seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of St. Ruadhán of Lorrha

St. Ruadhán mac Fergusa Birn, also known as Rowan and Rodan, Irish Christian abbot who founds the monastery of Lorrha near Terryglass in County Tipperary, dies at the monastery on April 5, 584. Known for his prophesies, he is venerated as a saint and as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” after his death.

Ruadhán is educated in Clonard, County Meath, by St. Finnian and is known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He is said to replace St. Brendan the Navigator at Lorrha after Brendan precedes to cross the River Shannon and set up his monastery at Clonfert, County Galway.

Ruadhán founds a monastic settlement at Lorrha that consists of a monastery and various other buildings including cells for the many monks that live there. Also a ditch or large mound is built around the settlement to keep animals in and intruders out, the outlines of which remain visible today. Life for the monks is tough but simple, rising early from their beds which consist of rushes or straw placed on the bare ground. They then pray and fast between their domestic chores. The settlement is self-sufficient providing everything from food, clothing, to shelter. Villages and towns, such as the village of Lorrha, often pop up around monastic settlements as trade and refuge attracts the local people.

His embassy in 556 to King Diarmait mac Cerbaill at Tara, is worked into a legend known as the “Curse of Tara”, but the high-king continues to reside at Tara until his death in 564. Diarmuid Mac Cerbhaill violates the sanctity of the church by taking a hostage from its protection. The downfall of Tara from a once thriving royal residence is credited to Ruadhán.

Ruadhán gives the prophecy that Diarmait will be killed by the roof-beam of his hall at Tara. Diarmait has the beam cast into the sea. Diarmait then asks his druids to find the manner of his death, and they foretell that he will die of slaughter, drowning, and burning, and that the signs of his death will be a shirt grown from a single seed of flax and a mantle of wool from a single sheep, ale brewed from one seed of corn, and bacon from a sow which has never farrowed.

On a circuit of Ireland, Diarmait comes to the hall of Banbán at Ráith Bec, and there the fate of which he is warned comes to pass. The roof beam of Tara has been recovered from the sea by Banbán and set in his hall, the shirt, mantle, ale, and bacon are duly produced for Diarmait. Diarmait goes to leave Banbán’s hall, but Áed Dub mac Suibni, waiting at the door, strikes him down and sets fire to the hall. Diarmait crawls into an ale vat to escape the flames and is duly killed by the falling roof beam. Thus, all the prophecies are fulfilled.

The bell of St. Ruadhán is found in a well named after the Saint and is preserved in the British Museum. This well is situated across the road from the present day Church of Ireland.

(Pictured: Lorrha Priory of St. Ruadhán)


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Death of Saint Colmán of Cloyne

saint-colmanSaint Colmán of Cloyne, also known as Colmán mac Léníne, monk, founder, and patron of Cluain Uama, now Cloyne, County Cork, and one of the earliest known Irish poets to write in the vernacular, dies on November 24, 600.

Colmán is remembered as the founder of the monastery at Cluain Uama in Munster, which lay in the kingdom of the Uí Liatháin and the Uí Meic Caille, a sept of the former. The origin legend Conall Corc and the Corco Loígde claims that the land for the foundation is not given by the local king, but by Coirpre Cromm mac Crimthainn, who is king of Munster from the Eóganacht Glendamnach.

Cloyne appears to be his earliest settlement. The cathedral and round tower are situated on a limestone eminence in the midst of the valley, surrounded by rich meadows. In the rock is the cave extending in various branches underground to a great distance, from which the town derives its name. Here it is believed that Colmán took up his abode as a place of security. Colmán is also believed to have founded a monastery at what would become Killagha Abbey in County Kerry.

Colmán is credited with extraordinary poetic powers, being styled by his contemporaries “royal poet of Munster.” Several of his Irish poems are still extant, notably a metrical panegyric on Saint Brendan.

It is unclear whether Colmán is brought up as a Christian, but what is certain is that he is educated and becomes a bard or file, which requires a special education. As a member of the class of filí, he becomes attached to the court of Cashel where he remains until about the age of 48 years. In 570, he and Saint Brendan of Clonfert are said to have settled a dispute between rivals to the throne of Cashel and Aodh Caomh is acknowledged as king, the first Christian king of Cashel. The King is installed by Saint Brendan. During the time of the coronation Colmán and some others discover the lost shrine of Ailbhe of Emly. Brendan says that it is not right that the hands which have held this sacred relic should be defiled henceforth, thus it is that the son of Leinin offers himself to God. Brendan blesses him and gives him the name Colmán, which is a diminutive of Colm.

Colmán then goes to the school of Saint Iarlaithe of Tuam and after his studies he is next mentioned as preaching to the heathen population in the east of County Cork. He is described as a “religious and holy presbyter, who afterwards became a famous bishop.” The Prince of Déise, in the present county of Waterford, presents his child to Colmán for baptism. Colmán baptizes him Declán and urges his parents to educate him well in his faith. This child becomes Saint Declán of Ardmore.

Colmán is given churches in Erry and Killenaule by Coirpre Cromm mac Crimthainn, King of Munster (Cashel), as well as lands in Cloyne, County Cork. It may well be that the lands in Cloyne are conquered lands and to prevent the possibility of reconquest are given to the church. The Cloyne estate is large and contains some of the best land in the area.

After the king’s death (c. 580) Colmán somehow becomes involved in factional strife between Coirpre’s descendants in which some of them persecute him while others, the ancestors of the later dominant line, protect him.

His surviving verses date from the period 565 and 604, and are among the earliest examples of Irish writing in the Latin alphabet. He is commonly thought to have composed Luin oc laib, a poem in praise of Domnall mac Muirchertaig, king of Tara, and another poem on the death of Áed Sláine, king of the UÍ Néill. The latter poem has not survived complete.

Colmán dies on November 24, 600, and is likely buried is Cloyne, where he may have left a school of poetry in existence. The calendars are unanimous in dating his death on November 24, now his feast day.


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Death of Mochta of Louth, Disciple of St. Patrick

st-mochtas-houseMochta of Louth, in Latin sources Maucteus or Mauchteus, the last surviving disciple of St. Patrick, dies on August 20, 535.

Mochta is, like Patrick, a native of Britain. His name is British and Adomnán‘s Life of Columba describes him as “a certain British stranger, a holy man and a disciple of the holy bishop Patrick.” Adomnán presents Mochta as having prophesied the birth of Colm Cille.

According to one account, Mochta is brought to Ireland as a child, along with his parents, by a druid named Hoam. The druid settles in County Louth, where Mochta is brought up as a member of the family. He goes to Rome to continue his studies and there the Pope consecrates him bishop and sends him back to Ireland with twelve companions. The first church he founds is at Kilmore. Departing from Kilmore, he leaves all his possessions to the monks, taking only “the fountain at the door.” He follows a stream, which becomes the River Fane, to Louth.

Mochta founds a monastery in Louth, originally the site of a shrine to the Celtic god Lugh. Mochta’s monastery gains a nationwide reputation. He is an accomplished scholar, especially learned in Sacred Scripture. He writes a rule for monks but no trace of it has survived. He begins a series of annals at Louth, which is continued by his successors, and becomes known as the Book of the Monks. In his old age, Patrick comes and spends some time with Mochta. After Patrick’s death, Mochta takes charge of Armagh for a brief period before turning it over to Benignus.

Both monastery and village are burned and plundered frequently by the Danes in the period 829-968. A round tower built for protection is blown down in 981. There are no physical remains of the early monastery. The ruined buildings at the site today (pictured) are the 13th century church of St. Mary’s Augustinian Priory and the stone roofed oratory known as St. Mochta’s House, which probably dates to the second half of the 12th century.

The Annals of Ulster report Mochta’s death twice, in 535 and 537, which indicates that he is considerably younger than Patrick, whose death the Annals date to 493. Scholars believe that he, the last of Patrick’s disciples then alive, dies at the age of 90. The entry for 535 dates his death to the 13th of the Calends of September, i.e. 20 August, and quotes the opening of a letter written by him: “Mauchteus, a sinner, priest, disciple of St. Patrick, sends greetings in the Lord.” However the remainder of this letter nor any other compositions of Mochta have survived.


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The Battle of Moira

battle-of-moiraThe Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Magh Rath, is fought on June 24, 637, near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what becomes County Down. The battle pits the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dál Riata.

The battle is allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and results in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc. The battle is caused as a result of the invading Gaels spreading out from Galway Bay. The Gaels have fled France and Spain to escape the Roman invasion of those areas. The Gaels are later to be known as Irish but are not native to the island. The native people of Ulster have been pushed into an area the size of two counties in what is now Antrim and Down.

Congal first establishes his power base in Dál nAraidi, where he becomes King before being recognised as King of Ulster in 627. His ambitions soon come into conflict with Domnall II, who becomes High King of Ireland in 628. Ironically, Domnall II rises to such a position because Congal has defeated and killed the previous High King, Suibne Menn, in a previous battle.

Domnall continues to press the rivalry with Congal very quickly. In 629 the two kings engage each other at the Battle of Dún Ceithirn in what is now County Londonderry. On that occasion Congal is defeated and Domnall is left unchallenged as the High King.

Throughout the 630s, Domnall continues to wage war on his rivals in the Uí Néill clan. In 637, however, Congal once again rises to challenge the Ard Rí, and enlists the help of Dál Riata to do so. The two forces meet just east of Lough Neagh.

Little is known about the actual battle itself. The armies of both Domnall II and Congal are primarily made up of warriors native to Ireland. However, Domnall I of Dál Riata brings a more varied force to the fight. His army included Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Britons (Welshmen). At least one side has a substantial cavalry force.

There is reason to believe that the battle might have lasted a week, at the end of which the defeated force flees towards the woods of Killultagh. The forces of Ulster and Dál Riata are defeated, with Domnall of Dál Riata forced to flee north to his kingdom’s holdings. Congall is killed in the course of the battle.

The scale of the battle is confirmed in the 19th century when the railway line in Moira is being constructed. Thousands of bodies of men and horses are excavated. When one considers that the survivors probably numbered quite considerably more, then the reputation of the scale of the battle becomes obvious.


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Death of Brendan the Navigator

brendan-the-navigatorSaint Brendan of Clonfert, called “the Navigator” and one of the early Irish monastic saints, dies on May 16, 577 in Annaghdown, County Galway.

In 484, Brendan is born in Tralee, County Kerry, in the province of Munster. He is born among the Altraige, a tribe originally centred around Tralee Bay, to parents called Finnlug and Cara. He is baptised at Tubrid, near Ardfert by Saint Erc, and is originally to be called “Mobhí” but signs and portents attending his birth and baptism lead to him being christened “Broen-finn” or “fair-drop.” For five years he is educated under Saint Ita, “the Brigid of Munster.” When he is six, he is sent to Saint Jarlath‘s monastery school at Tuam to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland,” one of those said to have been tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan is ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founds a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage takes him to the Aran Islands, where he founds a monastery. He also visits Hinba, an island off Scotland where he is said to meet Columcille. On the same voyage he travels to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan builds monastic cells at Ardfert and, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Shanakeel— Seana Cill, usually translated as “the old church.” From here he supposedly sets out on his famous seven-year voyage for Paradise.

St. Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to the Isle of the Blessed as described in the ninth century Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. Many versions exist that tell of how he sets out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixteen pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden. One of these companions is said to be Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo. This occurs sometime between 512 and 530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On the trip, Brendan supposedly sees Saint Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encounters a sea monster, an adventure he shares with his contemporary, Saint Columba. The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This too, has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio.

Brendan travels to Wales and the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Returning to Ireland, he founds a monastery at Annaghdown, where he spends the rest of his days. He also founds a convent at Annaghdown for his sister Briga. Having established the bishopric of Ardfert, St. Brendan proceeds to Thomond, and founds a monastery at Inis-da-druim, in the present parish of Killadysert, County Clare, about the year 550. He then journeys to Wales and studies under Saint Gildas at Llancarfan, and then to Iona, for it is said that he leaves traces of his apostolic zeal at Kil-brandon and Kil-brennan Sound. After a three years’ mission in Britain he returns to Ireland, and does more proselytising in various parts of Leinster, especially at Dysart, Killiney, and Brandon Hill. He establishes churches at Inchiquin, County Clare and at Inishglora, County Mayo, and founds Clonfert in County Galway around 557 AD.

Brendan dies on May 16, 577 at Annaghdown, while visiting his sister Briga. Fearing that after his death his devotees might take his remains as relics, Brendan arranges before his death to have his body secretly carried back to the monastery he founded at Clonfert concealed in a luggage cart. He is buried in Clonfert Cathedral.


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Death of Saint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill

sts-carthage-catherine-patrickSaint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill, also known as Carthach or Carthach the Younger (a name Latinized as Carthagus and Anglicized as Carthage), dies on May 14, 637. Mo Chutu is abbot of Rahan, County Offaly and subsequently, founder and first abbot of Lismore, County Waterford.

Through his father, Fínall Fíngein, Mo Chutu belongs to the Ciarraige Luachra, while his mother, Finmed, is of the Corco Duibne. Notes added to the Félire Óengusso, the Martyrology of Óengus, claim that his foster father is Carthach mac Fianáin, also known as Carthach the Elder, whose period of activity can be assigned to the late 6th century.

Mo Chutu first becomes abbot of Rahan, a monastery which lays in the territory of the southern Uí Néill. He composes a rule for his monks, an Irish metrical poem of 580 lines, divided into nine separate sections, a notable literary relic of the early Irish Church.

According to the Annals of Ulster, he is expelled from the monastery during the Easter season of 637. The incident is connected with the Easter controversy in which Irish churches are involved during the 7th century. Through his training in Munster, Mo Chutu is possibly a supporter of the Roman system of calculation, which likely brought him into conflict with adherents of the “Celtic” reckoning in Leinster.

Following his expulsion, Mo Chutu journeys to the Déisi, where he founds the great monastery of Lismore in modern day County Waterford. The Latin and Irish lives make very little of Mo Chutu’s earlier misfortune and focus instead on the saint’s resistance to the oppressive Uí Néill rulers and his joyous reception among the Déisi. He is portrayed in a heroic light in Indarba Mo Chutu a r-Raithin (The expulsion of Mo Chutu from Rahan).

His foundation at Lismore flourishes after his lifetime, eclipsing the reputation of the saint’s earlier church. It is able to withstand the Viking depredations which plague the area and benefit from the generosity of Munster kings, notably the Mac Carthaig of Desmond. In the 12th century, St. Déclán‘s foundation of Ardmore aspires to the status of episcopal see in the new diocese, but the privilege goes instead to Lismore.

His feast day in the Irish martyrologies is May 14, as well as in the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church. In the present calendar of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in which May 14 is the feast of Saint Matthias, the memorial of Saint Carthage is celebrated on May 15.

The photograph above is from an altar tomb of 1543 in St. Carthage’s cathedral in Lismore and depicts Mo Chutu along with St. Catherine and St. Patrick.


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St. Patrick Returns to Ireland

st-patrickSt. Patrick returns to Ireland as a missionary bishop on April 5, 456.

Patrick is born in Britain of a Romanized family. At age 16, he is taken from his family by Irish raiders and carried into slavery in Ireland. During six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turns with fervour to his faith. Hearing at last in a dream that the ship in which he is to escape is ready, he flees his master and finds passage to Britain. There he is reunited with his family.

The best known passage in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography, tells of a dream where he is told to walk once more among the Irish. He is reluctant to respond to the call for a long time. Even on the eve of re-embarkation for Ireland he is beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanish. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeys far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. On at least one occasion, he is cast into chains. On another, he addresses with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who have been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.

Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he nevertheless lives in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he calls his “laborious episcopate” is his reply to a charge that he originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he is a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who have worshiped “idols and unclean things” have become “the people of God.”

The phenomenal success of Patrick’s mission is not, however, the full measure of his personality. Since his writings have come to be better understood, it is increasingly recognized that, despite their occasional incoherence, they mirror a truth and a simplicity of the rarest quality. Not since St. Augustine of Hippo has any religious diarist bared his inmost soul as Patrick does in his writings.

It is not possible to say with any assurance when Patrick was born. There are, however, a number of pointers to his missionary career having lain within the second half of the 5th century. In the Coroticus letter, his mention of the Franks as still “heathen” indicates that the letter must have been written between 451, the date generally accepted as that of the Franks’ irruption into Gaul as far as the Somme River, and 496, when they are baptized en masse. Patrick, who speaks of himself as having evangelized heathen Ireland, is not to be confused with Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine I in 431 as “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.”

St. Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. Saint Patrick Visitor Centre is a modern exhibition complex located in Downpatrick and is a permanent interpretative exhibition centre featuring interactive displays on the life and story of Saint Patrick. It provides the only permanent exhibition centre in the world devoted to Saint Patrick.