowledge of the deity. Throni, meaning the 'seats ' and thrones of the King, are the third grade ; for it is from them that the Lord delivers his righteous judgments on every man in the world. The fourth grade are Dominationes, the powers and 'lordships' holding sway over mankind, and because they rule and govern the five following grades. Principatus are the fifth grade ; 'princedoms' presiding over actions, for they are the high princes of the noble spirits that are placed in charge of the divine services over their subjects. Potestates, 'powers,' are the sixth grade, from their authority over mankind. It is this Order that keep down the attacks and inflictions and pestilences of the wicked spirits, the devils, so as not to allow them to assault or vent their rage on men as they desire. Virtutes are the seventh grade, the spirits by whom are effected ' miracles ' and wonders among the saints and righteous. Archangeli are the eighth grade, i.e., 'chief messengers,' for it is they who announce the mighty wonders and the excellent tidings to mankind. Angeli are the ninth grade, i.e., 'declarers,' because they declare the will of God and every just cause to the seed of Adam according to the commandment of the Lord.

This noble assembly of the angelic host do not stand in need of proper names ; for even the names we have given them are derived from the services in which they are engaged towards mankind. Thus the name Gabriel means the 'might of God,' on account of the great force and influence on the world of the thing he foretold, viz., the conception and birth of Christ. Raphael is explained 'medicine of God'; it was he who went to Tobit for the assistance and healing he brought to Tobit's eye. Michael, whose festival and memory are observed in the Church of God on the anniversary of this day, denotes 'one who is like God'; and this name is not without special validity and reference to him; for Michael is like unto God in many ways. To him were shown the five victories: 1, his being a mighty champion in casting down the haughty demons by the word of the Lord, and in hurling them with his arrow into hell from the upper realms; 2, it is he who fights with the devil for the soul of every believing person when it issues from his body; 3, it is he who will give decision in the presence of God on behalf of the holy and righteous in the day of doom; 4, he will fight against Antichrist on Mount Sion in the end of the world, and will gain the victory and triumph over him; and 5, after this victory he will rule for ever with the saints without end or limit in the heavenly kingdom.

'XVI. On the Archangel Michael' , The Passions and the Homilies from Leabhar Breac - Text, Translation and Glossary by Robert Atkinson (Dublin, 1887), 452-453.

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Monday, 28 September 2015

Cruach Mac Dara - Saint MacDara's Island

September 28 is the feast of a saint of the west of Ireland, Sinach Mac Dara, whose traditional island pilgrimage is still celebrated, although this takes place on July 16. I have been reading a number of accounts written at different times about Saint Mac Dara's pilgrimage and below is the earliest of these, written in 1896, by the Belfast antiquary F.J. Bigger. His account is full of period charm and paints a picture of life for a Victorian gentleman with the means and the leisure to undertake this type of fieldwork. Bigger's account also reprises most of what is known about Saint Sinach MacDara, although last year's post from Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints is also available here.



I am indebted to Charles Elcock, of Belfast for the advice given to me on the occasion of the visit of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club to Galway last July, to try, if possible, and visit Cruach Mac Dara, a small island lying out in the western Atlantic Ocean, a few miles south from Roundstone, in the parish of Moyrus. I acted upon the advice, and was in nowise disappointed. My visit served a dual purpose it gave me an excellent holiday in the company of congenial friends, and afforded an antiquarian treat for which I was scarcely prepared.

At an early hour of the day, in a specially chartered, roomy, but odoriferous twenty-five ton hooker, "The Lily," in charge of Martin Toole, a worthy old Iar Connacht fisherman, we hoisted sail in the pretty little harbour of Roundstone, and made out into the open waters of the Atlantic, with a pleasant wind upon our port, which soon bore us past the island of Inishnee, and the barren promontory of Tawnrawer Cartron. Our party consisted of the Rev. Canon M'Cormick, D. D., Rector of Moyrus (than whom there is no more worthy companion and excellent guide); his son Frank, a youth whose heroism has been rewarded by the Royal Humane Society's Medal; my comrade, R. L. Praeger, naturalist; two antiquarian friends, Dr. D'Evelyn, of Ballymena, and R. J. Welch, of Belfast, to whom I am much indebted for the excellent photographs illustrating this Paper; my brother Fred, and myself. A little over two hours tacking in a fair breeze brought us through the long Atlantic rollers to our destination. Arriving off Inis Mac Dara, we cast anchor near the shore, and rowed in our ship's boat to the rocks, landing close to the Saint's Church, and the adjoining antiquities.

The island comprises about sixty acres, mostly bare; the rock a reddish granite, with a coast strewn with huge blocks; there is a little grass land towards the centre affording food for a few sheep. There are no inhabitants on the island, and very few of the people of the district visit it unless on the Saint's two festivals, while strangers scarcely ever do so. The church is situated on the edge of the east shore of the island, in a gentle hollow sloping to the south, and close to the natural landing place, over-looking a low reef of rock called Illaunnamorlagh.

The island lies west of Ard Bay, with the small intervening islands of Fraghan, Wherroon, Librace, Avery, Carrickaher More and Beg, Carrick-agun, and Mason Island, on which are the ruins of a church and an ancient cross; and south of Roundstone Bay, Bertraghboy Bay, Inishlackan, and Freaghillaun, and, what may seem a curious coincidence, Inishbigger, a small island, shaped like a flint arrow-head, of whose existence I was not previously aware; to the west lie Croaghnakeela,now a deer park of 140 acres, with the ruins of St. Keelan's church and well, and the small islands of Illaunnacrogh More and Beg. Of all these islands, Cruach Mac Dara bears away the palm for antiquarian remains and general interest.

Of the Saint himself little is known, and that little is obscure. He is supposed to have flourishein the sixth century, and the ruins of his oratory have certainly a very early appearance. Sinach was his proper name; but he is always called after his father, Dara; his proper name, Sinach, being never used. Whether the meaning of that word (a fox) had anything to do with its non-application or notwe can only infer; anyhow the fact remains that this name was dropped, and the Saint was one of the first to have a surname, for reasons best known to those who applied it.

In O' Donovan's MS. Letters (p. 116), it is stated that there is a most extraordinary superstition still deep-rooted in the minds of all the fishermen in Galway, Aran, and Connemara: “They cannot bear to hear the name of a fox, hare, or rabbit pronounced, and should they chance to see either of those animals living or dead, or hear the name of either expressed before setting out to fish in the morning, they would not venture out that day. This is a most unaccountable superstition! and still the name of their great patron is Sionnach, a fox! They never, however, mention that name for they know it not, but always style the Saint by his patronym of Mac Dara.”

The Saint's festivals are celebrated on the 16th July and 28th September, on which occasions many of the inhabitants of the mainland pay their devotions to the Saint. A festival had been held two days previous to our visit last July, on which occasion, the day being stormy, only about 100 pilgrims had visited Chruach Mac Dara. The beaten tracks around the stations were traceable, whilst little piles of stones, evidently counters, were to be seen at the corners. The well was dry, and its basin contained a few odd personal trifles.

Hardiman's edition of O'Flaherty’s “H-Iar Connacht” gives the following description: - 'Over against Mason Head, southward in the same countrey, lies Craugh Mhic Dara, a small high island and harbour for ships. This island is an inviolable sanctuary, dedicated to Mac Dara the miraculous saint, whose chappell is within it, where his statue of wood for many ages stood, till Malachias Queleus, the Archbishop of Tuam caused it to be buryed under ground, for speciall weighty reasons. [I cannot find out exactly what these weighty reasons were; so can only surmise that they indicated abuses perhaps worse than those which still occur in other similar places.]

“On the shore of this island is the captive’s stone, where women, at low water, used to gather duleasg for a friend's sake in captivity, whereby they believe he will soon get succour by the intercession of the Saint.

“The boats that pass between Mason Head and this island have a custome to bow down their sailes three times in reverence to the Saint. A certain captain of the garrison of Galway, Anno 1672, passing this way and neglecting that custome, was so tossed with sea and storme, that he vowed he would never pass there again without paying his obeysance to the Saint; but he never returned home till he was cast away by shipwreck soon after. A few years after, one Gill, a fisherman of Galway, who would not strike saile, in contempt of the Saint, went not a mile beyond that road, when, sitting on the pup of the boat, the mast, by a contrary blast of wind, broke, and struck him on the pate dead, the day being fair weather both before and after.

“The parish church of Moyrus, by the seashore, just opposite to the island in the continent of Irrosainhagh, is dedicated to his name, where is kept his altar stone by the name of Leac Sinnch. His festival day is kept as patron of Moyrus parish, the 16th of July.”

Hardiman, in his notes, refers to the custom of children being called MacDara, after the Saint. The inhabitants also called their boats after him, and to sail in such was considered a guarantee of safety. At present the name is still a common one in the immediate district, and is also frequently met with on the Aran Islands.

The Saint's name does not appear in any of the Calendars or Martyrologies at present known, that I can discover, but he has found a place in the Rev. Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of The Saints.

In the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 1868, p. 555, G. H. Kinahan refers to the crosses and holed stones on Illaun MacDara, and gives small drawings of two of the crosses. Petrie, in his Ecclesiastical Architecture (p. 199), makes a short reference to the church, and quotes a passage I have given from O'Flaherty; he also gives a drawing of the church, which is not quite correct in detail. So much for the references. I will now, as concisely as possible, detail the principal features of these remarkable ruins, as I found them.

The Oratory (see Plate) first attracts our attention, its beautiful shape affording an excellent example of a sixth or seventh century building not surpassed by any now remaining. It is one of the most typical of the ancient ecclesiastical structures we possess, and in some respects has no fellow. It is cyclopean; many of the stones being of immense bulk, some measuring 53, by 32, by 28 inches; others 54 and 60 inches long, by 32 inches thick; while others, from their irregular shapes are difficult to measure, but are equally massive. It has one chamber, one door, and two windows.

In one respect it surpasses all the ecclesiastical structures of Aran, in that a considerable portion of the original stone roof remains, which is not so with them. This want in the Aran churches leads some archaeologists to doubt that they ever had stone roofs at all.

The measurements of Saint MacDara's Oratory are given in the annexed plan (see Plan, fig.1). The building is duly orientated, and besides the east window possesses a small square window in the centre of the south wall. The doorway in the west gable has slightly inclined jambs, is square-headed, and is a fine example of its class, being 62 inches high, 28 wide at the sill, and 26 inches at the lintel (see detailed measurements, fig.2). The lintel on the inside immediately over the opening has a projecting band, the breadth of the door, about 4 inches deep, but it bears no socket holes. The north and south side walls project about a foot beyond the east and west gables, and bear the roof directly upon them, apparently using the gables (which have the appearance of being built independently of the walls) as supports, they not being bonded into each other.

Every second course of the gables has, however, a stone slightly inserted into the side walls. The roof-stones have been laid in regular courses, seventeen being counted on one side. In each case the higher row projects slightly over that beneath it, thus forming pleasing bead lines along the roof. Unfortunately much of the roof has fallen in, a large part having been pulled down by throwing a rope over a projecting stone, and a number of men then hauling at it until it fell; but it is still capable of restoration, all the stones still lying about inside. The removal of a large stone from the outside of the south wall, close to the window, has caused a very dangerous bulging of that side, which may at any time be followed by a collapse. A very stout buttress of some considerable age has been built against the east gable, thus preventing it from falling. A very little outlay would put the whole structure in a sound state, and doubtless, preserve it for another 1200 years.

Along the east gable, as shown on the plan, is a stone enclosure, heaped with stones, known as the Saint's Bed. Near the surface of this grave was found a fine stone celt, well shaped and polished; also a portion of a small circular slate-stone with rude ornament, the use of which is not known. It would be interesting to know if the Saint's wooden effigy was here interred by Malachias Queleus. No mortar is visible in the walls of the church; huge and well cut granite quoins are used, the joints being well filled with spawls, or small broken stones, as seen in the sketch of the door and the general view of the church (see Plate.) The east window has deeply splayed jambs and head, with a sloping sill, the head being cut circular, with one stone inside, and a second outside, also cut circular, with two stones in between them (see figs.3 and 4). Its dimensions are 55 inches high, by 26 inches wide inside, and 27 inches high and 11 inches wide outside. Near the outside edges, upon the insides, are cut bar sockets. The south window is square headed, with sides splayed inward and sill downwards, with a one stone lintel. It is 28 and a half inches high, by 27and a half inches wide inside (see fig.5), and 19 inches high, by 10 and a half inches outside. The different features of this church point strongly to a seventh-century erection; its site and cyclopean masonry, its stone roof, narrow door, its one chamber, and small windows, all point it out as one of the earliest and most perfect Christian oratories now remaining to us.

Figure 6 depicts one of the most remarkable stones I have ever seen, and it is one of undoubted interest to every archaeologist. This stone was found in two pieces lying face downwards, a little south of the church, by Charles Elcock, on his visit in 1884. At the time of its discovery by him, perhaps one hundred people were there collecting seaweed, and on his picking up the stone and showing it, they raised the cry, in Irish and English, 'He's found the Saint, he's found the Saint hisself', whereupon everyone rushed to see the Saint's head. They thought it a wonderful thing that he should go to the very spot, and find the Saint himself, at once, never having them had been coming and going “nigh fifty years”, and had never seen “him” before. I found the stone lying face downwards, just where Charles Elcock had left it eleven years before, as if it had never been disturbed, clearly proving that but little attention has ever been paid to these memorials of the very Saint whose festivals they are so careful to observe. Nor do I understand why there was so much interest manifested by those who where on the island when it was found, when any one of them might have found it for themselves, merely by observing its colour and shape, as distinct from the stones around. The natives consider the head in the centre of the stone as being that of Saint MacDara.

This stone, and all the crosses, except one of granite, are cut out of blue limestone, none of which is found on the island, and so must have been brought from the mainland. The size of the remarkable stone is 28 and a half inches wide at its head, and 16 and a half inches at its base, by about 20 inches in height; it is broken into two pieces. The Rev. James Graves, eleven years ago, in reply to a letter from Charles Elcock, enclosing a sketch and rubbing of this stone, wrote, “Similar stones have been found in or near, and in one case in situ, in very early churches, but I do not know of another instance of their being sculptured. I know of one with mouldings round it [probably referring to the one at Freshford, county Kilkenny]. That peculiar shaped stone originally surmounted one of the gables.” A similarly shaped stone is at Molaga's Bed, County Cork. As no socket stone now remains upon the corners of the roof, we have no evidence proving this stone ever stood there. Such a socket may be found amongst the stones lying about; indeed, one socket stone found may possibly have served such a purpose, although the dimensions would not now suit; but it will be observed that the finial stone has had a piece broken from its base, which might have tapered down so as to fit this socket. Could such a stone be used as a finial at the time of the erection of the Oratory, or is it likely that the Saint would have his own effigy erected on his own oratory during his lifetime? Tradition tells us the head on this stone is that of the Saint himself. Then again the stone is blue limestone, and the Oratory is built of a reddish granite. True, the erection of the stone may have taken place at a later date; but it could not, in my opinion, be contemporaneous with the Oratory, the style is so different, there being no carving on any portion of the building. But what may this remarkable stone have been, if not a finial? That I cannot answer. The reverse of the stone is plain, the base having the appearance of being broken. The details of the carvings I need not describe, as they are faithfully delineated in the accompanying sketch (see fig.6).

Several stone altars are in the vicinity of the church, all surmounted by crosses, or fragments of crosses, the most perfect being that to the north-east, standing out picturesquely against the Twelve Bens and the Maamturk mountains, in Connemara, some 12 or 15 miles away (see fig.7). On this altar are several spherical praying or 'cursing' stones; none of them are carved. I would like to know the meaning of the curious cut on the centre of the cross? It is not weathering. At the side of this altar is the small hollowed stone, previously referred to, that may have served as a socket; the hole in it measures 11 inches by 3 inches, its outside measurement being 16 inches by 7 inches.

To the south of the church, close to the shore and standing on the level ground, are two crosses near to each other facing the east, as do all the other crosses. One is plain limestone measuring 34 inches high by 22 and a half inches at the arms and 4 inches thick; the other is of granite, the only one of that rock, and is carved as delineated in the accompanying sketch (see fig.8). The peculiar feature of this cross, which is evidently very ancient, is the introduction of the serpent on the two lower quarters of the cross. The cross is 30 inches high, 17 inches wide at the arms, and 4 inches thick. Another sculptured cross bears the serpent ornament. Its height is 33 inches by 17 inches wide (see fig.9). There are no other whole crosses on the island, but the fragments of several could be gathered together, for even in the short time of my visit we collected several portions. The shaft of one cross is erected in a station whilst four portions of the head lie upon the altar, having been previously taken from the adjacent wall. These pieces when put together form a very fine cross, only one little piece being absent, and it doubtless is not far away.

The several portions of another cross, the highest we observed, were found upon the altar to the south of the church. These pieces were also picked from the same wall as that previously mentioned, the arms alone being missing, but I would not despair of finding them also if time allowed the search. Its height is 78 inches by 10 inches across the shaft (see fig 10). The head of another fine cross in two pieces we found in the fence close to the church; it has been a fine Celtic cross having a circle with openings and arms. Its greatest breadth is 28 and a half inches, and its height 21 inches; the breadth of the head is 12 inches, and the thickness 3 inches. The openings are 4 inches by 3 inches.

Fragments of other crosses we found, some of them beautifully carved with rich opus hibernicum (see fig. 11). No modern graves were observed, although the ground near the church was marked with large stones that may point to former interments.

Some distance from the church to the north, and overhanging the shore, are the remains of what may have been clochauns or circular stone dwelling houses. The walls of one stand 4 feet high on one side, and 2 feet on the other, the diameter being 19 feet. The stones are large and well cut, and carefully built. To the east of this are the remains of another circular stone structure, but the building is not so apparent. These may have been the residences of Sinach and his followers.

These are all the evidences observed by me of what must formerly have been an important religious settlement. The life of Illaun Mac Dara must have been, for at least six months of the year, rigorous in the extreme; a few sheep or goats could exist on the island, and a few herbs be grown, but the principal food must have been fish and seaweed, unless the inhabitants of the mainland systematically contributed food for the maintenance of the religious on this barren rock.

Charles Elcock, of Belfast, visited Cruach Mac Dara eleven years ago, and I have gone carefully through his notes and the beautiful drawings he then made, and the accurate measurements taken, and have verified them with my own. In all respects I found the different features described by me to have been observed and noted by him, no changes having taken place. To him I am much indebted for the illustrations to this Paper, carefully made from his drawings, and measurements, and my own, and from the very excellent photographs taken by Robert J. Welch, two of which also are here reproduced.

I have also to express my indebtedness to others who cheerfully assisted me, and more especially to the Rev. Canon M Cormick, D.D., of Roundstone, who arranged for our passage to this most interesting island in his semi-aquatic parish.

I shall not soon forget the coming home from Illaun Mac Dara. I cannot describe it as a sail, there being no wind whatever. For hours we lay there in the long Atlantic swell, our huge sail flapping with the roll of the ship, the island of the Saint behind us, and the great range of the Twelve Bens along the northern horizon, decked out in the most gorgeous colouring of a western sunset. Crimson, violet, and purple vied with each other amongst the peaks of the Connemara Alps, whilst all around the warm glow of a July evening impressed upon us the thought that we had indeed been amongst the Isles of the Blest, though not on Hy Brasil itself.

In conclusion, I would like to press upon the Members of this Society the desirability of taking some immediate action in order to put into safety the numerous and interesting relics of Inis Mac Dara. A little money, with some time and skill, would make this island a perfect gem, showing what an early Irish religious settlement really was. I would cheerfully assist in the work, and gladly co-operate with any who desire to see these relics of Saint Sinach Mac Dara gilded with the rays of the Atlantic sun in a state to recall to mind their early beauty and symmetry.

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Volume VI, 5th series, (1896), 101-112.

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Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Monastic Life and Miracles of St Colman-Elo

September 26 is the feast of Saint Colman of Lann-Elo, an account of whose life can be found here. In Volume IX of his Lives of the Irish Saints Canon O'Hanlon, mainly drawing on a Life preserved among the Franciscan archives, includes a number of the miracles attributed to the saint.  I have made a selection of these below, the headings are mine, the text O'Hanlon's. They present a glimpse into the monastic life and in that of Saint Colman it seems that the monks often struggled with his ascetic regime:

The Miraculous Transport of Food
After St. Colman's establishment had been formed, it is stated, that on a certain occasion food had failed his monks; yet a miraculous supply reached them on the feast of the Epiphany. Again is the story told, that when in want of the necessaries of life, a miraculous transport of provisions was wafted to the monastery through the air, and like to the prophet Habacuc's experience.
A Monk Loses his Temper with Saint Colman
A Briton, who was a member of St. Colman's community, had been reproved by the Abbot for some fault. Angered by that reproof, his hand was raised to strike his superior; but in that very act, the hand became stiff and paralysed, nor could the monk recover its use, until the saint had compassionately pardoned his transgression.
Saint Colman Grants a Vision of the Rewards Awaiting his Monks
At one time, the monks of St. Colman murmured, because they lived a very laborious life and one that was very austere, without any corporal rest or consolation. Their venerable superior, knowing this by information communicated to him, addressed them thus : "Brothers, if you desire to see the glory of the heavenly kingdom in so far as it may be permitted to mortals, you shall now behold it." Having replied, that they most earnestly wished for such a favour, Colman raised his hand and placed it over their eyes. Immediately the beatific vision opened to their great delight and admiration. Thenceforward they bore with great resignation and even joy all their austerities and labours to the end of their lives, deeming them as bearing no comparison with the rewards reserved for them in the realms of the blessed. However, their holy Abbot imposed on them an obligation never to reveal that vision to others during his life-time.
Collanus, the Faithful Monk
On a certain occasion, when Colman was absent from his monastery, a monk, remarkable for his humility, obedience and devotion, named Collanus, departed this life. On the Abbot's return he went alone to the cell where his body lay, and standing before the door which had been closed he cried out : "O Collanus, as you have been obedient to me in life, so continue after death, and open this habitation to me." Immediately the monk arose as if from sleep, at the sound of his Abbot's voice; the door opened, and after mutual salutation, the monk said : "I beseech you Father, permit me to return where I have found great glory and rest, to that realm I have already seen." This request he obtained. Having received the Body of our Lord, again he departed and his remains were consigned to the grave.
A Miracle of Saint Colman's Staff
Again where the confluence of two rivers took place, some monks lived in their cells; but floods came that seemed to bode destruction to their dwellings. They came to St. Colman, and asked him to relieve them, when he gave them his staff, telling them to describe a circle with it around their monastery. Having complied with such directions, the inundation ceased, nor afterwards were they subjected to any such inconvenience.
Saint Colman Shows Mercy to a Thief
It is related, that a robber had taken a sacred vessel from the monastery of St. Colman, and which had been used by him for ministerial purposes. Having sold it to a Munster cleric, the robber was apprehended by the people, who were about to hang him for the commission of such a sacrilege, and they threatened to do so if it were not restored. This restitution he was unable then to effect, but the merciful Abbot intervened on his behalf, and rescued him from the hands of that infuriated mob. As a reward for such clemency, the ampulla was recovered through the prayers of Colman.
Saint Colman Punishes some Unrepentant Thieves
St. Colman visited a place called Cluain cayn (Clonkeen) where certain robbers had taken away some property belonging to the monks; but being accused of the theft, they were ready to deny it on oath. Then said our saint, "We shall give you until morning to state the whole truth. " But they persisted in denying their complicity in the theft. A severe punishment was inflicted on them for this denial, and they suffered great pain, until they were obliged to acknowledge their guilt, on the morning following.
Saint Colman Prevents Infanticide
A romantic story is told regarding a son who was born blind. The mother was so shocked and disgusted with his appearance, that she urged another son to take his infant brother and drown him in an adjoining lake. In this resolve her husband coincided. Suddenly was heard the voice of that infant saying to his brother : "O man, do you reflect on what a deed you purpose ?" He replied : "I am about to deprive you of life." The blind infant then said : "Unless you repent of your intention immediately, you shall die, and I shall live, since I am given to Colman Ela that he may nurture me." Whereupon fearing the consequence of such an evil act, the son returned home, and told his father what had occurred. Nevertheless, the father insisted that one of his female servants should execute the deed, and submitting to such an order, again the blind infant spoke to her, and said, that being entrusted by God to the care of St. Colman, she could not deprive him of life, and that unless she should repent of her crime, death must overtake her. Trembling with fear, she returned to the house, and told the father what had happened in her own case. Filled with indignation and still incredulous, the father—a chief of the O'Neill family—resolved on the crime of infanticide himself. He then heard his own child's voice upbraid him and declare, that should the father make any attempt on his son's life the penalty of death must be inflicted on himself, and that too, unless sincere repentance should follow, since the Lord had devoted him to St. Colman Ela to be protected. Accordingly the terrified parent relented. At that very time, our saint happened to be near, and afterwards he went to the chieftain's house to reproach him with the crime intended. The child was then entrusted to St. Colman's care, to be baptised and instructed in the rudiments of learning. As years advanced, the boy grew in wisdom and morality; yet although he was thenceforward known as the Blind Kellamis, he became a sage and the teacher of many scholars.
Saint Colman's Vision of Pope Saint Gregory the Great
On a certain day while St. Colman laboured with his monks in the field, he had a vision, when he suddenly fell prostrate on the ground and shed tears. His monks astonished at such an unusual occurrence asked him with earnestness the cause. He told them he had seen a number of Angels descending towards earth, and that he thought the Day of General Judgment had come. But then he saw them bear a golden altar aloft and on it the soul of Blessed Gregory the Pope. A great illumination took place, as the gates of Heaven opened and Angels appeared to receive him. At the end of a year from that day, he declared that a messenger from Rome should visit their monastery and confirm the fact of Gregory's death. This prediction was fulfilled, for a pilgrim from that city, who had resolved to visit the saints of Ireland, brought such intelligence to them.

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Friday, 25 September 2015

Saint Colman of Comhruire, September 25

September 25 is the feast day of yet another Irish Saint Colman, this one associated with the founding of a church at Uisneach Hill, County Westmeath. Canon O'Hanlon supplies the details, including a second entry for the saint from the Martyrology of Tallaght:

St. Colman of Comhruire, now Kilcomreragh, at Uisneach Hill, County of Westmeath.

[Seventh Century.]

The name Colman, being a diminutive of Colum or Colm—a contraction for Columba—was very frequently applied to very many of our early Irish Saints. The name Colman, Comraire, appears in the Martyrology of Tallagh, as having veneration paid him, at the 25th of September. The like entry is in the Book of Leinster copy. The feast of Colman is entered in the Feilire of Marianus O'Gorman, at the 25th of September, and the commentator says, i.e., Colman Comhruire—rendered Colman of the Casket. Bronach, daughter to Miliuc, son of Buan, with whom Patrick was in bondage, is said to have been his mother. Again, it is related, that his mother was Galges, daughter of Aedh-finn or Hugh the White, prince of Hybruinn. He is said to have been the son of Fintan, and grandson of Finloga, prince of South Munster. His brother was the celebrated St. Fursa or Fursey, who preached and founded monasteries in England and France. Uisneach was in the parish of Killare, barony of Rathconrath and county of Westmeath. It is now known as Usnagh hill, and somewhere in its vicinity, Comhruire must be sought. This place was also called Comhraire-Midhe, and it is now known as Kilcomreragh, near the hill of Uisneach. The church there is said to have been founded early in the seventh century, by the present Saint. It seems likely he died during that period, or perhaps early in the eighth century. The death of Abbot Ferfio of Comhraire-Midhe, is recorded, at A.D. 757. Comraire monastery seemed not to have survived the Danish invasions. The history of St. Colman, and the year of his death, do not appear to be known. He is recorded in the Martyrology of Donegal, at this same date as Colman, of Comhruire, at Uisneach.

Reputed St. Colman, Sci.

The Martyrology of Tallagh, registers St. Colman, Sci., as having been venerated, at the 25th of September. In like manner, we meet such an insertion in the Book of Leinster copy. As we do not meet this distinctive entry in any other Irish Calendar, it seems to have been a superfluous notice, and only intended to commemorate the preceding saint.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Adamnan, the Poor Scholar

September 23 is the feast day of Saint Adamnan, abbot of Iona and biographer of Saint Colum Cille. In the episode below we see this great saint not as the accomplished churchman but as a struggling student who encounters King Finnachta and his entourage:

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Adamnan, the Poor Scholar

The sister of Finnachta invited him to come to her and feast in her dún for some days. It was before Finnachta, whom men called "The Festive", was made Ard-Righ of Erinn. He set out with a great cavalcade, and as they journeyed towards Clonard of Meath, with laughter and light words, they came upon a young student who was trudging along the road with a small cask or churn on his back. The youth, on hearing the tramp of the horses,  made a hurried attempt to move off the road: but having struck his foot against a stone he fell, breaking the cask to pieces and spilling the milk with which it was filled. The cavalcade passed on at quick speed, and the student recovering himself set out among with them, and notwithstanding their speed and his own grief kept pace with them,  a fragment of the cask at his back, until at last he attracted the notice of the king, who smiled when he saw the excitement under which he laboured. Then the king accosted him and said: "We will make thee happy again, for we have sympathy with the unfortunate and the powerless. Thou shalt receive, O student," said he, "satisfaction from me". The youth (who was afterwards no less a person than the great scholar and divine, Saint Adamnan the founder of the Church of Rath-Botha, or Raphoe in Donegal, and Abbot of Iona after Columkill) then spoke to the king, whom he did not know at the time: "O good man," said he, "I have cause to be grieved, for there are three noble students in one house, and there are three lads of us that wait upon them, and what we do is, one of us three goes round the neighbourhood to collect support for the other five, and it was my turn to do do this day; but what I had obtained for them has been lost, and what is more unfortunate, the borrowed vessel has been broken, while I have not the means of paying for it."

Then Finnachta ordered that full compensation should be made to Adamnan; and afterwards, when Finnachta was Ard-righ and the young scholar had the reputation of learning on him, the king brought him to Tara and made him his councillor. - Taken from O'Curry's Translation of an old Irish MS.

All Ireland Review Vol. 3, No. 2 (Mar. 15, 1902), p. 29

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Monday, 21 September 2015

Saint Edilhun, Monk at Rathmelsigi, September 21

September 21 is the commemoration of one of the Saxon saints who came to Ireland as a student and sadly fell victim to the plague in 664. The story of Saint Edilhun (Æthelhun) is forever linked with that of his brother monk Egbert (Eghert) and is found in The Venerable Bede's History of the English Church. Bede's account describes how devastating the plague was and also how powerful a draw the monastic schools of Ireland exerted on his countrymen. The establishment to which our saint was drawn, Rathmelsigi, was previously identified with Mellifont Abbey in County Louth, although as long ago as the 1820s, Father John Lanigan pointed out that this was for no other reason than both contained the word Mel in their names and that no monastery was known there prior to the 12th century. Today Rathmelsigi is increasingly identified with Clonmelsh, County Carlow and appreciated as the intellectual and spiritual powerhouse which produced some of the greatest missionary saints of the Anglo-Saxon church, in Saint Willibrord and his companions. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín has argued that the illuminated manuscripts associated with Willibrord's monastery of Echternach may well have been written at Rathmelsigi, and it is sad to think that there is now virtually no trace of this once important foundation. There is a paper available online on Clonmelsh and Mathematics which pays tribute to the wealth of learning there in the days of the Saxon scholars. For the life of former alumnus Saint Edilhun, we can turn first to the summary given by Canon O'Hanlon and then to the account of the Venerable Bede.



LIKE many of his countrymen, who had desired to render themselves more educated in sacred and profane learning, as also more perfect in the science of the saints, Edilhun had known how celebrated were the schools and monasteries of our country at a time, when Christianity had just began to take root in the northern parts of Britain. This holy man was an Anglo-Saxon by birth, which appears to have taken place early in the sixth century. The English Martyrology of John Wilson, Father Henry Fitzsimon, and the Anonymous Calendar of Irish Saints, published by O'Sullivan Beare, enter St. Edilhun's feast at the 21st day of September, the date assigned for it by other hagiologists. As Wilson signifies, he did not find the name of Edilhunus in the old English Martyrology or Calendar; the Bollandists, who insert his commemoration at this date, think that he had not been anciently held up for public veneration in the Church. However, from the eulogium pronounced on him by Venerable Bede, and on trustworthy authority, there can hardly be a doubt, that Edilhun eminently deserved and received that meed of popular approbation, especially as he had a prophetic vision of his approaching death. Moreover, the virtues of Edilhunus are highly commemorated by Venerable Bede, who treats about him, in connexion with St. Egbert, whose Acts have been already given at the 24th of April, the day assigned for his festival. We need scarcely do more than refer to that record, which includes the transactions of both holy companions in friendship and expatriation. Edilhun was of noble birth, and a brother to Ethelwin, a man no less beloved by God, who also went over to Ireland for purposes of study, and who, being there well instructed, returned afterwards to his own native country. He became bishop over the province of Lindsey, and long governed that See, in a worthy and creditable manner. Both Egbert and Edilhun were fellow students in a monastery denominated Rathmelsigi by Venerable Bede, at a time when the dreadful pestilence of A.D. 664 raged throughout Ireland, and both were attacked by that disorder, under which they were grievously suffering for some time. Then Edilhun had a vision, in which his own immediate death had been revealed, and also the fact, that his companion should survive him for many long years. This he related to Egbert on awakening from his sleep, and Edilhun was called to his rest on the following night. At the 21st of September, Ferrarius has a festival for Edilhunus. That was the supposed day of his death in Ireland, when he fell a victim to the great pestilence A.D. 664.

From the Venerable Bede:



IN the same year of our Lord's incarnation, 664, there happened an eclipse of the sun, on the third of May, about ten o'clock in the morning. In the same year, a sudden pestilence also depopulated the southern coasts of Britain and afterwards extending into the province of the Northumbrians, ravaged the country far and near, and destroyed a great multitude of men. To which plague the aforesaid priest Tuda fell a victim, and was honorably buried in the monastery of Pegnaleth. This pestilence did no less harm in the island of Ireland. Many of the nobility, and of the lower ranks of the English nation, were there at that time, who, in the days of the Bishops Finan and Colman, forsaking their native island, retired thither, either for the sake of Divine studies, or of a more continent life; and some of them presently devoted themselves to a monastical life, others chose rather to apply themselves to study, going about from one master's cell to another. The Scots willingly received them all, and took care to supply them with food, as also to furnish them with books to read, and their teaching, gratis.

Among these were Etheihun and Eghert, two youths of great capacity, of the English nobility. The former of whom was brother to Ethelwin, a man no less beloved by God, who also afterwards went over into Ireland to study, and having been well instructed, returned into his own country, and being made bishop in the province of Lindsey, long governed that church worthily and creditably. These two being in the monastery which in the language of the Scots is called Rathmelsigi, and having lost all their companions, who were either cut off by the mortality, or dispersed into other places, fell both desperately sick of the lame distemper, and were grievously afflicted. Of these, Egbert (as I was informed by a priest venerable for his age, and of great veracity, who declared he had heard those things from his own mouth), concluding that he was at the point of death, went out of his chamber, where the sick lay, in the morning, and sitting alone in a convenient place, began seriously to reflect upon his past actions, and, being full of compunction at the remembrance of his sins, bedewed his face with tears, and prayed fervently to God that he might not die yet, before he could make amends for the offences which he had committed in his infancy and younger years, or might further exercise himself in good works. He also made a vow that he would, for the sake of God, live in a strange place, so as never to return into the island of Britain, where he was born; that besides the canonical times of singing psalms, he would, unless prevented by corporeal infirmity, say the whole Psalter daily to the praise of God; and that he would every week fast one whole day and a night. Returning home, after his tears, prayers, and vows, he found his companion asleep, and going to bed himself, began to compose himself to rest. When he had lain quiet awhile, his comrade awaking, looked on him, and said, "Alas, Brother Eghert, what have you done? I was in hopes that we should have entered together into life everlasting; but know that what you prayed for is granted." For he had learned in a vision what the other had requested, and that his prayer was granted.

In short, Ethelhun died the next night; but Eghert shaking off his distemper, recovered and lived a long time after to grace the priestly office, which he had received, by his worthy behavior; and after much increase of virtue, according to his desire, he at length, in the year of our Lord's incarnation 729, being ninety years of age, departed to the heavenly kingdom.

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book III, Chapter XXVII.

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