seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of St. Columba

St. Columba, also called Colum or Columcille, Irish abbot and missionary Evangelist is born on December 7, 521, in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal) in the north of Ireland. He is credited with spreading Christianity in what is today Scotland at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission. He also founds the important abbey on Iona, which becomes a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry and is highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts. Today he is remembered as a Catholic saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba studies under Saints Finnian of Movilla and Finnian of Clonard and is ordained into the priesthood around 551. He founds churches and the famous monasteries Daire Calgaich, in Derry, and Dair-magh, in Durrow.

Columba and his twelve disciples erect a church and monastery on the island of Iona (c. 563) as their springboard for the conversion of Scotland. It is regarded as the mother house and its abbots as the chief ecclesiastical rulers even of the bishops. Columba gives formal benediction and inauguration to Áedán mac Gabráin of Dunadd as king of Dál Riata.

Columba accompanies Aidan to Ireland in 575 and takes a leading role in a council held at Druim Cetta, which determines the position of the ruler of Dál Riata in relation to the king of Ireland. The last years of Columba’s life are apparently primarily spent in Iona, where he is already revered as a saint. He and his associates and successors spread the gospel more than any other contemporary group of religious pioneers in Britain.

Columba dies on Iona and is buried in 597 by his monks in the abbey he created. In 794 the Vikings descend on Iona. Columba’s relics are finally removed in 849 and divided between Scotland and Ireland. The parts of the relics which go to Ireland are reputed to be buried in Downpatrick, County Down, with St. Patrick and St. Brigid or at Saul Church neighbouring Downpatrick.

Three Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba with some degree of certainty. Excavations in 1958 and 1959 revealed Columba’s living cell and the outline of the original monastery.

St. Columba’s Feast Day, 9 June, has been designated as International Celtic Art Day. The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, great medieval masterpieces of Celtic art, are associated with Columba.

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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 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.