On January 13 we commemorate the memory of Saint Ailill, an early Archbishop of Armagh. Canon O'Hanlon's account of the saint is rather heavy-going and indeed, he sounds somewhat weary by the final paragraph. The problem is that the sources appear to suggest that our saint may have had a previous association with the monastery of Moville, County Down. Other writers, particularly Father John Lanigan who wrote about the Irish saints in the 1820s, were convinced that Ailill of Armagh and Ailill of Moville were two distinct individuals. Furthermore, it appeared that if the Archbishop of Armagh was the same person as the monastic of Moville, then there was also the tradition that Ailill had been married to deal with. A final source of confusion was that Saint Ailill's successor bore the same name and this is why our saint is referred to as Saint Ailill I in the Lives of the Irish Saints. Actually, his name is rendered in various forms in Canon O'Hanlon's account, including Ailild, Alild as well as Ailill:
St Ailild I., Archbishop of Armagh. [Fifth and Sixth Centuries.]
At the 13th day of January, Colgan has drawn up some accounts regarding this holy prelate, from the Acts of St. Patrick, and from other sources, while he has added some comments of his own to solve difficulties which are presented. Before St. Patrick's arrival in Ireland, about A.D. 432, a chieftain named Trichem lived in an eastern part of Ulster. This assertion is capable of proof, from the circumstance of Dichuo, son to this Trichem, having bestowed on St. Patrick the site for Saul Monastery. Besides this, it is known that Magbile, Killchlethe, Down, and Neddrum, where the sons of this Trichem had their possessions, are all situated in the eastern and maritime parts of Ulster.
Trichem, or as the name is Latinized, Trichemius, was the descendant of a respectable ancestral pagan line; but he was likewise the parent of children no less distinguished in the early history of our Irish Church. This chieftain is stated to have been a scion of the noble Dalfiatacian family, from which race were derived many kings, not only of the Ultonian province, but even some who had been monarchs over Ireland. St. Ailild was the son of Trichem, son to Fieg, son of Imchad, son to Breassal, son of Sinchad, son to Fiatach, surnamed Finn. We find the holy archbishop, in after time, classed among the disciples of St. Patrick and if he deserve such a distinction, it must have been at rather a late period of the Apostle's life, and while Ailild himself was very young.
It has been very positively asserted, that our saint was not Trichem's son, and Dr. Lanigan considers him to have been a different person from Ailill of Magbile, with whom, it is said, he was confounded. The only grounds on which the former opinion seems formed are, that Dichuo, the elder brother of Ailill, must have had a settled family, and have been at least forty years of age in the year 433, when he had been converted by St. Patrick. Hence, as argued, it could not have been probable he had a brother capable of assuming episcopal functions in the year 513.
Although Trichem had not the happiness of embracing the Christian faith, yet, through God's holy providence, he was the father of a numerous and saintly offspring. He became the parent of six sons, who were not only distinguished for being among the first fruits of St. Patrick's apostolic labours and preaching, owing to their reception of the baptismal and regenerating sacrament, but, moreover, they acquired a reputation for being enrolled among the early saints of Ireland's Church. They are thus named, according to the order of their respective births, viz., Rius, or Rossius, Dichuo, Durthact, Eugenius, Niell, and Alill. In the Life of St. Patrick we are told, that Dichuo was not alone the first of his family, but of his whole nation, who embraced the Christian faith, when our great Apostle's mission commenced. This example was afterwards followed by members of his household. The elder brother, Rossius, at first resisted the grace of conversion; and he even sought to interpose every obstacle to the success of St. Patrick's mission. But his obstinacy and infidelity were finally overcome.
Soon afterwards, having received the sacraments of the Church, he happily departed this life. The four younger brothers to these converts, already named, moved by the example of their seniors, and by miracles, manifested at the time of their conversion, were not left without those graces which enabled them to receive the light of Faith. They choose also that better part, by aspiring to the attainment of practices which render faith perfect. They were favoured from above with those Divine inspirations, which induced them to exercise virtues becoming the saints of Christ. Our martyrologists state that, whilst Dichuo had been venerated at Saul, St. Durthact was honoured at Nendrum, St Eugenius and St. Niell at Kil-cleith, and St. Ailild, at Maghile. This latter place is now known as Moville, situated in the barony of Ards, county of Down.
St. Ailild, it has been remarked, is thought to have obtained the graces of all the sacraments. For, not only did he receive those graces which are common to all Christians, but, moreover, Holy Orders and Matrimony, which are distinctive ones, usually constituting a line of demarcation existing between clergy and laity. It has even been stated, that after St. Ailild had been married, he became the father of Carbre. This latter in time was parent to the celebrated St. Finnian, Abbot of Magbile.
After his wife's death, most probably, Ailild abandoned all secular cares by devoting himself entirely to God's holy service. When speaking about this saint, Harris remarks, that he was a married man at the time of his conversion. In order to account for a married man taking Holy Orders, this writer states, that Colgan tells us, he put away his wife first. Now Harris has shamefully perverted the meaning of Colgan, in reference to this subject. The Irish hagiologist is misrepresented and made to say, that Ailill put away his wife before taking Holy Orders. Now Colgan's statement is, that the wife was dead, before he became a clergyman. Harris then goes on to show, that the Irish clergy were not bound to celibacy in those times; but Dr. Lanigan takes him to task and roundly asserts, that in the whole history of the ancient Irish Church, there is no instance of any bishop having been exempt from the law of celibacy.
In addition to what has been urged with so much force, it may be stated, in reply to what Harris has advanced, when trying to support his false position, that, as in the present instance, it is extremely probable some priests of the early Irish Church had been married previous to their ordination. Yet, in this case, either their wives died before they assumed orders, or they had consented to a voluntary separation from their husbands, so that these might enter upon a religious state. To persons thus circumstanced, the canon in question had reference; and, as at the present time, we are able to furnish many instances for illustration, especially as regard married converts to the Catholic religion, so at a period when St. Patrick commenced his mission in Ireland, it might have been deemed expedient to recruit the clerical ranks from persons who had been previously married, and who felt disposed to comply with established ecclesiastical discipline, before their reception of the higher orders.
From the circumstance of this saint, as named in our Irish Menologies, having been venerated at Magbile, it has been assumed, by Colgan, that he might have been abbot over that place. This grave author, however, would not undertake to assert, whether from having been abbot there, St. Ailild had been assumed to Armagh's archiepiscopal see, or whether having ruled over this latter church, he laid down the honours and responsibilities of pontifical dignity, to seek repose in Magbile Monastery.
From all evidence adduced by Colgan, we might feel unable to arrive at any other conclusion, than that Ailild resided tor some time in Maghbile Monastery, as a simple monk. It is likely enough, that he received Holy Orders, and was afterwards promoted to Armagh see, without having previously or subsequently exercised the function of an abbot. But so far as the chronology of his episcopacy is concerned, no abbey of Maghbile was in existence, until after his death. Perhaps he was venerated there after having been called away from life. On the death of Duach or Dubtach I., which took place in the year 512 St. Alild I. was appointed to succeed, as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. Our saint sustained the honours of this exalted station for a continuance of thirteen years. During this period, his merits and virtues were found fully equal to that great trust reposed in his keeping. Full of years and of virtues, he passed out of this life, on the 13th day of January, in the year of salvation, 525.
He was succeeded in the Archiepiscopal See of Armagh, by St. Ailild II. - and from the concurrent circumstances of both distinguished persons bearing the same name, claiming the same family origin, and coming in an immediate order as regards succession in the same see, they have been incorrectly confounded. But the distinction of days, months and years, having reference to their departure from this life, will tend to correct such an error. Our annalists and hagiologists assign the second Ailild's death to the 1st day of July, A.D. 535.
As already observed, those dates referring to the decease of St. Alild I., are altogether different. The Natalis of Alild I. is held on the Ides or 13th of January, and that of Ailild II., on the 1st of July. For these statements, we may cite as authorities, the Martyrology of Tallagh, Marianus O'Gorman, the Commentator on St. Aengus, and the Irish Martyrology of Donegal.
Despite a positive assertion of the learned and researchful Colgan, who appears to have had ample materials before him on which he might ground an opinion, a learned Irish historian presumes to question the statement, that Ailild I, Archbishop of Armagh, was the identical person, named Alild of Magbile. The latter writer asserts, that in Colgan's acts of our saint, which he designates a strange and an incoherent medley, the Irish hagiologist has confounded into one person two saints, who ought to have been regarded as distinct in identity, and as living at different periods. While allowing Alild of Magbile to have been one of Prince Trichem's sons, and a grandfather to St. Finnian of Magbile, Dr. Lanigan considers this St. Alild to have been always a layman. From confounding the latter with St. Alild, Archbishop of Armagh, this historian asserts an impression was thence derived that the metropolitan prelate had been married before his ordination. Again Dr. Lanigan maintains, that Alild, Archbishop of Armagh, was not nearly connected with Dichuo, St. Patrick's early convert, while the prelate in question was a native of Clanbrassil, this being a district, far distant from Lecale, in which Dichuo's family resided. This writer will not allow there is any foundation for a statement, that Alild, Archbishop of Armagh, or even Dichuo, came from a princely extraction. But the argument he principally urges, to sustain his opinion, is the assumption of Dichuo having had a settled family in the year 432, when in all probability he could not have been less than forty years of age, and consequently the improbability of his having had a brother capable of discharging episcopal duties in 513. The objections of Dr. Lanigan are sufficiently plausible and pertinent, but not entirely convincing nor unanswerable, especially when weighed with received accounts regarding our saint. According to his usual theory of computation, this historian says, Ailill I. died about, or in the year 526, after having governed Armagh See nearly thirteen years. The same writer supposes, that Ailill I., dying so early in the year as the 13th of January, it is very probable, his incumbency did not last fully thirteen years, although having its commencement in 513. In the body of his text, to which the above observation is appended, the learned Doctor tells us, that the first Alild died on the 13th of January, A.D. 526, after an incumbency of thirteen years.
No doubt much remains to be discovered regarding the Life of St. Alilid I., under these peculiar circumstances; and probably, at some future time, certain involutions of facts now presented may receive adequate solution. For the present, therefore, too much unwarranted assertion or mere speculation might be risked, were the writer of this notice to enter upon further details concerning him, and the contemporary events of his period.
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Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2015. All rights reserved.