Friday, 22 February 2013

Saint Maelbrighde of Armagh, February 22


The Irish calendars commemorate on February 22 a ninth/tenth-century saint, Maelbrighde (Moel-Brigid), who held the see of Armagh during some rather turbulent times. The calendars and annals list him as not merely a successor to Saint Patrick at Armagh, but also a successor to Saints Columcille and Adamnan. The Martyrology of Donegal reads:

22. D. OCTAVO KAL. MARTII. 22.

Maelbrighde, son of Dornan, successor of Patrick and of Colum Cille ; a man full of the grace of God, and a vessel of the wisdom and knowledge of his time. He was of the race of Conall Gulban, son of Niall. Saerlaith, daughter of Coulebaith, son of Baothghel, was his mother. A.D. 925.

O'Hanlon takes up the life of Saint Maelbrighde:

This distinguished saint was son to Tornan, who was descended lineally, and the twelfth in generation, from Conall Gulban. He was thus of the same royal stock as St. Columkille himself. The mother of Moel-Brigid was Soerlathia, daughter to Culebaith, and she was also of noble birth. The name given to him signifies "the servant of Brigid," or " the tonsured of Brigid," or " the consecrated to Brigid," or " the Brigidian."

Our saint soon became greatly distinguished, for his virtues and learning. In consequence of an opinion entertained, respecting his varied merits and accomplishments,he was appointed comorban or successor of St. Adamnan, most probably as Abbot over Raphoe. He was elevated, also, to abbatial dignity —probably at a later period— over the church of St. Columba, at Derry, according to Colgan.

...After enjoying those dignities, our saint was elevated to the Primatial See of Armagh. On account of his great zeal for religion, and the exercise of eminent wisdom and virtue, he obtained a name and repute for being, " Head of Religion in Ireland, and of the greater part of Europe." There is a difference of opinion, among our Irish Annalists and modern writers, regarding the order of succession, in Armagh See, as, also, with regard to the names of its incumbents. Maelcoba Mac Crunnvail, Abbot of Armagh, is said to have died, at an advanced age, A.D. 885, or 887. It is thought our saint, as his immediate successor, then promoted to the coarbship.

During the time of this Archbishop's administration, a great riot took place in Armagh Cathedral Church, between the Hy Nialls of Kinel-Eogain or Tyrone, and the people of Ulidia or East Ulster. Flaithbheartach, son to Murehadh, was chief over the former faction, and Atteidh, son to Luighne, chieftains over the latter. This riot, which occurred, about Whitsuntide, in the year 889, was appeased by the Archbishop's influence and exertions. This prelate induced both parties to abstain from violence, and to make due reparation to Almighty God, whom they offended, and to atone for the violation of St. Patrick's law. He is said to have been a man remarkable for his inflexible justice. From the Ulidians, Moel-Brigid obtained hostages and an offering of thirty times seven cumhals to the church; while, four Ulidians, the chief instigators of this riot, after being proved guilty were hung. In like manner, the Kinel Eogain rioters repaired those outrages committed by them, and as many more of these were hung. An act of violence is recorded, as having taken place in Armagh, during this Archbishop's administration. In the year 907, the privileges of the Cathedral of Armagh were violated by Kernach Mac-Dulgen, by dragging a captive out of the church, who had taken sanctuary there, and by drowning him in Loch-Kirr, west of the city. But, this violation was retaliated on Kernach, by Neall Glundub, then King of Ulster, and afterwards of Ireland, who drowned him in the same lough. Several serious disasters and disturbances occurred in Armagh, during the term of our saint's incumbency. We read, that the Archbishop took a journey towards Munster, a.d. 908, to procure the liberation of a strange Briton, who being a pilgrim in the country, had been unjustly detained there as a captive. Respecting the result of Moel-Brigid's mission, we are not informed. While he sat in this See, Armagh was three times taken and plundered by the Danes, namely, in 890, 893, and 919; and, it was once set on fire in the year 914. According to the most reliable accounts, Moel-Brigid ruled over Armagh Metropolitan See for a duration of forty years; so yet, the Calendar of Cashel gives him only twenty-nine years of rule. He departed this life, at a good old age, on the 22nd of February.

The Annals of the Four Masters recorded the death of Saint Maelbrighde thus:

A.D. 925 : "St. Maelbrighde, son of Tornan, successor of Patrick, Colum Cille, and Adamnan, head of the piety of all Ireland, and of the greater part of Europe, died, at a good old age, on the 22nd of February, in commemoration of whose death it was said :

On the eighth of the calends of noble March,
Maelbrighde, most gifted of the brave Gaedhil [died]
Since the Divine Son of God was born
Upon the earthly world in carnal shape,
Five years and twenty, nine hundred,
To the death of Maelbrighde in evil hour.
It was not a year without events ;
Premature the death of the Abbot of Ard-Macha,
Maelbrighde, head of Europe."

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