Monday, 14 May 2018

Saint Carthage of Lismore, May 14


On May 14 we commemorate Saint Carthage (Mochuda) of Lismore, County Waterford. I have previously posted an introduction to his life by Father John Ryan S.J. here, but below is a paper by a resident of Lismore, W.H. Grattan Flood (1857-1928), a prolific contributor to the antiquarian and religious periodicals of his day. Flood published an entire ecclesiastical history of Lismore in the Journal of the Waterford and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, of which this paper forms a part. In the extract below, the author gives a retelling of the traditional account of Saint Carthage and his expulsion from the Abbey of Rahan:

ST CARTHAGE OF LISMORE.

By WILLIAM H. GRATTAN FLOOD.

The early years of the seventh century found Christianity fairly well established in the territory of Nan Desie. Already the monasteries of Ardmore, Molana, Dungarvan, Ballintemple, Mothel, etc., were famous, and sent forth numerous disciples to take up the good work of St. Declan. As yet the city of Waterford was unknown, and so was Lismore. But the Providence of God was mysteriously working, and a great servant of God was already qualifying to be sent as the Apostle of Magh-Sciath. In a previous number of the Journal I explained the entry under date of 634, recording the death of "Eochaid, Abbot of Lismore," which has reference to Lismore in Scotland.

About the year 614 St. Carthage, Abbot of Rahan, visited Kerry Currihy and was royally entertained by Carbery Criffan, King of Munster. Whilst still in this part of the country a very dreadful incident occurred. The Queen and her son, Aidus (Hugh) were killed by a thunderbolt, and the monarch, plunged in grief, besought the saint to make intercession to God on their behalf, whereupon the mother and son were restored to life. (a) No wonder that the king was profuse in his thanks for such a miracle, and he bestowed most signal marks of favour on St. Carthage, “to enable him to extend his great work."

Finghin, son of Hugh Dubh, King of Munster, died in 621, but his wife, Mor, lived until the year 632. The new ruler of Munster, Cathal MacHugh, was not only blind, but was also a deaf mute, and as such was incapable of being sovereign. His courtiers bethought of St. Carthage, to whom they sent a most urgent message on behalf of the invalid king, and the saintly Abbot of Rahan again journeyed southwards. In the quaint language of the Life: "Mochuda came where the king was, and the king and his friends implored Mochuda to relieve his distress. Mochuda made prayers to God for him, and put the sign of the holy cross on his eyes, and ears, and mouth, and he was cured of all his diseases and troubles, and the King Cathal (b) gave extensive lands to God, and to Mochuda, for ever, namely, Cathel Island, and Ross Beg, and Ross Mor, and Pick Island; and Mochucla sent holy brethern to build a church in Ross Beg in honour of God, and Mochuda himself commenced building a monastery in Pick Island, and he remained there a full year.” According to the Life, St. Carthage placed three favourite disciples in Cathel Island, Ross Beg, and Ross Mor, viz: "the three sons of Nascann, i.e. Bishop Caban [Gobban], and Straphan [Stephen] the priest, and Laisren [Molaise] the saint.

In 628 St. Carthage was still only an Abbot, and on that account he requested the holy Bishop of Ardmore [St, Domaingen] to ordain and bless as Abbots the three above-mentioned disciples, in his own presence." The modern reader will need to be informed that these three abbeys were in Co. Cork, not far from Ardmore, but were afterwards incorporated with the diocese of Cloyne- Pick Island in particular, although unidentified by some Irish writers (including the great O'Donovan), is best known as Spike Island, near Queenstown, of which St. Ruissen was first Abbot, and which twelve centuries later was used as a convict depot. St. Carthage appointed the Bishop of the Nan Desie, to have spiritual jurisdiction over the three abbeys, "and he left two score more of his brethren in his own stead in the monastery of Pick Island."

“Mochuda then returned towards Rahan. On his way eastward through Munster he passed over a river which was called Nemh at that time, but which is called Abhan Mor to-day, and he saw a large apple in the middle of the ford over which he was passing, and he took it up and carried it in his hand, and hence Ath-Abhal (or Aghowle, now Appleford) in Fermoy, has its name.

And the servant asked for the apple from Mochuda, and he did not give it, but said: 'God will work a miracle with this apple through me this day, for we shall meet the daughter of Cuana MacCailchen, with her right arm powerless and motionless, hanging by her side, and she shall be cured through this apple, and through the power of God.'

“And this was verified; for Mochuda saw the virgin with her maiden companions at their sports and amusements on the green of the court, and going up towards her he said: 'Take this apple to thyself, my daughter.' She stretched forth her left hand for the apple, as was her wont, but Mochuda said: 'Thou shalt not get it in that hand, but reach out the other hand for it, and thou shalt get it.’ And the maiden, being full of faith, attempted to reach forth the right hand, and the hand was instantly filled with vigour and life and she raised it out and took the apple into it.

"There was joy all over the king's palace on this occasion, and all gave praise to God and to Mochuda for this miracle. And Cuana said on that night to his daughter: 'Make now your selection, and say whom you like best of all the princes of Munster, and I will have him married to you.' To this the maiden replied: 'I will have no husband but the man who cured my hand,' 'Hear you that, O Mochuda,' said Cuana. 'Give me the maiden' said Mochuda, 'and I will give her as a spouse to Christ, Who cured her hand.' And Cuana gave the maiden and her dowry, with an offering of land on the bank of the river Nemh [Blackwater] to God and to Mochuda for ever; and his munificence was too great to be described.

"Flandath [or Flaithniath, identical with Flanna] was the maiden's name, and Mochuda brought her with him to Rahan, where she spent her life most profitably with the other 'Black Nuns' till Mochuda was banished by the King of Tara out of his own city, when he took Flandath with him, and the rest of the Black Nuns."

About five years after the return of St. Carthage to Rahan, namely, during the Easter-tide of the year 635 (O.S. 634), a wicked prince called Blathmac expelled the saint and his monks from the monastery which had shed such blessings around the country for forty years. However, this apparently terrible misfortune led to the happiest results because it eventuated in the foundation of the great Abbey and University of Lismore.

St. Carthage and about five hundred of his monks (exclusive of conversi and lepers), journeying through Drumcullen (near Birr), Saigher, and Roscrea, came to Cashel, where they were welcomed by Falvey Flann, King of Munster. At that time it so happened that Maelctride, son of Cobhthaich or Coffey, Prince of the Desie, was on a visit with his royal father-in-law, and he unconsciously co-operated in the design of God by offering the future patron of the See of Lismore a large tract of land in his country whereon to build a monastic establishment. The saint gladly accepted the offer, and viewed it as a distinct revelation from on high. The monks then proceeded via Athassel, Ardfinnan, Clogheen, Affane and Cappoquin, (c) and halted within three miles of the present town of Lismore, in a townland near Ballysaggartmore, ever since known as See Mochuda, "the seat of St. Mochuda," where a holy well sprang up at the bidding of our saint. (d)

On approaching Magh Sciath the progress of the monks was impeded by the Aw Mor, or Broad Water, which was then at flood tide. There being no boats available, St. Mochuda commanded two of his favourite disciples, SS. Molna and Colman, to join their prayers with his, and that perhaps it would please Heaven to work a miracle. Almost immediately, as we read in the Life, the swollen waters of the dark rolling river were parted, and a perfectly dry passage was opened to the exiled community. Thus, in the summer of the year 635, St. Carthage settled at Magh Sciath, in a tract called Dun Sginne, i.e. "the fortress of the flight," commemorative of the expulsion from Rahan. He endured much since leaving his beloved monastery in King's Co. (then portion of Co. Meath), and was very sad thereat. St. Cuimin of Connor thus sings of him:-

"The beloved Mochuda of Mortification;
Admirable every page of his history.
Before his time there was no one who shed
Half so many tears as he shed."

The Irish Life tells us that, having viewed the site of his new foundation, (e) St. Mochuda cried out: " Here shall be my rest, for I have chosen it." He at once began to build a circular enclosure on Dun Sginne, now known as the "Round Hill," and busied himself unceasingly in directing the monks in their operations. The Life goes on to state that a certain holy virgin named Cornelia or Caemghill, who inhabited a small cell in the neighbourhood, likely adjoining Temple Declan at Drumroe, approached the new-comers and enquired the nature of their work. "We are building a small Lis here" said St. Mochuda. “A small Lis [Lis-beg]!" said the woman: "this is not a small Lis, but a great Lis [Lis-mor]," said she, "and so," we are told, “that church ever since continued to be called by that name.”

To the above incident is due the present name of Lismore. Lios-Mor is justly equated as the great Lis or the great Rath –the words Lis and Rath being practically the same, and Lismore, which is rendered in the Latin Life as Atrium Magnum, means the "great entrenchment of earth." Near Lismore there is a very extensive townland still called Rath (pronounced as if written Ralph), divided into Upper and Lower Rath. Thus was founded Lismore, generally translated " the great habitation; " and the pagan Magh Sciath, or Campus Scuti -the plain of the shield-a plain of solid limestone formation-disappears from history. Traces of the ancient double trench are still to be seen near Deerpark.

The Life continues:- “And when he had finished his own city of Lismore he sent Flandath [the Nun from Fermoy, previously mentioned] to her own country, that she might build a church there. And she built a noble church in Cluain Dullain [Clondulane, about eleven miles from Lismore, near Fermoy], and it is in Mochuda's parish [diocese] it is," For the sake of chronological sequence I shall here add that this holy Abbess was joyfully received, by her father, Cuan MacCailchen, and laboured for many years in Clondulane. (f) This Cuana, Prince of Fermoy, was also called Laech Liathmhuine, i.e. "the hero of Liathmhuin," afterwards known as Clogh-lemon. He died in 642.

St. Carthage lived scarcely two years after the foundation of the Abbey and Cathedral. Finding his end approaching he retired to a lonely valley at the east end of the town, near the present St. Carthage's Well (in the garden of Mr. Maurice Healy), where he spent over a year in contemplation and prayer. At last he summoned his monks and gave them a farewell exhortation and blessing. "After this, being favoured with a vision of angels, he asked to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, and then departed in peace.'' His pure soul was seen, according to the oft-quoted Life, ascending into Heaven “on the day before the Ides of May," and thus passed away the first Abbot-Bishop and founder of the See of Lismore, on May 14th, 637, the feast of his natale. (g)

In the ancient Irish Office of St, Carthage, the following beautiful Antiphon was sung at the Magnificat:-

"Gloriose Praesul Christi, venerande Carthage,
Apud Deum tuo sancto nos juva precamine,
Ut detersa omni sorde, et abluti crimine
In coelesti sempiternum collaetemur culmine."

Colgan tells us that the rule (h) of St, Carthage was almost similar to that of the reformed Cistercians, or to the order of La Trappe, of which there are two well-known Abbeys in Ireland. "When any of the brethren returned from a mission, it was the rule to kneel down before the Abbot, and, in that humble posture, relate the events which had occurred. All kinds of austerities were here practised, and the monks lived by their labour, and on the vegetables which they cultivated with their own hands." The order was afterwards incorporated with the Regular Canons of St. Augustine-an order which must not be confounded with the Hermits of St. Augustine or the Austin Friars.

Allemande, in his Monastic History of Ireland, published at Paris in 1690, thus writes from the ancient Life:-"Lismore is a famous and holy city, into the half of which, in consequence of being strictly cloistered, no woman dare enter. It is filled with cells and holy abodes of prayer, and a number of pious men are always in it. Religious men flow to it from every part of Ireland, England, and Britain, being desirous to remove to Christ; and the city itself is situated on the banks of the river formerly called Nemh, lately called Abhan Mor, that is, the Great River, in the territory of Nan Desie."

In the Litany of Aengus the Culdee, dating from 798, we find that ancient hagiologist invoking “eight hundred monks who settled in Lismore with Mochuda, every third of them a favoured servant of God." He also invokes "the seven bishops of Donough-Youghal”, the “seven bishops of Donoughmore Magh Feimhin" etc. In a very ancient catalogue of the principal monasteries in Ireland, cited by the learned Dr. O'Conor, and also by Hardiman, Lismore is entitled "the Litanies of Ireland."

The number of disciples who gathered round St. Carthage before his death is variously estimated. Some authorities give the number as over a thousand, whilst the ancient lives vary from 844 to 867 monks. Professor Hogan writes:-" Lismore had no spacious halls, no classic colonnades, no statues, or fountains, or stately temples. Its houses of residence were of the simplest and most primitive description, and its halls were in keeping with these mere wooden structures, intended only to shut off the elements, but without any claim or pretence to artistic design. And yet Lismore had something more valuable than the attractions of either architecture or luxury. It possessed that which has ever proved the magnet of the philosopher and the theologian-truth, namely, and truth illumined by the halo of religion. It sheltered also in its humble halls whatever knowledge remained in a barbarous age of those rules of art that had already shed lustre on Greece and Rome, or had been fostered in Ireland itself, according to principles and a system of native conception." St. Colman (previously alluded to) was one of the principal professors of the infant university, under whom studied the youthful St. Flannan, the subsequent founder of the See of Killaloe.

Archbishop Usher had two manuscript copies of the Irish Life of St. Carthage, and Smith, in his history of Waterford, says that one of these Lives begins “Gloriosus Christi miles." In 1634 Philip O'Sullivan Beare sent the Latin translation of the "Irish Life of St. Mochuda" to Father John Bollandus, S.J. It is much to be deplored that we have not an accurately edited English version of the Irish Life. (i)

Maeloctraigh, Moelctride, or Mael MacTirid, Prince of the Desie, died early in 637, some months previous to the death of St. Carthage. It is probable that he was buried in Lismore, and he was succeeded in his kingship by Bran Fionn, or Bran the Fair, son of Maeltricle, who proved a munificent benefactor to the Cathedral of Lismore, which was a Damlaig or Stone Church. It is only to our present purpose to add that Nualathan, the aged widow of Prince Maeloctraighe, died in 670.

To the archaeologist, one of the most interesting facts in regard to the history of St. Carthage is the identification of the sites connected with his ministry. Many distinguished writers, including Cardinal Moran and Bishop Healy, have asserted that the name of St. Carthage, or yet the memory of his labours, has not been much in evidence in the topography of the county. On the contrary, his name is “writ large" in the district around Lismore, as an intimate knowledge of the local topography will amply testify. His Cathedral and Well have been already alluded to, as also See Mochuda, near Ballysaggartmore, and Rath Upper and Lower. I am glad to be able to identify the old monastic cemetery, as, alas! the present generation scarcely knows its name. This is none other than the field on the left hand side of the avenue leading to Lismore Castle, and known to the older inhabitants as "the relic." The Celtic name is relig or “churchyard," and when some operations were going on in connection with the town drainage in 1891, in the spot now called the "New Walk" (although nearly a century old), numerous bones were disinterred, (j) especially outside the gateway leading to Lisrnore Villa.

Not far from the present Cathedral, adjoining Ballyneligan Glebe, is one of the sites of the hermit cells of Lismore. From the 7th to the 12th century we meet with many entries in the Irish Annals referring to the “Anchorites" of Lismore; and one of the termon lands which they became possessed of in after days was known as the “Anchorites' Land," now called Ballinanchor. The site referred to is Cumaillister, the valley of the cliff hermitage, ister being a corruption of disert, originally meaning a desert, but afterwards frequently, applied to churches and hermitages in solitary places.

The Sarughadh, pronounced Scorroogh, about half a mile from Lismore, and marked on the Ordfiance Map as " Ballysaggartbeg: Wood”, was a sanctuary land from the 7th century, whilst adjoining it is Ballinaspick, or Bishopstown. The names Ballysaggart = the priest's townland, Burgessanchor, Baldydecane, Aglish (near Castlerichard), Glensaggart, Tubrid, Monataggart, Tubber-na-hulla, Boher-na-neav, etc., suggests at once the religious life of the locality.

In other portions of the Desie country the name of St. Carthage survives in Kilcaragh, near Killure, Temple Carthaig, and Cloghcuddy; whilst in Co. Cork we meet with Coolemogillacuddy and Garranmocuddy; and in Co, Wexford, Coolnacuddy. (k)

By a truly marvellous dispensation of Providence,(almost exactly as happened to St. Carthage when he was expelled from Rahan), we, in our own day, behold the successors of another exiled community, driven from France in 1831, silently toiling and praying on the side of Knockmealdown mountain, six miles from Lismore. The rugged barrenness of the “ bare brown hill" has become a smiling garden, thoroughly accentuating its honeyed name of Mount Melleray; and the present writer recalls vividly his boyish feelings at the interment of the last of the pioneer Trappists-Brother Similien -a French monk, who ended his days, almost a centenarian, in that grand Abbey which fittingly represents in this degenerate age the primitive wattle cells and pure faith of the glorious St. Carthage of Lismore.

Notes

(a) Irish Life of St. Carthage

(b) King Cathal died in 625, or, according to some, in 630.

(c) Whilst in the neighbourhood of Cappoquin St. Carthage and his companions halted at a cell called Killcluthair, now Englished Kilcloher, and for three days and three nights were hospitably entertained by the Abbot, St. Mochua, Miannain, who presented the cell to St. Carthage. Kilcloher means "the churchof the shelter," and is four miles east of Cappoquin.(Dr. Joyce).

(d) Seemochuda is a natural seat, somewhat like an arm-chair of "primitive man ;" and the well is close at hand, which, by a constant tradition, is said to have come into existence at the command of St. Mochuda by merely planting his crozier there.

(e) In the ancient Irish Life we read that St. Columbkille had predicted the foundation of Lismore on the occasion of a visit to St. Carthage at Rahan:-

"Formerly from the top of Slieve Cua, thou hast seen a great band of angels on the bank of the river Nemh, and raising to Heaven a silver cathedral with a golden image in it. There shall be the place of thy resurrectidn. That church of silver is thine, and the golden statue placed in it represents thee." It is strange that Ussher, Archdall, and Lanigan located Rahan as "Rathyne, in the barony of Tertullagh, Co. Westmeath," but certain it is that the site of St. Carthage's foundation was Rahan, in the barony of Eglish, near Tullamore-not far from Tullabeg.

(f) There is a townland formerly known as Ballymacpatrick in the parish of Clondulane, now called Careysville. Strangely enough Canon O'Hanlon was unable to identify Clondulane.

(g) According to the prophecy of St. Colman Elo, the Reilig, or cemetery of St. Mochuda, “designated by the angels, was that in which our saint was buried "-afterwards known as-" the cemetery of the Bishops." St. Ita also foretold the fame of St. Mochuda's cemetery, where, subsequently innumerable servants of God were laid at rest,

(h) There were thirteen different monastic Rules in the early Irish Church, namely, those of SS. Ailbe, Declan, Patrick, Bridget, Columbkille, Carthage, Molua,, Mochta, Finian, Columbanus, Kieran, Brendan, and Comgall.

(i) Among the valuable MSS. of O'Curry, now housed in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, there are two lives of St. Carthage. One of these is a transcript of the ancient Irish Life, whilst the other is a translation from the Irish. The Salamancan "Life" is in the Burgundian Library at Brussels, but the Vita Secunda is the one usually quoted.

(j) On April 26th, 1897, two papers were read before the Royal Irish Academy on the subject of those remains, but no definite conclusions were arrived at.

(k) The present name of this townland is Courtnacuddy, but the Irish speaking and old residents still call it Cuil-ne-cuddy = the recess of St. Cuddy, ne being an old Celtic endearing term similar to mo-as is seen in the place name Ardnekevan. In 16th century records it is written Courtmocuddy. From the Irish Life we learn that "a large tract of land near Ardfinnan, Co.Tipperary, was afterwards formed into a parish, dedicated to St. Mochuda.

Journal of the Waterford and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, Volume IV (1898), 228-237.


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Thursday, 10 May 2018

Saint Cathaldus of Taranto, May 10

May 10 is the feast of an interesting Irish saint whose memory is still cherished today in Italy - Saint Cathaldus of Taranto. I have previously published Father J.F. Hogan's account of his life which is available here, but below is a brief reminder of the career of Saint Cathaldus taken from the children's column of an American Catholic magazine:

Our Future Men and Women.

Irish Saints in Italy.

Uncle Jack wonders if his Future Men and Women know, as well as they ought to, that the traces of Irish saints are found in many parts of the European continent. In Italy, particularly from the foot of the Appenines down to the island of Sicily, the footprints of the saints of Ireland are clear to all. St. Cataldo, for instance, who founded the see of Taranto, and whose feast is celebrated on May 10-his name does not sound like an Irish name, yet he was an Irish saint, Cataldo or Cataldus being the Latin form of Cahal which was the saint's name in Ireland. P. L. Connellan, writing from Italy, says: In Taranto, on the tenth of May, the feast of this Irish saint is held with great ceremony. The people come in from the surrounding country in their holiday attire, while the fishermen are conspicuous in the crowds. They regard him as the great Sailor-Bishop, whom their ancestors asked, as the popular tradition has it, for abundance in their fisheries, and since that time the mor piccolo, or little sea, has been a source of life to them. And they say that the saint dropped a ring into the sea, and no one could find it again, but in the place where it fell the salt water became fresh and clear. And whoever goes in a boat even now out into the Mar Grande, or larger gulf, will find a circle of fresh water over a yard in diameter, of a clear azure color, and everyone may drink of it and quench his thirst. The Tarentines call this circle of fresh water the Ring of San Cataldo. In Supino, on the way to Naples, a tiny town stuck on the side of the mountain, the same Irish saint is held in veneration by the people. Hia name is also given to a city on the Adriatic coast on the heel of the bootshaped peninsula of Italy. At Adassa, outside of Sorrento, you meet with a chapel, richly adorned, dedicated under his name. One of the most exquisite twelfth century Romanesque churches in Palermo—now abandoned and maintained as a national monument—also bears his name. So that around the South of Italy his memory is prominent, not only in the places already mentioned, but in so many other towns, that the list of them alone would fill many pages. He is perhaps even more known in this district than his fellow-countryman, San Frediano, is in Lucca and the many towns which surround that Tuscan city.

The Sacred Heart Review, Number 1, 22 June 1912 
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Monday, 19 February 2018

How Saint Odhrán saved Saint Patrick's Life


February 19 is the feast of Saint Odhrán (Odran, Odhran, Oran) whom tradition records as the faithful chariot driver to Saint Patrick. The vignette below recounts how he was faithful to his saintly master until the end:

ST. PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND.— HOW ST ODRAN SAVED THE SAINT'S LIFE.

St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was taken captive in his youth by King Niall, in one of his raids into Gaul. He served seven years in bondage as a swineherd, with Milcho, a chief who lived in the County Antrim. Having escaped to Gaul, he had a vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish crying out: "We entreat thee, holy youth, to come and walk still among us". Patrick was deeply affected by this vision, and he was subsequently commissioned, to his great joy, by Pope Celestine, to bear the faith of Christ to the pagan Irish. His mission was miraculously successful. He won the entire nation to the doctrines of Christ without a drop of blood having been shed through persecution, a fact unexampled in the history of Christianity.

But there was one martyr during his mission. A certain idolater named Failge, a great adversary of Christ, resolved to kill the saint, who had destroyed the idols to which he was bound. Odran, Patrick's driver or charioteer, having discovered the danger, requested his master to change places with him in the chariot, pretending that he was greatly fatigued. The saint, always happy to exercise his humility, gladly acquiesced. Ere long they arrived at the spot where the assassin lay in ambush, and as they were passing, the wretch rushed forward, and mistaking the driver for the servant, pierced Odran with a spear. The saint now understood Odran's motive, and his grief was great over his pious and devoted disciple. The vengeance of God fell on the murderer, for he died on the same day. St. Odran is ''the only Irish martyr on record that suffered in Ireland by the hands of an Irishman."




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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Birth and Baptism of Saint Mogue



BIRTH AND BAPTISM OF ST. MOGUE.

Saint Killian, on a day of the days missed his oxen which he pastured at Fenagh in Cavan, and set off in quest of them. He came up with them on the edge of Templeport lake, standing without a stir, and looking steadfastly at the island which lay in the middle of the sheet of water. The ferryman's house was near the spot, and he asked the wife if anything remarkable had happened in the island during the night. She said that a strange woman had got herself ferried across to it, and had been delivered of a fine man child. Moreover the bedpost which she had grasped in her pains had sent roots into the ground; and from its top had sprung branches in full leaf and flower, and gone through the roof. "Where's your husband and the boat?" said the saint. "At the farther side of the lake," said she. "Bring out something, on which you may go across to the island for the infant, that I may baptise him." "There is nothing on which I could sit or stand but the hearthstone, and sure that would not do." "Well, try it." "But sure I couldn't lift it." "Make the attempt." She did so, and the flag was no heavier than a thin dry board. The saint placed it on the water, bade the woman get on it, and spread out her shawl to catch the breeze. She obeyed, and had a delightful sail to the island.

There she received the child from Eithne its mother, brought it to the saint, and he baptised it by the name of Mogue. The woman then re-conveyed it to the island to its mother, and in time he became a priest, spent some time with St. David in Wales, and during the later years of his life governed the Bishopric of Ferns in Wexford. The miraculous hearthstone afterwards conveyed many a corpse to its place of interment in the island.

Patrick Kennedy, The Fireside Stories of Ireland, (Dublin, 1870), 127-128.

Note: For a full account of the life of Saint Mogue see a paper by Bishop P.F. Moran here.

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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':
26. C. SEPTIMO KAL. JANUARII. 26.

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 OF TUAM

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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Thursday, 21 December 2017

Saint Columbanus and The First Christmas Tree

Henry van Dyke, The First Christmas Tree (1897)

I was somewhat amused to find the following article from a 1913 Australian newspaper attributing the origins of the Christmas tree to our own Saint Columbanus and his missionary labours among the Germanic peoples of early seventh-century Europe. Now I have certainly heard that the Christmas tree was introduced to these islands from Germany, but in the nineteenth century by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The writer below, however, confidently asserts that 'careful research' disproves a Germanic origin for the Christmas tree and that its origin is traced to an Irishman - Saint Columbanus. That may come as news to the English who claim that their own great missionary saint among the Germanic tribes, Saint Boniface, holds the honours. I have to admit that it comes as news to me too,  I doubt very much that any individual can claim to be the originator of the Christmas tree or that its origins can be traced in an unbroken line back to pre-Christian practices. I suspect Saint Columbanus might just say 'Bah, humbug!'.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE

ITS ORIGINS TRACED TO THE IRISH SAINT COLUMBANUS

Familiar us is the Christmas tree to us, and as dearly-beloved as it is to the people of the civilised world, it is surprising how very few there are who know of its origin, or its introduction into the celebration of the most beautiful and impressive festival of the year, legends there are in plenty, but few of them seem founded upon a basis of fact. Most of them, have been handed down - with the customary "warping from the original story"- from generation to generation. The use of the fir tree in the celebration of Christmas is usually believed to have originated in Germany. Careful research proves this to have been a fallacy. As are so many of the ancient customs and institutions, its origin as a Christmas adjunct is traced to an Irishman.

It was Saint Columbanus, who engaged in converting the pagans of Germany and Switzerland to Christianity, found them so firmly impressed with the sacredness of trees -especially the fir- that he conceived the idea of endowing them with an illustrative Christian meaning. To these people, the tree was an object of worship from which no amount of reasoning would convert them, and because of this, Saint Columbanus and his fellow missionaries found it an especially favourable symbol for their use.

As far back as the seventh century the fir tree, because of its evergreen verdure, was known in Christmas [Christian?] writings and pictures as a symbol of eternal life, while a legend, dating from the same period, represents an old man bearing a lighted tree, who entered every home at Christmas time and granted a single wish to each of the inmates.  The evolution of this beneficent old personage with his beautiful fir into our own Santa Claus and his gift-laden tree is easily traced.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE. (1913, December 24). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW: 1876 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved December 20, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72348547

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Monday, 18 December 2017

Saint Adamnan of Iona and the Genealogy of Christ

St Matthew from the Book of Durrow
J.O. Westwood (1868)

As we approach the feast of Christmas we will be hearing the genealogy of Christ among the readings for the season. This is an aspect of the scriptures which scholar Thomas O'Loughlin has discussed in his book 'Journeys on the Edges - The Celtic Tradition' (part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality series). In the excerpt below, he examines how the great abbot of Iona and biographer of St Colum Cille, Adomnan, would, unlike people today, have found this type of information compelling and of genuine interest:

'Today when we hear scriptural passages in the liturgy, either about the tribal wars in Kings or any of the descriptions of tombs in which a patriarch was buried - or worse when we hear any of the genealogical passages - we may become exasperated that 'such stuff' is greeted as the Word of God. But to Adomnan these were among the parts of the Scriptures that spoke most directly to him and his people. He knew tribal warfare at first hand - it was endemic in his society and he expended much effort in trying to mitigate its suffering. And, just as the scriptural writers assumed that God took sides in this so that 'his people' either triumphed or were punished for their sins by defeat, he assumed that God could take sides and manifest his will in these matters. Conscious that he was Irish and a member of a family that could be related to a common ancestor, all the genealogical material in Scripture was inherently interesting to Adomnan. He knew himself as a member of the Cenel Conaill - the ruling family in the northern part of Ireland - which was also the family of Columba and the five other abbots before him, and we can still construct his family tree! His own culture shared many of the values of those who originally compiled that material, and just as biblical writers created genealogies to forge alliances between groups, so Adomnan looked to those lists of ancestors to find his people's relationships to the rest of humanity. By tracing an ancestry back to the Flood the Irish became part of the whole history of God's providence, and then it was simply a matter of location that they were among the last peoples to hear the gospel.'

(Thomas O'Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges (London, 2000), 52-53.



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