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Title: Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum - Or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars
Author: Healy, John
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum - Or Ireland's Ancient Schools and Scholars" ***

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[Illustration: ANCIENT IRELAND, shewing the Ancient Schools and Principal
Territorial Divisions before the Anglo-Norman Invasion.

_Sealy, Bryers & Walker, Lith., Dublin._]






  M. H. GILL & SON,




Some smaller inaccuracies in the previous Editions have been corrected in
this Edition; but no other changes have been made.

    Bishop of Clonfert.

    _October, 1902_.


The FIRST EDITION of this work has been very favourably received both by
the critics and by the public. It was exhausted nearly twelve months ago;
but other engrossing occupations left the author little time to revise the
text and prepare a new edition. In this SECOND EDITION many errors of the
press have been corrected; several explanatory notes have been added, and
some few inaccuracies have been rectified. Maps of the Aran Islands and
Clonmacnoise have been inserted, and the _Index_ has been greatly
enlarged. It is hoped also, that the lower price of the present edition
will bring it within the range of a wider circle of readers, and still
further carry out the author's purpose of vindicating and enlarging the
just renown of Ireland's ancient Saints and Scholars.


    _Easter, 1893_.


In the following pages it has been the author's purpose to give a full and
accurate, but at the same time, as he hopes, a popular account of the
Schools and Scholars of Ancient Ireland. It is a subject about which much
is talked, but little is known, and even that little is only to be found
in volumes that are not easily accessible to the general reader. In the
present work the history of the Schools and Scholars of Celtic Erin is
traced from the time of St. Patrick down to the Anglo-Norman Invasion of
Ireland. The first three centuries of this period is certainly the
brightest page of what is, on the whole, the rather saddening, but not
inglorious record, of our country's history. It was not by any means a
period altogether free from violence and crime, but it was certainly a
time of comparative peace and security, during which the religious
communities scattered over the island presented a more beautiful spectacle
before men and angels, than anything seen in Christendom either before or
since. It is an epoch, too, whose history can be studied with pleasure and
profit, and in which Irishmen of all creeds and classes feel a legitimate

It has been questioned, indeed, if the Monastic Schools of this period
were really so celebrated and so frequented by holy men, as justly to win
for Ireland her ancient title of the INSULA SANCTORUM ET DOCTORUM--the
Island of Saints and Scholars. The author ventures to hope that the
following pages will furnish, even to the most sceptical, conclusive
evidence on this point. It has been his purpose to show not merely the
extent, the variety, and the character of the studies, both sacred and
profane, pursued in our Celtic Schools, but also the eminent sanctity of
those learned men, whose names are found in all our domestic

Perhaps the most striking feature in their character, speaking generally,
was their extraordinary love of solitude and mortification. They loved
learning much, it is true; but they loved God and nature more. They knew
nothing of what is now called civilization, and were altogether ignorant
of urban life; but still they had a very keen perception of the grandeur
and beauty of God's universe. The voice of the storm and the strength of
the sea, the majesty of lofty mountains and the glory of summer woods,
spoke to their hearts even more eloquently than the voice of the preacher,
or the writing on their parchments.

The author has sought throughout to put all the information, which he
could collect in reference to his subject, in a popular and attractive
form. At the same time he has spared no pains to consult all the available
authorities both ancient and modern; and he has always gone to the
original sources, whenever it was possible to do so. He does not pretend
to have avoided all mistakes in matters of fact, nor to be quite free from
errors in matters of opinion. But he can say that he has honestly done his
best to make the study of this portion of our Celtic history interesting
and profitable to the general reader. And there is no doubt that the study
of the holy and self-denying lives of our ancient Saints and Scholars will
exercise a purifying and elevating influence on the minds of all, but more
especially of the young; will teach them to raise their thoughts to higher
things, and set less store on the paltry surroundings of their daily life.

With the single exception of Iona, which may be considered as an Irish
island, this volume deals only with our Monastic Schools at home. Irishmen
founded during this period many schools and monasteries abroad; but it
would require another volume to give a full account of those monasteries
and their holy founders.

There are many friends to whom we owe thanks for assistance; but we have
reason to believe that they would prefer not to have their names mentioned
in this preface.

In conclusion, we have only to add, that these pages have not been written
in a controversial spirit; because in our opinion little or nothing is
ever to be gained by writing history in a spirit of controversy, which
tends rather to obscure than to make known the truth. It is better from
every point of view to let the facts speak for themselves; and hence not
only in quoting authorities, but also in narrating events, we have, as far
as possible, reproduced the language of the original authorities.

A few of the papers here published have appeared in the _Irish
Ecclesiastical Record_, but they are now presented in a more popular form.


    _May, 1890_.


"May the tongue of Sage and Saint be lasting."


  CHAPTER I.                                                          PAGE


  I.--THE DRUIDS                                                         1
    Learning of the Druids                                               1
    Religious Worship                                                    2
    Sacrifice of Human Victims                                           3
    Worship of the Elements                                              3
    Enchantments                                                         4
    Acquaintance with Letters                                            4
    Sun-Worship                                                          5

  II.--THE BARDS                                                         7
    The Files                                                            7
    The Ollamh-Poet                                                      7
    Historic Poet                                                        8
    Neidhe                                                               9
    Ollioll Olum                                                        10
    Ossian                                                              10

  III.--THE BREHONS                                                     11
    Office of Brehon thrown open to all possessing necessary
        qualifications                                                  11
    Morann                                                              12
    Their Course of Instruction                                         12

  IV.--THE OGHAM ALPHABET                                               13
    Inscribed Stones                                                    13
    Invention of the Ogham                                              14
    Letters of the Ogham Alphabet                                       15



  I.--CORMAC MAC ART                                                    16
    Battle of Magh Mucruimhe                                            17
    Fenian Militia                                                      18
    Finn Mac Cumhail                                                    19
    Feis of Tara                                                        19
    _The Teach Miodhchuarta_                                            21
    Writings ascribed to Cormac                                         23
    _Saltair of Tara_                                                   23
    Schools at Tara                                                     23
    _Book of Aicill_                                                    25
    Death of Cormac                                                     26
    Torna Eigas                                                         28

  II.--SEDULIUS                                                         29
    Evidence of Irish Birth                                             29
    Religious Training                                                  32
    Writings of Sedulius                                                35
    _Carmen Paschale_                                                   36
    _Elegiac Poems_                                                     37

  III.--CAELESTIUS AND PELAGIUS                                         39
    Caelestius not an Irishman                                          39
    Pelagius of British Birth, but of Scottish Origin                   40
    No evidence to show that Caelestius was either a Briton or
        Scot--His Character                                             41



  I.--ST. PATRICK'S EDUCATION                                           43
    Life at Marmoutier                                                  44
    St. Germanus of Auxerre                                             46
    Patrick accompanied Germanus on his journey to Britain, A.D. 429    48
    St. Patrick in the Island of Lerins                                 49
    St. Patrick commissioned by St. Celestine to Preach the Gospel
        in Ireland                                                      50

  II.--ST. PATRICK'S LITERARY LABOUR IN IRELAND                         50
    Arrival in Ireland                                                  50
    He lights the Paschal Fire                                          51
    Miraculous Destruction of the two Chief Druids of Erin              51
    Patrick burns the idolatrous books at Tara and overturns the
        idols in Leitrim                                                52

  III.--ST. PATRICK REFORMS THE BREHON LAWS                             52
    The _Senchus Mor_                                                   52
    Commission of Nine                                                  53
    Benignus                                                            54
    Church Organization                                                 55
    Friendly Alliance with the Bards                                    57
    Church Music                                                        58
    St. Patrick accompanied by Bishops and Priests in his Mission to
        Ireland                                                         59
    Synod of Patrick, Auxilius and Iserninus                            60
    Holy See Supreme Judge of Controversies                             60
    Duties of Ecclesiastical Judges and Kings                           61
    Oral Instruction communicated by St. Patrick to his Disciples
        during Missionary Journeys                                      62
    Books used by St. Patrick                                           63
    Elements, or "Alphabets" of Christian Doctrine                      63
    Equipment of the young Priest beginning his Missionary Work         64
    Patrick's Household                                                 65
    Patrick's Artificers                                                66



  I.--ST. PATRICK'S CONFESSION                                          67
    Evidence in favour of its authenticity                              68
    The Saint's motive in writing it                                    69
    Patrick's parents in Britain                                        71
    Patrick met opposition in preaching the Gospel in Ireland           72

  II.--THE EPISTLE TO COROTICUS                                         73

  III.--THE LORICA, OR THE DEER'S CRY                                   75

  IV.--SECHNALL'S HYMN OF ST. PATRICK                                   77
    Secundinus                                                          77
    Sechnall, son of Patrick's sister, Darerca                          79
    Sechnall's father                                                   79

  V.--THE HYMN _Sancti Venite_                                          80
    St. Sechnall the first Christian Poet in Erin                       81

  VI.--ST. FIACC OF SLETTY                                              81
    Fiacc receives _grade_ or orders                                    83
    He founds two Churches                                              83
    Fiacc's _Metrical Life of St. Patrick_                              85

  VII.--THE SAYINGS OF SAINT PATRICK                                    87

  VIII.--THE _Tripartite Life of St. Patrick_                           88
    Its date and authorship                                             89



  I.--GENERAL VIEW OF AN IRISH MONASTERY                                91
    Monasticism always existed and always will exist in the Church      92
    St. Martin of Tours, the Father of Monasticism in Gaul              93

  II.--THE BUILDINGS                                                    94
    Cells of the Monks                                                  95
    Monastic Hospitality                                                96

  III.--DISCIPLINE                                                      97
    The Abbot                                                           98
    The Monastic Family                                                 99
    The Rule                                                            99
    Food                                                               101
    Ordinary Dress                                                     102

  IV.--THE DAILY LABOUR OF THE MONASTERY                               102
    Religious Exercises                                                103
    Study                                                              103
    Writing                                                            104
    Manual Labour                                                      104
    Church Furniture                                                   105

  V.--THE THREE ORDERS OF IRISH SAINTS                                 106



  I.--THE SCHOOLS OF ARMAGH                                            110
    Emania                                                             111
    Daire                                                              111
    Patrick founds Armagh                                              112
    Ecclesiastical Buildings at Armagh                                 113
    St. Benignus                                                       114
    Death of Benignus                                                  116
    The _Book of Rights_ attributed to Benignus                        116
    The School of Armagh, primarily a great Theological Seminary       117
    The _Moralia_ of St. Gregory the Great                             117
    Gildas the Wise                                                    118
    His _Destruction of Britain_                                       119
    English Students at Armagh                                         119
    Churches and Schools of Armagh burned and plundered between
        A.D. 670 and 1179                                              120
    Imar O'Hagan                                                       121
    The _Book of Armagh_                                               122
    The Mac Moyres                                                     124

  II.--THE SCHOOL OF KILDARE                                           125
    St. Brigid                                                         125
    St. Mathona                                                        126
    St. Ita                                                            127
    St. Brigid born at Faughart                                        128
    Events of her marvellous history                                   129
    Brigid's religious vows                                            130
    Brigid founds Kildare                                              130
    Brigid the "Mary of Ireland"                                       131
    Monastery of Men at Kildare                                        132
    St. Conlaeth                                                       132
    St. Ninnidhius                                                     132
    Great Church of Kildare                                            133
    Six Lives of St. Brigid                                            133
    St. Brogan Cloen                                                   134
    Cogitosus                                                          135
    Round Tower of Kildare                                             138
    Perpetual fire of Kildare                                          138
    Art of Illumination in the Monastic Schools of Kildare             139
    The _Book of Leinster_                                             140



  I.--THE SCHOOL OF NOENDRUM                                           141
    St. Mochae                                                         141
    St. Colman of Dromore                                              143
    Mochae of Noendrum enchanted for 150 years by the song of a
        Blackbird                                                      144

  II.--THE SCHOOL OF LOUTH                                             145
    St. Mochta                                                         145
    School founded                                                     147
    The Druid Hoam                                                     147
    _Book of Cuana_                                                    149

  III.--THE SCHOOL OF EMLY                                             149
    St. Ailbe                                                          149
    Pre-Patrician Bishops in Ireland                                   150
    Life of St. Ailbe of Emly                                          151
    Ailbe preached the Gospel in Connaught                             152
    Life of St. Declan                                                 153
    Sts. Ciaran, Ailbe, Declan, and Ibar yield subjection and
        supremacy to Patrick                                           153
    Difficulties against the authenticity of the Lives of St.
        Ciaran, St. Declan, and St. Ailbe                              155

  IV.--ST. IBAR                                                        155
    Beg-Eri                                                            156
    School of Beg-Eri                                                  157
    Beg-Eri no longer an Island                                        158

  V.--EARLY SCHOOLS IN THE WEST OF IRELAND                             159
    College at Cluainfois                                              160
    School of St. Asicus of Elphin                                     161




  I.--LIFE OF ST. ENDA OF ARAN                                         163
    Monastic Character of the Early Irish Church                       163
    Family of St. Enda                                                 164
    His Sister, St. Fanchea                                            165
    He goes to Candida Casa                                            167
    Goes to Aran                                                       169

  II.--THE ISLES OF ARAN                                               169
    Aran Mor                                                           170

  III.--PAGAN REMAINS IN THE ISLES OF ARAN                             172
    Dun Ængusa                                                         173
    Dun Conchobhair                                                    175
    These Islands in ancient times the stronghold of a Warrior Race    176

  IV.--CHRISTIAN ARAN OF ST. ENDA                                      177
    The Curragh Stone                                                  177
    Enda founded his First Monastery at Killeany                       177
    Scholars of St. Enda                                               178
    Columba and Ciaran at Aran                                         179
    The Life of Enda and his Monks, simple and austere                 180

  V.--ANCIENT CHURCHES IN ARAN                                         181
    Churches in Townland of Killeany                                   181
    Telagh-Enda                                                        182
    The "Seven Churches"                                               182
    The Tomb of St. Brecan                                             183
    The _Septem Romani_                                                184
    Ruins at Kilmurvey                                                 185
    _Tempull na-Cheathair-Aluinn_                                      186



  I.--PRELIMINARY SKETCH OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS                          188
    The First Christian Schools                                        188
    Schools of the Pagans                                              189
    Episcopal Schools                                                  190
    School founded by John Cassian near Marseilles                     190
    Monastery of Lerins                                                192

  II.--ST. FINNIAN OF CLONARD                                          193
    Finnian's birth                                                    194
    Goes to Britain                                                    195
    Dubricius                                                          196
    St. David                                                          196
    Cathmael                                                           197
    Finnian returns to Erin                                            198

  III.--THE SCHOOL OF CLONARD                                          199
    Scholars of Clonard                                                201
    Instruction altogether oral                                        202
    Knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures                                 203
    "Tutor of the Saints of Ireland"                                   203
    Remains at Clonard                                                 205
    St. Aileran the Wise                                               206



  I.--ST. BRENDAN OF CLONFERT                                          209
    Fostered by St. Ita                                                211
    Brendan's progress in learning under St. Erc                       211
    Seminary at Cluainfois                                             212
    Brendan's Rule                                                     213
    St. Brendan's Oratory on the summit of Brandon Hill                214
    Brendan's Voyages                                                  215
    He goes to Britain                                                 217
    The Cursing of Tara                                                218
    He founds the Monastery of Inchiquin                               219
    Founds Clonfert                                                    220
    Death of Brendan                                                   221

  II.--ST. MOINENN                                                     222
    St. Fintan                                                         224
    The Abbot Seanach Garbh                                            225
    St. Fursey                                                         226
    Birth of Fursey                                                    227

  III.--ST. CUMMIAN THE TALL, BISHOP OF CLONFERT                       228
    Birth of Cummian                                                   229
    Pupil of St. Finbar                                                230
    Cummian and King Domhnall                                          232
    Paschal Controversy                                                233
    The Irish Usage                                                    234
    Main charge brought against the Irish                              235
    A National Synod at Magh Lene                                      236
    Cummian's _Paschal Epistle_                                        237
    He appeals to the authority of the Church                          238
    Quotes the Synodical Decrees of St. Patrick                        239
    The _Liber de Mensura Poenitentiarum_                              240

  IV.--SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF CLONFERT                                  242
    Turgesius and the Danes                                            242
    Old Cathedral of Clonfert                                          243



  I.--ST. FINNIAN OF MOVILLE                                           245
    His Boyhood and Education                                          246
    Candida Casa                                                       246
    Finnian at Candida Casa                                            247
    He goes to Rome                                                    248
    Returns to Ireland and founds a School at Moville                  249
    Columcille's Copy of St. Finnian's Psaltery                        251
    The _Cathach_                                                      252
    St. Finnian's _Rule_                                               253
    His Death                                                          254
    The _Hymn of St. Colman_                                           255

  II.--MARIANUS SCOTUS                                                 256



  I.--ST. CIARAN OF CLONMACNOISE                                       258
    Clonmacnoise                                                       258
    St. Ciaran at the School of Clonard                                259
    He goes to Aran                                                    260
    Visits St. Senan at Scattery                                       261
    Founds Churches at Isell Ciaran and Hare Island, and the
        Monastery at Clonmacnoise                                      261
    Origin of the Diocese of Clonmacnoise                              262
    Death of St. Ciaran                                                263
    Festival of St. Ciaran                                             264
    The Eclais Beg                                                     265

  II.--THE RUINED CHURCHES AT CLONMACNOISE                             266
    Round Tower                                                        267
    O'Rourke's Tower                                                   268
    De Lacy's Castle                                                   269
    Inscribed Tombstones                                               269

  III.--THE SCHOLARS OF CLONMACNOISE                                   270
    Grants to the School of Clonmacnoise                               271
    Colgan, or Colgu the Wise                                          272
    Alcuin                                                             272
    The Ferleginds                                                     273
    The _Prayer of St. Colgu_                                          273
    _Scuap Chrabhaigh_                                                 274
    Plundered by the Danes                                             274
    Felim Mac Criffan                                                  275

  IV.--ANNALISTS OF CLONMACNOISE                                       276
    Tighernach                                                         276
    _Chronicon Scotorum_                                               278
    Gilla-Christ O'Maeileon                                            279
    _Annals of Clonmacnoise_                                           279

  V.--THE "LEABHAR-NA-H-UIDHRE"                                        280
    Conn-na-m-Bocht                                                    280

  VI.--DICUIL, THE GEOGRAPHER                                          281
    The _De Mensura Orbis Terrarum_                                    281
    His Learning                                                       284
    Irish Pilgrimage to Jerusalem                                      285
    The "Barns of Joseph"                                              286
    Dicuil's reference to Iceland                                      287
    Love of the Ancient Irish Monks for island solitudes               288
    Iceland and the Faroe Isles occupied by Irish Monks prior to
        discovery of these islands by the Danes                        289
    Dicuil's testimony that Sedulius was an Irishman                   290



  I.--ST. COLUMBA'S EDUCATION                                          291
    St. Columba, a typical Celt                                        291
    Early History                                                      292
    Goes to the School of St. Finnian at Moville                       294
    Columba at the School of Clonard                                   295
    Columba at Glasnevin                                               296
    He returns to his native territory                                 297

  II.--COLUMBA FOUNDS DERRY                                            298
    Columcille's original Church                                       298
    Personal description of Columba                                    299

  III.--THE SCHOOLS OF DURROW AND KELLS                                301
    Columba founded the Monastery of Durrow                            301
    Interesting incidents                                              302
    Cormac Ua Liathain                                                 303
    The _Book of Durrow_                                               304
    Ancient remains at Durrow                                          305
    Assassination of De Lacy                                           306

  IV.--THE FOUNDATION OF KELLS                                         306
    King Diarmait                                                      306
    St. Columba's House                                                308
    Round Tower of Kells                                               309
    _Book of Kells_                                                    309
    This MS. caused the Battle of Cuil-Dreimhne                        310
    Columba's departure from Derry                                     312
    Port-a-Churraich                                                   314



  I.--IONA                                                             315
    Columba settles in Iona                                            316
    Reilig Odhran                                                      317
    Columba's Monasteries                                              318
    Scribes in Iona                                                    319
    Rule in Iona                                                       319

  II.--COLUMBA PROTECTS THE BARDS                                      320
    Threatened destruction of the Bards                                320
    Convention of Drumceat                                             321
    Columba's defence of the Bards                                     322
    The Bardic Schools                                                 323

  III.--DEATH OF COLUMBA                                               324

  IV.--WRITINGS OF COLUMBA                                             326
    _The Altus Prosator_                                               327
    _In te Christe_                                                    328
    _Noli Pater_                                                       328
    Irish Poems attributed to Columcille                               329
    Columba's Prophecies                                               329

  V.--LIVES OF COLUMCILLE                                              330

  VI.--OTHER SCHOLARS OF IONA                                          331
    Baithen                                                            331
    Death of Baithen                                                   333
    Laisren                                                            333
    Seghine                                                            333
    Suibhne                                                            334
    Cuimine the Fair                                                   334

  VII.--ADAMNAN, NINTH ABBOT OF HY                                     335
    Greek Tongue taught in the School of Hy 1170 years ago             336
    Adamnan's Birth                                                    336
    His Parentage                                                      337
    King Finnachta                                                     337
    Adamnan goes to Iona                                               338
    _Vita Columbae_                                                    339
    Adamnan introduces the new Paschal observance into Ireland         341
    Dispute between Adamnan and Finnachta                              342
    Canon of Adamnan                                                   342
    Death of Adamnan--relics transferred to Ireland                    343
    Adamnan's writings                                                 344
    _De Locis Sanctis_                                                 344
    Expulsion of the Columbian Monks by the Pictish King Nectan        345
    The "Gentiles" make their first descent on the Hebrides            346
    Martyrdom of St. Blaithmac                                         347
    The _Rule of Columba_                                              347



  I.--KELLS HEAD OF THE COLUMBIAN HOUSES                               348
    Kells pillaged by the Danes                                        348
    The Cathach                                                        348

  II.--MARIANUS SCOTUS                                                 349
    _Commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul_                         351

  III.--THE LATER SCHOOL OF DERRY                                      352
    The Ua Brolchain                                                   352
    St. Maelisa O'Brolchain                                            353
    Flaithbhertach O'Brolchain                                         354
    The Abbot of Derry resolves to renovate his monastery and
        collects funds for the purpose                                 355
    Synod of the Clergy of Ireland convened at Bri Mac Taidgh in
        Laeghaire                                                      356
    See of Derry established                                           357

  IV.--GELASIUS                                                        358
    His name of _Mac Liag_                                             358
    Gelasius becomes Abbot of Derry,                                   359
    He reforms the morals of clergy and people                         359
    Synod of Kells                                                     360
    Synod of Mellifont                                                 361
    Synod of Brigh Mac-Taidgh                                          361
    Synod of Clane                                                     362
    Gelasius consecrates St. Laurence O'Toole                          362
    Death of Gelasius                                                  363



  I.--ST. COMGALL OF BANGOR                                            364
    Birth and parentage                                                365
    Comgall enters the Monastery of Fintan                             366
    He visits Clonmacnoise, and receives the priesthood                367
    Description of Bangor                                              367
    St. Columba visits Comgall at Bangor                               368
    The fame of Comgall attracts crowds to Bangor                      369
    Death of Comgall                                                   370

  II.--ST. COLUMBANUS                                                  370
    His early life                                                     371
    Goes to Cluaninis and places himself under the care of Sinell      372
    He enters Bangor                                                   372
    Preaches the Gospel in Gaul                                        373
    He buries himself in the depths of the forest                      373
    Increase of Disciples                                              374
    Founds a monastery at Luxeuil                                      375
    Columbanus and his Irish Monks banished from Luxeuil               376
    They establish themselves at Bregentz                              376
    He founds the Monastic Church of Bobbio                            378
    Death of Columbanus                                                378
    His writings                                                       379
    The _Bobbio Missal_                                                380
    The _Antiphonarium Benchorense_                                    381

  III.--DUNGAL                                                         381
    Theologian, astronomer and poet                                    381
    Dungal was an Irishman                                             382
    Probably educated in the School of Bangor                          382
    Dungal goes to France                                              382
    His Letter to Charlemagne on the two solar eclipses said to have
        taken place in A.D. 810                                        383
    He opens a school at Pavia                                         385
    The last struggle of Western Iconoclasm                            385
    The _Libri Carolini_                                               386
    Synod of Frankfort                                                 386
    The Council of Nice                                                387
    The Paris Conference                                               388
    Claudius of Turin                                                  389
    _Dungali Responsa contra perversas Claudii Taurinensis Episcopi
        Sententias_                                                    390
    Character of Dungal's writings                                     391
    His death                                                          392

  IV.--ST. MALACHY                                                     393
    Sketch of his life                                                 393
    He rebuilds the monastery at Bangor                                394
    Becomes Bishop of Connor                                           394
    Founds the _Monasterium Ibracense_                                 395
    Malachy transferred to the Primatial See                           395
    Difficulties in Armagh                                             395
    Malachy honoured at Rome by Pope Innocent III.                     396
    Death at Clairvaux                                                 397



  I.--ST. FINTAN                                                       398
    Churches founded round the base of the Slieve Bloom mountains      398
    Clonenagh                                                          398
    Fintan's _Rule_                                                    401
    St. Comgall a pupil of the School of Clonenagh                     402
    Miracles of St. Fintan                                             403
    Fintan, "Father of the Irish Monks"                                404

  II.--ST. ÆNGUS                                                       404
    A _Ceile De_                                                       405
    He leads a solitary life                                           405
    Dysert-Enos                                                        406
    Penitential Exercises                                              407
    Ængus arrives at Tallagh                                           407
    _Martyrology of Tallagh_                                           408
    _The Felire_                                                       409
    Fothadh-na-Canoine                                                 410
    Invocation of the Saints                                           411
    The _Saltair-na-Rann_                                              412
    Opinions of Dr. Stokes with regard to the writings of Ængus        412
    Death of Ængus                                                     413



  I.--ST. KEVIN                                                        414
    Sketch of his Life                                                 414
    Kevin is placed under the care of St. Petroc                       415
    He goes to Glendalough                                             416
    Description of Glendalough                                         417
    St. Kevin's Bed                                                    418
    Tempull-na-Skellig                                                 419
    Glendalough, a Seminary of Saints and Scholars                     420
    Kevin meets Columba, Comgall and Canice at the hill of Uisnech     421
    Death of Kevin                                                     421
    Writings attributed to Kevin                                       422

  II.--RUINS AT GLENDALOUGH                                            422
    The Cathedral                                                      423
    St. Kevin's Kitchen                                                423
    Our Lady's Church                                                  424
    Trinity Church                                                     424
    Kevin's Yew Tree                                                   425

  III.--ST. MOLING                                                     425
    St. Moling                                                         426
    Teach Moling                                                       426
    Moling becomes Bishop of Ferns                                     427
    Remission of the Cow-Tax                                           428
    Writings attributed to St. Moling                                  429
    Glendalough ravaged by the Danes                                   429
    "Gilla-na-naomh Laighen"                                           430

  CHAPTER XVIII.--(_continued_).


  ST. LAURENCE O'TOOLE                                                 432
    His Parentage                                                      433
    He goes to Glendalough                                             434
    Lorcan as a Student                                                435
    He is placed at the head of St. Kevin's Great Establishment        436
    Consecrated Archbishop of Dublin                                   437
    Synod of the Irish Prelates at Clane                               437
    He reforms the Clergy                                              437
    His Spirit of Mortification and Prayer                             438
    Dermott McMurrough and Maurice Fitzgerald attack Dublin            440
    He stimulates the slothful king, Rory O'Connor, to action          441
    Laurence O'Toole attends a General Council in Rome, and secures
        many privileges for the Church in Ireland                      443
    He travels to England in the interests of Rory O'Connor the
        discrowned king                                                444
    Detained a prisoner in the monastery of Abingdon                   444
    His death                                                          445
    Canonization                                                       446



  I.--THE SCHOOL OF LISMORE, ST. CARTHACH                              447
    He visits the School of Bangor                                     448
    He founds a monastery at Rahan                                     449
    "Effugatio" of Carthach from Rahan                                 450
    He founds Lismore                                                  453
    Retires from community life to prepare for death                   454
    Miracles                                                           454
    _Rule of Carthach_                                                 455

  II.--ST. CATHALDUS OF TARENTUM                                       457
    _The Life of St. Cathaldus_                                        457
    His Birth-place                                                    458
    A Student at Lismore                                               460
    He becomes a bishop                                                461
    See of Rachau                                                      462
    Pilgrimage to Jerusalem                                            462
    Taranto                                                            463
    Cathaldus endeavours to reform the licentious inhabitants of
        Taranto                                                        463
    His death at Taranto                                               464
    Invention of the Saint's Relics                                    464

  III.--OTHER SCHOLARS OF LISMORE                                      465
    St. Cuanna                                                         465
    St. Colman O'Leathain                                              467
    Aldfrid, King of Northumbria                                       468

  IV.--SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF LISMORE                                   466
    Lismore ravaged by the Danes                                       469
    Scenery at Lismore                                                 471
    Inscribed stones                                                   472
    The Crozier of Lismore                                             472
    _The Book of Lismore_                                              473



  I.--THE SCHOOL OF CORK                                               475
    St. Finbarr                                                        476
    Gougane Barra                                                      478
    Cork in A.D. 1600                                                  480
    Death of St. Finbarr                                               482
    His character                                                      483
    Assassination of Mahoun                                            484
    Giolla Aedha O'Muidhin                                             486

  II.--ST. COLMAN MAC UA CLUASAIGH                                     487
    Pestilence in Ireland                                              487
    St. Colman's Hymn                                                  488

  III.--THE SCHOOL OF ROSS                                             490
    St. Fachtna                                                        490
    _Geographical Poem_ of Mac Cosse                                   494

  IV.--THE SCHOOL OF INNISFALLEN                                       495
    St. Finan the Leper                                                496
    St. Finan Cam                                                      497

  V.--THE ANNALS OF INNISFALLEN                                        500
    Maelsuthain O'Cearbhail                                            500
    Curious anecdote of Maelsuthain                                    502
    _Annals of Innisfallen_                                            503
    Description of Innisfallen                                         505



  I.--THE SCHOOL OF MUNGRET                                            506
    St. Nessan                                                         507
    St. Munchin                                                        508
    Mungret plundered by the Danes                                     510
    "The Learning of the Women of Mungret"                             511

  II.--THE SCHOOL OF INISCALTRA                                        513
    Island of Iniscaltra                                               513
    St. Columba of Terryglass                                          513
    Death of St. Columba                                               515
    St. Caimin                                                         517
    Round Tower of Iniscaltra                                          519
    St. Caimin's Church                                                519
    Sculptured stones                                                  520
    Iniscaltra ravaged by the Danes                                    521

  III.--OTHER MONASTIC SCHOOLS OF THOMOND                              522
    St. Brendan of Birr                                                522
    St. Cronan of Roscrea                                              523
    _Book of Dimma_                                                    524



  I.--ST. COLMAN'S SCHOOL OF MAYO                                      527
    The Easter Controversy                                             527
    Inisboffin                                                         531
    Death of Colman                                                    533

  II.--ST. GERALD OF MAYO                                              534
    Life of St. Gerald                                                 534
    Adamnan promulgates the celebrated "Lex Innocentiae"               537
    Date of St. Gerald's Death                                         537

  III.--SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL OF MAYO                       538
    Cele O'Duffy                                                       539

  IV.--THE SCHOOL OF TUAM                                              540
    St. Jarlath                                                        541
    "Meadow of Retreat"                                                542
    St. Brendan visits St. Jarlath's School at Cluainfois              543
    St. Jarlath founds Tuam                                            544

  CHAPTER XXII.--(_continued_).


  I.--THE O'DUFFYS                                                     547

  II.--CELTIC ART AT CLONMACNOISE                                      550
    The Ollamh-builder                                                 551
    Gobban Saer                                                        551
    _Religh-na-Cailleach_                                              552
    Crosses and Architectural Ornaments in Sculpture at Tuam and
        Cong                                                           554
    Turlough rebuilds the Cathedral of Tuam                            557
    The Abbey of Cong                                                  558
    The Cross of Cong                                                  560
    The Chalice of Ardagh                                              562
    The Shrine of St. Manchan                                          564



  I.--ST. VIRGILIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF SALZBURG                            566
    Country of St. Virgilius                                           566
    Accusations against Virgilius                                      569
    Doctrine of the Antipodes                                          570
    Virgilius, the Apostle of Carinthia                                572
    Discovery of the Tomb of Virgilius                                 573

  II.--SEDULIUS, COMMENTATOR ON SCRIPTURE                              574
    Writings of Sedulius                                               574

  III.--JOHN SCOTUS ERIGENA                                            576
    Born in Ireland                                                    576
    Patronised by Charles the Bald                                     579
    His _Liber de Prædestinatione_                                     581
    Alleged Errors about the Real Presence                             583
    His Translation of the Pseudo-Dionysius                            584
    His Treatise _De Divisione Naturae_                                586
    This Book condemned A.D. 1225                                      587
    His Death                                                          588

  IV.--FOREIGN SCHOLARS IN IRELAND                                     589
    College of Slane                                                   590
    Dagobert, a Pupil of Slane                                         590
    Egbert in Ireland                                                  591
    Studies in Connaught                                               592
    St. Chad in Connaught                                              593
    St. Willibrord in Ireland                                          594
    Agilbert, Bishop of Paris, in Ireland                              595



    The Learned Professions in Erin                                    598
    Degrees in Poetry, in Law, in History                              600

  II.--SCHOOL OF TUAIM DRECAIN                                         602
    Three Schools at Tuaim Drecain                                     602
    Cennfaeladh, Professor in all the Faculties                        604

  III.--CORMAC MAC CULLINAN                                            605
    Disert-Diarmada                                                    605
    Cormac, King of Cashel                                             607
    Not Bishop of Cashel                                               609
    Cashel then a Royal Dun                                            610
    Battle of Ballaghmoon                                              611

  IV.--WRITINGS OF CORMAC MAC CULLINAN                                 612
    _Psalter of Caiseal_                                               613
    Cormac's _Glossary_                                                612

  CHAPTER XXIV.--(_continued_).

    Amergin Mac Awley                                                  615
    Dallan Forgaill                                                    616

    Maelmura of Fathan                                                 617
    Flann Mac Lonan                                                    618
    Eochaid O'Flinn                                                    619

    Mac Liag                                                           620
    His writings                                                       623
    Cuan O'Lochain                                                     624
    The Monastery of Buite                                             625

  IV.--DISCIPLINE OF THE LAY COLLEGES                                  628
    Relations between pupils and Teachers laid down in the _Senchus
        Mor_                                                           629
    Corporal punishment sometimes inflicted                            630



  "The wrath of Crom spoke in the storm,
    The blighted harvests felt his eye;
  The cooling shower, the sunshine warm,
    Answered the Druid's plaintive cry."
                              --_T. D. McGee._

It is not our purpose to discuss at length the state of learning and
civilization in Ireland before the coming of St. Patrick. It is a question
about which much difference of opinion exists even amongst learned men. A
few remarks, however, on this subject will enable the reader to understand
more clearly the literature and history of the Christian Schools of
Ancient Ireland.

It is admitted by all that whatever learning existed in Erin during the
pagan period of her history, was the exclusive possession of certain
privileged classes amongst the Celtic tribes. They may be included in the
three great orders, so familiar to the students of our ancient
history--the Druids, Bards, and Brehons. We shall offer a few brief
observations about each of these highly privileged classes.[1]


In Ireland, as in all the Celtic nations, the Druids were priests and
seers, and frequently poets and judges also, especially in the earliest
periods of our history. We know from Cæsar that their learning, at least
in Gaul, consisted for the most part in rather fanciful theories about the
heavenly bodies, the laws of nature, and the attributes of their pagan
deities. These doctrines, like their religious tenets, were not committed
to writing, but were handed down by oral tradition; for they wished above
all things to keep their knowledge to themselves, and to impress the
common people with a mysterious awe for their own power and wisdom. It has
been said[2] by some writers that druidism was a philosophy rather than a
religion; but this statement cannot be admitted against the express
testimony of Cæsar,[3] who must have often seen the Druids both in Gaul
and Britain. He asserts[4] most distinctly that they attended to religious
worship, offered sacrifice both in public and in private, and also
expounded omens and oracles. Cæsar's statement in this single sentence
offers a text for our observations. We must bear in mind what he says of
the Druids of Gaul, as well as of the British Druids; because it is quite
evident that the Druids of the three great Celtic nations about this
period had practically the same religion. He says that they had exclusive
charge of public worship, sometimes even offered human sacrifice; and we
shall show, notwithstanding O'Curry,[5] that they did the same in Ireland
also. A similar long course of instruction, generally extending to twenty
years, was required for their disciples in Ireland as in Gaul. As judges,
too, the Druids enforced their decisions by a kind of social
excommunication, which few people dared to despise. It is curious how the
Celtic races, even to this day, have recourse to similar excommunications,
both in things social and political. The Druids of Gaul were subject to an
Arch-Druid, who was, like the Jewish High Priest, elected for life. But
above all, the Druids of Gaul taught the immortality of the soul, as also
its transmigration, and appeared most anxious to inculcate these doctrines
on all their disciples. This is the one saving doctrine of druidism, which
thus prepared the way for Christianity.

There were Druids amongst all the Celtic tribes of France, Britain, and
Ireland. The British Druids in the time of Cæsar were very famous both as
priests and scholars; so that it was customary for the young Druids of
Gaul to be sent over to Britain to finish their education in the colleges
of the British Druids. Their chief establishment was in the Island of
Anglesey, anciently called Mona; so at least it is called by Tacitus,
although Cæsar seems to give that name to the Isle of Man. During the
period immediately preceding the arrival of St. Patrick in Ireland, it
seems highly probable that Mona was occupied by a colony of the Irish
Celts. It is certain, at least, that very frequent and friendly
intercourse took place between Ireland and Anglesey, from which it may be
safely inferred that if the druidism of Anglesey was not of Irish origin,
Irish as well as Gaulish Druids were certainly educated in that island.

The Druids worshipped not in temples made with hands. As in Palestine, and
many Eastern countries, these pagan priests conducted their religious
services in 'groves' and 'high places' under the shade of the spreading
oaks, from which some writers derive their name--_derw_ being the Celtic,
not the Greek name for oak. Hence this tree was sacred in their eyes;
their dwellings were surrounded with oak groves, whose dark foliage threw
a sombre and solemn shade over the rude altars of unhewn stone on which
they offered their sacrifices. The yew, blackthorn, and quicken were also
regarded as sacred trees, at least by the Irish Druids, who made their
divining rods in some cases from the yew, but oftener from oaken boughs.
The mystic ogham characters were also cut by the Druids on staves made
from the yew, at least so we are informed in some of our oldest Irish

Our knowledge of Irish druidism is derived chiefly from incidental
references in the old romantic tales, and also in the _Lives of the
Saints_, and especially in the _Lives of St. Patrick_, who came into
direct antagonism with their entire system. It is certain that in other
countries the Druids sometimes offered human victims in sacrifice; and
there is some evidence that the same custom, although, perhaps, more
rarely, prevailed in Ireland. There is a passage in the _Book of
Leinster_,[7] which expressly states that the Irish used to sacrifice
their children to Crom Cruach, or more correctly, Cenn Cruaich, the great
gold-covered idol of Magh Slecht, on the borders of Cavan and Leitrim.
Hence it was called the Plain of Slaughter, and the sight of the foul idol
so excited the righteous zeal of St. Patrick that he smote it deep into
the earth with a blow of his crozier. We also know from the Saint's
"Confession" that the Irish to whom he preached the Gospel, had previously
worshipped idols and unclean things,[8] which goes to prove that
idol-worship was a part of the druidical ritual in Ireland.

There is no doubt also that the worship of the elements was a part of the
druidical religion. Their most terrible oaths were sworn on the Sun and
the Wind; and it was confidently believed that the perjurer could never
escape the vengeance of these mighty elements. The account given in the
_Tripartite_ of St. Patrick's interview with the daughters of King
Laeghaire by Cliabach Well, on the slopes of Cruachan, shows that the
worship of fairy gods, or elves, was a part of the druidical religion; and
the same is expressly stated in the very ancient metrical Life of the
Apostle, by St. Fiacc of Sletty.[9]

It is evident also not only from Cæsar's statement, but also from several
passages in our earliest extant writings, that one of the principal
functions of the Druids was to act as haurispices, that is, to foretell
the future, to unveil the hidden, to pronounce incantations, and ascertain
by omens lucky and unlucky days. Hence we always find some of them living
with the king in his royal rath; they are not only his priests, but still
more his guides and counsellors on all occasions of danger or emergency.
King Laeghaire had at Tara Druids and enchanters, who used to foretell the
future by their druidism and heathenism;[10] and they announced the coming
of the _tailcend_, or shaven-crown, that is St. Patrick, long before his
arrival. They were powerful in charms and spells. They could bring snow on
the plain, but could not, like Patrick, take it away; they could cover the
land with sudden darkness, but could not, like him, dispel it. They were
powerful for evil, but not for good; they could with the charm called the
'Fluttering Wisp,' strike their unhappy victim with lunacy, or afflict him
by the elements; they would even promise to make the earth swallow him up,
as they said it would swallow St. Patrick when he was preaching on the
banks of the Moy in Tyrawley. Their incantations, too, were in some
instances not only wicked, but filthy and unclean,[11] and as such were of
course strictly prohibited by St. Patrick.

The Druids of Gaul, although unwilling to commit their doctrines to
writing, were acquainted with the use of the Greek letters. The British
Druids of Anglesey were even more learned; and we must infer that the
Irish Druids possessed a similar culture. They had 'books,'[12] when St.
Patrick met them at Tara; and two of them were entrusted with the
education of the king's daughters at Cruachan. They were also skilled in
medicine, and possessed a knowledge of healing herbs; they discoursed to
their disciples on the nature of things,[13] and had some knowledge of
astronomy. Thus vested with mysterious and supernatural powers, and
possessed of an esoteric learning, that was exclusively their own, the
Druids were held in great reverence and fear. "Tara was the chief seat of
the idolatry and druidism of Erin,"[14] but we also find them at Cruachan
in Connaught, and at Killala beyond the Moy[15]--both royal seats of the
kings of that province. They accompanied the kings in their journeys and
were present sometimes on the field of battle.[16] They were generally
dressed in white, but wore an inner tunic to which reference is sometimes
made. It is probable that one or more of them abode in the Raths of all
the great nobles, who claimed to be _righs_, or kinglets, in their own
territories. They were sworn enemies of Christianity, and frequently
attempted to take St. Patrick's life by violence or poison. In the remote
districts of the country some of them remained for several centuries after
the island generally became Christian; and to this day we can find traces
of ancient druidism in the superstitions of the people.

Their New Year's Day was about the 10th of March, and was deemed holy as
the great day on which they cut the mistletoe from the sacred oak. The
first of May was kept as a festival in honour of the Sun-God; and probably
gave origin to that custom of lighting fires in honour of the god, which
was afterwards transferred to the eve of the 24th of June, in order to do
honour to St. John.

St. Patrick in his _Confession_ clearly refers to this sun-worship as an
idolatrous practice prevalent amongst our pagan forefathers. "That sun,"
he says, "which at His bidding we see rising daily for our sake will never
reign, and its splendour will not last for ever; but those who adore it
will perish miserably for all eternity." The great November festival
called Samuin, seems to have been held especially in honour of the _side_,
or fairy-gods, who dwelt in the bosom of the beautiful green hills of
Erin, and were supposed to hold high revel throughout all the land on
November Eve. But the Druids had influence even with these gods of the
hills; and we are told that when Edain, the lovely queen of royal Tara,
was stolen away from her husband, and hidden in the Land of Youth under
Bri Leith, near Ardagh, in Longford, she was restored to her home and her
husband by the mighty magic of Dallan the Druid.

We find reference made to the Druids as present with every colony that
came to Erin, which shows at least that the old bards and chroniclers
regarded them as an essential element of the nation. They were endowed
with lands for their maintenance, and enjoyed special privileges and
immunities, like the Bards and Brehons. But, as they were the priests of a
false and idolatrous religion, it was sought as far as possible to remove
every trace of their existence from the minds of the people; and hence
after the revision of the Brehon Laws in the time of St. Patrick, we find
all reference to the Druids, their rights, and their privileges, entirely
expunged from that ancient code. Accordingly we know nothing about the
Irish Druids, except what may be gathered from such accidental references
as those to which we have already referred.


Under this term we include both poets and chroniclers that is, the
_Fileadh_ and the _Fer-comgne_.[17] Sometimes history and poetry are
represented as distinct branches of learning in ancient Erin; it is
certain, however, that in pre-Christian times, and long after the
introduction of Christianity, the chronicler made poetry the medium of
preserving and communicating to posterity both the genealogical and
historical records of his tribe or clan. It is true, indeed, that the
Introduction to the _Senchus Mor_ makes a careful distinction between the
chronicler and the poet. "Until Patrick came, only three classes of
persons were permitted to speak in public in Erin: a Chronicler to relate
events and to tell stories; a Poet to eulogise and to satirize; a Brehon
to pass sentence from precedents and commentaries." It is added that since
Patrick's arrival, each of these professions is subject to his censorship;
and it is noteworthy that no reference at all is made to the Druids after
Patrick came to Erin, and this Brehon Code came to be purified. The
commentator on the _Senchus_ also notes that for a long time the
judicature had belonged to the poets alone, that is, from the time of
Amergin, the first poet-judge, down to the time of the Contention at
Emhain Macha between the two Sages, Ferceirtne and Neidhe. The language
which the poets spoke on that occasion was so obscure, that the chieftains
could not understand what had passed between the rival Sages. It was
therefore ordained by Conchobhar (Connor) and his chieftains, that
thenceforward the poets should be deprived of that exclusive privilege
which they had hitherto enjoyed, and made too exclusive; and that the men
of Erin in general should be entitled to have their proper share in the
judicature. This dim tradition clearly represents a protest against the
technical language of an exclusive and privileged class, who, for their
own purposes, sought to keep secret their traditionary lore. Thus it came
to pass that thenceforward the profession of the judge and poet became
quite distinct, and the judge assumed the post of official chronicler and
keeper of the records of his tribe.

The function of the Bard, or poet, afterwards was 'to eulogize and to
satirize;' and in this more restricted sense of the word the term poet or
Bard is frequently employed in Christian times. We know, however, that as
a matter of fact all our historical documents down to the tenth century
are written in poetry, that is, in a certain metre and rhythm, which would
help to preserve these compositions even without the aid of writing for
the benefit of posterity; that is to say, the Chronicler was also a poet.

The _File_, or poet in the more restricted sense of the word, soon became
a pest and a nuisance. He was willing enough to eulogize when he expected
liberal rewards; but if he were disappointed in his hopes, or if from any
other cause he wished to inflict the lash of his satire on any person, he
never spared the poisoned shafts of his flashing wit. Hence Cormac Mac
Cullinan, who knew the tribe well, derives _File_, the old Irish word for
poet, from _fi_, poison, and _li_, brightness; because in eulogy the poet
is bright, but in satire he is venomous. The poets were extortionate, too,
in exacting rewards for their eulogistic verses, so that the order came to
be more feared than loved, and at length incurred the danger of
extinction, as we shall see further on. Hence, too, it is expressly
ordained in the _Senchus Mor_ that the poet who demands an excessive
reward, or claims an amount to which he is not entitled, or composes
unlawful satire, is to be deprived of half his 'honour price' for the
first and second offence, and of his full honour price, or social status,
for the third. Among the four dignitaries of a territory who might be
degraded, besides the false-judging king, the stumbling bishop, and the
unworthy chief, was the fraudulent poet, who demanded an exorbitant reward
for his compositions.

No man was qualified to become Chief-poet, or Doctor in
Poetry--'Ollamh-poet'--who was not able to compose an extempore stanza on
any subject proposed to him. And the way in which it is done is this:
"When the poet sees the person or thing before him he makes a verse at
once with the ends of his fingers, or in his mind without studying, and he
composes and repeats at the same time."[18] This, however, was after the
reception of the New Testament in the time of St. Patrick. "Before
Patrick's time the poet placed his (divining) staff upon the person's
body, or upon his head, and found out his name, and the name of his father
and mother, and discovered every unknown thing that was proposed to him in
a minute or two or three." But St. Patrick abolished these profane rites
amongst the poets when they believed, for they could not be performed
without offering to idol gods, and thenceforward he made the profession

The chief duty of the Historic Poet, or Chronicler, was to register the
genealogies of the men of Erin, and to recite lays of battle, and rhymed
stories or tales of Courtships, Voyages, Cattle-spoils, Sieges,
Slaughters, and other moving incidents by field and flood. The
Ollamh-poet, or Doctor of Poetry, was required by law to spend at least
twelve years in careful preparation for his final degree, and to have
prepared for public recitation seven times fifty tales or stories of the
character already indicated. He was also required to be perfectly familiar
with the pedigrees of the principal families, their topographical
distribution, the synchronisms of remarkable events both at home and
abroad, and the etymologies of names in Erin. He was besides required to
know the artistic rules of poetry, and to have a knowledge of the seven
kinds of verse and their various metres. It is evident that these manifold
accomplishments required long and careful study; and the necessity of this
training explains, what many persons think incredible, the wonderful
accuracy of our ancient historical and genealogical records, which the
evidence of facts now proves to be on the whole undoubtedly authentic and
trustworthy documents.

In the _Book of Ballymote_ there is a long list of great historians and
poets, who flourished in ancient Ireland; many of them, however, are now
known only by name. All our ancient records point to the fact that the
Tuatha de Danaan, who colonized this country before the Milesians, were a
people of considerable civilization. Their royal family seems to have
possessed great culture. Daghda, the king, and his wife the Great
Queen--Mor Rigan--are both represented as distinguished poets, who
flourished more than 1,000 years before Christ. Diancecht, the royal
physician, was also a distinguished judge and poet; his daughter, the
princess Etan, was a poetess; and her son was no less remarkable for
poetic talent. About the same period flourished the poet Ogma, the
traditional inventor of the Ogham alphabet.

The Milesians cultivated poetry with equal zeal. We have already referred
to the poet-judge, Amergin, and we are told that a poet called Cir, and a
harper named Ona, were amongst the first Milesian colonists. After the
conquest of the country by the brothers Heber and Heremon, it was resolved
to cast lots for the possession of these distinguished bards. The poet
fell to Heremon and the harper to Heber, whence it came to pass that the
Northerns were, in after times, distinguished for poetry; but the gift of
music remained with their Southern brothers.

There is still extant[20] a curious genealogical poem attributed to Conor
of the Red-Brows (about B.C. 6) which O'Curry seems to have regarded as
genuine. But the most remarkable remnant of pre-Christian literature, if,
indeed, it can be regarded as such, is the Dialogue of the two Sages,
which is attributed to the reign of Conor Mac Nessa, king of Ulster, about
the period of the birth of Christ. These two sages were Ferceirtne, the
royal poet of Emania, and Neidhe, son of Adhna, the predecessor of
Ferceirtne in the Chair of Poetry. The young Neidhe, after completing his
education at home, went to Scotland, where he still further pursued his
studies. Upon learning the death of his father he returned home, and
happening to find the chief poet's chair just then empty by the temporary
absence of the Professor Ferceirtne, who had succeeded his father, he put
on the poet's Gown which he found lying on the chair, and sat down himself
in state in the vacant seat. Thereupon Ferceirtne returned, and finding
his place occupied, asked in poetic phrase who was the distinguished
stranger upon whom rested the splendour of the poet's Gown. Neidhe
answered him in language as poetic as his own, and thereupon began the
famous Dialogue, in which the rival poets displayed all their various
accomplishments in literature, history, and druidism. The victory was
finally gained by the youthful Neidhe, who proved himself fully worthy of
his father's Chair; but with modest condescension he yielded the place to
the elder Ferceirtne, and consented to become his pupil and destined
successor. The language of the Dialogue shows its great antiquity; but the
frequent allusions, although only by way of prophecy to Christian usages,
throw grave doubt, on its authenticity.

Learning is said to have greatly flourished in Erin during the reign of
Conor Mac Nessa. He was certainly a bountiful benefactor to the poets;
and, when their numbers and avarice raised loud complaints against them in
other parts of the country, he invited the whole tribe to his own kingdom
of Ulster, where he entertained them hospitably for seven years.

Ollioll Olum, that is Ollioll the Sage, was, as his name implies, a
learned poet, who flourished from A.D. 186 to 234. He is said to have
written several poems of great merit, three of which, according to
O'Curry, are still preserved in the _Book of Leinster_. It is said also
that Finn Mac Cumhaill was a poet as well as a warrior; and several poems
are attributed to him in our ancient books.

He was at least the father of Erin's greatest poet--from him and "Graine
of the golden hair the primal poet sprung." Finn flourished during the
later heroic period, which corresponds to the third century of the
Christian era. Ossian, or more properly Oisin, his son, is the Homer of
Gaedhlic song, whose name and fame have floated down to us on the stream
of time from those far distant and misty ages. Many poems still extant are
attributed, and perhaps justly, to the grand old warrior Bard of Erin. The
publications of the Ossianic Society have done much to make the history of
the heroic period familiar to modern readers. More than one of our Irish
poets,[21] too, have, with the quick ear of genius, caught up the faint
echo of Ossian's song, and once more attuned the harp of Erin to the
thrilling melodies of her heroic youth. Once more the Fenian heroes begin
to tread the hills of fame, and the spirit of Ossian's vanished muse, like
the quickening breath of spring, is felt over all the land.

  Ossian! two thousand years of mist and change
    Surround thy name--
  Thy Fenian heroes now no longer range
    The hills of fame.
  The very name of Finn and Goll sound strange--
    Yet thine the same,
  By miscalled lake and desecrated grange,
    Remains, and shall remain.

  The Druid's altar and the Druid's creed
    We scarce can trace;
  There is not left one undisputed deed
    Of all your race,
  Save your majestic song, which hath their speed
    And strength and grace,
  In that sole song they live and love and bleed,
    It bears them on through space.
                                        --_T. D. M'Gee._


They formed the third of the learned and specially privileged Orders in
ancient Erin. During the pre-Christian period the customary laws, by which
the Celtic tribes were governed, were formulated in brief sententious
rhymes. These rhythmical maxims of law were at first transmitted orally,
but afterwards in writing from each generation of Poets to their
successors. For up to the first century of the Christian era the Files or
Poets had not only the custody of the laws, but also the exclusive right
of expounding them to the people, and pronouncing judgments both civil and
criminal. Even when the King himself undertook to adjudicate, the File was
his official assessor, and the royal judge was guided by his advice in the
administration of justice. The Poets were exceedingly jealous of this
great privilege, and in order to exclude outsiders from any share in the
administration of the law they preserved the archaic legal formula with
the greatest secrecy and tenacity.

But as we have already seen, this jealous spirit over-reached itself, and
in the reign of Conor Mac Nessa the men of Erin resolved to deprive the
Poets of this exclusive privilege, and throw open the office of Brehon to
all who duly qualified themselves by acquiring the learning necessary to
enable them to discharge its duties.

It was after the office was thus thrown open to men of talent and industry
that some of those ancient judges flourished in Erin, whose names and
decisions are spoken of with the greatest reverence in the _Senchus Mor_.
"It was," we are there told, "Sen, son of Aighe, who passed the first
judgment respecting Distress at a territorial meeting held by the three
noble tribes who divided this island." This points to legislation on the
subject of Distress formulated at a tribe-assembly by a great jurist, and
then solemnly ratified by popular consent. The gloss on this text adds
that Sen was of the men of Connaught, and that the meeting was held at
Uisnech in Westmeath. Another distinguished judge was Sencha, son of
Ailell, on whose face three permanent blotches appeared whenever he
pronounced a false judgment. Connla Cainbrethach (of the Fair Judgments)
was the chief legal doctor of Connaught; he excelled the men of Erin in
wisdom, for he was "filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost."[22] He it
was who said that it was God, and not the Druids, who made the heavens,
and the earth, the sun and the moon and the sea. This seems to imply that
Connla was wise and courageous enough to reject the philosophy, and
probably also the worship of the Druids. The Light had already arisen in
the east, and the first faint dawnings of Christianity were beginning to
illumine the horizon of Erin. Morann, another great judge, who flourished
during the first century of our era, wore a chain around his neck, and if
ever he pronounced a false judgment the chain tightened around his neck;
but it began to expand again, when he came to speak what was just and
true. These and other great judges of the same period appear to be
undoubted historical characters, whose wisdom and learning, hallowed by
the reverence of ages, appeared to their successors to be in some way
divinely inspired. They were, it is true, at the time without the light of
Revelation to guide them, but as the gloss says, the grace of the Holy
Ghost would not be wanting to help men, who were striving according to
their conscience to be just and good.

Cormac Mac Art, of whose writings we shall presently speak, did much to
encourage the systematic study of law amongst the Brehons. He appears to
have been the first who reduced to writing the traditional legal maxims of
the Brehon's court, and thus may be regarded as the author of the earliest
Code of Laws in pagan Ireland. This great work was afterwards purified and
perfected in the time of St. Patrick, when the _Senchus Mor_, as it is now
known, was first compiled.

These three Orders of Druids, Bards, and Brehons were, as we have seen,
close corporations, invested with many privileges, and communicating a
professional knowledge for the most part by oral instruction to their
disciples. This course of instruction was very long and elaborate,
sometimes extending to a period of twenty years. It included, as in more
modern times, various steps or degrees of learning, the highest of which
always was that of Ollamh or Doctor, whether in law, poetry, or divinity.
The ordinary course was twelve years, and each year's work seems to have
been as carefully fixed as in a modern college or university. A great
portion of the work, after the purely elementary studies, consisted in
getting off by rote either the bardic tales, or legal maxims with their
leading cases, or historical poems and genealogies. This included a very
perfect knowledge of topography, chronology, and family history.
Versification of a very artificial and complicated character was also a
portion of the programme. Besides the students had undoubtedly, at least
in pre-Christian times, some kind of 'secret' language known only to the
initiated. It would seem as if each profession or school had its own
peculiar Oghamic alphabet, the key of which was known only to themselves;
but in this matter we have no certain knowledge, and are left almost
entirely to pure conjecture. Hereafter we shall see that the legal
relations between the professor and his pupils were definitely
ascertained, and are laid down in that portion of the Brehon Code which
deals with the Law of Social Connections.


We shall see presently, when treating of the literary history of Cormac
Mac Art, that the use of letters, and most probably of Roman letters, was
quite common in Erin before the coming of St. Patrick. Besides the Roman
alphabet there was, however, an earlier and ruder alphabet, which seems to
have been used in Erin even in the pre-historic times. This is called the
Ogham alphabet which has had a very strange and curious history. It is a
singular fact that all knowledge of the Ogham alphabet, as well as of the
existence of any inscriptions written in its peculiar characters, had for
a considerable period completely disappeared from the minds of Irish
scholars. Yet the Ogham score was all the time contained in the _Book of
Ballymote_,[23] and the key to its interpretation also. Inscribed stones
too were thrown about unnoticed in various parts of the country down to
the year 1820, when Mr. John Windele discovered the first inscription in
the co. Cork.

Since that time no less than 200 inscribed stones have been discovered in
various parts of the country, but especially in the South and West; and
Irish scholars have directed their attention to decipher and explain these
mysterious and time-worn lines. Twenty-two stones inscribed with similar
characters have been found in Wales and Devonshire, that is in the South
and West of England, and ten in Scotland. Almost all these inscriptions
have been examined by the late Mr. Brash of Cork, a most painstaking and
accurate investigator, who has published the result of his labours in a
very interesting work on the subject.[24] His conclusions may be briefly
summed up as follows[25]:--

The inscriptions have been invariably found on pillar stones and flags,
and are nearly all of a sepulchral character. The lettering is in a style
peculiar to the Gaedhlic race, and represents a very ancient dialect of
the Gaedhlic language. The inscribed stones are found only in those
districts, where the Gaedhils are known to have established themselves;
and the mode of forming the characters and formulating the inscriptions is
the same in Ireland, in Wales, and in Scotland. He asserts, moreover, that
no Ogham monument hitherto discovered bears any trace of any Christian
formula, or any symbol of Christian hope;[26] that any such symbols when
found upon an Ogham stones, are manifestly of later date than the original
inscription; and that the allusions in our ancient MSS. to the Ogham mode
of writing have reference only to pre-Christian times. He thinks too that
the Ogham mode of writing was not invented in Ireland, but carried to this
country by a colony that landed on our south-western shores, and moved
gradually from West to East, and thence across the Channel to Wales. He
adds that in all probability this colony came originally from the East,
then settled for some time in Egypt, and migrated thence to
Spain--conclusions that are all in conformity with the common traditional
account of the advent of the Milesian race to this country, as contained
in our own ancient Books.

The invention of the Ogham is attributed in bardic history to Ogma, son of
Elathan, a prince of the Tuatha de Danaans, that people whom all our
national traditions represent as a more cultured race than any of the
other colonies that took possession of this island in primitive times. The
most singular fact connected with the Ogham inscriptions is their
geographical distribution. They are in Ireland almost all confined to the
South and West, and to those parts of Wales and England that could be most
easily reached from the South of Ireland. The few inscriptions found
elsewhere in Ireland are only found in those places, to which we have
reason to know that families from the South-West migrated in early times.
This certainly would seem to indicate that an immigrant colony landed
somewhere in Kerry; and gradually diffusing themselves through the country
carried this archaic form of writing along with them; but either they
never succeeded in occupying the whole country, or before the occupation
of the remoter parts they gradually gave up the Ogham, and adopted a form
of writing more suitable for general use, but not so well adapted for
brief permanent inscriptions in stone. Mr. Brash has declared that no
Oghams of a Christian character have yet been discovered, nor is there any
coeval reference to any Christian symbols on the Ogham pillar-stones, a
fact which, if true, clearly proves that all the Oghams date from Pagan
times. In most cases they are sepulchral inscriptions of the briefest
character, merely giving the name of the deceased and the name of his
father with, in a few instances, one or two short laudatory epithets.

The letters of the Ogham alphabet are divided into four groups of five
letters each, twenty in all. Taking the angular edge of the upright pillar
to be represented by a straight line the following is the score:--


Besides these we find a few dipthongal symbols, but apparently of later


The line on which the letters are written is nearly always the rectangular
line on the left hand side of the upright flag, facing the spectator. The
inscription begins below at the left hand corner, and is read upwards, but
sometimes it is continued downwards on the right hand angular line of the
pillar on the same face. The vowels are generally not much larger than
points on the very angle of the stone, or very short lines cutting the
angular line; the consonants are much longer scores drawn to the left or
to the right of the angular line as the word requires; the last five
scores are longer lines across the angular line and oblique to it.[27]

From various references in our ancient MSS. it appears that the Oghams
were written not merely on stones, but also on rods and tablets of wood,
which could be easily tied up in bundles and carried from place to place.
A letter written to a friend might thus consist of a bundle of rods, duly
marked and numbered. The bark of trees, being easily notched, was probably
used for the same purpose, and thus even before the introduction of
parchment and Roman letters, there would be no want of writing materials.
There is no evidence that before the introduction of Roman letters there
was any other kind of alphabet in use except the Ogham. But as the Druids
of Gaul, in the time of Cæsar, were acquainted with the use of the Greek
letters, why should not the 'more learned' Druids of Britain and Ireland
be familiar with the Greek or Roman alphabet? It will be seen in the next
chapter that there is every reason to conclude that at least after the
Roman occupation of Britain, they were quite familiar with Roman letters
and Roman writing.



  "Crom Cruach and his sub-gods twelve,"
    Said Cormac, "are but carven treene;
  The axe that made them, haft and helve,
    Had worthier of our worship been."

We are frequently told that before the time of St. Patrick the Irish were
an utterly barbarous people like the North American Indians. They had of
course an unwritten language, but neither scholars, learning, nor even
letters. Vague statements of certain Roman writers are cited in proof of
these assertions--we shall appeal to the evidence of facts. The Roman
writers of that period knew far less of ancient Ireland than even we do at
present. It was beyond the sphere of their knowledge, as well as of their
empire. But as a matter of fact the statements of Roman historians, so far
as they go, tend to prove that a considerable amount of civilization
existed in Erin during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain; and in
proof of this statement it is quite enough to examine the history of
Cormac Mac Art.


The reign of Cormac Mac Art furnishes, perhaps, the most interesting
chapter in the history of pre-Christian Ireland. He may be regarded with
justice as the greatest king that ever reigned in ancient Erin. He was, as
our poets tell us, a sage, a judge, and a scholar, as well as a great
prince and a skilful warrior. His reign furnished, indeed, many rich
themes for the romantic poets and story-tellers of subsequent ages, in
which they greatly indulged their perfervid Celtic imagination. But the
leading facts of his reign are all within the limits of authentic history,
and are provable by most satisfactory evidence.

Cormac was the son of Art the Solitary, or the Melancholy, as he is
sometimes called, and was grandson of the celebrated Conn the
Hundred-Fighter. Hence he is sometimes called Cormac O'Cuinn, as well as
Cormac Mac Art. His father was slain about the year A.D. 195, in the great
battle of Magh Mucruimhe where, as at the battle of Aughrim in the same
county, a kingdom was lost and won. Magh Mucruimhe was the ancient name of
the great limestone plain extending from Athenry towards Oranmore; and the
spot where King Art was killed has been called Tulach Art even down to our
own times. It was between Oranmore and Kilcornan, and close to the
townland of Moyvaela.[28] The victor in this great battle was Lughaidh,
surnamed Mac Con, who had been for many years a refugee in Britain, and
now returned with the king of that country and a host of foreigners to
wrest the kingdom from Art, who was his maternal uncle. The flower of the
chivalry of Munster perished also on that fatal field; for the seven sons
of Ollioll Olum who had come to assist King Art, their mother's brother,
were slain to a man on the field or in the rout that followed.

Fortunately for young Cormac, the king's son, he was just then at
fosterage in Connaught, probably with Nia Mor, who was his cousin, and one
of the sub-kings of the province at that time. So Mac Con, the usurper,
found no obstacle to prevent him assuming the sovereignty of Tara; and we
are told that he reigned some 30 years, from A.D. 196 to 226.

Meantime young Cormac was carefully trained in all martial exercises, as
well as in all the learning befitting a king, until he came to man's
estate. Then he came to Tara in disguise, and according to one account,
was employed in herding the sheep of a poor widow, who lived close to
Tara, when some of the sheep were seized for trespassing on the queen's
private green or lawn. When this case of trespass was brought before the
king in his court on the western slope of the Hill of Tara, he adjudged
that the sheep should be forfeited for the trespass. "No," said Cormac,
who was present, "the sheep have only eaten of the fleece of the land, and
in justice only their own fleece should be forfeited for that trespass."
The bystanders murmured their approval, and even Mac Con himself cried
out--"It is the judgment of a king"--for kings were supposed to possess a
kind of inspiration in giving their decisions. Then immediately
recognising Cormac, whom he knew to be in the country, he tried to seize
him on the spot. But Cormac leaped the mound of the _Claenfert_, and not
only succeeded in effecting his escape, but also in raising such a body of
his own and his father's friends, that he was able to drive the usurper
from Tara. Mac Con fled to his own relatives in the South of Ireland,
where he was shortly afterwards killed, at a place called Gort-an-Oir,
near Cahir, in the Co. Tipperary.

So Cormac, disciplined in adversity, came to the throne in the year A.D.
227, according to the Four Masters.[29] During the earlier years of his
reign he was engaged in continual wars with the provincial kings, who had
yet to learn that Cormac was their master in fact as well as of right. We
are told that he fought no less than fifty battles against these turbulent
kings to vindicate his own position as High King of Erin. The accurate
Tighernach furnishes us with brief notices of those various battles
against the refractory sub-kings. In one year he fought three battles
against the Ultonians. In another he fought four times against the
Momonians. The Leinster King, Dunlaing, taking advantage of Cormac's
absence from Tara, attacked the royal rath itself, and wantonly
slaughtered thirty noble maidens with their attendants--thirty for
each--who lived in a separate building on the north-western slope of Tara.
Cormac promptly avenged this awful massacre by invading Leinster, and
putting to death twelve sub-kings of that province; and besides he
increased and enforced the payment of the ancient Borumean or cow-tribute
imposed by his predecessors on the same province. The Ultonians, however,
were his most inveterate foes; and twice, it seems, they succeeded in
"deposing" him, that is, in driving him for some months from Tara. At
length, however, the king gained a complete victory over his northern
rivals, with the aid of Tadhg, a grandson of Ollioll Olum, and his Munster
auxiliaries. Cormac rewarded the Munster hero by giving him, as he had
promised, as much of the territory of Meath as Tadhg could drive round in
his chariot from the close of the battle till sunset. The veteran hero,
spent with loss of blood and battle-toil, still contrived to drive his
chariot round a district extending from Duleek to the Liffey, which was
afterwards called Cianachta--the land of Cian's descendants. Tadhg's
father was Cian, son of Ollioll Olum, hence the name.

Cormac, now undisputed master of his kingdom, took measures to preserve
the public peace and secure the prosperity of his dominions. He was the
first, and we may say also, the last king of Erin, who maintained a
standing army to check the arrogance of his turbulent sub-kings. This
Fenian militia was, it is said, modelled after the Roman legions, which
Cormac might have seen, or heard of at that time in Britain. They were
quartered on the people in winter; but in summer they lived on the
produce of the chase, and gave all their leisure to martial exercises. By
this means they became most accomplished in all feats of arms, so that the
fame of these Fenian heroes has come down to our own time in the living
traditions of the people. The celebrated Finn Mac Cumhail was their
general--a poet too, it was said, he was, and a scholar, as well as a
renowned warrior. Ossian, the hero-poet, was his son; and the brave and
gentle Oscar, who fell in the fatal field of Gabhra, was his grandson.

We are also told that Cormac kept a fleet on the sea for three years, and
doubtless swept away the pirate ships of Britain and the islands, that
used to make descents from time to time on the eastern coasts of Ireland.

But it is with the literary history of King Cormac's reign we are most
concerned, and to this we invite the special attention of the reader. His
first work was to re-establish the ancient Feis of Tara.

Tara even then had been the residence of the High Kings of Erin from
immemorial ages. Slainge, the first king of the Firbolgs, was its reputed
founder; and all the kings of that colony, as well as of the Tuatha De
Danaan and Milesian race, had usually dwelt on the same royal hill. Ollamh
Fodhla, one of the most renowned kings in the bardic history, "reigned
forty years and died in his own house at Tara." It is said that this king
was the first who convened the great Feis of Tara to legislate in solemn
assembly for all the tribes of Erin. O'Flaherty adds that the same ancient
monarch founded a "Mur Ollamhan," or college of learned doctors at Tara;
but Petrie could find no authority for this statement except the term "Mur
Ollamhan," which might, however, simply mean the _mur_, or fortified house
of Ollamh Fodhla himself.

During the shadowy period that follows down to the Christian era, we hear
little of Tara even in bardic history. An undoubtedly historical king,
Tuathal Teachtmar, about the year 85 of the Christian era, took a portion
of each of the four provinces to make a mensal demesne for the High King
of Tara. He convened the states of the kingdom, too, on the royal hill in
solemn assembly, and induced the assembled kings and chiefs to swear by
all the elements that they would always yield obedience to the princes of
his own race.

The Feis of Tara, then, was in existence before the time of Cormac; but it
was seldom convened, and had almost fallen into disuse. Cormac it was,
who made arrangements for the regular meetings of that great parliament of
the nation, and provided adequate accommodation for the assembled
notables. Here we are on firm historic ground and can enter into more
minute details with security.

The object of this Feis of Tara was mainly three-fold.[30] First, to enact
and promulgate what was afterwards called the _cain_-law, which was
obligatory in all the territories and tribes of the kingdom, as
distinguished from the _urradhus_, or local law. Secondly, to test and
sanction the Annals of Erin. For this purpose each of the local Seanachies
or historians brought in a record of the notable events that took place in
his own territory. These were publicly read for the assembly, and when
duly authenticated were entered on the great record of the King of Tara,
called afterwards the "Saltair of Tara." Thirdly, to register in the same
great national record the genealogies of the ruling families, to assess
the taxes, and settle all cases of disputed succession among the tribes of
the kingdom. Too often this was done by the strong hand; but it was
Cormac's idea to fix the succession, as far as possible, according to
definite principles amongst the ruling families. The absence of a strong
central government to enforce this most wise provision was one main cause
of the subsequent distracted state of the kingdom.

This great national assembly, convened for these purposes, met once every
three years. The session continued for a week, beginning the third day
before, and ending the third day after November day. When so many
turbulent chieftains, oftentimes at feud amongst themselves, met together,
it was necessary to keep the peace of Tara by very stringent regulations,
enforced under the most rigorous penalties. It is to Cormac's prudent
forethought we owe these regulations, which were afterwards inviolably
observed as the law of Tara. Every provincial king and every sub-king had
his own fixed place allotted to him near the High King by the marshals of
Tara; and every chief was bound to take his seat under the place where his
shield was hung upon the wall. Brawling was strictly forbidden, and to
wound another was a capital crime.

In order to provide suitable accommodation for this great assembly, Cormac
erected the _Teach Miodhchuarta_, which was capable of accommodating
1,000 persons, and was at once a parliament house, banquet hall, and
hotel. We have two accounts of this great building, as well as of the
other monuments at Tara, written about nine hundred years ago--one in
poetry, the other in prose. The statements made by these ancient writers
have been verified in every essential point by the measurements of the
officers of the Ordnance Survey, who were enabled from these documents to
fix the position and identity of all those ancient monuments at Tara.

"The _Teach Miodhchuarta_," says the old prose writer in the
_Dinnseanchus_, "is to the north-west of the eastern mound. The ruins of
this house--it was even then in ruins--are situate thus: the lower part to
the north, and the higher part to the south; and walls are raised about it
to the east and to the west. The northern side of it is enclosed and
small; the lie of it is north and south. It is in the form of a long
house, with twelve doors upon it, or fourteen, seven to the west and seven
to the east. This was the great house of a thousand soldiers."[31] We
ourselves have lunched on the grass-green floor of this once famous hall;
and we can of our own knowledge testify to the accuracy of this ancient
writer. The openings for the doors can still be traced in the enclosing
mound; and curiously enough, one is so nearly obliterated that it is
difficult still to say whether there were six or seven openings on each
side. The building was seven hundred and sixty feet long, and originally
nearly ninety feet wide, according to Petrie's measurements. There was a
double row of benches on each side, running the entire length of the hall.
In the centre there was a number of fires in a line between the benches,
and over the fires was fixed a row of spits depending from the roof, at
which a very large number of joints might be roasted. There is in the
_Book of Leinster_ a ground-plan of the building, and the rude figure of a
cook in the centre turning the spit with his mouth open, and a ladle in
his hand to baste the joint. The king of Erin took his place at the head
of the hall on the south surrounded by the provincial kings. The nobles
and officers were arranged on either side according to their dignity down
to the lowest, or northern end of the hall, which was crowded with
butlers, scullions, and retainers. They slept at night on the couches, but
not unfrequently under them.

The appearance of Cormac at the head of this great hall is thus described
in an extract copied into the _Book of Ballymote_ from the older and now
lost _Book of Navan_[32]:--

    "Beautiful was the appearance of Cormac in that assembly. Flowing and
    slightly curling was his golden hair. A red buckler with stars and
    animals of gold, and fastenings of silver upon him. A crimson cloak in
    wide descending folds around him, fastened at his neck with precious
    stones. A neck torque of gold around his neck. A white shirt with a
    full collar, and intertwined with red gold thread, upon him. A girdle
    of gold inlaid with precious stones was around him. Two wonderful
    shoes of gold, with golden loops, upon his feet. Two spears with
    golden sockets in his hands, with many rivets of red bronze. And he
    was himself besides symmetrical and beautiful of form, without blemish
    or reproach."

This might be deemed a purely imaginary description, if the collection of
antiquities in the Royal Irish Academy did not prove beyond doubt that
golden ornaments similar to those referred to in this passage were of
frequent use in Ireland. In the year 1810 two neck torques of purest gold,
the same as those described above, were found on the Hill of Tara itself,
and are now to be seen in the Academy's collection.

"Alas," says an old writer, "Tara to-day is desolate; it is a green grassy
land; but it was once a noble hill to view, the mansion of warlike heroes,
in the days of Cormac O'Cuinn--when Cormac was in his glory."

Everything at Tara, even its present desolation, is full of interest, and
reminds us of the days "when Cormac was in his glory." His house is there
within the circle of the great _Rath na Riogh_. The mound where he kept
his hostages may still be seen beside his Rath. The stream issuing from
the well _Neamhnach_, on which he built the first mill in Ireland for his
handmaiden, Ciarnaid, to spare her the labour of grinding with the quern,
still flows down the eastern slope of Tara Hill, and still, says Petrie,
turns a mill. Even the well on the western slope, beside which Cormac's
_cuchtair_, or kitchen, was built, has been discovered. The north-western
_claenfert_, or declivity, where he corrected the false judgment of King
Mac Con about the trespass of the widow's sheep may still be traced. The
Rath of his step-mother, Maeve, can be seen not far from Tara; and to the
west of the _Teach Miodhchuarta_ may be noticed _Rath Graine_, the sunny
palace of his daughter, the faithless spouse of Finn Mac Cumhail.

O'Flaherty tells us on the authority of an old poem found in the _Book of
Shane Mor O'Dugan_, who flourished about A.D. 1390, that Cormac founded
three schools at Tara--one for teaching the art of war, the second for the
study of history, and the third was a school of jurisprudence. It was,
doubtless, the first regular college founded in ancient Erin, and like the
school of Charlemagne, was within the royal palace. The fact is extremely
probable, especially as Cormac himself was an accomplished scholar in all
these sciences. This brings us to the literary works attributed to Cormac
Mac Art by all our ancient Irish scholars.

The first of these is a treatise still extant in manuscript entitled
_Teagusc na Riogh_, or _Institutio Principum_. It is ascribed to King
Cormac in the _Book of Leinster_ written before the Anglo-Norman Invasion
of Ireland. It takes the form of a dialogue between Cormac and his son and
successor, Cairbre Lifeachair; "and," says the quaint old Mac Geoghegan,
"this book contains as goodly precepts and moral documents as Cato or
Aristotle did ever write." The language is of the most archaic type; some
extracts have been translated and published in the _Dublin Penny Journal_.

A still more celebrated work, now unfortunately lost, the _Saltair of
Tara_, has been universally attributed to Cormac by Irish scholars.
Perhaps we should rather say it was compiled under his direction. "It
contained," says an ancient writer in the _Book of Ballymote_, "the
synchronisms and genealogies, as well as the succession of the [Irish]
kings and monarchs, their battles, their contests, and their antiquities
from the world's beginning down to the time it was written. And this is
the _Saltair of Tara, which is the origin and fountain of the histories of
Erin_ from that period down to the present time." "This," adds the writer
in the _Book of Ballymote_, "is taken from the _Book of Ua
Chongbhail_"--that is the _Book of Navan_--a still more ancient but now
lost work. Not only do the writer in the ancient _Book of Navan_, and the
copyist in the _Book of Ballymote_, expressly attribute this work to
Cormac, but a still more ancient authority, the poet Cuan O'Lochain, who
died in A.D. 1024, has this stanza in his poem on Tara:--

  "He [Cormac] compiled the _Saltair of Tara_,
  In that _Saltair_ is contained
  The best summary of history;
  It is the _Saltair_ which assigns
  Seven chief kings to Erin of harbours," &c., &c.

And it is, indeed, self-evident to the careful student of our annals that
there must have been some one ancient "origin and fountain" from which
the subsequent historians of Erin have derived their information--which
existing monuments prove to be quite accurate--concerning the reign of
Cormac and his more immediate predecessors in Ireland. The man who
restored the Feis of Tara, and who, as we shall presently see, was also a
celebrated judge and lawyer, was exactly such a person of forethought and
culture as would gather together the poets and historians of his kingdom
to execute under his own immediate direction this great work for the
benefit of posterity. Keating tells us that it was called the _Saltair of
Tara_ because the chief Ollave of Tara had it in his official custody; and
as Cormac Mac Cullinan's Chronicle was called the _Saltair of Cashel_, and
the Biblical Poem of Aengus the Culdee was called the _Saltair na Rann_,
so this great compilation was named the _Saltair of Tara_. This, as
O'Curry remarks, disposes of Petrie's objection that its name would rather
indicate the Christian origin of the book. The answer is simple--Cormac
never called the book by this name, as surely the compilers of the great
works known as the _Book of Ballymote_ or the _Book of Leinster_ never
called those famous compilations by their present names.

Cormac was also a distinguished jurist--of that we have conclusive
evidence in the _Book of Aicill_, which has been published in the third
volume of the Brehon Law publications. The book itself is most explicit as
to its authorship, and everything in the text goes to confirm the
statements in the introduction, part of which is worth reproducing here.

    "The place of this book is Aicill close to Temhair [Tara], and its
    time is the time of Coirpri Lifechair, son of Cormac, and its author
    is Cormac, and the cause of its having been composed was the blinding
    of the eye of Cormac by Ængus Gabhuaidech, after the abduction of the
    daughter of Sorar, son of Art Corb, by Cellach, son of Cormac."

The author then tells us how the spear of Aengus grazed the eye of Cormac
and blinded him.

    "Then Cormac was sent out to be cured at Aicill [the Hill of Skreen]
    ... and the sovereignty of Erin was given to Coirpri Lifechair, son of
    Cormac, for it was prohibited that anyone with a blemish should be
    king at Tara, and in every difficult case of judgment that came to him
    he [Coirpri] used to go to ask his father about it, and his father
    used to say to him, 'my son that thou mayest know' [the law], and 'the
    exemptions;' and these words are at the beginning of all his
    explanations. And it was there, at Aicill, that this book was thus
    composed, and wherever the words 'exemptions,' and 'my son that thou
    mayest know,' occur was Cormac's part of the book, and Cennfaeladh's
    part is the rest."

This proves beyond doubt that the greatest portion of this _Book of
Aicill_ was written by Cormac at Skreen, near Tara, when disqualified for
holding the sovereignty on account of his wound. It was a treatise written
for the benefit of his son unexpectedly called to fill the monarch's place
at Tara. The text, too, bears out this account. Cormac, apparently
furnished the groundwork of the present volume by writing for his son's
use a series of maxims or principles on the criminal law of Erin, which
were afterwards developed by Cormac himself, and by subsequent
commentators. That the archaic legal maxims so enunciated in the _Book of
Aicill_ were once written by Cormac himself there can be no reasonable
doubt; although it is now quite impossible to ascertain how far the
development of the text was the work of Cormac or of subsequent legal
authorities, who doubtless added to and modified the commentary, whilst
they left Cormac's text itself unchanged.

This _Book of Aicill_, the authenticity of which cannot, we think, be
reasonably questioned, proves to a certainty that in the third century of
the Christian era there was a considerable amount of literary culture in
Celtic Ireland. These works are still extant in the most archaic form of
the Irish language; they have been universally attributed to Cormac Mac
Art for the last ten centuries by all our Irish scholars; the intrinsic
evidence of their authorship and antiquity is equally striking--why then
should we reject this mass of evidence, and accept the crude theories of
certain modern pretenders in the antiquities of Ireland, who without even
knowing the language undertake to tell us that there was no knowledge of
the use of writing in Ireland before St. Patrick?

And is not such an assertion _a priori_ highly improbable? The Romans had
conquered Britain in the time of Agricola--the first century of the
Christian era. The Britons themselves had very generally become Christians
during the second and third centuries, and had, to some extent at least,
been imbued with Roman civilization. Frequent intercourse, sometimes
friendly and sometimes hostile, existed between the Irish and Welsh tribes
especially. A British king was killed at the battle of Magh Mucruimhe in
Galway, where Cormac's own father was slain. The allies of Mac Con on that
occasion were British. He himself had spent the years of his exile in
Wales. Captives from Ireland were carried to Britain, and captives from
Britain were carried to Ireland. Is it likely then that when the use of
letters was quite common in Britain for three centuries no knowledge of
their use would have come to Ireland until the advent of St. Patrick in
the fifth century of the Christian era?

There is an ancient and well founded tradition that Cormac Mac Art died a
Christian, or as the Four Masters say, "turned from the religion of the
Druids to the worship of the true God." It is in itself highly probable.
Some knowledge of Christianity must have penetrated into Ireland even so
early as the reign of Cormac Mac Art. It is quite a popular error to
suppose that there were no Christians in Ireland before the time of St.
Patrick. Palladius had been sent from Rome before Patrick "to the Scots,"
that is the Irish, "who believed in Christ." Besides that intimate
connection between Ireland and Britain, of which we have spoken, must have
carried some knowledge of Christianity, as well as of letters, from one
country to the other. King Lucius, the first Christian King of the
British, flourished quite half a century before the time of King Cormac.
Tertullian speaks of the Isles of the Britains as subject to Christ about
the time that Cormac's father, Art, was slain at Magh Mucruimhe. There was
a regularly organised hierarchy in England during the third century; and
three of its bishops were present at the Council of Arles in A.D. 314.

Nothing is more likely, then, than that the message of the Gospel was
brought from England to the ears of King Cormac; and that a prince, so
learned and so wise, gave up the old religion of the Druids, and embraced
the new religion of peace and love.

But it was a dangerous thing to do even for a king. The Druids were very
popular and very influential, and moreover possessed, it was said,
dreadful magical powers. They showed it afterwards in the time of St.
Patrick, and now they showed it when they heard Cormac had given up the
old religion of Erin, and become a convert to the new worship from the
East. The king's death was caused by the bone of a salmon sticking in his
throat, and it was universally believed that this painful death was
brought about by the magical power of Maelgenn, the chief of the Druids.

  "They loosed their curse against the king,
    They cursed him in his flesh and bones;
  And daily in their mystic ring
    They turned the maledictive stones.

  "Till where at meat the monarch sate,
    Amid the revel and the wine,
  He choked upon the food he ate
    At Sletty, southward of the Boyne."[33]

So perished A.D. 267, the wisest and best of the ancient kings of Erin.
Cormac, when dying, told his people not to bury him in the pagan cemetery
of Brugh on the Boyne, but at Rossnaree, where he first believed, and with
his face to the rising sun. But when the king was dead, his captains
declared they would bury their king with his royal sires in Brugh:--

  "Dead Cormac on his bier they laid;
    He reigned a king for forty years,
  And shame it were, his captains said,
    He lay not with his royal peers.

  "What though a dying man should rave
    Of changes o'er the eastern sea;
  In Brugh of Boyne shall be his grave
    And not in noteless Rossnaree."

So they prepared to cross the fords of Boyne and bury the king at Brugh.
But royal Boyne was loyal to its dead king; "the deep full-hearted river
rose" to bar the way; and when the bearers attempted to cross the ford,
the swelling flood swept them from their feet, caught up the bier, and
"proudly bore away the king" on its own heaving bosom. Next morning the
corpse was found on the bank of the river at Rossnaree, and was duly
interred within the hearing of its murmuring waters. There great Cormac
was left to his rest with his face to the rising sun, awaiting the dawning
of that Glory which was soon to lighten over the hills and valleys of his
native land.

Cormac Mac Art was not only himself a lover of letters, but seems to have
transmitted his own talents to his family. There is a very ancient poem in
the _Book of Leinster_, which has been published by O'Curry, and has been
attributed to Ailbhe, daughter of Cormac Mac Art. The language is of the
most archaic character, and the sentiments expressed are not inconsistent
with the origin ascribed to the poem in the _Book of Leinster_. Still
critics will be naturally sceptical as to the authenticity of the poem.
Meave (Meadhbh), step-mother of Cormac, who has given her name to Rath
Meave at Tara, is credited with being the author of a poem in praise of
Cuchorb, in which his martial prowess and numerous battles are duly
celebrated. This lady seems to have been decidedly 'blue' in her tastes,
for she built a choice house within her Rath, where the chief master of
every art used to assemble. She was amorous too, and "would not permit any
king to reign in Tara who did not first take herself as wife." Perhaps
there is some truth in the ancient and romantic story recorded in the same
_Book of Leinster_, that when Cuchorb was killed, she was sorrowful in
heart, and after they set up the grave stone of the fallen hero, she
chanted his death song in presence of the assembled warriors, who stood
around his grave.

Another pre-Patrician, if not pre-Christian poet, to whom some extant
poems have been attributed, was Torna Eigas, the bard of Niall of the Nine
Hostages. Niall died in A.D. 405, twenty-seven years before St. Patrick
came to preach in Erin; so that even if Torna Eigas, as Colgan thinks,
became a Christian, his training and inspiration must belong to the
pre-Christian times. If the works attributed to him are even substantially
genuine, they must have been interpolated by later copyists with Christian
references and Christian sentiments. O'Reilly mentions four poems as
passing under his name. The first is addressed to King Niall his patron,
and foster son. The second was designed to effect a reconciliation between
Niall and the foster child of the poet, King Corc of Munster, who, as we
shall see hereafter, certainly lived to become a Christian. In the third
the poet describes the pleasant life which he spent with these two kings,
his foster children, who lavished upon him alternately during his visits
their friendship and their favours. But the fourth is by far the most
interesting, for it describes the famous burying place of the Pagan kings
of Erin, Relig na Riogh, at Rath Cruachan in Connaught. It consists of
twenty-eight stanzas, and enumerates the great kings and warriors who
sleep on the hill of Royal Cruachan, ending with the valiant Dathi, whose
grave is marked by a red pillar stone, which stands there to-day, even as
it stood before St. Patrick crossed the Shannon to preach the Gospel to
Laeghaire's daughters on that famous hill. This poem has been published by
Petrie in his Essay on the _Antiquities of Tara Hill_.

The history of the valiant King Dathi is full of charm for our Celtic
poets, and several of them have sought, not unsuccessfully, to reproduce
the spirit of the original poem by Torna Eigas. Better than all others
poor Clarence Mangan tells in quite Homeric style:--

  "How Dathi sailed away--away--
    Over the deep resounding sea;
  Sailed with his hosts in armour gray,
    Over the deep resounding sea,
  Many a night and many a day;
    And many an islet conquered he,
  Till one bright morn, at the base
    Of the Alps in rich Ausonian regions,
  His men stood marshalled face to face
    With the mighty Roman legions....

  But:--  Thunder crashes,
          Lightning flashes,
    And in an instant Dathi lies
  On the earth a mass of blackened ashes.
    Then mournfully and dolefully
  The Irish warriors sailed away
    Over the deep resounding sea."

Reference is made in our ancient extant manuscripts to several 'Books' now
lost, which are said to have been written before the arrival of St.
Patrick in Ireland. It is unnecessary, however, to refer to those in
detail; because any statements about their character and origin can be
little better than mere conjecture. O'Curry names several of them, and
tells all that can possibly be known about them. The "Cuilmen" appears to
have been one of the oldest and most celebrated, because it contained the
great epic of ancient Erin known as the "Tain Bo Chuailnge." Another
famous ancient 'Book,' now lost, was the "Cin Droma Snechta," or the
Vellum Stave Book of Drom Snechta, as O'Curry translates it. It is quoted
in the _Book of Ballymote_, and in the _Book of Lecan_.

Another lost work, to which we have already referred, was the _Book of Ua
Chongbhail_. It was extant in the time of Keating, who quotes it as one of
his authorities, but it has since been unfortunately lost, and nothing is
now known of its contents.


It is said, however, that there were not only pagan writers and scholars,
like Cormac Mac Art, in Ireland before the time of St. Patrick, but that
several celebrated Christian writers, who flourished before the advent of
our national Apostle, were of Irish birth or parentage. And this is the
opinion, not merely of superficial writers, but of grave and learned men
like Colgan, Usher, and Lanigan; and what is more, it has been admitted by
foreigners as well as by our native authorities. These authorities have
claimed for Ireland the great glory of having given birth to the
celebrated Sedulius, the Christian Virgil, as he has been most
appropriately called. The more doubtful honour of producing Caelestius,
the associate of the heresiarch Pelagius, has been also claimed for
Ireland; and according to others Pelagius himself was at least of Irish
extraction. We propose to examine at some length the history of these
writers, and especially to examine the evidence in favour of their alleged
Irish origin. In the first place we shall give a full account, so far as
it is now possible to ascertain his history, of the celebrated poet

In the best MSS. the name given is always "Caelius Sedulius," and although
the praenomen savours of Latin origin, and the nomen itself was not quite
unknown in Rome,[34] still the name Sedulius gives decided indications of
his Irish birth. At least two other distinguished Irishmen bore the same
name. The first is that Sedulius of Irish origin, the Bishop of Britain,
as he describes himself,[35] who subscribed the Acts of the Council of
Rome held under Gregory II., in A.D. 721. The other, known as Sedulius the
Younger, flourished in the first quarter of the ninth century, wrote a
Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles, and, as we shall see, has been
frequently confounded with his more celebrated namesake, the poet. The old
form of the name in Irish was Siadhal, or Siadhel, now pronounced Shiel.
But in these older forms of the language the letters were not mortified in
pronunciation; and thus Sedulius is naturally the latinized form of the
Irish name. From the dawn of our history it was a name celebrated in Irish
literature, especially in the department of medicine. Colgan refers to
eight distinguished Irishmen who bore the family name of Siadhal, amongst
others to Siadhal, son of Luath, Bishop of Dubhlinn, whose death on the
12th of February, 785, is recorded in the Martyrology of Donegal. The
Danes, indeed, had not arrived in Dublin so early as A.D. 785, nor is
there any satisfactory evidence of a diocese of Dublin at that time. He
may, however, have been an abbot in the place, with episcopal orders.

The oldest writer[36] who distinctly asserts that the poet Sedulius was an
Irishman is John of Tritenheim, or Trithemius, as he is more generally
called.[37] This Trithemius, Benedictine abbot of Spanheim, flourished
towards the end of the fifteenth century, and was certainly a very learned
man. In some of the statements, however, made in this paragraph, he is not
supported by any ancient authority that we know of. It is, moreover,
evident from the list of the writings of Sedulius which he gives, that he
confounds the poet with the commentator on St. Paul and St. Matthew, who,
as all admit, was an Irishman, but flourished nearly four centuries later
than the poet. Colgan, Usher, Ware, and a host of other writers at home
and abroad, have followed Trithemius, and made the poet an Irishman.

It is, however, certain that, although there is some evidence that he was
of Irish birth, there is absolutely no evidence that he was a native of
any other country. It was, indeed, said that the poet was a Spaniard, and
Bishop of the Oretani, but Faustinus Arevalus, himself a Spaniard, and
author of a very able dissertation on Sedulius, prefixed to his splendid
edition of the _Christian Poets of the Fourth Century_, published at Rome
in A.D. 1794, declares that love of truth compels him to admit that the
story of his preaching at Toledo, and of his Spanish episcopacy, is

Let us now try to ascertain what is known with certainty of this great
Christian poet, whether Irishman or not.

In the "Palatine" Codex of the Vatican Library, No. 242, there is a
paragraph which states that "Sedulius was a Gentile, but learned
philosophy in Italy, was afterwards converted to the Lord, and baptized by
the priest Macedonius, then came to Arcadia, or according to other MSS.,
Achaia, where he composed this book," that is his _Carmen Paschale_.

In the Vatican Codex, No. 333, probably of the eleventh century, it is
added that "St. Jerome, in his Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers, says
that Sedulius was at first a layman, learned philosophy in Italy, and
afterwards, by the advice of Macedonius, taught heroic and other kinds of
metre in Achaia; he wrote his books in the time of Valentinian and
Theodosius," etc. Substantially the same statement is found in nearly all
the twelve MSS. in the Vatican.

The scribe attributes to St. Jerome, who died in A.D. 420, that
continuation of Jerome's great Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers, which
was really the work of Gennadius of Marseilles, who flourished in A.D.
495--the very time, as we shall see, that the writings of Sedulius were
published. We find no statement of this kind about Sedulius in Gennadius'
Catalogue, as actually published, but Sirmond declares that he himself saw
in some copies of Gennadius, that Sedulius died during the reign of
Valentinian and Theodosius the Younger, to the latter of whom, as he
alleges, he had dedicated his work.

We may then take it as certain that Sedulius flourished during their joint
reigns, that is, at some period from A.D. 423 to 450, when Theodosius
died; and in all probability Sedulius himself had died some years
previously--that is, between A.D. 445 and 449. He is described as at first
a layman and a Gentile, which is not at all unnatural, especially if he
were a native of Ireland. There were indeed some Christians in Ireland
before the time of St. Patrick, for Palladius was sent in A.D. 431, the
year before the mission of St. Patrick "to the Scots who believed in
Christ;"[39] but these Christians were not numerous. At the beginning of
the fifth century, however, considerable intercourse, sometimes friendly,
and sometimes hostile, existed between the Scots of Ireland and the
natives of Roman Britain as well as of Roman Gaul. It would be very easy,
therefore, for a young Irishman to join a band of his roving countrymen,
and after learning Latin in the provincial schools of France or England,
he would naturally in his search after philosophy, migrate to Italy, and
there find the double treasure of faith and wisdom.

Sedulius is said to have penetrated from Italy to Achaia, where he became
the pupil and intimate friend of the priest Macedonius. This much is
manifest from his own writings, for in the dedication of his _Carmen
Paschale_,[40] he touchingly alludes to the progress in Christian wisdom
which he had made under the guidance "of his most holy father." He adds
that previously he had devoted to secular studies the energies of that
restless mind--vim impatientis ingenii--which Providence had given him;
and had made his literary training subservient, not to the profit of his
soul and the glory of his Maker, but to the fruitless tasks of this
fleeting life. Arevalus justly observes that if Sedulius had been baptized
by Macedonius, he would not have omitted all reference to it in this
dedication, whence we may fairly conclude that although he received most
of his religious training from the venerable Macedonius, he must have been
already a Christian when he came to Greece.

The same dedication leads us to infer that at this time he was a member of
some kind of religious institute, which was under the guidance of
Macedonius, and in which he himself taught rhetoric and poetry by the
advice of his spiritual father. He gives, too, a very pleasing picture of
the members of that religious association--of the Venerable Ursinus--a
prelate full of priestly dignity--who had been once a soldier of Cæsar,
and was then a soldier of Christ; of Laurence, the incomparable priest,
who gave up his patrimony to the Church and the poor; of Gallicanus,
likewise a priest, well read in secular books, yet meekest of the meek,
teaching the rule of Catholic discipline by word, but still more by
example; of Ursicinus, also a priest, and a man "of hoary patience and
youthful old age;" of Felix, the truly happy; and of many others equally
worthy of the dedication of his book. He makes special reference to the
virgin Syncletice, who seems to have been a deaconess of the Church, noble
by blood, but still more illustrious by her virtues, chastened by fasts,
nourished by prayer, and spotless in purity.[41] Moreover, he adds, she
drank so deeply of Scriptural lore, that had not her sex forbidden it, she
was in every way qualified to become the teacher of others. Her sister,
too, the young Perpetua, though her junior in years, was her rival in
virtue, the chaste spouse of an honourable marriage. Such was the society
of which Sedulius was a member during his sojourn at Achaia--holy,
learned, and loving.

It seems very probable that it was during these happy years that Sedulius
composed his great poem in some sweet valley under the shadow of the steep
Arcadian Mountains, whose bold spurs are washed by the glancing waters of
the Corinthian Gulf. Although the work was formally dedicated to
Macedonius, and copies were doubtless multiplied for the benefit of his
familiar associates, it does not appear that it was published for the
literary world in general during the lifetime of the author. That
publication seems to have taken place some years later, as we shall
presently see, and under the direction of one who was eminently well
qualified for the task.

How or where Sedulius ended his life, we have no means of ascertaining.
Some say he returned to Rome, where he died about A.D. 449; others make
him a bishop, but the see which he ruled cannot be ascertained; while many
think he ended his life in Greece, amongst those dear associates of whom
he speaks so tenderly in the dedication.

But although the poet himself seems to have been during his lifetime
somewhat indifferent to worldly fame, his friends did not forget him.[42]
There is a considerable variety of readings, but in substance all the MSS.
agree that Sedulius left his poems scattered amongst his papers, and that
the scattered portions of the _Carmen Paschale_ especially were collected,
arranged, and elegantly published by the ex-consul, Turcius Ruffus
Asterius. We find two consuls of this name in the Fasti of the fifth
century, one in A.D. 449, whose colleague was Protogenes, and the other in
A.D. 494, whose colleague was Praesidius. Very many writers think that the
publisher of Sedulius was that Asterius, whose consulate is fixed for A.D.
449. But as his praenomen was Flavius, it is much more probable that the
consul of A.D. 494, who was also the editor of the splendid Medicean Codex
of Virgil, must get the credit of collecting and preserving the poems of
the great Christian poet who was perhaps Virgil's closest imitator.

Asterius prefixed to his edition an epigram,[43] which, according to some
authorities, is addressed to Macedonius, the spiritual father of Sedulius;
but as Macedonius was at this time, in all probability, some forty or
fifty years dead, it is much more natural to suppose that the dedication
of Asterius is addressed to the Pontiff Gelasius (A.D. 492-496),
especially as the Pope, about that very time, had passed a signal eulogy
on Sedulius, to which we shall immediately refer. In the year A.D. 494, or
as others think in A.D. 495, that Pontiff held a council of seventy
bishops, most learned men, in which he published his famous decree, "De
recipiendis et abjiciendis Libris," which may be regarded as the first
formal publication of an Index Expurgatorius. In this decree the Pontiff,
after reciting the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, gives a
list of the Fathers of the Church whose writings he particularly
recommends to the perusal of the faithful. In this document emanating from
the supreme teaching authority in the Church, we find the following
honourable mention of Sedulius:--


After this formal and emphatic approbation of the writings of Sedulius by
the Pope, his works speedily became popular in all the monastic schools.
Cassiodorus (A.D. 470-562), the senator, statesman, and monk, closely
studied the Christian poet in his far-famed retreat on the Calabrian
shore, and proclaims him by excellence the "Poet of Truth."[44]
Fortunatus, the laureate of the royal and saintly Radegonde, himself the
author of the _Vexilla Regis_ and the _Pange lingua_, ranks the "sweet
Sedulius" with Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.[45] The cruel Chilperic, an
unworthy grandson of the great Clovis, instead of trying to govern his
people like a king, spent his time in vain attempts to imitate the stately
muse of Sedulius, and of course failed miserably in the attempt. Gregory
of Tours tells us that his verses had no feet to stand on, and were
composed in defiance of all the laws of metre.

The Irish monks of Bobbio carefully copied the poems of their great
countryman, and the oldest existing MS. of the poet, which is still to be
seen in the Library of the Royal Academy of Turin, is inscribed with the
words--Liber Sancti Columbani de Bobbio.

Isidore of Seville, the greatest scholar of his age, compares Sedulius
with his own great countryman, Juvencus, and recommends the study of their
works in preference to those of the Gentile poets.[46]

Ildelfonsus describes him as the 'excellent' Sedulius, the poet of the
Gospel, an eloquent orator, and truly Catholic writer; and another author
declares that Sedulius left nothing unlearnt necessary to make him a
perfect theologian, as well as a brilliant poet.[47] And in a somewhat
similar strain Sedulius has been eulogised by all subsequent critics, from
Bede to the present time.

Our remarks on the writings of Sedulius must necessarily be very brief,
and for convenience sake we shall follow the order of the excellent
edition by Arevalus as given in Migne's Patrology.[48]

His great work was the _Carmen Paschale_, as he himself calls it, which is
preceded by that dedicatory epistle to which we have already referred. It
is accompanied with a prose version which he furnished at the special
request of Macedonius, and which he calls the _Opus Paschale_. The prose
only serves to make the poetry more intelligible for half-educated
scholars, like the similar prose translations in the Delphin editions of
the Latin poets. The style, too, of the explanation is wordy and laboured,
quite unlike the limpid elegance of the poetry. The _Carmen Paschale_ in
the MSS. is divided into five books. The first treats of the creation and
fall of man as well as of the principal miracles recorded in the Old
Testament; the second gives a beautiful account of the incarnation and
birth of our Lord and the wonders of the Holy Childhood; the third and
fourth deal with the miracles and noteworthy events of our Saviour's
public mission; whilst the fifth details the passion, death, and
resurrection of Christ. It is thus a poetic history of the wonders of the
divine revelation as contained in the Old and New Testament. Each of the
books contains from three to four hundred lines of heroic metre, in which
the style and language of Virgil are as closely imitated as the nature of
the subject will permit. The language is chaste, elegant, and harmonious;
the verse is sweet and flowing, with scarcely a single rugged line,
although sometimes one meets with a harsh or limping foot. The prosody,
however, is on the whole wonderfully accurate, and the sentences are
constructed with true Virgilian simplicity. The author had to deal with
very many delicate topics, and he was of course greatly restricted in his
choice of language by the necessities of the metre; yet in no single
instance that we are aware of, has any fault been found with the poet on
the score of any want of theological accuracy. The tone is generally
elevated, imparting dignity by choice language even to commonplace topics,
as Virgil does in the Georgics; but we cannot say that he often reaches
the sublime. His muse takes few bold and daring flights, but, on the other
hand, she never descends to what is mean or trivial. We would take the
liberty of strongly recommending the careful perusal of this beautiful
poem to priests who are anxious to read the great events of sacred
history, clothed in elegant language and adorned with becoming imagery.

We have next the "Elegia," containing 110 lines in elegiac metre, which
form a collection of moral maxims and examples borrowed from the
personages and facts of sacred history.[49] Every second line is made to
begin and end with the same clause, but used in different senses. The
reader will probably agree with us in thinking that this style of
composition is more likely to develop ingenuity than inspiration.

After the "Elegia" is the truly beautiful hymn beginning with the words,
"A solis ortus cardine," some portions of which are familiar to most of
our readers. It is an abecedarian poem, the first stanza commencing with
the first letter of the alphabet, A, the second with B, and so on through
the letters. It contains 92 lines, or 23 stanzas, and details the leading
facts of the life of Christ in language that is very terse and striking.
The first seven stanzas are read by the Church in the Lauds of her
greatest festival on Christmas Day; and the next four at first Vespers of
the Epiphany, but in the first line for the latter feast the words--

  Hostis Herodes impie

are changed into--

  Crudelis Herodes Deum

It is noteworthy, too, that the Introit of the Mass of the Blessed
Virgin--"Salve Sancta Parens enixa puerpera Regem," as well as several
other expressions in the Divine Office, are borrowed from the _Carmen
Paschale_ of Sedulius.[50] At the end of his poems the author adds a short
epigrammatic prayer, in which he asks that the doctrines of the life of
Christ, which he has written, may remain engraven in his heart, and so by
doing the divine will he may secure a share in the joys of heaven.[51]

We have two double acrostic poems, eloquent with the praises of the great
Sedulius, one attributed to a certain Liberius, of whom nothing further is
known, and the other to Belisarius, if that be the true reading, who in
some MSS. is described as a scholastic--that is, master or professor of a
school of rhetoric. According to other critics this Belisarius, who so
highly eulogises our Sedulius, was no other than the great general, the
saviour of the Roman Empire, who was driven by the ungrateful master whom
he had served to beg his bread.

What is most remarkable in these two poems, is that in both the acrostic
represents our author as SEDULIUS ANTISTES. The latter term is usually
applied, at least by Christian writers, only to bishops, and certainly
goes to show that the poet was elevated to the episcopal dignity. Alcuin
also attributes the hymn, "_A solis ortus cardine_" to the "Blessed Bishop
Sedulius," and Sigebert of Gembloux (died A.D. 1112), seems to have been
of the same opinion. Yet, in several MSS. he is spoken of simply as a
priest, and even of those authors who describe him as a bishop none has
determined his see.

It is very doubtful, too, whether our poet has any claim to be venerated
as a saint. Our latest Irish hagiologist,[52] following Colgan, gives a
very full account of the venerable Sedulius, under date of the 12th of
February. But the name does not occur in any Martyrology at home or
abroad, for the "Siatal bishop" on the 12th February, of the Martyrology
of Tallaght, is evidently the same as Siadhal, son of Luath, Bishop of
Dublin, who, according to the Donegal Martyrology, died in A.D. 785. That
the poet was, however, a holy and venerable man, is abundantly evident
from his writings as well as from the high estimation in which he was held
both by contemporary and subsequent writers. Asterius, his editor, calls
him the "Just;" Alcuin calls him the "Blessed;" another ancient writer
describes him as "Sanctus;" and our own Colgan justly designates him "the
Venerable Sedulius." That his fame as a Christian poet has been wide and
enduring is sufficiently evident from the fact that no less than forty-one
different editions of his works have been published at various times and
places for the last four hundred years; and we cannot help endorsing the
indignant exclamation of a German critic--"It is a shame that the
Christian poets should be so much neglected, that the youth of our
schools should know nothing even of the name of a writer like Sedulius,
who with equal piety and learning transferred from profane to sacred
subjects the style and sweetness of the Mantuan bard."[53]


Ireland has also been credited with the doubtful honour of having given
birth to Caelestius, the friend and associate of the celebrated heresiarch
Pelagius. We believe that notwithstanding the authority of many eminent
Irish scholars, we can show that Caelestius was not an Irishman, and that
the idea of his being a 'Scot' arose from misunderstanding a passage in
the writings of St. Jerome, which passage was the only authority ever
alleged in favour of his Irish origin. This celebrated passage is
contained in the _Preface to the Saint's Commentaries on Jeremias_. Here
it is--"He (Grunnius), though silent now himself, barks by the mouth of
the Alban dog, a corpulent and unwieldy brute, better able to kick than to
bite, who derives his origin from the Scottish nation in the neighbourhood
of Britain."[54] Now so far as we know, this solitary sentence is the only
original authority for the Irish birth of Caelestius; yet as a matter of
fact it does not appear to refer to Caelestius at all, but to Pelagius
himself. Grunnius, to whom the context clearly shows that St. Jerome
refers, was a nickname often given by the saint to Rufinus of Aquileia.
Rufinus was then (_mutus_) silent, most probably in death, but still barks
through his disciple Pelagius--not Caelestius--who in the vigorous
controversial language of the saint is described as an Alban or Scottish
dog, filled with the porridge of his native country in the neighbourhood
of Britain. As a matter of fact, however, Jerome does not say that the
person of whom he is speaking was a Scot (whether of Erin or Alba), but
that he was of Scottish origin, which is a very different thing. His Words
are--"Habet progeniem Scotticæ gentis." He is of Scottish extraction,
which might be very well said of Pelagius, even though he were a Briton by

The great difficulty in the way of this explanation is that Pelagius is
always described as a Briton, not as an Irishman or Scotchman. As a fact,
however, at that time Scotland was included under the name of Britain; but
whether it was or not, St. Jerome does not say that Pelagius was a Scot,
but that he was of Scottish race, which is altogether different, and which
is perfectly compatible with his British birth. The authorities indeed in
favour of his being in some sense a Briton, are quite conclusive. St.
Augustine, his greatest opponent, frequently speaks of Pelagius as a
Briton.[55] St. Prosper of Aquitaine, who continued to assail him after
the death of Augustine, describes him as a 'British snake;'[56] and in
another passage he speaks of him as nurtured amongst the 'sea-girt
Britons.' Elsewhere he describes Britain as the native land (_patria_) of
the Pelagian heresy, which can be true only in so far as it produced
Pelagius himself. Marius Mercator says,[57] like St. Jerome, that the
first author of the heresy was the Syrian Rufinus, but being too cunning
to expose himself to danger, he propagated his doctrines through the
agency of the 'British monk' Pelagius. Everything, therefore, points to
the fact that Pelagius was of British birth, but of Scottish origin. St.
Jerome's expression--_per Albinum canem_--seems to point to a Scot of Alba
rather than of Erin; but in any case the Scots of both countries,
especially at this early period (A.D. 420), were of the same race. If
Britain be taken to include Scotland, as it certainly did at that period,
then 'de vicinia Brittanorum' must refer to Ireland; but it should be
borne in mind that St. Jerome speaks not of Britain, but of the
Britons--quite another thing.

But whether of Irish or Scotch descent, Pelagius was an able man. He
appeared in Rome about the year A.D. 400. St. Augustine says he lived
there for a long time and taught a school in that city. About the year
A.D. 405 St. Chrysostom complained of the defection from his own
supporters of the monk Pelagius, which would seem to imply that at that
time he was known and esteemed at Constantinople, where he probably went
to learn the Greek language, with which we know for certain that he was
familiar. Before his departure from Rome, at the approach of Alaric in
A.D. 410, he had published commentaries on the Pauline Epistles in which
for the first time in expounding Rom. chap. v. verse 12, he gave
expression to his heretical views. He had already acquired great
influence in the imperial city, for Augustine says that he was learned and
acute, and that his letters were read by many persons for the sake of
their eloquence and pungency.[58] We have a very favourable specimen of
his composition still extant in his Epistle to the noble lady Demetrias,
who was quite as remarkable for her virtues as for her wealth and
learning. Augustine found it necessary to caution her against the snares
of Pelagius, and whoever reads this letter will readily admit that the
caution was by no means unnecessary, for in graceful and elegant language
he conveys excellent rules for the guidance of devout souls, just barely
flavoured with the poison of his dangerous and subtle heresy, so
flattering to the instincts of noble and generous natures.

On the other hand there is nothing known in connection with the history of
Caelestius that could lead us to suppose that he was either a Briton or a
Scot. He was, it is said, of noble birth--most likely a Gaul or
Italian--but being from infancy a eunuch he spent his youth in a monastery
which at that time (before A.D. 400) he certainly could not find in
Ireland. From this monastery he wrote three letters to his relations,
which as Gennadius tells us were of great utility for the guidance of all
persons really anxious to serve God.[59] He afterwards became an advocate
(auditorialis scholasticus) and was doubtless practising in the Roman
Courts when, about the year A.D. 400, he first met Pelagius in the
imperial city. The latter was very anxious to secure such an ally for his
own purposes, for Caelestius was a man of great eloquence and courage, as
well as of much keeness in disputation--_acerrimi ingenii_--just the very
thing the ruder British Provincial wanted in his associate. Thus it came
to pass that Pelagius succeeded in alluring to his own views the young and
brilliant advocate, through whom he hoped to disseminate his own doctrines
throughout the chief cities of the empire. But to suppose that such a man
as Caelestius, born of noble Christian parents, whose youth was spent in a
monastery, and who was able to write a spiritual treatise in Latin before
he left it, and afterwards became an advocate in Rome--to suppose that he
was born in Ireland some fifty years before the advent of St. Patrick is
altogether out of the question. As a matter of fact there is not a shadow
of ancient authority for any such assumption.



  "'Tis morn on the hills of Innisfail."

We now come to discuss the state of learning in Ireland during the sixty
years commonly assigned to St. Patrick's preaching, that is from A.D. 432
to 492. We have seen that when the Saint landed on our shores, he did not,
as is sometimes ignorantly asserted, find the Irish tribes utterly savage
and barbarous. He found an organized pagan priesthood, which had a
learning and philosophy of its own, similar to that of Gaul and Britain,
when those countries were conquered by the Romans. He found the customary
laws of the tribes reduced to a definite legal system, and administered by
a body of Brehons, or judges, who had been specially trained for that
office; and he also found that the annals of the nation were carefully
preserved, and that the territories, rights, and privileges of the
sub-kings were definitely ascertained and faithfully recorded in a great
national register. The leading men of the tribes were certainly acquainted
not only with the primitive Ogham Alphabet, but also with the letters, if
not with the language, used in Britain and in Gaul by the Romans.

If St. Patrick himself could learn the Irish language during his captivity
in Antrim, there was nothing to prevent Irish captives learning something
of the Roman customs and Roman letters in Britain, and bringing that
knowledge back with them to Ireland. Our ports were more frequented[60] by
foreign merchants than the ports of Britain; our chieftains frequently
harried their coasts and carried off both Gaulish and British Christians
as captives; Irish princes were sometimes refugees in Britain, and British
princes were sometimes allies and sometimes refugees in Ireland. It was,
therefore, quite impossible that some knowledge of the language, and of
the arts of the British provincials should not, during a period of three
centuries, cross the British seas into Ireland. All our annals testify to
the fact of this intercourse. Ireland was not surrounded by a wall of
brass, or by a trackless sea, cutting off all communication with other
lands. The wonder is not that something of Roman letters and civilization
should penetrate to Erin--but the great wonder would be if the thing were

The great defect in the Irish social system, as we have already observed,
was the want of a strong central government. It is true that the Gaedhlic
tribes in Erin recognised the supremacy of the High King of Tara; but that
recognition was merely nominal. There was no really effective central
government, strong enough to cause its authority to be enforced and
respected throughout all the land. Able princes, like Cormac Mac Art,
arose from time to time, who sought to correct this great evil. In
proportion as they were successful in reducing the sub-kings to obedience,
they were also able to extend the blessings of a yet imperfect
civilization, which, however, could never come to perfection without an
organized and settled government.


But now a great change came over all the land. St. Patrick not only
introduced the Christian religion into Ireland, but profoundly modified
the laws, customs, and literature of the nation. To his influence in these
respects we wish to call attention at present; but first of all, it is
necessary to understand the sources of his own intellectual training, and
the literary as well as the religious influences that moulded his own
mind. We do not propose to enter at all into any of the manifold
controversies that surround the facts and dates of the life of our great
Apostle, but merely to reflect on those acts which his biographers
generally admit.

It is agreed upon all hands that the Saint derived his literary
aquirements, such as they were, from Gaul.[61] Reference is made to three
distinct sources whence he derived his education--to St. Martin, to St.
Germanus, and to Saints of some islands in the Mediterranean. His
biographers are not agreed either as to the order in which our Saint
visited those masters of a spiritual life, or the number of years he spent
under each, but all unite in pointing to these three sources whence St.
Patrick derived his learning and his holiness.

It must be borne in mind that Patrick was made a captive at the age of
sixteen, and that he spent six years in captivity on the slopes of Slieve
Mish, in the county Antrim. His education in his youth seems to have been
much neglected, for he tells us himself that although born of noble
parents according to the flesh--his father, Calphurnius, was a decurio,
that is the head of a local municipium, most probably on the banks of the
Clyde, in North Britain--still he had little or no knowledge of God, and
could scarcely discern between good and evil. The years of his captivity
served to open his mind to a higher spiritual life, but could afford him
no opportunity of adding to his purely literary knowledge.[62] So when he
succeeded under divine guidance in making his escape at the age of
twenty-two, he was indeed a holy but certainly not a learned young man.

Escaping to France according to the generally received opinion, he first
seems to have made his way to Tours, towards the closing years of the
fourth century, for the date cannot be accurately fixed. At that time St.
Martin, the soldier Saint, was Bishop of Tours, and led a life of
extraordinary holiness and mortification at the monastery of Marmoutier,
on the banks of the Loire, in the neighbourhood of that city. Many writers
say that Patrick's mother, Conchessa, was a niece of St. Martin, and this
fact would easily explain why St. Patrick fled for refuge and guidance to
his venerable relative, whose fame at that time was spread over all
France. The story of the relationship is strange enough, seeing that St.
Martin was a native of Sabaria, in Pannonia, where he was born about A.D.
316. But though strange, it is not incredible, and goes far to explain the
great veneration in which St. Martin of Tours has always been held in
Ireland. The authors of the _Third_ and _Fifth Lives of St. Patrick_, as
printed by Colgan, tells us that the young Patrick spent four years under
the guidance of St. Martin, who gave him, according to Probus, the tonsure
and religious habit in his monastery of Marmoutier. It is not easy to fix
the exact period. According to the common opinion, Martin died in A.D.
397, so that Patrick must have made his escape to Gaul in A.D. 393.
Others, however, fix the date of St. Martin's death in A.D. 400 or 402, so
that we shall not be far wrong if we suppose these years which Patrick
spent under the guidance of St. Martin to have been the closing years of
the fourth century.

They were certainly fruitful years for the young Apostle. In some respects
the career of the soldier Saint was not unlike that of Patrick himself
hitherto. His parents were gentiles, but Martin, in his youth, fled to the
Church to become a catechumen and prepare himself for a life of holiness
in the desert. Being, however, the son of a veteran--his father was a
tribune in the imperial armies--they forced him at the age of fifteen to
join the cavalry, and serve some twenty campaigns under Constantius and
Julian the Apostate, before he recovered his freedom. He could, therefore,
understand the dangers and difficulties that beset the path of his young
relative, who was carried off a captive at the same age at which he
himself had been forced to become a soldier. No one, too, was better
qualified to guide the steps of Patrick up the steep ascent of virtue, and
prepare him for his future apostolate than the aged soldier Saint.

The life of Martin and his monks at Marmoutier was the marvel of all the
West. We have the picture drawn by one who witnessed it--by the eloquent,
nobly-born, high-souled Sulpicius Severus, whose life of St. Martin is one
of the most charming biographies ever penned.

He was indeed, the greatest example of saintly mortification hitherto seen
in the West. When the people of Tours clamoured for Martin to become their
Bishop, several prelates objected to his elevation, because his person was
contemptible, his looks lowly, his clothes filthy, and his hair unkempt.
The young soldier, it seems, had long before put off the mien and garb of
a warrior, and put on that true nobility of soul, which so rarely
accompanies gaudy apparel and lofty deportment. But in A.D. 371 they made
him bishop all the same in spite of his mean appearance; yet Martin in no
way changed his manner of life in consequence. He built himself a little
cell close by his church, and there he spent his days, when he was not
preaching to the people or traversing his diocese on foot.

But too many crowded round his cell in the great city, and then he betook
himself to Marmoutier. It was at that time a lonely valley, less than two
miles from Tours, on the right or north bank of the Loire, shut in on one
side by a line of steep cliffs, and enclosed on the other by a sweep of
the river, which at either extremity of the valley rushed close under the
rocks and thus completely isolated the valley on both sides. Here Martin
built himself a wooden cell, and was soon surrounded by a crowd of monks
anxious to place themselves under his guidance. They lived for the most
part in the damp caverns between the cliffs that overhung the stream. At
one period he had eighty monks under his control in this desert valley.
They had no property of their own, says S. Severus, but lived in common,
neither buying nor selling anything. The younger members spent most of
their time in writing and sacred study; the older gave themselves up to
prayer. They seldom left their cells except to go to the Church, or to
take their solitary meal in the evening, it would seem--_post horam
jejunii_--and they never tasted wine except in sickness. They were clad in
hair cloth--anything else they regarded as a criminal indulgence. Yet many
of them were amongst the noblest in the land, and several of them
afterwards became bishops of various cities.

Such was the society at Marmoutier of which our St. Patrick became a
member. There is no doubt, that as one of the juniors, he gave himself up
to prayer, penance, and sacred study in order to prepare himself for that
high mission of which God as yet had only given him a dim vision. Many
writers say that Martin must have been dead before Patrick's arrival in
Gaul, and that our saint did not come to Tours until several years later,
probably about the year A.D. 409 or 410. It matters little for our
argument whether Martin was himself alive or not--his spirit reigned in
Marmoutier, his rule and his disciples were there:--

  "Dead was the lion; but his lair was warm;
  In it I laid me and a conquering glow
  Rushed up into my heart. Discourse I heard
  Of Martin still--his valour in the Lord,
  His rugged warrior zeal, his passionate love
  For Hilary, his vigils and his fasts,
  And all his pitiless warfare on the Powers
  Of Darkness."[63]

When Patrick had learned the discipline and divine wisdom of Marmoutier he
seems to have spent some years with his friends in Britain,[64] and then
in order to perfect himself in sacred studies, he put himself under the
guidance of the great St. Germanus of Auxerre, who at that time
enlightened all the Gauls.

Germanus was of noble birth, and completed his studies in Rome, where he
adopted the profession of the law and practised for some time in the
Courts with great applause. He was eagerly sought after by the first
society in the capital, and having married a rich and noble lady he
settled at Auxerre, where he was made governor of the province. He was
passionately devoted to the chase, and used to hang the spoils of his
hunting expeditions on a stately pear tree that grew in the centre of the
city, where they were eagerly scanned by an admiring crowd. The Bishop,
St. Amator, not relishing this vain display, had the tree cut down in the
absence of Germanus, who, hearing of this outrage on the chief magistrate
of the city, sought out the prelate, breathing vengeance. But the Bishop
seems to have disarmed his resentment, and shortly after, sensible of his
own approaching end, and finding Germanus in the church, he ordered the
doors to be closed, and the people crowding round the magistrate took off
his fine clothes, while Amator tonsured him on the spot, cutting clean
away all his flowing hair. The event proved that it was done by a divine

After the death of Amator, Germanus became Bishop of Auxerre, and led a
life of extraordinary virtue and austerity, as we know from his biography
written by an almost contemporary author, Constantius.

From the moment he was tonsured, his wife became to him as a sister; he
sold his property which was considerable, and gave the proceeds to the
poor and to the Church. His food was the coarsest and scantiest; he never
ate wheaten bread, nor used any wine, or oil, or even vinegar, or
vegetables. Barley bread and water, or a little milk, was his only
refection. Twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, he took a little wine
with water. He tasted ashes before his food; and threshed and ground with
his own hands the barley of which his bread was made. A tunic and hood
over a hair shirt were his only clothing in winter and summer; his bed was
made of planks strewn with ashes, which soon became as hard as the board
itself. He slept in his clothes, seldom removing anything but his belt and
sandals, and his only covering at night was a piece of coarse cloth. He
had no pillow for his head, and spent a great part of the night in tears
and prayers for the sins of his life. Such was the episcopal life of the
brilliant Germanus, the statesman and orator, the delight of Roman
society, the keen huntsman in the field, the accomplished magistrate in
the court; and such was the second teacher of St. Patrick. The _Irish
Lives_ call him the 'tutor' of our apostle, and all our ancient
authorities are agreed that Patrick spent several years under the guidance
of this holy and learned man. Some think he spent thirty years under
Germanus; this, however, is an impossibility, for Germanus became bishop
in A.D. 418, and went to Britain with St. Lupus of Troyes to extirpate the
Pelagian heresy in A.D. 429--three years before the date of St. Patrick's
own mission. Others say he spent fourteen years with Germanus, and this is
more like the truth. One thing is certain, that our apostle owes to
Germanus most of his sacred learning, which was very considerable as we
shall see; and he learned not only "Queenly Science, and the forest huge
of Doctrine," but what is more, he learned the wisdom that rules, the
prudence that moderates, the patience that spares, and above all and
beyond all the life hidden with Christ in God.

Germanus had built a monastery beyond the river in view of his episcopal
city, but completely cut off from its noise and bustle. Every day he was
wont to cross the stream in his little skiff to visit and instruct his
beloved monks, of whom St. Patrick was one for many years. Thus slowly and
surely, under the guidance of the holiest and most learned men in the
West, did God prepare His servant Patrick for the work before him.

The Scholiast on _St. Fiacc's Life of St. Patrick_, which was written in
the early part of the sixth century, tells us that Patrick accompanied
Germanus on his journey to Britain in A.D. 429. If so, and the statement
is highly probable, Patrick must have learned much during that memorable
journey, and witnessed the famous 'Alleluia Victory' over the Saxons and
Picts. These barbarians were just then making one of their usual
incursions on the helpless Christians of Wales, when Germanus hearing of
the approaching tumult, and learning the cause, led out on Easter Sunday
his newly baptized catechumens, and having posted the mighty multitude
amongst the steep hills that overlooked the valley through which the enemy
had to pass, he calmly waited their approach. When they entered the
valley, suddenly the mighty shout of the 'Alleluia' re-echoed through the
mountains, and the affrighted barbarians thinking themselves surrounded by
an immense army, fled in confusion without striking a blow. Germanus seems
to have returned to France in A.D. 430 or 431.

It is said by most of our ancient authorities that it was Germanus who
sent St. Patrick to Celestine to receive episcopacy and authority for the
Irish mission.[65] Celestine at first refused, as he had already in A.D.
431 sent Palladius with authority to preach to the Scots, who believed in
Christ--"Ad Scotos in Christum credentes." But when news was brought to
Rome by his disciples, Augustine and Benedict, of the failure of that
mission and the death of Palladius, Germanus sent Patrick again to Rome
accompanied by a priest called Segetius, who gave testimony of his merits
and desires. Perhaps it was in the interval between these two journeys
that St. Patrick went to the Island of Lerins, near Cannes, on the coast
of the department, now called the Alpes Maritimes.

Very many of our ancient authorities mention this visit to Lerins, or some
other of the rocky islets that abound in that part of the Mediterranean,
and several of which were then inhabited by holy men. It is said expressly
in the Hymn of St. Fiacc, the oldest of St. Patrick's lives, that he
studied the canons with Germanus, that the angel sent him across the Alps,
and that he stayed in the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea. It is not easy to
fix the date of this visit nor its duration; it is, however, in itself
extremely probable, independently of the high authority of Fiacc's
Metrical Life as well as of the Third Life, and Probus' Fifth Life. The
Third Life represents our saint as spending several years in an island
called Tamerencis, or, as Probus puts it, with the barefooted hermits in a
certain island of the sea. This island in all probability was Lerins, and
the barefooted hermits were the monks of St. Honoratus, who was thus the
third teacher of St. Patrick.

When Honoratus, flying fame and friends, came to Lerins in A.D. 410, it
was covered with dense shrubberies, through whose tangled masses
innumerable serpents glided and scared away the fishermen, who chanced to
land on the barren and inhospitable rock. But Honoratus was not to be
daunted. With a few faithful companions he set to work, and soon cleared a
space for their cells, and for such patches of agriculture, as would
supply their scanty needs. The monks were patient and laborious; the soil
was naturally not ungrateful. The serpents were banished, the brakes were
all cut down, and fruit trees planted in their stead. There was a bright
sky above, and glittering seas around; snow-capped mountains arose in the
blue distance; orange groves wafted their delicious fragrance over the
waters so that Lerins became an Eden, where the sights of nature were as
fair, and the hearts of the men as pure, as they were in Paradise. There,
too, St. Honoratus, afterwards raised in A.D. 429 to the See of Arles,
founded a famous school which was long celebrated in the south of Europe,
and produced some of the most distinguished scholars of the fifth century.
Such were their piety and learning that all the cities round about strove
emulously to have monks from Lerins for their bishops.

This was the last school in which St. Patrick made his final preparation
before presenting himself to St. Celestine, and receiving his commission
to preach the Gospel in Ireland. Not rashly surely, nor without due
preparation in the greatest and holiest schools of the Continent, did
Patrick undertake the work of God. Letters, borne by angels containing the
voice of the Irish, had long been calling him; the wailings of the
children from the wood of Focluth, by the shore of the western sea, whence
he had escaped to France, were ringing in his ears night and day imploring
Patrick to come and walk once more amongst them. He had prepared himself
most carefully for his great mission; he was duly commissioned by St.
Celestine, as both the _Tripartite_ and the Scholiast on Fiacc's hymn
expressly inform us; he received the blessing of the beloved teachers
under whose guidance he had lived so long; and thus full of courage and
trust in God, he set out for the difficult and dangerous task of
converting the Irish nation to the faith of Christ.


St. Patrick not only converted the Irish, but purified their laws, gave
new inspiration to their Bards, and laid the foundations of that system of
education which for the next three centuries made Ireland the light and
glory of all western Europe. We propose briefly to sketch his labours in
these respects.

When Patrick arrived in Ireland in A.D. 432, after a fruitless attempt to
convert his old master Milcho, he went straight to Tara, where King
Laeghaire was then holding his court, and as might be expected, he at once
came into collision with the Druids. They had already, according to the
_Tripartite_, foretold his advent, for they were mighty magicians, and the
two chief Druids of Erin, Lochru and Luchat the Bald, were then at Tara,
as it was the time of the great Feast, and Tara was "the head of the
idolatry and druidism of Erin."[66] Patrick lit his paschal fire at Slane
on Holy Saturday, and when the two Druids beheld from the green slopes of
Tara the strange fire, they at once told the king that the flame must be
extinguished before morning, or it could never be extinguished in Erin.
The angry monarch ordered his horses to be yoked, and set out to meet the
bold stranger, who had dared to kindle the forbidden flame in sight of the
royal palace. The Druid Lochru fiercely and enviously assailed Patrick in
presence of the king at Slane, but at Patrick's prayer the impious man was
first raised high in the air, and falling down his brains were dashed out
on the ground before the king. Now although the monarch and his attendants
feared much, and in their fear dared not touch the Apostle, yet we find
that next day when Patrick suddenly appeared at Tara, the second Druid,
Luchat the Bald, tried to poison him, but that attempt failing, he
challenged the Saint to contend with him in miracles before all the
people. Patrick readily accepted the challenge, and of course defeated the
Druid, who was consumed to ashes in an attempt to save himself from the
flames, while the youthful Benignus escaped the fiery ordeal unhurt.

These miraculous stories at least express one undoubted truth, that the
conflict between Christianity and druidism was a conflict to the death.
One or the other must be utterly routed; there could be no league between
light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. The victory gained over
druidism at Tara was conclusive; all the nation felt and recognised the
might of the man who had conquered the royal Druids; for it was their
proud boast that they held dominion over the elements and could make them
work their will. But now there appeared a mightier man than they, who
utterly vanquished them, and bound in strong bonds the Princes of
Darkness, the real authors of their wondrous deeds. Elsewhere indeed they
strove to renew the conflict, as when Patrick crossed the Shannon, the
Druids of Cruachan, Moel and Caplait, brought a thick darkness over all
the plain of Magh Aei. But, again, the power of Patrick's God vanquished
them--the darkness was miraculously dissipated by Patrick, and they
themselves were converted to the faith of Christ.

Yet when Patrick had proved the might of the God whom he adored, although
he burnt the idolatrous books at Tara, and overturned the idols of Magh
Slecht in Leitrim, and gave no toleration to heathen rites, still, in
other respects he dealt tenderly with the failings and even with the
superstitions of the people. Their sacred places were, in many cases,
consecrated and utilized for Christian worship; the Druids themselves,
when truly converted, were not deemed unworthy of a place in the Christian
ministry; the wells and streams where pagan rites had been often
celebrated, were blessed by the Apostle, and the ancient festivals of the
Druids were now made to do honour to the Christian saints. Thus it came to
pass that the mid-summer festival of paganism became henceforward a
festival in honour of John the Baptist, and November Eve of the Druids was
made the Vigil of All Saints.


One of St. Patrick's greatest works was his reform and ratification of the
ancient Brehon Laws as embodied in the great compilation known as the
_Senchus Mor_, or Great Antiquity. His labours in this respect claim
special attention, for the Brehon Code prevailed in the greater part of
Ireland down to the year A.D. 1600, and even still its influence is felt
in the feelings and habits of the people. The laws of a nation necessarily
exercise a great and permanent influence in forming the mind and character
of the people; nor can the provisions of the Brehon Code be safely ignored
by those whose duty it is even now to legislate for Ireland.

As explained before, the Brehon Code, which St. Patrick found in Ireland,
owed its existence mainly to three sources, first to decisions of the
ancient judges (of whom the most distinguished was Sen, son of Aighe),
given in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and handed
down by tradition; secondly, to the enactments of the Triennial
Parliaments, known as the Great Feis of Tara; thirdly, to the customary
laws, which grew up in the course of ages and regulated the social
relations of the people, according to the principles of a patriarchal
society, of which the hereditary chief was the head. This great Code
naturally contained many provisions that regulated the druidical rights,
privileges, and worship, all of which had to be expunged. The Irish, too,
were a passionate and warlike race, who rarely forgave injuries or
insults, until they were atoned for according to a strict law of
retaliation, which was by no means in accordance with the mild and
forgiving spirit of the Gospel. In so far as the Brehon Code was founded
on this principle, it was necessary for St. Patrick to abolish or amend
its provisions. Moreover, the new Church claimed its own rights and
privileges, for which it was important to secure formal legal sanction,
and to have embodied in the great Code of the Nation. This was of itself a
difficult and important task.

The _Senchus Mor_ explains the motives that prompted the revision of the
Brehon Code with great clearness. Dubhthach Mac Ua Lugair, the Chief Poet
and Brehon of Erin, was one of the first to believe in Patrick's Gospel at
Tara; and it happened to be his duty to pronounce judgment on the man who
slew Odhran, Patrick's Charioteer. Thereupon Patrick and Dubhthach
convoked the men of Erin to a conference at Tara, as it would seem, and
Dubhthach explained all that Patrick had achieved since his arrival in
Erin, and how he had overcome Laeghaire and his Druids, by the great signs
and wonders which he had wrought. "Then all the men of Erin bowed down in
obedience to the will of God and St. Patrick. It was then that all the
professors of the sciences in Erin were assembled, and each of them
exhibited his art before Patrick in the presence of every chief in Erin.
It was then too that Dubhthach was ordered to exhibit the judgments, and
all the poetry of Erin, and every law which prevailed amongst the men of
Erin, through the law of nature, and the law of the seers, and in the
judgments of the island of Erin, and in the poets," who were at first the

"Now the judgments of true nature which the Holy Ghost[67] had spoken
through the mouths of the Brehons and just poets of the men of Erin from
the first occupation of this island down to the reception of the faith,
were all exhibited by Dubhthach to Patrick. Whatever did not clash with
the Word of God, in the written Law, and in the New Testament, and with
the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the laws of the Brehons
by Patrick, and by the ecclesiastics and chieftains of Erin, for the law
of nature had been quite right except the faith and its obligations, and
the harmony of the Church and the people. _And this is the Senchus._"

This great conference took place in the year A.D. 438. Of course the work
thus briefly summarised was not done in a day. A regular Commission was
appointed consisting of nine learned men representing the various classes
and interests of the entire nation.

This Commission of Nine--from whom the _Senchus_ was called the _Nofis_,
or Knowledge of Nine--consisted of three Kings, three Bishops, and three
men of Science. The Kings were Laeghaire, Corc, and Daire; the Bishops
were Patrick, Benignus, and Cairnech; the men of Science, or antiquaries
as they are called by the Four Masters, were Dubhthach himself, Chief Poet
and Brehon of all Erin, Rossa, a Doctor of the Berla Feini, or legal
dialect, which was very abstruse, and Fergus, a Poet, who represented the
most learned and influential class in the country. Evidently Patrick had
studied under Germanus to some purpose; no one can help admiring the skill
which he displayed in organizing and selecting this great Commission.

It has been said that some members of this Commission, especially Corc and
Cairnech, could not have been present from A.D. 438 to 441, that the
former was dead, and the latter not yet born, seeing that he died,
according to Colgan, in A.D. 534--nearly a hundred years later. This is
not the place to enter into details; the answer, however, is very simple.
King Corc was, it is true, grandfather of Aenghus Mac Nadfraich, who when
a youth was baptized by Patrick at Cashel, in A.D. 445. But the latter had
not then commenced his reign, and his grandfather may have been alive in
A.D. 441, and for several years later, for we know, both from the _Book of
Rights_, and the poems of Dubhthach, that he was a contemporary of St.

As to the alleged death of Cairnech in A.D. 530, that Cairnech, whose
festival day is set down on the 28th of May, was quite different from St.
Cairnech of Tuilen (now Tulane in Meath), whose festival is the 16th of
May, and who is said to have been one of the British saints, probably from
Cornwall, that accompanied St. Patrick to Ireland. He it was who was
chosen to act on the Commission which produced the _Senchus Mor_.

Benignus was a mere boy of some sixteen years of age when Patrick stayed
for a night at the mouth of the Nanny River near Duleek, and being weary
from his journey the Saint fell asleep on the green sward. Then the boy
gathered sweet-smelling flowers and tenderly laid them in the Saint's
bosom as he slept. "Stop doing that lest thou awake Patrick," said the
others; and thereupon Patrick awoke, and blessed the boy, and foretold
that he was to be the heir of his kingdom. So the boy was baptized and
ever afterwards followed the Saint, who appointed him his Coadjutor Bishop
in the See of Armagh, so early as A.D. 450. Benignus being young and
carefully trained by St. Patrick, and also learned in the Irish tongue,
in all probability acted as Secretary to the Commission, and drafted with
his own hands the laws that were sanctioned by the Seniors. According to
O'Donovan he was also the original author of the famous Chronicle called
the _Psalter of Cashel_, which gives a full account of the laws, rights
and prerogatives of the Monarchs of Ireland, and especially of the Kings
of Cashel. He seems also to have been the original author of the _Book of
Rights_, although in its present form it gives manifest proof of
considerable changes, and much later emendations.

Daire, the only remaining member of whom it is necessary to make any
remark, seems to have been the same who granted Armagh to St. Patrick as a
site for his Cathedral, and whose daughter was one of the first, if not
the very first of the Irish maidens, who took the veil from the hands of
St. Patrick, and with her companions, some the daughters of kings, spent
her life of utter purity in working vestments for the priests, and
altar-cloths for the service of the Cathedral. Yet romance was mingled
with her name, for she:--

                          "The best and fairest,
  King Daire's daughter, Erenait by name,
  Had loved Benignus in her Pagan years.
  He knew it not; full sweet to her his voice,
  Chanting in choir. One day through grief of love
  The maiden lay as dead; Benignus shook
  Dews from the font above her, and she woke,
  With heart emancipate that out-soared the lark,
  Lost in the blue heavens. She loved the Spouse of Souls."[68]

Such was the Commission of Nine selected by St. Patrick to purify the
ancient pagan Code. We have still in existence the fruit of their labours
substantially unchanged, although as we might expect, a vast mass of
accretions, in the shape of commentaries and glosses, has gathered round
the original text. The Nine were, however, the real authors of the
_Senchus Mor_, which still furnishes the most abundant and authentic
materials for the study of our national history. It is a very large work,
and the archaic text was so obscure that even O'Donovan and O'Curry were
sometimes unable to explain its meaning. It is certainly the greatest
monument in existence of the learning and civilization of the ancient
Gaedhlic race in Erin.

St. Patrick not only reformed the State Organization, he also established
a Church Organization in Ireland. He knew well that it was not enough to
preach, and baptize, and build churches; it was necessary, if his work
was to endure, to train a native ministry, and organize the native Church
in harmony with the institutions and character of the Celtic tribes in
Ireland. It was a very difficult task; for the tribes were still very
simple and primitive in their habits, and were moreover devotedly attached
to the tribal institutions, which had come down to them from a remote

In accomplishing this task, which he did with perfect success, Patrick
displayed singular firmness and prudence. Whenever there was question of
principle, that is, of the truths of the Gospel and the teaching of the
Church, he was, as might be expected, unyielding as the rock. But, on the
other hand, he was no root-and-branch reformer; he dealt most tenderly
with the usages and with the prejudices of the people. He utilized
whatever was good in their existing habits and institutions, reformed what
was imperfect, and lopped off what was evil. With druidism, for instance,
he could make no terms. There could be no alliance between Christ and
Belial; it must be utterly rooted out of the land. Not so with the
Brehons, and the Brehon Code. He made no attempt to introduce the Roman
Civil Law into Ireland; it would have been utterly unsuited to the tribal
system. But he reformed the Brehon Code, and retained "all the judgments
of a true nature, which the Holy Ghost had spoken through the mouths of
the Brehons, and the just Poets of the men of Erin," thus winning over to
his side that influential Order, who might otherwise have been arrayed
against the propagation of the Gospel.

In like manner he dealt with the Bards. In a spirit of consummate
prudence, he sought to secure the aid of that powerful corporation for his
infant Church, and succeeded in establishing a friendly alliance with the
Arch-Poet of Erin. Dubthach Mac Ua Lugair held the twofold office of Chief
Poet and Chief Brehon of Ireland, and St. Patrick utilized his influence
and his services in both capacities. He was the working head of the
Commission for the reformation of the Brehon Laws; but St. Patrick seems
also to have secured his influence as Chief Poet in procuring eligible
candidates for the sacred ministry from the schools of the Bards--the most
lettered class in the community. It was thus the young poet, Fiacc of
Sletty, was ordained by Patrick on the advice and at the suggestion of
Dubthach. St. Patrick indeed had every reason to be grateful to the
Arch-Poet; he was the first to believe in the Saint's teaching at Tara,
and rose up to do him honour even against the king's command; he aided in
reforming the laws; he gave his most promising young pupils for the
service of the altar, including several of his own sons, who otherwise
would doubtless have followed the profession of their father.

This friendly alliance between St. Patrick and the Bardic Order is
personified in the story of Ossian's relations with the Saint. According
to the legend the venerable old man had long survived the fall of his
house, and the destruction of the Fenian chivalry on the fatal field of
Gabhra, yet lived on to find himself friendless and helpless under a new
and strange order of things in Christian Erin. But Patrick in the true
spirit of the Gospel took the homeless old man under his own protection,
and, treating him with the greatest generosity and forbearance, sought to
console him for the vanished glories of the heroic past, and fill his mind
with brighter visions of a more glorious and immortal future beyond the

  "Patrick, this other boon I crave,[69]
      That I to thee in heaven may sing
  Full loud the glories of the brave,
      And Fionn, my sire and king."

  "Oisin, in heaven the praises swell
      To God alone from soul and saint;"
  "Then Patrick, I their deeds will tell
      In little whisper faint."

  "Prince of thy country's tuneful choir,
      Thou wert her golden tongue.
  Sing thou the new strain, 'I believe,'
      Give thou to God her song."

It was in this spirit Patrick dealt with the Bards of Erin. They might
keep their harps, and sing the songs of Erin's heroic youth, as in the
days of old. But the great Saint taught them how to tune their harps to
loftier strains than those of the banquet-hall or the battle-march. He
sought to drive out from their songs the evil spirit of undying hate and
rancorous vengeance, to impress the poet's mind with something of the
divine spirit of Christian charity, and to soften the fierce melody of his
war-songs with cadences of pity for a fallen foe. He taught the sons of
the Bards how to chant the psalms of David, and sing together the sweet
music of the Church's hymns. Thus by slow degrees their wild ways were
tamed, their fierce hearts were softened, and the evil spirit of Discord
gave place to the heavenly spirit of brotherly Love.

The Irish people[70] have been always passionately fond of music, and this
was especially so in those early times when other strong attractions were
entirely wanting. There can be no doubt that the Church music exercised a
great influence in attracting the new converts to the services of the
clergy both in the monastic and secular Churches--a fact of which St.
Patrick was fully sensible. Hence we find that from the very beginning he
made provision to have his new converts trained in psalmody.

St. Benignus, of whom we have already spoken, the sweet and gentle boy,
who strewed the flowers in Patrick's bosom, and would not be taken from
his side, is called "Patrick's Psalm-Singer" in the _Lives of the Saint_,
as well as in the _Annals of the Four Masters_.

This plainly signifies that Patrick selected Benignus, doubtless on
account of his sweet voice and skill in music, to be what should be now
called his choir-master. Whenever a new Church and new congregation was
founded, it would be the duty of Benignus from such materials as were at
hand, to try and organize a Church choir, and conduct the musical service.
He seems to have accompanied St. Patrick in all his earlier missionary
journeys, and doubtless this would be the principal duty of the gentle
youth who so well deserved his name.

This brings us to consider what provision St. Patrick made for training up
a native ministry in the Irish Church, which would be competent to
continue and perfect his work. The question is a very interesting one, and
intimately connected with our subject; but the means of furnishing an
answer are exceedingly scanty, and can only be gleaned with difficulty
from isolated passages recorded in the _Acts of the Apostle of Ireland_.

The earliest instance on record is that of St. Benignus himself, which
shows that from the very beginning of his missionary career, St. Patrick
had this purpose of training up a native ministry to continue his work
strongly before his mind. When the Saint was on the point of starting on
his journey from the house of the father of Benignus, he had one foot on
the ground and the other in his chariot, when the boy rushed up, and
caught hold of Patrick's foot with his two hands, crying out, "Oh, let me
go with Patrick, my father."[71] And when they were going to take him away
Patrick said--"Baptize him, and put him with me in my car, for he will yet
be the heir of my kingdom." This was done, and Benignus never afterwards
left Patrick. He accompanied him on his missionary journeys; he conducted
the musical services of the Church for Patrick, and he died the heir of
his kingdom, that is, Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, about the year A.D.
468--long before St. Patrick himself went to his rest. It is evident,
therefore, that St. Benignus was trained for the sacred ministry under the
personal care of St. Patrick. And, as we shall presently see, this was the
usual course before the monastic schools were yet established in Erin, to
train the young levites under the personal care of some other
ecclesiastic, priest or bishop, as the case might be. In nearly the same
way Patrick happened about the same time to meet Mochae of Noendrum, while
he was yet a boy, herding swine, and "Patrick preached to him, and
baptized him, and tonsured him," thus selecting him as a candidate for the
ecclesiastical state. Of this Mochae, one of the earliest disciples of St.
Patrick, we shall see more hereafter, when we come to speak of the school
of Noendrum.

Yet it must not be supposed that St. Patrick came single-handed to preach
the Gospel in Erin, and that he had no assistance until these boys were
old enough to become themselves priests and bishops. We know that the
contrary was the fact.

We are told by a very ancient authority[72] that the Saint was accompanied
to Ireland by a great number of holy bishops and priests and deacons, and
other youths in minor orders whom he had himself ordained for the Irish
Mission. They were Britons, Franks, and Romans, the latter term simply
meaning that some amongst them enjoyed the rights of Roman citizenship.
Many of them were his own blood relations, like Sechnall or Secundinus,
the son of Patrick's sister, Darerca. Others, like Auxilius and Iserninus,
are said to have been sent by Germanus of Auxerre to aid St. Patrick in
preaching to the Irish. These two prelates, however, though ordained with
St. Patrick, did not come to Ireland for some time after the arrival of
St. Patrick. Iserninus founded his church at Kilcullen in the co.
Kildare, and Auxilius founded Killossy, in the barony of Naas, which takes
its name Cill-Usailli (Gen. of Ausaille) from that Saint.

The names of these two bishops are chiefly memorable in connection with a
celebrated Synod--the first held in Ireland--which is commonly called the
Synod of Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus. Having been ordained Priests,
if not Bishops, on the same day with St. Patrick himself, these two
prelates seem to have enjoyed a certain kind of co-ordinate authority with
Patrick, but still in subjection to his primatial jurisdiction. The name
of Secundinus is not mentioned in connection with this Synod, which was
held A.D. 447 or 448, either because he was already dead, or did not
possess independent jurisdiction as one of the original episcopal founders
of the Irish Church. We cannot now enter into the question how far all the
Canons attributed to St. Patrick in the great collections published by
several writers are genuine, or merely circulated under his name with a
view to lend them greater authority.[73] Those attributed, however, to the
Synod of Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus are commonly regarded as
authentic,[74] and indeed bear intrinsic evidence that they were framed at
a time when paganism was yet common in Ireland.

The most celebrated of these Canons is that which formally recognises the
supremacy of the Holy See as the Supreme Judge of Controversies--Si quae
quaestiones (difficiles) in hac insula oriantur ad Sedem Apostolicam
referantur.[75] A Canon to the same purport is contained in the _Book of
Armagh_ (fol. 21, b. 2) and is there expressly recorded as the decree of
Auxilius, Patrick, Secundinus, and Benignus. After reciting that if any
difficult case arose in the nations of the Scots it should be referred to
the See of Patrick, the Archbishop of the Scots, for decision, it is
added: "But if the aforesaid cause cannot easily be decided in it
(Armagh), we decree that it be transmitted to the Apostolic See, that is,
to the See of the Apostle Peter, which has authority over the city of
Rome."[76] Another Canon (Lib. xxxiv. c. 2) orders that if a cleric go
security for a gentile--that is, a pagan--and that the gentile fail to
keep his engagement, the cleric must make good the loss from his own
goods, and not contend with the adversary in armed strife. This Canon
shows that a portion of the population was still unconverted, though
living on terms of familiar intercourse with the Christians, both clergy
and people.

This ecclesiastical legislation of Patrick and his assistant prelates must
have exercised a most beneficial influence in restraining crime and
superstition amongst all classes. The first element of civilization is the
recognition of the reign of law instead of brute force; and that was a
lesson which it was especially necessary to inculcate on the Irish tribes.

Hence the Apostle inculcates at some length, and in very beautiful
language, the duties of the ecclesiastical judges and of good kings, while
he does not spare to draw the sword of excommunication against the crimes
and excesses of all, both rulers and subjects.

The judges of the Church, he says, must have the fear of God, not of man;
and the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of the world, which is folly in His
sight. They must not accept any gifts, for gifts blind the judgment; they
must have before their minds, not secular cunning, but the precedents of
the divine law (exempla divina). They should be sparing in their words,
and slow to pronounce sentence, and above all never utter a falsehood,
judging in all things justly, because as they judge others, by the same
standard shall they themselves be judged. Principles like these thus
solemnly enunciated must have exercised a very great influence in teaching
all classes that respect for law and the rights of others, which is the
foundation of all civilization.

Then the kings--a numerous class in Erin--were also taught their duties,
and by one who was able to give a sanction to his teaching. The duty of
the king is to judge no one unjustly; to be the protector of the stranger,
the widow, and the orphan; to punish thefts and adulteries; not to
encourage unchaste buffoons, nor exalt the wicked, but root them out of
the land; to put to death parricides and perjurers; to defend the Church
and give alms to the poor; to select just and wise ministers, and prudent
counsellors; to give no countenance to druids, or pythonesses, or
augurers; to defend his country in strength and in justice; to put his
confidence in God, not being elated by prosperity nor cast down by
adversity; to profess the Catholic faith and restrain his sons from evil
deeds; to give time to prayer, and not to spend it unduly in unseasonable
banquets. This, he says, is the justice of a king, which secures the peace
of the people, the defence of the country, the rights of the poor, and all
other blessings spiritual and temporal, including fruitful trees, abundant
crops, genial weather, and universal happiness. Such were the noble
principles inculcated by St. Patrick in his preaching, formulated in his
laws, and enforced by all the power of his authority.[77]

Although St. Patrick was accompanied to Ireland by a very considerable
number of clerics of every order to aid him in his great task of the
conversion of Ireland, still he must have found it difficult, as new
churches were founded and the foreign clergy died out, to supply labourers
for the ripening vineyard. As yet there were no Christian Schools in Erin.
Armagh was probably the first, but Armagh was not founded until A.D. 445,
when the site of a cathedral was granted by Daire to Patrick on Macha's
Height. The school could not be organized for some years later, perhaps
about the year A.D. 450.

But meantime Patrick had organized a kind of peripatetic school, which
accompanied the Saint in his frequent missionary journeys through the
various parts of the country. He himself spent his time in preaching,
baptizing, founding churches, and making such provision, as he could, for
the administration of the sacraments and the celebration of Mass. The
clerical students, his disciples, accompanied him, and in this way were
able to obtain both theoretical and practical instruction in the work of
missionary life. The instruction which the Bards, Brehons, and Druids
communicated to their disciples was mainly, if not exclusively, of an oral
character. The memory was highly trained by exercise, and the art of
recitation was carried to a wonderful degree of perfection. The disciples
too accompanied the master on his rounds from one chieftain's dun to
another, and were sharers in the hospitality and rewards, which were
freely bestowed on all.

Oral instruction of a similar character was doubtless also communicated by
St. Patrick to his disciples during their missionary journeys, as well as
in those places where he and his household remained for any considerable
time. Books were scarce, but were not unknown. The British and French
clergy no doubt brought with them to Ireland such books as were
indispensable for a missionary priest or bishop. These would be a
Mass-book, a ritual, and a copy of the psalms, and of the Gospels. They
were carried in leathern wallets slung from the girdle, and sometimes in
covers, or cases of wood, strengthened and adorned with metallic rims and
clasps. Such were the book-covers (_leborchometa_), which St. Asicus of
Elphin used to make for Patrick.[78] Once also when Patrick was journeying
from Rome he met six young clerics with 'their books at their girdles,'
who were going to the holy city on their pilgrimage. And Patrick gave them
a hide of seal-skin, or cow skin--it is doubtful which, says the
narrator--to make a wallet, as it would seem, for their books, for they
had it adorned with gold and white bronze.[79] Palladius left books
(_libru_) after him in Leinster, and both Patrick and the Druids had books
at Tara, and Patrick's books (_libair_) once fell into one of the streams
that flow into the Suir and were 'drowned.' Probably these were some of
the books which Celestine gave to Patrick, 'in plenty,' when he was about
to come to Ireland.[80] Patrick gave Deacon Justus of Fuerty in the co.
Roscommon, his own book of ritual and of baptism (_lebar nuird ocus
baptismi_.)[81] He also carried across the Shannon the books of the Law
and of the Gospel, and left them in the new Churches which he founded.[82]
_Lebar n-uird_ is the same as _Liber ordinis_, and means a missal, or Ordo
Missae, and the _Liber baptismi_ would be what we now call a 'ritual,'
containing the forms for the administration of the sacraments. In Tyrawley
the Saint gave Bishop Mucknoi, whom he there ordained, "seven Books of the
Law," in order that Mucknoi himself might ordain other bishops and
priests, and deacons in that country, and as it would seem, have copies of
the Books of the Law to give them. (_Book of Armagh_, f. 14.)

These books St. Patrick and his companions in all probability carried with
them from the Continent. But there was one kind of smaller book
corresponding to our smallest and simplest form of catechism, which the
Saint usually wrote for his favourite disciples with his own hand. It is
sometimes described as the 'Elements,' and sometimes as an 'Alphabet,' or
brief outline of the essential truths of Christianity. It was the first
book put into the hands of the educated converts, who knew how to read and
write, which was always an indispensable qualification for admission into
the ranks of the clergy. Of course the common people could be duly taught
the essential truths of religion by oral instruction. It was for those
whom he destined to be themselves teachers that he wrote the 'Elements' or
'Alphabets' of the Christian Doctrine. The phrase in Latin is _scripsit
elementa_, corresponding to the Irish _scribais aipgiter_, and sometimes
_scripsit abigitorium_ (as in the _Book of Armagh_, f. 13).

The word _aipgiter_ or _abgitir_ has been frequently used in this sense in
ancient Irish manuscripts, not to express the letters of the alphabet, but
a simple compendium of the art or other subject in question. Thus _abgitir
crabaith_ means the alphabet of faith, that is, the simple and fundamental
truths of faith; _abigiter in crabaid_ is the 'alphabet of piety,' and so
in similar cases. Patrick had no suitable work for this purpose, and,
hence, he himself frequently wrote a catechism or outline of these
elementary truths of the Christian doctrine suited to the capacity of the

So we find that the equipment of a young priest beginning his missionary
work was very simple. He got in the way of books his abigitorium, or
catechism, his Mass-book (or _Liber ordinis_), his ritual, his psaltery,
and when it could be spared a copy of the Gospels; and then if he were a
bishop Patrick gave him also, as he did to Fiaac of Sletty, a case
(_cumtach_[83]) containing a bell, a chalice, a crozier, and book-satchel
with the necessary books. We have distinct evidence too, from the Epistle
to Coroticus, that he himself taught these students. He describes the
messenger who carried that letter to the tyrant as a holy priest, whom he
(Patrick) had taught from his childhood (infantia). The reference can
scarcely be to St. Benignus, his coadjutor in Armagh, for Benignus died
A.D. 457 or 458, many years in all probability before the Epistle to
Coroticus was written. It is more likely the apostle refers to Mochae of
Noendrum, who was a tender youth when the Saint first met him in A.D. 432,
when he baptized the boy and gave him a gospel and a _menistir_, which
means a chalice and paten. Dr. Whitley Stokes translates it
'credence-table,' which is unlikely, as it was sometimes made of _creduma_
or bronze,[84] and in low Latin _ministerium_[85] was frequently used to
designate the utensils for the Holy Sacrifice.

St. Patrick, coming as he did, into a pagan country altogether outside the
pale of Roman civilization, had many difficulties to overcome, and
exercised great ingenuity in overcoming them. He sought to procure
everything required for public worship of native manufacture, and indeed
he had no other means for the most part of procuring them. Whatever was
necessary in the public worship of God, with the exception of some books
and the relics of the saints, was made in Ireland, and by artificers, who
though otherwise well skilled in their various crafts, were quite new to
this kind of work. But the apostle met this difficulty by having
artificers, who gave their exclusive attention to the manufacture of these
necessaries of divine worship, and he promoted them as a reward for their
labours even to the highest offices in the Church. His family or household
included persons so trained in every branch of technical knowledge
necessary for the due equipment of a Church, and they were all in holy

This household, which numbered twenty-four persons generally accompanied
him in his missionary journeys from place to place in order to provide all
things necessary for the young Churches which he founded. The list of
their names and functions is given in the _Tripartite_. Sechnall, his
nephew, was his 'bishop,' that is his coadjutor[86] in spirituals and
temporals, especially in his episcopal functions, in consecrations,
ordinations, and so forth. Benen was his psalm-singer to lead and teach
the Church choirs. Mochta of Louth was his priest, or as we now say, his
'assistant priest,' and attendant in the public functions of the church.
Bishop Erc, a Brehon by profession, was his judge, and no doubt a very
necessary official in dealing not only with the clergy, but also with the
frequent controversies that arose amongst the chiefs and were referred to
Patrick's arbitration. Bishop Mac Cairthinn was his champion, or rather
strong man, to bear him over the floods, and perhaps defend him against
rude assaults in an age of lawless violence. Colman of Cell Riada was his
chamberlain or personal attendant. Sinell of Cell Dareis was his
bell-ringer, an officer whose duty it was to carry with him the famous
hand-bell of the Saint, and no doubt also to ring it at appropriate times,
especially during Divine Service, for the purpose of securing due
attention to the sacred mysteries. He had also a cook, brewer, chaplain at
the table, two waiters, and other officers necessary for providing food
and accommodation for himself and his household. It must be borne in mind
that in those days there were no hotels; frequently the apostle with his
attendants had to camp out, and procure their own food--often too, in
face of an unfriendly, or even hostile population. Hence, he was sometimes
reduced to great straits for food, and more than once we find him begging
the fishermen to try and procure a fish for his refection when nothing
else was forthcoming.

We are also told that Patrick had three smiths, and three artificers, and
three embroideresses in his company. The smiths, like St. Asicus of
Elphin, made altars, and square tables, and book-covers, and bells for the
churches, which were founded by St. Patrick. His artificers were Essa,
Bite, and Tassach. They may be described as artificers both in wood and
metal, and church builders, who erected the primitive churches mostly of
wood founded by the apostle. Bite was a son of Asicus, and hence a skilled
workman like his father, both as a smith and carpenter. Tassach is spoken
of as making patens and credence-tables, and altar-chalices; he also made
a case for St. Patrick's crozier--the celebrated staff of Jesus. He was
Bishop of Raholp, not far from Downpatrick, and was privileged to
administer the Body of Christ to his dying master. The three
embroideresses, Lupait, sister of Patrick, and Erc, daughter of Daire, and
Cruimtheris, made with their own pure hands the vestments and altar linens
used during the Holy Sacrifice in the churches of Erin.

  "Beneath a pine three vestals sat close veiled:
  A song these childless sang of Bethlehem's Child,
  Low-toned and worked their altar cloth, a Lamb
  All white on golden blazon; near it bled
  The bird that with her own blood feeds her young.
  Red drops her holy breast affused. These three
  Were daughters of three kings."--_Aubrey de Vere._

Although St. Patrick did not in the ordinary sense of the word establish
schools such as are frequently mentioned in the next century, he not only
trained candidates for the sacred ministry during the earliest years of
his mission, but also seems to have established in his own city of Armagh
a school for carrying on that work in a more regular and efficient manner.
Having the care of all the Churches of Ireland on his own shoulders, he
could not govern this school in person. But we are told that he placed
over it his best beloved disciple Benignus, who was, so far as we can
judge, eminently qualified to discharge that high office. Before, however,
we proceed to give an account of this celebrated school of Armagh, it will
be necessary to give a short account of the writings of St. Patrick
himself and of those attributed to the more eminent amongst his disciples
and contemporaries.



  "And this is my confession before I die."
                              --_Confession of St. Patrick._

The writings of St. Patrick and his disciples are highly interesting, both
in themselves, and in the effects which they produced on the Irish Church.
Fortunately several of these monuments of our early ecclesiastical history
have come down to our own times, and no rational doubt can be raised about
their authenticity by well-informed scholars.

The principal documents attributed to St. Patrick himself are his
'Confession,' the 'Epistles to Coroticus,' and a poem called the 'Lorica,'
and sometimes the 'Deer's Cry.' Then we have in praise of Patrick a Hymn
by his nephew, St. Sechnall or Secundinus, a metrical Life or Eulogy by
St. Fiacc of Sletty, and certain sayings attributed to our national
apostle in the _Book of Armagh_. We shall have also something to say of
the _Tripartite Life of the Saint_, which is one of the earliest and most
important documents connected with the history of the Patrician Church in


The _Confession_ of St. Patrick, as he himself calls it, or the _Book of
St. Patrick the Bishop_, as it is called in the MSS., is the most
important and interesting document connected with the primitive Church of
Ireland. The text itself is found in the _Book of Armagh_, and in several
ancient manuscripts, some of which belong to the tenth century.[87] It is
referred to also in Tirechan's Collections in the _Book of Armagh_ as the
'Scriptio,' or Writing of St. Patrick himself. At the end of the copy in
the _Book of Armagh_ it is described as the volume which Patrick wrote
with his own hand--"Huc usque volumen quod Patricius manu conscripsit
sua." This would seem to imply that the scribe of the _Book of Armagh_
took his copy from the autograph by St. Patrick himself.

The evidence, both intrinsic and extrinsic, in favour of its authenticity
is so strong that no competent Irish scholar has ventured to question the
genuineness of this venerable document.

Indeed, if not genuine, it is impossible to assign any motive for such a
forgery. The tone and spirit of the entire are such as could only come
from one who was filled with the apostolic spirit. Many incidental
references to Decurions, to the 'Brittaniae,' or Britains, to
slave-traffic--all point to the fifth century as the date of its
composition. The rude and barbarous Latinity, which some writers use as an
argument against its authenticity, is in reality a strong proof in its
favour, for it is exactly what we should expect from one who, like St.
Patrick, spent the six years which are generally given to the acquisition
of a liberal education, herding sheep and swine on the hills of Antrim. As
Patrick himself remarks in apologizing for the rudeness of his style, of
which he was fully sensible, he had to forego the use of his vernacular
Latin during the years of his captivity, and his speech and his language
were changed into the tongue of the stranger, "as any one may perceive
from the flavour of my style."[88] Of course we should make allowance for
the faults of copyists--especially where the original MS. itself seems to
have been illegible or obscure, still it must be confessed that the Latin
is very rude, sometimes even ungrammatical, and not always intelligible.
But the spirit of deep humility and fervent devotion, which breathes in
every line, is of itself sufficient to stamp this work as genuine. A
falsifier, or impostor, might possibly write such Latin, but he never
could forge the spirit that breathes in the language, which is the
manifest outpouring of a heart like unto the heart of St. Paul.

The _Book of Armagh_ contains the earliest copy of the Confession that we
possess, and it appears not a little strange that several important
passages are omitted from this copy, which are found in the copies
preserved in the Cottonian and Bodleian Collections. Some writers have
suggested that these passages of the later copies are interpolations. It
is far more likely, however, that the Armagh scribe left out some passages
from his own copy, that he could not decipher in the original, which as
the marginal notes show, was in some parts obscure or illegible. These
omitted passages too are manifestly written in the same style, and in the
same spirit as the body of the Confession, and may certainly be regarded
as genuine. It may be, also, that the scribe of Armagh left out certain
passages from a groundless fear that it would not be to the honour of the
great Apostle to speak so strongly of his own unworthiness. That passage,
for instance, has been omitted in which the Saint refers to certain
elders, who opposed his elevation to the episcopacy on the ground that
thirty years previously, before he became a deacon, he had committed some
sin, which he then confessed to a dear friend, and which it was now sought
to make an obstacle to his promotion.

The Saint's motive in writing this Confession in his old age, as he tells
us, was to defend himself against some vague charges of presumption in
undertaking the Irish mission, and incompetence in discharging that
onerous task, whilst acknowledging in all humility the sins and ignorance
of his youth, and the difficulties under which he laboured by reason of
his imperfect education.

Patrick points out that in all things he sought to listen to the voice of
God, and to be guided by the inspirations of His Holy Spirit. Like St.
Paul in similar circumstances, he refers to the perils by which he was
encompassed, and the many toilsome duties of his episcopacy. He then
vindicates his own disinterestedness, and challenges his accusers to show
that he ever received a single farthing for preaching the Gospel and
administering baptism to so many thousand persons, even in the remotest
parts of the country, where the Word of God was never heard before. Not
that the people were not generous, for they offered him many gifts, and
cast their ornaments upon the altar; but he returned them all lest even in
the smallest point the unbelievers might have cause to defame his
ministry, or question the purity of his motives.

Finally, he appeals to the success of his ministry in the conversion of
Ireland, as the best proof of God's approval of his work, and bears noble
testimony to the sanctity and zeal of his new converts. "The sons of the
Scots, and the daughters of their princes, became monks and virgins of
Christ ... not by compulsion, but even against the wishes of their
parents, and the number of the holy widows and continent maidens was
countless." Even the slave-girls, despising their masters' threats,
continued to persevere in the profession and practice of holy chastity.
Still in his old age he was surrounded by dangers, but it mattered not; at
any moment he was ready to die for Christ, and he solemnly calls God and
His Angels to witness that, in returning to preach the Gospel in the land
of his captivity, he came solely for the Gospel's sake, and his only
motive was to preach the glory of Christ and share in the recompense of
the Gospel. "And this"--said the Saint in beautiful and touching
words--"this is my confession before I die."

This Confession contains many interesting references to the personal
history and apostolic labours of St. Patrick, which are not always
remembered; and which ought to be separated from the more uncertain and
controverted facts of his history.

His father was Calpornus, or Calpornius, a deacon, who was the son of
Potitus, and Potitus was the son of Odissus, a priest. The text, however,
leaves it doubtful whether the word priest belongs to Potitus or to
Odissus.[89] His father dwelt in the township (vico) of Bannavem
Taberniae. He had also a small villa not far off, "where I was made
captive at the age of about sixteen years." He was in ignorance of the
knowledge of the true God,[90] which is to be understood of his defective
training as a Christian during the years of his boyhood; for he adds that
he did not keep God's Commandments, and was not obedient to the
priests--our priests--as he calls them, when they admonished him to attend
to his salvation. Therefore it was God punished him by this captivity in a
strange land, at the end of the world. But that God pitied his youth and
ignorance, and showed him mercy, consoling the captive as a father
consoles his son. For which he earnestly thanks God, and takes occasion to
profess his faith in the Holy Trinity, as Arianism was then rampant in the
Church. After much hesitation he resolved to write this Confession in
order to show the true motives of his own heart to his friends and

The reason of his delay and hesitation was the rudeness of his style and
language in consequence of his captivity when he had to make use of a
strange tongue. But he should be forgiven, for the conversion of the Irish
was the epistle of salvation, which he had written by deeds, not by words,
not in ink, but in the Spirit of God. Though he was a stone sunk in the
mire, a man of no account in the eyes of the world, yet God in His mercy
exalted him; for which he will always give earnest thanks to God. Hence he
wishes to make known God's goodness in his regard, and to leave it as a
legacy of God's mercy to his brethren, and to the thousands of spiritual
children whom he baptized.

When he came to Ireland (Hiberione), his daily employment was to feed
cattle (pecora); but then it was the love of God began to grow within him,
and he used to pray even up to a hundred times a day and as many in the
night; he used to rise before the dawn to pray in the woods and mountains
in the midst of rain, and hail, and snow.

One night he heard a voice saying to him in sleep--"your ship is
ready"--and he travelled 200 miles to the port, where he had never been
before, and where he knew no one. Thus after six years' captivity he
succeeded in reaching this port. The master of the vessel at first would
not take him on board, but afterwards he relented, when Patrick was
returning to the cottage where he had got lodging. He was called back, and
invited to go on board as one of themselves; but he declined familiar
intimacy[91] through fear of God, because they were Gentiles.

In three days they disembarked in a desert land, through which they
travelled for twenty-eight days, and were well nigh starving, until
relieved at the prayer of Patrick. Reference is then made to the great
stone that seemed to fall upon him in a dream, from the weight of which he
was relieved by invoking Elias. It seems, too, that he fell into a second
captivity, which continued for two months; but the text here is uncertain,
and can scarcely be relied on.

He succeeded, however, in reaching the home of his parents in Britain--in
Britannis--and they most earnestly besought him to remain with them, now
that he had escaped from so many dangers.

But the Angel Victor, in the guise of a man from Ireland, gave him a
letter in which the "voice of the Irish" called him away; the voices of
those who dwelt near the wood of Focluth, from which he seems to have
escaped, also called upon him to come once more and walk amongst them. The
Spirit of God, too, spoke within his soul and urged him to return to
Ireland. The same Holy Spirit encouraged him to persevere when objection
was made by certain elders to his elevation to the episcopacy. Therefore,
he was encouraged to undertake the great task, and his conscience never
blamed him for what he had done.

It would be tedious, he adds, to recount all his missionary labours, or
even a part of them. Twelve times his life (anima) was in danger, from
which God rescued him, and from many other plots and ambuscades also, and
therein God rewarded him for giving up his parents and his country, and
all their gifts, and heeding not their prayers and tears, that he might
preach the Gospel in Ireland, where he had to endure insult and
persecution even unto bonds. But he strove to do the work faithfully, and
God blessed his efforts, and those wonderful things were accomplished by
the apostle, to which we have already referred.

Hence, though anxious to visit his parents and his native country in
Britain, and even to revisit the brethren in Gaul--here referred to for
the first time--and to see the face of God's Saints there, he was bowed in
spirit, and would not leave his beloved converts, but resolved to spend
the rest of his life amongst them.

Yet he was not free from temptations against faith and chastity, but in
Christ Jesus he hoped to be faithful to God unto the end of his life, so
that he might be able to say with the apostle, "Fidem servavi." God, too,
deigned to work great signs and wonders by his hands, for which he will
always thank the Lord.

He confidently appeals also to his converts, who knew how he lived amongst
them, how he refused all gifts, and spent himself in their service. Nay,
he it was who gave the gifts to the kings and to their sons--and sometimes
they plundered him and his clerics of everything; and once bound him in
iron fetters for fourteen days, until the Lord delivered him from their
hands. When writing his Confession he was still living in poverty and
misery, expecting death, or slavery, or stratagems of evil; but he feared
not, because he left himself into the hands of God, who will protect him.
One thing only he earnestly prays for, that he may persevere in his work,
and never lose the people whom he gained for God at the very extremity of
the world.

This Confession clearly shows that St. Patrick was a native of some part
of Britain, and that he met more opposition in preaching the Gospel in
Ireland than is commonly supposed. He was put in bonds of iron on one
occasion for fourteen days, and even in his old age was living in poverty
and in daily fear of death. It shows, too, that although the Saint was an
indifferent Latinist, he was intimately acquainted both with the letter
and spirit of the Old and New Testament, which he quotes constantly, and
always from the version called the _Vetus Itala_--a strong proof of the
authenticity of the Confession. It is singular that no reference is made
to the Roman Mission, or to his ever having been at all in the City of
Rome. But neither does the Saint refer to St. Germanus, although all the
Lives agree in saying that he spent many years in Gaul with that holy and
eminent prelate, nor does he even tell us where or by whom he was
consecrated bishop. Nothing, therefore, can be deduced from his silence
regarding St. Celestine and the Roman Mission, especially in face of the
ancient and authentic testimonies which assert it.


The Epistle to Coroticus, or more properly to "the Christian subjects of
King (Tyrannus) Coroticus," is also without doubt the genuine composition
of St. Patrick. It bears a striking resemblance to the Confession in its
style and language, sometimes even entire phrases are re-produced from the
Confession with scarcely any change of language. It is not found in the
_Book of Armagh_, but it is found in several ancient MSS. dating back to
the tenth century. From a reference made to the pagan Franks, it must have
been written before their conversion to Christianity, which took place
A.D. 496. It is evident, however, that it was written towards the close of
the Saint's missionary career--probably some time between A.D. 480-490.

This Coroticus or Cereticus, was most probably a semi-Christian King of
Dumbarton[92] or Ail-Cluade, and seems to be the same referred to in the
_Book of Armagh_ as Coirthech, King of Aloo. He is called in the Welsh
genealogies Ceretic the Guletic, which term corresponds exactly with
Tyrannus in St. Patrick's letter. Other Welsh authorities, however, have
made Coroticus a petty King of Glamorganshire and identified him with
Caredig or Ceredig, of the Welsh genealogies;[93] but the former is the
much more probable opinion, especially as we find that Coroticus was the
ally of the "apostate Picts and Scots," in their bloody raids on the
shores of Ireland. After the death of St. Ninian, who converted some of
the Scots and southern Picts to Christianity, these latter fell away from
the faith, and aided by the King of Dumbarton harried the coasts both of
England and Ireland.

It was probably towards the end of St. Patrick's laborious life that the
incursion took place, which called forth this indignant letter of the
Saint. The raiders had landed somewhere on the eastern coast of Ireland,
and carried off into slavery a number of men and women, on whose foreheads
the holy oil of confirmation, which then usually followed baptism, was
still glistening. The white garments which the neophytes wore were stained
with their own blood, or the blood of their slaughtered companions.
Thereupon the Saint wrote these letters, which he sent by one of his own
priests, whom he had taught from his infancy, to be handed to the soldiers
of the tyrant, and read for them, as it seems, in his presence. In the
first letter he asked to have the Christian captives and some of the
spoils restored; but they laughed at the demand in scorn, wherefore the
Saint wrote this second letter in which he excommunicates Coroticus and
his abettors, calling upon all Christian men not to receive their alms,
nor associate with them, nor take food or drink in their company, until
they do penance and make restitution for their crimes.

Incidental references are made by the Saint to his own personal history.
He himself for God's sake preached the Gospel to the Irish nation, which
had once made himself a captive and destroyed the men-servants, and
maid-servants of his father's house.[94] He was born a freeman, and a
noble, being the son of a decurio,[95] but he sold his nobility for the
benefit of others, and he did not regret it. It was the custom of the
Gaulish and Roman Christians to pay large sums of money to the Franks for
the ransom of Christian captives; but "you--you often slay them, or sell
them to infidels, sending the members of Christ as it were into a
brothel." "Have you," adds the Saint, "any hope in God--what Christian can
help you or abet you?"

Then Patrick in passionate grief bewails the fate of the captives. "Oh! my
most beautiful and most loving brothers and children, whom in countless
numbers I have begotten for Christ, what shall I do for you? Am I so
unworthy before God and man that I cannot help you? Is it a crime to have
been born in Ireland? And have not we the same God as they have? I sorrow
for you--yet I rejoice--for if you are taken from the world, you were
believers through me, and are gone to Paradise."

And then in the last paragraph he expresses a hope that God will inspire
those wicked men with penance, and that they will restore their captives,
and save themselves for this world and for the world to come. Like the
Confession, this letter abounds in quotations from the old version of the
Bible before it was corrected by St. Jerome.

In the Brussels MS. of the _Book of Armagh_ there is a chapter which
purports to give an account of "Patrick's conflict against the King of
Aloo," whom it calls _Coirthech_, and a little lower down the name is
given as Corictic. When Patrick failed to convert him by his letters and
admonitions, which the tyrant despised, he besought the Lord to drive this
reprobate "from this world and from the next." A very short time
afterwards, as Coroticus was sitting on his throne, he heard a certain
magic song chanted, and hearing it he came down from his seat in the hall
of justice. Thereupon all his nobles took up the same chant; whereupon
suddenly in the midst of the market place, Coroticus was changed into what
seemed a fox in the presence of them all, and running away like a stream
of water disappeared from their eyes, and was never afterwards heard of.


The Lorica, or Shield of St. Patrick, is a rhythmical prayer said to have
been composed by the Saint to implore the divine protection, when he and
his companions were approaching Tara for the first time to proclaim the
unknown God in the very stronghold of druidism, sustained as it was by all
the power of the Ard-righ of Erin. It was a bold and perilous thing to
do--thus to face the pagan king and his idol priests on the very threshold
of their citadel; and it shows how strongly armed in faith St. Patrick was
on that day, when he so dared to bid defiance to the powers of darkness.

The Saint was by no means insensible of the danger to which he exposed
himself, nor of the strength of the wily foe whom he challenged so boldly
to the combat. But he put his confidence not in man but in God, and this
poem is simply the poetic expression of the sentiments which filled and
strengthened his soul on that momentous occasion. This is the key to the
meaning of the poem--"It was to be a corslet of faith for the protection
of body and soul against devils, and human beings, and vices; and whoever
shall sing it every day with pious meditation on God, devils shall not
stay before him."[96]

It is then easy to understand why it was called the Lorica, or Corslet of
Patrick; because it was his defence against the ambushes set for him by
Laeghaire and his Druids when he was approaching Tara. But it was also
called the _Faed Fiada_, or Deer's Cry; because it was said that the
apostle and his companions escaped the ambush by seeming to their enemies
to be a Deer and her fawns in flight to the shelter of the woods.

Patrick knew that the Druids of Laeghaire possessed magical powers; they
even claimed dominion over the elements, and therefore strong in the faith
of the Holy Trinity he appeals to the Triune God of all the elements to
shield him against evil. God sometimes permits the powers of evil to use
His creatures as instruments to injure the wicked and try the good; and
therefore the Saint calls upon God to use His creatures on this occasion
for His own glory and the protection of His servant. It is in this sense
that Patrick calls to his aid not only the Holy Trinity, but all the
elements created by God, but sometimes perversely used by the Druids for
evil purposes.

  "I bind unto myself to-day
    The strong name of the Trinity,
  By invocation of the same
    Three in One and One in Three....

  "I bind unto myself to-day
    The virtues of the star-lit heaven,
  The glorious sun's life giving ray,
    The whiteness of the moon at even,
  The flashing of the lightning free,
    The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
  The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
    Around the old eternal rocks.

  "I bind unto myself to-day
    The power of God to hold and lead,
  His eye to watch, His might to slay,
    His ear to hearken to my need.
  The wisdom of my God to teach,
    His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
  The word of God to give me speech,
    His heavenly host to be my guard."

This is merely a specimen of the beautiful Gaedhlic hymn as
translated--and well translated--by Mrs. Alexander. Even to this day the
original is chanted by the peasantry of the South and West in the
ancestral tongue, and it is regarded as a strong shield against all evils
natural and supernatural.

We know from the _Book of Armagh_ that it has been thus recited at least
from the eighth century, so that even then its use was universal, and in a
certain sense obligatory. St. Patrick is there declared entitled to four
'honours' in all the churches and monasteries of Erin. First, his festival
was to be celebrated for three days and three nights with every kind of
good cheer except flesh--that being forbidden in Lent; secondly, a special
offertory was to be immolated in his honour, which seems to imply that
there was a special offertory, and perhaps preface for the Mass on these
days; thirdly, his Hymn--that is, the hymn in praise of Patrick written by
his nephew, St. Sechnall--was to be sung during these days; and fourthly,
"his Irish Canticle was to be always sung" in the liturgy, as it would
seem, and apparently also throughout the entire year. So it appears that
from the earliest ages this Canticle was regarded in the Irish Church as
the genuine composition of St. Patrick, and the greatest efficacy was
attributed to its pious recitation.


'The Hymn of St. Patrick'--that is, the Hymn composed in his honour by St.
Sechnall, to which reference is made in this extract from the _Book of
Armagh_--is another very singular and interesting literary monument of our
early Celtic Church. It has been published with valuable notes and scholia
by the late Dr. Todd in the first volume of the _Liber Hymnorum_.[97] This
curious Latin hymn, which is justly regarded both on internal and external
evidence, as the genuine composition of St. Sechnall, or Secundinus, owed
its origin to a singular circumstance. The following is Colgan's account
taken from the Preface to the Hymn, as given by a very old but unknown

Secundinus (in Irish Sechnall), the son of Restitutus, a Lombard of Italy
by his wife Darerca, a sister of St. Patrick, was the author of this Hymn.
It was composed at Dunshaughlin, county Meath, which in Irish is called
Domnach-Sechnaill, from the name of its founder. It was written in the
time of Laeghaire Mac Neil, then king of Ireland; and it must have been
written before the year A.D. 447, when, according to the Four Masters,
"Secundinus, the son of Patrick's sister, yielded his spirit on the 27th
of November, in the seventy-fifth year of his age." The object of the
writer was to give due praise to Patrick, also to offer it as a kind of
apology for having offended the Saint. For, on one occasion, Sechnall was
reported to have said that Patrick would be perfect if he had insisted
more strongly in his preaching on the duty of alms-giving for works of
charity; for then more property and more land would have been devoted to
pious uses for the good of the Church. This remark was carried to the ears
of Patrick, and moreover was probably misrepresented. St. Patrick was much
displeased with his nephew, and said it was "for sake of charity he
forbore to preach charity;" that is, in order that the holy men who were
to arise after him might benefit by the oblations of the faithful, which
he left untouched for that purpose. Then Sechnall sorrowed much for the
rash judgment of which he had been guilty, and humbly asked pardon of the
Saint, who readily granted it. But in order fully to atone for his sin,
Sechnall composed this hymn in honour of Patrick.

It consists of twenty-three stanzas, the stanzas beginning with a letter
of the alphabet in regular order from the first to the last. Each stanza
consists of four strophes or lines, each line of fifteen syllables. So
that it was written in what the grammarians call trochaic tetrameter
catalectic. In Irish prosody, however, regard is had in measuring the feet
rather to the accent or beat of the verse than to the length of the

When the hymn was composed Sechnall asked permission to read for Patrick a
hymn, which he had composed in praise of a certain holy man, who was still
alive. Patrick readily granted this request, for he said he would gladly
wish to hear the praises of any of God's household.

Then Sechnall read the poem, suppressing the first line only, which
contains Patrick's own name as the subject of the eulogy. Patrick listened
attentively until Sechnall came to the line in which the subject of the
poem is described as 'greatest in the kingdom of heaven'--_maximus in
regno cælorum_. "How can that be said of any man?" said Patrick. "The
superlative is there put for the positive," replied Sechnall; "it only
means very great." Patrick appeared to be pleased with the poem, whereupon
Sechnall insinuated that Patrick himself was the subject of the poem; and,
according to the Bardic custom he asked for a reward for his poem. When
Patrick, however, learned that the poem was about himself he was not well
pleased, but knowing Sechnall meant well in writing it, he did not wish to
grieve him by a refusal. So he answered that Sechnall might expect that
our Saviour in His mercy would give the glory of heaven to all who recited
the hymn piously every day both morning and evening. "I am content," said
Sechnall, "with that reward; but as the hymn is long and difficult to be
remembered, I wish you would obtain the same reward for whomsoever recites
even a part of it." Then Patrick said that whoever faithfully recites the
last three verses of the hymn morning and evening shall obtain the same
reward, and Sechnall said, "Deo gratias," and was content.

It was only natural that this hymn, having such a promise of salvation,
though written in Latin, should become very popular, and be recited in the
monasteries and churches of Ireland as one of the four "Honours of St.
Patrick." It bears intrinsic evidence both in style and language that it
was written during the lifetime of St. Patrick. He is represented in the
hymn as still keeping all God's commandments, and as one who _will_
possess the joys of heaven, and will reign with the apostles as saint and
judge over Israel.[98]

Of Sechnall himself little is known. All the authorities agree in saying
that he was the son of Patrick's sister Darerca, whom others call Lupait,
and sometimes Liemania. It is said that she was taken captive at the same
time as St. Patrick himself, and was carried with him by the captors to
Ireland, and there sold as a slave in the district called Conailli
Muirtheimne, which is better known as the patrimony of the greatest of
Erin's ancient warriors, the heroic Cuchullin. It included the territory
around Dundalk, and stretched northward to the modern barony of Mourne,
with its unrivalled mountain scenery.

All the authorities say that Sechnall's father was Restitutus, 'a
Longobard of Leatha;' or, as some writers add, 'Armoric Leatha.' Now the
Lombards known to history did not conquer the territory, which bears their
name, until the middle of the sixth century. This difficulty is met by
assuming that 'Leatha' means Brittany in France, and although we have no
historical evidence that a colony of the Longobardi ever dwelt there,
still a Roman soldier of the Longobardic race might have been living
there, and might have been married to one of the sisters of St. Patrick.

The word Armorica, as it is in Latin, and Airmoric in Celtic, really
signifies any western land bordering on the sea; and it is quite possible
that in this sense the word should have been applied to Ayrshire or
Wigtown in Scotland. Others have suggested that the word Lungbaird, as it
is in our earliest native authorities, means nothing more than a
'long-bearded' man of Leatha, or Amorica, which is by no means improbable.
This would also help to explain why Eochaidh O'Flanagan, an old poet of
the eleventh century, calls St. Sechnall by the surname Ua Baird, or
O'Ward, as if the tribe name was really that of Bardi, whom some
authorities describe as an ancient race of Gaul or Saxony, from whom the
Longobardi derived their origin.[99] Later authorities, knowing nothing of
any Longobardi except those of Northern Italy, would readily enough fall
into the anachronism of placing them there in the time of St. Patrick.

Sechnall with Auxilius and Iserninus were disciples of St. Patrick from
the beginning, and seem to have accompanied him on his arrival in Ireland.
The _Annals of Ulster_, however, mark their arrival in Ireland as
'Bishops' to aid Patrick in the year A.D. 439. This seems to be the date
of their episcopal consecration, which they received either in France or
in Britain, for St. Patrick alone would be unwilling to consecrate them
contrary to the canons. Sechnall seems to have been placed temporarily
over the Church of Armagh, founded A.D. 445, and hence he is sometimes
called Archbishop of that See.


It was in St. Sechnall's Church of Dunshaughlin that a beautiful
Eucharistic Hymn, 'Sancti Venite,' was first sung, and most probably
composed by that saint himself. In the Preface of the _Leabhar Breac_, it
is said that this hymn was first chanted by angels in St. Sechnall's
Church, on the occasion of his reconciliation with St. Patrick, to which
we have already referred. The choir of angels was heard singing the hymn
during the Holy Communion, and "hence arose the custom ever afterwards
observed in Erin," says the writer, "of singing this hymn at the
Communion;" and hence, too, the title which it bears in the _Antiphonary
of Bangor_--the only ancient work in which it is found--"Hymn during the
Communion of the Priests."[100] We could wish this beautiful hymn were
still used in our national liturgy. Denis Florence M'Carthy has left us an
excellent translation of this remarkable hymn, of which we give the first
and last stanzas:

  "Draw nigh, ye holy ones, draw nigh,
  And take the body of the Lord,
  And drink the Sacred Blood outpoured,
  By which redeemed ye shall not die.

     *       *       *       *       *

  "The Source, the Stream, the First, the Last,
  Even Christ the Lord, who died for men,
  Now comes--but he will come again
  To judge the world, when time hath passed."

The original stanzas are as follows:--

  "Sancti Venite,
      Christi Corpus Sumite;
      Sanctum bibentes
      Quo redempti sanguinem.

  "Alpha et Omega,
      Ipse Christus Dominus,
      Venit venturus
      Judicare homines."

St. Sechnall was the first Christian poet in Erin; may his name and memory
linger long amongst the children of St. Patrick.


St. Fiacc, Bishop of Sletty, and author of what is perhaps the earliest
biography of our national Apostle, belongs also to the Patrician era, that
is the fifth century of the Irish Church. A brief account of his life and
labours will be found interesting. He was sixth or seventh in descent from
the celebrated Cathair Mor, King of Leinster towards the close of the
second century. His father is called Mac Dara, a prince of the Hy
Bairrche. His mother, the second wife of Mac Dara, was a sister of
Dubhtach Mac Ua Lugair, the Chief Poet and Brehon of Erin when St. Patrick
arrived in Ireland. Fiacc was not only a nephew of Dubhtach, but also his
pupil and foster son; and he is described as a 'young poet' in the retinue
of Dubhtach on that famous Easter Sunday morning, when St. Patrick first
stood in the royal presence on the Hill of Tara. King Laeghaire had
forbidden any of his courtiers to rise up in token of respect to St.
Patrick, and accordingly, when Patrick came before the King, all remained
seated except "Dubhtach the Royal Poet, and a tender youth of his people,
named Fiacc, the same who is commemorated in Sletty to-day."[101] Dubhtach
was the first who believed at Tara on that day, and doubtless his youthful
disciple soon after embraced the same faith as his master; although
probably he was not baptized until some years later. At this period the
boy poet was not, it seems, more than sixteen or eighteen years of age,
and must, therefore, have been born about the year A.D. 415.

Dubhtach, the arch-poet of Laeghaire, was a Leinster man, and received
from Crimthan, King of the Hy Kinnselach, a grant of a considerable
territory in North Wexford, eastward of Gorey, in the territory then
called Formael--"a wave-bound land beside the fishful sea." St. Patrick
had converted and baptized this king, Crimthan, at Rathvilly in the County
Carlow, about the year A.D. 450, during his progress through Leinster. On
this occasion he very naturally came to see his old friend Dubhtach, the
first of the believers at Tara, and found him at a place called Domnach
Mor Magh Criathar, that is Donoughmore of "the marshy plain." This marshy
plain extends along the sea shore to the north of Cahore Point, Co.
Wexford. At the northern extremity of the plain are the ruins of the old
Church of Donoughmore, half covered by the sand; and close by is a holy
well where a 'patron' was formerly held on the last Sunday of July. The
late Rev. Father Shearman has, we think, shown conclusively that this is
the Donoughmore, where St. Patrick met Dubhtach, the High Bard of Erin.

On the occasion of this meeting Patrick, anxious to provide for the
government of the young Church in Leinster, requested Dubhtach to find him
a man of good family, and good morals, the husband of one wife,[102] and
with one child only, that he might ordain him Bishop of the men of
Leinster. "Fiacc is the very man you require," said Dubhtach; "but at
present he is in Connaught"--to which province he went, it seems, at his
master's request, to make the usual bardic visitation, and bring home the
gifts which the sub-kings were wont to offer to the Chief Poet of Erin.
Just then it so happened that Fiacc came in sight of the fort of Dubhtach
on his return from his visitation in Connaught. "There is the man
himself," said the Arch-poet, "of whom we have been speaking." "But he may
not wish to receive orders," said Patrick. "Proceed as if to tonsure me,"
replied the poet, "and we shall see." Thereupon St. Patrick made
preparations as if to tonsure the aged poet--it was the first step to
orders--whereupon Fiacc said, "it would be a great loss to the Bardic
order to lose so great a poet;" and he offered himself for the service of
the Church instead of Dubhtach. The offer was gladly accepted, and so
Fiacc came to receive _grade_, or orders, and finally became Ard-espog, or
Chief Bishop, of the Leinster-men. This was a mere title of honour given
to him on account of his seniority and pre-eminent merits. In the
canonical sense the office of Archbishop did not then exist in Leinster,
nor for many centuries afterwards.

On this occasion we are told that Patrick wrote an 'Alphabet' for
Fiacc--that is, a brief exposition of the Christian doctrine; and he is
said to have learned in one night, or as others say, in fifteen days, the
'ecclesiastical ordo,' that is, the method of administering the sacraments
and celebrating the Holy Sacrifice. It must be borne in mind that
previously Fiacc was an accomplished poet, a man therefore of learning,
with a highly trained memory, well skilled in his native tongue, and
perhaps not altogether unacquainted with the rudiments of the Latin
language; at least he must have frequently heard it at Tara and elsewhere,
when the clergy were performing their functions.

Fiacc founded two Churches with which his name is intimately connected.
The first is called in old writers, Domnach Mor Fiacc, and is described as
being situated mid-way between Clonmore and Aghold; and therefore about
six miles due east of Tullow on the borders of Carlow and Wicklow. It was
also called Minbeg, that is, the Little Wood or Brake, which was probably
near the old church. It is identical with Kylebeg, the name of a townland
in the same locality. The old church itself has disappeared.

Here he led a life of great austerity until he was commanded by an angel
to remove thence to the west of the River Barrow, for there he was to find
the "place of his resurrection." He was directed to build his refectory
where he should meet with a boar, and his Church where he should see a
hind. Fiacc, however, was unwilling to go there without the sanction of
St. Patrick. So Patrick himself came and fixed the site of his Church at
Sletty (Sleibhte), and there Fiacc and his son Fiachra were afterwards
interred, the two saints in the same grave.

Sletty is about one mile and a-half north-west of Carlow, on the right
bank of the River Barrow. It takes its name "the Highlands," from the
hills of Slievemargy, in Queen's County, which have also given their name
to the entire barony. Daring the devastations of the Danes, Sletty being
so near a large river, was almost totally destroyed by the frequent
incursions of those marauders. A portion of the old church still remains,
but the See of Sletty was long ago transferred to Leighlin, which is still
the name of the diocese.

In his monastery of Sletty, Fiacc presided over many monks, his disciples,
and continued to lead the same austere life, as at Donoughmore. He was at
once abbot of the monastery at Sletty, and besides performed his episcopal
functions through all the surrounding country. Moreover, he was wont every
year, at the beginning of Lent, to retire to a lonely cave at Drum Coblai,
taking with him a few barley loaves, which were the only food he used,
with water from the spring, during all the days of Lent, until he returned
to his monastery to celebrate with his brethren the great festival of
Easter. This cave of Drum Coblai has been identified with a remarkable
cave at the base of the north-east escarpment of the hill called the Doon
of Clopook, about seven miles north-west of Sletty, and a little to the
east of the old and famous monastery of Timahoe. Near at hand there is an
ancient church and graveyard, and it is said that a dim tradition still
lingers in the neighbourhood, of a saint, who used to retire to this cave
to fast and pray alone with God. As no person could see him leave the
cave, he was supposed to return to his own church further south by a
subterranean passage, which is believed to be still in existence, although
no one can ascertain its whereabouts.

During a great portion of his episcopal life Fiacc suffered much from a
fistula, or running sore, near his hip-joint, so that he was unable to
walk except with much pain and difficulty. St. Patrick commiserating
Bishop Fiacc's infirmity, sent him all the way from Armagh a present of a
chariot and horses. But Fiacc in his great humility was unwilling to
accept the gift, until an angel appeared to him, and assured him that
Patrick sent him the chariot and horses because he was acquainted with the
sore infirmity, from which Fiacc suffered, and wished to relieve him.
Then Fiacc reluctantly consented to ride in the chariot.

Thus it was that Fiacc spent a long life in labour, and prayer, and
silence, enduring also much physical suffering, until the poet-saint had
seen 'three twenties of his own disciples' precede him to the grave. His
youth was given to poetry, when he was taught by his uncle to chant the
war-songs of Ossian, and the bold deeds of the Fenian heroes; but his
manhood and old age were given to God's service when he was wont to chant
the diviner songs of the Royal Bard of Israel. He died about the year A.D.
510. He must have been at that time over ninety years of age, and we are
told he was buried in his own Church of Sletty.

There is hardly any document of higher importance in connection with the
early history of our Irish Church than the _Metrical Life of St. Patrick_,
written in his old age by the poet-saint of Sletty. The author having been
a Bard by profession very naturally wrote in metre, and in the ancient
language of the Bards of Erin. The cultivation of poetry was then as now
one of the fine arts most highly esteemed by an imaginative and impulsive
race. The authenticity of the poem has been questioned by some critics,
who think that there are certain expressions in the work itself, which
show that if not written, it certainly must have been retouched at a later
age.[103] We have carefully considered these arguments, and we feel bound
to say that we consider them very flimsy. Fiacc, it is said, speaks of
'history,' as telling us that St. Patrick was born at Nemptur, and studied
under Germanus--language, they say, which a friend and contemporary would
hardly use. But these are facts which he could not have known of his own
knowledge, and the statements of St. Patrick himself, and also of his
associates and companions, whether oral or written might very well be
described by the Irish words which the poet used probably because they
suited his metre.[104] Another objection is derived from two references to
Tara, where the poet says he wished not that Tara should be a '_desert_;'
and, again, where he says that the Tuatha of Erin at the advent of St.
Patrick, foretold that the land of Tara would be '_waste and silent_,'
from which these critics infer that the poem must have been written after
the cursing and desolation of Tara, about the middle of the sixth century.
But is this a just inference? Can anything be more natural than that the
Druids should declare the new faith would be fatal to the pagan royalty
of Tara, and that the poet immediately after when proudly referring to
Patrick's new spiritual sovereignty at Armagh, and the glory of his grave
at Downpatrick should add, to prevent misconception, that he himself did
not wish the destruction of the temporal sovereignty then flourishing at
Tara--'I wish not that Tara should be a desert.' As to the argument
derived from the fact that Fiacc is named Ard-espog of Leinster, we have
already stated, that this is merely, like arch-poet, an honorary title to
express pre-eminence and superiority in the spiritual office. The ablest
of our critics regard the poem as the genuine composition of Fiacc of
Sletty, the friend and contemporary of Patrick, written shortly after his
death in A.D. 493; and hence the earliest and most authentic biography of
the saint that has come down to us. It is, moreover, a document of supreme
importance, for competent judges, like O'Curry, have pronounced it to be
written in pure and perfect Gaedhlic. "It bears internal evidence," says
O'Curry, "of a high degree of perfection in the language, at the time it
was composed; it is unquestionably in all respects a genuine native
production, quite untinctured with the Latin or with any other
contemporary style or idiom." This is a most important fact, because in
our opinion it settles the question as to the use of letters and writing
in Ireland before St. Patrick. No language could by any possibility in one
or two generations be developed from being the rude unwritten jargon of an
unlettered people into a perfect written language of artistic structure
with definite grammatical form and arrangement. That the poem of Fiacc is
an elaborate composition of this character, indicating not only the
existence of settled grammatical forms, but also a great richness and
flexibility in the language, even the merest tyro in the Gaedhlic tongue
can perceive. Indeed in every respect it is much superior to the debased
Gaedhlic of the last three centuries.

This important poem was first printed by John Colgan, the father of Irish
hagiology. It has been reprinted much more accurately from the copy in the
Liber Hymnorum, T.C.D., and also in the _Irish Ecclesiastical Record_ for
March, 1868, where the philological student will find not only the text
and glosses, but also an accurate translation from the pen of one of our
most eminent Celtic scholars, Eugene O'Curry of the Catholic University of
Dublin. More recently the poem has been printed in Stokes' _Tripartite_
(Rolls Series), and in Haddan and Stubbs' _Councils_, etc.


In the _Book of Armagh_ there is a paragraph headed--Dicta Patritii--or
Sayings of St. Patrick. They appear to have been certain sayings which
were frequently on the lips of the apostle, and which came to be handed
down to posterity as expressive of his apostolic spirit. Brief and few as
they are, these spiritual maxims have been well chosen, and may be said to
govern in their application the whole life of the individual Christian, as
well as of the Irish Church.

First maxim--"I had the fear of God as the guide of my way through Gaul
and Italy, and also in the islands, which are in the Tyrhene Sea."[105]
The second maxim--"From the world ye have gone to Paradise." This saying
is taken from the Epistle to Coroticus, in which the Saint after bewailing
his slaughtered neophytes, yet rejoices that it happened after they
believed, and were baptized; for then they merely left this world to go to
Paradise. In course of time this appears to have been adopted in Ireland
as a consoling thought for the survivors that their deceased friends had
gone from this world to Paradise--"De seculo recessistis ad Paradisum."
Third maxim--"Deo Gratias"--thanks be to God. It was always on the lips of
St. Patrick--whether the news was good or bad, pleasing or displeasing,
the same word was there--"Deo Gratias." The fourth maxim--"O Church of the
Scots--nay of the Romans--as ye are Christians, be ye also Romans." That
is, as ye are Christians, and bound to obey Christ, so be ye also Romans,
obedient to the See of Rome. Maxim the fifth--"At every hour of prayer it
is fitting to sing that word of praise--'Lord have mercy on us, Christ
have mercy on us.' Let every Church which follows me sing--'Kyrie Eleison,
Christe Eleison, Deo Gratias.'" It would seem that the 'Kyrie Eleison' at
the beginning of Mass, and the 'Deo Gratias' at the end of Mass were not
at that early period universally chanted in the public liturgy. Hence the
Saint, who seems to have a special love for these two brief and fervent
expressions of pardon and thanksgiving, made it a rule that they should be
sung in the liturgy of all the Churches which he founded in Ireland. The
practice has since become obligatory throughout the universal Church.


The earliest memoir of St. Patrick was perhaps the Metrical Life by St.
Fiacc of Sletty, to which we have already referred. Of the Life of St.
Patrick in the _Book of Armagh_ we shall speak in the next chapter. But
what is called the "Tripartite Life" of the Saint is, as far as we can
judge, if not the earliest, certainly the fullest and most authentic
account of our national Apostle now extant.

It took its name of the Tripartite, or Three-Divisioned Life from the fact
that the whole history of St. Patrick is divided into three homilies, one
of which was probably preached by its author on each of the three festival
days celebrated in honour of the Saint--the Vigil, or day before--the
Feast itself--and perhaps the day after, or the Octave day. The preacher,
taking for his text the verses of Isaias--_Populus qui sedebat in tenebris
vidit lucem magnam_, etc., etc., declares that Patrick was of that light a
ray, and a flame, and precious stone, and a brilliant lamp, which lighted
the western world; and that he was Bishop of the west of the earth, and
the father of the baptism and belief of the men of Ireland. Then the
writer, or speaker, undertakes to narrate "something of the carnal
genealogy, of the miracles and marvels of this holy Patrick, as set forth
in the Churches of Christians, on the sixteenth of the Calends of April
(17th of March), as regards the day of the solar month." The Life, or
homily, next states explicitly that Patrick was by origin of the Britons
of Ail-Cluade--the Rock of the Clyde--now Dumbarton, a statement in which
we entirely concur. Calphurn was his father's name, and a noble priest was
he, and his grandfather was the deacon Potitus (Fotid in the Irish MS.).
In those early days, especially in the outlying provinces of the empire,
it was not unusual to seek for the fittest candidates for Holy Orders
amongst men, who had been married, or who were even at the time of their
selection married men. They were in fact the best candidates for the
sacred ministry that could be had at the time; for most of the young men
were not only without special training, but unreliable and licentious. It
was, however, the general rule in the western but not in the eastern
Church, that the married man after his ordination, and especially after
his elevation to the Episcopate, should abstain from all conjugal
intercourse with his wife. Such, for instance, was the case with St.
Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, the teacher and friend of St. Patrick. The
Irish Canons, too, even of the fifth century, are particularly imperative
on this point, and show clearly that although the celibacy of the clergy
was not, strictly speaking, obligatory even in the west during the
centuries of the persecutions, no sooner was the Church free to carry out
her own purposes than she strove to make this legislation compulsory
throughout all Christendom.

The second part of the _Tripartite_ begins with St. Patrick's arrival at
Tara to preach to King Laeghaire and his Druids, and is by far the most
momentous portion of the work. The third part begins with the statement
that Patrick left presbyter Conaed in Domnach Airther Maige, in the
province of the Northern Hui Briuin, and ends with an account of Patrick's
holy death and illustrious burial--"after founding churches in plenty,
after consecrating monasteries, after baptizing the men of Ireland, after
great patience and after great labour, after destroying idols and images,
and after rebuking many kings who did not do his will, and after raising
up those who did his will, after ordaining three hundred and three score
and ten[106] bishops, and after ordaining three thousand priests and
clerics of every grade in the Church besides, after fasting and prayer,
after mercy and clemency, after gentleness and mildness to the sons of
life, after the love of God and of his neighbours, he received Christ's
Body from the Bishop--from Tassach--and then he sent his spirit to
heaven"--in the hundredth and twentieth year of his age.

The most interesting question connected with this _Tripartite_ life is its
date and probable authorship. Unfortunately we have intrinsic evidence for
neither; the manuscript itself is silent both as to its date and
authorship. Hence there is much difference of opinion even amongst learned
and honest scholars. Colgan thought that St. Evin of Monasterevan, who
flourished about the middle of the sixth century, was its original author,
and O'Curry adopted the same opinion. Petrie thought it a "compilation of
the ninth or tenth century;" and Dr. Whitley Stokes, in his excellent
edition of the _Tripartite_, undertakes to show that "it could not have
been written before the middle of the tenth century, and that it was
probably compiled in the eleventh."

His arguments are two-fold--linguistic and historical. So far as the
former are concerned, we may fairly say that he is not a better authority
than O'Curry, and that if O'Curry thought this Life might have been of the
sixth century, no philological arguments of Dr. Whitley Stokes will
override his authority in that respect. But Stokes goes farther, and
quotes entries from the _Tripartite_, which he alleges must have been made
in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. This, we readily
admit, is a weightier argument. He cites nine or ten instances of this
kind, which, as he alleges, were neither additions nor interpolations.
Such, for instance, is the reference to Connacan, son of Colman, and
grandson of Niall Frossach, who was killed in Ulster, A.D. 873.

It is obvious that to prove anything it must be shown conclusively that
the event was referred to in the original _Tripartite_, and is that same
event which is recorded in our Annals in the ninth or tenth century. Yet
it is exceedingly difficult to prove this essential point. Take, for
instance, one of the clearest cases mentioned by Stokes, this death of
Connacan, grandson of Niall Frossach. Whoever examines this passage, which
is at page 174 (not 173) will notice that it is just such a statement as
might be added or interpolated by a copyist. The original writer quotes a
prophecy of St. Patrick that "the land of thy place (_i.e._, of Conaed)
shall not be reddened." The copyist then adds--apparently as of
himself--"Quod probavimus, when Connacan, son of Colman, son of Niall
Frossach (the Showery) came into the land with an army." Is this statement
that of the copyist or of the original writer? Until it is clearly shown
that it is a sentence written by the original author, no argument as to
the age of the _Tripartite_ can be based on it, or on similar passages.

This _Tripartite_ Life is on the whole the most valuable document
concerning St. Patrick that has come down to our times. It was written
chiefly in Gaedhlic of the purest type of the language, interspersed here
and there with passages in Latin. And it was because Jocelin has said that
St. Evin wrote a work of this kind,[107] partly in Irish and partly in
Latin, that Colgan not unnaturally infers that the _Tripartite_ must be
the work to which Jocelin refers. We certainly know of no other work of a
similar character to which Jocelin's observation can apply, and if there
were any other similar work we certainly should have heard of it either as
a lost or an extant work. Hence, although, _ratione formæ_, Colgan's logic
may be weak, _ratione materiae_, it is unimpeachable, no matter what Dr.
Stokes may say to the contrary.[108]



  "Fenced early in this cloistral round
  Of reverie, of shade, of prayer,
  How can we grow in other ground?
  How can we flower in foreign air?"


Before we can understand the nature of a monastic school, it is necessary
to get a clear idea of the general character of our Irish monasteries,
such as they were before the advent of the Danish hordes to this country.
This is all the more necessary, because a Celtic monastery of the olden
time was a very different thing from those great mediæval establishments,
whose ruins are still to be seen both in England and Ireland.

In ancient Erin they had no such structures as were built in later ages by
the Cistercians, Dominicans, and Franciscans--noble piles of buildings
with the stately church in the centre, surrounded by beautiful cloisters,
dormitories, kitchen, and all other necessary offices. These notions must
be entirely removed from the mind, if we wish to get an idea of the
primitive Celtic monastery, as it existed in the earliest and best days of
our Irish Church.

Of course monasteries in the spiritual sense--as moral entities--have
always been much the same in every country and in every age of the
Church's history. The plan of the spiritual edifice is found in the
Gospel, and has been drawn for all time by Christ Himself.

The true monk is a man, as his name implies, who whether in the city or in
the desert, should always strive to be alone with God. In this sense the
prophets Elias and Eliseus under the Old Law, like John the Baptist at the
threshold of the New Law, were monks in the most perfect sense of the
word. Then, again, the monk whether living alone in the desert, or in
community with others, must follow those counsels of perfection, which
have been set forth by the teaching and example of the Son of God Himself.
That is to say, he must renounce all worldly goods and live in poverty,
in chastity, and obedience, when he has a superior. If he has no immediate
superior, then he is a hermit, and God Himself, whom he seeks to please in
all things, becomes his Superior. These means of perfection have been
always deemed essential to the monastic character in the Church of God.
One cannot conceive a married monk, nor one in the full enjoyment of his
worldly fortune, nor one without a superior, except where he lives
altogether alone with God, following His inspirations; and even then the
bishop of the locality is always recognised by the Church as the Superior,
whom he is bound to obey.

With these essential means of perfection were also combined silence,
prayer and labour, whether manual or mental. Idleness is unknown to the
monastic state; the monk should be always doing something pleasing to God.
It may be to pray, or to read, or to work in the fields, or to take his
necessary rest, but he must be always doing the work of God.

Monasticism in one sense or another always existed, and always will exist
in the Church. It flourished amongst the first Christian communities at
Jerusalem, who had only one heart and one soul, who sold their lands and
houses, and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles to feed the poor.
It existed in the catacombs during the persecutions, and took more
definite shape in the deserts of Syria, Egypt, and Armenia.

At first the monk was, as his names implies, a hermit--eremites--one who
lived alone in the desert in the practice of evangelical perfection. Such
were St. Paul, St. Anthony, Serapion, and thousands of others who imitated
their example and lived in solitary cells or rocky caves in Syria,
Armenia, and Nitria on the western shores of the Nile some thirty miles
from Cairo. Pachomius seems to have been the first who formed these
solitaries into a community following one rule and recognising a common
superior. He founded his monastery at Tabenna, on the Nile, in Lower
Egypt. His sister is said to have been the first who founded a convent of
nuns not far from her brother's monastery, in order that she might have
the benefit of his advice and direction. The exact date cannot be
ascertained; but as he died rather young, about the year A.D. 349, it
cannot have been much earlier than A.D. 340. St. Anthony had indeed
already undertaken the guidance of certain solitaries, who had placed
themselves under his direction. But it was Pachomius who really changed
the monasteries, or rather the laura, into a 'convent,' in which all the
members of the community dwelt within the same building,[109] were subject
to the same rule, and obedient to the same Superior. This change, however,
as might be expected, was not accomplished at once; it was rather very
gradual, and grew out of the necessities of the time. The laura, which was
a group or village of monastic cells, surrounding the oratory and cell of
the abbot, under whose direction the monks assembled for their common
devotions in the church and sometimes for their common meals in the
refectory, was the intermediate stage of monastic development, and it
continued to be, both in Egypt and in Ireland, for many centuries the
prevalent form of monastic life.

From Egypt and Syria monasticism was brought to Rome about the middle of
the fourth century by Athanasius, the great champion of the Divinity of
Christ, by Honoratus, who founded the island monastery of Lerins, and by
John Cassian, whose Institutes were a kind of manual in all the earlier
monasteries of the West.

The great St. Martin of Tours, the father of monasticism in Gaul, was
inspired by the writings of Athanasius, and under the influence of that
inspiration founded his own monastery at Ligugé, and subsequently at
Marmoutier, on the banks of the Loire, which became the cradles of
monastic life in Gaul. We have already seen that St. Patrick had full
opportunity of learning the discipline of Marmoutier; and of course what
he learned there and elsewhere, he carried home with him to Ireland. But
his life was too full of missionary labours to be given to the government
or foundation of monasteries. That work was left to the rising generation;
by them it was undertaken and nobly accomplished. Enda of Aran, Finnian of
Clonard, Brendan of Clonfert, and their associates of the Second Order of
the Irish Saints, were the men who first founded regular monasteries and
monastic schools in Erin.

In trying to give a view of the general character of the monastic
institutions founded by those holy and learned men, it is well to consider
the subject in its various aspects; that is to say, the Buildings, the
Discipline and Government, and the Work of an Irish Monastery. We have
abundant materials to help us in this inquiry in the Monastic Rules, in
the lives of the founders of these houses, and in the remnants of the
ancient buildings themselves, which are still to be seen on our remotest
shores and islands. But there is one work especially valuable in this
enquiry--that is, _Adamnan's Life of St. Columba_, edited by the learned
Dr. Reeves, late Bishop of Down and Connor. No other work that we know of
is so valuable and so indispensable to the Irish ecclesiastical historian,
and none has been edited with greater learning and impartiality.


The various buildings connected with an Irish monastery were generally but
not always surrounded by a circular or oval rampart, which was at once a
protection against enemies, or wild beasts, and also a limit beyond which
the brethren were not allowed to wander without permission, and within
which strangers, as a rule, were not allowed to intrude. Women were in all
cases excluded from the sanctuary within this boundary. The wall or
rampart was composed sometimes of earth dug up from a fosse at its base,
when it was called a _rath_ or _lis_; sometimes of stone, when it was
called a _caiseal_, and sometimes of earth faced with stone, and then it
was known rather as a _caithir_ than a _caiseal_. The name _dun_,
according to Dr. Petrie, was indifferently applied to any of these
structures. But O'Curry quotes an ancient legal tract, which proves that
the _dun_, strictly speaking, was "an enclosure made by two walls or
mounds, with water between them." (_Manners and Customs_, vol. ii., p. 4.)
This mur or mound was sometimes very strong and very high, fenced, too,
with stakes on the top, and when necessary was double or threefold, with a
deep dyke between each rampart. There was generally only one entrance, and
when danger was apprehended from lawless foes, this entrance was strictly
guarded night and day. It was considered sufficiently effective against
the passing attacks of the native spoilers; but when the Danes began their
bloody and relentless raids, the round tower was found to afford a much
stronger and safer asylum.

The monks in surrounding the ecclesiastical village with a _rath_ or
_caiseal_, adopted no new contrivance. It was the custom of the country to
surround the home of every chieftain's family with a similar defence,
which the unsettled state of the country at the time rendered very

The principal building within the monastic enclosure was of course the
church. If it were a cathedral church, or one of the greater abbey
churches, it was usually built of stone, and termed in Gaedhlic a
_daimhliag_, that is, the stone-house by excellence; because very many of
the churches of an inferior kind were built of more perishable materials,
composed of clay and wood, or wattles. Hence Colgan used the Latin word
'Basilica,' as equivalent to the Irish term, _daimhliag_. Churches of this
kind varied of course in dimensions, but were relatively large; generally
speaking, they were about 60 feet in length and 30 broad.[110] If the
church were merely an oratory for the abbot and his monks, along with such
casual strangers as might happen to be present at the time, it was called
a _duirtheach_, and in the southern and western parts of the country,
where stone abounded, and wood was scarce, it was frequently built of
stone as in Kerry and Galway. But far more frequently, especially in the
east and north-east, it was built of wood, which explains the frequent
reference in our annals to the burning of buildings of this
character.[111] The term itself was derived from _daire_, an oak wood.

Adjoining the church, or oratory, there was frequently another building
called an _erdamh_ or _urdumh_, which Petrie thinks was a building
adjacent to the side wall of the church, whence its name--_ear-dom_, a
side-house--serving the purpose of a sacristy and store-house for the
sacred utensils. During the Danish period especially, the round tower is
found near the west entrance of the principal church, but as we think this
was a later feature introduced into the Irish monastic buildings, we
decline to discuss that question further for the present. The abbot's
house was generally very near his oratory, with which it was sometimes
connected by a passage underground, or roofed with flags; and sometimes it
was under the same roof with the oratory as in Columcille's house at
Kells, and probably also at St. Kevin's _Cro_ or 'Kitchen,' at
Glendalough. The cells of the monks were distributed in convenient spots
over the sacred enclosure, sometimes in the form of irregular streets or
squares, according to the nature of the ground. We are inclined to think
from the small size of the existing stone cells that every monk had a
separate cell for his own use; although it would, no doubt, sometimes
happen in Ireland, as it certainly often happened in Egypt, that three or
four monks had to live in the same cell. They had no beds, in the modern
sense of the word; they either slept on the naked earth, or on a skin,
which sometimes covered a heap of straw or rushes. There was only a
single entrance, and generally speaking no windows of any kind to the
cells. In form they were nearly always circular, about ten feet in
diameter by seven in height. When built of stone they were cone-shaped and
brought to a point at the summit by a gradual inclination of each course
of flags above the other, yet the builders seemed to be ignorant of the
principle of the arch. More generally, however, the cells were constructed
of wood, or wicker work, and these, although by no means so durable, were
probably much more comfortable than the cells of stone.

One of the most necessary buildings for a laura or monastery was the
kitchen--the _cuicin_ in Irish, or _culina_ in Latin. St. Patrick's
'kitchen' at Armagh was seventeen feet long, and is spoken of as one of
the principal buildings within the lis, or monastic enclosure. The
_Tripartite Life_ of the Saint in the same place tells us that the Great
House was twenty-seven feet in length, and consequently much longer than
the 'kitchen' with which it seems to have been connected. The Great
House--if not the church--was in all probability the refectory or
dining-room, which is more generally and appropriately called in Irish,
the _proinn-teach_, or dinner-house. It is doubtful if we have any
specimens of the Refectories or Kitchens of our earliest monasteries still
surviving, because as a rule they were composed of perishable materials.
Another important building annexed to the monastery, but generally outside
the enclosure was the Hospice, or Guest-House, where strangers were
entertained with the utmost hospitality, whether they came as mere
visitors (_peregrim_), or penitents to atone for their sins, and receive
spiritual consolation. There was, however, another class of guests
(_hospites_), distinguished ecclesiastics or princes, the friends of the
abbot or community, who were treated with the greatest consideration. They
were admitted within the sacred enclosure, and if bishops or priests they
were usually invited to officiate for the community. There is no more
beautiful trait of monastic hospitality than the consideration with which
the monks treated distinguished strangers, and the care they bestowed on
the poor.

There were two other indispensable buildings connected with the
monastery--the store-house for provisions, and, wherever a stream of water
could be had, a kiln for drying, and a mill for grinding their corn. Bread
was always the main sustenance of the monks, and hence the site of the
monastery was generally so chosen that a rivulet could be artificially
dammed up, and thus supply sufficient power to turn a small water-wheel to
grind their corn. We find traces of these dams even in the most unlikely
places, where in our day no one would dream of erecting a mill. The
manifest reason is that it was a great saving of manual labour, for if the
monks did not grind their corn with water, they should grind it with the
hand-quern. For obvious reasons, too, one, or more wells were also near
the monastery; sometimes, too, they were covered over to preserve the
water from the pollution of cattle or rubbish. These wells, used and
blessed by so many generations of holy men, are very naturally now deemed
"blessed wells." Such then was the general character of the monastic
enclosure and the monastic buildings--not one imposing edifice, as in more
modern times, but rather a village of huts surrounding the church and
house of the abbot, and enclosed by a large circular rampart of earth or
stones. Within the enclosure in the larger monasteries a workshop for the
smith and carpenter was generally provided, and the lay brothers were
frequently expert in the use of their tools. When the monastery was
surrounded by marshy land, a _tochar_ or stone causeway was built to the
nearest highway, in order to facilitate communications with the outer


In monasteries we must not confound the essential discipline of every true
religious house with the accidental differences, which may be found in
different monasteries, and still more in different Orders, or under
different Rules. The essential monastic discipline is always the same, but
there are, so to speak, several varieties of the species, and these
varieties are best exhibited to us in the various Rules which the founders
of Religious Orders have left for the guidance of their spiritual
posterity. The learned Dr. Reeves[112] seems to doubt if the founders of
our Irish Religious Houses ever promulgated any systematic Rule like that
of St. Benedict. We certainly have no Irish Rule, not even that of
Columbanus, so definite or so systematic as that of St. Benedict; the
legal organizing mind of the Italian herein displays its superiority to
the untutored mind of the Celt. Moreover, Benedict is, so to speak, more
human; he is not so terribly austere in his discipline as are our Irish
Saints; and no doubt this was one great reason why it was that when his
Rule and that of St. Columbanus were brought into rivalry in France and
Northern Italy, the Rule of Benedict conquered.

We cannot, however, admit that our Irish Saints did not frame distinctive
and definite Rules, although not at all, in our opinion, so distinctive or
so definite as the great Rule of St. Benedict. Eugene O'Curry tells us
that he examined in the original Irish, eight different Monastic Rules, of
which "six are in verse, and two in prose, seven in vellum MSS., and one
on paper." These are the Rule of St. Ailby of Emly, addressed to Eugene,
son of Saran; the Rule of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise; the Rule of St.
Comghall of Bangor; the Rule of St. Columcille; the Rule of St. Carthach
of Lismore; St. Maelruain's Rules for the Culdees; a Rule of later date
for the Grey Monks; and lastly, the Rule written by the famous Cormac Mac
Cullinan, the King-Bishop of Cashel. The three most important of these
Rules have been published in the _Irish Ecclesiastical Record_, that is
the first, the Rule of St. Ailby, for the son of Saran; the Rule of St.
Carthach of Lismore; and the Rule of St. Maelruain of Tallaght.

By comparing the general ordinances laid down by the founders of our early
monasteries, and still more by carefully noting the references made to the
domestic and religious discipline in the Lives of the founders themselves,
we can obtain a very distinct idea of the true character of monastic life
in Ireland.

The "Abbot" was the superior of the monastic family, and frequently had
several houses under his supreme control. He generally lived at the
mother-house, where he had a separate cell larger than that of the other
brethren, and usually very near to the church or oratory. The branch
houses were then governed by local superiors frequently called 'priors,'
but they were subject to removal by the Abbot, who had the right at any
time of visiting the establishments subordinate to the mother-house; and
this right was repeatedly exercised, as we know, from the Lives of Enda,
Brendan, and Columcille. Sometimes the Abbot was a bishop, but more
frequently during the sixth century he was not, as in the case of Enda and
Columcille, and very probably of St. Brendan also. Nearly always, however,
in that case a bishop was a member of the religious community, who
performed all the episcopal functions and received all the honour due to
his office; but, as a member of the community, he was inferior in
jurisdiction, and otherwise obedient to the Abbot. During this period
diocesan jurisdiction was not well defined, because there was a great
number of bishops in the country, and dioceses properly so called were
only in process of formation. At this early age the diocese, or
'parrochia,' of a bishop in many cases extended only to the church or
churches which he or his predecessor had founded, and to their adjacent
territory. It was a fixed maxim, however, that if one saint had
established himself in a district another was not to intrude on his
territory without his permission. St. Brendan is said to have at first
established himself near the Shannon, at a place called Tulach Brendain;
but when he found that he was within hearing of the bell of St. Ruadhan of
Lorrha, he removed further to the north and established himself at
Clonfert, whereupon St. Ruadhan prophesied that Brendan's 'parrochia'
would be blessed by God, and in after years become greater than his own.
And so it came to pass.

The monastic "Family" included priests, deacons, minor clerics, and lay
brethren, who all yielded implicit obedience to the Abbot as to the
representative of God in their regard. The life of the community was a
'warfare;' they were soldiers of Christ, and hence were to be trained and
armed for this spiritual combat. Therefore they stripped themselves of the
encumbrance of worldly goods, and entered the 'arena' quite 'naked.' They
were obedient to the voice of the general, and always ready to sacrifice
their lives for Christ. Their obedience was like that of Christ--an
obedience unto death. St. Brendan once told one of his monks to go to save
another who was sinking, and die in his stead. The monk did so without a
murmur--the brother was saved but the rescuer perished.[113]

The Rule of St. Columba prescribes absolute _nakedness_ from worldly goods
in imitation of Christ. No brother could possess anything of his
own--everything was in common. The community itself was poor; the inmates
were to be content with the bare necessaries of life--anything beyond that
was for the poor and the stranger. Of course chastity was deemed
essential, so much so that no woman was permitted to enter the monastic
enclosure; in certain cases they were even excluded from the island on
which the monastery was built. The members of the community were to be
"virgins in mind and in body;" it was not mere celibacy, but perfect
chastity--in thought, and word, and work--that was required from all true
monks. In all this, however, there is nothing peculiar to Irish
monasteries--these virtues have been always considered essential to the
monastic state, although not always professed by solemn vow.

"Silence, which is the practice of justice," says the Rule of St.
Columbanus,[114] "must, at every task and in every place, be carefully
observed." The tongue is the source of many sins, and hence the monks are
strictly forbidden to speak except when there is need, and even then with
caution. Of course when abroad it would be difficult to observe silence,
but still the spirit of the Rule was to be followed. Even the Abbot, in
his necessary communication with his subordinates, was to be brief and to
the point. The monks frequently communicated their more usual wants by
silent signals, especially in the refectory, lest speaking would interfere
with the reading, which always took place at meal time.

"Humility" in spirit and the external practice of that virtue were
specially inculcated, because spiritual pride is one of the sins most
dangerous to religious men, and most difficult to guard against. The Rule
of St. Carthach of Lismore requires the monk to live in humility and
self-abasement towards all persons, high and low, showing to every one
"devotion, humbleness, and enslavement." The brethren in Columcille's
monasteries spoke to the Abbot on their knees. If rebuked by his superiors
for any fault the monk remained prostrate on the ground until the words of
blessing admonished him to rise up--it mattered not whether the brother
was really culpable or not, he was to demean himself as a culprit.

One of the characteristic virtues of our Celtic monasteries was their
spirit of hospitality. Every monastery had its guest-house for the
reception of strangers. They were to be saluted both when coming and going
by bowing down the head, and in case of persons of greater consideration
by prostration. St. Comgall of Bangor, himself, washed the feet of Columba
and his companions, when they came to visit him at Bangor. Upon their
arrival the guests were generally received either by the Abbot in person,
who gave them the kiss of peace, or by the brother in charge of the
hospice, who attended to their immediate wants. One of the first things
done was to wash their feet; they were then led to the church to join in a
short prayer for their safe arrival. Afterwards they partook of
refreshment, and had an opportunity of conferring with the Abbot. When a
distinguished guest arrived, the best cheer the monastery afforded was
produced. It became a feast day for the entire community; even if it were
an ordinary fasting day, by St. Benedict's Rule the fast was to be relaxed
in honour of the guest. No sinner, who came in a spirit of penance was
excluded; but if not penitent, notorious sinners were very properly
excluded from the monastic enclosure.

The discipline of the Irish monasteries as to fasting was very rigid. This
rigour began in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria, and was afterwards
imitated in the West. But in the cold and stormy climate of Ireland such
observances must have been exceedingly trying to human nature. Yet,
perhaps, nowhere in the Church were these penitential exercises carried
out with such unsparing rigour. The penances, even apart from fasting,
practised by some of our Irish Saints were simply appalling. In our days
we should consider them almost suicidal. To spend half the night up to the
neck in a stream of cold water, to sleep on the rock in a cell or cave
without coverlet or pillow, to wear the same coarse garment until it fell
to pieces in rags, to spend the whole of Lent in the woods or mountains
with only a few loaves of bread and a little water, were not unusual
exercises of mortification in those days of primitive fervour. This was,
however, mostly the case with hermits or recluses. The discipline of the
regular monastic life was severe, but not quite so rigorous as this.

The ordinary meal for the 'family' was barley or oaten bread, with milk
when it could be had, and a little fish, perhaps sometimes eggs. Flesh
meat was rarely allowed except on high festival days or when distinguished
strangers came to the monastery. The brethren were then allowed a share of
the good cheer provided for the strangers. There was, however, except for
those labouring in the fields, only one meal in the day--the Columban Rule
borrowed from Bangor expressly says that the fare was to be plain and
taken only in the evening, that is, after noon.[115] Vegetables, porridge,
and baked bread are the principal items mentioned as allowable, and barely
as much as would support life. Excessive abstinence from food, however,
was to be deemed a vice, not a virtue; but to some extent a monk was to
fast every day. The 'order of refection, and of the refectory,' is one of
the most interesting portions of the Rule of St. Carthach of Lismore.[116]
He allows an ample meal for the workman and special delicacies for the
sick. On Sundays and other festivals of the year, especially on the
greater festivals, meals were 'increased.' From Easter to Pentecost was
also a season of full meals--"without fasting, heavy labour, or great
vigils." The Summer and Winter Lent are more bitter to laics than to
monks, for to the latter all seasons should be as Lent. The meal was to be
at vesper time only, except from Easter to St. John's Day, when a
refection was also allowed at noon. The bell was to be the signal for the
meal, but first there was a Pater with three genuflections in the church;
then the meal was blessed. Alleluia was sung, and a benediction pronounced
by the Senior, who said, "God bless you." The meal was followed by
thanksgiving, after which all retired to their cell for private prayer
preparatory to vespers. Wednesday and Friday were generally fast days.

The ordinary dress consisted of a _cuculla_ or habit of coarse undyed wool
with a hood, and a tunic or short underneath garment. Sandals were
sometimes worn when travelling, but rarely at home. There is no mention
made of any covering for the head but the cowl or hood, which was
sometimes thrown over it. No doubt a leathern or hempen girdle was worn
round the loins. The monk slept in his clothes on a pallet of straw in his
cell. He had a straw pillow under his head, and probably some kind of a
rug for a coverlet in severe weather. St. Columba himself slept on the
bare stone, which was covered only with a skin, and this practice seems
not to have been unusual.


St. Columbanus tersely describes the daily work of every monastery when he
says--"Ergo quotidie jejunandum est, sicut quotidie orandum est, quotidie
laborandum, quotidieque est legendum."[117] Fasting and prayer, labour and
study, are the daily task of the monks in every monastery. How patiently
and unselfishly that toil was performed the history of Europe tells. The
monks made roads, cleared the forests, and fertilized the desert. Their
monasteries in Ireland were the sites of our cities. To this day the land
about a monastery is well known to be the greenest and best in the
district; and it was made fertile by the labour of the monks. They
preserved for us the literary treasures of antiquity; they multiplied
copies of all the best and newest works; they illuminated them with the
most loving care. They taught the children of the rich and the poor alike;
they built the church and the palace; they were the greatest authors,
painters, architects, since the decline of the Roman Empire. They were the
physicians of the poor when there were no dispensary doctors; they served
the sick in their hospitals and at their homes. And when the day's work
was done in the fields or in the study, they praised God, and prayed for
men who were unable or unwilling to pray for themselves. Ignorant and
prejudiced men have spoken of them as an idle and useless race. They were
in reality the greatest toilers, and the greatest benefactors of humanity
that the world has ever seen.

Religious exercises were the first duty of the monk--'_Orare_.' This was
called the Work of God, and consisted of Mass, the Divine office, with
private prayer and meditation. The Holy Sacrifice was celebrated every
day, at which all the community was to attend; it was generally at an
early hour in the morning, before the labour of the day began. The
ordinary canonical hours were chanted in choir--Matins and Lauds generally
at midnight. Mistakes, even from inadvertence in chanting, were punished
by Columbanus with a small penance-genuflection. The brethren labouring in
the field were not required to attend in choir during the day. The entire
psaltery seems to have been recited during the daily office at least at
certain times of the year. If a brother had any leisure he might, at any
time, retire to the oratory to pray. At all their incomings and outgoings
they made the sign of the cross, sometimes turning themselves to the east.
It seems, too, that making the same holy sign was a frequent method of

A novitiate of varying length was observed before a candidate was admitted
to the brotherhood. After suitable probation, he took the monastic
vow[118] before the Abbot and the brethren on his knees in the church. It
was a very solemn vow taken "in the Name of the High God." The tonsure (up
to A.D. 640) from ear to ear was generally received by the brethren, even
when they did not intend to proceed to higher orders. It was considered to
be a sign of the total renunciation of the world, and a dedication of
oneself to the service of God. Yet, the monk did not, properly speaking,
belong to the clergy.

_Study._--The study of the Sacred Scriptures was daily practised by the
learned members of the community--the younger got by rote a portion of the
Psalter until they could recite the whole from memory, for books were then
very scarce. They had also the study of the Greek and Latin languages, and
of the Fathers in the Irish Monasteries, as we shall more fully explain
hereafter. The Lives of the Saints were read for the community and
conferences--collationes--like those of Cassian on spiritual and
theological questions were frequently held under the presidency of the
abbot or prior.

_Writing_ formed a principal part of the literary work in every monastery.
There was a special building set apart for that purpose called the
_Scriptorium_ where all necessary appliances, waxen tablets, parchments,
inks, styles, pens, were to be had, and a library was also kept for the
use of the students and the custody of the books. Too often both buildings
were burned, and their precious treasures lost for ever. The work of
transcription was executed with great care and beauty. To be 'a choice
scribe' was an accomplishment highly prized by the individual and by the
community. That our Celtic monks were indeed the choicest of the choice is
abundantly proved by the marvellous beauty of many of our existing

_Manual Labour._--It was a maxim in all our primitive Irish monasteries
that the monks were to support themselves by the labour of their hands.
The mendicant orders, who lived to a great extent on the alms of the
faithful, were a later institution, first introduced into Ireland about
the year A.D. 1225. Hence, in every monastery a number of the stronger
brethren devoted themselves mainly to manual labour, and indeed all, even
the scribes as well as the literary and artistic workmen, were required to
give some time to manual labour also. In their case it would serve as
healthy recreation, while, at the same time it would remind them that all
the members of the community were on terms of strict equality, and that no
privileged classes were recognised amongst them. Everything that the
community needed was produced or procured by themselves. They raised their
own corn; they themselves dried and ground and baked it into bread. They
had their own dairy; they milked their own cows; they made excellent
cheese and butter; for no female was allowed to live amongst them, or even
permitted to enter the monastery. They had their own sheep, and their
habits were produced from the wool, combed, spun, and woven by themselves.
They built their own churches and cells, whether of stone or of timber;
they made their own simple furniture and kitchen utensils: they cut and
dried their own fuel, both turf and wood; they washed their own habits,
about the cleanliness of which, however, they were not always over
particular. When a monk died there was no need of an undertaker--his
brethren made the grave, and he was simply buried in his habit, with the
cowl over his head. No man could say they were idlers, or that they were a
burden to the community. They owed nothing to the general community, but
the community owed much to them. Everything needed for food, clothing, and
shelter they produced themselves--even the very soil of their fields they
reclaimed from the woods and the wilderness.

Both church and monastery were furnished in the simplest style--they
devoted more attention to holiness of life and purity of heart than to the
magnificence of their buildings. As we have already seen, the church was
not large, only what was needed for the accommodation of the brethren, and
where the community was large we find several churches close together, to
which the various sub-divisions of the community repaired. The altar was
generally of stone, sometimes merely a rectangle of plain masonry--not
even cemented--and covered with a flag or slate. Such is the altar in the
oratory of St. Molaise on Innismurray Island, which is still to be seen in
that highly interesting spot, within the little stone-roofed duirteach of
St. Molaise. The chalices were of simple workmanship--of metal, wood, or
even sometimes of stone, if the vessel No. 34, second cross case, in the
Royal Irish Academy, be indeed an ancient chalice. The paten was generally
composed of the same material as the chalice itself. St. Patrick is said
to have discovered chalices of glass or crystal in a cavern in the
mountains of Breifney, after crossing the Shannon for the first time into
Connaught. We have no specimen of very ancient vestments; they were,
probably, of a simple character, but certainly not destitute of

In some of the churches mention is made of an _urdumh_, or sacristy,
properly a 'side-house,' opening on the chancel of the church, and having
also an exterior door for the clergy as at present. In several of the
churches, however, we find no trace of any sacristy. Bells were used to
summon the community to the church and to the refectory; they were
generally square hand-bells, made of sheet iron or bronze, of which some
very ancient specimens are still extant.

In the refectory we find reference made to the table, also to the use of
knives, drinking-cups, probably made of wood, and ladles; in the kitchen
we hear of frying-pans, grid-irons, pots and water jars, doubtless similar
to those used in the houses of hospitality throughout the country
generally, specimens of which may still be seen in the museum of the Royal
Irish Academy. They were able to fuse metals in Hy, for on one occasion we
are told that St. Columba blessed inadvertently a butcher's knife, but his
attention being called to the nature of the article, he said it would
never hurt man or beast again. As the butcher tried in vain to kill a
heifer with the knife--it could not on account of the saint's blessing,
even pierce the skin--the knife was smelted down, and all the instruments
were dipped in the liquid metal, so that they never again cut or wounded
any flesh on account of the might of the saint's blessing. It would seem,
therefore, that, at least in the larger establishments, besides the
carpenter, there were also brothers of the community, who worked in
metals, such for instance as smiths and braziers. Existing remains prove
beyond doubt that in metallurgy the Irish monks were pre-eminently
skilful, both in originality of design and delicacy of execution. In this
special department they seemed to have distanced all rivalry during the
Middle Ages.

We see, then, that in the monastery there were not merely artisans, such
as are needed for the purposes of every-day life, but artists of the
greatest skill and ingenuity.

We shall take occasion hereafter to point out how instruction was
communicated in the schools, and to explain what educational appliances
were at their disposal, the subjects that were taught, and the proficiency

In connection, however, with this chapter, it is necessary to say
something of the Three Orders of Irish Saints, to which reference will
frequently be made in the following pages.


We shall find, at least, to some extent, a new departure in the great
monasteries and monastic schools, founded during the sixth century by the
saints of the Second Order. Every one who knows anything of the history
of this period will have heard of these Three Orders of Saints in the
Celtic Church, but by whom they were first thus arranged and characterised
is altogether unknown. Tighernach, the celebrated annalist of
Clonmacnoise, is the earliest who refers to them as thus classified, and
he died A.D. 1088.

The ancient document in which they are thus formally classified purports
to be a "Catalogue of the Saints in Ireland, according to the different
times in which they flourished."

The First Order was in the time of St. Patrick. They were all then great
and holy bishops filled with the Holy Ghost, 350 in number, the founders
of churches, worshipping one head, namely, Christ, following one leader,
Patrick, and having one tonsure, and one celebration of Mass, and one
Easter, which they celebrated after the vernal equinox; and what was
excommunicated by one Church all excommunicated. They did not reject the
service and society of females, because founded on Christ the Rock, they
feared not the wind of temptation. This Order flourished during four
reigns, that is, during the time of Laeghaire, son of Niall (A.D. 432),
who reigned thirty-seven years, and of Ailill Molt, who reigned thirty
years, and of Lugaid, who reigned seven years. And this Order continued to
the last years of Tuathal Maelgarbh (A.D. 543). They all continued holy
bishops, and they were chiefly Franks and Romans,[120] and Britons, and
Scots by birth.

The Second Order of Saints was as follows:--In the Second Order there were
few bishops, but many priests--in number 300. Whilst worshipping God as
their one head, they had different rites for celebrating, and different
rules of living: they celebrated one Easter on the 14th noon; they had a
uniform tonsure, videlicet, from ear to ear. They shunned the society and
services of women, and excluded them from their monasteries. This Order
also flourished during four reigns, _i.e._, during the last years of
Tuathal Maelgarbh, and during the thirty years of the reign of Diarmaid,
the son of Cearbhall, and during the time of the two grandsons of
Muiredach, who reigned seven years, and during the time of Aedh, son of
Ainmire, who reigned thirty years (A.D. 597). These received their rite
for celebrating Masses from the holy men of Britain, from St. David, and
St. Gildas, and St. Docus. And the names of these are--Finnian, Enda,
Colman, Comgall, Aidus, Ciaran, Columba, Brandan, Birchin, Cainnech,
Coemghan, Lasrian, Lugeus, Barrind, and many others who were of this
Second Order of Saints.

The Third Order was of this kind:--They were holy priests and a few
bishops, one hundred in number, who dwelt in desert places. They lived on
herbs and the alms of the faithful; they despised all things earthly, and
entirely avoided all whispering and detraction. They had different rules
(of life), and different rites for celebrating; they had also a different
tonsure, for some had the crown (shaven), but others kept their hair (on
the crown). They had also a different pashcal solemnity; for some
celebrated it on the fourteenth, but others on the thirteenth moon. This
Order flourished during four reigns, that is, from the time of Aedh
Slaine, who reigned only three years, and during the reign of Domhnall,
who reigned thirty years, and during the time of the sons of Maelcobha,
and during the time (of the sons of) Aedh Slaine. And this Order continued
down to the time of the great plague (in A.D. 664). Then follows a list of
their names.

Whereupon the writer says:--"Note that the First Order was most holy, the
Second holier, and the Third holy. The First glowed like the sun in the
fervour of their charity; the Second cast a pale radiance like the moon;
the Third shone like the aurora. These Three Orders the blessed Patrick
foreknew, enlightened by heavenly wisdom, when in prophetic vision he saw
at first all Ireland ablaze, and afterwards only the mountains on fire;
and at last saw lamps lit in the valleys. These things have been extracted
from an old _Life of Patrick_."[121]

Such is the account given in our ancient books of the Three Orders of the
Irish Saints.

We have here followed the copy of this ancient document, taken from the
_Salamanca MS._, lately published at the expense of the Marquis of Bute.
It is beyond doubt a very ancient and most interesting document; but for
the present we can only refer to those points that concern our immediate

It clearly marks a transition as having taken place in the early part of
the sixth century from the missionary church of St. Patrick, who was
engaged in founding churches and preaching the Gospel, to the monastic
church of the sixth century. It emphasises the rejection of female
ministration by the monks, and the exclusion of females from the
monasteries, a thing that could not be done and never has been done in
the case of the secular clergy living in the world, and engaged in
missionary labour. The observation that "what was excommunicated by one
church was excommunicated by all," seems to point to a more perfect unity
in the Patrician Church than existed during the second half of the sixth
century. The central authority both in Church and State during the latter
period was notably weakened. It is clear, too, that different rules of
life were followed in different monasteries, and also that different rites
were used in the celebration of Mass, and this document asserts that the
rite used by the saints of the Second Order was derived from Wales--from
David, Gildas, and Docus. This is a most important statement, if it is
well founded; for it shows that these saints of the Second Order derived
both their liturgy and discipline, not from St. Patrick and his immediate
disciples, but rather from the great Welsh Schools that grew up during the
sixty years when St. Patrick was engaged in preaching the Gospel in
Ireland. Indeed, although Ware says that St. Patrick himself wrote a
monastic Rule, we can find no good authority for the statement. His hands
were full, and he was too busy to attend to the organization of monastic
life, beyond laying down these general principles that are common to all
monastic houses. It is a much stranger thing that the saints of the Second
Order should introduce into Ireland, so soon after St. Patrick's death,
those later modifications in the liturgy which they saw in use in the
Welsh monasteries. It is insinuated, too, that St. Patrick and his
disciples followed the correct Easter, but that the saints of the Second
Order introduced the British Easter, which was celebrated on the
fourteenth day of the moon, as well as the frontal tonsure from ear to
ear. As we shall hereafter see, this statement about the time of
celebrating Easter is quite inaccurate, but may have crept into the text
through the fault of copyists.

The important point to bear in mind is that these saints of the Second
Order are represented as deriving their liturgy and discipline from
British sources; and it is also expressly stated that this liturgy and
discipline differed in some respects from the liturgy and discipline
introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and practised by his immediate
disciples. This is a question of great interest, but by no means easily
solved. As a matter of fact, it seems highly probable that the saints of
the Second Order did, to a great extent, derive their monastic discipline
from two great British sources, as will again be more fully explained in
treating of St. Enda of Aran and St. Finnian of Clonard.



  Our Kings sat of old in Emania and Tara;
  These new Kings whence are they? Their names are unknown!
  Our saints lie entomb'd in Ardmagh and Kildara;
  Their relics are healing, their graves are grass-grown.


The School of Armagh seems to have been the oldest, and always continued
to be one of the most celebrated, of the ancient schools of Ireland. It
dates in all probability from the very foundation of the See of Armagh,
for it has always been regarded in the Church as one of the primary duties
of a bishop to make provision for the training and education of his
ecclesiastics, and as far as possible under his own immediate supervision.
We may be sure that our great Apostle did not neglect his duty; and,
indeed, the most ancient writers inform us that the School of Armagh dates
from the foundation of the See--the history of one is in fact told in the
history of the other.

St. Patrick had purposed to build his Church and found his primatial See
in the sweet and flowery fields of Louth, where the deep seclusion of a
sheltered meadow wooed his weary heart to build a house for God, and a
home for his own declining years. But God had willed otherwise. "Get thee
northward," said the angel visitor, "to the height of Macha (Ard-Macha);
it is there that Providence wills that you should build your church and
fix your chair for ever." Promptly, though regretfully, the Apostle
obeyed; and crossing the slopes of Slieve Gullion soon came in sight of
the swelling hills of Macha of which God's angel spoke--

              "So long as Sea
  Girdeth this isle, so long thy name shall hang
  In splendour o'er it like the stars of God."

The place had long been famous in the legendary history of Ireland. It was
the classic ground of poetry and romance. Navan fort, just one mile to the
west of the present city of Armagh, was the site of the ancient and
famous palace of Emania, founded three hundred years before the Christian
era by Macha of the golden hair, who traced the site of the rath with the
brooch of gold from her neck, and hence it was called _Eamhuin_, in Latin
_Emania_, but pronounced in Irish _avan_, so that with the article
prefixed it becomes _Navan_, or "the fort of the neck-brooch," the name
which it retains to the present day. Macha of the golden hair was buried
on the height called from her Ard-Macha, although the spot cannot be
exactly identified. To the westward of Navan fort is a townland now called
Creeveroe, which takes its name from the famous Red Branch Knights
(Craebhruadh), who dwelt on that western slope of Emania where they had a
school of Chivalry, in which they were trained to all martial feats of
valour, and were always at hand to defend their sovereign and follow him
to the battle-field. When St. Patrick came to Ard-Macha, that home of
chivalry was silent and deserted, for Emania had been totally destroyed by
the Three Collas about the year A.D. 322, after it had flourished for more
than 600 years. The old order changed, yielding place to the new, and the
foundress of Emania gave her name to the royal seat of a more enduring

When Patrick, with his train of clerics, came to Armagh, he went straight
to the local dynast, whose name was Daire--a grandson, it seems, of
Eoghan, son of Niallan, who gave his name to the barony of Oneilland.
Daire was a rough and bold, but not a cruel prince; he had heard, too, of
Patrick and of the God of Christians; so when the Saint asked him for a
site of a church on the Ridge of the Willows (Druim-Saileach), although he
refused him that proud site on the hill, he granted him leave to build a
church in the neighbouring plain to the west, which was called _Na
Fearta_, or the Church of the Graves. But Daire, greedy even for what he
had given to God, sent down two of his fleet coursers to graze on the
green and fertile meadow which Patrick had enclosed for his church. It was
very necessary to teach the rude warriors of the time that God's acre may
not lawfully be profaned by man or beast, so it came to pass that when the
horses tasted of the grass, they both fell dead, and the king's servants
brought word to their master that the Christian priest had killed them.
Daire's brow grew dark, and mentally he swore that he would slay Patrick
and all his people, when suddenly he sickened with a sickness nigh to
death. Then in great haste the queen, "whose lustrous violet eyes were
lost in tears," sent a messenger to the Saint and besought him to heal
her husband, for she knew his malady was a chastisement from God. Patrick
yielded to the woman's gracious prayer, and blessing water from the font,
he gave it to the messengers, and bade them sprinkle therewith the horses
and the king. This was done, and lo! the horses came to life again, and
the king's sore sickness left him.

Then Daire sent to Patrick as a gift a huge bronze cauldron, in those days
a gift not unworthy of a king. The Saint, raising his eyes from his
breviary, said "Deo gratias," but no more. "How did the priest receive my
gift?" said the king. "'Gratzicam' was all he said," replied the
messengers. Then the king in wrath bade them go again, and bear away the
gift from the ungrateful priest; and again Patrick merely said, "Deo
gratias." "What said he now?" asked the king. "Only 'Gratzicam,'" answered
the messengers. "It is strange," said Daire. "'Gratzicam,' when it is
given; and 'Gratzicam' when it is taken away. The word must be good. I
will restore him the cauldron, and give him the Ridge of the Willows that
he may build a church unto his God."

So Patrick, and Daire with his queen, and the clerics and the warriors of
Daire ascended the slope, and on the crown of that sacred hill, Patrick,
book in hand, marked out the site of the church, and all the buildings
connected therewith, and consecrated it to God for ever. Now it came to
pass that as the concourse was advancing, a doe with her fawn was lying
under a tree. The startled doe flew swiftly away to the north, and the
king's attendants were going to kill the little fawn, but Patrick said,
"No"; and stretching forth his hand he took the fawn, and put it on his
own shoulders, and the doe taking courage followed him home, and remained
with the nuns of Na Fearta ever after, giving them milk, too, beside
feeding her fawns. This lesson of love and tenderness even to the brute
creation produced a great effect on the warriors of Daire. They saw how
Patrick pitied the poor doe, and would not hurt its offspring; they saw in
him the image of that Good Shepherd of whom he spoke to them so often; and
thus they were made to learn that the Gospel of Patrick was a message of
love--of love for God, their great Father in heaven, and for all their
fellow-men on earth.

According to the _Book of Armagh_, written about the year A.D. 807, the
doe with her fawn was lying on the very "spot where the altar of the
northern church in Ard-Macha now stands;" and Patrick carried the fawn on
his shoulders until he laid it "on another eminence at the north side of
Armagh where, according to the statement of those who know the place,
miraculous attestations are to be witnessed to this day." (Fol 6: b. 2.)
The northern church to which the reference is made--built on the very spot
where the doe was lying--is generally thought to have been the Sabhall, or
Barn, called also the "_Ecclesia Sinistralis_," because it was to the left
of the great church, for persons entering the latter from the west. The
great church itself known as the _Damhliac_ (Duleek), or the great Stone
Church, occupied the site of the present Protestant cathedral; and it is
an extraordinary coincidence that the new Catholic Cathedral, the crowning
glory of modern Armagh, stands on the opposite hill to the north dwarfing
by its majestic proportions the Protestant church--and stands, it is said,
on that very "eminence to the north" whither the great apostle carried the
fawn on his shoulders! The hunted doe there found rest; and there, too,
that other "milk white hind," during the stormy centuries of the past, so
often doomed to death, yet fated not to die, was destined to find a refuge
and a home. "Great shall be the glory of this last House, more than of the
first, and in _this place_ I will give thee peace, said the Lord of
Hosts." (Agg. 2, 10.)

There were many other ecclesiastical buildings at Armagh, of which we can
only mention the names. There was the _Damhliac Toga_, or the "Stone
Church of the Elections," on the south side of the Cathedral, but close at
hand; there was a _Cloictech_, or Round Tower, at its north-west angle;
there was a _Teach Screaptra_, or House of Writings, also within the
original rath; and besides the Abbot's House, we hear of the _Cuicin_ or
Kitchen, the prison for refractory monks or students, and the _Reilig_ or
Cemetery, which was more to the south, but afterwards extended all round
the church. It was there that Brian Boru and his gallant son, Murchadh,
were interred after the battle of Clontarf in 1014. Maelmuire, the
Primate, proceeded with his clergy and relics to Swords, and waked the
royal dead with all honour and reverence. Then they carried the bodies to
Armagh, and they were both interred in the same new tomb.

All these buildings, including the houses for the monks and students,
crowned the summit of the holy hill, and were surrounded with a large rath
or earthen mound, as well as by a _Fith-nemhedh_, or Sacred Grove, where
learning and religion sat side by side enthroned for many centuries in
spite of much turbulence and bloodshed.

The Churches and Schools of Armagh are said to have been founded between
the years A.D. 450 and 457--we can scarcely assign an earlier date. At
that time St. Patrick had done much for the conversion of Ireland, but
much still remained to be accomplished, so he chose and consecrated as his
coadjutor Benignus, his young and faithful disciple, to preside over the
Church of Armagh and over all its monasteries and schools. Thus in truth
we may regard Benignus as the first president, and one of the chief
professors of the young seminary which St. Patrick had just founded.
Benignus from his boyhood had been trained by St. Patrick himself; he had
accompanied him hitherto on all his missionary journeys; he was
"psalm-singer" to the Saint, by whom he was tenderly loved, and not
without good cause. The brief story of the life of Benignus is very
touching--beautiful with a beauty that is all divine.

As we have seen, when St. Patrick first came to preach the Gospel in
Ireland, he coasted northward, seeking a suitable spot to land, and
amongst other places he put in for a little at the stream now called the
Nanny Water in the County Meath, a little to the south of Drogheda. There
he visited the house of a certain man of noble birth, by name Sescnen,
whom, after due instruction, he baptized, together with his wife and
family. Amongst the children there was one, a fair and gentle boy, to whom
the saint, on account of the sweetness and meekness of his disposition,
gave in baptism the appropriate name of Benignus. Shortly after the
baptism Patrick, wearied out with his labours by sea and land, fell asleep
where he sat, as it would seem, on the green sward before the house of
Sescnen. Then the loving child, robed in his baptismal whiteness, gathered
together bunches of fragrant flowers and sweet smelling herbs and strewed
them gently over the head and face of the weary Saint; the child then sat
at his feet, and pressed Patrick's tired limbs close to his own pure heart
and kissed them tenderly. The Saint's companions were in the act of
chiding the boy, lest he might disturb Patrick, who thereupon awaking and
perceiving what took place, thanked the tender-hearted child for his
kindness, and said to those standing by: "Leave him so; he shall be the
heir of my kingdom," by which he meant, says the author of the _Tripartite
Life_, to signify that God had destined Benignus to succeed Patrick in the
primatial chair as ruler of the Irish Church. After this nothing could
separate the boy from his spiritual father; he hung on the words of wisdom
that fell from Patrick's lips; he accompanied him everywhere, and thus
from his boyhood was trained by the apostle himself in all divine and
human knowledge. We cannot stay to discuss the question whether Secundinus
preceded Benignus as coadjutor to St. Patrick in the See of Armagh. It
seems he did; it is certain at any rate that for ten years, about the time
we speak of, that is, from A.D. 455 to 465, Benignus ruled under the
guidance of Patrick the Church and School of Armagh.

His voice was sweet and pleasing, and his knowledge of the chants of the
church was very considerable, acquired doubtless from Patrick himself, who
had been trained in Gaul and Britain. Hence he was "psalmist" to Patrick,
he led the choir of priests and monks at all the solemn ceremonies, and he
trained the "wild eyed" Celtic youth to sing the praises of God like
another Orpheus, softening them into Christian meekness by the charms of
sweet melody--the melody of his voice and the still sweeter melody of his
gentle heart.

Yet though a child of grace he had need of caution. His own sweet winning
ways,[122] the music of his voice, his face so modest and so fair, deeply,
though to himself unconsciously, won the affections of Ercnat, the
beautiful and yet unbaptized daughter of King Daire. Most of all she was
smitten by his sweet voice in the choir of the church. But she told no
one; only going home she pined away in silence, and "through grief of love
the maiden lay as dead." Then at length Benignus hearing the cause, went
and told his father Patrick, and Patrick gave him holy water, and bade him
go and sprinkle it over the dying maiden. At once she awoke to a new life,
with her heart emancipated from every trace of earthly love.

                "Thenceforth she loved the spouse of souls.
  It was as though some child that dreaming wept,
  Its childish playthings lost, by bells awaked--
  Bride-bells, had found herself a Queen new wed
  Unto her Country's Lord."
                              --_Aubrey de Vere._

St. Benignus died, it is generally stated, on the 9th of November, A.D.
468. A short time before his death he is said to have resigned his
primatial coadjutorship, for St. Patrick was still alive, at least
according to the much more general and more probable opinion, which
places his death in A.D. 493, at the great age of 120 years. The death of
Benignus is thus noticed in the _Martyrology of Donegal_:

    "November 8th, Benignus, _i.e._ Benen, son of Sescnen, disciple of St.
    Patrick, and his successor, that is Primate of Ard-Macha.... The holy
    Benen was benign, was devout; he was a virgin without ever defiling
    his virginity, for when he was psalm-singer at Ard-Macha along with
    his master, St. Patrick, Ercnat, daughter of Daire, loved him and she
    was seized with a disease so that she died (appeared to die) suddenly;
    and Benen brought holy water to her from St. Patrick, and he shook it
    upon her, and she arose alive and well; and she loved him spiritually
    afterwards, and she subsequently went to Patrick and confessed all her
    sins to him, and offered her virginity to God, so that she went to
    heaven; and the name of God, of Patrick, and of Benen was magnified
    through it."

The celebrated Irish work called the _Leabhar Na g-Ceart_, or _Book of
Rights_, has been generally attributed to St. Benignus, although there
seems to be good reason for doubting if he was really its author, at least
in its present form. The title or inscription of the book certainly
attributes it to Benignus. It is to this effect: "The beginning of the
_Book of Rights_, which relates to the revenues and subsidies of Ireland
as ordered by Benen, son of Sescnen, Psalmist of Patrick, as is related in
the _Book of Glendaloch_."

The _Book of Glendaloch_ is no longer extant; but it seems clear from this
very title that the work in its present form is derived from the ancient
compilation known as the _Book of Glendaloch_, and which the Four Masters
tell us was in their hands when composing their own immortal work. The
copy in the _Book of Glendaloch_ may have been itself made from the
original treatise on the subject by St. Benignus, who was in every way
well qualified for the task, both by his literary training as well as by
his knowledge of his native language, and his familiarity with the laws
and customs of the various provinces.

The title of the book very fairly describes its contents. It gives an
exceedingly minute and interesting account of the revenues and rights of
the supreme king; of the services and duties rendered to him by the
provincial kings and inferior chiefs, as well as of the gifts and
subsidies which he owed them in return. It gives also a full account of
the revenues and rights of each of the provincial monarchs, and the
services to be rendered to them by the sub-chiefs of the various
districts, and the hereditary offices and honours held by the heads of the
great families in the provincial assemblies. The work is partly in poetry
and partly in prose; and although in its present form it cannot have
dated from the time of St. Benignus, it is still an exceedingly valuable
work as illustrating the internal organization of the entire kingdom, and
its minor principalities, and may have been originally drawn up by that
learned and holy man, with a view of preventing internecine feuds, by
definitely and authoritatively fixing the rights and duties of the various
princes and chiefs of the kingdom. This work has been translated and
annotated for the Dublin Archæological Society by the late John O'Donovan.
St. Benignus is said by Jocelin to have written also a life of St.
Patrick, but no copy of it is now known to exist; and he has been always
regarded as one of the compilers of the great collection of Brehon Laws
known as the _Senchus Mor_.

The School of Armagh seems to have been primarily a great theological
seminary. This is only natural; for the seat of authority should be also
the fountain of sound doctrine. Of course in those far distant days
theological learning had not assumed the strictly scientific form which
was given to it by the great scholastic doctors, and which has been
retained and gradually perfected ever since. It was the Positive Theology
of the Fathers that was taught in our ancient Irish schools. But the
difference regards the form rather than the matter; in both cases the
matter is derived from divine revelation. The Fathers, however, explained
and enforced the great principles of Christian doctrine and morality with
rhetorical fulness and vigour, exhibiting much fecundity of thought and
richness of imagery, but not attending so closely as the great scholastics
to scientific arrangement, or to the accurate development of their
principles and the logical cogency of their proofs. Each of these systems
has its own merits and defects; the former is better suited for the
instruction and exhortation of the faithful, the latter for the refutation
of error; the Positive Theology was of spontaneous growth; the Scholastic
System has been elaborately constructed; the one is a stately tree, that
with the years of its life, has gradually grown in size and beauty to be
the pride of the forest; the other is the Gothic Cathedral that from its
broad and deep foundations has been laboriously built up, stone by stone,
unto the glory of its majestic proportions and the strength of its perfect

One of the most famous books in the schools of Ireland, and especially of
Armagh, was the _Morals of St. Gregory the Great_. It is a very large
treatise in thirty-five books, and though nominally a commentary on the
_Book of Job_, it is in reality one of the most beautiful works on moral
theology in its widest sense that have been ever penned. Every verse of
Job is made the text for a homily, not a homily of a formal character, but
a series of moral reflections conveyed in sweet and touching
language--language in which argument and exhortation are very happily

On Sacred Scripture St. Jerome seems to have been their great authority.
We know both from the fragments of Aileran the Wise, published by Migne,
and from the Irish manuscripts of St. Columban's great monastery at
Bobbio, that our Irish scholars were familiar with nearly all his works.
In Dogmatic Theology we do not think that during the first two centuries
of their history the Celtic scholars were familiar with the writings of
St. Augustine on Grace; they seem to have derived their dogma from St.
Hilary, and other writers of the French Church, rather than from the great
Father of the African Church.

One of the earliest and most distinguished teachers of the School of
Armagh, after the time of St. Patrick and Benignus, was Gildas the Wise.
Many writers think there were at least two great saints of this name--the
Albanian Gildas, and his namesake, Gildas of Badon (Badonicus), to whom
the appellation of the Wise more properly belongs. We are inclined to
think there was only one great saint of the name, and that the distinction
is due to that confusion and uncertainty in our early chronology, which
has been the fruitful parent of many errors. However, we are more
concerned with facts than with dates, and it is an undoubted fact, stated
by his biographer, Caradoc of Llancarvan, that Gildas was Regent or Rector
of the great School of Armagh for several years, after which he returned
to Wales from Ireland about A.D. 508, when he heard that his brother Huel
had been slain by King Arthur, who, by the way, in sober history is by no
means the "blameless King" he is represented to be in the romantic idyls
of Lord Tennyson. Here are the exact words of Caradoc, the biographer of
Gildas. After stating that Gildas, a most "holy preacher of the Gospel,"
passed over to Ireland from Wales, and there converted very many to the
Catholic faith, he adds:--"Gildas, the historian of the Britons, who was
at that time (when his brother was killed), living in Ireland, being
rector of the school, and a preacher in the city of Armagh, hearing of the
death of his brother," returned to Wales and was reconciled to Arthur.
Thus we learn that Gildas, the historian of the Britons, was the same
Gildas who had been head of the School of Armagh, the preacher renowned
throughout all the Britains, and the first historian of that nation. His
work called _The Destruction of Britain_,[123] is still extant, and shows
that he was a man of large culture and of great holiness, in every way
qualified to rule the Schools of Armagh. He gives a fearful picture of the
Britons of his time, reduced as they were, to the greatest extremities by
domestic tyrants and foreign foes. The first part of his work gives a
sketch of British history, both civil and ecclesiastical, during the Roman
domination in Britain, of the devastations by the Picts and Scots, and of
the advent of the Saxons and Angles. The second part, called the "Epistle
of Gildas," is addressed to the five petty princes, or tyrants, of
Britain--to Constantine, whom he charges with perjury, robbery, adultery,
and murder; to Aurelius, whom he calls a "lion's cub;" to the "panther,"
Vortiporius; to the "butcher," Cuneglass; and to Magnoclunus, the "insular
dragon." On the whole, it is a very spicy piece of writing, and clearly
proves that the Welshmen of the time more than merited by their crimes the
bitter chastisements which they received at the hands of the Saxons. The
third part of the work is addressed to the clergy, and he rebukes them
with no less severity of language. He is a new Jeremias, denouncing woe
against the faithless pastors who sold the priesthood, who are the blind
leaders of a blind flock, which they bring with themselves into perdition.
There is certainly no want of vigour, although there sometimes may be of
eloquence, in the style of this work. It shows a wonderful familiarity
with the text and the application of Sacred Scripture; and shows, too,
that Gildas the Wise, the regent of the School of Armagh, was in truth a
deep divine, and must have been, beyond all doubt, a powerful preacher.

We know little or nothing of the writings of the subsequent teachers in
the School of Armagh, but we have a record of the names of several, with
eulogies of their wisdom and scholarship. The number of English students
attracted to these schools by the fame of their professors was so great
that in later times we find that the city was divided into three wards, or
thirds, as they were called--the Trian Mor, the Trian-Masain, and the
Trian-Saxon--the last being the English quarter, in which the crowds of
students from Saxon-land took up their abode, and where, as we know on
the express testimony of a contemporary writer, the Venerable Bede, they
were received with true Irish hospitality, and were all, rich and poor,
supplied gratuitously with food, books, and education. No more honourable
testimony has been ever borne to any nation's hospitality and love of
learning than this. Alas, that England, in the centuries that followed,
could make no better return to the Irish people, who, says Bede, had been
always most friendly to the English, than to make it penal for an Irish
Catholic to teach a school in his native land.

In the opinion of the learned Bishop Reeves, the Trian-Saxon was the
district now occupied by Upper English Street and Abbey Street, and gave
its name to the former.

Any one glancing at the Annals of the Four Masters will find frequent
reference made from the sixth to the twelfth century to the deaths of the
"learned scribes," the "professors of divinity," the "wise doctors," and
the "moderators," or rectors of the School of Armagh. In A.D. 720, 727,
and 749, we find recorded the death of three of these learned scribes
within a very short period. Their duty was to devote themselves to the
transcription of manuscript-books in the _Teachscreaptra_, or House of
Writings, corresponding to the modern library. The _Book of Armagh_,
transcribed there in A.D. 807, shows how patiently and lovingly they
laboured at the wearying work; "as if," says Miss Stokes, "they had
concentrated all their brains in the point of the pen." In A.D. 829 died
Cernech, a priest and scribe who was known as the Wise by excellence; in
A.D. 925 died Maelbrighde, successor of Patrick, "a vessel full of all the
wisdom and knowledge of his time," and eulogies of this fashion are of
very frequent occurrence in recording the deaths of the great scholars of

And yet, during these very centuries the schools, the churches, and the
town itself suffered terribly from the lawless men of those days,
especially from the Danes. Armagh was burned no less than sixteen times
between the years A.D. 670 and 1179, and it was plundered nine times,
mostly by Danes, during the ninth and tenth centuries. How it survived
during these centuries of fire and blood is truly marvellous. In A.D.
1020, for instance, we are told by the Four Masters that "Ard-Macha was
burned with all the fort, without the saving of any house in it except the
House of Writings only, and many houses were burned in the Trians (or
streets), and the Great Church was burned, and the belfry with its bells;
and the other stone churches were also burned, and the old preaching
chair, and the chariot of the abbots and their books in the houses of the
students, with much gold, silver, and other precious things." It is
evident that on this occasion the efforts of the community were directed
to secure their invaluable manuscripts, the loss of which could never be
repaired. Yet the city and schools of St. Patrick rose again
Phœnix-like from their ashes. In A.D. 1100, Imar O'Hagan, the master of
the great St. Malachy, was made abbot just two years before the death of
St. Malachy's father, the blessed Mugron O'More, who had been "chief
lector of divinity of this school, and of all the west of Europe."

It was this same Imar O'Hagan, who, when made archbishop in A.D. 1126,
rebuilt the great church of St. Peter and St. Paul in more than its
ancient splendour, and introduced into the Abbey the Canons Regular of St.
Augustine. These Canons by their learning and zeal effected a complete
restoration of piety, discipline and learning, which had been much
neglected during the ravages of the Danes. Twelve years later we have a
record of the death of O'Drugan, chief professor of Ard-Macha, "paragon of
the wisdom of the Irish, and head of the council of the west of Europe in
piety and in devotion." Just at this time, in A.D. 1137, the great
Gelasius, who well deserved his name--the Giolla Iosa, or servant of
Jesus--succeeded St. Malachy in the See of Armagh, and in spite of the
disturbed state of the times raised the school to the zenith of its
splendour. In A.D. 1162 he presided over a synod of twenty-six bishops,
held at Clane in the County Kildare, in which it was enacted that no
person should be allowed to teach divinity in any school in Ireland who
had not, as we should now say, graduated in the School of Armagh. To make
Armagh worthy of this pre-eminence, we find that in A.D. 1169, _the very
year in which the Norman adventurers first landed in Ireland_, King Rory
O'Connor "granted ten cows every year from himself, and from every king
that should succeed him for ever, to the professor of Ard-Macha in honour
of St. Patrick, to instruct the youths of Ireland and Alba in learning."
And the professor at the time was in every way worthy of this special
endowment; for he was Florence O'Gorman, "head moderator of this school
and of all the schools in Ireland, a man well skilled in divinity and
deeply learned in all the sciences." He had travelled twenty-one years in
France and England, and at his death in A.D. 1174 had ruled the Schools of
Armagh for twenty years. It was well for the venerable sage that he died
in peace. Had he lived four years more, he would have seen the sun of
Armagh's ancient glory set in darkness and in blood, when DeCourcy and
DeBurgo and DeLacy year after year swooped down on the ancient city, and
plundered its shrines, and slaughtered or drove far away its students, its
priests, and its professors. Once again Emania was made desolate by
ruthless hands, and that desolation was more complete and more enduring
than the first. We may hope, however, that the proud cathedral just built
on Macha's Height gives promise of a glorious future yet in store for the
ancient city of St. Patrick.

In connection with the School of Armagh we may appropriately speak of the
_Book of Armagh_. It is one of the oldest, and, beyond any doubt, the most
valuable of the ancient books of Ireland.[124] Its contents are singularly
varied and interesting, and its history, too, has a melancholy interest
for Irish scholars. To Dr. Ch. Graves, Protestant Bishop of Limerick, is
due the merit of fixing the date of its transcription. In one place there
is an entry asking a prayer for Ferdomnach--pro Ferdomnacho ores--and in
another place there is an entry which Dr. Graves deciphered with the use
of acids, to this effect--"Ferdomnach wrote this book from the dictation
of Torbach, the heir of St. Patrick."[125] Torbach was primate only for a
single year (A.D. 807); and we find from the _Annals of the Four Masters_
that Ferdomnach "a sage and choice scribe of the Church of Armagh," died
in A.D. 844. We are justified, therefore, in concluding that Torbach, the
primate in A.D. 807 (he died on the 16th of July in that year) had this
great work transcribed under his own direction by the choice scribe,
Ferdomnach. Moreover, before his elevation to the primacy, Torbach had
been himself a scribe of the Church of Armagh, and thus very naturally
took an interest in the transcription and preservation of this great
treasure of his church.

The Danes, too, at this time, hungry for pillage and slaughter, were
hovering around the coasts of Ireland. They had as yet made no descent on
Armagh, but they had at several points round the coast, especially on the
islands, as at Rathlin in A.D. 794, and Innismurray, off the coast of
Sligo, in A.D. 804, and at Iona where sixty of the clergy and laity were
slain by the foreigners. It was of the highest importance, therefore,
just at this time, to secure a copy of this ancient book. We know, too,
from several marginal entries, that it had in some places become so
illegible from age and use that the "choice scribe" had great difficulty
in ascertaining the genuine text, so that we are justified in inferring
that even in A.D. 807 it was a very old book, highly prized in the Church
of Armagh. The sketch of the life of St. Patrick given in this book
purports to be taken down by Bishop Tirechan from St. Ultan, who so early
as A.D. 650 was Bishop of Ardbraccan, in Meath, and partly also from the
dictation of Muirchu Maccu Mactheni, at the request of his preceptor,
Aedh, Bishop of Sletty. It is not too much then to say that the Life of
St. Patrick in the _Book of Armagh_, is perhaps the oldest and certainly
the most authentic document of its kind in existence in Ireland. The
handwriting of the book, too, is uniform throughout, and very beautiful,
showing that Ferdomnach was, indeed, as he is called in the Annals, a
"choice scribe."

Some leaves are wanting in the beginning, but they do not seem to be of
great importance. We have, first of all, the short life of St. Patrick,
and annotations thereon in Latin and Irish--the Irish is now, perhaps, the
very oldest form of the language to be found anywhere. We have next a
treatise on the rights and privileges of the Church of Armagh; then the
Confession of St. Patrick, followed by the words--and they are very
important--"Hucusque volumen quod Patritius scripsit manu sua"--_this is
the part of the volume which Patrick wrote with his own hand_. The
reference seems to be principally to the _Confession_, and clearly implies
that the original copy was made from the autograph of the apostle himself.

After this come several other tracts, amongst them an entire copy of the
New Testament,[126] Gospels and Epistles, including the spurious epistle
to the Laodiceans. The Gospels, in Dr. Todd's opinion, are of the
recension of St. Jerome, but not so the Epistles. They bear no traces of
his correction, a thing, however, not without example in ancient
manuscripts. There is next a copy of the beautiful life of St. Martin of
Tours, written by the "Christian Sallust," Sulpicius Severus, which is the
last complete treatise in the book, although there are, here and there,
extracts from that work so famous in the early Irish Church, the
_Moralia_ of St. Gregory the Great.

One of the most remarkable features in the _Book of Armagh_ is that many
of the Gospel headings are written in Greek characters, and the last entry
of all is a colophon of four Latin lines, but written in Greek letters,
showing clearly that even at this early date a knowledge of Greek was
general in our Irish schools.

This book was, not unnaturally, looked upon, on account of its sacred
character and great antiquity, as the priceless treasure[127] of the
Church of St. Patrick. It was incased in a shrine so early as A.D. 937 by
Donogh, son of Flann, King of Ireland, and a special custodian was
appointed to guard it. He was called the _maor_, or steward, who had the
custody of the book, and as the office became hereditary in one family,
they were allowed lands for their support, and came to be called
MacMoyres--the descendants of the Keeper. Alas, for human nature! when
Oliver Plunket, the martyr Primate of Armagh, was tried in A.D. 1681 for
treason, in London, and sentenced to be executed on the testimony of those
whom the sainted prelate described as "merciless perjurers," two of the
MacMoyres, Florence and his brother John, were amongst the perjured
witnesses that swore away his life. And what is saddest of all, the
wretch, Florence MacMoyre, was at the time the custodian, or keeper, of
the _Book of Armagh_, and pawned it for £5 to a Protestant gentleman,
Arthur Brownlow of Lurgan, that he might, it seems, find means to go over
to London and earn his blood-money by betraying the noblest Heir of
Patrick that ever sat in his primatial chair.

The folios of the _Book of Armagh_ were arranged, numbered, and incased by
Mr. Brownlow, in whose family the work continued down to the year A.D.
1853, when it was purchased for £300 by the late venerable and learned Dr.
Reeves, who had been for many years preparing to print it, and there was
none more capable than he to execute that task. From Dr. Reeves the book
passed on the same terms to Primate Beresford, by whom it was presented to
the library of Trinity College, where it is open to the inspection of all
scholars through the great courtesy of the librarian, Dr. Ingram,

CHAPTER VI--(_continued_).


  "Brigid is the Mary of the Gaedhil."
                              --_Book of Hymns._


From Armagh we not unnaturally turn to Kildare. If St. Patrick is the
father, St. Brigid is the mother of all the saints of Erin, both monks and
nuns. She may be regarded not only as the foundress of the monasteries and
School of Kildare, but also, in one sense at least, of the diocese of
Kildare itself. She has always been deemed one of the three great patron
saints of Ireland. Her festival was honoured next after that of St.
Patrick himself. The name has always been a favourite one with the
daughters of Ireland. She was a woman not only of great virtues but of
great talents; and exercised a powerful influence on the Church in her own
day. She was the hope of the poor, the counsellor of bishops, the guide of
kings; and to some extent that influence is felt even at the present hour.
Her history, too, is exceedingly interesting, and throws much light on the
manners and morals of those early days. We can, however, only give the
reader a brief sketch of the leading incidents in her very remarkable

Although Brigid was the greatest, she certainly was not the first of the
daughters of Erin who dedicated their virginity and their lives to the
service of Jesus Christ, and received the veil from St. Patrick himself.

The sisters twain who died after their baptism at Clebach's Well, on the
slopes of Rath Cruachan--Fedelm the ruddy, and Ethne of the golden
hair--were probably the first daughters of Erin[128] who put on the veil
for Christ.

"Patrick put a white veil upon their heads," as we are told in the
_Tripartite_, and having received Communion--Christ's Body and His
Blood--they fell asleep in death, and Patrick laid them side by side under
one mantle in the same bed. And their friends bewailed them greatly; but
God's angels rejoiced, for they were the first fruits that the Spouse took
to himself from all the land of Erin.

About the same time Mathona, the sister of the young and gentle Benignus,
received the veil from Patrick in the first bloom of her youth and beauty.
It seems she accompanied her brother, who attended the Apostle all the way
from the banks of the Boyne; and that she, too, had the privilege of
ministering to Patrick and his companions. She had heard, if she had not
seen, how, when Patrick abode at her father's house near Inver Boinde, the
earth opened wide its jaws and swallowed up the wizard or Druid, who had
mocked at Mary's virginity;[129] and she resolved to become a virgin like
unto Mary. So when Patrick had crossed the Shannon, and was come to Elphin
in Roscommon, we are told that he went thence to Dumacha of the Hy
Ailella, and founded there at Senchell, near Elphin, a church in which he
placed Maichet, and Cetchen, and Rodan, the arch-priest, and Mathona,
Benen's sister, who took the veil from Patrick and from Rodan, and became
a religious. She afterwards crossed the mountain to the north-east and
founded a church and convent of her own at Tawnagh, near Lough Arrow, in
the county Sligo. This is the second express reference to the profession
of a nun in Ireland. Bishop Cairell was also placed by St. Patrick in
Tawnagh to watch over that infant establishment.

It is not unlikely that the 'sisters twain of Fochlut's wood,' whose
infant voices had summoned Patrick over the sea, calling him to come and
walk once more amongst them, were also clothed with the religious veil by
the Saint, when he went to Tyrawley. He certainly baptized them there, and
we are told that they are the patronesses of the church called "Cell
Forgland," which was situated a little to the north of Killala over the
present road to Palmerston.

                            "On a cliff
  Where Fochlut's Wood blackened the northern sea,
  Their convent rose. Therein these sisters twain,
  Whose cry had summoned Patrick o'er the deep,
  Abode, no longer weepers. Pallid still
  In radiance now their faces shone; and sweet
  Their psalms amid the clangour of rough brine."[130]

We are told in the same _Tripartite_ that once when Patrick was at Armagh,
nine daughters of the King of the Lombards came over the sea, and a
daughter of the King of Britain came also on a pilgrimage to Patrick, and
they tarried at the place near Armagh, called Coll-nan-Ingen--the Hazel of
the Daughters. Some of the virgins died and were buried there, but the
others went to Drum-Fendeda, and there abode. The virgin Cruimtheris,
however, went and set up at Cengoba, and Benen used to carry food to her
until Patrick planted an apple tree for the holy virgin; and then she
lived on the fruit of that tree and on the milk of a doe, that grazed in
her little orchard.

There is no doubt therefore that Patrick received the vows of many holy
virgins in Erin before St. Brigid was professed. As Benen himself was the
earliest and apparently the best beloved of Patrick's disciples, so his
sister was amongst the first of the daughters of Erin that he clothed with
the veil of virginity, and there is every reason to believe that her holy
relics sleep in the old church of Tawnagh, in Tirerrill, co. Sligo.

It is not improbable, too, that Patrick received the vows of St. Fanchea,
the sister of the celebrated St. Enda of Aran, whose convent was
established at Rossory, on the shore of Lough Erne. Hereafter we shall see
how Enda owed his own conversion to his sister, St. Fanchea, and as this
event must have taken place about the year A.D. 480, she herself may have
seen St. Patrick, if she did not receive the veil from his hands.

We shall see hereafter also, when treating of St. Brendan, that the
convent of St. Ita was founded about the same time.

She was the Brigid of Munster and the nursing mother of many other saints
besides St. Brendan. Her memory is fondly cherished to this day in the co.
Limerick, and immense crowds of people still assemble on her feast day at
Killeedy, where the ruins of her ancient church are still to be seen. So
the virgins of Christ were established everywhere in Ireland during the
life-time of St. Patrick himself, and many must have made their profession
before St. Brigid. But that holy virgin in other respects has eclipsed
them all, and has come to be regarded as the queen and the mother of all
the holy virgins, whose names are known in Erin, or as Ængus calls
her--'the head of the nuns of Erin.'

A great controversy rages round the parentage of St. Brigid. Cogitosus,
the author of the _Second Life_, as given by Colgan, was a monk of
Kildare, who flourished not later than the end of the eighth century, and
must therefore be recognised as a competent authority. He declares that
she was born of Christian parents of a noble race, and this statement is
confirmed by the author of the SIXTH LIFE, who was a monk of the island of
Iniscaltra, in Lough Derg. All the authorities, indeed, admit that she was
noble on the father's side, for Dubhtach, her father, was a chieftain, the
tenth in descent from the celebrated Feidhlimidh Rechtmar, the Lawgiver, a
King of Ireland, who flourished in the second century of the Christian
era. But the authors of the _Third_, _Fourth_, and _Fifth Lives_ of the
Saint declare that Brigid's mother was a female slave or captive in the
house of Dubhtach, that her own birth was illegitimate, and that shortly
before that event took place, the captive maiden, her mother, whose name
was Brocessa, was driven from her home through the bitter jealousy of her
master's wife, and sold to a certain Druid or magus, who carried her to
Faughart, where the future saint was born. It is difficult to assign any
reason why the admirers of St. Brigid should invent this story; on the
other hand it is easy to see why Cogitosus, jealous for glory of the
foundress of his own Kildare, might be induced to pass it over in silence.
It is certainly consistent with the manners of the time, for the Brehon
Code clearly shows that then and long after slavery and its attendant
evils existed in Ireland. The very fact that Brigid was not born in the
house of her father, who seems to have dwelt in Leinster, appears to be a
further confirmation of the story. St. Patrick was at one time a slave,
and so it appears, too, that Brigid, to whom Ireland owes so much, was
born of a slave-mother, and during the years of her youth had herself to
endure, even after she came to her father's house, the bitter taunts of
her father's wife, and the ceaseless drudgery of a captive maid. So it was
that Providence prepared her, as it prepared Patrick, for the
accomplishment of her lofty mission.

There are still many interesting memorials of St. Brigid at Faughart. The
village is not quite two miles to the north-east of Dundalk. It is
situated amid fertile fields, overlooking the sparkling waters of the Bay,
and nestling under the shelter of the Carlingford mountains. It was once
ruled over by Cuchullin, the Hound of the North, who kept the ford of
Ardee against the hosts and the heroes of Queen Meave; and in its old
church-yard was buried the headless trunk of the gallant Edward Bruce, who
was slain close at hand--the spot is still shown--in the year A.D. 1318.
St. Brigid's Well is there, roofed over with masonry, but its waters are
gone. The flag on which she was placed after her birth is also pointed
out, and there also are Brigid's Pillar, and Brigid's Stone, of a
horse-shoe shape, and the remains of an old church, but certainly not
dating from Brigid's time. The old church-yard surrounding it is crowded
with ancient graves, and enclosed by a tall hedge of fragrant hawthorns.
There are several 'forts' and ancient 'mounds' in the neighbourhood, which
show that it had been a populous and important place, probably from the
pre-historic ages of Cuchullin. One of them is sixty feet in height, and
its level summit is still crowned with the foundations of a strong
octagonal building, the purpose of which cannot now be ascertained.[131]

St. Brigid was born about the year A.D. 450, and was baptized shortly
after her birth, with the consent of the magus or Druid in whose service
her mother was engaged. She grew up, according to all her biographers, to
be a young girl of singular grace and beauty, greatly favoured by nature,
but still more richly endowed by grace. The daughter of the captive was
watched over by guardian angels; her food was the milk of a white cow,
that typefied the purity of her own young heart; and the butter from her
master's dairy, that she too generously gave to the poor, was miraculously
replaced that she and her mother might not be blamed on account of waste
or extravagance.

We cannot trace all the events of her marvellous history--how she was
carried to Connaught and to Munster; how many suitors vainly sought her
hand; how she returned to her father's house and provoked the jealousy of
her step-mother; how for peace sake her father offered to sell his
beautiful daughter to the king of North Leinster, as he had sold her
mother to the magus. But Providence watched over her in all her ways, and
at length brought about the consummation of her most ardent wishes. With
seven other young virgins she received the religious veil from the hands
of Bishop Macaille, whose church was on the eastern slope of Cruachan Bri
Eile in the modern King's County, not far from the historic field of
Tyrrells Pass. It is still called Croghan Hill, and an old church-yard yet
marks the site of St. Macaille's church. It is uncertain, however, whether
Brigid was veiled there or at Uisnech Hill in Westmeath, where, according
to other accounts, the holy bishop was at the time. The exact spot would
be worth knowing, for during the course of the ceremony when Brigid's hand
touched the wood of the altar, that dry wood felt the virtue of the
virgin's touch, and became in the sight of all as fresh and green as it
was on the day when it felt the wood-man's axe in the forest. It is not
unlikely that Brigid and her seven virgin companions lived for some time
at Croghan Hill under the care of St. Macaille; afterwards, however she
returned to her father's territory and founded, nigh to an old oak tree,
the church, which ever since bears the name of Kildare--the Church of the
Oak. It was founded in Magh Liffe, the Plain of the Liffey, and it is
remarkable that even when her most ancient lives were written, the holy
virgin is represented as driving in her chariot over the Curragh of
Kildare, which even then was used as a race-course.

Some authorities say that Brigid made her religious vows in the hands of
St. Mel of Ardagh, whose name is frequently mentioned in some of her
lives. It is strange that so little reference is made to St. Patrick, if
he were indeed alive, as is commonly supposed, for many years after
Brigid's profession, which took place about the year A.D. 467. There is no
mention made of Brigid in the _Lives of St. Patrick_ except once. The
Saint had founded the Church of Clogher for St. Mac Cairthinn, and
afterwards went to preach in the neighbourhood at a place called Lemain, a
plain watered by the river Laune, which takes its name from the plain. For
three days and three nights he was preaching, and Brigid fell asleep
during his preaching; but the saint would not allow Brigid to be
disturbed, for he knew that she was sleeping a mystic sleep. As she slept
she dreamt, and thought she saw at first white oxen in white cornfields;
then she saw darker oxen, and lastly oxen that were black. After these she
saw sheep, and swine, and dogs, and wolves quarrelling with each
other--all of which, Patrick explained, were symbols of the present and
future state of the Irish Church--a prediction that has been wonderfully
verified by the event. It was on the same occasion that King Echu allowed
his daughter to be united to Christ, and Patrick made her his own
disciple, and she was taught by a certain virgin at Druim Dubain, in which
place both virgins have their rest. It is stated in Tirechan's collections
in the _Book of Armagh_ that Bishop Mac Cairthinn was the uncle of the
holy Brigid--'Brigtae'--the abbreviated form of the name. This fact would
explain her presence at Clogher on this interesting occasion.

We are told that Kildare was first called Drumcree--Druim Criaidh--before
it took the name of Cell-Dara from the beautiful oak tree which Brigid
loved much, and under whose shade she built her first little oratory. That
tree remained down to the end of the tenth century, when Animosus wrote
her life; and it was held in such veneration that no profane hand dare
venture to touch it with a weapon. In a very short time after its
foundation Kildare grew to be a great religious establishment, having two
monasteries separate, yet side by side, one for women and one for men--and
both, to a certain extent, under her own supervision. "Seeing," says her
biographer, "that this state of things could not exist without a pontiff
to consecrate her churches, and ordain the sacred ministers, she chose an
illustrious anchorite, celebrated for his virtues and miracles, that as
Bishop he might aid her in the government of the Church, and that nothing
should be wanting for the proper discharge of all ecclesiastical
functions." It is obvious from these words that Brigid herself selected
St. Conlaeth, or Conlaedh, to rule her churches and monasteries, but in
accordance with her suggestions and advice. She, of course, conferred no
jurisdiction on St. Conlaeth, but she selected the person to whom the
church gave this jurisdiction. Her biographer does not say that Conlaeth
was subject to Brigid, but that Brigid chose him to govern the Church
along with herself--ut ecclesiam in episcopali dignitate _cum ea_
gubernaret. These few simple words dispose of a vast amount of foolish
talk about Brigid's jurisdiction over St. Conlaeth. She, herself, never
claimed nor possessed any such thing.

It is, however, abundantly evident that Brigid was a woman of strong mind
and of great talents, that she was admirably fitted to rule and to
organize, that her influence was widely felt, and her wisdom and prudence
held in the highest estimation by the greatest ecclesiastics of her time.
Moreover, her great virtues were confirmed by many miracles, so that
crowds of men and women came from all parts of the country either to make
a pilgrimage, or place themselves permanently under her guidance. But
Brigid did more than this. One of her greatest virtues was her hospitality
to all the ecclesiastics who came to visit her, and especially to the
bishops. She seems, too, to have accepted their invitations, and to have
made many journeys, especially through the South and West of Ireland,
where she made so deep an impression by her preaching, her miracles, and
her example, that her memory is still fondly cherished in all parts of the
country. She became the "Mary of Ireland"--what Patrick was for the men,
she was for the women--their national saint and patroness. They called
their daughters by her sweet name. The wells at which she drank and prayed
became for ever blessed wells. The parishes which she visited were in
many instances placed under her special protection, and called by her
name.[132] And so we have Tubber-bride and Kil-bride in all parts of the
country, exactly as we have Kil-patrick and Tubber-patrick.

It is very manifest that St. Brigid felt from the beginning that a
monastery of men at Kildare, presided over by a bishop, would be a great
means of protecting her own nunnery of tender virgins and widows. It was a
lawless age, as the history of St. Enda shows, and hence Brigid wished for
security, as well as for instruction and religious guidance, to have the
bishop and his clergy near her. She was anxious to have a complete and
self-sufficing religious city at Kildare, and such, in fact, it very soon
became. Besides St. Conlaeth to rule and to ordain, she had another
bishop, St. Nadfraoich, to instruct herself and her nuns, for Bishop Mel
had told her that she should never take food without having first heard
the Word of God preached to her. She had secured another holy prelate, St.
Ninnidhius, to administer the viaticum to her when dying, and that saint
hearing this covered his right hand with a case or shell of metal, so that
the hand which was to give the Communion to Brigid might never be defiled.
Hence he was called Ninnidh of the Clean Hand.

It is said--but the tradition is rather uncertain--that Brigid had the
consoling privilege of weaving with her own hands the winding sheet in
which the body of St. Patrick was laid. At the time of his death, if, as
is generally believed, he died in A.D. 493, Brigid must have been a nun
for several years, and have already founded her own great convent at
Kildare. She lived, however, until A.D. 523, or more probably until A.D.
525, and then dying in her own holy city, was buried at the right of the
High Altar--Bishop Conlaeth, having been already laid on the left hand of
the same altar, and both within the sanctuary.

Brigid is called by Ængus the chaste head of the nuns of Erin; and St.
Cuimin of Connor describes her "as Brigid of the blessings, fond beyond
all women of mortification, of vigils, of early rising to pray, and of
hospitality to saintly men." Her very name was prophetic, for it signifies
either a 'fiery dart' or the 'strength' of her virtue--_brigi_ being the
Celtic for strength or might.

Kildare, as might be expected, became, during the life and after the death
of Brigid, a great city and a great school--Cogitosus, with pardonable
exaggeration, describes it as the head city of all the bishops, and calls
Conlaeth and his successors Arch-bishops of the Bishops of Ireland, and
Brigid (and her successors) the Abbess, whom all the Abbesses of Ireland
hold in veneration. He says that no one could count the crowds of people
coming to Kildare from all the provinces of Erin; that some come for the
feasting or food--_ad epulas_--that the sick come to be healed; the rich
come with gifts for the shrine of St. Brigid, especially on the 1st of
February; and that sight-seers come to enjoy the wonderful spectacle.

He also gives a most interesting description of the great Church of
Kildare in his own time. It was very lofty and very large, richly adorned
with pictures, hangings, and ornamental door-ways. A partition ran across
the breadth of the church near the chancel, or sanctuary; at one of its
extremities there was a door which admitted the bishop and his clergy to
the sanctuary and to the altar; at the other extremity, on the opposite
side, there was a similar door by which Brigid and her virgins and widows
used to enter to enjoy the banquet of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then a
central partition ran down the nave, dividing the men from the women--the
men being on the right and the women on the left, each division having its
own lateral entrance. These partitions did not rise to the roof of the
church, but only so high as to serve their purpose. The partition at the
sanctuary, or chancel, was formed of boards of wood, decorated with
pictures and covered with linen hangings, which might, it seems, be drawn
aside at the consecration to give the people in the nave a better view of
the Holy Mysteries. Such was the great Church of Kildare in the seventh
and eighth centuries, before the advent of the Danes to Ireland.

In connection with St. Brigid and the School of Kildare, we may here make
brief reference to the celebrated scholars who have compiled her

The first of the six Lives printed by the learned Father John Colgan is
the metrical Hymn of the Saint commonly attributed to St. Brogan Cloen of
Rostuire in the Diocese of Ossory. The original Hymn is written in the
Irish language; Colgan also gives a Latin translation. But the Irish
original has been printed by Dr. Whitley Stokes, and also in the _Irish
Ecclesiastical Record_ for February, 1868. This Irish original has been
preserved in the _Liber Hymnorum_, and also in a MS. in Trinity College of
very recent date. The following Irish preface is prefixed to the Hymn in
the MS. of St. Isidore's, now in Merchants' Quay, Dublin.

    The place where this hymn was composed was Sliabh Bladhma (Slieve
    Bloom), or Cluain Mor Moedhog. The author was Brogan Cloen. The time
    (to which it refers) was when Lughaidh, son of Laeghaire, was King of
    Ireland, and Ailill, son of Dunlang, King of Leinster. The cause of
    writing it, viz., "Ultan of Ardbraccan, the tutor of Brogan, requested
    him to narrate the miracles of Brigid in suitable poetical language,
    for Ultan had collected all the miracles of Brigid for him."

We gather from this interesting statement that St. Ultan of Ardbraccan,
who was an uncle on the mother's side of St. Brigid, collected the
materials for this poem. It is true St. Ultan did not die until the year
A.D. 656 or 657, but if he were then, as is stated in the _Martyrology of
Donegal_, 189 years of age, he might well have been the uncle and
contemporary of the Virgin Saint. He was a very celebrated man, and was
especially remarkable for his love of poor orphans, for he often had no
less than 200 of them together, whom he used to feed with his own hands.
He was also very mortified in his life, sleeping on the bare board in his
narrow stone cell, and bathing his body in cold water in the sharpest
blasts of the wintry wind. "It was he," says the same authority, "that
collected the miracles of Brigid in one book, and gave them to his
disciple Brogan Cloen to render them in verse."

St. Brogan Cloen himself lived, it seems, for some time in the monastery
near Slieve Bloom, founded by St. Molua, and afterwards in that of
Clonmore, in the barony of Bantry, county Wexford, which was founded by
St. Aidan about the year A.D. 620. The scholiast doubts whether he
composed this hymn while at Slieve Bloom or Clonmore; so we may fairly
suppose that it was composed sometime between A.D. 620 and 657, when St.
Ultan died. The statement of the scholiast as to the time of the hymn
seems to refer not to the time of its composition, but to the time of the
events which it narrates; and which, he says, took place during the reign
of Lughaidh, King of Tara, and Ailill, King of Leinster. The former
reigned 25 years and died in A.D. 503; the latter died in A.D. 523, so
that their joint reigns would exactly mark the period during which St.
Brigid flourished in Kildare. The hymn consists of 212 lines or 53 stanzas
of four lines each. It describes at great length the virtues and miracles
of St. Brigid, but is unhappily too meagre in historical facts. The writer
assumes that because her history was well known in his own time, it would
continue to be equally well known to future generations. It is, however, a
most interesting monument of our early Irish Church, and competent judges
pronounce it to be an admirable specimen of early Celtic versification.

There is also in the _Book of Hymns_ published by Dr. Todd, what seems to
be a fragment of an ancient Latin hymn in praise of St. Brigid. The
preface to this Hymn attributes it either to St. Ninnidh of the Clean
Hand, Brigid's chaplain, or to St. Fiacc of Sleibte, or to St. Ultan of
Ardbraccan. This last conjecture, however, seems to arise from the
statement that Ultan collected the miracles of St. Brigid into one book.
It was an abecedarian hymn originally, and is undoubtedly a very ancient
composition. At present it consists of four stanzas of four lines each,
having a rhyme or assonance in the middle and at the end of each line,
which properly should consist of sixteen syllables. The first line at
present is:--

  "Christus in nostra insula quae vocatur Hibernia,"

and notwithstanding the statement of the scholiast that the hymn was
abecedarian, these words--Christus in nostra insula--appear to have been
always regarded as the beginning of the hymn. In the eighth line Brigid is
declared to be "Mariae sanctae similem," an expression which may have
given origin to the saying that Brigid was the "Mary of the Irish." The
following passage from the _Leabhar Breac_ gives a glowing eulogy of St.
Brigid, and formally calls her the "Mary of the Gaedhil."

    "There was not in the world one of more bashfulness and modesty than
    this holy virgin. She never washed (as was then not unfrequent,) her
    hands, or her feet, or head before men. She never looked a man in the
    face. She never spoke without blushing. She was abstinent,
    unblemished, fond of prayer, patient, rejoicing in God's commands,
    benevolent, humble, forgiving, charitable. She was a consecrated
    shrine for the preservation of the Body of Christ. She was a temple of
    God. Her heart and mind were the throne of the Holy Spirit; she was
    meek before God. She was distressed with the miserable. She was bright
    in miracles. And hence in things created her type is the Dove among
    birds, the Vine amongst trees, and the Sun above the stars."

This beautiful eulogy concludes by declaring that Brigid is "The Queen of
the South. She is the Mary of the Gaedhil."

The _Second Life_, printed by Colgan, is the celebrated work of Cogitosus,
to which we have already referred. He tells us himself that he was a monk
of Kildare, and that he wrote in obedience to the wishes of the community,
not of his own presumptuous motion. In the last chapter he asks a prayer,
"Pro me Cogitoso culpabili," but it is evident when he calls himself a
'nepos,' that he does not mean that he was the 'nepos' of St. Brigid, as
some have fancied. In his humility he uses the word in its secondary
classical sense, and calls himself a sinful spendthrift of God's time and
of God's graces. The use of the word 'nepos,' therefore, furnishes no
argument that this Life was written shortly after the death of St. Brigid.
On the other hand, there is nothing in this Life that, as Basnage
insinuates, 'smells of a later age' than the eighth or the beginning of
the ninth century. As we have already observed, the description which
Cogitosus gives of the great Church of Kildare, of its wealth, of the tomb
of its founders, and the inviolable character of the city, clearly proves
that it must have been written earlier than the ravages of the Danes.
There are, however, some expressions that show it was written a
considerable time after the decease of St. Brigid and St. Conlaeth. The
writer speaks of 'the prosperous succession' of prelates and abbesses who
ruled in the sacred city, _ritu perpetuo_, a strong expression, which
points to a long series of successors in Kildare. The very use of the
Latin word 'archiepiscopus,' which Cogitosus uses when speaking of the
prelates of Kildare, shows that the work cannot have been written before
the eighth century. Petrie in his observations on this subject makes one
remark which we venture to think is founded on a false assumption.[133]
Cogitosus tells us that in his own time the bodies of St. Brigid and of
St. Conlaeth were placed in tombs richly adorned, one on the right and the
other on the left of the high altar. Now the _Annals of Ulster_ state that
A.D. 799, the relics of Conlaeth were placed in a shrine of gold and
silver, whence Petrie infers that Cogitosus must have written after this
enshrining, that is, after A.D. 799, but before A.D. 835, when Kildare was
pillaged by the Danes and half the church burned. But Cogitosus speaks of
the bodies of the saints as being placed in _tombs_, not of the enshrining
of the relics of one of them, which is a very different thing. The shrine
was a metal case, highly ornamented, for containing the relics of a saint,
not a tomb for the body. Rather the language of Cogitosus clearly shows
that he must have written before this enshrining of the relics of
Conlaeth, for in his time the body of that saint was in a tomb. The truth
seems to be that about this time, and through fear of the Danes, the
relics of St. Brigid were carried to Downpatrick as being then a safer
place, and at the same time the relics of Conlaeth were also taken from
the tomb-monument, and placed in the rich shrine, which was easily
portable, and might be carried off at the approach of danger, with its
precious contents.

The language and style of Cogitosus show considerable acquaintance with
the Latin tongue, and the work furnishes us with a very creditable
specimen of the scholarship possessed by the monks of Kildare in the
eighth century.

We need make no special reference to the other four anonymous Lives
printed by Colgan. The Third is attributed, but without any proof, to St.
Ultan; the Fourth is probably the work of a monk called Animosus, of whom
nothing else is known; the Fifth was written by an Englishman, Laurence of
Durham, in the twelfth century. The Sixth, like the First Life, is a
poetic work in Latin, which Colgan got from Monte Cassino, and which the
MS. itself attributes to Chilien, or, perhaps, more properly, Coelan, a
monk of Iniscaltra, or the Holy Island, in Lough Derg, who probably
flourished in the eighth century. We know that many monks from Holy Island
went abroad in the ninth and tenth centuries to preach the Gospel, and,
doubtless, one of them carried this MS. with him either to Bobbio, or some
other Benedictine Monastery, whence it might easily find its way to Monte
Cassino. The prologue of the poem is attributed to Donatus, an Irish
prelate in Tuscany, during the ninth century. This also helps to explain
how the Irish-born prelate would get this volume from some of his
countrymen abroad, and also write a prologue to this poetic life of the
Queen of Ireland's virgin saints.

Kildare is the only religious establishment in Ireland which preserved
down to a comparatively recent period the double line of succession, of
abbot-bishops and of abbesses, and what is more, the annalists take care
to record the names of the abbesses as well as of the abbots. This, no
doubt, arose from the fact that at least in public estimation the
lady-abbesses of Kildare enjoyed a kind of primacy over all the nuns in
Ireland, and, moreover, were in some sense independent of episcopal
jurisdiction, if, indeed, the Bishops of Kildare were not rather to some
extent dependent on them.

St. Conlaeth was not only a scholar and a bishop, but also a most cunning
artificer in metal work, and made all kinds of chalices, patens, bells,
and shrines for the use of his churches and monasteries. It appears to be
quite evident, too, that he founded a school of metal work and decorative
art at Kildare, which was conducted with much success under his successors
in that see. In our own times sacred art is left to take its chance;
little or no official patronage is extended to the workmen, and no special
care is given to their training. Not so in ancient Erin. The greatest
attention was paid to these subjects, and, as we know, the arts of
metallurgy, of the illumination of MSS., of sculpture, and of
architectural ornamentation were carried to the greatest perfection under
the patronage of distinguished ecclesiastics.

The ancient buildings of Kildare have, with the exception of the Round
Tower, completely disappeared. This is all the more to be regretted, when
we see the beautiful ornamental door-way of the Round Tower, a class of
buildings in which ornamentation of any kind is rarely met with. Even in
the time of Giraldus Cambrensis it was a venerable building, and he tells
a story of a falcon that used to nestle in its summit all alone, admitting
no mate, and was on quite familiar terms with the monks and citizens, for
it was called St. Brigid's bird. This beautiful tower, the tallest in
Ireland, is 136 feet 7 inches in height, and still pointing heavenward, as
of old, marks out for every stranger who travels by the Great Southern
Line, the sacred city of St. Brigid, in the great plain of the Liffey.

Notwithstanding the ravages of the Danes, we find the obits of many of the
Professors of the School of Kildare recorded in the Annals. We find also
reference made to the Chief Professor of Kildare, Cosgrach, who died A.D.
1041; and Cobthac, another professor of Kildare, who died in A.D. 1069,
was celebrated for "his universal knowledge of ecclesiastical discipline."
In A.D. 1110, died Ferdomhach, the Blind Professor of Kildare, who was
eminently skilled in the Holy Scriptures. In A.D. 1135 Diarmaid Mac
Murrogh, who had even then begun his career of violence and crime,
"forcibly carried away the Abbess of Kildare from her cloister, and
compelled her to marry one of his own people." Next year Diarmaid O'Brian
and his brothers plundered and burned the town. Yet the holy line of
Brigid's successors was still carried on--there was a Comorbana of Brigid
who died in A.D. 1171. But in A.D. 1220 Henry de Loundres put out the fire
of St. Brigid, called the inextinguishable, which had been preserved
burning by the nuns of St. Brigid, in all probability from the time of the
foundress herself. It was lit again by order of the Bishop of Kildare, and
continued to burn in spite of all the troubles of the times down to the
total suppression of the monasteries by Queen Elizabeth.

We find no satisfactory account of the origin and purpose of this
perpetual fire of Kildare. De Loundres thought, perhaps, there was
something savouring of paganism or superstition about it, or he would
hardly undertake the risk and odium of having it extinguished. His conduct
would be still more inexplicable if this fire were kept always burning in
the guest house, as some think, for the comfort of benighted travellers.
But English prelates have never been discerning judges of Irish usages,
and we are not bound to set much store on the soundness of the Norman
bishop's judgment in this instance. They came over to reform, as well as
to conquer; and if abuses did not exist, it was necessary for appearance
sake to assume their existence. Can it be that the Kildare nuns
anticipated the general and now obligatory rule of keeping a perpetual
lamp before the Blessed Sacrament? Or was it a sacred fire that was kept
always burning before the tomb of their holy foundress? "The early
Christians, as well as the Jews and pagans, were accustomed to place lamps
in the company of the dead,"[134] great numbers of which have been found
in the catacombs and elsewhere. Many of them, too, are beautifully wrought
in various material, and bear characteristic Christian symbols. In all
probability the perpetual fire of Kildare was for the purpose of keeping
the lamps lit before the shrines of its holy founders. Many accidents
might lead to the lamp itself being extinguished, but the sacred fire,
night and day, under the sedulous care of St. Brigid's daughters, might be
cherished 'through long ages of darkness and storm,' if not extinguished
by the Danes or reformers like Henry de Loundres.

Gerald Barry also tells us another fact which shows to what a degree of
perfection the art of illumination was carried in the monastic schools of
Kildare. Nothing, he says, that he saw at Kildare appeared to him more
admirable than the wondrous book, which as report goes, was written from
the dictation of an angel in the time of the holy virgin herself. It was a
manuscript of the Four Evangelists, according to St. Jerome's version, but
every page was illuminated with various figures, delineated with the
utmost distinctness in every variety of colouring. The symbolical figures
of the Evangelists themselves were wrought with extraordinary subtilty and
grace, and all the other drawings and figures likewise were so delicate,
and subtile, so close and so narrow, so knotted and intertwined together,
yet every most intricate line and point and knot so vivid, as if with
quite recent colours, that one would think it all was the work of
angelic, and not of mere human skill. The more carefully he looked at it,
the more he was astonished, and the more things he saw worthy of

Gerald Barry's description of this famous Evangelistarium, which
unfortunately appears to have perished, will not appear exaggerated to any
person who has ever seen the _Book of Kells_. They were both written about
the same period, and illuminated by equally skilled hands; still it is
greatly to be regretted that this wondrous _Book of Kildare_,[135] which
won such a eulogy from the fastidious Welshman, is no longer amongst the
extant literary treasures of Ireland.

It is not unlikely that the great manuscript known as the _Book of
Leinster_, was originally compiled and preserved in Kildare; or perhaps,
more accurately speaking, it was copied from originals that were compiled
and preserved at Kildare. The work of copying in great part was certainly
executed by Finn Mac Gorman, who was Bishop of Kildare from A.D. 1148 to
1160, when his death is recorded. He was evidently a man of much learning,
and an entry in his own hand testifies that he wrote the work for Hugh Mac
Crimthann, tutor of Diarmaid Mac Murrogh, King of Leinster. The work was
no doubt written by O'Gorman before A.D. 1148, when he became Bishop of
Kildare. The manuscript at present consists of 177 loose leaves of vellum,
which are preserved in Trinity College, and seven additional leaves of the
same original, which belong to the Franciscans of the Irish Province. No
doubt the entire work belonged to them originally, but was taken from them
by force or fraud, and thus found its way to Trinity College. Its contents
are of an exceedingly various and interesting character--heroic tales and
poems, genealogies, calendars of saints, and various tracts used in the
Irish monastic schools, dealing with both sacred and profane learning.



  "The chapel where no organ's peal
  Invests the stern and naked prayer!--
  With penitential cries they kneel
  And wrestle; rising then with bare
  And white uplifted faces stand,
  Passing the Host from hand to hand."


There were a few other early monastic schools founded during the lifetime
of St. Patrick to which reference must be made here, before we pass to the
more celebrated schools of the sixth century. Although St. Patrick could
not attend in person to the government and organization of these
seminaries, he gave every encouragement to his disciples in carrying on
that necessary and excellent work. It was specially for this purpose, as
we have already seen, that he placed St. Benignus over his own school at
Armagh. With the same purpose in view, he chose the youthful Mochae, or
Mochay, of Noendrum first to be his own disciple, and afterwards to be the
guide and teacher of others in their preparation for the sacred ministry.

Mochae was one of St. Patrick's earliest converts in Ireland. Like St.
Benignus, he seems to have been a mere boy, when he first believed and was
baptized, before St. Patrick had yet met King Laeghaire on the royal Hill
of Tara.

It is thus narrated in the _Tripartite_:--"Now whilst Patrick was going on
his journey from Saul (near Downpatrick) he saw a tender youth herding
swine. Mochae was his name. Patrick preached to him and baptized him and
tonsured him, and gave him a Gospel and Mass-chalice. And he gave him also
later on a crozier, that had been bestowed on them by God, to wit, it fell
from heaven with its head in Patrick's bosom, and its foot in Mochae's
bosom, and this is the _Etech_ of Mochae of Noendrum. And Mochae promised
a shaven pig every year to Patrick (that is, to his Church), and this is
still offered."[136]

This is a very interesting passage, and points to Patrick's mode of
procedure, when he found a youth suitable for the ecclesiastical state.
This boy was, we are told,[137] the son of Bronach, daughter of Milchu,
with whom Patrick himself had spent the years of his own captivity at the
same occupation--herding swine. Patrick had been probably acquainted with
the mother of this youth; he remembered his own boyhood, which he spent in
the midst of many sorrows and much labour on the barren slopes of Slemish;
so his heart was touched, and he preached the new Gospel of peace and love
to this grandson of the master who had held him so long in bondage. The
boy's heart, too, was touched by grace--he believed, was baptized, and
tonsured. The tonsuring, if it took place then, could only mean that
Patrick destined the youth for the sacred ministry. We are also told that
he gave him a copy of the Gospels, doubtless when he had learned to read a
little Latin, and a _menister_, which Stokes strangely translates
'credence-table,' but which is manifestly a loan-word from the Latin
_ministerium_,[138] and signifies the chalice and paten necessary for
offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Later on this youth became a
bishop, he was consecrated by Patrick himself, and Patrick gave him this
crozier--a heavenly gift--which came to be known from that circumstance as
the _Etech_, or flying crozier of Mochae of Noendrum.

This name is simply Oendrum with the article prefixed, and the island in
which Mochae founded his monastery and school was so called because it was
formed as it were of a single hill or rising ground--_oen-druim_--the
one-ridged island. It is now corrupted into Mahee Island from the name of
its holy founder, which still survives in the mouth of the 'stranger'
though its origin is quite forgotten. The island contains about 170 acres
of land, and is situated not more than a quarter of a mile from the
western shore of Strangford Lough, anciently known as Lough Cuan. The
saint built his monastery and church on the very summit of the ridge,
which rises to about the height of sixty feet, and commands a fine view of
the far-reaching inland sea, whose western marge especially is studded
with pleasant islets and bordered by many a grassy down and fertile field,
rich, when we saw them, with the promise of abundant harvests. The
original edifice was, as we gather from a story in the saint's life,
constructed of wood, which he helped to hew down himself and carry on his
own shoulders. The later buildings, however, were of stone, and the
church--for many centuries a cathedral church--was 58 feet long by 22
wide. Only its foundations can now be traced; but the castle on the summit
of the hill, and the outer concentric earthworks that were thrown up to
protect it, can still be seen. During the Danish incursions it suffered
much, and a small round tower was built as usual near the church's western
door to afford an asylum to the monks. A small portion of it still

Mochae was about the same age as Benignus, and it is not improbable that
he founded his island monastery quite as early as St. Patrick founded the
See of Armagh. Patronised as it doubtless was by St. Patrick, and presided
over by one of his earliest disciples, Noendrum soon became a celebrated
centre of sanctity and learning. Two very remarkable men received their
education there--St. Colman of Dromore and St. Finnian of Moville. Of the
latter we shall speak later on when we come to give an account of his own
celebrated school at the head of Lough Cuan. The life of Colman, however,
furnishes us with some interesting particulars concerning Noendrum and its
monastic school.

Colman, like Mochae, was a native of the territory of Dalaradia, and in
his youth was sent, we are told, by his parents to the blessed Caylan,
otherwise called Mochae, the Abbot of Noendrum, that he might be trained
in learning and virtue. The young man made great progress in his studies,
and still more in the practice of all virtue, so that once when he had got
his lesson by heart, and asked the holy abbot what he was to do next, the
abbot replied: "Break up that rock which is in the way of the brethren
when going to matins." Matins were recited before day dawned, and no doubt
the rock was an obstacle in the darkness to the brethren when going from
their cells to the church. Obedience is the first virtue of a monk, so
Colman made the sign of the cross over the rock, and forthwith it split up
in pieces. "Now, cast them into the sea," said the abbot, and Colman did
so with the help of God's angels; and lo! the fragments were again united
together into the great stone on the sea-shore before the monastery, which
is still called Colman's Rock.

From Noendrum Colman went to St. Ailbe of Emly, to study the Sacred
Scriptures. St. Ailbe, as we shall see presently, had even at this early
period founded a great school at Emly, and having himself been trained
abroad, when he came home, he gave his newly converted countrymen the
benefit of his learning. Colman, after his return from the South, again
paid a visit to his old preceptor, St. Caylan, or Mochae of Noendrum,
which shows that the latter must have been alive at the close of the fifth

Very friendly relations existed between Noendrum and Candida Casa in
Galloway, which was founded by St. Ninian about the year A.D. 398. Ninian
himself is said to have visited St. Caylan at Noendrum; and as it is
highly probable that Ninian lived until the middle of the fifth
century,[139] this is by no means impossible. Other writers have sought to
identify St. Ninian of Candida Casa with Nennio, or Monennio, who is said
to have founded a church at Cluain-Conaire in Hy Faclain--now Cloncurry,
in the co. Kildare. There are, however, grave chronological difficulties
against this hypothesis, to which we shall refer hereafter.

St. Mochae was, like his successors down to the close of the tenth
century, both bishop and abbot. They appear to have exercised episcopal
jurisdiction in their own neighbourhood. The saint is said to have died
A.D. 496--that is only three years after the death of St. Patrick himself.
There was another saint who died A.D. 644, and was called Mocua, a
similarity which probably gave rise to the strange story told both by
Ængus and O'Clery, that Mochae of Noendrum was enchanted for 150 years by
the song of a black-bird, so that he felt not the flight of time nor the
withering influence of the passing years.

He went with seven score young men to cut wattles to build his church. He
himself was engaged cutting timber like the rest. He had got his load
ready before the others, and sat down beside it. Just then he heard a
beautiful bird singing on the boughs of a blackthorn bush close at hand.
It was the most beautiful bird he had ever seen, and speaking with a human
voice the Bird said:--"This is diligent work of thine, O cleric." "It is
required," replied Mochae, "for building a church in honour of God;" and
then he added, "Who, may I ask, is addressing me?" "A man of the people of
my Lord is here," replied the Bird, "that is, an Angel of God from
heaven." "All hail to thee," said Mochae, "and why hast thou come hither?"
"To speak to thee from thy Lord, and amuse thee for a while." "I like it,"
said Mochae. Then Mochae remained for three hundred years listening to
that Bird, having his load of wood by his side, and the wood was not
withered, and his flesh decayed not, and the time did not seem longer
than one single hour of the day. At length God's Angel bade him farewell,
and Mochae returned home with his load, and he found his church built, and
he saw only strange faces, for all his friends and acquaintances had long
been dead. But when he told them his strange story, they believed it, and
knelt before him to do him honour, and built a shrine on the spot where he
had seen God's Angel, and heard the heavenly song. Ængus says the Bird
sang three songs only, but each lasted fifty years, so that the three
hundred given in the _Martyrology of Donegal_ was probably by a mistake in
the figures put for one hundred and fifty. If one Angel's song can be so
sweet and so beguiling, what a joy to listen to the chorus of all the
heavenly choirs!

We have seen that St. Colman of Dromore went from the School of Noendrum
to be instructed by St. Ailbe of Emly in the Sacred Scriptures. It is
stated also in the _Life of St. Ibar_ of Beg Erin, that his first
instructor in the Sacred Sciences was Saint Motta, who if he be not St.
Mochta of Louth, must have been St. Mochae of Noendrum. This is all the
more likely, as we know that St. Ibar was himself a native of Dalaradia,
and doubtless received his early training from the oldest Christian
teachers of his native territory. This brings us to give a sketch of the
history and of the schools of these three distinguished saints--Mochta of
Louth, Ailbe of Emly, and Ibar of Beg Erin--all of whom certainly founded
their monastic schools during the second half of the fifth century. We
shall begin with Mochta, or Mochteus, whose history is in some respects
very interesting.


St. Mochta, or Mochteus, the founder of the School of Louth, was a
disciple of St. Patrick and a Briton by birth. Adamnan describes him as a
British immigrant, a disciple of St. Patrick, and a very holy man.[140] He
was accompanied to Ireland by twelve disciples, and preached the Gospel
chiefly in the county Louth. The _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 534, give the
beginning of one of his letters in which he describes himself in his
humility as "Mochta the sinful priest, a disciple of St. Patrick." His
Life is given in the recently published Salamanca MS., from which Colgan
extracted it to publish under date of the 24th of March.

From this Life we learn that Mochta was born in Britain, and that whilst
still a child he was brought with his parents to Ireland by a certain
magus, or Druid, called Hoam. The Druid took up his abode in the territory
of Hy Conail, that is in the County Louth, and there the young Mochta was
brought up in the Druid's house as a member of his family. One day an
Angel brought waxen tablets to the boy, from which he learned his letters,
and then commanded him to go to Rome to study Sacred Scripture. The boy
obeyed, and went his way to Peter's City, where he made so much progress
in learning and holiness that he was consecrated a bishop by the Pope, and
many disciples placed themselves under his guidance.

By command of the Pope he then returned home accompanied by twelve
disciples, one of whom, Edanus, in Irish Aedhan, seems to have been his
favourite disciple, and succeeded the Saint in the first church which he
founded in Ireland. This church is called in the Latin life Cella magna,
or Kill-mor, and is said to have been built in nemoribus Metheorum--in the
woods of Hy Meith. This was the territory called in Irish Hy Meith, and Hy
Meith Macha, and the Church itself is identified by Colgan as
Cill-Mor-Aedhan in Hy Meith Macha. It is referred to in the _Martyrology
of Donegal_ as the Church of Aedhan, son of Aenghus, who was doubtless the
disciple of the Saint.

The graveyard of Kilmore is still made use of; it is about four miles
south of the town of Monaghan, in the barony of Monaghan, which
corresponds with the ancient territory of Hy Meith Macha.[141]

It seems the people of this district compelled the Saint to depart from
amongst them; and so leaving his monastery of Kilmore to his disciple, he
betook himself to Louth, which was still in the possession of the Druids,
or magi, according to this Latin life. Here he built his cell and his
oratory, which was surrounded by a cemetery, to be the last resting place
of the brethren and the place of their resurrection.

We are told in the Life of St. Patrick that when he contemplated founding
his own great Church in that "sweet and flowery sward" of Louth--a
beauteous meadow land, blooming with all the fairest promise of the
year--an angel told him to go northward to Ard-Macha; that Louth was
destined by God for a pilgrim from the Britons, who should one day build
therein a monastery which would afterwards pass under the dominion of
Patrick's successors; and so in truth it came to pass.

Here then in the flowery meads of Louth beside a limpid stream, which was
said to have followed the saint from Kilmore,[142] he built his cell. In a
very short time the odour of his virtues was diffused over all the land;
and monks gathered round in swarms like bees in summer to place themselves
under the direction of one so eminent for his learning and virtues, so
that he reckoned amongst his disciples before his death no less than 100
bishops and 300 priests. In this way from the parent hive at Louth new
swarms went forth yearly to people other schools and monasteries, and
preach the Gospel all over the land.

St. Patrick himself in his old age came and spent some time with his
beloved disciple Mochta; for it seems he greatly loved the place, and
loved the man who, like himself, was of British blood, and like him had
come to preach and dwell amongst the kindly Scottic race.

Mochta wished to leave the place entirely to Patrick, because he knew
Patrick loved it much--even more than Macha's Height; but Patrick told him
the word of God sent by the angel could not be changed. But both promised
that whoever pre-deceased the other, when dying should commit his
religious family to the charge of the survivor. Patrick died first, and we
are told that for a few days Mochta took charge of Armagh, but then
committed the burden to another, that is, to Benignus, second of that

The Druid Hoam had a virgin daughter, who wished to preserve her virginity
for Christ. Her father, however, gave her in marriage; but on the same day
she was called away by her Heavenly Spouse, whilst the lily of her
chastity was still inviolate. Her parents then consented to resign all
claim over her to Mochta, if he could raise her again to life. Mochta full
of confidence in God besought the Lord, and the virgin was restored to
life at the prayer of the saint. For thirty years afterwards she lived,
serving God in perfect chastity as a professed nun, and her time was
wholly given to making vestments for the priests and altar-cloths for the
altars at which 'they offered the sacrifice.' It is said that the virgin,
like St. Brigid, was of wondrous beauty, but it was heavenly and

                    "From her eyes
  A light went forth like morning o'er the sea,
  Sweeter her voice than wind on harp; her smile
  Could stay men's breath."

And so the maiden lived above the world clothed in the light of holiness,
the first of that bright choir from the fair Hy-Conail land, that gave
themselves to Christ led on by love divine.

Now this same Hoam, the Druid, was betrothed to another Christian maiden
named Brigid. But he fell sick, and the maiden ministered to him; and we
are told that by her prayers and the bright example of her virtues, the
Druid became a Christian, and a fervent penitent. He renounced all claim
to his bride, that he and she might serve God in holiness, and sickening
shortly afterwards, he died a holy death, as Mochta had foretold.

It is highly probable that the Brigid here referred to was the great St.
Brigid of Kildare. We know that she was sought in marriage by many
suitors, and that her own master was a Druid, who lived near Dundalk, and
in this way she might easily have been noticed by the Druid Hoam, who
lived in the neighbourhood. But his earthly passion was elevated and
purified by its object into a diviner flame, that brought him from
paganism to Christianity, and from sin to life eternal.

Many striking miracles are recorded of St. Mochta of Louth, which we
cannot now recount. The extraordinary length of life attributed to him is
probably due to an error of the copyists, who wrote _trecenti_ (three
hundred), for _triginta_ (thirty). The statement in the Life is that such
was the self-denial of the man of God, that for 'thirty' years he never
tasted flesh, nor spoke an idle word; but the copyist seems to have made
it 'three hundred' years. The _Annals of Ulster_ give his death in the
year A.D. 534, others at A.D. 536, when he was doubtless a very old man.
He is said to have been the last survivor of St. Patrick's disciples.

We may infer from the fragment referred to in the _Annals of Ulster_ that
the saint was an accomplished scholar and writer. He was the author of a
Rule for his monks, of which, however, no trace remains. He seems to have
been especially skilled in Sacred Scripture, the knowledge of which was
the foundation of all the theology known at that time.

Besides the Rule for his monks, and the Letters already referred to, it
seems that Mochta was also the original author of a work called the _Book
of the Monks_, or the _Book of Cuana_. It is cited by the author of the
_Annals of Ulster_ under date of the year A.D. 471. In the same _Annals of
Ulster_, A.D. 527, the same work seems to be referred to; it is there
called the _Book of Mochod_. It was probably a series of annals begun in
the monastery of Louth by St. Mochta, or Maucteus, and afterwards
continued under the direction of the abbots, his successors. O'Curry
thinks that the _Book of Cuana_, quoted in the _Annals of Ulster_, was
written at Treoit (now Trevit), in Meath, by a scribe of that place called
Cuana, whose death is recorded in the same Annals, A.D. 738, after which
the book is quoted no more. We are rather inclined to think that Cuana, or
Cuanu, from whom this book gets its name, was the person whose death is
noticed by the Four Masters in A.D. 823, and who is described in the
_Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 824, as Cuana of Lughmadh, or Louth, "a wise man
and a bishop," as the Four Masters also describe him. It seems highly
probable therefore, that this work was begun by Maucteus in Louth, that it
afterwards was called the _Book of the Monks_, and finally the _Book of
Cuana_, the wise man and bishop, who was probably its compiler in the
shape in which it is quoted in the _Annals of Ulster_, first under the
year A.D. 468, and for the last time under date A.D. 610.

The death of this distinguished bishop and scholar, "who was a man of
uncommon erudition, and as a doctor was universally esteemed," marks the
period at which the School of Louth reached the zenith of its fame. It
were bootless to tell how it was again and again burned and pillaged by
the Danes, who during the tenth century seem to have taken permanent
possession of the monastery, although a round tower had been built to
protect it, which was blown down in A.D. 981. The Celtic princes during
the eleventh century frequently imitated the bad example of the Danes, for
we are told that in A.D. 1043 one of the O'Rorkes organized a plundering
expedition, or a hosting, as they loved to call it, against the
monasteries of Louth and Dromiskin.

Yet the torch of learning still flickered on in Louth during the
disastrous eleventh century, for the death of Molassius, lector of Louth,
is recorded in A.D. 1047. It was totally destroyed in A.D. 1148, and
although subsequently rebuilt, its fame as a school was eclipsed by other
institutions during the twelfth century. But the monastery itself lived on
down to the general suppression, and was largely endowed by successive
generations of benefactors.


When St. Colman left Noendrum, he went to study Scripture under St. Ailbe
of Emly, and after his return he paid a visit to St. Caylan, or Mochta,
who was therefore still alive. His death is given as occurring in the last
years of the fifth century; and hence the School of St. Ailbe must have
been founded some years previously.

This, however, raises another very interesting question as to the
existence of pre-Patrician bishops in Ireland, that is, prelates who,
although themselves contemporaries of St. Patrick, derived their orders
and jurisdiction from another source. We cannot enter into a lengthened
discussion of this question; but, on the other hand, we must not pass it
over when treating of the monastic schools of the fifth century.

It is now generally admitted that there were many Christians in Ireland
when St. Patrick first landed on our shores. He was neither the first nor
the only Christian captive carried to Erin; and as we have already seen,
frequent intercourse, whether friendly or hostile, did exist before St.
Patrick's time between the Britons and the Celts of Ireland. The existence
of Christians in Erin is in any case conclusively proved from the
statement in St. Prosper's Chronicle, that Palladius was sent by Pope
Celestine to preach to the Scots, who believed in Christ.[143] To explain
this definite statement as if it merely meant that he was sent to convert
them to Christ, is to do violence to the language. The words clearly imply
that the primary object of this mission was to gather into regular
Christian communities the believers scattered throughout the island, to
organize the Irish Church, and of course to labour also for the conversion
of unbelievers. His mission was only very partially successful. He met
with so much opposition in Leinster, that although he founded a few
churches, his labours did not extend beyond that province, and after a
short time he abandoned his Irish mission in despair.

We are told, too, in the ancient _Tripartite Life_ of St. Patrick, that
after crossing the Shannon near Battle Bridge, at a place then called
Dumha Graidh--now Doogary--Patrick ordained his disciple St. Ailbe, to
minister for the sons of Ailioll in that district, since called Shancoe,
in the Barony of Tirerrill; and he showed him "a cave in the mountain and
within it a wonderful stone altar, and on it were four chalices of glass."
Such chalices were undoubtedly sometimes used in the early Church. Mention
is also made of this wonderful stone altar in the _Book of Armagh_, so
that the story is beyond doubt authentic, and shows that before St.
Patrick's advent into Connaught there were Christians already there, and
in a remote district, too, who had worshipped God in secret, like the
early Christians of the Catacombs. Indeed, it would be a very
extraordinary thing if there were no Christians to be found in Ireland
before St. Patrick, seeing the frequent intercourse, sometimes friendly
and sometimes hostile, that existed between the eastern coasts of Ireland
and the western coasts of England.

But the question then arises, were there any prelates in Ireland
exercising jurisdiction before the arrival of St. Patrick, who were not
his disciples in the ordinary sense, and did not receive episcopal
consecration at his hands? Such eminent authorities as Usher and Colgan,
relying on the statements made in several ancient Lives of Saints, incline
to the opinion that there were at least four bishops in Ireland before
Patrick or Palladius, namely, Ailbe of Emly, Ciaran of Saigher, Declan of
Ardmore, and Ibar of Beg-Eri. On the other hand, many recent authorities,
led by Dr. Lanigan and Dr. Todd, hold that there is no foundation in our
earliest documents for these pre-Patrician bishops; that the Lives
containing an account of these prelates are forgeries of the eleventh or
twelfth century, invented in the south of Ireland for the purpose of
contesting the claim of Armagh to the primacy of all Ireland, and of
establishing the new-fangled claims of the Bishop of Cashel to a primacy
over the Southern Province. It is quite impossible with the evidence
attainable at present to settle this question; so we shall only refer to
it briefly.

There is a Life of St. Ailbe of Emly in the Salamanca MS. recently
published. It certainly abounds in marvellous anachronisms as well as in
marvellous miracles; and by itself cannot be deemed worthy of credit. From
this Life we learn that Ailbe was a native of eastern Ara Cliach (not
Eliach as Dr. Todd has it); that he was the son of Olcu (in the MS.
Olcnais) by a female slave named Sant, and that King Cronan in whose
household he was born, ordered him to be exposed under a steep cliff,
where he was afterwards found alive[144] by a man named Lochan, who gave
him to a family of the Britons to be nurtured. It is a striking fact that
we find Britons in eastern Ara Cliach at this period, and it is
conjectured that from them the Barony of Ballybrit takes its name. This
fact would also go to explain how the child was reared a Christian at this
early period by those Christian Britons. There Palladius, when he came to
Munster, found the boy and baptized him. But when it is said by this
writer not only that Palladius came to Ireland many years before St.
Patrick, but conversed with King Conor Mac Nessa, who flourished in the
first century of the Christian era, we see how little credence can be
given to his statements.

Afterwards Ailbe went to Rome, and studied sacred Scripture there under
the Bishop Hilary, who sent him to Pope Clement, in whose presence he was
consecrated bishop by the 'ministry of angels.' There was a Pope Hilary
who flourished from A.D. 461-467, but there is no record of any Pope
Clement during the fourth or fifth century in Rome.

We are told that many of his countrymen followed Ailbe to Rome--twelve
Colmans, twelve Kevins, and twelve Fintans--and lived with him in
community in the holy city. Then Ailbe went to preach the Gospel in the
cities of the Gentiles, where he wrought many miracles, and finally
returned to his native country, landing first in the north of Ireland, in
which he founded the Church of Cell Roid in Dalaradia. Then we find him in
Magh Liffe with St. Brigid, and afterwards, according to the narrative, he
met St. Patrick at the court of Ængus Mac Nadfraich at Cashel. We find him
in the plain of Magh Femhin going to salute St. Patrick in company with
Ibar; and an angel declared, when Ailbe was giving precedence to Ibar as
the elder, that Ailbe, and not Ibar, should go first. This certainly looks
like a suspicious attempt to procure a recognition of the primacy for
Ailbe's See, which during the twelfth century was united to that of

Ailbe also preached the Gospel in Connaught, and wrought numerous miracles
there; but he must be distinguished from another Ailbe, the disciple of
St. Patrick, who was ordained by that saint in Tirerrill, and "who is in
Shancoe," as the _Tripartite_ informs us. Afterwards an angel brought
Ailbe to the place of his resurrection in Imleach Jubhair, or Emly of the
Yew Tree. So this Life of Ailbe represents that saint as consecrated at
Rome, getting an independent mission from the Pope to preach to the
Gentiles, and while deferring to St. Patrick's higher authority, still
duly constituted with the sanction of that saint as Metropolitan of

The Life of St. Declan contains some further particulars to the same
effect not explicitly stated in the Life of Ailbe.

Declan was of the Nandesi race, who then dwelt in the Barony of Decies in
Waterford--his father Erc being a chieftain of that tribe. The boy was
baptized by a certain Colman and educated by Dimma, who was a learned and
holy man that came to Waterford from foreign parts. By his advice it seems
Declan also went to Rome, where he met St. Ailbe and became a member of
his community. In Italy he also met St. Patrick, and Usher says this
meeting took place so early as A.D. 402--thirty years before St. Patrick
came to Ireland. Having been consecrated bishop in Rome, Declan returned
to his native country to preach the Gospel amongst his own kindred, and
there founded the see of Ardmore on an eminence overlooking the sea. He
also tried to convert Ængus of Cashel, but failing in this attempt, he
paid a visit to St. David in Wales. Here is a singular statement, which
makes David Bishop of Menevia before Ængus was converted by St.
Patrick--an event which took place nearly a hundred years before St.
David's episcopacy. This Life of Declan then describes how the four
prelates ordained abroad met St. Patrick, and how they entered into a
friendly arrangement with him, not however without some difficulty. First
of all Ciaran, the first-born of the saints of Erin, "yielded all
subjection, and concord, and supremacy to Patrick both when present and
absent." Ailbe also came to Cashel and accepted Patrick as his master and
superior, in presence of Ængus the king. And this was all the more
admirable, because the three Bishops, Declan, Ciaran and Ibar, had
previously constituted Ailbe as their master and metropolitan; and hence
he came to make his own submission to Patrick lest any of them might
resist him. Ibar was the most reluctant to accept this arrangement, for
being a decided home ruler "he was unwilling to receive a patron of
Ireland from any foreign nation," and Patrick, though nurtured in Ireland,
was by birth a Briton. At first, says the Life, there were conflicts
between them--that is Patrick and Ibar--but afterwards at the persuasion
of an angel, they made peace, and concord, and fraternity together.

If St. Peter and St. Paul had their own little disputes, it is not to be
wondered that Celtic saints should sometimes differ amongst themselves. In
the same spirit Declan, who at first was unwilling to submit to Patrick,
as he himself also had the apostolic dignity, yet when admonished by an
angel, crossed Slieve Gua, and came to Patrick to profess his obedience
and submission.

"Thereupon Patrick and King Ængus, with all the people, ordained that the
Archbishopric of Munster should be in the city and see of Saint Ailbe, who
was then by them ordained archbishop for ever;" and Declan was formally
authorized to take spiritual charge of the Desii, and became also their
patron for ever. It is singular that no mention is made of Ciaran and Ibar
as assenting to this arrangement, although it was previously stated that
they also "came to an arrangement with Patrick."

It cannot be denied that this entire narrative, which is mainly taken from
the _Life of St. Declan_, is exceedingly suspicious, and hence it is
worthwhile to point out the arguments in favour of the possibility of its
truth, and also the great difficulties against it.

There is one very significant reference to Ibar and Ailbe in the
_Tripartite Life of St. Patrick_, which, notwithstanding the arguments of
Dr. W. Stokes, we believe to have been written originally by St. Evin in
the seventh century. It is this: when Patrick came to Cullen in the
present barony of Coonagh, Co. Limerick, the _Tripartite_ tells us that he
ordered a Culdee of his household to resuscitate a child that had been
half-devoured by a pig. "His faith failed him, however, and he said he
would not tempt the Lord. Then Patrick ordered Bishops Ibar and Ailbe to
bring the boy to life, and he besought the Lord along with them, and the
boy was brought to life through Patrick's prayer."

                    "The Apostle turned
  To Ibar, and to Ailbe, bishops twain,
  And bade them raise the child. They heard and knelt;
  And Patrick knelt between them: and these three
  Upheaved a mighty strength of prayer; and lo!
  All pale, yet shining, rose the child, and sat,
  Lifting small hands, and to the people preached,
  And straightway they believed, and were baptized."

This passage represents St. Patrick as meeting these two _Bishops_ in
Munster, of whom there was previously heard nothing, and so far seems to
confirm the statement in the Lives of these Saints that they were
consecrated abroad, and not by St. Patrick.

Again, why should there not be bishops in Ireland before St. Patrick as
well as priests and laymen? In his Confession, which has been always
regarded as an authentic document, St. Patrick himself says:--"For your
sake I faced many dangers, going even to the limits of the land where no
one was before me, and whither no one had yet come to baptize, or ordain
clerics, or confirm the faithful." This certainly seems to imply that in
the less remote parts of the country there may have been priests, or even
bishops, who did perform these functions before him.

The chief difficulty against the authenticity of the Lives of St. Ciaran,
St. Declan, and St. Ailbe, is a chronological one. If they were bishops
before St. Patrick, how could they have lived down to the first quarter or
even to the middle of the sixth century, as some of them are said to have
done? St. Ibar died, it seems, the earliest, about A.D. 500; but Ailbe's
death is given in the _Annals of Ulster_ under date of A.D. 526, and again
at A.D. 533 and 541, which shows that at least he must have lived through
the first quarter of the sixth century. Ciaran of Saigher was at the
School of Clonard, and is spoken of as the friend of his namesake of
Clonmacnoise, and of the two Brendans, who were students in the same great
seminary; and according to many authorities, Declan lived late into this
same century, if not into the next. The authors of the Lives were not
unconscious of this difficulty, and boldly meet it by giving to these
saints lives of extraordinary duration, extending from 200 to 300, and
even to 400 years. Statements of this kind cannot of course be accepted,
and of themselves throw suspicion on the authenticity of those Lives. As a
matter of fact, however, it is not at all necessary to assume that those
saints lived so long in order to be contemporaries of St. Patrick, and
even consecrated before him. St. Patrick, according to the common
chronology, was about sixty years of age when he came to Ireland, so that
Ibar or Ailbe might have been consecrated before him and still have
outlived him some twenty or thirty years, if we only assume that they
reached the same great age as St. Patrick himself. Our own opinion is that
Ibar and Ailbe, if not also Ciaran and Declan, were not consecrated in
Erin but abroad; that probably they had returned to their native country
before St. Patrick, and were engaged in preaching the Gospel to their
countrymen when he arrived in Ireland; but the great fame and success of
St. Patrick eclipsed their labours; and then they also consented to become
his disciples and recognise his superior authority and greater success.


There is, however, in the Scholia on Ængus a curious story which would
seem to imply that Ibar, at least, was at first somewhat reluctant to
yield to St. Patrick's authority. It is said that he had a great conflict
with Patrick, and that "he left the roads full and the kitchens empty in
Armagh." Patrick was thereupon angry with him, and this is what he said:
"Thou shalt not be in Ireland," quoth Patrick. "Ireland (Eri) shall be the
name of the place wherein I am," quoth Bishop Ibar. Whence, Beg-Eri (or
Little Ireland) was so called, that is, the island which is in
"Ui-Cenn-selaig and out on the sea it is."[145] It is stated in the same
place that Bishop Ibar was 353 years when he died.

It seems to us highly probable that Ibar was a pre-Patrician bishop;
although he afterwards yielded to St. Patrick, and in a certain sense
became his disciple. He was of the race of the Hy-Eathach of Ulster, who
have given their name to the barony of Iveagh in the Co. Down, not in
Armagh as Todd seems to assert. Of his life only few notices are preserved
besides those already referred to. Mella, his sister, was mother of St.
Abban, and it is in the Life of this nephew of Ibar that we find the most
important notices with reference to Ibar himself. We cannot say with
certainty where Ibar received his early training; an abbot, St. Motta, is
mentioned as his first instructor in sacred learning, but, if he be not
St. Mochtae of Louth, nothing further is known concerning him. In
Tirechan's Collections in the _Book of Armagh_, an ancient and venerable
authority, we find the name of Iborus in the list of bishops consecrated
by St. Patrick, and the name seems identical with Ibar.[146] At one time
it is said the saint was placed by St. Patrick in charge of St. Brigid's
community at Kildare, in which office he was succeeded by St. Conlaeth. He
afterwards preached the Gospel in Leix and Hy-Kinselagh, converting many
to the faith. At length he came to Wexford and resolved to retire from the
active missionary life, and devote the remainder of his years to prayer
and sacred study. For this purpose he took possession of the small island
of Beg-Eri, or Begery, in the north-west of Wexford Harbour. Here he built
his oratory and cell about the year A.D. 485, some fifteen years before
his death. Like many other of our Irish Saints, he loved to rest within
the hearing of the great Sea, and we are told that he had previously spent
some time in one of the islands off the wild west coast of
Ireland--perhaps in Aran.

A man so famed for sanctity and learning could not thus escape from his
disciples. They soon discovered his retreat, and crowded round him in his
island home. It was easy enough to build their cells of stone or wattles;
fish abounded in the channels around the island, and countless flocks of
wild fowl covered the pools, so that it would not be difficult to find
food for the scholars, even in this small island of twenty-one acres.
Amongst the rest was his own nephew, St. Abban the Elder, who became one
of his most distinguished scholars, and was the spiritual father and first
teacher of the great St. Finnian of Clonard.

We are told in the _Life of St. Abban_ that "at this time innumerable holy
monks and nuns in various parts of Ireland lived under the direction of
Ibar, so that in the Litany of Ængus are invoked three thousand father
confessors, who gathered together under Bishop Ibar to consider certain
questions. He lived, however, chiefly in his celebrated monastery of
Beg-Eri, because he loved that place more than any other. It is situated
in a small island off the southern part of Hy-Kinselagh, ramparted by the
sea; and in that same island the remains of the holy prelate rest, and the
place itself is greatly honoured by all the Irish on account of their
veneration for St. Ibar, and the wondrous miracles performed there through
his intercession."

We are also told that Abban was only twelve years old when he came to the
School of Beg-Eri, and that he made great progress there under the
direction of Ibar in the study of the Sacred Scriptures and of all the
liberal arts, so that his companions wondered much at his great learning
and eloquence. Ibar wishing to go to Rome on a pilgrimage, resolved to
leave the charge of his monastic school to Abban during his absence.
Abban, however, ardently desiring to see the Holy City of the Apostles,
earnestly besought his uncle to allow him to go in the same ship; but all
in vain, until with the aid of an angel he was borne over the waves, and
thus reaching the vessel, he was allowed to come on board. Thus both the
pilgrims visited Rome, passing through Britain on their way, and after
many wonderful incidents returned in safety to Lough Garman. Then Abban
himself went through Erin preaching the Gospel, and founding monasteries
in various parts of the country. So it came to pass that the learning and
discipline of the School of Beg-Eri were carried to other parts of
Ireland, and that seed was scattered, which in the next century produced
such marvellous fruit throughout all the land. St. Ibar died on the 23rd
of April, A.D. 500, in his beloved island retreat; and there he was
buried, where the prayers of his children and the voices of the sea would
murmur round his grave for ages.

Not for ever--for Beg-Eri was one of the first of our religious schools to
feel the destroying presence of the Danes around our coasts. So early as
A.D. 819 it was plundered by the Danes. In A.D. 884 is recorded the death
of its abbot, Diarmaid, and of Cruinmeal in A.D. 964. The citizens of
Wexford kept it as a place of refuge and security for their Norman
prisoners, when the town was besieged by Strongbow in A.D. 1172. The
veracious Gerald Barry tells us that St. Ibar had expelled the rats from
his island, so that not one of them could live there, or even be born in
it afterwards.

For ages, however, it continued to be regarded as a very holy shrine, and
the men of Wexford made frequent pilgrimages to the grave of its holy

Colonel Solomon Richards, a Cromwellian adventurer, who settled in
Wexford, published, in A.D. 1682, an interesting, but bigoted account of
the Barony of Forth.[147] He tells us that in "the little chapel (of
Beg-Eri) there was a wooden image of the Saint (whom he calls Iberian),
and people go there to worship him, and settle any cases of controversy
that may arise amongst them by oath before the image of the Saint.
Moreover, if any false charge were made against a man, the parties take
boat to the island, the suspected man swears that the charge is false, and
this oath before the Saint is at once readily accepted as satisfactory
proof of innocence. Once or twice, 'idle fellows who love not wooden
gods,' stole away St. Iberian, and burned him, but the image was
miraculously restored, as the silly people believe, once more to its
place." It is well known that similar wooden images of the patron saints
have been preserved in the islands of Innismurray and Inisgloria down to
our own time.

Beg-Eri is no longer an island. The slob-lands of the harbour have been
reclaimed, and this most interesting spot has become part and parcel of
the main-land. It was discovered during the process of the reclamation
works that Beg-Eri was in ancient times connected by a causeway or
_togher_ with the adjoining 'Great Island.' The remains of the _togher_,
consisting of two rows of oak piles, were still found _in situ_; an
ancient wharf also stood at the northern extremity of the island, close to
the Bunatroe Channel, which ran between the island and the shore, but it
has now disappeared. The old church of Ard Colum and a holy well are on
the main-land due west of Beg-Eri; to the south was another old church and
well dedicated to St. Coemhan, brother of the saint of Glendalough, and
popularly called Ard-Cavan. The ancient oratory of Ibar on Beg-Eri has
entirely disappeared, but the remains of a much more modern church are
still to be seen surrounded by a grave-yard, with numerous ancient
head-stones. Two of these flags--one red and the other green--are
inscribed with ancient crosses, but no names are to be found. Taking into
account its antiquity and history, we must regard Beg-Eri as one of the
most interesting spots in Ireland, and we cannot but regret that its
insular character has been effaced by modern improvements.


Neither was the West of Ireland without its own schools even so early as
the latter part of the fifth century. The first school in the West seems
to have been established by St. Benignus at his own monastery of
Kilbannon, about three miles to the north of Tuam. His sister Mathona was,
as we have seen, one of the first nuns veiled in Erin, and settled down at
Tawnagh, in the county Sligo, where she founded a church and convent under
the guidance of Bishop Cairell, a disciple of St. Patrick.

Benignus belonged to the race of Cian of Cashel, son of Oilioll Olum.[148]
Two offshoots of this family established themselves, one in the barony of
Keenaght, in the County Derry, to which they gave their name, and the
other in Bregia, to which the family of St. Benignus belonged. It is
stated indeed in the _Leabhar Breac_, and in the _Book of Rights_, that he
belonged to the Cianachta of Gleann Geimhin (Glengiven), but that is
clearly a mistake, except the name be taken to include both the families
of Meath and of Derry, which is not unlikely.

A third branch of the same family had settled down in the barony of Leyney
(Luighne), county Sligo; and that Luigh, from whom they took their name,
was according to the genealogies, a first cousin of the father of
Benignus. This would, no doubt, help to explain why the virgin Mathona
founded her convent at Tawnagh, near her cousins, in the county Sligo, and
would also help to explain the special preference which Benignus himself
manifested in favour of the western province.

He had been commissioned, it is said, by St. Patrick to preach especially
in those districts, which he himself had not visited. Accordingly we are
told that Benen preached in Kerry, in Clare, and in South Connaught, the
very localities which St. Patrick did not find time to visit. He blessed
Connaught, too, with a special blessing from Bundrowes, near Bundoran, to
Limerick, and the grateful natives paid to him and his successors a yearly
tribute of milk and butter, calves and lambs, as well as first fruits of
the rest of their produce.

Now Kilbannon,[149] in South Connaught, was Benen's principal church, and
continued to be for many centuries a very important religious foundation,
as its ruined round tower still proves. But Benen was above all things a
scholar and a psalm-singer, so he founded a school for young ecclesiastics
in his monastery, of the history of which unfortunately we know little or

He had at least one illustrious disciple, and that was St. Jarlath,
afterwards Bishop of Tuam. It has been said that Jarlath could not have
been a disciple of Benignus before A.D. 455, when the latter was
transferred to Armagh. We answer that Jarlath was an old man in A.D. 512,
when St. Brendan of Clonfert became his disciple at Cluainfois, near Tuam,
and hence there is nothing to prevent Jarlath being a disciple of
Benignus, if he were about the same age that Benignus himself was, when he
became a disciple of St. Patrick.

St. Jarlath founded his own college at Cluainfois towards the end of the
fifth century. Colgan fixes the date at A.D. 510; but there are passages
in the _Life of St. Brendan_, which go to show that it must have been
founded at an earlier date, probably about the year A.D. 500. Of this
college at Cluainfois, and of St. Jarlath's School at Tuam, we shall have
something more to say hereafter.

Lanigan, quoting the _Tripartite Life of St. Patrick_, says that there was
an episcopal seminary at Elphin, in the County Roscommon, governed by St.
Asicus, even at this early period. In truth all that we know of St. Asicus
is derived from the _Tripartite_. The beautiful site on which the
monastery was built got its name, _Ailfind_, from the white stone that was
raised out of the well, which was made by Patrick in the green, and "that
stone stands on the brink of the well," says the author of the
_Tripartite_, "and it is called from the water"--that is, Elphin means the
stone of the clear stream. That clear and bountiful spring still flows
through the street of Elphin before the site of the monastery of Asicus,
literally in the green, and it is only a short time since the stone itself
was carried off by some profane hands. It is now, we believe, somewhere at
or near the Protestant Church in the town of Elphin.

Patrick blessed Ono the converted Druid, who gave him that beautiful site
overlooking to the south, the fertile and far-reaching plain of Magh Aei,
and added, moreover:--"Thy seed shall be blessed, and there shall be
victory of laymen and clerics from thee for ever, and they shall have the
inheritance of this place."

Then Patrick placed over the infant Church of Elphin Asicus, and Bite or
Biteus, the son of Asicus, and Cipia, mother of Bite the Bishop. The
family was, doubtless, of the race of Ono the Druid, and it seems they
were held in high repute in the neighbourhood. Asicus himself must have
been advanced in years, but he was an expert artificer in metal-work; and
we are told that he made altars, patens or altar-stones (_miassa_), and
square book-covers for Patrick, and these patens were so highly prized
that one was taken to Armagh, another was kept in Elphin, and a third was
taken far westward to the Church of Domnach Mor Maige Seolai, and placed
on the altar of Bishop Felart. It is very probable that these square
_miassa_ were stone or metal altar-flags, and were used to place over the
rude altars of the churches during the celebration of the Holy Mysteries,
a practice still common in the country where duly consecrated altars are
not to be had.

No doubt St. Asicus attended to these duties, whilst his son, Bishop
Biteus, took care of his infant monastery and school. It was the very
infancy of the Church in Ireland, for Elphin was one of St. Patrick's
earliest foundations, dating from the year A.D. 434 or 435. It has always
continued to hold a distinguished position amongst the episcopal sees of
the West; and although the Bishop dwells there no longer, it still gives
title to the most ancient of the Western Sees.

Asicus himself--in shame because of a lie told either by him, or as others
say of him--fled into Donegal, and for seven years abode in the island of
Rathlin O'Birne. Then his monks sought him out, and after much labour
found him in the mountain glens, and tried to bring him home to his own
monastery at Elphin. But he fell sick by the way, and died with them in
the wilderness. So they buried the venerable old man in the churchyard of
Rath Cunga--now Racoon, in the barony of Tirhugh, County Donegal. The old
churchyard is there still, though now disused, on the summit of a round
hillock close to the left of the road from Ballyshannon to Donegal, about
a mile to the south of the village of Ballintra. We sought in vain for any
trace of an inscribed stone in the old churchyard. He fled from men during
life, and, like Moses, his grave is hidden from them in death.

The artistic spirit, however, remained in Elphin; and, as we shall see
hereafter, some of the most beautiful works of the twelfth century were
designed and executed by the spiritual sons of St. Asicus.





  "You'll see the homes of holy men
    Far west upon the shoreless main--
  In sheltered vale, on cloudy Ben,
    Where saints still pray, and scribes still pen
  The sacred page, despising gain."
                              --M'Gee: _Iona to Ireland_.


If we accept the authority of the Catalogue of the Three Orders of Irish
Saints, those of the fifth century were mainly missionaries; those of the
sixth century were cenobites; and the Third Order were for the most part
anchorites, or Culdees as they afterwards came to be called. To a certain
extent this is true. The Church of the sixth century partook very much of
the monastic character; as Skene says, "There was episcopacy in the
Church, but it was not diocesan episcopacy."[150] We should be inclined to
accept this statement, if the learned writer had inserted one word, and
said that it was not _always_ diocesan episcopacy. In Iona, and doubtless
in other great monasteries also, there was generally a resident prelate,
subject in jurisdiction to the presbyter-abbot; but Venerable Bede says
expressly[151] that it was an unusual arrangement--inusitato ordine--and
his authority settles the question; it was unusual even in the Celtic

There is no doubt that monastic influence predominated in the Irish Church
of the sixth century, and that the head of the monastery was not always,
though he certainly was very frequently, a bishop. This arose partly from
the ardour of the Celtic character in its efforts to reach perfection,
partly from the unsettled state of the country, and to some extent from
the influence and example of the great Columba himself. It was by accident
he was not consecrated a bishop, and his successors would not pretend to
be greater than their holy founder. But the system at least produced one
excellent effect--it was under God the means of establishing those
wonderful monastic schools so famed in every Christian land.

It is certain, as we have seen, that there were in Ireland from the very
first conversion of the people both monks and nuns, and therefore
monasteries also. But the founders of these religious houses could give
very little time to regulate their constitution and government, much less
to undertake the management of such institutions themselves. St. Patrick
and his fellow labourers were 'the founders of churches' rather than of
monasteries--their work was to preach, to ordain, to baptize. It was the
next generation of monks that undertook to found monasteries properly so
called; men who themselves were trained in religious houses elsewhere, and
thus becoming acquainted with religious life and discipline were fitted to
found similar institutions at home. The earliest of these monasteries
properly so called date from the beginning of the sixth century; and
perhaps the two most celebrated fathers of Irish monastic life, in this
sense of the word, were St. Enda of Aran, and St. Finnian of Clonard. We
shall first speak of St. Enda.

Aran, under St. Enda, may be called the novitiate of the Irish saints of
the Second Order, as Clonard may be considered their college; and hence we
shall trace as carefully as we can the history of these two famous
foundations of sanctity and learning, to which the ancient Church of
Ireland owed so much.

St. Enda, or Endeus, was of royal blood--one of "the sons of the Kings of
the Scots," who embraced the monastic state even during the lifetime of
St. Patrick himself. His father, Conall Derg, was king of Oriel--a wide
territory extending from Lough Erne to the sea at Dundalk, and nearly
conterminous with the modern diocese of Clogher. His mother was Evin
(Aebhfhinn) grand-daughter of Ronan, king of the Ards of Down. He had a
sister called Fanchea, a devout maiden, who is said by some to have
received the veil from the hands of St. Patrick, and to whom her brother
owed his conversion to the religious life. The young prince succeeded his
father as chieftain of the men of Oriel, and although high-minded and
pure-hearted, he took a chieftain's share in the wild work of mutual
pillage and slaughter to which these Irish chieftains were always too much
prone. His pious sister had founded a convent of nuns at a place called
Ross Oirthir, which is in all probability identical with the old church
and cemetery of Rossory, in the parish of the same name by the shores of
the River Erne, on its left bank near Enniskillen, and not far from the
famous Franciscan Abbey of Lisgoole. The old church has disappeared with
the progress of modern 'improvements;' but the home of the dead is still
untouched. Here St. Fanchea had her oratory and nunnery, when it happened
that her brother led the clansmen past the convent to attack their
enemies. Shortly after a wild song of joy told the terrified maidens that
they were returning home triumphant, having conquered their foes and slain
the leader.

The young prince stopped to see his sister at the convent gate, but she
forbade him to approach, stained as he was, with the blood of his fellow
creatures. Enda said it was his duty to defend his people and conquer
their enemies--"I have not killed any man," he said, "nor yet have I ever
sinned with women"--and then it seems he asked his sister to allow him to
take to be his wife one of the young ladies under her care who was
remarkable for her beauty. Fanchea knew she was powerless to resist, if
her warrior brother persisted in his purpose. So she bade him stay where
he was, and going into the convent called the maiden before her, and said,
"My sister, a choice is given you to-day--wouldst thou love the Spouse
whom I love, or rather a carnal spouse?" "I will always love thy Spouse,"
said the maiden. Then Fanchea brought her to an inner chamber, and bade
her lie down on the bed. She did so, and soon after fell quietly asleep in
the Lord. Then Fanchea put a veil on the face of the dead, and bringing in
her brother, she said, taking the veil suddenly off, "Come and see her
whom thou lovest." He started at the sight, but not thinking her dead, he
only said--"She is awfully pale and ghastly." "It is the paleness of
death," said his sister; "and so shall you soon be if you repent not your
sins." The young man retired conscience-stricken, and Fanchea so used the
auspicious moment to remind him of the torments of hell and the joys of
heaven, that he at once resolved to renounce his principality and become a

Enda now gave striking proof of the sincerity of his conversion. The
convent and oratory of his sister Fanchea were still unprotected by a
rampart of any kind; and what had just taken place clearly showed the want
of some enclosure in those turbulent days. Enda resolved to accomplish the
work with his own hands, and doubtless with the aid of some of his
tribesmen. He dug a deep fosse and raised a large '_mur_' or rampart of
earth all round the sacred enclosure, so that in future one or two
faithful attendants could defend the narrow entrance of the fort against
sudden attack. It is interesting to know that a portion of this earthen
rampart raised by Enda himself is still to be seen on the western side of
the rath levelled low by time, but still some thirteen yards in thickness
and several feet in height.

From Rossory Enda went to Killany, in the co. Louth, and there within the
bounds of his own principality he set about the construction of a
monastery for himself and such religious men as might join him in the
service of God. Here also he directed the workmen in the construction of
the buildings, and it seems that his sister, too, had a second religious
house not far distant, where she appears to have spent a portion of her
time. A party of freebooters once passed by laden with booty where Enda
and his men were working. The tribesmen seized their weapons to attack the
marauders, and Enda himself caught up one of the poles sunk in the soil
for a rampart to join in the fray. Just then his sister, who happened to
be present, told him to put his hand to his head and remember whose
soldier he was. Enda did so, and feeling the tonsure that he wore, he
remembered that he was the soldier of Christ, and cast aside at once both
his weapon and the spirit of strife that was excited within him. So his
sister Fanchea was, as it were, his good angel, and he was always obedient
to her instructions.

Enda, however, was still only a novice in the religious life, and,
therefore, not well qualified to be a guide for others. So his sister said
to him, "Go thou to Britain, to the monastery of Rosnat, and there become
the humble disciple of Mancenus, the head of that monastery."[152] This
monastery of Rosnat is by some writers placed in the valley of Rosina, in
Wales, where a certain St. Manchen is said to have founded a religious
house. We are inclined to agree with Skene that it was rather the
celebrated monastery known as Candida Casa, or Whithern, founded by St.
Ninian at the extremity of the peninsula of Galloway. This religious house
was also known as the Magnum Monasterium, and sometimes as the monastery
of Rosnat. It was dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, and hence it is
sometimes called the House of Martin. We are here on firm ground, for we
have the express testimony of Bede that Ninian, or Ninias, "had been
regularly instructed in Rome in the faith and the mysteries of the truth,"
that his episcopal see was named after St. Martin, that it was in the
province of Bernicia, and that there Ninian had built a stately church,
generally called Candida Casa, or the White House, because it was built
of stone, which was not usual amongst the Britons.[153] This is a most
important statement of Bede, for, as we shall see, very many of the
founders of the earliest and the greatest of our Irish monasteries were
trained at Whithern, and the founder of Whithern himself was trained at
Rome in the faith and mysteries of religion, thus directly connecting the
fathers of Irish monasticism with the discipline and dogma of Rome.

It is said that St. Ninian, on his return from Rome, called to see the
great St. Martin, and that he received from the latter masons to build him
a church, as the Britons were not then skilled in stone-work. Ninian was
actually building Candida Casa in A.D. 397, when he heard of the death of
St. Martin; and, accordingly, when the building was finished he dedicated
it to his deceased friend and patron, the great founder of monasticism in
Gaul. This fixes the date of its foundation with sufficient accuracy.
Candida Casa became, under St. Ninian and his successors, during the fifth
century, a great seminary of sanctity and learning, and undoubtedly was
one of the chief sources from which Irish monasticism was derived.

Usher quotes an ancient Irish life of St. Ninian,[154] in which it is
stated that in his old age, Ninian, who is there said to have been an
Irishman, deserted Candida Casa at the earnest request of his mother and
of other relations also, and founded a monastery in a beautiful spot
called Cluain Conor, where he died several years afterwards. Bede,
however, distinctly says that his remains _are_ in Candida Casa. St.
Cairnech, to whom we have already referred as one of the co-operators of
St. Patrick in the reform of the Brehon Laws, appears to have been a
successor of Ninian at Candida Casa, for, in his Life, it is described as
the monastery of Cairnech. Afterwards, it is said, he came to Erin, and
singularly enough, is described as "the first Bishop of the Clan Niall,
the first martyr, and the first monk of Erin, and the first Brehon (that
is Christian Brehon), of the men of Erin also."[155] Cairnech was thus,
even during the life of St. Patrick, a connecting link between Candida
Casa and the North of Ireland; and hence we find that in subsequent years
several of our earliest saints repaired to that great seminary to be
trained in learning and the discipline of the monastic life. Amongst these
may be mentioned Tighernac of Clones and Eugenius of Ardstraw. The former
in his Life is said to have been trained in the monastery of Rosnat,
which by another name is called Alba (the White), under the guidance and
discipline of Monennius; and in the Life of the latter, the same "wise and
holy man, Nennio, who is also named Mancennus, of the Monastery of
Rosnat," is stated to have been the master both of Tighernach and
Eugenius; and it is added that with his blessing and advice, after some
years spent there, they set sail for Ireland.

Here we have the same Nennio, or Mo-nennius, called also Mancennus, to
whom Enda is directed to go by his sister, and become his humble disciple.
Rosnat was then and long after the great seminary of the early Northern
Saints, before regular monasteries were founded at home; and hence Enda, a
Northern Prince of Oriel, whose mother came from the Ards of Down, would
naturally cross the narrow sea to the same great school which his
countrymen frequented. In the _Tripartite Life of St. Patrick_, Manchan
the Master is said to have accompanied the apostle to Tyrawley, when the
chiefs and people of that district were converted about the year A.D. 449.
Colgan says,[156] "that this Manchan the Master was the same person who
elsewhere is called Mancennus of the Monastery of Rosnat, and that he
received the name of Master from his great learning, especially in
Theology and Sacred Scripture." The only point at issue seems to be
whether Rosnat, the "Great Monastery," was in Galloway or Glen Rosyn[157]
in Wales.

It is difficult to fix the period when Enda went to study under the Master
at Rosnat. It was probably about the year A.D. 475, for he was still a
young man, and as he died very old, about A.D. 540, we may assume that he
was born about A.D. 450, and would thus go to Britain between A.D. 470 and

From Rosnat, Enda, like Ninian and several other saints at the time, is
said to have gone to Rome, and even to have founded somewhere in Italy a
monastery called Laetinum or Latinum. But his sister, Fanchea, who loved
him dearly, courageously followed him thither, and induced him to make her
a promise that he would return home within a year; and this promise he
fulfilled. He landed at Drogheda, which was probably at the time a portion
of his father's kingdom of Oriel, and there he founded some churches after
his return.

But Oriel was not to be the place of his resurrection. He longed for
solitude--to be away from the world, and to be alone with God--and he
found it. One of his sisters, called Darenia, was married to Ængus (son of
Nadfraich) the King of Munster, whom St. Patrick had baptized; and Enda,
hearing that certain wild and lonely islands in the western sea belonged
to the territory of the King of Munster, resolved to ask his
brother-in-law to give him a grant of these islands that he might there
establish his monastery, and live in solitude and security--for the times
were lawless, and even God's servants were not always respected. Ængus
tried to dissuade Enda from his project, telling him that the islands were
inhabited by a race of infidels from Corcomroe, who hated God and His
saints, and that his life would not be safe amongst them. Moreover, he
offered him a fertile tract in the Golden Vale in which to found a
monastery, if Enda so willed it. But he still persisted in his project,
and Ængus then made a grant of the Aran Islands to him, and to any
religious brethren who might accompany him thither. This must have taken
place before the year A.D. 484, which is the date commonly assigned for
the death of Ængus Mac Nadfraich.

Aran Mor, the largest and most westerly of the three Islands of Aran, is
called in Irish Aran-na-naomh--Aran of the Saints, for it is the holiest
spot on Irish soil. In days past it was the chosen home of the Saints of
God where they loved to live, and where they longed to die. One hundred
and twenty seven saints sleep in the little grave-yard around Killeany
Church; and we are told elsewhere that it will never be known until the
Day of Judgment, the countless host of saints, whose relics are mingled
with the sacred soil of Aran. We propose, therefore, to give a fuller
account of the Aran Islands, both in the present and the past, than might,
perhaps, be expected from the scope of this work. The islands are filled
with both Pagan and Christian antiquities; the inhabitants are a
singularly amiable and interesting people; and the physical features of
the islands are very bold and striking. We shall say something of them


These Isles of Aran, with which the name of Enda is so intimately
associated, stretch across the entrance to Galway Bay, forming a natural
breakwater against the wild Atlantic billows. They are three in
number--Aran Mor, Inismaan or Middle Island, and Inishere, or the Eastern
Island, but frequently also called the Southern Island. A glance at the
map will show that the islands trend to the north-west, opposing a
straight wall of lofty cliffs to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Geologically the islands are a continuation of the limestone formation of
the Burren mountains--"a gray and bluish-gray splintery limestone,"
containing in some places quarries of marble, which even in the time of
Roderick O'Flaherty, some two hundred years ago, were worked for
tomb-stones, chimney-pieces, and high crosses. The same author says the
soil was paved with stone; in some places nothing is to be seen but the
naked rock, cropping up everywhere with wide openings between the joints,
"where cattle frequently break their legs."

The surface falls to the north-east, and this lower shore line of Aran Mor
is broken into two bays, which afford shelter from the prevailing winds.
But on the south-west, or seaward line, the islands offer an almost
unbroken wall of rock to the long swell of the ocean, rising in some
places sheer from the sea to a height of nearly three hundred feet, and
hidden beneath the waters to a depth of from twenty to thirty fathoms.
Here and there the harder rock stands out in bold precipitous headlands,
or completely isolated cliffs; while at other points the sea eats its way
through caverns, where the waves roll in with hollow, thundering sound
into the bowels of the rocks; and the compressed air within forcing its
way upward forms 'puffing holes,' through which the spray is shot high in
luminous columns into the air.

Aran Mor is about nine miles long and two at its greatest breadth; it is
separated by Gregory Sound[158] from the Middle Island, which is rudely
elliptical, and about eight miles in circumference. This latter island is
separated from Inishere by a narrower passage, about one mile wide, called
the "Foul Sound,"[159] which deserves the name, for it is a rather
dangerous passage, containing a hidden shoal with only six feet of water
over it. Gregory Sound is wider and deeper, being quite navigable from
shore to shore. The tides blocked by the island barriers rush with great
force through these narrow channels, rendering the navigation very
difficult and dangerous. The passage between the north-western extremity
of Aran Mor and Golam Head in Connemara is called the North Sound--in
Irish _Bealach Locha Lurgain_. It is about eight miles across. The passage
between Inishere and the co. Clare--the more usual one for sea-going
ships--is called the South Sound, and is about five miles broad at its
narrowest point. There is a lighthouse near a place called Finnis
Rock[160] at the south-eastern extremity of Inishere, which marks the
limit of a very dangerous shoal, that stretches out from the island into
the Sound. This rock, says O'Flaherty, was remarkable for 'ship-wracks.'

Aran Mor contains 7,635 acres, with a population of nearly 2,000, the
greater part of whom, in 1901, could neither read nor write. It has three
considerable villages--Killeany on the east; Kilmurry in the middle; and
Oonagh towards the north-western extremity of the island.

On the northern slopes of the island there is a sweet, juicy herbage, on
which sheep and cattle thrive very well. The grasses are intermingled with
various medicinal herbs, such as the wild garlic, which is said to give a
delicate flavour to butter, and the _rineen_, or fairy flax, which is
believed to have wonderful curative properties. R. O'Flaherty declares
that in his own time "beef, veal, and mutton are better and earlier in
season here than anywhere else." He could hardly say so now with truth;
but there is no doubt that the veal and mutton are well flavoured. On the
shore, in his time, "were samphire in plenty, ring root, and sea-holly, or
sea cabbage." The samphire is there still--the _crithmum maritimum_, or
cranagh. It is said to have been used for preserves, and when boiled is
frequently eaten by the poorer classes.

The crops consist of patches of oats, rye, and potatoes--the latter is an
uncertain crop, whose failure causes great hardships to the islanders.
Kelp-making and fishing are the two staple industries of the place. The
kelp, or burned sea-weed, is used in the manufacture of iodine, and pays
very fairly in dry seasons.

All kinds of fish abound near the islands--cod, ling, haddock, turbot,
gurnet, mackerel, glassin, bream, and herring; besides there are lobsters,
crabs, and cockles; but the appliances for fishing are of a very primitive
description, and the boats are unable to stand severe weather. Many coarse
seals are shot on the rocks, and sun-fish used to be speared in April and
May from which a considerable quantity of oil was extracted.

All manner of sea-birds frequent the cliffs:--plovers, gannets, pigeons,
ducks, and anciently hawks in considerable numbers. Some of these birds,
says O'Flaherty, "never fly but over the sea, and are therefore used to be
eaten on fasting days, to catch which people go down with ropes tied about
them into the caves of the clifts by night, and with a candlelight kill
abundance of them." "Here, too," he adds, "are Cornish choughs with red
legs and bills."

There are several small wells, many of them holy wells, but in very dry
weather the supply of water is exhausted, and the cattle must be removed,
or water carried from the mainland. Fuel is very scarce, and now, as well
as two hundred years ago, they have to burn cow-dung dried in the sun,
when they cannot get turf from Connemara.

Inismaan contains 2,252 acres--less than one-third the area of the Great
Island--of an equally churlish soil and rugged surface, yet sustaining a
population of about 430 persons. Inis-Airther or Eastern Island, though
much the smallest in area, had, in 1901, about 490 inhabitants. The entire
population of the three islands then amounted to 3,050, of whom 56
belonged to the Protestant Church. Of the entire population 504 could read
and write, while 143 could read only. The Irish language is almost
universally spoken by the islanders, who are very conservative of their
traditions, and are especially remarkable for their attachment to their
native island--they are happy nowhere else. In person they are a tall and
handsome race, frank and courteous in their demeanour, with a free and
graceful carriage, for their limbs are very lithe and active. They wear
shoes of untanned leather, which contribute to this free and easy
movement, enabling them to spring from rock to rock with the agility of
goats. They are moreover full of faith and piety, considerate and obliging
to strangers, strictly honest, truth-telling, and certainly not greedy of
gain, as we can affirm from personal experience. They are remarkably
industrious--bold fishermen in those wild seas, and on shore are ready to
carry on their backs the soil necessary to cover the arid rock, and enable
them to cultivate their patches of potatoes. In a wet season they have an
excellent crop on these limestone platforms, so lightly covered with clay;
but in seasons of drought the parched roots can find no nourishment, and
the potato crop is a failure. The consequences are sometimes deplorable;
the poor people are half starved--sea fish, when they can catch any, and
sea-weed when they cannot, being then their principal nourishment. Such
were the islands of Aran when Enda first landed on those stormy shores,
and such they are to this day.


These islands contain, perhaps, the earliest existing remains of pagan
architecture in Western Europe. In every part of the three islands one
meets with some monument of a great pre-historic people, whose works even
in their ruins will outlive the monuments of later and more civilized
peoples. We can only refer to them very briefly, but they are too
interesting to be passed over altogether in silence. Those who wish for
fuller information would do well to consult Lord Dunraven's admirable
_Notes on Irish Architecture_.[161]

In each of the three islands are found ancient forts or duns, which are
traditionally attributed to the Firbolg or Belgic race. After their
overthrow by the Tuatha de Danaans in the great battles of North and South
Moytury, it is said that the survivors fled for refuge to the remotest
shores and islands of the western coast, and there built on almost
inaccessible sites those wondrous forts, whose ruins are still to be seen
on the islands and sea-washed promontories from Tory Island to Valentia.

It is said that many of this subjugated and exiled race returned from
their wanderings about the first century before the Christian era; that
they were kindly received by Meave and Aillil, then rulers of the western
province; and that they received from them a grant of Connemara, the Isles
of Aran, and other uncultivated districts, in which they strongly
entrenched themselves against any possibility of future attack.

Not without cause did they take these precautionary measures, for it is
recorded that Conall Cearnach, and other heroes of Ulster, sought to
dislodge them from their desolate homes on those remotest shores. It is
highly probable that it was at this period the Firbolgic tribes sought to
protect themselves by raising those wondrous stone forts that still excite
the admiration of every traveller. Such is the Bardic narrative, and it
furnishes a more satisfactory explanation of those ancient stone
fortresses along the western coast than any other that has yet been

According to another tradition it was not the heroes of the North, but the
Dalcais of Thomond, who sought to expel the wanderers from their island
homes: and then the Clann Umoir built in self-defence those marvellous
fortresses whose remains still excite our admiration, as a further
protection against their foes.

There are remains of seven forts in the three islands--the first is Dun
Ængusa, the Fort of Ængus.

This fort gets its name from Ængus, one of the sons of Hua Môr, a famous
chieftain in our pre-Christian history. It is situated at the very edge of
the highest portion of the sea-wall on the southern shore of the Great
Isle of Aran. Nothing finer can be imagined either for strength or
grandeur than the site of this fort. At this point the cliff rises from
the waves 300 feet in perpendicular height. To the north and west
stretches out the ultimate ocean; on the south the bold promontories of
Clare go out to meet the advancing waves; and further on can be discerned
in the dim distance Cuchullin's Leap (now called Loop Head), and Brandon
Mountain in Kerry, faintly traceable against the sky. All around there is
the naked limestone rock, and scarcely discernible from the rock are the
giant walls that once formed the last refuge of the ancient Belgic race in

The plan of Dun Ængus can be much better understood since the recent
restoration effected by the Board of Works. This wonderful fort occupies
an angle of the cliff, and in outline is semi-elliptical, with the
diameter resting on the edge of the cliff, which itself formed a natural
and impregnable wall on the sea side. The fort consists of a triple line
of defence, and thus included a triple area rudely concentric. The wall of
the inmost area is eighteen feet high, and about eight feet thick. It was
built without cement of any kind; but really consists of two separate
walls built close together of stones moderate in size, but carefully laid
in horizontal positions. This inner wall surrounds a bare rocky floor, now
covered with green turf, 142 feet along the cliff's edge, and about 150
feet in depth from the cliff to the furthest extremity.

This inner wall had an entrance some 3 feet 4 ins. wide, and quite perfect
when visited by John O'Donovan in 1839; but its lintel has since been
thrown down, and the margins broken. It has, however, been lately restored
by the Board of Works. The middle wall is at a considerable distance from
the inner enclosure, in some places more than 200 feet, but on the
north-western corner, where it approaches close to the cliff, it is not
more than 22 feet from the inner wall. Outside of this second wall there
is a very extraordinary _cheveaux de-frize_, consisting of large sharp
stones set upright, so sharp and so closely set that even to this day it
is impossible for man or beast to make their way through them, even with
the greatest caution, without cut shins, if nothing worse should happen.
We have ourselves tried the experiment, and we did not escape scathless.
Nothing more efficacious to break the ranks of an advancing foe, whether
horse or foot, could possibly have been devised.

Beyond this _cheveaux-de-frize_ there are the remains of a third wall,
which enclosed a very considerable space, and terminates, like the other
two, on the very edge of the stupendous cliffs.

This fort of Dun Ængus, with its triple walls, and its _chevaux-de-frize_,
defending it all round to the edge of the cliff, was a fortress so
formidable that even still a hundred resolute men could hold it against an
army, at least so long as artillery was not employed to dislodge them.

Dun Conchobhair, or Conor's Fort, on the Middle Island is a still more
astonishing structure, if we have regard to the time when it was built.
Tradition ascribes the building of this noble fort to Conor, another son
of Hua Môr, and brother of Ængus. It is larger, and better built than the
Fort of Ængus, and is finely situated in the centre of the island at its
highest point about 250 feet above the sea. The innermost enclosure
measures 227 feet in length by 115 feet in breadth, and is oval in form.
The wall had two faces and a central core; it has besides a considerable
batter, and varies in different parts to from five to eight feet in width.
On the east side there was a triple wall nearly eighteen feet in breadth,
and twenty feet high. Its summit seems to have been approached by a flight
of lateral steps in the wall, of which the traces still remain.

In this, as well as in some of the other forts, are the remains of
_cloghauns_, or small cells, of beehive shape, built of stone, which were
evidently the habitations of the defenders of the fortress. This fact is
highly important, because it goes to show, that the beehive cell of the
early saints within the _caiseal_ or sacred enclosure was not a new idea,
but simply the practice, which the saints had themselves seen in those
pagan forts, where stone abounded.

There is another fort called Mothar Dun, on the Middle Island, which is
both in size and outline merely a reproduction of Dun Oonacht, to which we
shall presently refer. Its largest diameter is 103 feet, and its smallest
93 feet. It was so situated on the slope of the hill, that the summit of
the rocky cliff overlooks the area of the fort.

Dubh Cathair, the Black Fort, is in the townland of Killeany, on Aran Mor.
It was situated on an isolated promontory rising high above the sea, and
separated from the mainland by a wall and fosse about 220 feet in length.
The fort takes its name from the black colour of the stones with which it
was built.

Dun Oonacht is also on Aran Mor, at its northern extremity, and commands
a magnificent view of the coast line and mountains of Connemara. In shape
it is nearly circular, with a diameter of 94 feet, and is built of large
stones, laid horizontally, but not in courses. The fort wall was very much
broken; it has, we believe, been repaired since our visit, but it is still
quite 15 feet high on the southern side. There are no traces of a
_chevaux-de-frize_, as at Dun Ængus, and at the Black Fort. Dun Oghil is
also in Aran Mor, and crowns the summit of the highest hill on the island.
It has two concentric enclosures, the inner of which is an oval 75 by 91
feet. The name meant the Fort of the Yew Wood.

There was another large fort on the Southern Island, but even tradition
has forgotten its name. There are also other remains of a similar
character in these islands, especially on Aran Mor, but even their names
have vanished from the tenacious memory of the islanders. At least one of
these ancient forts, the Dun of Muirbheach Mil, was utilized in Christian
times as a monastic enclosure, within which the oratory and the cells of
the monks were constructed. It is not unlikely that all the stone caiseals
on the shores and islands of the West, were similarly of pagan origin, but
were utilized by the monks to protect their own religious buildings.

It is quite evident to any one, who surveys these ruins on Aran Mor, that
the islands were in ancient times the stronghold of a warrior race, who
preferred the freedom of these barren crags to serfdom in the more fertile
lands of the interior. They were men of might, who loved their freedom
dearly and resolved to defend it to the last extremity. They could not
have subsisted on the naked rocks around them, and were most likely
toilers on the sea, if not freebooters as well, who seized with strong
hand whatever they could grasp by land or water; and then fled for shelter
to their insular fortresses, where they might laugh to scorn any force
sent to punish them. Yet they must have been men of bold hearts, burning
with an unconquerable love of liberty, to build their eyries on the
topmost cliffs of those storm swept islands. So we thought, as we sat, on
the lofty cliff of Dun Ængus, three hundred feet above the boiling sea,
surrounded by the grand old walls, which their hands had reared at least
2,000 years ago. And if the spirits of the dead can ever revisit the
haunts they loved during life, we can well fancy how the ghosts of the
vanished sea-kings would still revel on those lone heights, when the storm
swept in from the west, and the scream of the sea birds was mingled on
some wild night with the roar of the white-breasted billows.

It is strange that history furnishes us with no account of the final
extinction of these bold warriors. Were they swept into the sea by the
advancing hosts of the Milesian tribes? or were they the "infidels from
Corcomroe," who dwelt in the islands when Enda first dared to set his foot
on their godless shores? We cannot tell; we only know that Enda changed
these pagan isles into islands of the blest, that side by side with the
pagan ruins of sea-kings are the churches and cells of himself and his
followers, which taken together, make the Isles of Aran the most holy and
most interesting spot within the wide bounds of Britain's insular empire.


Tradition tells us that Enda came first across the North Sound from
Garomna Island on the coast of Connemara, and landed in the little bay
under the village of Killeany, to which he has given his name. He came
over too in a stone boat, which floated lightly on the tide. It is there
still; we saw it ourselves on the sea shore. "Where is it," I said to my
guide. "Yonder on the shore near the boat," he replied, and keeping my
eyes fixed on the boat, which was before us, and towards which we directed
our steps in the gloom as to a land-mark, I did not perceive until quite
close that the 'boat' was in reality a large rock, so like a boat in shape
that a stranger could not tell the difference at any distance in the
fading light! This spot, in Enda's Life, is called Leamhchoill, but
according to O'Flaherty it is more properly called Ocuill, and it is nigh,
he says, to the great _Curragh Stone_, in which Enda sailed over the sea
to the island.

Corban, the chief of the 'Gentiles,' who dwelt on the islands, was at
first hostile to Enda, and plotted against his life. But frightened by the
prodigies which he witnessed, and convinced that Enda was indeed a man of
God, he appears to have quietly given up the Great Island to the saint and
withdrawn with his people, who consented to become Christians, either to
the neighbouring islands or to the mainland.

Enda founded his first monastery at Killeany, close to the present village
of the same name, and the fame of his austere sanctity soon spread
throughout all Erin, and attracted religious men from all parts of the
country. Amongst the first who came to visit Enda's island sanctuary was
the celebrated St. Brendan, the Navigator as he is called, who was then
revolving in his mind his great projects of discovering the Promised Land
beyond the western main. He came to consult Enda and seek his blessing for
the prosperous execution of his daring purpose.

  "Hearing how blessed Enda lived apart,
    Amid the sacred caves of Aran-Mor,
  And how beneath his eye spread like a chart,
   Lay all the isles of that remotest shore;
  And how he had collected in his mind
    All that was known to man of the Old Sea,
  I left the Hill of Miracles behind,
    And sailed from out the shallow sandy Lea.

  "When I proclaimed the project that I nursed,
    How 'twas for this that I his blessing sought,
  An irrepressible cry of joy outburst
    From his pure lips, that blessed me for the thought.
  He said that he too had in visions strayed
    Over the untracked ocean's billowy foam;
  Bid me have hope, that God would give me aid,
    And bring me safe back to my native home."
                                      --_D. F. McCarthy._

Thither too came Finnian of Clonard, himself the "Tutor of the Saints of
Erin," to drink in heavenly wisdom from the lips of the blessed Enda; for
Enda seems to have been the senior of all these saints of the Second
Order, and he was loved and reverenced by them all as a father. Clonard
was a great College; but Aran of St. Enda was the greatest sanctuary and
nursery of holiness throughout all the land of Erin. Thither came, even
from the farthest North, another venerable sage, Finnian of Moville, one
of the teachers of the great Columcille. And thither too came Columcille
himself, a scion of the royal race of Niall the Great, the ardent
high-souled prince of Tirconnell, who had not yet quite schooled his fiery
spirit to the patient endurance of injustice or insult. And therefore he
came in his currach with the scholar's belt and book-satchel to learn
divine wisdom in this remote school of the sea. Here he took his turn at
grinding the corn, and herding the sheep; he studied the Scriptures and
learned from Enda's lips the virtues of a true monk, as practised by the
saints and fathers of the desert, and as daily exhibited in the godly life
and conversation of the blessed Enda himself, and of the holy companions
who shared his studies and his labours.

Most reluctantly he left the sacred isle, and we know from a poem which he
has left how dearly he loved Aran, and how bitterly he sorrowed in his
soul when "the Son of God" called him away from that beloved island to
other scenes and other labours.

  "Farewell to Aran Isle; farewell!
    I steer for Hy--my heart is sore;
  The breakers burst, the billows swell,
    Twixt Aran Isle and Alba's shore."[162]

He calls it Aran, "Sun of all the West," another Pilgrims' Rome, under
whose pure earth he would as soon be buried, as nigh to the graves of St.
Peter and St. Paul.

With Columcille at Aran was also the mild-eyed Ciaran, 'the Carpenter's
son,' and the best beloved of all the disciples of Enda. And when Ciaran,
too, was called away by God to found his own great monastery in the green
meadows by the Shannon's side, we are told that Enda and his monks came
with him down to the sea shore, whilst their eyes were moist and their
hearts were sorrow-laden. Then the young and gentle Ciaran, whose own
career was destined to be so bright and so brief, knelt down on the white
sand and begged his holy father's blessing, while the tears streamed down
his cheeks. It was too much for the holy old man to bear; in the pathetic
language of the Scripture he lifted up his voice and wept aloud--"Oh! my
brethren," he said, "why should I not weep? this day our island has lost
its choicest flower and the strength of religious observance." So Ciaran
got his Abbot's blessing, and entering his currach, sailed away for the
mainland; but he often turned his streaming eyes to look back on Aran, the
home of his heart, and on the little cells where his brethren dwelt, and
the oratory of his beloved father, Enda, and the billowy cliffs of the
holy island now fast fading from his view.

There is hardly a single one of the great saints of the Second Order who
did not spend some time in Aran. It was, as we have said, the novitiate of
their religious life. St. Jarlath of Tuam, nearly as old as Enda himself,
St. Carthach the Elder of Lismore, the two St. Kevins of Glendalough--two
brothers, St. Mac Creiche of Corcomroe, St. Lonan Kerr, St. Nechan, St.
Guigneus, St. Papeus, St. Libeus, brother of St. Enda himself, all were

There is no other part of Ireland so interesting as these Aran Islands,
not only from their past history, but from the great number of Christian
remains that are still to be found on their shores. No where else do we
find so many and so various specimens of early Christian
architecture--churches, cloghauns, duirteachs, crosses, and cashels. To
these monuments, however interesting in themselves, we can make but very
brief reference.

Enda divided Aran Mor into two parts; one-half he assigned to his own
monastery of Killeany; the other or western half he assigned to such of
his disciples as chose to erect permanent religious houses in the island.
This, however, seems to have been a later arrangement, for at first it is
said that he had 150 disciples under his own care; but when the
establishment grew to be thus large in numbers, he divided the whole
island into ten parts--each having its own religious house, and its own
superior, while he himself retained a general superintendence over them
all. The existing remains prove conclusively that there must have been
several distinct establishments on the island, for we find separate groups
of ruins at Killeany, at Killronan, at Kilmurvey, and further west at "The
Seven Churches." The islanders still retain many vivid and interesting
traditions of the saints and their churches. Fortunately, too, we have
other aids also to confirm these traditions, and identify the founders or
patrons of the existing ruins.

The life of Enda and his monks was simple and austere. The day was divided
into periods for prayer, labour, and sacred study. Each community had its
own church and its village of stone cells in which they slept either on
the bare ground or on a bundle of straw covered with a rug, but always in
the clothes worn by day. They assembled for their devotions in the church
or oratory of the saint, under whose immediate care they were placed; they
took their frugal meals in a common refectory, and cooked their food in a
common kitchen--for they had no fires in the stone cells however cold--if
cold could be felt by these hearts so glowing with the love of God. They
invariably carried out the monastic rule of procuring their own food by
labour. Some fished around the islands; others cultivated patches of oats
or barley in sheltered spots between the rocks. Others ground it with the
quern, like Ciaran, or kneaded the meal into bread, and baked it for the
use of the brethren. They could have no fruit on these islands, nor wine
or mead, nor flesh meat, except perhaps a little for the sick. Sometimes
on the great festivals, or when guests of distinction came to the island,
one of their tiny sheep was killed, and then the brethren were allowed to
share, if they chose, in the good cheer provided for the visitors. Enda
himself never tasted flesh meat, and we have reason to believe that many
of his monks followed the saint's example. Yet their lives were full of
sunny hope and true happiness. That desert island was a paradise for those
children of God; its arid rocks were to them as a garden of delights; the
sunlight on its summer seas was a bright picture of heavenly joys; and the
roar of its wintry billows reminded them of the power and of the wrath of
God. So they passed their blameless lives living only for God, and waiting
not in fear, but in hope, for the happy hour when their Heavenly Father
would call them home. Their bodies were laid to rest beside the walls of
the little churches--their graves may still be seen stretched side by
side, and who can doubt that their sinless souls went up to God in heaven?


Colgan has fortunately preserved for us a description of the old churches
of Aran, written about the year A.D. 1645, by the learned and accomplished
Malachy O'Queely, Archbishop of Tuam. It is very doubtful if O'Queely's
list, even in his own time, was quite accurate; with its help, however,
and such information as we were able to collect from the traditions of the
people, as well as from other sources, we shall give as full a list of the
existing remains as we can at present obtain.

In the townland of Killeany, O'Queely enumerates the following
churches:--(1) Killeany itself, that is, Kill-Enda, pronounced
Killeany--for Enda is pronounced Enna by the islanders. It was the parish
church, he tells us, and gave its name to the village, which is close at
hand. (2) There is the oratory of St. Enda, a much smaller building, close
to the sea shore, in which the saint himself was buried. It is called
Teglach-Enda, which probably means the tumulus, or grave-mound of Enda.
(3) There was another church called Tempull Mic Longa, doubtless founded
by the saint, whose name it bears, but of whom nothing further is known.
O'Queely says it was near the parish church, but the place cannot at
present be identified with certainty. (4) Tempull Mic Canonn, of which,
says O'Queely, nothing more is known. (5) Another church called Tempull
Benain, which gives rise to a very interesting question as to whether it
was dedicated to St. Benignus or founded by that saint. St. Benignus, the
elder, was dead before St. Enda first arrived in Aran; so it is more
likely this church was founded by 'Benen, brother of Cethech,' who was
also a disciple of St. Patrick. This Tempull Benain is one of the most
interesting ruins in the island, and is a very beautiful example of our
primitive stone oratories. (6) Another church was dedicated to the
Blessed Virgin, as was indeed usually the case in our great monastic
enclosures. (7) Then there was another church called Mainister
Connachtach--the Connaughtman's monastery--which O'Queely holds to have
been distinct from (8) Kill-na-manach, the latter being founded by, or
dedicated to, St. Caradoc--a British 'monk,' who is probably the same as
the celebrated St. Cadoc, the founder of Llancarvan in Wales.

Thus we have in the single townland of Killeany no less than seven or
eight churches and oratories, grouped together around the oratories of St.
Enda and of St. Benignus. It is remarkable that these two alone now
survive--perhaps because the islanders would not allow the vandals, who
carried off the stones of the other churches, and of the round tower, to
build 'Cromwell's Fort,' to touch these two more ancient and more holy
oratories. There was also a Franciscan monastery on the sea shore, and it
may be some of the stones were carried off for its construction also.

The oratory of St. Enda, called Telagh-Enda, is of course the most
interesting of all these ruins. It is still wonderfully well preserved,
and, although some repairs took place at different times, there is no
doubt that the greater part of the original building still remains. The
grave-yard in which 127 saints are buried surrounds the church. The grave
of the founder himself, according to O'Flaherty, was a few paces to the
north-west from the door of the church. The holy spot is sometimes quite
covered with the drifting sand; at other times Enda's grave, and the
_leac_ or flag covering it, can be pointed out by any of the islanders.
There were other primitive churches founded by Enda which still bear his
name both in Clare and Galway; and we find that even in Meath, Limerick,
and Queen's County, there are parishes, as there were once, no doubt, old
churches, dedicated to his name. Killeany of Arran, however, was the most
celebrated of them all--there he lived for more than sixty years, 'in his
prison of hard narrow stone,' and there he sleeps beside the sea,
surrounded by the loved ones whom he taught and sanctified.

Of the group now called by the natives the 'Seven Churches,' O'Queely
mentions only two--the parish church known as Tempull Brecain, and another
church close at hand which, he says, is commonly called _Tempull a
Phuill_. It is highly probable that there were other churches also around
Tempull Brecain, although it is now quite impossible to ascertain either
the patrons or founders. Dr. Petrie, however, whose opinion is entitled to
the greatest weight, thinks that the other buildings, whose remains are
still to be seen at the "Seven Churches" in Aran Mor, were monastic
buildings annexed to the churches. Tempull Brecain was certainly the
central building of this group, and was of considerable size, the nave
measuring 32 feet by 18, and the chancel 20 feet by 18-1/2 in breadth. The
latter in its present state seems to be the work of a later period,
although portions of the original wall still remain. The masonry in the
earlier parts is more coarse and irregular, and is apparently coeval with
that of Kill-Enda. There is in the north wall a very peculiar
angular-headed window, which seems to have belonged to the primitive
structure, and is characteristic of our most ancient churches. The western
door has disappeared; but a chancel-arch of exquisite workmanship has been
inserted in the eastern gable. It is so beautifully built, and so Roman in
its style, that Dr. Petrie came to the conclusion that it must have been
executed by foreign workmen. In the interior of the west wall of the nave
is an inscribed stone having in uncial letters the words OR AR II
CANOIN--"A prayer for the two canons"--but who they were is quite unknown.
It will be recollected that there was at Killeany, according to O'Queely's
list, a church called "Tempull Mic Canonn," perhaps the son of one of
those here commemorated.

The tomb of the founder, St. Brecan, was discovered about forty years ago,
says Petrie, when a grave was being opened to receive the remains of a
priest who, at his death, expressed a wish to be buried in that grave. On
the flagstone was a cross within a circle with the words (S)CI BRECANI,
which Petrie translates "for the Head (Capiti) of Brecan." It is obvious,
however, that the first word is an abbreviation for 'Sancti,' and that the
meaning is--"(the stone) of holy Brecan," which was doubtless placed over
the saint by his beloved disciples. On the same occasion another stone was
discovered within the grave with the simple legend in the rudest Irish
characters ✢ OR AR BRAN N'ALITHER--a prayer for Bran the pilgrim. This
seems an abbreviation of Brecan, and points to the identity of the pilgrim
of Aran with the founder of Ardbraccan in Meath. He was of the Dalcassian
race in Munster, and is said to have been great-grand-son of Eochaidh
Balldearg, Prince of Thomond, who was baptized by St. Patrick. He came to
Aran, which had belonged to his relatives, during the lifetime of Enda,
who divided the island, as it seems, between their respective followers.
An amusing story is told by the islanders of this division. It was agreed
that the two saints should commence Mass at the same hour, and then, after
Mass, set out with their followers to meet each other. The point of
meeting was to be the boundary. Now Brecan took advantage of Enda, and
began Mass before him, so that he was able to gain the start first. When
Enda reached the high ground he saw that the other saint had not dealt
fairly with him; and, praying to God, "he fastened him and his monks, your
reverence, near the sea at Kilmurvey, so that he could not stir an inch
until the blessed Enda came leisurely up to him, and fixed the line of
division at that spot."

In the church-yard of St. Brecan's Church are five graves covered with
flags lying side by side, but only recently exposed to view. On one of the
headstones is the following curious inscription engraved by Petrie (who
did not see the graves), and still distinctly visible and legible,

  MA ||NI

around the arms of the cross. The Septem Romani, or Seven Romans, here
commemorated, doubtless, sleep together in these five graves, for two of
the graves are much larger than the others, and are supposed to contain
two bodies each.

At first sight it might appear strange to have 'seven Romans' buried
together in this far off island; but it must be borne in mind that Gauls,
or Britons, who enjoyed the Imperial citizenship in the fifth century
would be called 'Romans,' and we know from the Lives of our early Saints,
and from the Calendar of Ængus, that many Britons, Franks and 'Romans' of
the provinces came to Ireland in the time of St. Patrick, as well as in
the following century, when the Anglo-Saxons drove them out of England, as
the Franks had driven these 'Romans' out of Gaul. It is a touching sight
to see their graves side by side in this remote Isle of the West--those
citizens of Imperial Rome forced to seek an asylum in this quiet home of
sanctity and learning, which was beyond the limits even of their
world-wide empire. Their simple headstone has outlived the Forum and the
Colosseum; it is still standing on the spot where it was placed by pious
hands thirteen hundred years ago. Even now the islanders point to it with
veneration as the resting-place of pilgrim saints, but who they were, or
whence they came, they have no notion whatsoever.

There are many other interesting monuments at the "Seven Churches," which
we cannot now describe in detail, such as sculptured stones and crosses
with the characteristic Celtic ornamentation of the most elaborate style,
including on one stone a rude figure of the Crucifixion. There are also
the ruins of a curious building called the "Church of the Hollow," of
mediæval date, which was probably the oratory and cell of one of the
enclosed saints, who flourished in Ireland during the ninth and tenth
centuries. There was also an ancient baptistry supplied by a perennial
fountain from the living rock--one of the few in Aran--which points to the
early custom of baptism by immersion, as then practised in Ireland.

The group of ruins at Kilmurvey was situated within one of those ancient
_caiseals_ probably of pagan origin, but utilized by the monks for the
protection of their own ecclesiastical buildings. The ancient dun of
Muirbheach Mil--a stout Firbolgic warrior of Aran--was thus utilized by
Colman Mac Duagh, and then the place changed its name, and came to be
called Kilmurvey, as if the savage old pagan had changed his nature, and
having become a monk had founded the church within his stronghold. It was,
however, founded, not by him, but by St. Colman Mac Duagh, from whom the
Diocese of Kilmacduagh takes its name. There is another church close at
hand known as Tempull Bog-na-Naomh--the Little Church of the Saints. It
was a small oratory without nave or chancel, 15-1/2 feet long by 9-1/2
feet in breadth.

The Great Church, however, founded by St. Colman, was a very beautiful
building, and was regarded by Lord Dunraven as the most interesting in
Aran Mor. The nave was 18 feet 8 inches long, by 14-1/2 feet broad; the
chancel was 15 feet 4 inches in length by 11 feet 2 inches in breadth. The
lintel of the western door is a single granite block, borne by a glacier
from the mountains of Connemara, 5 feet in length by 2-1/2 feet in depth.

Around the churches were discovered the remains of several cloghauns, or
beehive cells, and a great number of ornamental brass pins, used to fasten
the mantles of the ancient warriors. As these were found within the cells
it would go to prove that they were originally built and tenanted by the
warriors of Muirbheach Mil, that the monks of St. Colman simply took
possession of the deserted stronghold with its cells, and then built their
churches within its walls. The pins were of various forms and sizes, and
of tasteful workmanship. No coins were discovered, which would go to show
that these pins did not belong to Danish warriors, and the monks certainly
never used such articles. Inscribed stones were also found in the
neighbourhood of these churches, but they have all unfortunately
disappeared. This ancient church is near the residence of Mr. Johnstone,
and some of the stones were probably used in building the house or garden
walls. As St. Colman flourished about the year A.D. 620, this group of
buildings must be regarded as of nearly 100 years later date than the
oratories of St. Benen and St. Enda.

One of the most beautiful and interesting of the old churches in Aran Mor
is that which is called in Irish, Tempull-na-Cheathair-Aluinn, the Church
of the Four Beauties; that is, according to O'Queely, of St. Fursey, St.
Brendan of Birr, St. Conall, and St. Berchan. It is, says Petrie, a small
but beautiful edifice of cut stone, and was lighted by three small
round-headed windows, so placed as to illuminate the altar, two being in
the side wall, and one in the east gable over the altar. In Petrie's time
this broken window was over-arched with ivy, woodbine, and thorny
brambles. The late restorations by the Board of Works have removed these
tangled growths, and revealed the little church in something of its
primitive beauty. The simple stone altar is still standing at which the
four beautiful saints officiated, and a small chamber, 6 feet long by 3
feet 10 inches in breadth, can still be seen within the wall on the west
side. It may have been used as a sacristy, or, perhaps, as the
dwelling-place of a recluse. There are cloghauns close at hand, which
were, doubtless, the cells of the four saints. Most interesting of all are
the four graves lately revealed, stretched side by side, within a small
enclosure under the wall of the church. It is truly a touching sight,
which few can see unmoved, when they think of the simple and holy lives of
these four beautiful saints; how they lived and loved together; how calmly
and how sweetly they rest under the shadow of those holy walls, where they
worshipped God; and how tenderly their memory is still cherished by
islanders after a lapse of more than twelve hundred years. Close at hand
is the holy well, whose crystal waters were their only drink; and near it
a large cloghaun about 20 feet in length, which seems to have been the
refectory, where they took their frugal meals together.

O'Queely's conjecture as to their identity is highly improbable, for the
four saints whom he names could not have lived together, and certainly
were not buried together in Aran Mor; whereas everything connected with
the Four Beauties would seem to show that they lived together around this
little church, and are buried without doubt in the four graves, that are
still to be seen side by side within their own enclosure. Such, too, is
the continuous living tradition of the islanders. There was, doubtless,
another group of churches at Kilronan, but all traces of them have
disappeared. About a mile north-west of Kilronan are the ruins of
Monasterkieran; close at hand is St. Kieran's Well, and the little harbour
itself is still known as St. Kieran's Bay; which show that the gentle
saint of Clonmacnoise founded a monastery in the holy island before he
finally left its rugged shores.

It will be seen that Aran Mor is pre-eminently a holy island, and well
deserves its name, Aran of the Saints. It had four distinct groups of
churches, the ruins of most of which are still visible, and from every
point of view it is well worthy of a visit. In ancient times the holy
island was a favourite place of pilgrimage, where the saints loved to live
and die, for its soil was deemed to be holy ground. And it should still be
a place of pilgrimage for every Irishman, who loves the ancient glories of
his native land. He will during his visit see many things to instruct and
edify him, and teach him to love the ruins of holy Ireland 'with a love
far brought from out the storied past,' but elevated and purified by the
contemplation of holiness and self-denial.

There are numerous and interesting ruins of a similar character, both
pagan and Christian on the Middle and on the Eastern Island also. We
cannot, however, describe them at present; let us hope that we have said
enough to awaken a more general interest in those ancient sanctuaries. The
history of the Holy Islands of the West is yet to be written, and it will
be a story full of sacred and romantic interest.



  "I would the great world grew like thee,
    Who grewest not alone in power
    And knowledge, but by year and hour
  In reverence and in charity."


We have said that as Aran was the novitiate, so Clonard was the great
college of the Irish Saints of the Second Order. Before, however, we
proceed to give an account of this great seminary and its founder, it will
be useful to give a short sketch of the Christian Schools up to that

Of Christian Schools, in the modern sense of the word, there were none,
and there could be none, during the first three centuries of the Church's
history. She had then to struggle for a bare existence against the most
powerful enemies; neither her worship nor her schools would be sanctioned,
or even tolerated by the Roman Empire. Yet it was even then essential to
train the clergy in sacred learning, and to instruct the people in the
saving truths of faith. But, as a rule, this was done privately and
unostentatiously in the catacombs; in the houses of the bishops when they
had any fixed residence; and very frequently in the private grounds or
private houses of wealthy and influential Christians.

The first Christian School, really worthy of the name, so far as we can
judge, was established at Alexandria about the year A.D. 180. It became
famous as a catechetical school, or school of dogma, and was conducted by
several illustrious men--Pantaenus, Origen, Dionysius, and others--whose
learning was celebrated throughout the whole Church, and whose lectures
and writings exercised a very wide and enduring influence on their own, as
well as on later generations. But this was rather a school of theology
than of general literature, and designed more for adult inquirers, both
male and female, than for the systematic instruction of the young. Similar
schools were afterwards founded at Antioch, at Caesarea, at Edessa, and
subsequently at Nisibis in Armenia.

Even during the centuries when those schools of dogma were most
flourishing, young Christians found it necessary to frequent the schools
of the pagans for the purpose of obtaining a professional or general
education. The masters were pagan; the books were the ancient classics of
Greek and Rome; and the majority of the pupils in most cases belonged to
the old pagan religion. But it was a case of absolute necessity, as St.
Jerome says; and they should either forfeit the culture, or face the
danger. The most celebrated of those schools was at Athens, and there we
find together under a pagan professor of Rhetoric, St. Basil, St. Gregory
of Nazianzen and Julian, afterwards the Apostate, on the same benches with
sons of pagan senators and scoffing rhetors.

Christians might not be teachers in such schools, for they would have to
explain the mythology, and observe the festivals, and in other respects
honour the gods of Greece and Rome. But Christians were sometimes allowed
to attend the lectures of distinguished teachers, guarding themselves
against the dangers that might arise from the influence of the teachers,
of their companions, and of the pagan authors. It is true, indeed, the
more rigid Christians denounced the whole system as not only dangerous,
but essentially wrong and immoral. They preferred to do without this
mental culture, rather than obtain it at so much peril to their own souls.
They censured even the study of the pagan authors under the guidance of
Christian teachers. The false maxims of their philosophers would make some
impression, they alleged, on the retentive and plastic minds of the young;
the stories of the loves of their gods and goddesses would sully the
purity of innocent hearts; and the coarseness of the thoughts could not be
effectually screened by eloquence of language and mere beauty of literary
form. The study of the Sacred Scriptures ought to be enough for all true
Christians, whose sole aim should be to purify the heart and elevate their
thoughts to God and heavenly things.

Fortunately these strict principles were not generally followed in
practice. Most of the Greek and Latin Fathers not only studied the
classics, but availed themselves of the lectures of the most celebrated
professors of their own time, whether Christian or pagan; and so they were
enabled to meet their opponents on equal terms--to refute the philosophers
by philosophy, and the rhetoricians by rhetoric, to point out the
turpitude of the gods of Greece and Rome, and to contrast in glowing
language of the most fervid and lofty eloquence, the nobility of Christian
doctrine, and the purity of Christian morals with the false ethics and
unclean practices of the pagan religion.

In the fifth century, however, of the Christian era a change gradually
took place. With the decline of paganism the great schools in the various
cities of the empire began to decay, and were finally closed during the
reign of Justinian. Meanwhile episcopal schools for the education of the
clergy were further developed and enlarged. St. Augustine at Hippo, St.
Ambrose at Milan, St. Eusebius at Arles, had founded establishments of
this kind, and the fame of those great and learned prelates soon attracted
large numbers of pupils to their episcopal seminaries. The Churches of
Africa eagerly sought for pupils of St. Augustine's school to fill the
vacancies occurring in their sees, and many other pupils from the more
celebrated of these seminaries were raised to the highest dignities in the

But with the spread of monasteries in the West during the fourth and fifth
centuries a new and vigorous impulse was given not only to all branches of
sacred learning, but indirectly to profane literature also. Sacred reading
and sacred study was deemed an essential portion of monastic work. Legere,
orare, laborare--study, prayer, and labour--was the daily work of the
monk; and if it was not always the task of the individual it certainly was
of the community. Of course the sacred volume was the primary object of
their study; but almost all branches of human learning are aids to the
study and right understanding of Scripture, and were cultivated for that

Then again, monasticism was, as we have seen, intended to be
self-sufficing. It was a world of its own, a city of God, producing for
itself all that is needed in the physical and moral order. So the monks
found it necessary to cultivate the ornamental as well as the useful arts
of life. They delved and sowed and reaped; but they also built their
churches, and decorated their altars, and wrote their books, and sang in
choir, and computed their festivals, and healed the sick. There must be
amongst them physicians, astronomers, geometers, and musicians, as well as
moralists, preachers, scribes, and illuminators. Every branch of human
knowledge was useful, if not necessary, for a great monastery, and they
all came to be cultivated in the great monastic schools.

One of the earliest and most celebrated of these schools in the West was
that founded by the illustrious John Cassian near Marseilles, between the
years A.D. 415-420. No man was better qualified than Cassian to introduce
the monasticism of Egypt into Europe. He spent the earlier years of his
life at a monastery in Bethlehem, then he retired to the Thebaid for seven
years, conversing with the Fathers of the Desert, whilst closely observing
their religious exercises, and the daily routine of their lives.
Afterwards he visited Constantinople, Rome, and even the far distant
Churches of Mesopotamia. At length about A.D. 415 he settled down in the
neighbourhood of Marseilles, then as in Cicero's time famous for
intellectual pursuits, and there founded the celebrated monastery of St.
Victor, which was the nursery of many of the greatest prelates of the
fifth century. He gave himself up with all zeal to the propagation of
monasticism in the West; and with this view wrote twelve books of Monastic
Institutes, in which he deals at great length with the nature of the
monastic life, its aids, and its hindrances. In the twenty-four books of
his 'Conferences'--Collationes--he deals with the eremitical life as he
saw it in Egypt, and purports to give the discourses of the Egyptian
Fathers, whom he had himself seen and heard. These works have been always
highly prized in the Church, although the author in one or two of his
'Conferences' is supposed to have touched too closely on the errors of

The most celebrated disciple of John Cassian was St. Honoratus of Arles,
the founder of the famous monastery of Lerins. There he put in practice
the divine maxims of Cassian, and changed that barren island, which he
found covered with brushwood and filled with serpents, into a garden of
Eden, where man once more walked in innocence with God; and bounteous
nature rewarded the incessant labour of the monks with fruits of choicest
flavour and flowers of richest hues. He was taken away much against his
will from his beloved island and made Bishop of Arles; but he survived
only two years, dying in the year A.D. 429, just at the time that St.
Patrick, his disciple, was preparing to come to Ireland. A similar
monastery and monastic school was about the same time, and under the same
influence, founded by St. Germanus at Auxerre, as we have already seen,
when speaking of St. Patrick's training for the Irish mission.

It is in these cradles of western monasticism that we must try to find the
true character of the monasticism, as well as of the discipline and
ritual, which St. Patrick introduced into Ireland. If, as the _Tripartite_
asserts, St. Patrick spent some thirty years in France and Italy, and the
islands of the Tyrrhene Sea, preparing for the work for which Providence
destined him in Ireland, he had ample time to visit all their celebrated
monasteries, and doubtless spent some of these years not only at
Marmoutier of St. Martin, and with St. German at Auxerre, but also with
Cassian at St. Victor's, and with Honoratus in Lerins, and probably also
at Arles. The _Tripartite_ states distinctly that first of all he resolved
to go to Rome, the citadel and mistress of Christian faith and doctrine,
in order that he might draw from these fountains of true wisdom and
orthodox doctrine; that he went to France and even beyond the Alps to the
southern region of Italy where he found Germanus, then a most famous
bishop, with whom he read, like another Paul at the feet of Gamaliel, the
ecclesiastical canons, serving God in labour, in fasting, in chastity, in
compunction, and in love of God and his neighbour. The same writer adds
that he went to St. Martin's of Tours to receive tonsure, and that he
studied at Arles--or what he calls _insula Aralanensis_--which he seems to
confound with the city of St. Germanus.

We are also told that when he was in the Tyrrhene Sea[163] he met three
other Patricks, which is not at all unlikely, for Patrick was a common
name, and the great monastery of Lerins had attracted strangers from every
part of the Christian world, who had established themselves in some of the
neighbouring islets. These three Patricks lived together in a rocky cave
between the cliff and the sea, and our Patrick wished to live with them in
the solitary service of God. But it was only for a time, for God had
destined him for another and loftier purpose. It is quite evident,
however, that Patrick was trained under the greatest masters of the
spiritual life, and in the greatest monastic schools of the Western
Church. These considerations will also serve to explain why the Irish
Church of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries was so monastic in its
character and tendencies, why the religious houses rather than the
cathedrals were the centres of its spiritual life, and also why its
greatest schools were in the halls of the cloister, and its greatest
scholars wore the frontal tonsure and the monk's cowl.

Yet St. Patrick did not himself establish monasteries or monastic schools
in Ireland. His work was to preach, to baptize, to ordain, to found
churches. Monasteries are the outcome of an existing Church. The nation
must become Christian before the Church could in any wide sense become
monastic. It was always so, even in the time of the Apostles. They did
not found monasteries or monastic schools, or colleges of any kind. They
had other and more urgent work on hand. It was only after Christianity
took hold of men's minds that the nobler and more grateful hearts amongst
them sought to realize the Gospel ideal of Christian perfection.

Even in the time of St. Patrick, however, there were monks and nuns in
Ireland, as we have already seen. He himself expressly declares it. "The
sons of the Scots," he says, "and the daughters of the princes became
monks and virgins of Christ." And he tells a touching story of an Irish
maiden of noble birth and of great beauty--pulcherrima--whom he himself
baptized: "A few days afterwards the maiden came to me and told me that
she got an intimation from God to become a virgin of Christ, and thus
become nigh to God. Thanks be to Him--on the sixth day after, she
perfectly and ardently embraced that vocation; and so do all the virgins
of Christ, even against the will of their parents, from whom they
patiently endure reproaches."[164]

With such ardour did the noble sons and daughters of the Scottic race
advance in the paths of perfection. And therefore Patrick loved them so
dearly that he would not leave them, as he tells us, even to pay a visit
to his own country and his own friends. He sowed the seed, and after ages
reaped the crop. The great monasteries and monastic schools of the sixth
century, though not founded by him, were the outcome of that spirit of
faith and love which he had planted so deeply, especially in the hearts of
the young.


St. Finnian of Clonard is set down first in the Catalogue of the Saints of
the Second Order; and his School of Clonard was certainly the most
celebrated, if not the earliest, of the great schools of the sixth
century. It was the nursery of so many learned and holy men that its
founder came to be known as the "Tutor of the Saints of Erin." Twelve of
his most distinguished disciples were called the "Twelve Apostles of
Erin," because, after St. Patrick, they were recognised as the Fathers and
Founders of the Irish Church; and the monasteries and schools which they
established became, in their turn, the greatest centres of piety and
learning throughout the entire island.

It must not, however, be supposed that all these holy men were themselves
younger than Finnian of Clonard, or remained for a very long period at his
monastic school. It sometimes happened that the disciple was quite as old,
if not older than the master; for it was by no means unusual at this
period for holy men to visit the monasteries of younger men who had become
remarkable for sanctity and learning, and, placing themselves under their
spiritual guidance, take rank in their humility as disciples of their
juniors. Lanigan, keen and learned as he was, allows himself sometimes to
be led into error by forgetting this custom, which is more than once
explicitly referred to in the lives of those saints themselves.

Clonard--in Irish Cluain Eraird, and sometimes Cluain Iraird, that is,
Erard's meadow--was very favourably situated for a great national college.
Although within the territory of Meath, it was situated on the Boyne close
to the Esker Riada, which formed the ancient and famous boundary between
the northern and southern half of Ireland. It was thus a kind of neutral
territory, open to the North and South alike; and both North and South
availed themselves of its advantages.

Its founder, St. Finnian, was by birth a Leinster man. His father,
Finloch, was descended from Ailill Telduib, of the Clanna Rory, hence his
own patronymic, Ui Telduib. His mother's name, according to all the
authorities, was Talech, and she belonged to the family of a Leinster
chieftain. He was born at Myshall, in the Barony of Forth, county Carlow.
The date of his birth cannot be ascertained; but if we are to accept the
statements in his life, it cannot have been later than A.D. 470. When the
child was born, his parents sent him to be baptized by the holy Bishop
Fortchern, in the church of Roscur--_Roscurensem ecclesiam_. This Bishop
Fortchern was son of Fedlimidh, and grandson of King Laeghaire. He was
converted by Loman of Trim,[165] shortly after the year A.D. 432, the date
of St. Patrick's arrival, and being a skilful artisan in metal work, he
made chalices and patens for the use of the new churches founded by St.
Patrick. At the earnest entreaty of St. Loman, he consented to become
Bishop of Trim after that saint's death, but he retained, it is said, that
onerous office only for three days. After his resignation, he retired into
Leinster, where many churches are said to have been founded by him in a
district up to that time only partially evangelized. The Church of
Killoughternan, parish of Slyguff, in the ancient Ui Drona, still bears
his name; it is a corruption of Cill Fortchern. The town of Tullow, in the
county Carlow, was anciently called Tullagh Fortchern,[166] and it is said
that the saint had a school there, in which young Finnian studied for many

When the women were carrying the child to be baptized by Fortchern at
Roscur, it chanced that the holy priest Abban met them, and inquired
whither they were going. They replied that they were carrying the child to
be baptized by Fortchern. Thereupon Abban, moved by a divine inspiration,
took the child and baptized him, giving him the name of Finluch, or
Finloch, because he was baptized at the place where two streams meeting
formed a pool of clean water. But the name Finnian was afterwards given to
him as a more appropriate one--retaining the first, but omitting the
second part of the compound. A cross afterwards marked the spot where the
saint was baptized, and it was called the Cross of Finnian.

When the child grew up he was placed under the care of St. Fortchern, most
probably at Tullow, and remained, it is said, under his care until he
reached the age of thirty years. We thus see that St. Finnian was brought
under British influence from his boyhood, for the mother of Fortchern was
of British birth, and it was probably at the suggestion of his holy
teacher that Finnian resolved to visit the saints of Wales, and perfect
his education in the schools of that country. On his way, however, he
stopped to visit a holy elder named Coemhan, who dwelt in the Island of
Dairinis, in Wexford Harbour, and there he remained some time in the
further pursuit of knowledge. Then taking voyage with some merchants, who
were going to Britain, he set sail from Wexford, and arrived at Kilmuine,
since called St. David's, in South Wales.[167]

Here he had the good fortune to meet three celebrated saints, who seem to
have exercised great influence over the mind of Finnian, and through him
over the destinies of the Irish Church--St. David, St. Gildas, and St.
Cathmael, or Cadoc, or Docus. As Finnian was trained, at least to some
extent, by these holy men, and as they are all more or less intimately
connected in many other respects also with the early monastic Church of
Ireland, it is well to know something about their history.

Dubricius (A.D. 421-522), Bishop of Landaff, who was a contemporary of St.
Patrick, and was consecrated by St. Germanus of Auxerre, perhaps at the
time of his second visit to Wales, A.D. 449, or some years later, is
exhibited in the doubtful chronicles of this early period as the first
Archbishop of South Wales, and the great father of monasticism in Wales.
His monastery at Llancarvan was the nursery of those great saints, whose
names are still familiar both in Ireland and in Wales. Dubricius himself
was, it is said, a grandson of that Brychan, who has given his name to
Brecknockshire, and who was by birth an Irish chieftain, though settled in
Wales. It is certain that the Irish monks, like Finnian, found a warm
welcome in Llancarvan, both during the life of Dubricius, as well as after
his death; and in that celebrated college were trained many Irish saints,
who afterwards carried its learning and its discipline to their native

St. David, Archbishop of Menevia, is the most striking figure amongst the
Cambro-British saints, and his memory is still venerated by all true
Welshmen of every religious sect. Ricemarch, his successor in the See of
St. David's towards the close of the tenth century, has written his life,
which was afterwards dressed up in more elegant language by the celebrated
Gerald Barry. St. David was born about the middle of the fifth century,
and lived, it seems, till the middle of the sixth. His father was Sanctus
or Xantus, Prince of Ceretica, and his mother was Nonna, a religious,
forcibly carried off by this rude prince, who was captivated by her
beauty. The child was born at Old Menevia, near the place where he
afterwards founded his cathedral city at the extremity of that bare and
bold promontory which overlooks St. George's Channel. St. Ailbe of Emly
just then happened to arrive by divine guidance at Menevia, and he
baptized the child. The young David was at first a pupil of St. Iltutus,
and afterwards of Paulinus, who were both, it seems, disciples of St.
Germanus of Auxerre.

In course of time David founded a great college of his own at a place
called by Gerald Barry, 'Vallis Rosina,' which may mean either the 'Marshy
Valley,' or the 'Valley of Roses,' for _rhos_ is a swamp, and _rhosyn_
means a rose.[168] It was, we are told, to this seminary that Finnian came
on his first arrival in Wales. St. David afterwards became so celebrated
that he succeeded Dubricius as Archbishop of Caerleon-upon-Usk; but with
the permission of King Arthur, who was his near relative, he changed the
seat of his Episcopal Chair from the City of the Legions to Menevia, which
was at once his birthplace and monastic home, during what he doubtless
regarded as the happiest and holiest years of his life.

It is said that Finnian also met Cathmael, as well as David and Gildas, at
the city of Killmuine in Britain. Killmuine of the Irish Lives is the
exact equivalent of the Latin _Ecclesia Menevensis_, called in Welsh
_Mynyw_ or _Miniu_. The old monastic buildings still surround the
cathedral, but are now much dilapidated. Gerald Barry, himself a Welshman,
describes in his odd incisive way, "this remote angle overlooking the
Irish Sea, as a stony, barren, and unfruitful soil, neither clothed with
woods, nor diversified by streams, nor adorned with meadows, but exposed
to perpetual storms and whirlwinds--the storms of nature and the storms of

Cathmael is commonly identified with Cadoc or Docus, one of the most
celebrated fathers of the Welsh Church. It is said there were two saints
who bore that name; if so, Finnian's tutor must have been Cadoc the Elder.
His mother was Gladys, the daughter or grand-daughter of the Irish
chieftain, Brychan, who gave his name to Brecknock--so Cadoc "who has made
a deep impression on the Celtic race," was not only of Irish blood, but
was baptized, and trained up from his youth for many years, by an Irish
anchorite named Meuthi, whose cell was in the neighbourhood of his
father's castle. Afterwards he went to Givent in Monmouthshire, where he
studied under another Irish master, St. Tathai. There he made great
progress in learning and holiness--especially in the knowledge of the
Sacred Scriptures, so that he was called Cadoc or Cattwy, the Wise. He was
under Dubricius the founder and chief professor of the celebrated College
of Llancarvan, near Cowbridge in Glamorgan. This became the most famous
centre both of secular and sacred learning in Wales. A great number of
young Irishmen crowded its lecture rooms, who afterwards became very
famous in their own country, so that if Cadoc received much from Irishmen
himself, he gave them even more in return. There can be no doubt that, as
we shall see further on, he visited Ireland afterwards, and spent some
time with those who were once his own pupils in Wales.

The influence exercised over the Celtic Church in Ireland by David,
Gildas, and Cadoc may be estimated from the fact already referred to, that
they are said to have given a Mass to the Second Order of the Irish
Saints. This would seem to imply that these saints, most of whom spent
some time in Wales, adopted the liturgy of the Welsh Church, which may
have in some respects differed from the older liturgy established by St.
Patrick. Finnian was the great means of diffusing the learning and
practices of Llancarvan in Ireland. He taught at Clonard, what he had
himself learned or seen at St. David's and at Llancarvan; and thus became
the means of diffusing the monasticism of the Welsh Church through most of
Erin, especially in its southern parts.

The Life of Finnian given in the _Salamanca MS._ records many miracles
which he performed in Wales. By his prayers and his great faith in God he
dried a lake to get a site for a monastery; he caused mountains to
overwhelm the invading Saxons; he drove away the serpents, wasps, and
birds that afflicted the religious men in the island called Echin, whom he
visited in order to derive consolation from their life and doctrine. It is
evident, however, from the narrative that he spent most of the thirty
years of his sojourn in Britain under the spiritual guidance of Cathmael,
and most probably in his great school at Llancarvan. The years being
expressed in the manuscript _Lives of the Saints_ by Roman numerals, are
always liable to error--the addition of an X will make thirty out of
twenty, and a double XX added by the fault of the copyist would make
thirty out of ten. It is, however, stated expressly that Finnian having
completed the XXXth year of his pilgrimage returned to his native country
with Biteus and Genocus and some other religious men of the Britains, who
followed the saint on account of the great holiness of his life and
conservation. By God's help they landed at Magh Itha in the south of
Wexford,[170] at a port called _Dubglais_, whence they proceeded to visit
his ancient preceptor, the holy Coemhan, who still dwelt in Dairinis.
There was a Dairinis or Oak island in the Blackwater, which was known as
Dairinis Molana; but the island here referred to is "Dairinis of Coemhan,"
as it is called in the _Four Masters_, A.D. 820. It was in Wexford
Harbour; and, as we have already seen, Finnian when going to Wales spent
some time with Coemhan in that island, so it is only natural that he
should return to the scenes of his early years. From Dairinis Finnian
went to visit Muiredach Melbrugh, King of Hy Kinselagh at that time, and
sought permission to build a church in his territory. The king received
Finnian with all honour and reverence, and sent him effective aid in
building a church at a place called Achadh Abhail, now Aghold, a parish
church in the barony of Shillelagh, county of Wicklow.

Leaving some of his monks to continue his work at Aghold, he went himself
into the neighbouring district of Hy Bairrche, and spent seven years
teaching and preaching at a place called Maonaigh in the saint's Life. It
takes its name from the Hy Maonaigh, an influential tribe who possessed
that territory, some of whom having migrated to the North settled near the
river Erne and gave their name to the co. Monaghan. The are now known as

As we are told that Finnian, during his residence in this neighbourhood,
sometimes preached before St. Brigid and her nuns, his sojourn there must
be fixed before the death of that saint, A.D. 523 or 525. In his great
love for holy poverty the saint refused to accept even from St. Brigid a
gold ring which she presented to him as a token of her esteem.

Going still further north he founded another church at a place called
Esker Brenain, which in the Irish fashion he fenced in with a circular
mound and trench, dug with his own hands. One day he found beside his
church a poor boy, who had been carried off as a captive by some robbers,
and was abandoned by them near the church. Finnian took charge of the poor
child, and finding him a youth of good parts, diligently instructed him
both in virtue and learning, gave him the tonsure, and made him it seems,
his assistant, either there or at Clonard. After the departure of Finnian
he became his master's successor in Esker Brenain.

Then an angel appeared to Finnian and told him that he was to seek
elsewhere the place of his resurrection. Finnian promptly obeyed, and
rising up, under the guidance of the angel, he came to the place called
Cluain Eraird.


St. Finnian seems to have founded his school at Clonard about the year
A.D. 520, when he himself was in all probability not less than forty-five
years of age. The place was previously a wilderness inhabited by wild
beasts, which seem to have made their lairs in the dense shrubberies that
covered the marshy banks of the Boyne and Kinnegad rivers. We are told
expressly in Finnian's Life, that a huge wild boar, which had frequented
the spot where the saint resolved to remain, abandoned the place for ever.
The saint threw himself on his knees in prayer, crying out in the words of
the Psalmist--"This shall be my resting-place for ever; here will I dwell
for I have chosen it." So he built his hut in Erard's Meadow, where the
wild boar had previously kept his lair.

An Irish school and monastery of the sixth century was, as we have seen,
very different from the monastic establishments of modern times. Finnian
began alone without, it seems, a single disciple. He built his little cell
of wattles and clay, for stones are scarce at Clonard, and with such help
as he could procure he also built his church quite near his cell, and in
all probability of similar materials. We know, indeed, that afterwards
there was a _daimhlaig_ or large stone church at Clonard--for we are told
that it was burnt down in A.D. 1045 no less than three times in one week,
which is to be understood, however, of the furniture and the perishable
materials of the roof. This stone church, however, was not built until the
place had become famous by the life and labours of the saint. When the
little church was built, he fenced around both the cell and the church
with a deep trench or fosse which formed the monastic enclosure, and,
heedless of the world, began to live for God alone in labour and watching,
fasting and perpetual prayer. We are told that he slept on the bare
ground, that he had a chain around his naked body which sank into his
flesh, and that he wore the same old clothes until they fell to pieces
from his back.

His ordinary food was a little bread with herbs and salt and water.[172]
On festival days he allowed himself some fish, or whey and porridge; but
flesh meat he never tasted. It was not difficult to procure these
luxuries; and what time he could spare from labour he devoted to prayer
and sacred study, especially to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, for
deep knowledge of which he became pre-eminently remarkable.

The fame of a life so austere and self-denying very soon spread abroad,
and great numbers came to visit him. He performed many wondrous miracles;
and, moreover, gave his visitors such heavenly instruction as showed that
he was a man not only of great holiness but of great learning. He had all
the science of the saints, for he had been in the great monastic schools
of Britain; some said he had been to Tours,[173] others added that he had
gone all the way to Rome--and these statements have come down even to our
time, but unsupported by any satisfactory evidence. Then a great crowd of
scholars began to gather round him; they were of all ages and came from
all parts. Abbots left their own monasteries; even great bishops, some of
them older than Finnian himself, left their cathedrals to profit by his
bright example, and learn the lessons of divine wisdom that fell from his
lips. To Clonard came all the men who were afterwards famous as "The
Twelve Apostles of Erin." Thither came the venerable Ciaran of Saigher, a
companion of St. Patrick, to bow his hoary head in reverence to the wisdom
of the younger sage; and that other Ciaran, the Son of the Carpenter, who
in after years founded the famous monastic school of Clonmacnoise in the
fair meadows by the Shannon's shore. Thither, too, came Brendan of Birr,
"the prophet," as he was called, and his still more famous namesake,
Brendan of Clonfert, St. Ita's foster son, the daring navigator, who first
tried to cross the Atlantic to preach the Gospel, and revealed to Europe
the mysteries of the far off Western Isles. There, too, was young Columba,
who learned at the feet of Finnian those lessons of wisdom and discipline
that he carried with him to Iona, which in its turn became for many
centuries a torch to irradiate the spiritual gloom of Picts, and Scots,
and Saxons. And there was that other Columba of Tir-da-glass, and
Mobhi-Clairenach of Glasnevin, and Rodan, the founder of Lorrha near Lough
Derg, and Lasserian, the son of Nadfraech, and Canice of Aghaboe, and
Senanus from Inniscathy, and Ninnidh the Pious from the far off shores of
Lough Erne. It is said, too, that St. Enda of the Aran Islands and
Sinellus of Cleenish, and many other distinguished saints spent some time
at Clonard, but they are not, like those mentioned above, reckoned amongst
"the Twelve Apostles of Erin."

We are told in the office of St. Finnian that he had no less than 3,000
scholars under his instruction, and that, too, not meaning those merely
who were there at different times, but that there were so many as 3,000
together in his school. It might seem at first sight that this was a
rather extravagant number, and that it would be impossible to find
suitable accommodation for so many persons in this wild spot. We must
remember, however, not to judge things according to modern notions. There
were no school buildings necessary in our sense,--no libraries, lecture
halls, or museums.

The instruction was altogether oral. There were no books except a few
manuscripts, and they were very highly prized. The instruction was
generally given in the open air, and no more suitable place could be
selected for the purpose than the green fields around the moat of Clonard.
If the preceptor took his stand on its summit, or seated his pupils around
its slopes, he could be conveniently heard, not only by hundreds, but even
by thousands. They were easily accommodated, too, with food and lodging.
They built their own little huts through the meadows, where several of
them sometimes lived together like soldiers in a tent. They sowed their
own grain; they ground their own corn with the quern, or hand-mill; they
fished in the neighbouring rivers, and had room within the termon lands to
graze cattle to give them milk in abundance. When supplies ran short they
put wallets on their backs and went out on their turn to seek for the
necessaries of life, and were never refused abundant supplies by the
people. They wore little clothing, had no books to buy, and generally, but
not always, received their education gratuitously.[174]

The routine of daily life in St. Finnian's monastic school we can easily
gather from his own Life, and from what we know of the monasteries in
which he was trained. We are told in the Life that on a certain occasion
he said to his beloved disciple Senachus, who succeeded him in the abbacy
of Clonard: "Go and see what each of my disciples is doing at this
moment." Senachus bowed his head and went; and lo! he found them all
intently engaged at their various occupations. "Some were engaged in
manual labour, some were studying the sacred Scripture, and others,
especially Columba of Tir-da-Glas, the son of Crimthann, he found engaged
in prayer with his hands stretched out to heaven, and the birds came and
alighted on his head and shoulders." "He it is," said Finnian, "who will
offer the Holy Sacrifice for me at the hour of my death," for his, it
seems, was pre-eminently the spirit of holy prayer and meekness.

The study of sacred Scripture, as this reference shows, was especially
cultivated at Clonard. It is the most sublime, and in one sense the most
difficult of all branches of sacred knowledge. Moreover it is a study in
which prayer and meditation can do more for the student than mere human
wisdom. It can be best acquired at the foot of the crucifix, and its best
teacher is the Holy Spirit of God. But human wisdom, too, is necessary,
and all the aids which it supplies; and Finnian made use of that, also,
for his own advancement and for the instruction of his pupils. From his
youth, under the guidance of St. Fortchern, he had been a diligent student
of the sacred Volume; he pursued the same studies in foreign schools under
many teachers; God's Holy Word was food for his mind and a lamp to his
feet through all his days, and in all his wanderings.

It was this knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, in which, it seems, he
excelled all others, that attracted so many holy and venerable men to the
banks of the Boyne at Clonard, and made his name so famous in the early
Church of Ireland.[175] For the Irish, though a newly converted people,
had an insatiable thirst for sacred knowledge, and hung on the lips of
every teacher who could expound with clearness and with power the
mysteries and beauties of God's revelation to man. And we know of our own
knowledge that it is so still. There is not a congregation in the wildest
part of Ireland that will not listen with the most intense interest to a
preacher who can clearly and literally explain the Gospel or Epistle for
any Sunday. They will be more attentive then than at any other time; they
will catch up his smallest word; they will take it home with them and tell
it to their children; and the children sometimes will take it home to the
parents. And they are right; for the words of God are far beyond any words
of men.

It seems to have been this power of expounding the sacred Scriptures to
his scholars that secured for Finnian such prominence in sacred learning
beyond all his contemporaries, and filled the school of Clonard not only
with scholars but with masters in Israel, who came with the rest to
acquire divine wisdom at his feet. Hence he enjoys in history the glorious
title of "Tutor of the Saints of Ireland." Of the Second Order of Saints,
the men who shone like the moon in the firmament of our early Irish
Church, Finnian has been always recognized as the teacher and the chief.
He has been compared to the rose tree to which the bees from every
quarter gather in order to extract the honey. His seminary at Clonard has
been described by others as a wonderful treasure-house, where illustrious
men from all parts of Ireland assembled together in order to enrich
themselves with the wealth of ecclesiastical discipline and Scriptural
knowledge. The hymn for the Lauds of his office has a stanza which may be
imperfectly rendered in English--

  "Before three thousand scholars he,
    Their humble master, meekly stood;
  His mind a mighty stream that poured
    For all its fertilizing flood."[176]

The Four Masters record his death under date of A.D. 548, but it may with
more probability be fixed about A.D. 552; Colgan, however, thinks he lived
until A.D. 563. The Four Masters frequently antedate by four or five
years, so that the date of his death as fixed by them is really equivalent
to A.D. 552 of the common era, which date is, we think, nearest the truth.
In O'Clery's calendar he is described as "St. Finnian, abbot of Clonard,
son of Finlogh, son of Fintan, of the Clanna Rudhraighe (Clan Rory). Sir
James Ware calls him Finnian, or Finan, son of Fintan[177] placing the
grandfather in place of the father.

"He was a philosopher and an eminent divine, who first founded the College
of Clonard in Meath, near the Boyne, where there were one hundred bishops,
and where with great care and labour he instructed many celebrated saints,
among whom were the two Brendans, the two Columbs, viz., Columkille and
Columb mac Crimthainn, Lasserian, son of Nadfraech, Canice, Mobheus,
Rodanus, and many others not here enumerated. His school was in quality a
holy city, full of wisdom and virtue, according to the writer of his life,
and he himself obtained the name of Finnian the Wise. He died on the 12th
of December, A.D. 552; or according to others A.D. 563, and was buried in
his own church at Clonard."

We could find no trace of his tomb, because in truth there is now no trace
of his church. The hand of the spoiler has devastated Clonard perhaps more
completely than any other of our ancient shrines. There was, we know, a
round tower there, which is said to have partially fallen in A.D. 1039.
"The Cloichtheach of Clonard fell," according to the Four Masters, in
that year. But the stump remained down to the close of the last century.
Sir W. Wild says nobody knows what has become of it; we believe it was
used for the purpose of building or repairing the present Protestant
church, which is a plainer and uglier building than even such edifices
usually are in Ireland. There are only two relics of antiquity now
remaining at Clonard, and it needs a close inspection to find them out.
The first and principal is an octagonal baptismal font of dark gray
limestone about 3 feet high (with its pedestal), 2 feet in diameter, and
some 20 inches deep, with an opening in the bottom to permit the water to
flow away, after use, into the sacrarium. The eight panels of the basin
are beautifully sculptured with various figures in bold relief, supposed
to represent St. Finnian himself in his episcopal robes, St. Peter, St.
John the Baptist, the Baptism in the Jordan, and other kindred and
appropriate subjects. The faces of the pedestal on which the basin rests
are in like manner appropriately ornamented with various floral
decorations. No date is marked, nor can it be exactly fixed; the work,
however, is in the highest style of Celtic art, and though it cannot by
any means be referred to so early a date as the time of St. Finnian
himself, it is of very great antiquity, at least dating back to the
eleventh century. Some persons fancy that on one of the panels there is a
representation of Augustinian monks, and hence they say this font cannot
be older than A.D. 1175, when Walter de Lacy rebuilt the abbey for monks
of that order. But as far as we could judge, the assumption that the
figures represent Augustinian monks is somewhat gratuitous. This
interesting monument of ancient monastic Clonard now stands before the
Communion table of the Protestant church. It is quite evident that the
worthies who placed it there knew little of ancient Christian usages.

The other relic is a curious stone trough now placed within a few paces of
the entrance to the church. It is 2 feet 2 inches long, 21 inches wide,
and 15 deep. It may have been a _piscina_ to receive the water that flowed
from the font referred to. My Catholic guide told many marvellous things
of the efficacy of its waters for curing various diseases, how it never
runs dry, and how fowl and other animals that profanely drink of it
perish. But the unbelieving sexton of the church promptly contradicted
him, at least on two points. He himself had seen it dry, and he saw the
hens that drank of the water live to lay many excellent eggs. There is
also a curious head-shaped stone which was once a corbel in the old abbey,
but is now inserted in the church tower over the door. Like everything
else of the olden time it is not only out of date, but out of place in its
present position.

From the time of St. Finnian to Stephen Rochfort, the Norman Bishop of
Meath, who transferred his episcopal residence from Clonard to Newtown,
near Trim, we have a chronicle of the bishops and abbots who sat in the
chair of St. Finnian. It is not certain that he was himself a bishop,
although he is spoken of in his office as Praesul and Pontifex.

It is much more probable, however, that he was a bishop, and his
successors, though frequently styled abbots, seem to have been in
episcopal orders; and all of them certainly exercised episcopal
jurisdiction. The school of Clonard, too, for many centuries retained its
ancient fame, and from time to time produced distinguished saints and
scholars. St. Aileran the Wise, who, like many other Irish saints, died of
the fatal yellow plague that devastated the country in A.D. 664, is
described as chief professor of the schools of Clonard. He was also, in
Colgan's opinion, the author of what is known as the _Fourth Life of St.
Patrick_, as well as of _Lives of St. Brigid, and St. Fechin_ of Fore, in
Westmeath. Moreover, he composed a Litany partly in Latin and partly in
Irish, which O'Curry discovered in the _Yellow Book of Lecain_ in Trinity
College. Fleming, too, has published a fragment of a Latin treatise by St.
Aileran on the "_Mystical Interpretation of the Ancestry of our Lord Jesus
Christ_." This fragment was found in the Irish monastery of St. Gall in
Switzerland. It was first published by Fleming in A.D. 1667, and reprinted
in the famous Benedictine edition of the Fathers in A.D. 1677. It may,
perhaps, with greater readiness be referred to in _Migne's Patrology_
(vol. 80, page 328). We make special reference to this fragment because we
have no other writings of the Clonard school remaining, either of St.
Finnian himself or of his immediate successors; and secondly because of
itself it furnishes ample proof of the high culture attained at that early
age in this great Irish seminary. The Benedictine editors say that
although the writer did not belong to their order, they publish it because
Aileran "unfolded the meaning of Sacred Scripture with so much learning
and ingenuity that every student of the sacred volume, and especially
preachers of the Divine Word, will regard the publication as most
acceptable (acceptissima)."

This is high praise from perfectly impartial and competent judges, and in
that opinion we cordially agree. We read over both fragments carefully,
that mentioned above, and also a "Short Moral Explanation of the Sacred
Names," by the same author, and we have no hesitation in saying that
whether we consider the style of the latinity, the learning, or the
ingenuity of the writer, it is equally marvellous and equally honourable
to the School of Clonard. The writer cites not only St. Jerome, St.
Augustine, and the author of the "Imperfect Work," but what is more
wonderful still, he quotes Origen repeatedly, as well as Philo, the
Alexandrine Jew. We cannot undertake to say that he was familiar with
these two authors in the original Greek, but even a knowledge of the Latin
versions in that rude age is highly honourable to our Irish schools. This
fragment shows, too, that a century after the death of the holy founder
scriptural studies of the most profound character were still cultivated
with eagerness and success in the great school of Clonard. But evil days
came upon this sanctuary of the holy and the learned, especially after the
advent of the Danes.

It was plundered and partially destroyed some twelve times in all. But the
Danes had half that work of sacrilege to their own exclusive credit--they
plundered it on five or six recorded occasions. It was burned no less than
fourteen times, sometimes partially, but on other occasions almost wholly,
as for instance in A.D. 1045, "when the town of Clonard, together with its
churches, was wholly consumed, being thrice set on fire within one week."
On another occasion, in A.D. 1136, the men of Breifney, led even then by
O'Rorke of the One-Eye, the husband of the faithless Dervorgilla,
"plundered and sacked Clonard, and behaved in so shameless a manner as to
strip O'Daly, then chief poet of Ireland. Amongst other outrages they
sacrilegiously took from the vestry of this abbey a sword which had
belonged to St. Finnian the Founder."--(_Four Masters._)

Even in that century of nameless outrage and bloodshed, Clonard was still
the home of poetry and learning, and to their shame be it spoken, it was
an Irish chieftain and his followers who destroyed what the Danes had
spared--the very men who claimed to have on their side "virtue and Erin,"
forsooth, while on the other was the "Saxon and guilt." But any one who
has ever read the bloody annals of the long reign of Tiernan O'Rorke in
Breifney will have some difficulty in accepting him as the representative
of virtue and Erin. His rival, Dermod McMurrough, who was not outdone in
villany by any other Irishman of the time, plundered and burned Clonard in
A.D. 1170, and was aided in his foul work by Earl Strongbow and his
friends from England; but next year he paid the penalty of his crimes,
dying of a loathsome disease, without the sacraments, accursed of God and
man, for the _Four Masters_ tell us that "he became putrid whilst living,
by the miracle of God, and Columkille, and _Finnian_, and the other saints
of Ireland, whose churches he had profaned and burned"--truly a fitting
end for such a life as his. In A.D. 1175 Walter de Lacy founded the
monastery of Clonard for the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, but in A.D.
1206, as we observed above, Simon de Rochford transferred the See of Meath
from Clonard to Trim[178]; and so the ancient glory of the place faded
away until now it is merely a name known only to scholars, without even a
broken arch or ruined wall to speak with saddening eloquence of its
glorious past.



  "I grew to manhood by the western wave,
    Among the mighty mountains on the shore;
  My bed the rock within some natural cave,
    My food whate'er the seas and seasons bore;
  My occupation morn and noon and night,
    The only dream my hasty slumbers gave
  Was time's unheeding, unreturning flight,
    And the great world that lies beyond the grave."
                              --_The Voyage of St. Brendan._

The School of Clonfert was for many centuries the most celebrated and most
frequented in the West of Ireland. From the earliest times the fame of its
great founder, St. Brendan, did much to attract students to its halls from
all parts of Ireland. He was succeeded in the Monastery and See of
Clonfert by several other distinguished scholars, some of whose writings
still remain to show the extent and variety of their learning. In spite of
the incursions of the Danes a continuous succession of prelates and
abbots, whose names have been all handed down to us, continued in Clonfert
to cultivate and encourage the pursuit of sacred studies. Even in more
recent times its prelates were generous patrons of learning and learned
men, and many important works connected with Celtic Ireland still
remaining for us, are due in great measure to their munificence.


St. Brendan, the founder of the see of Clonfert, and the patron of the
dioceses of Ardfert and Clonfert, is in many respects the most interesting
figure amongst the saints of ancient Erin. His travels by land, and still
more his voyages by sea, have made him famous from the earliest times.
Manuscript copies of his Seven Years' Voyage in the Atlantic Ocean, some
of them dating from the ninth and tenth centuries, are to be found in
every great library, and almost in every language of Europe. In our own
times, poets and literary men, both in these countries and in France,
have been attracted to celebrate his romantic career, and their genius has
helped to lend a new immortality and more attractive grace to his strange
adventures. We can, however, at present only give the reader a very brief
sketch of his holy but adventurous career.

St. Brendan the Navigator, as he is frequently called, to distinguish him
from Brendan of Birr, was born on the sea-coast a little to the west of
Tralee, in the County Kerry, about the year A.D. 484. The time, place, and
circumstances of his birth can be fixed with greater accuracy than is
usual in the case of most of our Irish saints. He was the son of Findlug,
who was grandson of Alta, of the race of the celebrated Fergus Mac Roy;
and hence he is frequently called Brendan Mac Hy Alta. His family belonged
to the tribe called the Ciarri Luachra, and they dwelt, we are told, in
Altraighe Chaille, at Rand Bera.[179] This place, still called Barra,
retains its ancient name, and is close to the little promontory of Fenid,
north of the Bay of Tralee.[180] It is said that the ruins of an old
church, still traceable at Fenid Point, mark the exact spot where the
saint was born. Findlug was a Christian, and, with his wife, lived under
the spiritual direction of the holy Bishop Erc, who then dwelt at a place
about three miles north of Ardfert, still called by the peasantry Termon
Eirc. Brendan's mother had a vision foreshadowing his birth, in which she
thought she saw her bosom filled with purest gold and radiant with
heavenly light. This the holy bishop explained to signify the fulness of
the Holy Spirit which would adorn the offspring then in her womb. A
prophet of God called Bec Mac De also announced the future sanctity of
Brendan, and the fact of his birth, to a rich man called Mac Airde, who
dwelt at a place still called Cahir-Airde close to Rand-Bera. This rich
man made an offering of thirty cows, with their calves, to the infant, and
from his very birth took him to be the patron of his home and family.

The child was baptized shortly after his birth by Bishop Erc at Tubber na
Molt, or the Wedder's Well, which has given its name to the townland of
Tubrid, near Ardfert, and is still regarded as a holy well by the people,
who hold a station there on the festival of Brendan. Numerous votive
offerings of every kind, hung around the well, attest the faith of the
people in the healing virtue of its waters.

For one year the child was nursed in the house of his parents, and was
then taken away by Bishop Erc to be placed under saintly fosterage. St.
Ita had just then founded her convent of Ceall Ita, now known as Killeedy,
in the great plain south of Newcastle West, in the county Limerick, and
close to the northern limits of that Slieve Lougher range, which bounded
the native territory of St. Brendan. The ruins of her ancient church are
still to be seen, as well as the bountiful stream from which young Brendan
must have often drunk, and also the lofty fragment of an ancient castle,
doubtless built there to defend the church, like a round tower, during the
stormy centuries of the Danish incursions.

The young Brendan remained under the care of St. Ita for five years, and
no doubt during these years acquired much of that spirit of confiding and
fervent piety in which he walked all the days of his life. He always
looked upon St. Ita as a mother; in his temptations and trials he had
recourse to her holy counsels; "for she was prudent in word and work,
sweet and winning in her address, but constant of mind and firm of

St. Erc, the tutor of Brendan, then took the boy under his own charge. He
was a learned as well as a holy man, and is most probably to be identified
with Erc of Slane, 'the sweet spoken judge of Patrick,' who was one of the
high officials of the king, when St. Patrick visited Tara, and whose death
is recorded A.D. 512.

Young Brendan made great progress in learning under the care of St. Erc.
We are told that he read day and night under the holy bishop, and being
still very young he had many privations to endure in the hermitage of the
austere prelate. Once, it is said that in his thirst he cried for a little
milk, such as he used to get from St. Ita's dairy; but there was none to
be had from St. Erc, until a doe from the mountains came of her own accord
to be milked to satisfy the cravings of the child. His young sister,
Briga, came at this time to visit the holy youth, and was so much
impressed by what she saw and heard, that she too resolved to renounce the
world and devote her life to the service of God in perpetual virginity.

We are told that Brendan studied the Latin language from his 'infancy,'
and it is most likely that the Psaltery and the New Testament were his
principal books at this period. We may be sure, however, that the old
Brehon of King Laeghaire did not leave him in ignorance of his country's
language and history, nor of the sweet songs of her ancient bards.

St. Brendan remained under the tuition of the blessed Erc until he grew up
to be a young man able to take care of himself, and fully instructed in
all the learning that St. Erc could teach him. Then Brendan, with the
permission of his master, and the blessing both of his master and foster
mother, St. Ita, resolved to go, "and see the lives of some of the holy
fathers of Erin." "But come back," said Erc, "that you may receive
priestly orders from my hands before I die." "Go, my child," said Ita,
"and study carefully the rules of the perfect fathers of the Irish Church,
but do not visit often the holy virgins, lest evil tongues defame thee."

Fortified with God's blessing and this sage advice, Brendan travelled
northwards to visit the already celebrated school of St. Jarlath, near
Tuam. On his way he met Colman Mac Lenin, whom he induced to give up his
worldly life and accompany him, it seems, on his journey. This Colman
afterwards founded the see of Cloyne, and became its first bishop.

At this time St. Jarlath had a seminary for sacred learning at Cluainfois
(Cloonfush), about two miles to the west of Tuam. He himself had been the
pupil of St. Benignus, the sweet psalm-singer, and favourite disciple of
St. Patrick. The Church of Kilbannon, with its old round tower, may still
be seen in ruins a little to the north of Cluainfois. There is also a
vivid local tradition that St. Benignus, St. Jarlath, and other saints
used to hold spiritual conferences there together. St. Benignus, however,
was dead at least thirty years before young Brendan came to this seminary.
This "School of the Saints" is still vivid in the traditional memory of
the people. St. Jarlath was particularly skilled in the exposition of the
Sacred Scripture; and we are told that it was love for that branch of
knowledge especially that induced young Brendan to come to this remote
seminary of the West. St. Brendan remained some years at Cluainfois in the
acquisition of knowledge, and the practice of all virtue. Before his
departure he told St. Jarlath that Providence wished him to remove to
Tuam, which was destined by God to be the place of his resurrection, and
then getting his master's blessing he left the seminary of Cluainfois.

St. Brendan next travelled northward to the plain of An.[182] It is more
commonly called by our Irish writers, Magh Enna, which is the Celtic form
of the 'Campus An.' It includes the wide undulating plain that extends
from Manulla Junction to Castlebar. This district was colonized then or
shortly afterwards by the tribesmen of Brendan, and from them got the name
of Upper Kerry (Ciarraige Uachthair). There the Angel of the Lord appeared
to him saying:--"Write the Rule that I shall dictate, and live thou in
accordance with that Rule." Then Brendan wrote his Rule according to the
dictation of the Angel; and it was the Rule by which Brendan himself, and
the monastic families founded by him, have lived 'up to this day,' says
the writer of the _Latin Life of Brendan_.

Unfortunately this Rule is no longer extant, or at least has not yet been
discovered. It was in this plain called Magh Enna that Brendan performed a
very striking miracle in presence of a great crowd of people. A young man
was being carried to the grave, when Brendan met the corpse, and calling
on the mourning relatives to have confidence in God, he approached the
bearers, and with words of power bade the cold corpse rise up from the
bier. At once the dead man arose; and Brendan gave him to his friends.
Then they brought Brendan to the king, and told him all that had happened.
Whereupon the king offered to Brendan lands to found a monastery, if he
would consent to remain amongst them. But Brendan replied that he could
not found a monastery any where without the permission of his master,
Bishop Erc; and that he had promised to return and receive orders from him
before he died. The King of Connaught at that time was probably the
gallant warrior, Eoghan Beul, whose palace was on an island in Lough Mask.
He seems to have reigned from A.D. 510 to 542.

So Brendan returned home to Tralee, and received the priesthood from his
beloved master, the holy Bishop Erc. The death of St. Erc of Slane is
noticed in our Annals, A.D. 512 or 513; and it was therefore a little
before this time that Brendan was elevated to the priesthood, when he was
about twenty-six years of age.

At this period we are told that Brendan built cells in his native
territory for the accommodation of the disciples, who gathered round him,
attracted by the fame of his sanctity. But at that time he founded only a
few cells, and had comparatively few disciples; for he was yet young and
almost unknown outside his own country. However, when he returned from his
Atlantic voyages, his fame extended far and wide; and he founded many
monasteries both at home and in various parts of Ireland.

It was probably at this period that St. Brendan built his oratory on the
summit of Brandon Hill, and there conceived the bold idea of seeking the
Promised Land beyond the billows of the Atlantic. Brandon Hill rises over
the ocean to the height of 3,127 feet at the north-western corner of the
barony of Corcaguiny to the south of the Bay of Tralee. The entire
promontory of Corcaguiny is one range of bare and lofty hills, at the
extremity of which Mount Brandon rises as a huge detached cone overlooking
the western ocean. It was a daring thought to build his cell and oratory
on the bare summit of this lone mountain, which is frequently covered with
clouds, and nearly always rudely swept by the breezes that rise from the
Atlantic Ocean. But on a clear day the spectacle from its summit is one of
sublime and unapproachable grandeur. All the bold hills and headlands from
Aran to Kenmare, that go out to meet the waves, are visible from its
summit. The rocky islets of the Skelligs and the Maherees are the
sentinels that guard its base. Inland the spectator can cast his gaze over
half the South of Ireland--mountain and valley, lake and stream and plain
and town, stretching far away to the east and south. But the eye ever
turns seaward to the grand panorama presented by the ultimate ocean. No
such view can be had elsewhere in the British Islands; and Brendan while
dwelling on the mountain summit saw it in all its varying moods--at early
morning when the glory of the sun was first diffused over its wide
reaches; at midnight when the stars swept round the pole that feared to
dip themselves in the baths of ocean; at even--above all at even--when the
setting sun went home to his caverns beneath the sea, and the line of
light along the glowing west seemed a road of living gold to the Fortunate
Islands, where the sorrows of earth never enter, and peace and beauty for
ever dwell. It was a dim tradition of man's lost Paradise floating down
the stream of time, for with curious unanimity the poets and sages both of
Greece and Rome spoke of these Islands of the Blessed as located somewhere
in the Western Ocean. The same idea from the earliest times has taken
strong hold of the Celtic imagination, and reveals itself in many strange
tales, which were extremely popular especially with the peasantry on the
western coast. To this day the existence of O'Brazil, an enchanted land of
joy and beauty, which is seen sometimes on the blue rim of the ocean, is
very confidently believed in by the fishermen of our western coasts. It
is seen from Aran once every seven years, as Brendan saw it in olden
times, like a fairy city on the far horizon's verge:--

  "And often now amid the purple haze
    That evening breathed on the horizon's rim--
  Methought, as there I sought my wished for home,
    I could descry amid the waters green,
  Full many a diamond shrine and golden dome,
    And crystal palaces of dazzling sheen."

Brendan was confirmed in his resolution to seek the Blessed Islands by a
strange tale told by Barinthus, a monk from the neighbourhood, whose
church of Kilbarron is not far from Tralee. One of the monks of Barinthus,
Mernoc by name, had fled from his monastery in search of a desert in the
ocean. Barinthus followed after him, and at length found him in the island
called the 'Delicious,' from which they sailed further west, and came to
the Land of Promise of the Saints--a beauteous land of light beyond the
clouds and mists of the western sea, covered with verdant glades and
flowery fields. But an angel told them to return home again, that this
land of light and beauty was not yet to be revealed to men.

Then Brendan's heart was filled with only one thought to find out for
himself this 'Land of Promise,' if haply it were God's high will. So with
his monks he fasted forty days, and then choosing fourteen of their number
he made ready for the adventurous voyage. Even the great St. Enda of Aran
commended Brendan's purpose, and foretold that God would bring his
enterprise to a happy issue. So they built themselves a large currach with
ribs and frame of willow, but covered with hides, and taking with them
oars and sails, and provisions for forty days they set out upon the
trackless sea steering for the "Summer solstice."

It is not our intention at present to follow Brendan and his monks in
their wanderings through the Atlantic. For seven years they sailed from
island unto island in the Atlantic main, seeing many marvels by land and
sea, following God's guidance, fed by His Providence, and protected by His
power. At length, it is said, they reached the Continent of America, and
found the place where they landed to be indeed a delicious country
abounding in everything to gratify the palate and please the eye--

  "The wind had died upon the ocean's breast,
    When like a silvery vein through the dark ore,
  A smooth bright current gliding to the west,
    Bore our light bark to that enchanted shore.
  It was a lovely plain--spacious and fair,
    And blessed with all delights that earth can hold,
  Celestial odours filled the fragrant air,
    That breathed around that green and pleasant wold.

  "There may not rage of frost, nor snow, nor rain
    Injure the smallest and most delicate flower;
  Nor fall of hail wound the fair healthful plain,
    Nor the warm weather, nor the winter's shower.
  That noble land is all with blossoms flowered,
    Shed by the summer breezes as they pass;
  Less leaves than blossoms on the trees are showered,
    And flowers grow thicker in the fields than grass.

  "We were about to cross its placid tide
    When lo! an angel on our vision broke,
  Clothed in white upon the further side;
    He stood majestic, and thus sweetly spoke--
  'Father, return, thy mission now is o'er,
    God who did bring thee here, now bids thee go,
  Return in peace unto thy native shore,
    And tell the mighty secrets thou dost know.'"

Therefore Brendan, in obedience to the voice of God's angel, would not
cross the mighty river that watered this all-beauteous land; so they
embarked once more, and guided by Providence, they all returned in safety
to their native homes.

After this voyage, which was soon noised abroad, Brendan became very
famous, and crowds of holy men from all parts of the country came to place
themselves under his spiritual direction. There can hardly be any doubt
that it was then these villages of beehive cells and stone oratories at
Kilmalkedar and Gallerus, as well as on the Blasquet Islands, were built
for the accommodation of the disciples of St. Brendan.

But like Ulysses, Brendan had become a name, and had a hungry heart for
much roaming, that he might preach the Gospel to the half-instructed
natives, whom he had met in his journey through Connaught. So he left his
native place, having founded the See of Ardfert, and crossing over the
estuary of the Shannon, then called Luimnech, he founded a monastery in
the island called anciently Inis-da-druim, or the Island of the Two
Ridges, in that great expanse of water which flows up to Clare, near the
town of Ennis. The island is at present called Coney Island, and some
remains of ancient churches are still to be seen there, but probably of
later date than the time of Brendan.

About this time, too, he went to Wales, where he met the great St. Gildas,
and journeyed still further north to Iona, as we know from Adamnan's _Life
of St. Columcille_. It is said that this pilgrimage to Britain was imposed
on Brendan by St. Ita, as a penance for a rash command given by him in
Inis-da-druim, which caused the death by drowning of a too obedient monk.
It is probable that in the first instance he went to the Scottish
Dalriada, visiting Iona and the neighbouring islands; for it is only after
three years spent in 'Britain' (which included Scotland) that we find him
in Wales with St. Gildas.

During this journey he preached the Gospel everywhere, and founded many
churches. He visited the Island of Heth, or Tiree, which is about twenty
miles north-west of Iona. Kilbrandon in the Island of Seil, a little to
the south of Oban, still bears his name, and Cuilbrandon shows where he
made his temporary residence. He visited a place called Ailech in the
Latin Life, which is probably Alyth in Perthshire, and the Sound between
Aran and Kintyre is still called Kilbrennan Sound.[183]

We gather from an incidental reference during his Welsh journey, that
Gildas had a missal written in Greek characters, which he himself had
probably got during his sojourn at the Greek monasteries of Marseilles,
and he invited Brendan to offer up the Body of Christ on the altar, and
make use of this missal. When Brendan saw the strange characters he prayed
to God for help, and "sang the Mass from this missal with the Greek
characters, even as if they were the Latin letters, which he had known
from his infancy." This seems to have taken place at Gildas' monastery of
Llancarvan, in South Wales, and it is remarkable that Gildas, David, and
Docus, or Cadoc of Llancarvan, are said to have given a new Mass, or
Liturgy, to the saints of the Second Order in Ireland.

It was perhaps after his return from Britain that Brendan spent some time
at the great College of Clonard, and visited the King of Tara. All
accounts agree in making the two Brendans--the one of Clonfert and the
other of Birr--disciples of St. Finnian of Clonard, who was known as the
tutor of the Saints of Erin. This does not imply that Brendan might not
himself be quite as old as his tutor, and he probably was so at the time.
The saints were not ashamed to become pupils even of younger men than
themselves, if they had anything to learn either of knowledge or holiness.
It is more likely, however, that he spent his time at Clonard before his
sojourn in Britain, and that it was after his return that he visited King
Diarmaid at Tara.

On this occasion it seems he came to Tara on an errand of mercy, which was
destined to have very important consequences.

King Diarmaid Mac Cerbhaill reigned from A.D. 544 to A.D. 564 or 565. His
high steward, when going round the country to enforce the ancient laws of
hospitality, was slain by Aedh Guaire at his Dun in Hy-Many. Guaire fled
to escape the vengeance of the king, and took refuge with his uncle, St.
Ruadhan of Lorrha, on the other side of the Shannon. But the king
discovered his retreat, and dragged off the criminal to Tara to be
punished for his crime. Ruadhan closely followed, and begged his
neighbour, St. Brendan, who had by this time founded Clonfert on the
Shannon in Hy-Many, to accompany him. Brendan did so; and thus both
saints, with their clerics, and their bells, and their croziers, came to
Tara to intercede for the criminal. But the king was obdurate, and refused
to release his prisoner. All the courtiers joined the bishops in asking
his pardon, but Diarmaid still refused. Then Ruadhan of Lorrha and
"another bishop who was with him," incensed with the king for his
obduracy, "took their bells that they had, which they rung hardly, and
cursed the king and the place, and prayed God that no King or Queen would
or could ever dwell in Tara, and that it should be waste for ever, without
court or palace, and so it fell out accordingly."[184] Next year the king
was slain, and after him no king or queen ever reigned again in Tara. The
spot where Ruadhan and Brendan stood, when pronouncing this dreadful
excommunication, was on the Rath of the Synods, which is still shown on
Tara Hill.

St. Brendan founded one church at least in Leinster at a place called
Cluain Imaire, now Clonamery, in the co. Kilkenny. It stands on the left
bank of the river Nore, about two miles below Inistiogue. Brandon Hill
rises a little to the east of the old church, whose ruins are still to be
seen, and show it to have been of the most primitive type of church

Brendan, also, probably at an earlier date, founded two still more
celebrated establishments in the West of Ireland even before founding
Clonfert, which has always borne his name.

The first of these was the celebrated monastery of Annaghdown, on the
shore of Lough Corrib, which he founded for his sister, St. Briga, and
where he himself died on Sunday, the 16th of May, A.D. 577.

It seems that after Brendan's return from Britain, he paid a second visit
to Connaught. During his first sojourn there he became familiar with the
great plain stretching westward from Tuam to Lough Corrib, and doubtless
also saw the beautiful islands that stud that noble sheet of water. In one
of these islands, called Inchiquin, which is separated by a narrow rocky
channel from the eastern shore of the lake near Headford, he founded his
first monastery in the province of Connaught. It seems to have been
founded about the year A.D. 550 or 552. He was accompanied to the island
by his nephew, the Bishop Moennu, or Moinenn, whom he afterwards appointed
to preside over Clonfert. With their own hands they carried the stones and
built their cells and little oratory. Here, too, St. Fursey, who was a
near relation of St. Brendan, received his early training, as we shall see
further on.

When Brendan had established himself on Inchiquin, his sister, St. Briga,
came from Kerry; for she loved her brother dearly, and was anxious to be
near him for spiritual advice and instruction. Then Brendan built for his
sister the convent of Annaghdown, on the shore of the lake a few miles to
the south, and there she governed under Brendan's guidance a convent of
holy nuns. The place afterwards became very celebrated and was greatly
enlarged. A parish church, and later on a cathedral were established
there, which flourished for many centuries as the chief church of
O'Flaherty's territory, until it was finally appropriated somewhat harshly
by the Archbishops of Tuam.

It was probably whilst Brendan lived at Lough Corrib that seeking after
solitude, which has always had such a charm for pious souls, he went
further north to the extreme west of Erris, and there founded an oratory
and a cell that still remain, though in ruins, and still bear his name.
The island of Inis-gluair, or Inishgloria, lies off the extreme west of
Erris, and is about one mile distant from the mainland at Cross in the
Mullet. We have, not without difficulty, visited this remote and lonely
island, and we found the place still teeming with recollections of Brendan
and his few disciples, but we found only three cells on the island. It is
a long, low-lying rocky island, containing only about twenty acres of fair
pasture land for sheep. It is at present without inhabitants, for it is
bare and barren of itself, and besides is separated from the shore by a
shallow stormy sea, which can be navigated only in currachs with safety,
and even then only in very mild weather. In broken weather, as there is no
landing place on the island, it is absolutely unapproachable. Brendan's
oratory is still to be seen, and the remains of two churches--one the
Church of the Men, and the other the Church of the Women--the latter
without the monastic enclosure. The cells have almost disappeared, and
doubtless, in a few years nothing but a heap of stones will be left to
mark the spot where these men of God slept, and prayed, and fasted,
surrounded by the billows of that angry and desolate sea. A few paces to
the east of the doorway of Brendan's oratory are two flags which mark the
spot where the Children of Lir, whose fate is so pathetically told in
Celtic legend, sleep in peace awaiting their resurrection. "After this,"
says the tale, "the Children of Lir were baptized; and they died and were
buried; and Fiachra and Conn were placed at either side of Fionnghuala,
and Aedh before her face; and their tombstone was raised over their tomb,
and their Ogham names were written and their lamentation rites performed;
and heaven was obtained for their souls." Inishgloria is one of the least
known but most interesting of the many holy islands around Ireland.

According to an ancient tradition, no flesh can corrupt in this island of
purity; even the bodies of the dead remain for ages free from
putrefaction; their nails and hair continue to grow, so that people may
there recognise the features of their ancestors, who left the world
centuries before. This strange story is not corroborated by modern
experience; but it is as old as the time of the veracious and
legend-loving Gerald Barry, who, however, in his account mistakes Aran for

It was in A.D. 556 or 557 that St. Brendan founded his great monastery of
Clonfert. It was regarded as a very important event; and hence its date is
expressly recorded in all our Annals. "Brendinus ecclesiam in Cluain
fertha fundavit."--(_Annals of Ulster_, ANNO 557). The celebrity of the
founder soon attracted a vast number of students and religious men to this
great monastic school, so that Brendan in his life is said to have been
the father of 3,000 monks. Probably this refers to the number of monks and
scholars in the various monasteries governed by him, who lived under his
rule and obedience. But making the allowance even for this sub-division,
there still must have been a vast number of students in that monastery on
the banks of the Shannon. Its name implies that it was a retired and
sheltered meadow, surrounded on one side by what was then a vast forest,
and is now an equally vast bog. To the north and east it was bounded by
fertile meadows stretching away towards the river, which at the nearest
point is two miles distant; but in rainy weather the river overflowed its
low and sedgy banks, converting all these meadows into one vast lake, so
that the Cluain itself became an island. It is so called in some ancient
references, which have been misunderstood even by Dr. Lanigan, who could
not understand why it was called the "Island of Clonfert."

For twenty years Brendan presided over this great establishment; but
occasionally left it for a time in order to visit his other monasteries.
Hence he placed Moinenn over Clonfert as permanent prior, or Head of the
House, so that his own frequent absences might not interfere with the
permanent efficiency of the monastic and scholastic work.

Brendan died at his sister's monastery of Annaghdown in the year A.D. 577,
as already stated, in the ninety-fourth year of his age. His remains had
to be carried away by stealth from his western people around Lough Corrib,
who loved him much, and by his own directions were brought to his Church
of Clonfert, where they were interred with all honour by the myriads of
his spiritual children, who crowded to his obsequies.

We find no reference to any writings of St. Brendan except the Rule
already referred to, which he wrote at the dictation of the Angel. The
great influence which he exercised in his own time was due to the zeal and
sanctity of his life; and was felt for many centuries after his death. He
has even now more--far more--than 3,000 spiritual children in Kerry and
Galway who revere his memory as a precious inheritance and a bright
example. The ancient cathedrals of Clonfert and Ardfert have been seized
by the stranger, and are desolate or decaying. Inishgloria and Inchiquin
are waste and silent solitudes. Annaghdown and Inish-da-druim are in
ruins; yet the tree of Christian faith and virtue, which Brendan planted,
flourishes like the palm-tree by the waters, producing each year richer
and more abundant fruit.[185]


This name is spelled in a great variety of ways. Here we shall adopt the
form given in the Felire of Ængus, our oldest and best authority. The
nominative there is Moinen, the genitive is Moinend or Moinenn.[186] His
festival day, as we know from the same authority, and from all our
martyrologies, was the first day of March.

As Colgan observes in the sketch which he has given us of this saint,
there are some things concerning him which are certain, and some which are
doubtful--we should say very doubtful. First of all it is certain that he
was the intimate friend and associate of St. Brendan for many years, both
during his Atlantic voyages, and when he was founding his monasteries on
Lough Corrib's shores and islands. Secondly, he was chosen by St. Brendan
from amongst his three thousand disciples to rule over Clonfert, and if he
outlived his master, to succeed him in the See and Abbacy. He was in fact
a Coadjutor to St. Brendan, chosen by that saint himself on account of his
great learning and holiness. Thirdly, it is certain that St. Moinenn after
governing Clonfert with great prudence and success, died in the year A.D.
570 or 571, that is six or seven years before the death of Brendan
himself. In the scholiast's annotations to the _Felire_ of Ængus, Moinenn
is described as "bishop and comarb of Brendan;" and the _Martyrology of
Donegal_ calls him at the same date, like all our other
Martyrologies--Bishop of Cluain-fearta-Brenainn. The scholiast on Ængus,
from the fact that he and St. Senan of Iniscathy are mentioned on the same
day, the eighth of March, which is Senan's proper festival, infers that
the latter was Bishop Moinenn's psalmist.

Now as to what is uncertain, Colgan is inclined to think that this Bishop
Moinenn of Clonfert is identical with Monennius, the founder of the great
Monastery of Rosnat in Britain, and the master of several of our most
distinguished Irish saints, including St. Tighernach of Clones, St.
Eugenius of Ardstraw, St. Enda of Aran, and St. Cairbre of Coleraine. It
is well known that the prefix _mo_ is merely a term of endearment, and
hence the name Moinenn or Mo-nenn, is really the same as Nennio or
Mo-nennius, the great and celebrated saint who was undoubtedly the tutor
of the saints of Northern Erin, as St. Finnian of Clonard was the tutor of
the Saints of the South and West--the celebrated Twelve Apostles of Erin.

Colgan's opinion is always entitled to the highest respect, and the more
deeply one is versed in the ecclesiastical history of ancient Ireland, the
more one is likely to set a high value on the opinion of Colgan. Still we
cannot assent to this conjecture of his, especially for reasons of

We agree with the learned and judicious Skene that the monastery of
Rosnat, the _magnum monasterium_, which was also called _Alba_[187] and
_Candida_, can be no other than Whiterne[188] in Galloway, or as it is
sometimes called, Futerna. There is no doubt that St. Nennio, Nennius or
Ninian, was the founder of that great monastery, and he may have been the
teacher of some of the great saints from the north of Ireland, whose names
are mentioned above. Furthermore it was through him and his great
monastery that monastic life and discipline were introduced into those
parts of Ireland, where these early saints, his disciples, founded their
own establishments. St. Nennio or Ninian of Candida Casa was building his
new stone church--the White House--in Galloway when he heard of the death
of St. Martin of Tours, whose disciple he had been. Now, Martin died the
11th of November, A.D. 397; and it is manifestly out of the question to
suppose that this Ninian, or Nennio, could have lived on to the year A.D.
570, when he would be at least 200 years of age. This assumes, however,
the identity of Rosnat with Candida Casa. But if Rosnat were a Welsh
monastery, and that Moinenn is merely another name for St. Manchan, or
Manchenus, the Master, as some think; then Moinenn, Bishop of Clonfert,
was very likely that person, and derived his training and knowledge of
monastic discipline, at least to some extent, from that source. We have
seen that St. Brendan spent some time in Wales, and that he belonged to
the Second Order of Saints, which got a Mass from the three great Saints
of Wales. As St. Moinenn had accompanied him in his voyages in the
Atlantic, nothing is more likely than that he would also accompany him to
Wales, and remain there until such time as Brendan founded Clonfert, when
he was called home by the latter to take charge of this new and important
foundation. It is evident, moreover, that he was a man of large culture,
and that during his presidency over Clonfert he laid the foundations of
that celebrity which the school subsequently attained.

There is no satisfactory evidence that St. Brendan himself ever received
episcopal orders, but rather that in his humility he, like the great St.
Columba of Iona, continued all his life a presbyter-abbot. Of course the
necessary episcopal functions would be preformed by St. Moinenn; and no
doubt that was one of the reasons why he was chosen to preside over the
monastery and school of Clonfert. A similar arrangement existed for a long
period in Iona. The head of the community was a presbyter-abbot; but there
was nearly always a bishop belonging to that great House, who conferred
the necessary orders on the various members of the Community. All, or
nearly all, Brendan's successors, however, appear to have been bishops, as
well as abbots, down to a comparatively recent period, when the offices
and mensal estates of the bishop and abbot became quite distinct. The
monastery as such was nominally suppressed in the reign of Henry VIII.,
but the incumbents contrived to hold their ground until A.D. 1571, when
the bishop, Roland de Burgo, came into possession of the monastic as well
as of the See lands. They afterwards passed to the Protestant prelates
whose representatives hold them still.

St. Fintan, surnamed Corach, seems to have been the immediate successor of
St. Brendan, for, as we have seen, St. Moinenn was really coadjutor to
Brendan, and died before the coadjutus.

We are told in the _Felire_ of Ængus that Fintan's feast was the 21st of
February, _i.e._, Fintan Coragh or the Melodious, because he was famed as
a psalm-singer and choir-master. The scholiast after giving other
explanations of the term, adds that he was Brendan's successor, and came
of the Corco-Duibne race, and that Brendan's mother belonged to the same
tribe. That tribe has given its name to the present barony of Corcaguiny,
and we know that Brendan spent many years of his life in that district, in
which the famous Mount Brandon is situated. He had only to cross the Bay
of Tralee to reach it from the place where his father's family lived at
Fenid. Fintan's father, according to the same authority, was Gaibrene, son
of Cocran. The names of his two immediate successors in Clonfert are also

  "Fintan the melodious, Senach the rough,
  Colman, son of Comgall, the guileless,
  Three great (spiritual) kings with warfare of valour,
  One after the other in the abbey (of Clonfert)."

The _Martyrology of Donegal_ describes Fintan Corach as "Bishop of
Cluain-ferta-Brenainn, and he is in Cluain-eidhnech also." But it is
uncertain if Fintan ever went to Clonenagh, and it seems highly probable
that he was confounded with one of the other Fintans, who founded and
ruled that Church. The fact that he was a connection of St. Brendan by the
mother's side, will explain why he was chosen to succeed that saint in the
government of the Church of Clonfert. It was an established rule to select
the comarb from the kin, or failing that, from the tribe of the founder,
when a suitable candidate so recommended was forthcoming.

No doubt St. Fintan, whilst he governed Clonfert, did much to encourage
the study and practice of sacred psalmody in the abbey choir. He could
hardly be false to his name, or allow discords to prevail, where
harmony--heavenly harmony--should help to raise the mind to God and His
Angelic Choirs. He seems to have died towards the end of the sixth
century. Archdall gives the date as A.D. 590, but nothing is known for
certain on the point.

The Abbot Seanach Garbh appears to have been the successor of St. Fintan,
but beyond the record of his death, which the _Ulster Annals_ give A.D.
620, we know nothing. St. Colman, son of Comgall, is mentioned by the
scholiast of Ængus as the next of the three 'kings' who ruled the abbey in
succession to Brendan, but of him in like manner we know nothing more.

The next Abbot-Bishop of Clonfert was the celebrated Cummian Fada, or
Cummian the Tall, perhaps the most distinguished scholar of his time in
Ireland. Before, however, we give an account of his life and writings, it
is necessary to refer briefly to another famous disciple of St. Brendan,
that is, the celebrated St. Fursey.

After Brendan himself, St. Fursey is the most remarkable saint of the
times in which he lived, and it is fortunate that we have a Life of this
saint still extant which at least in substance must be accepted as
authentic. This Life is referred to by Bede, who himself gives a long and
most interesting account of the saint. It is evident that the Life quoted
by Bede was the work of an almost contemporary writer; for he speaks of
the plague and the great eclipse of the sun, which happened _last_ year,
that is, as we know from Bede himself, on the 3rd of May, A.D. 664. The
Life was therefore written within ten or fifteen years of the death of St.
Fursey; and although additions were probably made to it afterwards, it
must be accepted even in its present shape as authentic and truthful, at
least in substance. It is, moreover, confirmed in many particulars by the
evidence of our native annals.

According to this Life, which has been published by Colgan at January
16th, St. Fursey was the son of a Munster prince named Fintan,[189] son of
Finloga; and this Fintan, either by his father's or mother's side was a
nephew of St. Brendan. The history of the birth of the saint is not
without an element of romance, and hence we shall refer to it more in
detail than our purpose would otherwise require.

Young Fintan from some cause or other left the home of his father, who is
described as king of Western Munster, and came as a soldier of fortune to
the court of Brudin, or as he is sometimes called, Brendinus, King of
North Connaught. In some of the versions of the Life of Fursey he is made
to come to the court of Brandubh, King of Leinster; but this error arose
from confounding the latter with Brendinus, or Brudinus, King of North

The Hy-Briuin race of Connaught derived their descent from Duach Galach,
youngest son of Brian, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin (Eochy Moyvane).
Feargus, great grandson of Duach "the Victorious" (galach), was king, or
prince of Connaught about the year A.D. 517, whilst St. Brendan was still
a young man. He had three sons, who became the ancestors of the three
great branches of the Hy-Briuin race--namely, Eochaidh Tirmcharna, the
ancestor of the O'Conors, Duach Teangumha, the head of the great clan of
the O'Flahertys of West Connaught, and Feargna the common ancestor of the
O'Rorkes and O'Reillys of Breifney. Now Aedh, son of Eochaidh, was King of
Connaught--at least of South Connaught--when St. Brendan founded his
monastery on Inchiquin, about A.D. 550. His uncle Feargna had three sons,
who at the same time ruled in North Connaught--Brendin or Brudin, Aedh
Finn, and Fearadach. It was to Brudin, the eldest, it seems, of these
three brothers, that young Fintan came from Kerry as a soldier of fortune.
It must be borne in mind, too, that there was a great emigration at this
period from Kerry to North Connaught. So that probably Fintan did not come
alone, but accompanied by some of his tribesmen.

Now Aedh Finn, the Prince of North Connaught, had a beautiful daughter
called Gelges, and she fixed her affections on the young prince from
Kerry. The father would not allow her to marry a penniless exile, but love
ignores such obstacles; they were secretly married, and the fact was first
disclosed to the king by the visible pregnancy of his daughter. In his
wrath he condemned the daughter and her unborn child to be burned alive.
But Providence extinguished the fire; and it seems, too, that the king's
sub-chieftains would not tolerate the commission of this great crime. So
Fintan and Gelges were allowed to escape death, but were ordered to return
no more to Breifney.

In this great difficulty Fintan bethought himself of his uncle, St.
Brendan, just then established in Inchiquin; and to him he fled for
refuge. The saint received his kinsman kindly, and as he and his wife were
in danger of their lives, he allowed them to lodge for the time in the
hospice of Inchiquin. There within a few days the unhappy Gelges gave
birth to a boy, the future Fursey, the renowned saint of Ireland, and
England, and France. He was baptized by St. Brendan, and we are told that
so long as Brendan lived[190] he instructed the youth in all knowledge,
sacred and profane, and that the work was afterwards continued by his
disciple, St. Meldan, of Inchiquin. It is no wonder that Brendan,
remembering his own youth spent under the care of St. Ita and St. Erc, now
in his turn sought to give to this princely boy the same tender care, and
the same religious training which he had himself received. We can even
trace the vivid imagination of Brendan himself in the wonderful visions of
Fursey; and that same restless longing, _peregrinari pro Christo_, to
preach Christ in strange lands, which caused Brendan to sail the Atlantic
seas, caused Fursey to preach at first in Ireland, then in England, and
afterwards in France.

It is said in his life that Fursey founded a monastery of his own in the
Island of Rathmat, or Ramath, in Lough Corrib. This island cannot now be
identified, but on the shore of Lough Corrib, not far from Inchiquin, is
the old church and parish of Killursa, which bears his name, and of which
Fursey was undoubtedly the founder and the patron.

There is also a place near Inchiquin on the mainland called
Ard-fintain--Fintan's Height--near Headfort, which still gives its name to
the townland; and there are traces of an ancient rath in the place.[191]
It seems almost certain that Fintan, leaving Inchiquin, took up his
residence with his wife at Ard-fintain, that there his children, St. Ultan
and St. Foillan, brothers of St. Fursey, were born, and like him, were
educated on the neighbouring island of Inchiquin by the good monks of St.
Brendan. It is likely, too, though not mentioned in Fursey's Life, that
the brothers were sent, when they grew up, to the great School of
Clonfert, which had been founded by their grand uncle, and which was still
governed by their own kinsmen.

Of the subsequent career of the great St. Fursey we cannot now speak at
length. His celebrated visions were known to all mediæval Europe; and it
is said they furnished Dante with the groundwork of the plot of the best
scenes in the _Divina Commedia_. His influence has been felt according to
certain writers in shaping the entire course of mediæval theology with
regard to the state of the souls in the world to come. This of course is
an exaggeration; but it shows how widely the influence of his life and
actions is supposed to have extended. Bede evidently believed in the
reality of these visions of the saint, and was very far indeed from
regarding them as the purely subjective visions of a disordered
imagination. Of Fursey's subsequent career, both in England and France, we
shall, let us hope, learn more hereafter.


St. Cummian, surnamed the Tall (fada), to distinguish him from Cummian the
Fair (finn), Abbot of Hy, was the most learned Irish scholar of the
seventh century. He took a leading part in the famous Paschal controversy,
and his letter on that question, which is fortunately extant, proves that
he was perfectly familiar with Church history, and deeply versed in Sacred
Scripture. He was well skilled, too, in the moral theology of the times,
as the _Liber de Mensura Poenitentiarum_ clearly shows. He tried his hand
at poetry also, but we cannot say as much for his verses as for his
theology: it is rarely, indeed, that theologians are good poets--they have
too much sobriety of mind. His contemporaries likened Cummian in morals
and life to St. Gregory the Great, and one of his admirers, in an old
_rann_ preserved by the Four Masters, says he was the only Irishman of his
time fit to succeed that illustrious Pontiff in the chair of St. Peter.

Yet, the birth of this holy and learned man was the fruit of an
unspeakable crime, to which it is unnecessary here to make further
reference. His father was Fiachna, son of Fiachra Gairine, King of West
Munster. The clan were known as the Eoghanach of Lough Lein, because they
were sprung from the great Eoghan More, son of Ollioll Olum, and dwelt in
the woods and mountains round the beautiful lakes of Killarney. His
unhappy mother was, it seems, in early youth called Flann, but she was
also called Mughain or Mugania, and was sometimes known as Rim, or, as
Colgan latinises it, Rima. Her identity, however, under these various
names is sufficiently established by the great misfortune of her life, for
which, perhaps, she may not have been responsible.

The child was born in A.D. 589, or 590, for he died in A.D. 661, at the
age of seventy-two. Drumdaliter--Marianus O'Gorman tells us--was "the name
of his town," and Aedh or Hugh was his "proper name" at first. Shortly
after his birth the infant was exposed by his parents, and left at the
head of the cross in a small _Cummian_ or basket near St. Ita's Convent of
Killeedy, and the holy sisterhood finding the child thus abandoned took
charge of the foundling, and called him Cummian, because he was found in
the basket.

The history of the lady Flann, the mother of Cummian, is very singular.
The great misfortune of her life seems to have happened when she was very
young, and it may have been greatly, if not entirely, against her own
will. It seems, too, that she was very beautiful--in a stanza composed by
Cummian himself, she is called Flann the Fair--it is said also that she
was four times married, and became the mother of no less than six kings
and six bishops.

After the death of her fourth husband, Flann, whether tired of the cares
of married life, or anxious to do penance for the sin of her youth,
consulted her son Cummian as to her future; and he advised her to retire
from the world, and spend the rest of her days in prayer and penance. She
did so, and died a holy nun at an advanced age.

From Killeedy, or perhaps from Killarney, young Cummian was sent to the
great school of Cork, founded by St. Finnbarr about the beginning of the
seventh century, when Cummian would be twelve or fifteen years of age.

Among the teachers in Cork, either then, or a little later on, was Colman
Mac O'Cluasaigh, who is called the "tutor" of young Cummian, to whom he
became greatly attached. Colman O'Cluasaigh was, it seems, a most
accomplished scholar, and had, moreover, an Irishman's love for poetry and
song. Dr. Todd[192] has published, in the first volume of the _Liber
Hymnorum_, a very beautiful Irish hymn composed by Colman to invoke for
himself and his pupils the protection of God and His Saints against the
yellow plague, which devastated Ireland between the years A.D. 660-664. He
is described in the preface to that hymn as a reader of Cork
(_fer-legind_), and is said to have composed it when he was fleeing, with
his pupils, from the plague, to take refuge in some island of the sea,
because it was thought the contagion could not extend beyond nine waves
from the land, which, even from a sanitary point of view, was likely
enough. He also composed, about the same time, an elegy on the death of

Colman inspired his pupil with his own love for poetry; and fortunately we
have, in the same Book of Hymns, a Latin poem written by Cummian, which we
should reprint if the space at our disposal were not so limited.

From St. Finnbarr's school Cummian seems to have gone to visit his half
brother Guaire, who was King of South Connaught at this period, or a
little later on. As Cummian was already famous for sanctity and learning,
and belonged to an influential family, who would now be ready enough to
acknowledge the relationship, we can easily conceive how his own merits
and Guaire's influence, would have procured his selection for the
bishopric of Clonfert. "All the Martyrologies and Annals," says Cardinal
Moran,[193] "agree in styling St. Cummian Fada, Bishop and Abbot of

But it is not easy to fix the exact date of his appointment. We find the
death of Senach Garbh, Abbot of Clonfert, marked by the Four Masters under
the date of A.D. 620, and his successor Colman died, according to
Archdall, in the same year which he gives as A.D. 621. As there is no
other obituary of a Bishop or Abbot of Clonfert noticed in our Annals
until the death of Cummian himself in A.D. 661, we may, perhaps, fairly
assume that he succeeded the Abbot Colman and governed the See for forty
years. Colman, King of Connaught, the uncle of Cummian and father of
Guaire, was slain in A.D. 617, and Guaire, if not actually king at this
date, was an influential chief, and his defeat with others at the battle
of Carn Fearadhaigh in Limerick is noted by the annalists in A.D. 622, and
his death in A.D. 662, so that the two brothers, the Bishop and Chieftain,
were contemporaries ruling in South Connaught during a long and chequered
career. This fact will help to explain the great influence which Cummian
possessed, and the leading position which he occupied in the Irish Church
at that period.[194] His fame as a saint and scholar spread throughout all
Ireland, and attracted crowds of students to his great school at Clonfert.
He appears, as we shall see further on, to have taken a leading part in
the Synod of Magh Lene, held about A.D. 630, and no doubt it was at the
request of the Fathers of that Synod, that he wrote his famous epistle on
the Paschal Question to the Abbot Segienus of Hy, about the year A.D. 634.
There is every reason to believe that Segienus and Cummian were, if not
personal friends, at least well known to each other, for the Columbian
Abbey of Durrow in King's County, was not far from Clonfert, and the uncle
of Segienus had been Abbot of that house until he was transferred to Hy in
the year A.D. 600. Segienus himself was very likely educated there under
his uncle's care, and perhaps succeeded him later on in the government of
the Abbey. It is at all events certain that frequent intercourse existed
between Hy and Durrow; and that Cummian must have been well known at
Durrow is manifest.

About a mile and a-half from Shinrone, to the west of Roscrea, there is an
old ruin, perhaps originally built by St. Cummian, which gives its
name--Kilcommin--to the parish. This was _Disert Chuimin in regione
Roscreensi_, to which Cummian probably retired before the Synod of Magh
Lene, to devote himself to a year's study of the Paschal question. It is
about twenty-five miles from Durrow, and fifteen from Clonfert. The old
church was built under the shadow of Knockshigowna, the beautiful hill on
which the Tipperary fairies hold their revels.

The knowledge of these facts will help to explain Cummian's relations with
King Domhnall a few years later.

When Domhnall, King of Ireland from A.D. 628 to 642, was a mere boy, he
accompanied his father to the great Synod of Drumceat. On that occasion
his relative Columcille put his hands on the boy's head and blessed him,
foretelling at the same time that he would survive his brothers, and
become a great king, and, moreover, that he would expire peaceably and
happily on his bed surrounded by his family--quite an unusual occurrence
for an Irish king in those days. King Domhnall reigned and sinned, like
most other kings; so that towards the end of his life he did not feel
himself well disposed to die, because, says the scholiast, he had not the
gift of penance to bewail his sins. However, he had confidence in
Columcille's prediction, so he sent a message to the Abbot of Hy to ask
whether he should go there in person to do penance, or, if not, what
soul's-friend the Abbot would recommend him. Segienus, then Abbot of Hy,
sent back word to the king, that his confessor would come to him from the
south, and he very likely asked, at the same time, Cummian to visit the
monarch. This message was attributed, in accordance with the custom of the
times, to Columcille himself. It is preserved by the scholiast on
Cummian's hymn, and is to the following effect:--

  "A Doctor who shall come from the south,
  It is with him (Domhnall) shall find what he wants;
  He will bring _Communion_ to his house,
  To the excellent grandson of Ainmire."

There is a play on the word _Communion_ which in Irish is the same, or
almost the same, as _Cummian_, the man's name.

Thus, it came to pass, whether by accident or design, that Cummian, the
great _Saoi_ or Doctor of the south, came all the way to Derry to visit
the king, and administer spiritual consolation to him. But it seems the
heart of the king still continued dry and impenitent. Then Cummian had
recourse to prayer, and in order to obtain the gift of tears for his royal
penitent, he composed, in honour of the Apostles, the very striking hymn
in the _Liber Hymnorum_. It seems that this poetic prayer was efficacious;
Domhnall became a sincere penitent, bewailing his sins with floods of
tears. The prediction of Columcille was completely verified, and the Four
Masters tell us that Domhnall died at Ard-folhadh, near Ballymacgrorty, in
the Barony of Tirhugh, "after the victory of penance, for he was a year in
mortal-sickness, and he used to receive the body of Christ every Sunday."
As King Domhnall died in A.D. 642, we may fix this visit of Cummian at
A.D. 640 or 641; the scholiast in the poem that caused the conversion of
the king, tells us expressly, that it was "written in Derry," nigh to the
ancient Aileach, the royal residence of the northern kings.

By far the most important and interesting event in the life of Cummian was
the part he played in the great Paschal controversy. We can at present
give only the merest sketch of the history of this great discussion, so as
to enable our readers to understand Cummian's share in the controversy.

Of course the system of computing the date of Easter in use both in
Ireland and England at the beginning of the seventh century was that which
was introduced by St. Patrick himself, and which he acquired in the
schools of France and Italy. From the very beginning, however, much
diversity of practice existed between the Churches of the East and West,
and even between some Churches in the West itself, in reference to the
date of Easter Day. With a view to secure uniformity as far as possible,
the Synod of Arles, to which Cummian refers, held in A.D. 314, prescribes
in its first canon that the whole world should celebrate the Easter
festival on one and the same day, and that the Pope, _according to
custom_, should notify that day to all the Churches.[195] There were three
British bishops present at that Synod. But the diversity of practice still
continued, to the joy of the pagans and to the scandal of the faithful.

Then the Nicene Synod intervened in A.D. 325 and commanded all the Eastern
Churches "which heretofore used to celebrate the Pasch with the
Jews,"[196] to celebrate it in future at the same time with the Romans and
with us--so say the prelates of the Synod in their circular letter to the
Egyptian Churches. Constantine, the Emperor, in his own circular says that
the Synod agrees that all should celebrate the Pasch on the same day, but
that it should never be on the same day with the Jews; and Cyril of
Alexandria states, and Leo the Great confirms the statement, that the
Alexandrian Church was to calculate the dates, and then notify them to the
Roman Church, which was to convey the information to the other Churches.
This was virtually adopting the Alexandrian cycle of nineteen years--which
was very different from the Roman cycle. Then at Alexandria the equinox
was rightly fixed on the 21st March, at Rome it was the 18th; at
Alexandria they celebrated Easter on the 15th day of the moon, _when the
14th was a Saturday_; at Rome they did not celebrate Easter in any
circumstances before the 16th day of the moon--assuming that as the 14th
day represented Good Friday, the Pasch of the Passion, Easter Sunday, the
Pasch of the Resurrection, could not rightly take place before the 16th.
It is curious that Cummian in his Epistle supports this opinion, although
Bede makes the 15th of the moon a possible Easter Sunday, and such is
still the usage. A diversity of practice, therefore, between Rome and
Alexandria still continued for many years. However, the Alexandrian usage
ultimately prevailed, but was finally accepted in the Western World only
about A.D. 530, when explained and developed by Dionysius Exiguus.

This, the correct system, therefore, lays down three principles. First,
Easter Day must be always a Sunday, never on, but _next after_ the 14th
day of the moon. Secondly, that 14th day, or the full moon, should be that
on or next after the vernal equinox; and thirdly, the equinox itself was
invariably assigned to the 21st of March.

Whilst, however, the Continental Churches aimed at uniformity after a
troublesome experience of their own errors, the Irish and British
Churches, practically isolated from their neighbours, tenaciously clung to
the system introduced by St. Patrick. It was the system of their sainted
fathers, and that was enough for them. So when Augustine and his
companions, having partially converted the Saxons, came into contact with
the Christians of the north of England, they were much scandalized at
their celebrating Easter at a different time from the rest of the world.
They remonstrated, but in vain; the Scots of England and Ireland would not
change their ways; some of them would not even eat with the newcomers; the
Britons of Wales refused to aid them in converting the Saxons. Colman,
after his discussion with Wilfred at Whitby, refuted but not convinced,
left England with his monks and sailed away to a lonely island in his
native Mayo, rather than give up his Irish tonsure and his Irish Easter.
Columbanus was equally obdurate in France, and the Abbots of Hy for a
hundred years more tenaciously adhered to the traditions of their own
great founder. But all Ireland was not equally stubborn, and the
Southerns yielded first.

The English Prelates, Laurence of Canterbury, Millitus of London, and
Justus of Rochester, shortly after the death of Augustine, addressed a
letter to "their most dear brothers the Lords, Bishops, and Abbots
throughout all Ireland (Scotia)," admonishing them to give up their
"errors" in reference to Easter, and celebrate it in conformity with the
Universal Church. But the Irishmen appear to have taken no notice of this
document, for it looked like an attempt to assert a spiritual supremacy
over the "Scots" which they always vigorously repudiated.

Millitus afterwards went to Rome, and others, too, going there after him
spoke of the errors and contumacy of the Scots in this matter of Easter as
well as in some other things also. So Pope Honorius, about the year A.D.
629, addressed an admonition to the pastors of the Irish Church, sharply
rebuking them for their pertinacity in their erroneous practices,
especially in reference to Easter, and calling upon them to act
thenceforward in conformity with the Universal Church.

The main charge brought against the Irish, so far as we can gather from
Bede and Cummian, was that they celebrated Easter from the 14th to the
20th day of the moon, thus celebrating it on the same day with the Jews,
viz., the 14th, _if that should happen to be Sunday_, which was contrary
to the express prohibition of the Council of Nice. Most certainly they did
not celebrate it with the heretical Quartodecimans on the 14th day of the
moon, no matter what day of the week it might happen to be--they never
celebrated Easter on any day but a Sunday, as both Bede and Cummian
expressly admit. Cummian says that St. Patrick assigned the equinox to the
21st of March, but their cycle was the older Roman cycle of eighty-four
years, not the new and more correct cycle of nineteen years adopted first
at Alexandria and afterwards at Rome. The main charge, however, was
opposition to the Universal Church in celebrating Easter from the 14th to
the 20th of the moon, because the 14th of Nisan being the Jewish festival
was, by the Council of Nice, declared unlawful for the Christian festival.

How, then, could St. Patrick have come to admit the 14th of the moon in
any circumstances as a lawful date for Easter Day? This is a difficult
point not yet clearly determined. We rather think that this usage of
celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, if it fell on Sunday, was
retained in several of the Gallican Churches even after the Council of
Nice. The Council itself expressly tells us that it was retained up to its
own time in the Eastern Churches. Now, Eastern influence and Eastern
customs prevailed to a considerable extent in Southern Gaul during the
fifth century. The great monastery of Lerins was founded about A.D. 410,
and from its cloisters issued the greatest prelates of Southern France.
John Cassian came from the East, and, as we know, was imbued with Eastern
ideas--Cassian, the greatest man of his time, so holy, so learned, and so
amiable, was a monk of Lerins, and in A.D. 415 founded the great monastery
of St. Victor, where Eastern ideas were also prevalent. It is not unlikely
that St. Patrick derived his Paschal computation from these monasteries,
or from some of the great scholars who issued from their cloisters.

Be that as it may, when the Irish clergy received the admonition of Pope
Honorius, they convened a National Synod, which met at a place called Magh
Lene, or Campus Lene, in the ancient Feara-Ceall, close to Rahan, in the
King's County. Cummian, in his epistle, incidentally tells us almost all
we know of this important Synod. The successors of Ailbe, of Ciaran of
Clonmacnoise, of Brendan, of Nessan, of Molua, were there assembled about
the year A.D. 630. The result of their deliberations was "to receive
humbly and without hesitation" the doctrines and practices brought to them
from the Holy See as their forefathers had commanded them, and therefore
they resolved to celebrate Easter next year, and thenceforward with the
Universal Church. But shortly after a "whitened wall" rising up amongst
them caused disunion, under pretext of urging them to preserve the
traditions of the elders. At last a compromise was adopted, and it was
resolved to send messengers to Rome to see with their own eyes what was
the custom of the Holy City in reference to the celebration of Easter. The
messengers returned in the third year, and told them how they saw
strangers from the whole world keeping the Roman Easter in the Church of
Peter. Many wondrous cures were also wrought by the relics of the martyrs
which they had brought with them from Rome, so it was resolved
thenceforward to celebrate Easter on the same day with "their mother the
Church of Rome;" and that resolution was faithfully carried out in the
southern and midland parts of the kingdom, which were principally
represented at the Synod. The north still held out, mainly through the
influence and example of the great monastery of Iona and its dependent
houses in Ireland. It was to try and induce Segienus, Abbot of Hy, to
give up the ancient usage, and like the rest of the world, to adopt the
Roman practice, that Cummian, probably at the request of the Synod, wrote
this Paschal Epistle. He was favourably known in Iona, as we have already
seen; his learning and sanctity were greatly respected there, and having
given special study to the question, he not unnaturally thought he might
be able to persuade the abbot to give up the old Columbian usage. Though
he failed in the attempt, his letter was carefully preserved, and either
the original, or a copy, was carried by refugees from Iona to St. Gall,
where it was fortunately secured for posterity.

The epistle begins with the motto or inscription: "I confide in the Divine
Name of the Supreme God"--and is addressed by its author, who calls
himself a suppliant sinner, to the Abbot Segienus, successor of St.
Columba, and of other saints, and to the Solitary Beccan,[197] "my brother
in the flesh and in the spirit." The following is a brief analysis of this
most interesting monument of our early Irish Church.

First of all the writer humbly apologises for presuming to address these
holy men, and he calls God to witness that in celebrating the Paschal
solemnity with the learned generally he does so in no spirit of pride or
contempt for others. For when the new (Dionysian) cycle of 532 years was
first introduced into Ireland, he did not at once accept it, but held his
peace, not presuming to praise or censure either party.

For he did not think himself wiser than the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins,
nor did he venture to disdain the food he had not yet tasted; he rather
retired for a whole year into the sanctuary of sacred study,[198] to
examine as best he could the testimonies of Scripture, the facts of
history, and the nature of the various cycles in use. The results of this
year's study he sums up in this epistle. He first proceeds to explain from
Scripture the proper date of the Jewish Pasch, which, including the days
of unleavened bread, began on the 14th day of the moon, and ended on the
21st; and he quotes St. Jerome, who declares that as Christ is our Pasch,
we must celebrate _that festival_ from the 14th to the 21st day of the
moon (the date with us necessarily varying with the day of the week). But
the Pasch, he says, means the day on which _the lamb was slain_, for our
Saviour himself said, "With longing I have longed to eat this Pasch with
you before I suffer." Hence, the day of Passion in the Christian Festival
can never begin before the 14th day of the moon; then the day of burial
will be the 15th of the moon, and therefore the day of the Resurrection
can never be earlier than the 16th day of the moon; and being always a
Sunday, must be on some day between the 16th and 22nd day of the moon,
inclusive. "For if, he says, as you do, the Resurrection were celebrated
on the 14th of the moon, then the day of burial will be the 13th, and the
day of Passion the 12th, which is preposterous and opposed to the clear
testimony of Scripture."

Then he appeals to the authority of the Ecclesiastical Synods against the
Irish usage. There was, he admits, in the beginning a diversity of
practice even in the Apostolic churches founded by Peter the Key-bearer,
and John the Eagle-pinioned, for the Apostles themselves, driven hither
and thither by persecution, had no time to fix a uniform cycle for all the
Churches. But afterwards "I find it was ordered that all those were to be
excommunicated who dared to act against the statutes of the four Apostolic
Sees of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria." The Nicene Synod, he
adds, composed of three hundred and eighteen bishops, ordained that the
same rule should be followed in all the Churches of the East and West. The
Synod of Arles also, where six hundred bishops were present, insisted on
uniformity throughout the whole world in the observance of the Pasch,
lest, as St. Jerome observes, we should run the risk of eating the Pasch
contrary to the law, _extra unam domum_, that is, outside the communion of
the Universal Church. "Consider you well, therefore, whether it is the
Hebrews, Greeks, Latins, and Egyptians, united together, that are the
_extra domum_, or a fragment of the Scots and Britains, living at the end
of the world, that form a conventicle separated from the communion of the
Church. You are the leaders of the people; beware how you act, leading
others into error by your obstinacy. Not so our Fathers, whom you pretend
to follow, for they were blameless in their own days, seeing that they
faithfully followed what they thought in their simplicity to be best; but
you can scarcely excuse yourselves for knowingly rejecting the observances
of the Universal Church." The writer then proceeds to insist at great
length on this argument from the practice and authority of the Church; and
recites various passages from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Cyprian, and
St. Gregory, on the unity of the Church, and the guilt and danger of
schismatical practices. "Non alia Romanae urbis ecclesia, alia totius
orbis aestimanda est," he says, quoting St. Augustine; and then he adds
from St. Jerome, "Si quis Cathedrae S. Petri jungatur meus est
ille,"--communion with Rome was in Cummian's estimation, as in Jerome's,
the test of orthodoxy both in doctrine and discipline. "Can anything," he
says, "be more absurd than to say of our mother the Church--Rome errs,
Jerusalem errs, Antioch errs, and the whole world errs, the Irish (Scoti)
and Britons alone are in the right?" In this part of his letter Cummian
certainly displays not only great learning, but also great vigour and
eloquence of style.

Lastly, he discusses the various cycles in use at different periods, and
although he found much diversity with various nations, "you," he says,
"have one of your own quite different from them all. First, there is the
Paschal cycle introduced by St. Patrick,[199] our spiritual Father (Papa
nostra), according to which the Æquinox was assigned to the 21st of March,
and Easter day ranged from the 14th to the 21st day of the moon." He then
refers to the cycles of Anatolius, Theophilus, Dionysius, Cyril, Morinus,
Augustine, Victorius, and lastly he mentions the cycle of Pachomius to
whom an angel revealed the proper way to calculate Easter--cycle meaning,
it would seem, the special manner of calculating Easter peculiar to each.
He then refers to the cycle of nineteen years adopted by the Nicene
Fathers, calling it by its Greek name--ἑννεά-καιδεκατήριδα--which, he
adds, might enable them to ascertain the date of Easter with sufficient
accuracy. "It is, as I find, quite different from yours in its kalends,
its bissextile, in its epact, in its fourteenth moon, in its first month,
and in its equinox." This is an important passage, because it shows that
the Irish cycle was in every respect different from the cycle of nineteen
years as adopted by the Church of Alexandria. He then refers to St. Cyril,
and the cycle of Victoricius, clearly showing that he was familiar with
the entire subject, and probably had in his hands some works which we no
longer possess.

After referring to the Synod of the Campus Lene, as explained above, and
the appeal to Rome in accordance with the ancient statute (mandatum) of
the Irish Church, he goes on to say that according to the synodical
decree[200] all such "causae majores ad caput urbium sunt referenda."
This refers to the decree of the Synod of Patrick, Auxilius, and
Iserninus, bidding the Irish prelates if any cause of disunion arose, to
go to the place which the Lord hath chosen (to Rome, the 'caput urbium')
for the decision of these more important causes, "so we sent there certain
wise and humble men, whom we knew, as children to their mother." And they
returned in the third year, and told us what they had seen and heard, and
how in the Church of St. Peter, the common hospice of all the faithful,
Greeks and Hebrews, Scythians and Egyptians--"all celebrated Easter on the
same day, which differed an entire month from our own, and we saw with our
own eyes many miracles wrought by the relics of the saints and martyrs
which they had carried home with them from the holy city." In conclusion,
he adds that he had not written to attack them but to defend the truth; he
apologises for any wrong or harsh words that might have fallen from him,
and in the last sentence implores on them all the strong blessing of the
Holy Trinity to guard them from all evil.

This remarkable epistle affords a striking proof, not only of Cummian's
own learning, but of the high efficiency of the schools of his native
land, in which he studied. He gives the Hebrew, Greek and Egyptian names
of the first lunar month. He refers to almost every cycle, and emendation
of a cycle, of which we have any account, briefly, indeed, but
sufficiently to show that he was acquainted with them, and with the
decrees of synods, and with the passages of the Fathers that make
reference to them. Above all things, he insists upon the unity of the
Church, and incontestably establishes the Irish tradition in his own time,
that the Irish Church was founded from Rome, that Rome is the Source of
Unity, the final Court of Appeal, and the Mother of the Irish, as of all
other Churches. The text is unfortunately somewhat corrupt, and the style
wants polish; but, though in this respect Cummian is inferior to several
Irish writers of the seventeenth century, his Latin is much superior to
that of several ecclesiastical documents that we have seen in our own
nineteenth century.

The _Liber de Mensura Poenitentiarum_, cannot with certainty be ascribed
to Cummian Fada; but it is highly probable that he was the author. It was
preserved like so many other invaluable Irish MSS., in the Monastery of
St. Gall, and has been published in the _Bibliotheca Patrum_, and,
together with the Paschal Epistle, has been republished by Migne.[201]

We have seen that Cummian was regarded by the Abbot of Hy as a great
moralist, and it may be that the same Segienus was the "faithful friend,"
whom the author addresses--mi fidelissime--in the prologue. The treatise
consists of fourteen chapters, giving the canonical penances assigned to
sins of various kinds. It treats of these sins in the most minute detail,
but contains little original matter; for the penances are, in most cases,
taken from the works of the Fathers and the penitential canons of various
early Councils. But it shows how carefully these matters were attended to
in our early Irish Church, and is another striking monument of its
ecclesiastical learning.

Cummian Fada has not unfrequently been confounded with Cummian Finn, the
nephew of Segienus, Abbot of Hy. The latter wrote a life of St. Columba,
to which Adamnan refers, and most of which he, Adamnan, inserted in the
Third Book of his own Life of St. Columba. The Paschal Epistle has also
been attributed to him, but without any grounds. The intrinsic evidence of
the letter itself shows that it was written by a prelate of the southern
half of Ireland; he speaks of Ailbe, Brendan, and the rest as "our fathers
and predecessors;" he had accepted the Roman usage which Hy and its family
refused to accept for many years after; and he uses in reference to St.
Peter the very peculiar expression, "clavicularis," which is also used by
the author of the poem in honour of the Apostles, which was undoubtedly
the work of Cummian Fada, the Bishop of Clonfert.

The Four Masters say that "St. Cummian Fada, son of Fiachna, Bishop of
Cluainfearta Brennain, died on the 12th of November, 661," which is his
festival day. The entry of the death of his beloved tutor, St. Colman
O'Cluasaigh, is marked a little later on as happening in the same year,
and therefore towards its close. Colman, however, lived long enough after
Cummian to compose an elegy on his death. The Four Masters have preserved
a few lines, which may be thus translated:--

  "No bark o'er Luimneach's bosom bore,
  From Munster to the Northern shore,
  A prize so rich in battle won,
  As Cummian's corpse, great Fiachna's son.
  Of Erin's priests, it were not meet
  That one should sit in Gregory's Seat,
  Except that Cummian crossed the sea,
  For he Rome's ruler well might be.
  Ah! woe is me, at Cummian's bier
  My eyelids drop the ceaseless tear;
  The pain, of hopeless anguish bred,
  Will burst my heart since Cummian's dead."

The poet's verse was true--Colman died within a month of his pupil to whom
he was so deeply and tenderly attached. We may infer, too, from these
verses that Cummian died at home in his native Kerry, but that his remains
were carried up the Shannon in a boat to his own Cathedral of Clonfert,
where he was interred. The Four Masters tell us that in A.D. 1162 the
"relics of Maeinenn and of Cummian Fada[202] were removed from the earth
by the clergy of Brenainn (that is, of Clonfert), and they were enclosed
in a protecting shrine." So far as we know there is no account to be had
now of the existence of this shrine.


Frequent reference is subsequently made in our Annals to the monastery and
See of Clonfert, but it is oftentimes a saddening record. Its buildings
were four times plundered, and six times burnt. Nor was this the work of
the Danes alone. The degenerate chieftains of Ireland too frequently
followed their bad example, and provoked Divine vengeance by unspeakable
acts of sacrilege, especially during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

In A.D. 838, Turgesius brought a great fleet to Lough Ree, which he
stationed there for the express purpose of harrying the banks and islands
of the Shannon. He plundered and burnt Clonfert, Clonmacnoise, and indeed
all the monasteries and churches from Lanesborough to Limerick, which were
within reach of his marauders; and not once but frequently between the
years A.D. 838 and 845. Yet strange to say it is stated in the old _Annals
of Innisfallen_, that Feidhlimidh, son of Crimthann, King of Munster, had
a friendly conference with Niall, son of Hugh, King of Ulster, in the year
A.D. 840, at Clonfert, and there received Niall's homage as High King, and
sat in the seat of the abbots of Clonfert.

Still the schools were not entirely destroyed, for in A.D. 868 is recorded
the death of Cormac--Steward, Scribe, and Doctor of Clonfert-Brenainn. It
was well that God then called him away, for next year, in A.D. 869, came
Earl Tomrar with his warriors from Limerick to Clonfert. "He was a fierce,
cruel, rough man of the Lochlans;" and hoped to obtain a great prey in the
church and monastery. But he was disappointed, for the brethren heard of
his approach, and fled expertly before him, as the Annals tell us, some in
boats, and some into the surrounding morasses. Others took refuge in the
church, but the disappointed freebooter killed them all, both those whom
he found in the church and in the cemetery. Tomrar, however, died of
madness three days afterwards, "for Brendan wrought a miracle upon him for
plundering his monastery and killing his monks." In A.D. 949, Ceallachan,
King of Cashel, plundered the monastery of Clonfert. But the men of
Munster were not without rivals in their deeds of sacrilege. In A.D. 1031
Art O'Rorke, surnamed the 'Cock,' plundered the monastery once more, but
providentially when returning laden with his pillage, he fell in with
Doncha, son of Brian, who defeated him and his followers with great

Some thirty years later in A.D. 1065, Aedh O'Rorke and Diarmaid O'Kelly
plundered Clonfert and Clonmacnoise, and once more speedy vengeance
overtook the robbers; for Aedh O'Connor came against them and defeated
them through the miracles of Ciaran and Brenainn, whose churches they had
plundered. A bloody slaughter was made by Aedh, and, moreover, he captured
or sunk their boats, and drove great numbers of the plunderers into the
river. Yet the monastery and School of Clonfert still lived on down to the
advent of the Anglo-Normans, for in the year A.D. 1170, is recorded the
death of Cormac O'Lumluini, whom the Four Masters in pathetic language
describe as the remnant of the Sages of Erin. The subsequent history of
the School and See of Clonfert is foreign to our present purpose.

The old Cathedral of Clonfert still survives, and is one of the few of our
ancient buildings now used for religious worship. It has passed, however,
from Catholic hands, and will, doubtless, soon be abandoned by the
Protestants too, for the few persons who attend divine worship in the old
Cathedral of St. Brendan can hardly be called a congregation.

The church consisted of a nave with a western tower in the centre, and a
chancel with two transepts branching nearly at the centre of the nave. The
building is small, the nave being 54 feet by 27 in the clear, but very
beautiful. The western doorway is described with great fulness of detail
by Brash (p. 43), who declares that in point of design and execution, it
is not excelled by any similar work that he has seen in these islands.
There is not, he says, a square inch of any portion of this beautiful
doorway, with its six orders of shafts and arches, that is without the
mark of the sculptor's tool, every bit of the work being finished with
the greatest accuracy. Romanesque and Norman porches and doorways, he
adds, exist of grander proportions, but none exhibiting the fertility of
invention and beauty of design which this one does.

The altar window of the chancel is also greatly praised by the same
competent authority. "The design of this window is exceedingly chaste and
beautiful, the mouldings simple and effective, and the workmanship
superior to anything I have seen either of ancient or modern times. The
mouldings are finely wrought, and the pointing of the stone work so close,
that I cannot believe they were ever worked by tools."[203]

He says the work is, in his opinion, of the twelfth century, and he is
inclined to attribute its building to the celebrated Peter O'Mordha, a
Cistercian monk, who was first Abbot of Boyle, and afterwards became
Bishop of Clonfert. He was unfortunately drowned in the Shannon two days
after Christmas Day, in the year A.D. 1171. With him we may fitly close
the history of the School of Clonfert.



                ----"Transfigured Life!
  This was the glory, that, without a sigh,
  Who loved thee, yet could leave thee."


There are two saints of the same name whom it is absolutely necessary to
keep distinct in dealing with the literary history of the early Irish
Church--St. Finnian of Clonard, and St. Finnian of Moville. We have
already spoken of the former; we now propose to speak of the latter and of
the great school of which he was the founder.

Moville, or Movilla, is at present the name of a townland less than a mile
to the north-east of Newtownards, at the head of Strangford Lough, in the
county Down. This district was in ancient times famous for its great
religious establishments. Bangor, to which we shall refer presently, is
not quite five miles due north of Moville. Newtownards, as its name
implies, is a much more modern place, but it was the seat of a great
Dominican Priory almost since the first advent of the Friar Preachers to
Ireland. Comber, a few miles to the west at the head of Strangford Lough,
contained both a Cistercian and an Augustinian Monastery. Abbey Grey, on
the opposite or eastern shore of the Lough, had another great Cistercian
house, founded by John de Courcy, the conqueror, and, we must add, the
plunderer of Ulster. Further south, but on the western shore of the same
Lough, anciently called Lough Cuan, were the Abbey of Inch, the famous
Church of Saul, in which St. Patrick died, and the Church of Downpatrick,
in which he was buried with SS. Brigid and Columcille. And in one of the
islands in the same Strangford Lough, now called Island Mahee, quite close
to the western shore, was that ancient monastery and school of Noendrum,
of which we have already spoken. Religious men from the beginning loved to
build their houses and churches in view of this beautiful sheet of water,
with its myriad islands and fertile shores, bounded in the distance by
swelling uplands, that lend a charming variety to this rich and populous
and highly cultivated county.

Of the boyhood and education of St. Finnian little is known with
certainty. He belonged to the noble family of the Dalfiatach, who seem to
have been dynasts of the district to the north of this great inlet of the
sea, which they called Lough Cuan. He was probably born some years before
the beginning of the sixth century. His first teacher was St. Colman,
afterwards Bishop of Dromore, who at that time seems to have been himself
under the guidance and instruction of St. Mochae in the Island of
Noendrum, but known at present as Island Mahee, in Strangford Lough.
Colman became a favourite pupil of Mochae, who, when he himself was
growing old, seems to have entrusted him with the care of the younger boys
who had come to the island seminary to be trained up by these great
masters in learning and piety. It is said that, on one occasion St. Colman
was going to chastise the young Finnian for some real or imaginary fault,
when he felt his hand invisibly restrained by an angel, and he thereupon
declared that he was unworthy to be entrusted with the care of so holy a
youth, and that henceforward he would resign that office, so far as
Finnian was concerned, to St. Mochae himself. This story at least shows
that the young boy made great progress in virtue and wisdom under the
guidance of both these holy men on the Island of Noendrum.

Now it came to pass whilst Finnian was at Noendrum, under the care of St.
Mochae, that "ships" came from Britain into Strangford Lough, and cast
anchor in front of the island. On board these vessels was a certain bishop
called Nennio, who, with several of his disciples, had come from the
famous monastery called Candida Casa, on the opposite shores of Galloway,
to pay a visit to the religious family of Noendrum. We know from the lives
of our early saints that this was no unusual occurrence. In those early
days religious men were inspired with a spirit of spiritual enterprise,
and several of them made it a point to visit the most renowned saints both
in Ireland and Britain, in order to benefit by their instruction and

As we have seen, Candida Casa, or the White House was a stone church built
on the extremity of a promontory in Galloway, about the year A.D. 397, by
the great St. Ninian, the first apostle of the Northern Britons, at least
after the departure of the Romans. It is true Christianity had been
previously known in the district, for St. Patrick himself was in all
probability a native of the valley of the Clyde, and was a captive in
Ireland about the very time that St. Ninian first came to Galloway. But
after the withdrawal of the Roman troops from the northern province the
district was overrun by the Picts and Scots, so that the remnants of the
faithful were almost all driven out from the Lowlands of Scotland.

Ninian, who was a native of the district, had been educated in Rome during
the pontificate of Pope Damasus, and later on returned to preach the
Gospel anew in his native land. On his way he stopped for a short time at
Tours, to pay a visit to St. Martin, the most prominent figure at the time
in Christendom. It was from St. Martin, as Bede informs us, that he got
the masons through whose means he was able to build the first stone church
in Britain. The people had never before seen anything of the kind--they
had no stone houses and no masons able to build them--hence in their
admiration they called the new building the White House, to signify, just
as the Americans do, that it was the grandest building in the kingdom. We
are enabled to fix the date of its erection, because it is distinctly
stated that during the progress of the work Ninian heard of the death of
St. Martin of Tours, and dedicated the new church to him, which could only
be done after his death, that is, about the year A.D. 397--some
thirty-five years before St. Patrick began to preach in Ireland.

It cannot have been St. Ninian himself under whom St. Finnian studied at
the Candida Casa, which was founded at least a hundred years before the
date of this visit. In some of the lives his teacher is called
Nennio,[204] in others Mugentius (see Colgan, page 633). It seems,
certain, however, that young Finnian, thirsty for sacred knowledge, begged
permission from St. Mochae to accompany the visitors on their return to
the White House. The permission was readily granted; so, gliding southward
in their boats between the multitudinous islands of Lough Cuan, they were
carried out to sea through its narrow mouth by the swiftly receding tide,
and then spreading every sail to catch the western breeze a few hours
would bring them across the narrow channel that separates the Ards of Down
from the Mull of Galloway. At the southern extremity of the inner
promontory of Wigtown, there is a very small island which still bears the
name of the Isle of Whithern. On this island are the ruins of an old
church, which is probably all that now remains of the Candida Casa--a spot
like Aran, Glastonbury, and Iona, to be ever venerated as one of the
cradles of Celtic Christianity.

How long Finnian remained at Candida Casa cannot be exactly ascertained;
but it was at least long enough to acquire the learning and discipline of
the place in which, according to some accounts, he succeeded so well as to
incur the bitter jealousy of his master.

The original founder of the Candida Casa had been educated at Rome, and no
doubt the thoughts of its inmates were from time to time turned to the
school of their great founder. Finnian, at least, resolved to go to the
fountain head, and so, putting on his wallet and grasping his pilgrim
staff, he set out upon his long journey. It was much more difficult and
dangerous then to go to Rome than it is now, but these heroic Christian
men despised dangers and hardships. Their life was a warfare for Christ;
so they cared little when or where they fell in their Master's cause.
Besides, they were never refused hospitality at the religious houses where
they called, and even the rude mariners welcomed on board their vessels a
holy man whose prayers were strong to calm the wrath of tempestuous seas.
Finnian spent three months at Rome "learning the Apostolical customs and
the Ecclesiastical Laws," and then resolved to return to his native land.
But he bore with him from Rome a priceless treasure, or, as the
_Martyrology of Ængus_ calls it "yellow gold from over the sea;" not,
however, yellow gold from the mine, but what our Celtic fathers valued
more, the pure red gold of the Gospel corrected by the great St. Jerome
and formally sanctioned by the Pope as the authentic text. The Vulgate, as
we now have it, is substantially the work of St. Jerome to this extent,
that he corrected the New Testament of the Old Vulgate; he translated from
the Hebrew the proto-canonical books of the Old Testament; and moreover
corrected the deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament according to
the best MSS. of the Septuagint. It is, however, his correction, and not
his own translation from the Hebrew, which under the name of the Gallican
Psaltery, is still retained in our Latin Vulgate. But although this great
work had been performed with the sanction of the Popes between the years
A.D. 383 and 403, yet two hundred years elapsed before this version came
into general use; and though it was commonly, it was not yet exclusively
used even when St. Finnian was in Rome, between, A.D. 530 and 540. It was,
however, a great improvement on the previous version, and as such highly
valued by all scholars. It seems, however, that the new version had not
been hitherto introduced into Ireland, and so special mention is made of
Finnian's copy in the _Calendar of Cashel_ quoted by Colgan--"Finnian the
White, of Maghbile (Moville); it was he who first carried into Ireland the
Mosaic Law and the whole Gospel"--meaning thereby that it was he who first
brought the first _integral_ copy of St. Jerome's Vulgate, which
afterwards came into exclusive use in the Irish as in the other churches.

Colgan identifies St. Finnian of Moville with St. Fridian, or Frigidian,
who became bishop of Lucca in Italy about the middle of the sixth century.
There are undoubtedly several facts narrated in the lives of both that go
to establish this identity; but there is one great difficulty. According
to the life of Fridian he died at Lucca, where it is said his blessed body
is still preserved and reverenced; but according to the ancient _Life of
St. Comgall_ of Bangor and the local traditions, Finnian the bishop, or
Finbarr, as he is often called, "sleeps amid many miracles in his own city
of Maghbile."

Finnian is said to have returned to Ireland and founded his school at
Moville about the year A.D. 540, that is some twenty years after his
namesake of Clonard had opened his own great school on the banks of the
Boyne. The name _Maghbile_ means the _plain of the old tree_, probably
referring to some venerable oak reverenced by the Druids before the advent
of St. Patrick. At present there is nothing of the ancient abbey-school
except a few venerable yews to mark the city of the dead, and an old
ruined church on the line of the high road from Newtownards to Donaghadee.
This old church, which was one hundred and seven feet in length, in all
probability did not date back to the original foundation of the place,
although it undoubtedly stands on the site of St. Finnian's original
church. The spot was aptly chosen, sheltered by an amphitheatre of hills
from the winds of the north and east, and commanding far away to the south
a noble prospect of Lough Cuan's verdant islets and glancing waters.

The most famous pupil of this infant seminary was St. Columba, the light
of all the Celtic west. If the incident to which Adamnan refers[205] in
his _Life of St. Columba_ be understood of Moville rather than Clonard, it
seems that at this period Columba was studying Sacred Scripture under
Finnian, that he was then a deacon, and on one occasion when the wine
failed for the Holy Sacrifice, he went with the cruet to the neighbouring
well (since closed up, but within living memory), and blessing the water,
it was changed into wine, with which the Holy Sacrifice was duly offered
up on that Festival Day.

There is another very celebrated incident recorded of SS. Finnian and
Columcille, which seems to have really happened, and produced consequences
of great import in the designs of Providence.

As we have seen, Finnian had brought from Rome a copy of the entire Bible,
partly translated, partly corrected by St. Jerome. Very naturally this
copy was highly prized and jealously guarded by the saint, for if any part
were lost or injured the damage might have been, at least for him,
irreparable. Now, the young Columba was an ardent student of the sacred
volume; and especially he was anxious to get a copy of the new Psaltery,
which most of our early saints were in the habit of reading daily. In
truth it was their Breviary, and in their estimation was the greatest of
their treasures. So Columba begged Finnian to allow him to make a copy of
the Gallic Psaltery, as we now have it in the Vulgate, but Finnian,
fearing for his treasure "of pure red gold," would not allow him, lest the
manuscript might be lost or injured. Then Columba, finding a suitable
opportunity, stealthily transcribed the Psalter, remaining up all night
for the purpose, so that when Finnian came to his cell he found Columba
hard at work at midnight, and, lo! a divine radiance illuminated his cell.
Next day Finnian sought his manuscript, and Columba confessed that he had
made the copy without his permission. Finnian thereupon demanded the copy,
but Columba claimed it as his own--it was the fruit of his labour, and the
original was uninjured. Nevertheless, as Finnian persisted in his demand,
it was agreed to leave the matter to the arbitration of King Diarmaid at
Tara. Tara was not far from Druim-fhinn (now Drumin in Louth) where this
incident is said to have taken place. The king heard the parties, and then
pronounced his award: "The calf goes with the cow, and the son-book, or
copy, must go with the mother-book, or original."[206] The decision was
not equitable, and Columba was sore distressed. Moreover, it came to pass
that a young prince, Curnan by name, accidentally killed a companion at
court, and fled for refuge to Columba, who was then standing near at hand.
But the king had him dragged from the protection of the saint and slain on
the spot. Columba, thus doubly wronged, fled from Tara, and told his royal
kinsmen how he had been treated by King Diarmaid. They at once flew to
arms to avenge the insults offered to a prince of Conal Gulban's royal
line, whose holiness moreover even then was celebrated through all the
North. They gathered together a mighty army--all the Clanna Niall of the
North--and met the monarch and his forces at a place called Cuil-Dreimhne
(now Cooldrummon) in the parish of Drumcliff, to the north of Sligo. In
the bloody battle which followed, the forces of king Diarmaid were nearly
annihilated--but Columcille was praying for his kinsmen during the battle,
and so they nearly all escaped, whilst the enemy was destroyed. The
Psalter, too, it seems, became the prize of the victors, and the most
famous heirloom in the family of the O'Donnells. But the blood shed on
this occasion weighed heavily on the conscience of Columba, although he
may have been the innocent cause of it; and for his share in this battle
he narrowly escaped excommunication at the hands of the saints of Ireland
later on. With heroic fortitude, however, he accepted the penance imposed
upon him by St. Molaise of Innismurray at the cross of Ahamlish in
Sligo--to go to foreign lands to preach the Gospel and never look upon his
native land again. The saint obeyed and, it is said, religiously kept his
vow--for though he returned to Ireland again at the high call of duty, he
bandaged his aged eyes with a cloth, so that they were never gladdened
even with one glance of the green hills of his native land, which he loved
with even more than the passionate tenderness of the Irish heart. He gave
expression to his bitter grief in several touching poems, written in the
sweet and musical tongue of Erin.

The copy of St. Finnian's Psaltery furtively made by Columcille has had a
very strange, eventful history, and is perhaps the most interesting of our
ancient relics. At present the manuscript, with the casket which contains
it, is the property of Sir Richard O'Donnell of Newport in the County
Mayo; but it is preserved for public inspection in the strong room of the
Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. It is known as the Cathach, or Battler,
from the Irish word _Cath_, a battle; and was so called because if carried
three times around O'Donnell's host, in battle, on the breast of a priest
free from mortal sin, it was sure to bring victory to the clan. Columcille
was himself great grandson of Conal Gulban, the great sire of all the
Cinel Conal. He thus became the patron of that warlike clan; in defence of
his honour and to maintain his right to this very Psalter, they fought the
great battle of Cuildreimhne, and they won the victory through his strong
prayers. So it was only natural that the Psalter on earth and the saint in
heaven should still be shield and buckler for the clan in the hour of

And so indeed it was. But St. Cailin of Fenagh had told them to guard it
well, and above all to see that it never fell into the hands of the
foreigner, for that day would work woe for Erin and confusion to the
O'Donnells. Thus it became the most precious treasure of the Clan-Conal,
and not a man of them that was not ready to die in its defence on the
field of battle. Moreover, they appointed as hereditary guardians of the
Cathach, the family of McRobartaigh--now McGroarty--and assigned for their
maintenance the lands still called from them Ballymacgroarty, in the
parish of Drumhome, county Donegal. The casket, or _cumdach_, in which
this treasure was contained, bears an inscription in Irish on three sides
to this effect:--"Pray for Cathbarr O'Donnell for whom this casket was
made, and for Sitric, son of Mac Aedha, who made it, and for Domnall
MacRobartaigh (abbot) of Kells at whose house it was made." The casket
itself is of the most exquisite workmanship, and this inscription proves
that it was made at the expense of Cathbarr O'Donnell, chief of his name
in Donegal about the end of the eleventh century--he died in A.D. 1106. It
was made, however, in the Abbey of Kells, which had been founded by
Columcille, and was then ruled by a member of that very family of
McGroarty, who were the hereditary custodians of the Cathach. The
McGroartys were more faithful to their trust than the McMoyres, who had
the custody of the _Book of Armagh_, and several members of the family met
their death in defence of their sacred charge. In A.D. 1497 Con O'Donnell
led an army against McDermott of Moylurg; but he and his troops were
defeated, and "the Cathach of Columcille was also taken from them, and
McGroarty, the keeper of it, was slain." It was restored, however, two
years later. Again, in A.D. 1567, McGroarty, the keeper of the Cathach,
was slain in a fratricidal conflict between the O'Donnells and O'Neills on
the shore of Lough Swilly. In A.D. 1647, when John Colgan wrote, it was
still, he tells us, in his own native county of Donegal. Daniel O'Donnell,
who fought well for King James, carried it with him to the Continent, and
had a new rim fixed on the casket with his name and the date, A.D. 1723.
He died in A.D. 1735, leaving this precious relic on the Continent, where
it remained until 1802, when it was claimed and recovered by Sir Neal
O'Donnell of Newport in the county Mayo, from whom it passed to its
present owner, Sir Richard O'Donnell.

It was deemed a heinous crime to open the sacred casket, and the widow of
Sir Neal actually brought an action in the Court of Chancery in 1814
against Sir W. Betham, Ulster King-at-Arms, for daring to open the casket
without her permission. His crime at any rate gratified our curiosity, for
when opened it was found to contain a small wooden box very much decayed.
Within the box was a dark, damp mass, which, on careful and cautions
examination, proved to be a portion of the Psalter in Latin, written in a
neat but hurried hand, of which, however, several folios at the beginning
and end were utterly destroyed by the damp. Fifty-eight leaves remain,
containing the Psalter from the 31st to the 106th psalm. We have examined
the fac-similes published in the first volume of the _National Manuscripts
of Ireland_, and we find that it is a portion of the Gallican Psalter,
that is the Psalter at present in our Latin Vulgate, which was a second
and more careful correction of the then existing Psalter made by St.
Jerome, not according to the Septuagint, like his first correction, the
Roman Psalter, but made according to the Hexaplar Greek of Origen. St.
Columcille's copy is executed with wonderful neatness and accuracy,
containing even the asterisks and obelisks of St. Jerome's correction. We
note these facts to show that the Bible brought from Rome by St. Finnian
was in truth the new and corrected edition of the old Vulgate, which was
just then coming into universal use. This fact is quite enough to explain
St. Columcille's anxiety to get a copy, as well as St. Finnian's fear that
his own treasure might be lost or injured.

Tourists visiting Ireland would do well to examine this venerable memorial
of our ancient Church, as well as the other relics in the Royal Irish
Academy. The casket itself consists of a brass box nine and a half inches
long, eight in breadth, and two in thickness. The top, however, is covered
with a silver plate, richly gilt, chased, and adorned with marvellously
wrought figures of Columcille, the Crucifixion, and other sacred objects.
The corners, too, were set in precious stones--crystals, pearls,
sapphires, and amethysts, many of which, as might be expected, have been
lost. The whole work furnishes a striking proof of the skill of our Celtic
forefathers in metallurgy so early as the eleventh century, when it was
almost lost as an art elsewhere.

St. Finnian composed a Rule for his monks, and a penitential code, which
latter is still extant, and of much interest to antiquarians, as it is,
perhaps, the earliest expression of the discipline of the primitive Irish
Church on this important subject. These penitential canons are fifty-three
in number, and several of them are rather rigorous, at least according to
our relaxed modern notions. In those days men were more in earnest in the
work of saving their souls, and punished with voluntary severity any grave
neglect of this great duty. A penance of seven years was imposed for
perjury, with the additional penalty of setting free a bondsman or
bondswoman. This goes to show that slavery had not yet been abolished in
Ireland; but that the Church took every opportunity of promoting its
abolition, not indeed by violence or injustice, but by the gentler method
of persuasion and mercy. These penitential canons have been published by
Wasserschleben at Halle in 1851, from manuscripts in the libraries of St.
Gall, Paris, and Vienna. There is also extant in MSS. an interesting
romantic dialogue said to have taken place between Tuan Mac Cairill and
Finnian of Moville. In all probability, however, it is a composition of a
much later date, and the dialogue, though highly interesting, is purely
imaginary. There is a copy of this romantic tale in the book known as
_Leabhar na h-Uidhre_, an ancient work said to have been originally
written at Clonmacnoise, in the lifetime of its founder, St. Ciaran.

St. Finnian died in A.D. 589, according to the _Annals of Ulster_, at a
very great age. In those days, when men led temperate and active lives,
free from care, and always rejoicing in God, it was no unusual thing to
live to the age of one hundred, or even one hundred and twenty, like St.
Patrick and St. Kevin of Glendaloch. This date, too, goes to show that
Finnian of Moville was identical with St. Frigidian of Lucca in Italy, for
the death of the latter is assigned to A.D. 588 by Ughelli in his _Italia

His death was much lamented, for his fame was great throughout all the
land; and all our martyrologists bear testimony to his merits. Marianus
O'Gorman calls him "Finnian with heart devout;" and another writer
exclaims, "O blessed school (of Maghbile) the resting place of Finnian;
how blessed that one saint should be the tutor of his fellow saints." His
festival is celebrated on the 10th of September, the day after the
festival of his contemporary, St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, and his blessed
relics rest amid many miracles within that old Church of Moville, under
the shadow of its ancient yews, forgotten by men, but watched over by the
angels of God.

There is an ancient poem in the _Saltair na Rann_ on the patron Saints of
the various Irish clans. In the opening stanza Finnian is described as the
patron of Ulidia--the Ulidians, it is said, all stand behind his back,
that is, under his protection. Here it is in poetry:--

  "Of Erin all is Patrick judge
    On Macha's Royal Hill;
  They bless his name with loud acclaim,
    Our King by God's high will.

  "The Clanna Neil a sheltering oak
    Have found in Columcille,
  And Uladh's sons are strong behind
    Great Finnian of Moville."

St. Finnian was, it seems, a bishop, and his successors in Moville for
some two hundred years are spoken of as bishops; but from A.D. 731 they
are merely described as abbots, and seem to have lost their episcopal
jurisdiction. Still the School of Moville then and long after continued to
flourish, although it appears to have been eclipsed by the brighter flame
of Bangor, its younger neighbour to the north.

In A.D. 730 flourished Colman, son of Murchu, Abbot of Moville, who is
regarded as the author of a Latin hymn of singular beauty preserved in the
famous work known as the _Liber Hymnorum_ now in Trinity College, Dublin.
"Colman, son of Murchu," is described as the author of the hymn, and hence
Dr. Todd very justly regards him as identical with the Abbot of Moville.
The following is an English translation made for the learned Father
O'Laverty, author of the _History of the Diocese of Down and Connor_, by
the late lamented Denis Florence McCarthy, a poet whose own pure heart
could well interpret the soaring aspirations of a saintly soul:--


  "No wild bird rising from the wave, no omen from the land or sea,
  Oh Blessed Trinity, shall shake my fixed trust in thee.
  No name to God, or demon given, no synonym of sin or shame,
  Shall make me cease to supplicate the Archangel Michael's name,
  That he, by God the leader led, may meet my soul that awful day
  When from this body and this life it trembling takes its way.
  Lest the demoniac power of him, who is at once the foot of pride
  And prince of darkness, force it then from the true path aside.
  May Michael the Archangel turn that hour which else were dark and sad
  To one, when angels will rejoice and all the just be glad.
  Him I beseech that he avert from me the fiend's malignant face,
  And lead me to the realm of rest in God's own dwelling place.
  May holy Michael day and night, he knowing well my need, be nigh,
  To place me in the fellowship of the good saints on high;
  May holy Michael, an approved assistant when all else may fail,
  Plead for me, sinner that I am, in thought and act so frail,
  May holy Michael in his strength my parting soul from harm defend,
  Till circled by the myriad saints in heaven its flight doth end;
  For me may holy Gabriel pray--for me may holy Raphael plead--
  For me may all the angelic choirs for ever intercede.
  May the great King's eternal halls receive me freed from stain and sin,
  That I the joys of Paradise may share with Christ therein.
  Glory for aye be given to God--for aye to Father and to Son--
  For aye unto the Holy Ghost with them in council one.

      V. "May the most holy St. Michael
            The prince of angels defend us,
          Whom to conduct our souls heavenward
            God from the highest doth send us."

The School of Moville during the subsequent centuries of disaster not only
maintained its existence but produced one of the most distinguished of the
mediæval historians, the celebrated Marianus Scotus, the chronicler, to be
carefully distinguished from his namesake and contemporary, Marianus
Scotus, a poet, theologian and commentator of Sacred Scripture, to whom we
hope to refer on another occasion.


Marianus Scotus, the Chronicler, was born, as he himself tells us, in the
year A.D. 1028; but we know nothing of his family, or the place of his
birth. Marianus is the smooth, latinized form of Maelbridge, the servant
of St. Brigid, a favourite pre-nomen in ancient Ireland. He tells us, too,
in his chronicle, that when he had on one occasion committed a slight
fault, his preceptor Tighernagh Boirceach reminded him, how the abbot of
Iniscaltra, an island in Lough Derg, had expelled a holy man from the
Island and commanded him to leave Ireland for giving a little food to the
brethren without permission. This shows that Tighernach Boirceach, Abbot
of Moville for several years before his death in A.D. 1061, must have been
the spiritual guide who reprimanded Marianus for his fault; whence we
infer that Marianus spent his youth in the School of Moville. In A.D. 1056
he tells us--"I, Marianus, left my native country this year, having become
a pilgrim for the kingdom of God." He came to Cologne and there entered
the Monastery of St. Martin, at that time ruled by Irish abbots and
containing a community of Irish monks. Two years later he went to Fulda,
and "all unworthy as I am, I Marianus, was ordained priest with Sigfrid,
Abbot of Fulda, nigh to the body of the blessed Martyr Kilian of
Wurtzburg"--his countryman who had been like himself a pilgrim and died
for Christ in a foreign land. There he became a recluse, shut up in his
little cell for ten long years, given wholly to prayer, penance, and
study. Every day during these ten years he offered the Holy Sacrifice over
the tomb of his countryman, Anmchaidh, the same who was driven from
Inniscaltra as a penance for his fault, and who died in A.D. 1043 in the
odour of sanctity. From Fulda in A.D. 1069, he, the "wretched Marianus,"
was, as he tells us, transferred by order of the Abbot of Fulda and the
Bishop of Mayence to that city, and there again, as he tells us in his
sweet humility, he became once more a hermit for his sins. His learning,
especially in history and chronology, was very extensive, and so by order
of his superiors he wrote a Chronicle in Three Books, which is one of the
most valuable memorials of mediæval learning that have come down to our
times. The first two books are mainly devoted to questions of chronology
in which the writer exhibits vast learning and great ingenuity. He labours
especially to refute the commonly assigned date of our Saviour's birth as
fixed by the Dionysian computation, which he affirms is twenty-two years
behind the proper date. For this, though he is not followed by modern
chronologists, he certainly won the applause of his mediæval
contemporaries. Unfortunately these two books have not yet been published;
but the "Third Book" has been published by the learned Waitz in the fifth
volume of _Pertz's Historical Monuments of Germany_. It has been since
republished in _Migne's Latin Patrology_, volume 147, where it can be more
readily consulted by Irish scholars. The work extends from the birth of
Christ to the year A.D. 1081; the following year A.D. 1082 the writer
ended a life full of good works, glorious for God, and for his country. He
sleeps, like many another Irish saint, far away from the green hills of
Ireland; but he sleeps well with kindred dust in the monastery of St.
Martin of Mayence, and posterity has honoured, with the name of "the
Blessed," Marianus Scotus, the latest glory of the School of Moville.



  "Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo."


How solitary now she sits by the great river that once thronged City! Her
gates are broken, and her streets are silent. Yet in olden time she was a
queen, and the children of many lands came to do her homage. She was the
nursing mother of our saints, and the teacher of our highest learning for
a long six hundred years. The most ancient and the most accurate of the
Annals of Erin were written in her halls; the most learned 'Doctors of the
Scots' lectured in her classrooms; the sweetest of our old Gaedhlic poems
were composed by her professors; the noblest youth of France and England
crowded her halls, and bore the renown of her holiness and learning to
foreign lands. Even still her churches, her crosses, and her tombstones
furnish the best and most characteristic specimens of our ancient Celtic
art in sculpture and in architecture. View it as you may, Clonmacnoise was
the greatest of our schools in the past, as it is the most interesting of
our ruins in the present.

How well St. Ciaran chose the site of his monastic city in those turbulent
and lawless days. It reposed in the bosom of a grassy lawn of fertile
meadow land on the eastern bank of the Shannon, about ten miles south of
Athlone. Just at this point the majestic river takes a wide semi-circular
sweep first to the east and then to the south; presently it widens and
deepens into calm repose under the shelter of that grassy ridge, which
Ciaran chose as the site of his monastery. A vast expanse of bog lies
beyond the river; and in the time of St. Ciaran the country all round
about was an impassable morass to the east, south, and north of the
verdant oasis on which he built his little church. So it became necessary
to construct a causeway through the bog from the monastery somewhat on the
line of the present road to Athlone. At this day the aspect of the place
is very desolate and lonely. There is nothing to distract the attention
of the stranger save the gray ruins, the sweep of the full-bosomed river
stealing silently onwards like time in its flight, and vast flocks of
plover and curlew that are now settled on the meadows, and a moment after
are circling in flying clouds around us. The report of a gun had startled
both them and us. It was like a voice in the regions of the dead.


St. Ciaran, the founder of Clonmacnoise, is usually called Ciaran Mac In
Tsair, that is, the Son of the Carpenter, and sometimes Ciaran the
Younger, to distinguish him from St. Ciaran of Saigher, the patron of the
diocese of Ossory. His father, Beoit, son of Olcan, though a carpenter by
trade, came of high descent. His mother, Darerca, was a daughter of the
race that gave its name to the county Kerry. Beoit lived at Larne, in
Antrim, but being greatly harassed by the exactions of Ainmire, king of
the district, he migrated to the province of Connaught, and settled at a
place called Rath Crimthann, near Fuerty, in the county Roscommon. He was,
it seems, unmarried at the time, and there took to himself a wife from the
daughters of the Ciarraighe, who about the same time had migrated from
Irluachair, in Kerry, and had settled along the western bank of the Suck
in that very district.[208] They were a holy couple, and trained up a holy
family, for they had no less than five sons and three daughters, who were
great servants of God.

Ciaran was baptized by the deacon Justus at Fuerty (_Fidharta_), in the
year A.D. 512, which we take to be the date of the saint's birth.[209] He
received his early education from the same holy man, and in his turn was
not too proud to tend the herds of his tutor at Fuerty, especially during
the absence of the holy deacon. We are told, too, that while tending the
cattle he was also much given to study and prayer.

It is probable that young Ciaran went directly from home to the great
School of Clonard, of which we have already spoken. While he was there, he
gave himself up with great zeal to the study of holy Scripture under the
direction of the wise and learned Finnian. He made the acquaintance, too,
of nearly all the great and holy men who about this period lived in
blessed brotherhood at Clonard, and were afterwards known as the Twelve
Apostles of Erin. He was much beloved both by his master, who called him
the "gentle youth," and by his companions, whom he was ever anxious to
oblige. Books were then very scarce, and on one occasion when St.
Ninnidius of Lough Erne was vainly searching for a copy of the Gospels,
Ciaran gave him his own copy, saying that we should do to others as we
would have others do to us--the text which he was studying in St. Matthew
at the moment.

Ciaran once made a present of corn to his master and the brotherhood,
which sufficed for their wants during forty days--it was said, too, this
blessed food given by Ciaran had virtue to heal the sick, who partook of
it, and a portion of it was reserved for that purpose. Finnian in return
blessed his generous and holy pupil, and foretold that his Church in the
coming years would be fruitful "of nobility and wisdom;" that it would
have much glory and much land; and that half Ireland would one day be
subject to his rule. When the master was absent, Ciaran was deputed to
take his place, which shows the high opinion then entertained by Finnian
of his learning and holiness. One day Finnian saw in vision two golden
moons in the firmament of Erin; one he said was Columcille, to illumine
the North with the lustre of his virtues and high descent; the other was
Ciaran, who would shine over central Erin, with the mild radiance of
charity and meekness.

At length the time came for Ciaran to leave Clonard. Both masters and
scholars were sorry to part with the gentle youth. Finnian even offered to
resign the master's chair in his favour; but Ciaran wisely declined the
great honour, for he was too young and inexperienced for that office.
Columcille was then at Clonard about the year A.D. 537 or 538, and was
greatly attached to Ciaran; he composed regretful stanzas at his
departure, and afterwards followed him all the way to Aran:--

  "The noble youth that goeth westward,
  And leaves us mourning here--
  Ah! gentle, loving, tender-hearted
  Is Ciaran Mac In Tsair."

We have in a previous chapter referred to Ciaran's sojourn in Aran with
St. Enda. On his departure from the blessed isles Ciaran told the
venerable Enda that he saw in a vision a large fruitful tree planted in
the midst of Erin, and its boughs sheltered all the land. Its fair fruit
was borne over land and sea, and all the birds of the air came and eat
thereof. "That tree is thyself," said Enda; "all Erin shall be filled with
thy name, and sheltered by the grace that will be in thee, and many men
from all parts will be fed by thy prayers and thy fastings. Go, then, in
God's name, and found thy Church on the Shannon's banks in the centre of
the island."

After leaving Aran, Ciaran paid a short visit to St. Senan of Scattery
Island, in the Lower Shannon, and was much edified by the example and
conversation of that holy man. He then went north in obedience to the word
of Enda and at first founded a church at a place called Isell Ciaran,
where he remained only a short time. He then founded another oratory on
Inis Ainghin, now called Hare Island, in Lough Ree, a beautifully wooded
islet about two miles north of Athlone, where a ruined church may still be
seen that was built on the site of Ciaran's more ancient oratory.

It was an admirable site for a monastery; far enough from the shore for
security, but near enough for convenience, and situated just at the point
where the wide and beautiful lake contracts its waters into the stately
stream that flows beneath the historic arches of the bridge at Athlone.

For three years and three months only Ciaran remained at Hare Island. This
would fix his arrival there in A.D. 540 if, as we shall see, he died in
A.D. 544 at the age of thirty-three years. Going further south by the bank
of the river to a place that would be nearer to the centre of the island,
he stopped at the spot then called Ard Mantain, which in his opinion was
too fertile and too beautiful to be chosen as the abode of fasting saints.
"We might," he said, "have here much of the world's riches, but the souls
going to heaven from it would be few." So he journeyed on still further to
the south through what was then a desolate expanse of fens and brakes,
until he came to Ard Tiprait, the Height of the Spring. "Here," he said to
his companions, "let us remain, for many souls will ascend to heaven from
this spot."[210] It was on the 10th of the Kalends of February that Ciaran
took up his abode at Clonmacnoise with eight companions; and it was on the
10th of the Moon, and a Saturday. This is very specific information, and
evidently authentic. It shows that the writer of Ciaran's life knew what
he was saying, and was not afraid of being contradicted. These dates prove
that the foundation of Clonmacnoise took place on Saturday, the 23rd of
January, in the year A.D. 544.[211] It was finished on the 9th of May
following; and the same ancient and accurate life tells us the
circumstances of this most remarkable event--the founding of the greatest
school and the greatest monastery in Ireland.

When Ciaran was planting the first post to mark out the site of the
Cathair of Clonmacnoise, Diarmaid Mac Cearbhaill, who happened to be
present with a few of his companions, helped the saint with his own hands
to fix the post in the earth. "Though your companions to-day are few,"
said Ciaran, "to-morrow thou shalt be High King of Erin." This prophecy,
like many others, helped to fulfil itself. One of Diarmaid's companions,
Maelmor,[212] his foster brother, overheard the saint's word; and knowing
that he was a man of God, he resolved to help in carrying it out. King
Tuathal Maelgarbh, great grandson of Niall the Great, had set a price on
Diarmaid's head, or rather on his heart, if brought to him in person; so
Diarmaid was forced to hide himself and live in the deserts and bogs
around Clonmacnoise. There he met the saint, and not only aided him to
build his monastery, as stated above, but in reverence to the saint he
placed his own hand beneath that of Ciaran in fixing the first pole. Now,
Maelmor hearing the prediction, with Diarmaid's reluctant consent, took
his fleet black horse, and a whelp's heart besprinkled with blood on the
point of his spear, and rode post haste to a place called Greallach Eillte
in Meath, where the king with his nobles happened to be at the time.
Seeing the stranger riding post to the king with the bloody heart on his
spear, all made way for him, for they, like the king himself, thought it
was the heart of Diarmaid, which he was going to present to the king. But
instead of Diarmaid's heart, Maelmor gave the monarch a fatal thrust with
his spear, which killed him on the spot. Maelmor was immediately set upon
by the royal guards and hewn to pieces. But his purpose was
achieved--Diarmaid MacCearbhaill was the nearest heir to the throne, and
was immediately proclaimed king without opposition. During his reign he
was, as might be expected, a great patron and benefactor of Clonmacnoise,
and although there is good reason to believe that he still kept
Druids[213] and soothsayers in his palace, he gave that monastery large
grants of land, and subjected to its authority no less than one hundred of
the small churches in its neighbourhood. Such was the origin of the
Diocese of Clonmacnoise, which after many vicissitudes is now united to
that of Ardagh.[214]

St. Ciaran lived only four months after founding his monastery and little
church--the Eclais Beg--on the banks of the Shannon. The same accurate
writer of his life states with great precision that his death came upon
him in the thirty-third year of his age, on the fifth of the Ides (the
9th) of September, on a Saturday, the fifteenth day of the moon. These
data mark the year A.D. 544 (not 549), as the year of the saint's death.
It was also the year in which King Diarmaid ascended the throne, and which
brought with it a great plague that proved fatal to many of the saints of
Erin, as well as to Ciaran himself.

The death of Ciaran was very touching. "Take me out a little," he said,
"from the cell into the open air." Then looking up to the blue sky, he
said--"Narrow indeed is the way which leads to heaven." "Not for you,
father, will it be narrow," said one of his monks who was standing nigh.
"It is not said in the Gospel that it will be easy for me or for any one,"
said Ciaran; "even the blessed Paul and David were afraid." He would not
allow the stone pillow to be removed in order to give more ease to his
head. He had kept it during life, and he would rest on it in
death--"Blessed are they," he observed, "who persevere unto the end." The
brethren now saw God's angels hovering in the air around them awaiting the
moment of Ciaran's departure. He grew weaker, so they brought him in again
to Eclais Beg. It was fitting he should die there; it was the scene of his
prayers and tears. The skin on which he used to sleep in his little cell
was stretched on the ground, and he was laid upon it. The end was now at
hand. He gave his last blessing to the brethren, and asked them to close
the church, and leave him alone with his soul's friend, St. Kevin of
Glendaloch, whom he had known and loved at Clonard. Kevin blessed holy
water according to the Church's rite, and sprinkled the little oratory,
and the couch of the dying saint. Then he gave Ciaran the holy Communion
and blessed him once more ere he died. Ciaran loved the holy Kevin much;
God had sent him to his bedside at the prayer of Ciaran himself--and as a
pledge of his love the dying saint gave to Kevin his bell--the symbol in
those days of monastic rule--and bidding him a tender farewell, he gave up
his pure and gentle soul to God.

He was, indeed, a wonderful man--that St. Ciaran. He died very young; it
was at the sacred age of thirty-three, as all our Annals tell. In four
months--from February to May--he built his convent; for four months more
he ruled his community; and then he was called to his reward; yet that
community grew to be the greatest and most learned of all the land.

All our martyrologies assign the festival of St. Ciaran to the 9th of
September; and the day has been celebrated from that hour to the present.
St. Ængus says that it is a solemnity that "fills territories and impels
fast-going ships" on sea and river--hurrying to celebrate the glorious
festival of Ciaran of Cluain.

Anyone who visits Clonmacnoise on the 9th of September will see the
"territory" of the saint still filled with pilgrims, and the 'ships' laden
with crowds of men and women crossing the Shannon to visit his holy
shrine. St. Cummian of Clonfert in his Paschal Epistle, of which we have
already spoken, ranks Ciaran, and most justly, amongst the "early Fathers
of the Irish Church."[215] Alcuin, who studied at Clonmacnoise, calls him
the glory of the Irish nation.[216] "The three worst counsels that were
ever accomplished in Erin," says the gloss on Ængus, "by the advice of
saints, were the shortening of Ciaran's life, the exile of Columcille, and
the expulsion of Mochuda from Rahan." The 'saints,' it seems, were jealous
because Diarmaid had conferred so many favours on Ciaran--so they prayed
to God to take him out of the world before any harm came of it, and lo! it
was done. A more thoughtful man, however, would say, not without reason,
that these three counsels were great blessings for Ireland and for
Scotland too. It was well that Ciaran was called away so soon to heaven
before jealousy or rivalry made enemies for Clonmacnoise; it was well,
surely, that Molaise of Innismurray sent Columba to Scotland to preach the
Gospel; and it was well, too, that Mochuda left Rahan; for it was only to
found a greater and more magnificent monastery at Lismore. So Providence
always out of seeming evil brings forth good.

There was hardly time for Ciaran himself to do any literary work at
Clonmacnoise--he built the house and blessed it; and was then summoned to
his Father's House in heaven. There is, however, an old Gaelic poem widely
celebrated, which is attributed to Ciaran. It begins with the words "An
rim, an ri, an richid rain," and seems to have been a fruitless prayer
that God would spare his life to do greater works for His glory. God
thought, however, he had done enough, and called him home. He was, say the
ancients, like to John the Apostle in his life and habits--pure, and
young, and loving, soaring up to God on the wings of the eagle.

Like most of the Apostles of the early Irish Church, Ciaran led an
extremely ascetic life. He never passed a day without manual labour for
the benefit of the brethren. He was never idle. He slept on the naked
clay; he had a stone for his pillow; he never wore a soft garment next his
skin. He was, as we know, above all, humble, gentle and chaste; he never,
it is said, told a lie and never looked on the face of a woman. He never
drank ale or milk, except diluted one-third with water. He never ate any
bread except one-third sand was mixed with it. He was thus a man of
humility, abstinence, and prayer, and therefore God blessed the work of
his hand, and exalted him both during his life and after his death. There
was no saint more beloved by his own contemporaries--by Enda, and Kevin,
and Finnian, and Columcille. They all loved him dearly whilst he was with
them; and their hearts were sore at his departure. And to this day, at
least by the Shannon's shore, there is no saint whose name is held in more
affectionate remembrance than the founder of Clonmacnoise.

The Eclais Beg, in which St. Ciaran died, became not unnaturally a sacred
spot. It was the very centre of the holiness of Clonmacnoise. He left
several relics, which the piety of his children deemed most holy, and not
without cause. The Imda Chiarain, or cow-skin couch,[217] on which he died
was deemed a most precious relic, and cured the sick who were allowed to
stretch their feeble frames over it. His holy body was buried in the
Eclais Beg, or Tempull Chiaran, and his grave is still venerated by the
faithful, although the site is rather doubtful. The "Cemetery of noble
Cluain" was deemed as sacred a burial place as any in Rome itself; and the
noblest families in all the land built mortuary chapels within the sacred
enclosure. There were saints interred in its cemetery, it was said, "whose
prayers would make even hell a heaven." The sound of its bell was holy,
and frightened away the demons. The shadow of its round tower sanctified
the soil that it fell upon. Ciaran brought to heaven by his prayers,
during their life or after their death, the souls of all those who were
buried in that holy ground. Or, as it is quaintly put in the _Registry of
Clonmacnoise_--"What souls harboured in the bodies buried under that dust
may never be adjudged to damnation--wherefore those of the same (royal)
blood have divided the churchyard amongst themselves by the consent of
Kyran, and of his holy clerks."

This is not the imagining of later writers, for the venerable Adamnan
tells us that when after the Synod of Drumceat (A.D. 585) St. Columcille
came to visit Clonmacnoise, he took a portion of the same holy clay to
bring it home; but threw it into the sea at Coryvreckan to still the
raging waves, which thereupon became quite calm.


The existing ruins at Clonmacnoise, though now so much dilapidated, are
highly interesting, both from the historical and artistic point of view.
They belong to different periods, the date of which can be easily
ascertained, and thus furnish many authentic specimens of the Irish

Of St. Ciaran's original church or oratory--the Eclais Beg--not a trace
now remains. The grave of the saint is pointed out close by the southern
wall of the ruin called Tempull Ciaran, which is in the very centre of the
church-yard, and in all probability was built on the site of Ciaran's
original oratory.

The following are the principal ruined churches still to be seen at

(1.) There is the Daimhlaig, or Great Stone-Church, called also
M'Dermott's Church, and sometimes the Cathedral. We know for certain that
it was built in A.D. 909 by Flann, King of Ireland, and by Colman, abbot
of Clonmacnoise and Clonard at that time. The beautiful stone cross which
was erected to commemorate the building of the church itself is still
standing before the great western doorway, and tells its own story. In two
of the compartments of the sculptured shaft a prayer is asked of every one
who passes for the souls' rest of the founders of the church. In one it
is:--OR DO FLAVND MAC MAELSECHLAIND--"A prayer for Fland, son of
Maelsechlaind." In the other it is:--COLMAN DORROINI IN CROISSA AR IN RI
FLAND--that is, "Colman made this cross for King Fland." The inscriptions
are partly effaced, but not so as to obliterate the words completely.
Taken in connection with the entry in the _Annals of Clonmacnoise_, A.D.
901 (_recte_ 908), they are highly interesting. "King Flann and Colman
Connellagh this year founded the church in Clonmacnoise called the Church
of the Kings." Colman outlived King Flann, who died in A.D. 916, by eight
years, and no doubt this cross, as Petrie points out, was erected for the
two-fold purpose of commemorating the foundation of the church, and of
marking the sepulchre of King Flann, its pious founder. The sculptures on
the west side of the shaft represent St. Ciaran and King Diarmaid in the
act of planting the first pole of the Eclais Beg; the opposite side
represents in high relief several events in the life of our Saviour, as
recorded in Holy Scripture. Hence this great cross came to be called the
Cross of the Scriptures--_Cros na Screaptra_. It is fifteen feet in
height; and is a most interesting specimen of Celtic art in sculpture at
that early and unpropitious period. This, the Cathedral Church, afterwards
came to be called M'Dermott's Church, because, as the _Registry of
Clonmacnoise_ informs us, "Tomaltach M'Dermott, chief of Moylurg, repaired
or rebuilt the Great Church upon his own costs; and it was for the
cemetery of the Clanmaolruany that he did so." This Tomaltach Mac Dermott,
the King of Moylurg, "a most formidable and triumphant man against his
enemies, and a man of the greatest bounty and alms-giving," died in the
year A.D. 1336,[218] which sufficiently fixes the period of the
restoration of the Great Church. There is an inscription over the northern
doorway in Latin, which tells that "Odo, Dean of Clonmacnoise, caused it
to be made," probably in the fifteenth century.

(2.) On the western boundary of the church-yard is the ruined chancel of
the church called Tempull Finnian, which probably dates back to the ninth
century, and was built on the site of a more ancient oratory dedicated to
St. Finnian of Clonard, if not actually built by that saint. He was, as we
have seen, the 'tutor' of Ciaran, and loved him much; so that doubtless he
came to visit his former disciple at Clonmacnoise. Close at hand on the
river's bank is Finnian's Well; and tradition still points out the grave
in which he is said to be buried. The chancel arch of this church in three
orders is highly ornamented, and is considered an excellent specimen of
the Celtic Romanesque. The round tower, which adjoins this church, appears
to be coeval with the building; and doubtless both were erected during the
Danish wars. It is only 56 feet high, but it is 49 feet in circumference.
The material is a fine sandstone, probably carried thither on the river,
for there is none in the neighbourhood. Lord Dunraven considered it to be
the most interesting monument at Clonmacnoise, and Petrie describes it as
wholly built of ashlar masonry with a fine sandstone laid in horizontal
courses. Its conical roof is built in a peculiar herring-bone ashlar, such
as is not found elsewhere in Ireland.

This tower is commonly called M'Carthy's Tower; and the church is
frequently called M'Carthy's Church, from a mistaken notion that it was
built by Finneen M'Carthy of Desmond in the beginning of the thirteenth
century. M'Carthy certainly gave some land to the community of
Clonmacnoise to secure their prayers, and what he valued even more, a
burial-place in its holy soil for his own royal race. Tempull Finnian was
assigned to him for the purpose; and it was doubtless repaired by
M'Carthy; but it was built long before any of his name was known at

(3.) The O'Conors, Kings of Connaught, also gave a grant of many townlands
to secure a mortuary chapel at Clonmacnoise. It was known as Tempull
Conor, and was founded by Cathal, King of Connaught, who died A.D. 1010;
he was son of that Conor (Conchobhar) who gave his name to their royal

(4.) Another kingly family of Connaught--the O'Kellys of Hy-Many--built
themselves a sepulchral chapel within the sacred enclosure, which they
paid for with many a broad acre. It was founded by Conor O'Kelly of
Moenmoy, in the year A.D. 1167, as the Four Masters inform us. He was a
great chief, famed for his royal bounty, and ruled over Hy-Many for forty

(5.) King Diarmaid, who helped St. Ciaran to fix the first stake enclosing
the sacred boundary of Clonmacnoise, belonged to the southern Hy-Niall
race. It is no wonder, therefore, that his royal descendants had their
chapel there. It was called Tempull Righ--the King's Church--and sometimes
Tempull Ua Maelshechlainn, from the family name, which the southern
Hy-Niall afterwards assumed. It stands south-east of the cathedral, and
measures 40 feet in length by 17 feet in breadth.

(6.) The beautiful round tower at the north-western corner of the cemetery
is commonly called O'Rorke's Tower, because, as the _Registry of
Clonmacnoise_ tells us, it was built by Fergal O'Rorke, King of Connaught,
towards the middle of the tenth century. This prince, for his soul's sake,
and as the price of his family sepulchre, undertook to keep all the
churches in repair during his own life; and he also built the causeway
still in part existing from the Yew Tree to the Lough. The portion of the
tower built by O'Rorke's men in the tenth century is of fine-jointed
ashlar masonry; but the upper portion, executed two centuries later in
A.D. 1135, is of ruder and very inferior workmanship.[219] At that date
lightning struck the tower, overthrowing its roof and twenty feet of
wall. The coarser masonry represents the restoration then effected by
Turlogh O'Conor and O'Malone, Abbot of Clonmacnoise. This tower is now
sixty-two feet high, and fifty-six feet in circumference. There were other
chapels and sepulchral oratories at Clonmacnoise, which have now
completely disappeared, and to which it is unnecessary for us to make
further reference. The nunnery whose foundations have only recently been
brought to light, was about 1,000 paces to the east of the monastery.

On the western border beyond the cemetery are the ruins of a very striking
Norman Keep, commonly called De Lacy's Castle. It was built, however, in
A.D. 1214, not by De Lacy, who was then dead, but by John de Gray,[220]
Bishop of Norwich, an able and vigorous justiciary, who built this strong
keep to protect the monastery and defend the passes of the Shannon against
the turbulent Connaught men. Like all the Norman work of that period in
Ireland, it is as solid and massive as if it were built of solid rock, not
by man but by nature.

The churchyard has many inscribed tombstones, which are fully described by
Petrie and by Miss Stokes in her interesting work on Christian
Inscriptions. These were the tombstones placed over the graves of the
abbots of Clonmacnoise, for the humble brothers of the monastery were
interred beneath 'noteless burial stones.' The most striking feature
exhibited in these monuments is their wonderful variety of design and the
delicacy of execution.

One of the most interesting of the tombstones is that placed over
"Suibine, son of Mailae Humai," who, in the _Chronicon Scotorum_, is
described as an anchorite and choice scribe, and whose death is marked at
the year A.D. 890 or 891. He is beyond doubt the person who, as we shall
see hereafter, is described by Florence of Worcester as the "most learned
Doctor of the Scots"--Doctor Scotorum peritissimus--truly a high eulogy of
Suibine, whose name is inscribed on this stone, and whose dust lies
beneath it.

There is another stone on which is incised a cross of very peculiar form
with the simple legend BLAIMAC, who, as we learn from the same _Chronicon
Scotorum_, was princeps, or ruling Abbot of Clonmacnoise, and died in A.D.

There were no less than one hundred and forty of these inscribed stones at
Clonmacnoise, when it was first visited by Petrie in early life. Many of
them have since disappeared, but a few new ones have been discovered
during more recent excavations, so that the place is still a perfect
treasury of the monuments of our ancient art. There is an ancient Gaedhlic
poem in the Burgundian Library at Brussels which gives an account of the
kings and warriors who are buried in "the city of Ciaran, the prayerful,
the pious and the wise."[221] A somewhat similar poem, written by Conaing
Buidhe O'Mulconry, is in Trinity College, and has been translated by the
late Mr. Hennessy.[222] The second stanza tells how Turlough O'Conor and
his ill-starred son, Roderick, the last King of Ireland, sleep on either
side of the high altar in Temple Mor, which the Four Masters identify with
Temple-Ciaran. The independence of Erin sleeps with them in their tomb.


There was one feature in the government of the monastery of Clonmacnoise
which served to make it more than any other school in Ireland a kind of
national seminary--it belonged to no tribe. Its monks and its scholars
came from all parts of the country; and its abbots were chosen not from
any family, or from any tribe, but from all the provinces without
distinction. Its founder was a Connaughtman of half-northern and
half-southern extraction. His successor, St. Oena, was from the territory
of Laeghis (Leix) in Leinster. The third abbot, MacNisse, was of the
Ultonians; and the fourth, Alithir, who died in A.D. 599, was a
Munsterman. This wise policy tended to develop a generous and large-minded
spirit in the community, which must have been productive of the happiest

The influence of Clonmacnoise as a great school was first displayed during
the discussions on the Easter question. The Columbian houses in the north
of Ireland, following the example of the mother house at Hy, adhered to
the ancient method of fixing the date of Easter. On the other hand the
religious houses of the south and south-eastern parts of Ireland, in
obedience to the directions of Pope Honorious, convoked a Synod at Magh
Lene in King's County to discuss this most important question. Magh Lene
was near Durrow, and not far from Clonmacnoise; but Durrow was Columbian,
and its abbot remained away. Cummian, however, expressly tells us that
Ciaran's successor was present at that great assembly and sanctioned its
decrees. Though belonging to the northern half--for Clonmacnoise was in
the ancient Meath--the abbot had learning and courage enough to see that
the Irish practice was opposed to that of the universal Church, and ought
to be given up in favour of the Roman discipline.

It is from this time forward that Clonmacnoise begins to rank as the first
of our Irish Schools. It was already largely endowed by the kings of Meath
and Hy-Many, to both of whom, so to speak, it belonged, for the river was
the only boundary. These possessions were constantly growing larger. In
A.D. 648 or 649, Diarmaid, King of Meath, crossed the Shannon to fight
Guaire, King of Connaught, and his Munster allies. Diarmaid on his way to
battle stopped at Clonmacnoise, and begged the congregation of Ciaran to
pray to God that he would return safe home "through the merits of their
guarantee." Then the King, full of courage, continued his march, and
fought the great battle of Carn Conaile, near Gort, in which he was
completely victorious. On his return he granted the territory of
Tuaim-n-Eirc, now Lemanaghan, in King's County, with all its
sub-divisions, as an altar sod, _i.e._, church land, to God and St. Ciaran
for ever, so that no king of Meath might take so much as a 'drink of water
from its well without paying for it.' For this grant King Diarmaid also
secured the right of sepulchre at Clonmacnoise, and was himself buried
there. What is stranger still, his rival, Guaire, towards the close of his
life came to do penance at Clonmacnoise; and he, too, the Generous and
Hospitable, was buried there in A.D. 663, and no doubt did not forget the
monks when he was dying. Just at this time the plague wrought great havoc
amongst the saints and students of Clonmacnoise. Two or three abbots died
in rapid succession, and doubtless the family of the monastery suffered
severely, for the frightened students fled far away. In A.D. 719 the
monastery was burned. Most of the buildings up to this time were probably
of wood, for it was not easy to procure stone at Clonmacnoise. But the
schools were soon again at work. In A.D. 724 we hear of the death of Mac
Concumba, a learned scribe of this monastery. His duty was to multiply
copies of valuable works, and record in the annals of the monastery from
year to year entries of all those noteworthy events which happened
throughout the kingdom. It was these scribes who prepared the materials
afterwards so admirably compiled by Tighernach and his associates. Another
'choice scribe' died in A.D. 768; and we are told that the monastery was
burned again in A.D. 751, and a third time in A.D. 773--on both occasions
probably by accident.

At this time Clonmacnoise was at the height of its literary glory. The
Danes had not yet arrived on the coasts of Ireland. Great scholars
flourished there, the fame of whose learning attracted students from many
lands. Fortunately here we are not left to vague conjecture; we have
definite historical proofs both native and foreign. In the very year the
Danes first landed at Rathlin--in A.D. 794 or 795--we find recorded the
death of Colgan (or Colgu or Colcu), a professor of Clonmacnoise, who was
probably the teacher of the greatest scholar of that age. He was a
Munster-man by birth, but seems to have lived and died at Clonmacnoise.
His fame was very great amongst his contemporaries, who called him Colgu
the Wise. He was lecturer in Theology, and seems also to have been Rector
of the Monastic College. That he was a diligent student of St. Paul's
Epistles we may infer from a story told in his life. One day returning
from his class hall with his leathern book-satchel on his shoulder, he sat
down to rest at the place called Mointireanir. As he sat a stranger came
up and began to converse in the kindest and most affable way with the
professor, and even ventured to give him counsel and instruction. Nay,
more, he took up the book-satchel, and carried it on his own shoulders,
letting the tired master walk on by his side. The kind stranger turned out
to be the Apostle Paul himself. On another occasion when public
disputation was being held at the college, it seems certain scholars were
objecting vigorously to Colgu's views, when St. Paul once more appeared as
a learned stranger, and was invited to take part in the discussion. The
unknown scholar accepted the invitation, and reasoned so convincingly that
in a very short time he clearly showed to the satisfaction of all present
that Colgu's view of the question at issue was the correct one.

The celebrated Alcuin was the most distinguished scholar of his own time
in Europe. There is fortunately a letter of his still preserved, which
shows quite clearly that he was a student of Clonmacnoise, and a pupil of
Colgu, and which also exhibits the affectionate veneration that he
retained through life for his _Alma Mater_ at Clonmacnoise. It is
addressed to "Colgu, Professor (_lectorem_) in Ireland--the blessed Master
and Pious Father of Albinus,"[223] the more usual name given to Alcuin in
France, by Charlemagne and his courtiers. The writer complains that for
some time past he was not deemed worthy to receive any of those letters
'so precious in my sight from your Fatherhood,' but he daily feels the
benefit of his absent Father's prayers. He adds that he sends by the same
messenger an alms of fifty sicles of silver from the bounty of King
Charles, and fifty more from his own resources for the brotherhood. He
also sends a quantity of (olive) oil which it was then very difficult to
procure in Ireland, and asks that it may be distributed amongst the
Bishops in God's honour for sacramental purposes. This shows the
thoughtful piety of Alcuin, who doubtless noticed, when he was a student
of Clonmacnoise, the difficulty of procuring pure olive oil for the holy
Chrism and Extreme Unction. This letter breathes the most beautiful spirit
of piety, and shows the affectionate gratitude of Alcuin for the home and
the teachers of his youth.

Colgu, or Colgan, of Clonmacnoise, is the earliest _Ferlegind_ who is
noticed in our Annals. During the course of the ninth century the
Ferlegind appears by name in the School of Armagh, and during the tenth
and eleventh centuries we find reference made to these 'Readers' in
several of our Irish monasteries. We may infer the nature of his office,
not only from his name--the 'reading-man' or lecturer--but also from the
position, which he appears to have held in the monastery. He is different
from the abbot, and subject to him, but he appears superior to all the
other teachers and officials, so that he may be described not only as
chief professor, but also as the Rector of the Monastic School under the
abbot. His position corresponded to that of the scholasticus in the early
Continental schools. He arranged the programme of study, superintended the
classes, kept the other officials, like the _scribneoir_ and _aeconomus_,
to their duties, and lectured himself in the most important
subjects--especially in Scripture and theology. To be an accomplished
'scribe,' however, required very special gifts not merely of beautiful
penmanship, but also a knowledge of the subject, which would prevent the
writer from making grave mistakes in transcription, thus destroying the
value of his manuscript. Hence we find the same person is frequently
described as 'scribe and bishop;' and sometimes 'scribe, abbot and

Colgu has been called a saint, and justly; his piety seems to have been
quite equal to his learning. The "Prayer of St. Colgu," written by the
saint in Latin, has been rendered into English from the copy in the
ancient Book of Clonmacnoise, called _Leabhar-na-h-Uidhre_. It is a
prayer, full of the deepest and most ardent devotion, in which the holy
man implores, "With Thee, O holy Jesus," the intercession of all the
heavenly host and of all the saints, apostles, and martyrs, and bishops,
and virgins of the Old and New Law, that, "Thou, O Holy Trinity, may take
me this night under Thy protection and shelter, and defend me from the
demons.... and from desires, from sins, from transgressions, from
disobediences ... from the fire of hell and eternity ... and that God may
light up in their souls meekness and charity, and gratitude and mercy, and
forgiveness in their hearts, and in their thoughts, and in their souls,
and in their minds, and in their bowels."

Colgan also wrote another celebrated work in Irish, called _Scuap
Chrabhaigh_, or the "Besom of Devotion," which his namesake, the renowned
Franciscan, also a lector in theology, pronounces to be a "book of most
fervent prayers, after the manner of a litany; a book, moreover, of most
ardent devotion and elevation of the soul to God."[224] Some think that
the "Besom of Devotion" referred to by Colgan, is only the Litany or
Prayer of St. Colgan, under another name.

In spite of the devastations both of the Danes and native princes during
the ninth century, learning still flourished at Clonmacnoise. That
Suibhne, son of Maeluma, whose grave-stone may still be seen at
Clonmacnoise, died in A.D. 891. His fame was great, not only in Ireland,
but in England also. The _Saxon Chronicle_ and the _Annals of Cambria_, as
well as Florence of Worcester, all notice his death and describe him as
the wisest and the greatest Doctor of the Scots or Irish, and the _Annals
of Ulster_ call him a "most excellent scribe." Unfortunately we have none
of his writings extant to confirm the judgment of his contemporaries.

Yet during this and the following century, which produced these great
scholars, we read a shameful record of the burnings, pillage, and
slaughter wrought both by native and foreigner in this peaceful home of
sanctity and learning.

It was plundered or burned--generally both--on at least ten different
occasions by the Danes. But the Irish themselves exceeded even that bloody
record, and laid sacrilegious hands on these holy shrines and their
inmates no less than fourteen or fifteen times. The Danes began this foul
work; both Danes and Irish continued it at short intervals; the English of
Athlone completed the job. Nothing more shameful, or so shameful, can be
found in the annals of any even half-civilized country. There were many
accidental fires that destroyed the monastic buildings during the first
three hundred years of its existence, but no pillage, no slaughter is
recorded during that period. The Danes set the bad example, and several of
the native princes were not slow to follow it. The worst of them was Felim
Mac Criffan (Fedhlimidh Mac Crimthann), King of Cashel. He plundered
Clonmacnoise and its termon lands three times, at one of which, A.D. 833,
he spoiled and pillaged up to the church doors, and butchered the monks
like sheep--_jugulatio_ is the word in the Annals. He did the same to
Durrow and several other religious houses. He broke into the oratory of
Kildare in A.D. 836, and took Forannan, the Primate of Armagh and his
attendants prisoners, forcing the Primate to give a reluctant consent to
his claim to be recognised as High King of all Erin. Ten years later he
died after a stormy life, and the _Annals of Ulster_ describe him as the
best of the Scots--_optimus Scotorum_--a scribe and an anchorite! There is
no foundation for Dr. Todd's assertion that he was an 'abbot and
bishop,'[225] except a poetic reference to his _bachall_, which the poet
mockingly says he left in the shrubbery,[226] and which was carried off by
his rival, Niall Caille, King of the North. Neither is there any ground
for O'Donovan's assertion in the note that "he was Abbot and Bishop of
Cashel in right of his crown of Munster." There was neither an abbot nor
bishop of Cashel at the time, nor for many years after; and although
Cormac Mac Cullinan was certainly a bishop, he is not described as Bishop
of Cashel either in our Annals or our Martyrologies.[227] The warlike
Felim Mac Criffan retired to a hermitage a short time before his death to
do penance for his many crimes; and he seems to have employed his leisure
in copying MSS. Hence the _Martyrology of Donegal_ commemorates him simply
as an 'anchorite'[228] who retired into solitude to bewail his sins, and
as his penance seems to have been sincere, there was nothing to prevent
him becoming a saint. The _Chronicon Scotorum_, whilst recording his
death, as that of 'a scribe and anchorite, and the best of the Scots,'
records a little before that Ciaran followed him to Munster after the last
violation of his monastery, and gave him a thrust of his crozier, causing
an internal wound, which, no doubt, hastened his death, and perhaps
prompted him to do penance. The true date of his death is A.D. 847.

We cannot stay to record the many similar deeds of violence from which the
sanctuary of Ciaran suffered during these lawless times. Even the
religious communities themselves were infected with the evil spirit that
prevailed around them. The monks sometimes took up arms, not merely to
protect themselves against murderous aggression, which would be reasonable
enough, but to wage war on their own account as well. It was a woful time
for Inisfail. She was writhing in the grasp of the invader; and no sooner
did that grasp begin to relax than her own false princes drew their
aimless swords in fratricidal strife. Even the salt of the earth lost its
savour--lay usurpers called themselves the Heirs of Patrick in Armagh, and
the monks of St. Ciaran forgot to pray, and put their trust in sword and
shield, like the lawless chieftains around them:--

  "Sure it was a maddening prospect thus to see this storied land,
  Like some wretched culprit, writhing in the strong avenger's hand--
  Kneeling, foaming, weeping, shrieking, woman-weak and woman-loud--
  Better, better, Mother Erin! they had wrapped thee in thy shroud."


During the eleventh century Clonmacnoise produced several most
distinguished scholars. This was the earliest era for prose chroniclers in
Ireland. Hitherto the chronicles of the kingdom were written in verse,
which greatly facilitated the work of the professional sheanachies. It was
the safest way to preserve history in those turbulent days. The monastery
might be burned, and the parchments all destroyed; but so long as the
rhyming chronicler, or even one of his disciples survived, the historical
poem committed to their faithful memory could not perish. Amongst these
rhyming chroniclers there are several whose poems are still extant,
although unpublished. Such, for instance, were Eochy O'Flinn and Kennett
O'Hartigan, and in the eleventh century Gilla Caemhain, who died in A.D.
1072. But during that century a new race of prose chroniclers arose for
the first time in Ireland. Of these the two most distinguished were Flann
of Monasterboice, who died in A.D. 1056, and his illustrious contemporary
Tighernach, the greatest glory of the School of Clonmacnoise.

Of the personal history of Tighernach we unfortunately know little. He
belonged to the Sil Muiredhaigh of Magh Aei--the royal race of
Connaught--of which the O'Conors were the chiefs. His family name was
O'Braoin,[229] and we are merely told that he was Erenach of Clonmacnoise,
and elsewhere, that he was Comarb of Ciaran and Coman of Roscommon. Like
St. Ciaran himself, he was a native of the co. Roscommon, which bordered
on Clonmacnoise; and he was doubtless educated in that monastery. His
death is recorded under date of A.D. 1088, in all our Annals; and he is
described as a _Saoi_ or Chief Doctor, in Wisdom, Learning, and Oratory.
His bones repose in the holy clay of Clonmacnoise, but the exact place is
not known.

Tighernach truly was one of the greatest Doctors of the Gael. His Annals
are yet extant, and prove him to have been a man of great and various
learning. Unfortunately we have no perfect copy of his Annals. There are
many gaps in the entries, and the original text has been greatly defaced
by the errors of ignorant copyists. Dr. O'Conor's edition in the _Rerum
Hibernicarum Scriptores_ is by no means faultless, and the book is so rare
and expensive, that although Tighernach is much talked about he is very
little read.

Both Flann of the Monastery and Tighernach have done much to fix the true
chronology of Irish historical events. They were men of wide culture, and
were familiar with the great Ecclesiastical historians--Eusebius, Jerome,
Orosius, Africanus--and followed their example in giving a sketch of
universal history in the opening pages of their Annals. They were
acquainted not merely with the chronology of the Bible, like several of
their predecessors, but also with the history and chronology of Greece and
Rome and the great Eastern Empires. The special value of their work is
that for the first time in our history they synchronize the leading facts
in Irish history with the great events of the general history of
antiquity. They were perfectly well acquainted with the use of the
Olympian Era, the Era from the Building of the City, and the Christian
Era, and were thus enabled to fix the true dates of the reigns of our
early monarchs. This was no easy task; for hitherto there were confused
lists of Kings often handed down by memory with the length of their
reigns; but there was, so to speak, no definite starting point. Tighernach
himself, who was a man of highly critical mind, saw this difficulty, and
made the famous statement that before the reign of Cimbaeth and the
founding of Emania all the historical monuments of the Scots were
uncertain. It is strange indeed that he dates our authentic history from
the reign of a mere provincial king. The real reason, however, seems to be
that from Cimbaeth forward, he found in the poems of Eochaidh O'Flinn
definite lists of the Ulster Kings, and of the High Kings also, which
enabled him to trace their genealogy, and fix the dates. But he could find
no such accurate lists of the earlier kings, and hence he pronounces the
bardic histories of the earlier period to be uncertain.

Tighernach was probably the first Irish historian who used the common
era--that of the Incarnation. But in the earlier entries he dates from the
Creation, giving also the Lunar Epact, and the Day of the Week for the
Kalends of January. There are certainly some errors in these dates; but
they have arisen probably from the ignorance of the transcribers. The
Annals written by himself came down to the date of his death in A.D. 1088;
and the scribe continued them to A.D. 1178. Various subsequent additions
were made by different writers down to A.D. 1407, where the entire
chronicle ends.

These Annals undoubtedly furnish the earliest and most authentic record
that we possess of our national history. Their author was a man of
judgment, learning, and candour. Hence the statements of Tighernach,
supported as they are by collateral evidence in very many cases, may
always be accepted as authentic history. It is very probable the work was
left in an unfinished state; and this is all the more to be regretted,
because he had materials at hand, very many of which have since
unfortunately perished. The Irish of Tighernach is considered very pure,
like that of Cormac Mac Cullinan, for it was the classic era of the
Gaedhlic language. The Annals, however, are too often half-Latin,
half-Gaedhlic, although the writer could have done the work much better by
adopting either language exclusively.

To Clonmacnoise we also owe the _Chronicon Scotorum_, which has been very
ably edited by the late lamented W. M. Hennessy, and is published in the
Rolls Series. The text is mainly taken from a transcript made by the
celebrated Duald M'Firbis, and now preserved in the Library of Trinity
College, Dublin. O'Curry thought it was a compilation made by
M'Firbis[230] from different sources, but in this opinion that eminent
scholar was mistaken. The work produced by M'Firbis is a mere copy of the
original work, which was undoubtedly composed and preserved at
Clonmacnoise. This is quite evident, as Hennessy remarks, from an entry
made under date of the year A.D. 718 by M'Firbis himself. "A front of two
leaves of the old book out of which I copy this is wanting, and I leave
what is before me of this page for them. I am Dubhaltach Firbisigh."

The entries in this Chronicle of the Scots are very brief and condensed;
but contain scraps of most valuable information not to be found in other
authorities. They are particularly valuable in all that refers to
Clonmacnoise as well as to its neighbouring territories and monastic
houses. In the MS. of the Royal Irish Academy there is prefixed a note
written in Gaedhlic, which attributes the composition of the Chronicle to
Gilla-Christ O'Maeileoin--that is O'Malone--abbot of Clonmacnoise, who
flourished in the twelfth century. This is highly probable. O'Malone was a
very distinguished scholar of Clonmacnoise, and was present at the Synod
of Uisneach held in the year A.D. 1111, of which Synod this Chronicle
alone gives original and detailed information. The writer takes care to
add that Gillachrist Ua Maeileoin, abbot of Cluain, with the congregation
of Ciaran were present at the Synod. The death of this learned abbot is
noticed at A.D. 1123, where he is described as "the fountain of knowledge
and charity, the head of the prosperity and affluence of Erin." In its
present form the Chronicle has been continued by another hand down to the
year A.D. 1150. It is, therefore, a later, but hardly less important
Chronicle, than that of Tighernach himself.

The Four Masters had before them when compiling their own immortal work a
book which they call the _Annals of Clonmacnoise_, coming down to the year
A.D. 1227. It has been conjectured that the Four Masters in that statement
refer to the _Chronicon Scotorum_, which they do not mention under that
name, and which doubtless must have come into their hands. But the
_Chronicon Scotorum_, although it might properly be called the _Annals of
Clonmacnoise_, as having been compiled in that monastery, does not in its
present form come down beyond the year A.D. 1150. Neither can the work
referred to by the Four Masters be the _Book of Clonmacnoise_, translated
by MacGeoghegan in A.D. 1627, for that work comes down to A.D. 1407, and,
moreover, does not contain important passages, which we know were in the
work used by the Four Masters. Our own opinion is that the _Book of
Clonmacnoise_, and the _Annals of Clonmacnoise_, to which the Four
Masters frequently refer, are identical with the _Chronicon Scotorum_, and
that the work in their time did come down to A.D. 1227, but the folios
containing the years from A.D. 1050 to that date have perished from mere
careless use, if not from accident.


Another celebrated work, undoubtedly composed at Clonmacnoise, is the
_Leabhar-na-h-Uidhre_, now in the Royal Irish Academy. A great part of the
work has unfortunately perished, so that the 138 folio pages still
remaining can only be regarded as a fragment. The history of the book is
very strange. The author, or rather compiler, was Maelmuire--that is,
Servant of Mary--a grandson of the celebrated Conn-na-mBocht, or Conn of
the Poor. Conn himself was a holy and learned man, but seems to have never
taken Orders. He was greatly esteemed at Clonmacnoise; and founded an
hospital or refuge for poor laymen, of which he himself seems to have been
the head. He had at least two sons, one called Gellananaeve, arch-priest
of Clonmacnoise, and another called Ceileachair, probably the father of
this Maelmuire. Both were distinguished scholars and writers, whose books
Conal MacGeoghegan quotes as sources for his own _Annals of Clonmacnoise_.
Conn's grandson Maelmuire, must have been a very distinguished scholar,
and was also in all probability a lay brother of the community of
Clonmacnoise. The _Annals of the Four Masters_ record the tragic end of
the industrious scribe. In A.D. 1106 he was slain by a party of robbers in
the midst of the great stone church of Clonmacnoise. His work was written
therefore during the last years of the eleventh, and the beginning of the
twelfth century; and with the exception of the _Book of Armagh_ is, so far
as it goes, the oldest transcript now existing of our great historical

From Clonmacnoise the Book was carried, we know not when or by whom, all
the way to Donegal. About the year A.D. 1340 it was given to O'Connor
Sligo, so an entry in the Book itself informs us, as a ransom for
O'Donnell's chief historian, who had been taken prisoner by Cathal Oge
O'Conor. Donnell O'Conor, a chieftain of the same race, ordered his own
historian, Sigraidh O'Cuirnin, to make an entry of the name of the author,
who composed "this beautiful book," and he made that entry a week before
Good Friday in the year A.D. 1345. It seems that even then the opening
pages were lost, and it is to Donnell O'Conor we owe our knowledge of the
writer, small as it is. The book remained in Sligo, where it was highly
prized, for about 130 years, when the fortune of war brought it back again
to Donegal. In A.D. 1470, Hugh Roe O'Donnell took the Castle of Sligo from
the O'Conors; and amongst other trophies carried off this book again to
Donegal, as the Four Masters proudly record under date of that year. How
it came to the Royal Irish Academy we are not informed, but it is quite
evident that the work was just as highly prized in Sligo and in Donegal,
as it is in the Academy; and what is more to the purpose, the O'Clerys and
O'Cuirnins knew much better how to interpret its contents than any of the
members of that learned body.

The contents of the fragment are of a very varied character, partly
biblical, partly historical, partly old romantic tales. One of the most
important documents contained in the _Leabhar-na-h-Uidhre_ is the ancient
elegy on Columcille, composed by another bard, the celebrated Dallan
Forgaill so early as the end of the sixth century. This poem is
undoubtedly genuine. The language is so ancient that even the great
scholars of Clonmacnoise in the eleventh century found it necessary to
write an interlinear gloss in order to render it intelligible to ordinary
readers at that early date.


In connection with the School of Clonmacnoise an account of Dicuil, the
celebrated Geographer, as he is called, will not be deemed out of place.
For there is very good reason to believe that he was trained at
Clonmacnoise; and if not trained there, he was certainly a pupil of some
of the Columbian Schools, of which we shall treat in our next chapter. A
sketch of his history and his writings, therefore, is most appropriate in
this place.

Dicuil's treatise, _De Mensura Orbis Terrarum_, is one of the most
interesting monuments of ancient Irish scholarship, and furnishes most
conclusive proof that the culture of our writers and the learning of our
schools in the ninth century were superior to almost anything yet
exhibited in Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. This work
has been published in Paris, but it is now very rare, and hence we purpose
giving a fuller account of its contents than might otherwise be deemed
necessary. It is not to the credit of Irish learning in the present day
that no attempt has been made even by any of our learned Societies to
print this treatise in Ireland. It is to French scholarship we are
indebted for editing and annotating Dicuil's treatise.[231]

Unfortunately we know nothing whatsoever of the personal history of Dicuil
except what can be gathered from a few incidental references which he
makes to himself in this treatise; but these, though very brief, are clear
and definite. He tells us first of all that his name was Dicuil, and that
he finished his task in the spring of the year A.D. 825. Like most of his
countrymen at that time, he was fond of poetry, and gives us this
information in a neat poem, written in Latin hexameters at the end of the
MS., to which we shall refer again. He also implies in his opening
statement, or prologue, that he had already written an _Epistola de
questionibus decem Artis Grammaticae_, which was probably intended to be
copied and circulated amongst the Irish monastic schools of the time, but
of which we know nothing more. He tells us that a certain Suibneus
(Suibhne), or Sweeney, was his master to whom under God he owed whatever
knowledge he possessed. His native country was Ireland, which he describes
in affectionate language as "nostra Hibernia,"--our own Ireland--in
opposition to the foreign countries of which he had been speaking.
Elsewhere he calls it in accordance with the usage of the time _nostra
Scottia_. He also adds when referring to the islands in the north and
north-west of Scotland, that he had dwelt in some of them, he had visited
others, more of them he had merely seen, and some of them he had only read

This is really all the information we have about Dicuil, and from data so
meagre, it is very difficult to identify Dicuil the Geographer, amongst
the many Irish monks who bore that name.

By a careful examination, however, of these and some other facts to which
he refers, we can conjecture with some probability where and by whom he
was educated.

When speaking of Iceland Dicuil refers to information communicated to him
thirty years before by certain Irish clerics, who had spent some months in
that island. This brings us back to A.D. 795, so that when Dicuil wrote
in A.D. 825, he must have been a man considerably advanced in years. We
may infer, too, that his master, Suibhne, to whom he owed so much,
flourished as a teacher at a still earlier period than A.D. 795. There
were several abbots who bore that name between A.D. 750 and A.D. 850; but
it appears to us that the master of Dicuil must have been either Suibhne,
Abbot of Iona, who died in A.D. 772, or Suibhne, son of Cuana, Abbot of
Clonmacnoise, who died in A.D. 816. If Dicuil were, suppose, seventy-five
when he wrote his book, he must have been born in A.D. 750. He would then
be about sixteen years of age when Suibhne, Vice-Abbot of Iona, came over
to his native Ireland in A.D. 766, where he remained some time. Suppose
that Dicuil returned with him as a novice in that year, he could have been
six years under the instruction of Suibhne before that abbot's death in
A.D. 772. It is likely that Dicuil remained in Iona for several years
after the death of his beloved master. It was, doubtless, during these
years that he visited the Scottish islands, and dwelt with some of the
communities whom St. Columba had established there. On this point his own
statement is clear and explicit.

The founder of Iona, Columcille, with his kinsmen, originally came from
Donegal, and the monastery seems to have been principally recruited at all
times by members of the Cenel-conal race. Amongst the saints who were
called Dicuil, or Diucholl, were two who were venerated in Donegal; one
the son of Neman, whose memory was venerated at Kilmacrenan on December
25th; the other was Dicuil of Inishowen, whose feast-day is December 18th.
The latter is described as a hermit; and it may be that our geographer,
after his return from Iona, retired to a life of solitude in Inishowen,
and there, towards the close of his life, composed this treatise, of which
the most valuable portion is that containing the reminiscences of his
early life in the Scottish islands.

The chief difficulty against this hypothesis, that Suibhne, Dicuil's
master, was the Abbot of Iona who died in A.D. 772, is the great age at
which, in that case, the pupil must have written his book, in A.D. 825.
The monks of those days, however, were often intellectually and physically
vigorous at the age of eighty, and even of ninety years.

The other hypothesis certainly fits in better with the dates; so we must
assume that Dicuil was trained at the great College of Clonmacnoise, which
at this period was certainly the most celebrated school in Ireland, if not
in Europe. Suibhne, we are told, was abbot for two years before his
death, in A.D. 816; but had been, no doubt, for many years previously, a
_fer-legind_, or professor in Clonmacnoise. It was nothing new for the
younger monks to travel to other religious houses in pursuit of knowledge
and sanctity; and in this way Dicuil, like so many of his countrymen,
would visit Iona and the Scottish islands.

The treatise _De Mensura Orbis Terrarum_ is very valuable as affording
evidence of the varied classical culture that existed in our Irish
monastic schools at this period. In the prologue the author tells us that
he derived his information mainly from two sources; first, from the Report
of the Commissioners whom the divine Emperor Theodosius had sent to survey
the provinces of the Roman Empire; and secondly, from the excellent work
of Plinius Secundus--that is, the _Natural History_ which is so well known
to scholars. Dicuil complains that the manuscripts of the Report in his
possession were very faulty; but still, being of more recent date than
Pliny's work, he values it more highly. He adds that he leaves vacant
places in his own manuscript for the numbers, in order to be able to fill
them in afterwards when he can verify or correct them by collating his own
with other manuscripts of the Report. He also quotes numerous passages
from other writers, who, we are afraid, are not very familiar to the
classical scholars of our own times. The first of these works is that of
Caius Julius Solinus, known as the Polyhistor. Of his personal history we
know as little as we do of Dicuil himself. He flourished about the middle
of the third century, and appears to have borrowed his matter, and
sometimes even his language, from Pliny's _Natural History_. The contents
of this work of Solinus may be inferred from the title of an English
translation, published in A.D. 1587: "_The Excellent and Pleasant Work of
Julius Solinus, Polyhistor, containing the Noble Actions of Humaine
Creatures, the Secretes and Providence of Nature, the Description of
Countries, the Manners of the People, &c., &c._ Translated out of the
Latin by Arthur Golding, Gent." Another work, equally unknown to the
present generation, but frequently quoted by Dicuil, is the _Periegesis_
of Priscian. It is a metrical translation into Latin hexameters of a Greek
work bearing the same title, which was originally composed by Dionysius,
surnamed from that fact Periegetes, or the "Traveller," in Goldsmith's
sense. He appears to have flourished in the second half of the third
century of the Christian era.

Such are the principal authorities whom Dicuil follows; and as he knew
nothing of foreign countries himself, he cites his authorities textually
for the benefit of his own countrymen. It is surely a singular and
interesting fact that we should find an Irish monk, in the beginning of
the ninth century, collating and criticising various manuscripts of those
writers either in some Irish monastic school at home, or in the equally
Irish school of Iona, though surrounded by Scottish waters and in view of
the Scottish hills.

For us, however, the information which Dicuil gives us of his own
knowledge, or gathered from his own countrymen, is far more valuable; and
to this we would especially invite the reader's attention.

In the sixth chapter, when speaking of the Nile, he says

    "Although we never read in any book that any branch of the Nile flows
    into the Red Sea, yet Brother Fidelis[232] told in my presence, to my
    master Suibhne (to whom, under God, I owe whatever knowledge I
    possess), that certain clerics and laymen from Ireland, who went to
    Jerusalem on pilgrimage, sailed up the Nile for a long way."

--and thence continued their voyage by canal to the entrance of the Red

This Irish pilgrimage to Jerusalem is worthy of notice, for many of our
critics where they find mention of such pilgrimages to Rome and to
Jerusalem in the Lives of our early Saints, seem to regard it as an
exaggeration, if not a kind of pious fraud. But here we have the testimony
of one in every way worthy of credit, who himself spoke to such pilgrims
after their return from the Holy Land.

Then their testimony is peculiarly valuable in reference to a vexed
geographical question regarding the existence of a navigable canal in
those days from the Nile to the Red Sea. A canal called the "River of
Ptolemy" and afterwards "The River of Trajan," was certainly cut from the
Pelusiac branch of the Nile to the Red Sea at Arisnoe. It was certainly
open for commerce in the time of Trajan, but during the decline of the
Roman empire became partially filled with sand. Trajan, it seems, however,
when re-opening the canal connected it with the Nile at a point higher up
the river than the old route, opposite Memphis, near Babylon, in order
that the fresh water might flow through the canal and help to keep it
open. Under the Arabians this canal of Trajan was re-opened, but
geographers have asserted that it became choked shortly afterwards and
remained so ever since. The testimony of the Irish pilgrims quoted by
Dicuil is the only satisfactory evidence that we now possess to prove that
this canal was open at the end of the eighth century for the purposes of
commerce and navigation.[233]

The pilgrims also give some interesting information with reference to the
Pyramids, which they call the "Barns of Joseph." "The pilgrims," he says,
"saw them from the river rising like mountains four in one place and three
in another." Then they landed to view these wonders close at hand and
coming to one of the three greater pyramids, they saw eight men and one
woman and a great lion stretched dead beside it. The lion had attacked
them, and the men in turn had attacked the lion with their spears, with
the result that all perished in the mutual slaughter, for the place was a
desert and there was no one at hand to help then. From top to bottom the
pyramids were all built of stone, square at the base, but rounded towards
the summit, and tapering to a point. The aforesaid brother Fidelis
measured one of them, and found that the square face was 400 feet in
length. Going thence by the canal to the Red Sea, they found the passage
across to the eastern shore at the Road of Moses to be only a short
distance. The brother who had measured the base of the pyramid wished to
examine the exact point where Moses had entered the Red Sea, in order to
try if he could find any traces of the Chariots of Pharaoh, or the wheel
tracks; but the sailors were in a hurry and would not allow him to go on
this excursion. The breadth of the sea at this point appeared to him to be
about six miles. Then they sailed up this narrow bay which once kept the
murmuring Israelites from returning to Egypt.

This is a very interesting and manifestly authentic narrative. Another
interesting chapter is that in which Dicuil describes Iceland and the
Faroe Islands. "It is now thirty years," he says, "since certain clerics,
who remained in that island (Ultima Thule) from the 1st of February to the
1st of August, told me that not only at the Summer solstice, (as Solinus
said), but also for several days about the solstice, the setting sun at
eventide merely hid himself, as it were, for a little behind a hill, so
that there was no darkness even for a moment, and whatever a man wished to
do, if it were only to pick vermin off his shirt--vol pediculos de camisia
abstrahere--he could do as it were in the light of the sun, and if he were
on a mountain of any height, he could doubtless see the sun all through."
This way of putting it is certainly more graphic than elegant, but it is
at the same time strictly accurate, and shows that the Irish monks had
really spent the summer in Iceland. For the arctic circle just touches the
extreme north of Iceland, and therefore in any part of that country the
sun would even at the solstice set for a short time, but it would be only,
as it were, going behind a hill to reappear in an hour or in half an hour.
So that by the aid of refraction and twilight a man would always have
light enough to perform even those delicate operations to which Dicuil

He then observes with much acuteness that at the middle point of this
brief twilight it is midnight at the equator, or middle of the earth; and
in like manner he infers that about the Winter solstice there must be
daylight for a very short time in Thule, when it is noonday at the
equator. These observations show a keen observant mind, and would lead us
to infer that Dicuil, like his countryman Virgilius, who flourished a
little earlier, had been taught the sphericity of the earth in the schools
of his native country. He says also in this same chapter, what is
certainly true, that those writers are greatly mistaken who describe the
Icelandic Sea as always frozen, and who say that there is a perpetual day
from Spring to Autumn, and perpetual night from Autumn to Spring. For the
Irish monks sailed thither, he says, through an open sea in a month of
great natural cold, and whilst they were there enjoyed alternate day and
night except about the Summer solstice, as already explained. But one
day's sail further north brought them to the frozen sea.

Dicuil's reference to Iceland is interesting from another point of view.
In almost all our books of popular instruction, and even in many standard
works on geography, it is stated that the Danes, or Norwegians,
"discovered" Iceland about the year A.D. 860, and shortly afterward
colonized it during the reign of Harold Harfager. But Dicuil clearly shows
that it was well known to Irish monks at least more than half a century
before Dane or Norwegian ever set foot on the island, as is now generally
admitted by scholars who are familiar with Icelandic literature and

The following interesting passage which shows the roving spirit that
animated some of the Irish monks at that period is contained in the third
section of the same seventh chapter. "There are several other islands in
the ocean to the north of Britain, which can be reached in a voyage of two
days and two nights with a favourable breeze. A certain trustworthy monk
(religiosus) told me that he reached one of them by sailing for two summer
days and one night in a vessel with two benches of rowers (duorum
navicula transtrorum). Some of these islands are very small and separated
by narrow straits. In these islands for almost a hundred years there dwelt
hermits, who sailed there from our own Ireland (nostra Scottia). But now
they are once more deserted, as they were from the beginning, on account
of the ravages of the Norman pirates. They are, however, still full of
sheep, and of various kinds of sea birds. We have never found these
islands mentioned by any author."

It is quite evident that Dicuil here refers to the Faroe Islands, which
are about 250 miles north of the Scottish coast. A glance at the map will
show that they are rather small, and separated from each other by very
narrow channels, and in this respect differing from the Shetland Islands,
to which this description could not therefore apply. Besides, the
Shetlands are only 50 miles from the Orkneys, and about 100 from the
mainland; hence they could easily be reached in a single day by an open
boat sailing before a favourable wind; whereas the islands occupied by the
Irish hermits could only be reached after a voyage of two days and a
night, even in the most favourable circumstances. The word "nostra
Scottia" of course refers to Ireland; for up to the time that Dicuil
wrote, that word had never been applied to North Britain. Skene, himself a
learned Scot, has shown by numerous citations from ancient authors that
beyond all doubt the name "Scottia" was applied to Ireland, and to Ireland
alone, prior to the tenth century.[234] Up to that time the name of
Scotland was Alban or Albania.

The love of the ancient Irish monks for island solitudes is one of the
most remarkable features in their character. There is hardly an island
round our coasts, which does not contain the remains of some ancient
oratory or monastic cells. But they did not always remain in sight of
land. Inspired partly with the hope of finding a "desert" in the ocean,
partly, no doubt, also with a love of adventure and a vague hope of
discovering the "Land of Promise," they sailed out into the Atlantic in
their currachs in search of these lonely islands. Every one has heard of
the seven years' voyage of St. Brendan in the western ocean. St. Ailbe of
Emly had resolved to find out the island of Thule, which the Roman
geographers placed somewhere in the northern sea. He was, however,
prevented from going himself, but "he sent twenty men into exile over the
sea in his stead."[235] St. Cormac the Navigator, made three voyages in
the pathless ocean seeking some desert island where he might devote
himself to an eremitic life. It is highly probable he went as far north as
Iceland; for Adamnan tells us that he sailed northwards for fourteen days,
until he was frightened by the sight of the monsters of the deep, when he
returned home touching on his way at the Orkney islands.

When the Norwegians first discovered Iceland in A.D. 860, they found Irish
books, and bells, and pilgrims' staffs, or croziers, which were left there
by men who professed the Christian religion and whom the Norwegians called
"papas" or "fathers." Dicuil, however, gives us the earliest authentic
testimony that Iceland and the Faroe Isles had been discovered and
occupied by Irish monks long before the Danes or Norwegians discovered
these islands. Of Ireland itself, Dicuil unfortunately gives us no
information. He was writing for his own countrymen, and he assumed that
they knew as much about Ireland--"our own Ireland"--as he did. The only
observation he makes in reference to Ireland is that there were islands
round the coast, and that some were small, and others very small. But he
takes one quotation from Solinus, who says that--

    "Britain is surrounded by many important islands, one of which,
    Ireland, approaches to Britain itself in size. It abounds in pastures
    so rich, that if the cattle are not sometimes driven away from them
    they run the risk of bursting. The sea between Britain and Ireland is
    so wide and stormy throughout the entire year that it is only
    navigable on a very few days. The channel is about 120 miles broad."

Dicuil, however, good Irishman as he was, does not quote two other
statements which Solinus made about the pre-Christian Scots--for he wrote
before the time of St. Patrick--first, that the Irish recognised no
difference between right and wrong at all; and, secondly, that they fed
their children from the point of the sword--a rather inconvenient kind of
spoon we should think. In fact the Romans of those days knew as little,
and wrote as confidently, about Ireland as most Englishmen do at present,
and that is saying a good deal.

There is one incidental reference in Dicuil--chapter V., section
ii.--which is of the highest importance, because it settles the question
as to the nationality of the celebrated Irish poet, Sedulius, the author
of the hymns _Crudelis Herodes_ and _A solis ortus Cardine_, in the Roman
Breviary. Dicuil quoting twelve lines of poetry from the Report of the
Commissioners of Theodosius, observes, that the first foot of the seventh
and eighth of these hexameter lines is an amphimacrus. Here are the

  "Cōnfĭcī ter quinis aperit cum fastibus annum.
  Sūpplĭcēs hoc famuli, dum scribit, pingit et alter."

"At the same time," says Dicuil, "I do not think it was from ignorance of
prosody these lines were so written, for the writers had the authority of
other poets in their favour, and especially of Virgil, whom in similar
cases _our own Sedulius_ imitated, and he, in his heroic stanzas, rarely
uses feet different from those of Virgil and the classical poets." "Noster
Sedulius," here applied to the great religious poet by his own countryman,
in the ninth century, settles the question of his Irish birth. The reader
will observe also, what a keen critic Dicuil was of Latin poetry, and will
probably come to the conclusion that they knew Prosody better in the Irish
schools of the ninth than they do in those of the nineteenth century.

In the closing stanzas of his own short poem on the classic mountains,
Dicuil implies that he finished his work in the Spring of A.D. 825, when
night gives grateful rest to the wearied oxen who had covered the
seed-wheat in the dusty soil.

  "Post octingentos viginti quinque peractos
  Summi annos Domini terrae, aethrae, carceris atri,
  Semine triticeo sub ruris pulvere tecto
  Nocte bobus requies largitur fine laboris."



  "I hold it truth with him who sings
    To one clear harp in divers tones,
    That men may rise on stepping stones
  Of their dead selves to higher things."


Columba was the greatest saint of the Celtic race; and after St. Patrick,
he is the most striking figure in our Celtic history. He was a poet, a
statesman, and a scholar, as well as a great missionary saint--the apostle
of many tribes, and the founder of many churches. His name is dear to
every child of the Scottic race both in Erin and Alba; and what is
stranger still, monk and priest though he was, his memory is cherished not
only by Catholics but by Protestants and even by Presbyterians also.

His adventurous career has a strange dramatic interest of its own. He was
fortunate too in finding a biographer, who has written his Life in a
spirit of loving sympathy; and in our own times the biographer has found
an editor to publish and illustrate his work with great learning and
complete impartiality.[236]

Columba was a typical Celt, and seems to have been endowed by nature with
all the virtues and many of the failings of the Celtic race. He was
generous, warm-hearted, imaginative; he hated injustice and oppression; he
was capable of the tenderest friendship, passionately fond of his native
land, and filled with enthusiastic zeal for the propagation of the Gospel.
Yet he had his faults. He was fiery and impetuous, impatient of
contradiction, and too easily prone to anger and revenge. But this is his
glory that with God's help he conquered his faults; and therefore it is we
love him because he is so human, so like ourselves in all things. It gives
us greater confidence in the struggle, when we have a patron saint who
can have compassion on our infirmities because he was tried like us in all
things; and, if we are to believe the story of his life, not altogether
without sin. It is well too that he should be for us an example of perfect
penance; even as he schooled himself in patient endurance, and all other
noble virtues.

We, however, have to deal with Columba mainly as a scholar, a teacher, and
a writer--the founder of many schools, the patron of learning, the
protector and the idol of all the Bards of Erin. It is perhaps best in
sketching the literary history of St. Columba to make separate reference
to each of the great schools which he established, and at the same time to
give an account of those events which brought him into connection with the
various scenes in which he played so striking a part. We shall therefore
begin with the School of Derry, which was the first he founded in his own
native territory. First of all, however, it is necessary to know something
of his own early history.

St. Columba was born at Gartan, in the barony of Kilmacrenan, co. Donegal,
on the 7th of December, in the year A.D. 521.[237] It is a very wild but
beautiful district, surrounded by dark rugged mountains, which cast their
shadows over a beautiful sheet of water stretched at their base, sometimes
called Lough Veagh, but more properly Lough Gartan. His father, Felim
(Fedhlimidh) was prince of the surrounding district, and a scion of the
royal race of Niall the Great, or Niall of the Nine Hostages, and his
mother was Eithne, the daughter of a Leinster Chief, who came of the
equally royal line of Cathaeir Mor, a famous High King of Erin in the
second century of the Christian era. Most justly, therefore, does his
biographer, Adamnan, say that Columba was sprung from noble parentage, for
he was, through Conal Gulban, the great-grandson of Niall the Great. The
reigning king at his birth, Muircertach (Murtogh) Mac Erca, was his uncle,
of the half blood; and he himself might one day be qualified not only to
rule over the Cenel-Conal, but even to be elected High King of all

There is no trace at present of any royal rath or ancient fort at Gartan,
so far as we could ascertain. The land around is naked and barren, and the
cabins of the cottagers are even poorer and blacker than may be seen
elsewhere in Donegal. About a quarter of a mile from the place of the
saint's birth, there is an old ruined church and church-yard; but
although certainly ancient, the church does not appear to have been coeval
with Columba himself. It was probably founded some years after his death,
when the place began to obtain some celebrity as the birth-place of so
great a saint.

But the flag, on which he was born, is pointed out to every visitor; and
there can hardly be any doubt that the tradition fixing the spot is
continuous and trustworthy. It is worn quite bare by the hands and feet of
pious pilgrims; and what is stranger still, the poor emigrants, who are
about to quit Donegal for ever, come and sleep on that flag the night
before their departure from Derry. Columba himself was an exile, and they
fondly hope that sleeping on the spot where he was born will help them to
bear with lighter heart the heavy burden of the exile's sorrows.

Shortly after his birth the child was brought from Gartan to Tulach
Dubhglaisse to be baptized by an old priest named Cruithnechan, who dwelt
there. It is now called Temple-Douglas, and the old church and church-yard
beside the dark stream is still there about mid-way between Gartan and
Letterkenny. There is a parish called Kilcronaghan in the Co. Derry, which
is supposed to take its name from the 'illustrious priest,' who had the
privilege of baptizing Columcille, and who was also his tutor and

The boy, however, seems to have spent the years of his early youth mostly
at Kil-mac-nenain--now corrupted into Kilmacrenan--which was in all
probability, even at that early period, a place of note in Tir-connell. In
after times it became celebrated as the place where the O'Donnells were
inaugurated as princes of Tir-connell. It is about three miles north of
Temple-Douglas, and about the same distance to the north-east of Gartan.
The place is supposed to have got its name from the 'Son of Enan,' whose
mother was Columba's sister.

We need not specially refer to the visions and prophecies concerning
Columba, which are given in his various Lives. The authentic facts of his
history are quite as strange and marvellous as any one can desire--in fact
his whole life was a miracle of grace. From the fact that the 'illustrious
priest,' who baptized Columba, is also described by Adamnan as his
fosterer--_pueri nutritor_--we may fairly infer that he was trained by
that holy man in the rudiments of learning, both in his native tongue and
in the Latin language. It illustrates what was quite a common custom in
days when schools were few and far between. The boy designed for the
Church was placed under the care of the priest or bishop, and was thus
trained in virtue and learning from his earliest years under the eyes of
one whose duty and interest it was to watch over him with the most zealous

We know little, however, of Columba's history until he came from
Kilmacrenan to the more famous School of St. Finnian at Moville, near the
head of Strangford Lough. We have already given an account of the seminary
founded there by that great saint. At Moville Columba was ordained a
deacon; and here also, according to one account, his baptismal name of
Crimthann was changed by his young companions into that other name the
"Dove of the Church"--Columcille--by which he is best known to history.
Dr. Reeves, however, seems to think that he was called Colum at his
baptism, and that cille was merely added by his companions because he so
loved to haunt the church, when they would have him play. We learn from
Adamnan that whilst he was at Moville, the young saint devoted his
attention chiefly to the study of Sacred Scripture, of which Finnian was a
most distinguished professor. We have the sober testimony of the same
Adamnan that whilst the saint was a deacon at Moville no wine could be
found on a certain festival day for the "Sacrificial Mystery." Whilst the
ministers at the altar were complaining of the want of the wine, the
deacon took a cruet to the well, as it was his duty to procure and taste
the water for the Holy Sacrifice. Knowing that the wine was wanting, he
invoked our Lord Jesus Christ, and lo! the water in his hands was changed
into wine, as it once was at Cana of Galilee; and he brought it to Bishop
Finnian for the Sacrifice, who gave thanks to God on account of this
wondrous miracle.

It is not certain whether it was at this period or later on that Columba
made that furtive copy of Finnian's Gospel, which subsequently begot so
much trouble, and appears to have been the main cause of the bloody battle
of Cuil-dreimhne in Carberry, co. Sligo. We have referred to this incident
before, and we may have to refer to it again, when we come to explain the
causes of Columba's departure from Erin.

From Moville Columba, still a deacon, went southward to the plains of
Leinster, and placed himself under the instruction of an aged bard called
Gemman. The young deacon had a soul for music; and he greatly loved the
Bards, who sang of the brave deeds of warrior kings and ancient heroes. He
wished, also, to perfect himself in his own native tongue, and to become a
pupil in the School of the Bards was the recognised way to study the
language and literature of Erin, such as it was at that time. But he was
also learning 'divine wisdom' in Leinster at the same time, probably at
the School of St. Finnian of Clonard, which was on the borders of Meath
and Leinster.

There a very striking incident took place, which is in itself evidence of
the lawless character of the times, and the necessity of the presence of
some moral power with a divine sanction to hold that savagery in check. It
happened one day that whilst Gemman, the Bard, was sitting in the open
field reading his book, he saw a young girl flying to him for protection
from the attacks of a ruffian, who pursued her closely as she fled. Gemman
called to his disciple Columba who was close at hand, and both of them
sought to protect the maiden from the violence of her assailant. But he,
heedless of the reverence due both to the deacon and the bard, pierced the
maiden with his lance, even as she sought shelter in vain behind their
cloaks. She fell dead at their feet, but Columba, divinely inspired, cried
out that her soul would fly to heaven, and the murderer's soul would fly
as quickly to hell. No sooner was the word spoken, than the wretch fell
dead before them, and the name of God and of Columba was greatly magnified
through all the neighbouring country.

We have already spoken of the great College of Clonard founded by St.
Finnian, who is quite distinct from his namesake of Moville. We have seen
that Columba was there, and was recognised as one of the Twelve Apostles
of Erin, who were trained up together at that great seminary in all sacred
learning. He was about twenty-two years of age at this period, for he was
not yet ordained a priest, so that we may fix the period of his sojourn at
Clonard about the year A.D. 543. The immediate purpose of Columba's
studies at Clonard was to prepare himself for the priesthood. There he was
trained by the most celebrated master of Erin in all the virtue and
learning necessary for that holy state. He built his little cell close to
the church, and when he was not engaged in study, or attending his
lectures, he was nearly always to be found before the altar in prayer.
Though of the royal blood of Tara's kings, he was humble, and took his
turn at the quern, or hand-mill, grinding the corn that was necessary for
himself and his companions. Their chief food was bread and water, or a
little milk, when it could be had. No doubt from time to time they might
succeed in catching some fish in the River Boyne, which flows through the
meadows around Clonard. It was a simple life, but a happy and a heavenly
one, when the youthful Apostles of Erin wandered together by the banks of
that historic stream, or gathered round their venerable master to hear his
lectures, as he sat on the old moat of Clonard, or to listen to his
burning words in his little church, when he exhorted them to the love of
God and the contempt of all worldly things for God's sake.

It was the custom in those days for the students to visit the various
saints of Erin, who were celebrated for holiness and learning; and so we
find that Columba, when he had finished his studies under Finnian of
Clonard, directed his steps to the school of another great master of the
spiritual life, St. Mobhi Clarainech of Glasnevin. Before his departure,
however, from Clonard, according to one account, the saint was ordained a
priest,[239] not by Finnian, for he does not appear to have been bishop,
but by Etchen of Clonfad, which is situated a little west of Clonard, and
who doubtless exercised at that time the episcopal jurisdiction, which was
afterwards exercised by the prelates of Clonard. It is said that it was
Finnian's purpose to have Columba ordained a bishop on this occasion, but
through some mistake on the part of Bishop Etchen, he was only ordained a
priest. Deeming it providential, Columba in his humility would never
afterwards consent to be raised to the episcopal dignity.[240]

The students' cells at Glasnevin were situated on one side of the River
Tolka, and Mobhi's church was on the other, at or near the spot where the
Protestant church now stands. The light-footed youngsters of those days,
however, found no difficulty in crossing the rapid and shallow stream at
ordinary times. But when the river was swollen with heavy rains, it was no
easy task to breast the flood; yet such was Columba's zeal in the service
of God that on one such occasion, to his master's admiration and surprise,
he crossed the angry torrent, that he might be present as usual at the
exercises in the church. "May God be praised," said Columba, when he had
crossed safely over, "and deliver us from these perils in future." It is
said that his prayer was heard; and that all the cells, with their
occupants, were suddenly transferred to the other side of the stream, and
remained there ever after.

It was doubtless during his leisure hours, while under Mobhi's care at
Glasnevin, that Columba used to ramble out to the Hill of Howth, and
sitting on the brow of its lofty cliffs, gaze in pensive mood over the
wide spreading sea, and contemplate, with a poet's eye, all the stern
grandeur of that iron-bound coast. He fed his soul on the glorious vision,
and in after years, when surrounded by the sterile rocks of Iona, his sad
thoughts often turned to those scenes of his youth, and found expression
in words that cannot fail to touch a sympathetic chord in every heart.

  "Delightful to be on Benn-Edar
  Before crossing o'er the white sea,
  (To see) the dashing of the waves against its brow,
  The bareness of its shore, and its border.

  Delightful to be (once more) on Benn-Edar
  After crossing the white-bosomed sea;
  To row one's little coracle,
  Ochone! on its swift-waved shore.

  Ah, rapid the speed of my coracle;
  And its stern turned on Derry;
  I grieve at my errand o'er the noble sea,
  Travelling to Alba of the ravens.

  My foot in my sweet little coracle;
  My sad heart still bleeding;
  Weak is the man that cannot lead,
  Totally blind are the ignorant (of God's will.)"

Columba had for companions at Glasnevin St. Cannech, St. Ciaran, and St.
Comgall--and during their entire lives a tender and ardent friendship
united these holy men together. A pestilence which broke out in A.D. 544,
and of which St. Ciaran appears to have died, scattered the holy disciples
of St. Mobhi's School; so Columba resolved to return home to his native

When he crossed the stream then called the Bior, but now called the Moyola
Water, which flows into Lough Neagh at its north-western extremity, he
earnestly prayed to God to stay the ravages of the terrible "Buidhe
Chonnaill" on the southern banks of that stream, so that it might not
invade the territories of his kinsmen. His earnest prayer was heard, and
thus Tir-Owen and Tir-Connell escaped the dreadful plague.


Columba was now a priest twenty-five years of age; and he began to think
of founding a church in his native territory. The _Annals of Ulster_
record the founding of Derry by Columba in the year A.D. 545;[241] and it
was brought about in this way. The first cousin of St. Columba, Ainmire,
son of Setna, who succeeded to the throne of Tara later on, was in A.D.
545 prince of Ailech and the neighbouring territory. His eldest son Aedh,
was then a boy of ten years; but it seems, according to O'Donnell's _Life
of Columba_, the king in the name of his son Aedh, offered the fort in
which he then dwelt on the site of the present city of Derry to his cousin
in order to found his church and monastery. Columba, however, was at first
unwilling to accept the gift, because his master Mobhi had not yet given
him, as was customary, permission to found a church--doubtless thinking
him too young and inexperienced. But Mobhi himself was taken sick, and
died of the plague in A.D. 544, shortly after Columba had left him; and
before he died he retracted his prohibition, and sent two of his disciples
to Columba with his girdle as a sign to give him full permission to act as
he pleased. These messengers had just then arrived; and so Columba gladly
accepted the gift of his cousin, and founded his church on, what was
called then and long after, the Island of Derry. It was a rising ground
oval in shape containing 200 acres of land, surrounded on two sides by the
Foyle, and on the third by low marshy ground since known as the 'bog.' The
slopes of the hill were covered with a beautiful grove of oak trees, which
gave its name to the place. In ancient times it was called Daire Calgaich,
but after the tenth century it came to be more commonly known as Daire

Columcille's original church, called the Dubh-Regles, was built close to
the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral; and hence it was
outside the walls of the modern city. Nigh to it were three wells
anciently known as Adamnan's Well, and Martin's Well, and Columba's Well.
One of them is, it appears, now dry; and the others are called simply "St.
Columb's Wells." Near to the church there was also erected a round tower,
which in like manner has completely disappeared. So anxious was Columba to
spare the beautiful oak-grove which covered the hill, that he would not
even build his church with the chancel towards the east according to
custom, because in that case some of his beloved oaks should be cut down
to make room for the church. It was probably for the same reason he built
on the low ground at the foot of the hill, instead of on its slope or
summit, where the modern city stands. He strictly enjoined his successors
to spare the sacred grove, and even directed in case any of the trees were
blown down by the storm to give a part to the poor, a part to the
citizens, and to reserve another part as fuel for the guest-house. In
later ages a cathedral called Templemore was built on the slope of the
hill; and the Dominicans, Augustinians, and Franciscans had each a church
and a monastery in the city of St. Columba. It also seems that a
Cistercian convent was founded there, but not a trace of any of them now
remains; so effectually did the imported colonists change the physical as
well as the religious aspect of the city.

We know very little of the history of Derry during the period that Columba
ruled over his monastery in person. He always loved it dearly, and many a
time his heart turned fondly from his lonely island in the Scottish main
to his beloved Derry.

  "The reason I love Derry is
  For its peace, for its purity,
  And for its crowds of white angels
  From one end to the other.

  My Derry! mine own little grove!
  My dwelling, my dear little cell;
  O eternal God, in heaven above.
  Woe be to him, who violates it!"

From all the highlands and valleys of Tir-connell his kith and kin rallied
round the young monk in his infant monastery. It was built on the
border-land between the territories of Eoghan and Conal; and in after ages
every acre of its termon lands was stained with blood, shed in fratricidal
strife by the two great clans of the north. It stood, too, under the
shadow of that ancient keep, the Grianan of Ailech, which, it is said, was
the abode of the northern kings long before the Christian era. It was
certainly the Royal Fortress of the Hy-Niall in their proudest days, and
still rears its stately walls, that overlook at once the Foyle and the
Swilly, as if in silent scorn of time and storm and man.

It will help us to understand better the subsequent history of Columcille,
if we try now to realize what manner of man he was. He came of a fierce
and haughty race, and seems to have been himself by nature,
notwithstanding his name, a man of ardent temperament and strong passions.
He was, says an ancient commentator,[242] quoting from a still more
ancient poet, "a man of well-formed and powerful frame; his skin was
white, his face was broad and fair and radiant, lit up with large grey
luminous eyes; his large and well-shaped head was crowned (except where he
wore his frontal tonsure) with close and curling hair. His voice was clear
and resonant, so that he could be heard at the distance of fifteen hundred
paces, yet sweet with more than the sweetness of the bards." Truly a great
and striking man to hear and to look at; one to admire but also to fear,
and moreover, animated with lofty purpose, and inspired with all the
dauntless courage of his race. In many respects his character appears to
us to bear a very striking resemblance to the character of the Prince of
the Apostles both in its strength and in its weakness.

Doubtless such a man as we have described, found it not only useful, but
necessary to chastise his body and bring it under subjection. "Though my
devotion is delightful," he is represented as saying of himself, "I sit in
a chair of glass, for I am fleshly and often frail."[243] We are told that
he practised the most extreme austerities. He barely took food enough to
sustain nature, and that was of the simplest kind. "He did not," says the
_Felire_, "take as much in a week as would serve for one meal of a
pauper." He abstained from meat and wine, living exclusively on bread and
water, and vegetables--sometimes contenting himself with nettles. He slept
on the bare ground with a stone for a pillow, and a skin for a coverlid.
Three times at night he rose to pray; and often scored his flesh with the
discipline in atonement for his sins. By day he read, or preached to the
brethren, or recited the divine office; and not unfrequently he took a
share in the manual labour of the monks--carrying on his own broad bare
shoulders the sacks of meal from the mill to the kitchen.

No wonder with such an example before their eyes that the young nobles of
Tirconnell strove with generous emulation to excel each other in the
service of God. What marvel if the white-robed brethren under such a
master became angels in the flesh; and what wonder if God's angels came
down from heaven, and "crowded every leaf on the oaks of Derry," to
listen to such a brotherhood chanting at midnight's hour and at morning's
dawn the inspired strains of the Hebrew Bard?


We know from the express statement of Venerable Bede that Columba founded
the noble monastery of Durrow before he left Ireland for Iona.[244] Like
Derry, it takes its name from an oak-grove; for it means the Plain of the
Oaks--in Irish _Dair-magh_. It was anciently called Ros-grencha--the oak
plain of the far famed Ros-grencha--and also Druim-Cain, or the Beautiful
Hill; and even to-day whoever wanders through the rich pastures and the
stately groves of Durrow will readily admit that it well deserves its
ancient name. It is situated not far from Clara in the barony of
Ballycowan, in the King's County; but in the time of Columcille it formed
part of the ancient kingdom of Teffia. Aedh, son of Brendan, prince of the
territory, gave it to Columcille for the purpose of founding a monastery.
It is true that Brendan himself was alive until A.D. 576; but, as not
unfrequently happened in Erin, after the death of Crimthann in A.D. 533
the lordship passed not to his brother, but to his nephew, Brendan's son,
who doubtless had been previously recognised as the tanist. If, as Bede
says, the monastery was founded before Columba set out for Britain in A.D.
563, it certainly was not completely founded; for several years after
Columba's arrival in Britain we read of the building of the Great House of
the monastery--whether that was, as Petrie thinks, the round tower, or
what is more likely, a larger church than the original one designed to
accommodate the enlarged community.

We may assume then that Durrow was founded about A.D. 553, that is seven
years after the foundation of Derry. By this time the reputation of
Columba had spread far and wide over the entire kingdom. His 'cousins' too
of the Southern Hy-Niall then reigned at Tara, and at this period the
saint seems to be on friendly terms with that branch of his family. Being
so famous and so influential, it is not to be wondered at that Columba was
invited to found monasteries through almost all the northern half of
Ireland to which even Durrow at that period belonged.

Several interesting incidents are recorded by Adamnan in his _Life of
Columba_ having reference to Durrow. The monks, it seems, had an orchard
near the monastery on its southern border, and in the orchard there was
one tree that produced a great abundance of apples; but they were so
bitter that no one would eat them. The saint hearing every one complaining
of the sour apples, raised his hand and blessed the tree in the name of
Almighty God, and lo! at once every apple on the tree became sweet and
good to eat.

Even when he was in Iona Columba was solicitous about his beloved monks of
Durrow. One cold winter's day the saint in Iona was very sad, and shed
silent tears. Diarmait, his attendant, asked what troubled him; and
Columba replied, that he was sore grieved because he saw in spirit how
Laisren, the prior of Durrow, kept his poor monks working on that bitter
day in building the Great House.[245] At the very same moment Laisren in
Durrow found himself moved by some internal suggestion, and bade the
monks, as the weather was so severe, to get their dinner, and take rest
for the remainder of the day. This too was made known in spirit to
Columba, and he greatly rejoiced.

On another occasion during the building of the same Great House, Columba
in spirit saw one of the monks falling from the very top of the roof.
"Help! help!" cried the saint--and lo! the guardian angel of Iona flew to
the monk's aid at the prayer of Columba, and caught him up before he fell
to the ground. Such is the speed of an angel's flight, and the virtue of a
saint's prayer; for it is written, "He hath given His angels charge over
thee; to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee
up; lest thou dash thy foot against a stone."[246]

When Columba was leaving Durrow, he was very anxious to secure the future
well-being of that dear monastery, which next to Derry appears to have
held the highest place in his affection. There is an ancient poem
attributed to the saint in which he describes with loving minuteness the
various charms of Durrow. There the wind sings through the elms, as well
as through the oaks; the blackbird's joyous note is heard at early dawn;
and the cuckoo chants from tree to tree in that noble angelic land--"all
but its government was indeed delightful." Elsewhere the saint speaks
with tenderest feeling of the toll of its soft-toned bell; and the
glories of the woods in beautiful many-coloured Dair-magh.

  "O Cormac, beautiful is that church of thine,
  With its books, with its learning;
  A city devout with its hundred crosses,
  Without blemish, and without transgression."

The reference here is to Cormac Ua Liathain, who seems to have been left
in charge at Durrow, when Columba himself retired to Iona. But Cormac was
a Momonian, as he is called in the dialogue with Columba, and hereditary
jealousy between North and South soon showed itself at Durrow after
Columba's departure. The princes of the Clan-Colman, or Southern Hy-Niall,
objected to have a Momonian the ruler in Durrow, and made it so unpleasant
for Cormac that the latter, without waiting for Columba's permission,
resolved to leave the government of Durrow to Laisren, the first cousin of
Columba, and seek for himself a desert isle in the ocean to be the place
of his rest and resurrection.

With a few companions he set out from Killala, and sailed the northern
seas for two long years, but yet could find no island home in the northern
main. After perils and hardships untold, he and his famished crew
succeeded in reaching Iona, where they were kindly welcomed by Columba.
But when Columba discovered why it was that Cormac had sailed so long
'over the all-teeming sea, from port to port and from wave to wave,' his
brow grew stern; and he felt much inclined to rebuke Cormac severely for
his disobedience. "Thou art welcome," he said; "since the sea hath sent
thee hither--else thou hath merited satire and reproach."[247]

Columba then urges on Cormac to return back again to his monastery in
Durrow; he enlarges on the beauty of that devout city with its books, and
its learning, and its hundred crosses; he describes how sweet is the
blackbird's song and the music of the wind, as it murmurs through the elms
on the Oak-plain of far-famed Ros-grencha; he promises Cormac that he will
cause the Clann-Colman of the reddened swords to protect the monastery of
Durrow; "and I pledge thee my unerring word," he said, "which may not be
impugned, that death is better in reproachless Erin than life for ever in

Still Cormac was unwilling to return--"How can I go there amongst the
powerful northern tribes in that border land, O Colum? and if it is
better to be in noble Erin than in inviolate Alba, do thou return to Erin
and leave me at least by turns in Alba." The discussion grew warm between
the two saints; but it appears to have ended amicably. Cormac was allowed
to remain for a time in Iona, and afterwards to found a monastery of his
own in Tyrawley, on condition that he used his influence with his southern
kinsmen to make them pay their alms and dues to the monastery of Durrow.

The two Irish poems printed by Colgan and Bishop Reeves giving an account
of these events, can scarcely in their present form be regarded as the
composition of Columcille. There can hardly be any doubt, however, that
they convey a truthful narrative of the facts, and were in their original
form the work of Columcille himself.

Whilst Columba was at Durrow he wrote, as far as we can judge with his own
hands, the celebrated copy of the Gospels, known as the _Book of Durrow_.
That the saint was an accomplished scribe is certain; we know from many
passages in his life that he spent much time in copying parts of the
sacred volume; and he was engaged in the same pious labour when he felt
the call of death, and asked Baithen "to write the rest." We shall see
later on how he copied stealthily Finnian's MS. of the Gospels, which
afterwards led to serious trouble and much bloodshed in Erin.

The _Book of Durrow_ is a highly ornamental copy of the Four Gospels
according to Jerome's version, then recently introduced in Ireland. It is
written across the page in single columns, and the MS. also contains the
Epistle of St. Jerome to Pope Damasus, an explanation of certain Hebrew
names, with the Eusebian Canons and synoptical tables. It has also
symbolical representations of the Evangelists, and many pages of coloured
ornamentation--spiral, interlaced, and tesselated.[249] There is a partly
obliterated entry on the back of fol. 12, praying for "a remembrance of
the scribe, Columba, who wrote this evangel in the space of twelve days."
That Columba was indeed the scribe who wrote this manuscript is rendered
still more probable from the old tradition that he with his own hands
wrote a copy of the Gospels for each of the monasteries which he had
founded. We have already seen that the _Book of Derry_ was lost, but
fortunately the _Book of Durrow_ and the _Book of Kells_ are still in
existence. It is referred to by O'Clery in the _Martyrology of Donegal_,
"as having gems and silver on its cover," and was seen by Connell Mac
Geoghegan, the translator of the _Annals of Clonmacnoise_, who made an
entry at the foot of folio 116 in the year A.D. 1623. It was then at
Durrow, but passed into the possession of Henry Jones, Vice-Chancellor of
Trinity College in the time of Cromwell. O'Flaherty saw it in A.D. 1677,
and fortunately then deciphered the inscription on the cover, and entered
it on the fly-leaf of the manuscript. The cover has since disappeared with
its gems and its silver cross--but thanks to O'Flaherty we know the
inscription, which it bore in Irish--Oroith agus benedacht Coluimcille do
Fland Macc Mailshechnaill do righ Erenn las a ndernad a cumdach so.

"The prayer and benediction of Columcille for Mailshechnaill, King of
Erin, for whom this cover was made."

"I have seen," says O'Flaherty, referring to this MS. and its cover,
"handwritings of St. Columba in Irish characters, as straight and as fair
as any print of above 1,000 years standing, and Irish letters engraved in
the time of Flann, King of Ireland, deceased in A.D. 916." O'Flaherty saw
the Book in Trinity College in A.D. 1677; and it is there still. Jones,
the Vice-Chancellor, afterwards Bishop of Meath, gave it to the College.

At present there is no trace of any of the ancient buildings at Durrow.
There is a holy well--St. Columba's well--still flowing, which is greatly
venerated for the virtue of its waters, and is kept in good order by the
present noble proprietor of these lands, Lord Norbury, whose mansion is
close at hand. There is an old church-yard, too, which doubtless marks the
site of the ancient churches; it is still much used for burials, although
already overcrowded with the dead. The most interesting memorial, however,
at present in Durrow is a beautiful sculptured cross which stands on a low
stone pedestal close to the church-yard. It is like the Cross of
Monasterboice. There are also two ancient inscribed stones, one
unfortunately broken, but the inscription remains, ✠ OR DO
CHATHALAN--(pray for little Cathal)--the proper name being a diminutive of
Cathal. This fragment is now only six inches long. The other stone asks a
prayer for _Aigide_. The inscribed cross on this stone, now half buried in
the grass, is of the most chaste and beautiful design, richly adorned with
spirals, knots, and frets, which point to the most flourishing period of
Celtic art. Nowhere else has a cross of similar design been discovered.
Two of the outer arch-stones of an ancient and once very beautiful window
are built into a wall near the High Cross. No other remains of antiquity
are now to be found on the site of the once celebrated monastery of

Hugh de Lacy completely desolated Durrow and uprooted its ancient shrines.
In the year A.D. 1186 that stern warrior set about building a castle at
Durrow. For this purpose he seized the abbey-lands, drove out the
neighbouring Celtic proprietor, whose name was Fox, and proceeded to build
his castle with the stones of Columba's monastery and churches. But this
was the close of his evil career. A workman, sent it is said by Fox for
the purpose, was watching for his opportunity, and when De Lacy, who
superintended the work in person, was stooping forward, he struck off his
head with one blow of his keen axe. The body fell into the ditch of the
castle; and at the same moment the assassin burst through the astonished
workmen, and fled into the neighbouring woods. "It was in revenge of
Columcille" that this was done, say the Four Masters, and certainly it
seems as if the fate that overtook this "profaner and destroyer of many
churches" was the not unnatural outcome of his own evil deeds. In 1839 the
Earl of Norbury, a worthy successor of De Lacy, was assassinated in the
same spot, after he had erected a castle on the site of De Lacy's.

                        ----Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
  Immolat, et poenam scelerato de sanguine sumit.--_Virgil._


The foundation of Kells took place soon after that of Durrow, but the
exact date cannot be assigned--all we know is that it was founded during
the reign of King Diarmait, the son of Fergus Cearbhaill. It is necessary
to know something of this King Diarmait, whose history is intimately
connected with that of Columcille. He was great grandson of Niall of the
Nine Hostages, and therefore a second cousin once removed of Columcille
himself. But Columcille belonged to the northern or Ulster Hy-Niall, who
derived their descent from Eoghan and Conal Gulban; while the southern, or
Meath Hy-Niall, were descended from Conal Crimthann, another son of Niall
the Great, who fixed his residence in Meath. Considerable jealousy existed
between these two branches of the Hy-Niall stock, especially when Diarmait
succeeded to the throne of Tara after the murder of his predecessor,
Tuathal Maelgarbh in A.D. 544; for he was supposed to have instigated the
commission of that crime. The princes of the North, especially the sons of
the gallant and ill-fated Muir-ceartach Mac Earca, considered that they
themselves had a better title to the throne than Diarmait, and indeed
during his reign of twenty years they were often in rebellion against him,
and not unfrequently were victorious in the strife. Still Diarmait
contrived to maintain his hold of Tara, and governed the kingdom with
vigour and wisdom, until he fell out with the 'Saints,' whom he found more
difficult to control than the princes of the rival line. In consequence of
his dispute with St. Ruadhan of Lorrha, Tara was cursed and abandoned; and
because of another outrage which he offered to Columcille the great battle
of Cuil-dreimhne was fought in which his army was utterly routed, and he
himself escaped with much difficulty. Shortly afterwards he, in his turn,
was slain by the hands of an assassin.

The only authority we have in reference to the foundation of Kells during
the reign of this Diarmait is O'Donnell's _Life of Columba_. It is not
noticed in our Annals, nor, at least explicitly, in the other Lives of the
Saint. According to O'Donnell's _Life_, Columba, after founding Durrow,
went to Kells[251]--in Irish Cenannus--where it seems the king then lived,
although he happened to be absent at this time. The saint when entering
the place was very rudely received by certain soldiers of the Royal Guard,
to whom he was most probably unknown. But when the king returned home and
heard that his soldiers had insulted the greatest saint in Erin at the
time, and moreover one of his own royal blood, he resolved to make over
the city itself to Columba for a monastery, as an atonement for the
rudeness of his soldiers. Columba could expect no more, and thankfully
accepted the gift. The donation was also ratified by the sanction of Aedh
Slaine, the eldest son of the king, and heir apparent to the throne. In
return Columba predicted that Aedh would mount the throne of Erin, and
that his reign would be prosperous so long as he abstained from shedding
innocent blood--a condition, however, which he afterwards did not observe.

Kells was thus founded about the year A.D. 554, although its foundation is
sometimes set down so early as the year A.D. 550. It does not, however,
seem to have attained great eminence during the lifetime of St. Columba
himself; for its fame was eclipsed by other more celebrated houses founded
by the saint. It was only after the decline of Iona in the ninth century,
consequent on the ravages of the Danes, that Kells became the chief
monastery of the Columbian order both in Erin and Alba, as we shall see
further on.

It may be useful, however, at present to make reference to the chief
memorials of Columba, which point to his own intimate connection with that
establishment. St. Columba's 'House' is the most interesting of the
existing antiquities at Kells. We may safely accept the opinion of the
learned and accurate Petrie, that St. Columba's House at Kells and St.
Kevin's at Glendalough were erected by the persons whose names they bear,
and that they both served the double purpose of a habitation and an
oratory.[252] The building is a plain oblong, twenty-four feet long by
twenty-one broad, having a very high-pitched pyramidal stone roof, which
is now covered with a luxuriant growth of ivy. The original door was in
the west end, but for the purpose of greater security was placed about
eight feet from the ground, and must have been reached by a ladder which
could easily be drawn up by the inmates in case of alarm or danger. The
building contains two apartments; the lower, which was the oratory, is
covered with a semicircular stone arching, and was lighted by two small
windows--a slender semicircular one in the east gable, and a triangular
headed one in the south sidewall. The chamber or sleeping apartment of the
saint was in the croft between the convex arching and the roof. It is
about six feet high, and is lighted by a small window in the gable. It
appears originally to have contained three apartments, in one of which is
a large flat stone six feet in length, which is traditionally said to have
been Columba's bed. If we suppose a somewhat similar house to have been at
Durrow, it will help to explain Adamnan's reference to the Great House,
and the danger of falling from the ridge of the roof, for in Kells it is
thirty-eight feet from the ground.

There is a sculptured cross standing in the market-place of the same
character as that of Durrow; there is another fine ancient cross in the
churchyard having on the plinth in Irish characters the words--

  "Patricii et Columbae (Crux)."

which show that it was erected to commemorate these two great saints, and
probably at the time when Kells was the recognised head of all the
Columbian foundations. There is a third cross, which Miss Stokes declares
to have been the finest of the three, now lying mutilated in the church.
These crosses show that ecclesiastical art was carefully and successfully
cultivated at Kells, and that the city well deserved the appellation of
"Kells of the Crosses."

The fine round tower of Kells, which is still ninety feet high, marks the
importance of the place during the Danish wars, and fixes also the site of
the great church, for the towers were almost always built within ten or
twelve paces of the great western door of the church towards the left or
southern side, looking from the doorway. No trace, however, of the great
church now remains at Kells, from the sacristy of which we are told the
Great Gospel of Columcille was stolen at night in the year A.D. 1006.[253]

This Great Gospel of Columcille was without any doubt the celebrated MS.,
known as the _Book of Kells_, which is now preserved in the Library of
Trinity College, Dublin. It is highly probable both from intrinsic and
extrinsic evidence, that like the _Book of Durrow_, this celebrated codex
was written by Columcille himself, although, doubtless the ornamentation
was, at least to some extent, wrought by other, if not by later hands. The
tradition of the church itself, as shown from the entry in the Annals
quoted above, shows that so early as the year A.D. 1006 it was regarded as
a copy of the Gospels, if not written, certainly used by the saint
himself. It is called the Great Gospel of Columcille, and truly well
deserves that name, for it has been pronounced by Professor J. O.
Westwood, of Oxford, to be "unquestionably the most elaborately executed
MS. of so early a date now in existence, far excelling in the gigantic
size of the letters at the beginning of each Gospel, the excessive
minuteness of the ornamental details crowded into whole pages, the number
of its very peculiar decorations, the fineness of the writing, and the
endless variety of its initial capitals, the famous Gospels of Lindisfarne
in the Cottonian Library." We may add that the Gospel of Lindisfarne was
also a work of Irish art, as Lindisfarne itself was originally a monastery
founded and peopled by Irish monks from Iona.

No description can give an adequate idea of the _Book of Kells_--it must
be seen and studied to be duly appreciated.

It has had, too, a strange history. It was stolen, as we have seen, by
some sacrilegious wretch in A.D. 1006; and at that time it was regarded as
the chief relic of the western world. Fortunately it was found after forty
days and two months, covered with sods in a bog, but its gold had been
stripped off. Some few leaves at the beginning have been lost, and certain
deeds and grants of land made to the churches of Kells are recorded in
Irish on some of the blank pages probably left there for that purpose. In
the time of Usher it was still preserved at Kells; but he secured it when
Bishop of Meath, as he himself tells us, to collate the readings with the
Vulgate; whether it was by purchase or otherwise we cannot say.[254] It
passed to Trinity College with Usher's collection, and, like many of the
other ancient treasures of Celtic Ireland, is preserved there at present.

We have already referred to another manuscript written by Columba, which
has had a far more momentous history than either the _Book of Durrow_ or
the _Book of Kells_, that is the MS. which caused the battle of
Cuil-Dreimhne, and which was indirectly, at least according to the common
account, the means of sending Columba to preach the Gospel in Alba. It was
brought about in this way according to Keating.

That Diarmait, of whom we have already spoken, made a great feast at Tara,
and many princes and nobles were present at the feast. There were also
games on the green of Tara, and during a game of hurling Curnan, son of
Hugh, son of Eochaidh Tirmcharna, struck the son of the king's steward
with his hurley and killed him with the blow. Brawling at the games of
Tara was strictly forbidden; so the young Prince of Connaught knowing the
consequences of his rash act, fled for refuge to Columcille, who was in
Tara at the time. But Diarmait seized the fugitive, tore him from the
embrace of the saint, and had him put to death on the spot.

But this was not all. It seems that on this occasion Columba came to Tara
to claim in the court of the king that copy of the Psalms which he had
stealthily made from the copy which St. Finnian had brought from Rome, and
which he very highly prized. Finnian waited until Columba, who was a
choice scribe, had completed the copy, and then claimed it as his own. We
have already spoken of Diarmait's decision, and Columba's appeal to his
kinsmen in the North.

They flew to arms, and called to their aid all those who had suffered
wrongs at the hands of King Diarmait. Very soon they assembled a great
army in the heart of the North. It was led by the two sons of
Muircheartach Mac Earca, Fergus and Domhnall, the rival claimants of the
crown, and by Ainmire, son of Sedna, first cousin of Columba, and by
Nainnidh, son of Duach, another first cousin, and by Aedh, the Prince of
Connaught, whose son had been put to death by the King at Tara. This was a
formidable alliance, but King Diarmait lost no time in raising troops to
meet his foes. The two armies came into collision on the ridge of
Cuil-Dreimhne, now Cooladrummon, between Benbulbin mountain and the sea,
in the county Sligo. It is said the rival saints supported the rival
armies--that Columcille prayed for the men of the North, and that St.
Finnian was behind the lines of King Diarmait. Be that as it may, the men
of the North were completely victorious; three thousand of their foes were
slain, while only one man fell on their side, who had transgressed the
precept of Columba forbidding them to go beyond a certain point on the
field, called the Druid's fence.

Then it seems his conscience sorely smote Columcille. Was he justified in
urging his kinsmen to fight this bloody battle which caused the loss of
three thousand lives? He went straight to his confessor, St. Molaise of
Innismurray Island, who at the time was in his own Church of Ahamlish, not
more than two miles from the scene of the battle. Molaise declared that
Columcille had sinned, and that he must do penance; and his penance must
be proportionate to his fault. He bade him leave Ireland, and go to preach
the Gospel, where he would gain as many souls for Christ as lives were
lost in the battle, and never look upon his native land again.

It has been said that this story is the invention of a later age;[255]
that it is in itself improbable; and above all, that Adamnan is silent in
reference to it. It is, however, the expression of a very ancient
tradition, and it is assumed as true by O'Donnell in his _Life of
Columba_, by Keating, and by the Four Masters. The silence of Adamnan,
too, is very significant. He refers in more than one place to the battle
of Cuil-Dreimhne, as if it were an era in the life-history of Columba. He
plainly does not want to say anything derogatory to the Saint of Iona; but
in our opinion he also plainly implies that he had some connection with
the battle of Cuil-Dreimhne; to which he either thinks it inexpedient or
unnecessary for him to make more explicit reference. We, therefore, cannot
reject the story as either improbable in itself, or unsupported by
authority. His connection with this battle may have been a fault, or even
a crime, on the part of Columba; but in itself it is so natural, and in
its consequences so edifying, and so encouraging to our frail human
nature, that we cannot help saying from our hearts--_O felix culpa_--O
blessed fault which produced so much good both for Erin and for Alba. The
poem[256] in which Columba declares that the voyage to Alba was enjoined
on him for his own share in this battle, if not his composition, is
certainly of very ancient origin, and furnishes a distinct proof of the
existence of the tradition at the time it was written.

The site of the battle is a remarkable spot. The townland of Cooladrummon
is situated on the very crest of the hill, in a line with the nose of
Benbulben mountain, about six miles north of Sligo. It commands a view of
unrivalled beauty both by land and sea. The tourist travelling from Sligo
to Bundoran will be on the very battle field of Cuil-Dreimhne as soon as
he reaches that point of the road on the very crest of the ridge, where
the Bay of Donegal at once bursts full upon his view. Let him pause and
admire it at his leisure, for rarely, if ever, will he see again such an
expanse of sea, backed by noble mountains, and waving woods, and fertile
fields, and, especially in Columba's own Drumcliff, many a neat but frugal
happy homestead.

The battle of Cuil-Dreimhne was fought A.D. 561; but Columba and his
associates did not set out for Alba until nearly two years later, in A.D.
563. The traditional accounts of his departure from Derry, and his arrival
in Iona, are exceedingly touching.

Having made up his mind to perform the bitter penance enjoined on him by
Molaise at the Cross of Ahamlish (Ath-Imlaisi), his first object would
naturally be to seek companions for his voyage. It was, no doubt, a
perilous and laborious enterprise; but he found no difficulty in procuring
associates in his task. As soon as he made known his resolution to the
monks of Derry, he had abundance of volunteers who feared no perils, and
were ready to accompany their beloved abbot to any spot on earth where he
chose to dwell. He selected twelve from amongst them--men of his own
blood, and monks of his own obedience. Amongst them were his uncle,
Ernaan, who afterwards became superior of the monastery in the Island of
Hinba, and his two first cousins, Baithen, who succeeded him in Iona, and
his brother, Cobthach, both sons of Brenden, son of Fergus, grandfather of
the saint.

It appears the exiles set sail from Derry for the north in one or two
currachs, in the year A.D. 563, when Columba was in the forty-second year
of his age. When they came to set sail, not only the monks of Derry, but
the bishops and clergy and people, from all the country round about,
crowded to the shore to bid farewell to their beloved saint. Then a great
wailing was borne on the breeze that filled the light sails of the
currachs; even the wild sea-birds hovered round their bark, as if loth to
leave the blessed Columba. His heart was full, and his eyes were dim with
tears, as he saw the oak-woods of Derry and the hills of Inishowen
fading, it might be for ever, from his view. In the old Irish poem already
referred to, there are some stanzas which are supposed to give expression
to the feelings of the saint, when, with bleeding heart, he vainly sought
another glimpse of Erin amid the waste of waters all around him. We
venture to render a few of these stanzas in verse:--

  "Ah! my heart will never find rest,
    There's a tear in my soft grey eye;
  Give Eri once more to my breast,
    And then I am ready to die.

  I stand on the deck of my bark,
    And gaze o'er the southern sea;
  But alas! and alas! my Eri
    For ever is hidden from me.

  How bright are the eyes of my Eri,
    Like the gleam of an angel's wing;
  And sweet is the breath of my Eri--
    Her voice is the music of Spring.

  Oh! deep is my burden of sorrow;
    I pine like the mateless dove--
  Will this heart from the years never borrow
    A balm for the loss of my love?"

Supposing that Columba and his twelve companions sailed straight for the
Western Isles of Scotland, one day's prosperous breeze would carry them
past the Rhynns of Islay, and bring them in sight of Colonsay. It is said
that Columba and his companions landed on the southern extremity of
Colonsay, now called Oronsay, and mounting the cliffs looked along the
verge of the southern horizon. Dimly in the distance like a cloud, he saw
the hills of Inishowen, and once more he bade his companions embark--for
he might not stay where he could see the distant hills of Erin. So they
re-embarked and sailed further north, until they landed on Iona, which is
about twenty miles north-and-by-west of Colonsay.

  "To oars again; we may not stay,
    For ah! on ocean's rim I see,
  Where sunbeams pierce the cloudy day,
  From these rude hills of Oronsay,
    The isle so dear to me.

  But when once more we set our feet
    On wild sea-crag or islet fair,
  There shall we make our calm retreat,
  And spend our lives as it is meet,
    In penance and in prayer."[257]

On the southern shore of Iona there is a small sandy cove, bounded on both
sides by steep and ragged cliffs rising from the waves. A patch of green
sward runs down to the sandy margin of this little bay, and outside it is
sheltered from the fury of the south and south-west winds by several rocky
islets, through which, however, a currach might easily glide even in
broken weather, and reach the little sandy beach in safety. This cove is
still called _Port a Churraich_, and it is the unfailing tradition of Iona
that it was in this cove Columba and his companions first landed, and that
the cove takes its name from his currach. "The length of the curachan or
ship is obvious to anyone who goes to the place, it being marked up at the
head of the harbour upon the grass between two little pillars of stone,
set up to show forth the same, between which pillars there is three score
of foots in length, which was the exact length of the curachan or
ship."[258] We must now devote a separate chapter to Iona and its
scholars, for, during six hundred years, it was an Irish island in
Scottish seas.



  "Saint of the seas----
  Whose days were passed in teacher's toil--
  Whose evening song still filled the aisle--
  Whose poet's heart fed the wild bird's brood--
  Whose fervent arm upbore the rood--
  Still from thy roofless rock so gray,
  Thou preachest to all, who pass that way."


When Columba landed on Iona he ascended the steep cliff still called
_Cnoc-na-Faire_--the Hill of the Outlook--just above Port-a-Churraich, and
looking southward over the sea to the utmost verge of the horizon, he
sought in vain for one glimpse of the hills of holy Ireland. He could see,
as we saw from the same spot, the rugged peaks of Jura, and the brown
summits of Islay; and further still he might perceive the bare blue
mountains of Kintyre mingling with the sky; but no trace of the land of
his love to the south or south-west--nothing but the open shoreless sea.
Then Columba knew that this was the land which God gave him to be the
place of his exile, and there he resolved to make his monastic home.

Iona is little more than three miles long, and less than a mile in average
breadth; and its physical features are uninviting. It is separated from
the Ross of Mull--a bare and bleak mountain district--by a strait less
than a mile wide. The surface of the island is very bare and rugged,
especially towards the south and west. On the north-eastern border there
are a few patches of tillage, but no trace of a tree. The craggy rock
crops up everywhere, interspersed with moory or sandy flats; and in
sheltered corners there are fields of potatoes, oats, and barley, which,
especially on the north-eastern shore, grow very well. The cattle are a
small woolly haired breed, easily fed and very hardy. Craggy is the only
epithet that will correctly describe the general appearance of the place;
there are crags everywhere, interspersed with patches of pasture, which
furnish a scanty and precarious herbage to the sheep and black cattle.
Dunii is the highest hill on the island; it is situated towards the
northern extremity, not far from the monastery, and rises to the height of
more than 300 feet above the sea. Like the other hills, it is almost all
naked rock. The south and south-western portion of the island is entirely
uninhabited; and is still more wild and barren than the north. Across the
middle of the island from east to west, there stretches an extensive belt
of low and comparatively level land, called the _Machar_, or Plain. The
eastern portion of this plain, called _Sliganach_, from its shelly beach,
is fairly cultivated; the western part affords pasturage to a goodly
number of sheep and small hardy cattle.

Port Ronan, the usual landing place, is close to the village near the
centre of the eastern shore of the island. The village itself, in which
there were some hovels as poor as any in Connemara, contains about a dozen
of houses; the whole island has about 500 inhabitants, amongst whom, when
we visited it, there was not a single Roman Catholic. There is a fair
hotel; but as the Duke of Argyle allows no spirituous drinks to be sold on
the island, of which he is proprietor, travellers who wish to procure
refreshment of this kind had better take it with them. Porter was,
however, surreptitiously sold in more than one house in the village.

When Columba, with his twelve companions, came to Iona, it was a
wilderness, without inhabitants and without cultivation. Fishermen and
pilgrims sometimes landed there, but none appear to have settled
permanently in the island. Tighernach, the accurate annalist of
Clonmacnoise, states expressly that the island of Hy was granted to
Columcille by Conall, King of the Dalriada. On the other hand, Bede says
that it was the gift of Brude, King of the Picts; but as Columcille was
established at Iona before the conversion of Brude, we must understand
Bede to mean that the King of the Picts confirmed the grant, which the
sub-king Conall had already made to Columba. King Conall was the son of
Comgall, who was a grandson of Fergus Mor Mac Earc, one of the leaders of
the colony that came from Dalriada about the year A.D. 506 to establish
themselves in Alba. Kintyre and Knapdale was the cradle of this gallant
band, that founded the kingdom afterwards known as the Scottish Dalriada,
whose princes became the stem of the royal line of Scotland's kings. It
was from this prince Conall that Columba received permission to settle in
Iona in the first instance, but Brude later on, being a much more powerful
prince and ruler of the outer islands, confirmed the grant, most probably
at the earnest request of Columba himself.

There is at present no trace of any of the original buildings founded by
Columcille. They were probably, as at Durrow, constructed for the most
part of perishable materials; but if of stone, they were entirely
destroyed during the oft-renewed ravages of the Danes. We do not think it
necessary to make here special reference to the churches of a later date,
which have no particular connection with our subject. They are in two
groups--the Cathedral group about 200 yards from the shore, somewhat to
the north of Port Ronan; and a little to the south and nearer to the shore
the nunnery group with the ancient parish church of Kilronan, a portion of
whose walls are still standing. Near this group of ruins is an ancient
cross standing by the way-side, and now commonly called M'Lean's Cross. It
is a tall thin flag covered with interlacing ornaments of an Irish
character. It is fixed in a kind of millstone;[259] and is probably as old
as the time of Adamnan himself.

In the cathedral group may be noticed the _Reilig Odhrain_, or ancient
cemetery surrounding the Church of St. Odhran, which is a little to the
south of the cathedral. This Odhran was, according to the Irish Life, one
of the twelve who came with Columcille, although Adamnan seems to imply
that he was a Briton. He took sick and died in the island, and gladly met
his end, that the burial of his body might, as Columcille said, fix the
roots of the holy community in the island, and make it kindred earth. The
cemetery was called by his name, and is to this day the only cemetery in
the island; for Columcille saw Odhran's soul going to heaven, and he said
that no request would be granted to anyone at his own tomb except it were
first asked at the tomb of Odhran.

There is a large number of sculptured gravestones in this cemetery, and
many of them beautifully wrought; but none are of the most ancient time,
and very few of them bear inscriptions. Yet they are obviously the tombs
of distinguished persons during the middle ages--of kings and princes; of
bishops and abbots; of knights in armour with sword and shield--all
resting side by side in _Reilig Odhran_.

There is a low square tower in the very centre of the "Cathedral," between
the nave and chancel. It has also two transepts, and apparently two
lady-chapels--nearly opposite the sacristy; perhaps one was a mortuary
chapel. The cloister and other monastic buildings adjoined the church on
the north-west--so as to enable the monks to enter from the cloister by a
door beneath the tower. There are two crosses; one is still standing--St.
Martin's--just before the great western doorway; the second cross, now
broken, stood a little more to the north, and nearer to the wall of the
church. The sculptured figures are much effaced by the hand of time, the
severity of the climate, and partly, too, it is to be feared, by the zeal
of the 'reformers.' In the little church of St. Odhran there was a
beautifully sculptured crucifix just over the throne or abbot's seat; but
it has been wantonly broken and defaced.

These, however--except the _Reilig Odhran_--are all the remains of the
mediæval monastery and churches founded by the Scottish Kings long after
the ravages of the Danes. It is now difficult to fix the exact site of
Columba's monastery. It was in our opinion within the circular enclosure,
a little to the north, just outside the wall enclosing the present
cathedral ruins. The site of the mill, to which Adamnan refers, can easily
be traced; there is the lakelet that served as a mill-pond; the stream
that turned the mill still flows to the sea; and even the place of the
sluice can be observed near the cottage, that has been probably built on
the site of the mill. Just on the road side beyond the church-yard is the
craggy eminence, which Adamnan refers to as the monticulus monasterio
eminens; and Torr Abb--the Abbot's Rock--is still there within the present
enclosure and on the same side of the road. Nature's land-marks are all
there, and testify to the truth and accuracy of Adamnan's most minute
details; but the works of human hands are gone--by men they were raised,
and by men they were destroyed.

It is no part of our purpose to refer to Columba's missionary labours
amongst the Picts of the Highlands, whom he converted to the faith of
Christ. We can only make a brief reference to his influence both as a
saint and as a scholar on the learning of his own time, and of subsequent

In all the monasteries which he founded, we find that Columba made ample
provision for the pursuit of sacred learning, and the multiplication of
books, without which these studies could not be successfully carried on.
He was himself, as we have already seen, a celebrated scribe:--

  "Three hundred gifted, lasting,
  Illuminated, noble books he wrote."[260]

In Iona there was always one or more scribes constantly at work; and it
was considered a most honourable occupation. Baithen, who succeeded
Columba as Abbot, was frequently employed as scribe, and on one occasion
he wrote rather quickly--_percurrens scripsi_--a copy of the Psalter, yet
so accurately, that there was not a mistake of a single letter, except in
one word where the vowel _i_ was omitted. Sometimes the scribe became
abbot, but at other times he became the bishop, usually resident in the
community, to perform episcopal functions in Iona, and its dependant
houses. Dorbene, abbot in A.D. 713, was a "choice scribe." We have one of
his manuscripts still with his name in it;[261] and the celebrated
Adamnan, of whom we shall speak more fully hereafter, also wrote a
beautiful hand. There was, doubtless, a _scriptorium_ in Iona; and
reference is explicitly made to waxen tablets for writing--_tabulae_--and
also to the pens and styles--_graphia_ and _calami_--and to the ink
horn--_cornicula atramenti_.

The study of the Holy Scripture was their primary concern; the psaltery
was generally got by heart; the Lives of the Saints were read for the
community; and the works especially of the Latin Fathers, were frequently
studied. Classical learning was not neglected in Iona, and the writings of
Adamnan show that he was familiar with the best Latin authors, and had
some knowledge of Greek also.[262] Theological and moral conferences were
also held from time to time in presence of the principal members of the
community. It was a monastic principle at Iona as elsewhere "to let not a
single hour pass in which the monk should not be engaged either in prayer,
or reading, or writing, or some other useful work."[263] This was, Adamnan
tells us, the invariable practice of Columba himself; and he sought to
make it the rule of life in all the monasteries that he founded. A great
portion of the time was undoubtedly given to manual labour--but then
_laborare est orare_--whilst the hands laboured, the thoughts were with
God; and besides labour is in itself a prayer, when the toil is necessary
and the purpose holy.[264]

It was also prescribed in the Rule attributed to St. Columba that the monk
should help his brethren by giving them instruction, or by writing for
them; or if he were not qualified to discharge these important works of
charity, then he was to help them by sewing their garments, or by whatever
labour they might be most in want of--the principle being, never to be
idle, and to help others as far as possible.[265]


Another way in which Columba exercised great influence on learning in
Ireland was by his successful efforts to preserve the Bards from the
destruction with which they were threatened.

All our history and all our literature, even to some extent our laws, down
to the time of Tighernach, were written in verse. Some people might think
it better if they were written in prose; but the probability is--if we did
not have them in verse, we should not have had them at all. "It was their
duty," says O'Donnell in his _Irish Life of St. Columba_, "to record the
achievements, wars, and triumphs of the kings, princes and chiefs; to
preserve their genealogies, and define the rights of noble families; to
ascertain and set forth the limits and extent of the sub-kingdoms and
territories ruled over by the princes and chiefs."

But the Bards did not confine themselves to their official duties. Being a
highly privileged class, they soon increased in numbers by the admission
of their sons and other relatives amongst their ranks. They became greedy
of gain, importunate in their demands, and oppressive in their exactions.
They lived at free quarters, extolling their benefactors with extravagant
praise, and satirizing the niggardly with unsparing invective. Even their
best friends at length became weary of their importunities. The king had
expelled them from his palace; but a party of them soon after reappeared,
and audaciously demanded as their fee the royal brooch--the Roth
Croi--which the king wore on his breast.

Tired of their eulogies and exactions, he and the whole nation rose up
against the avarice and venom of the Bards. Their old enemies grew strong
in numbers and courage, for now the king himself was on their side. A
great convention was to be held forthwith; and it was given out as the
fixed purpose of the king and his chiefs to procure the total abolition
of the Bardic Order; and thus get rid of them and their exactions for

The Bards were now thoroughly alarmed. The whole country was against them,
and they probably felt that they were guilty. In this great emergency
there was only one person powerful enough to help them; to him they
appealed to come to their relief, and save them from destruction; and
Columba listened to their prayer.

At this time his influence was all-powerful both in Erin and Alba. He was
a cousin of the High King of Erin; he had inaugurated at Iona the king of
the Scottish Dalriada, who was also his connection by blood. He had
founded many monasteries in both countries; and though he was a stern
ruler, he was beloved and venerated by his disciples. He was known to be a
man of miracles, filled with the spirit of prophecy, and powerful in word
and work. Every one in Ireland had heard how he converted Pictland; how
the barred doors of King Brude's fort flew open at his touch. Many feared
him; but more loved, and all reverenced him.

The great Convention of Drumceat, in which the fate of the Bards, as well
as some other important questions were to be decided, appears to have been
held in A.D. 575. "The precise spot," says Reeves, "where the assembly was
held is the long mound in Roe Park, near Newtownlimavaddy, called the
_Mullagh_, and sometimes Daisy Hill." Aedh Mac Ainmire was king of Ireland
at this period, and was a first cousin once removed of Columcille. The
saint was accompanied to the meeting by Aidan, king of the Scottish
Dalriada, who was resolved to assert the independence of his kingdom, and
have it formally recognised without bloodshed in this great assembly.
Through the aid of Columcille he was successful. The next request made by
the saint was the liberation of Scanlan Mor, son of the king of Ossory,
who was most unjustly kept in bonds by the High King. In this demand also
Columba, though not without difficulty, succeeded. The third great
question--the proposed abolition of the Bards--was then taken into

King Aedh himself was their accuser. All the princes of the line of Conn
were ranged around him. The Bards were there, too, with the illustrious
chief Bard, Dallan Forgaill. The queen and her ladies were, it is said,
also present; and twenty bishops, forty priests, thirty deacons, and many
clergy of inferior grade were seated near Columcille in this great
parliament of the Irish nation.

The king brought all those charges against the Bards, to which we have
already referred--their avarice, their idleness, their exactions, their
insolence; and he called upon the assembly to dissolve the Order, and take
away all their privileges. Then Columcille arose; and all that vast
assembly did him reverence. With his clear and strong melodious voice,
which was borne to the utmost verge of the vast multitude, he defended the
ancient Order of the Bards of Erin. He did not deny the existence of grave
abuses--let them be corrected; and in future let the guilty be severely
punished. But why destroy the Order itself? Who would then preserve the
records of the nation--celebrate the great deeds of its kings and
warriors--or chant a dirge for the noble dead? His eloquence carried the
assembly with him. The Order was preserved from destruction; but it was to
be reformed, and restrained by salutary laws from such excesses in future.

It is said that on this occasion Columba made a formal visitation of all
the religious houses which he or his immediate disciples had founded in
Ireland. It was no easy task to accomplish, for Dr. Reeves in his notes
furnishes a list of no less than thirty-seven monasteries throughout the
northern half of Ireland, of which Columba is the reputed founder and
patron. Besides Durrow, Derry, and Kells, he was also the founder of
Swords, Drumcliff, Screen, Kilglass, Drumcolumb, and many other celebrated
houses, to which we cannot now refer in detail.[266]

There is a story told, but without good authority, that during these
visits to Ireland Columcille wore a cere-cloth over his eyes, and had clay
from Iona in his sandals; so that in accordance with the penance imposed
on him by St. Molaise, he neither trod the soil of Ireland, nor looked
upon his native land again. If such a penance were ever imposed, it was
too rigid to be always binding, and even if it were binding, such a public
cause as attendance at the assembly of Drumceat would render his presence
there necessary and lawful, without making any special effort to observe
his obligation to the letter.

Columba was at this period the most powerful man either in Ireland or
Scotland. Large grants of land were made to his monasteries, and thousands
of people begged to be enrolled amongst his disciples. St. Patrick himself
had not greater influence than Columba possessed at this period in the
North of Ireland.

In gratitude to Columba for preserving the Bardic Order in Erin, Dallan
Forgaill composed the celebrated poem in praise of Columcille, known as
the Amhra Choluimcille, to which we shall refer again. But Dallan did more
effective service to Irish literature in another way. By the advice and
under the direction of the saint, he reorganized and reformed the Bardic
Order, as decreed by the assembly of Drumceat, and moreover founded
regular schools for the instruction of the young aspirants of the Order.
This tended to check their vagabond disorderly habits, which led to so
many abuses in the past. These schools also fostered habits of systematic
study, encouraged the cultivation of the Celtic language, and developed a
taste for general literature even outside the monastic schools.

According to Keating, who had sources of information at hand that have
since been lost, Dallan appointed four Arch-poets--one for each
province--who were to preside over these Bardic schools, and carry out the
regulations enacted at Drumceat. There is no doubt that it is in a great
measure to these schools of the Bards, and the systematic training which
their pupils received, that we owe the preservation not only of the
ancient and authentic chronicles of Erin, but also of that immense mass of
romantic literature in the Gaedhlic tongue, which at length is beginning
to attract the attention not only of British, but also of foreign
scholars. It was the monastic schools, no doubt, that preserved and
transcribed the Lives of the Saints, which, in spite of many fables, have
added so much to our knowledge of ancient Erin in things profane, as well
as in things sacred. We know what the Four Masters have done for the
literature and history of ancient Erin. But they were in reality the last
and not unworthy representatives of the ancient Bards of Erin. Through
good and ill they laboured to preserve and perpetuate the knowledge of our
ancient books; and when the nation's day was darkest, and the future
without a single ray of hope to light up the deepening gloom, they sat
down in the ruined convent of Donegal, and at the peril of their lives,
arranged and transcribed for posterity those immortal Annals, which, like
the work of the Greek historian, will be our treasured possession for all

We cannot narrate in detail the subsequent history of Columba's life. It
was such as we have already seen, a life of study, of labour, of prayer, a
life of missionary toil that carried the light of the Gospel over stormy
seas to the remotest islands on the west of Scotland, and over pathless
mountains to the Pictish tribes on its farthest eastern border.

We must hasten to the close of his glorious career, and see, as it were
with our own eyes, in the simple narrative of his biographer, how an Irish
saint could die.


There is no more touching or edifying scene recorded in the life of any
saint, than that which exhibits in the simple language of his biographer
the beautiful death of Columba. We shall give it as far as possible, in
Adamnan's own words.

In the month of May before his death the saint paid a visit to his monks,
where they were working on the farm in the western part of the island, and
on that occasion he told them that God would, if he (Columba) wished it,
have called him away at Easter, but that he was unwilling then to leave
his beloved monks, and turn the joyous festival of Easter into one of
grief and sadness for them. Now, however, the day of his departure, he
said, was fast approaching, when he should have to leave them for ever.
Then they were all filled with grief at his words; he however, sought as
best he could to give them consolation, and turning towards the east in
the direction of the monastery, he blessed it, with the entire island, and
all its inhabitants. In consequence of this blessing no noxious thing has
ever since been seen in our island. Immediately afterwards the saint
returned to the monastery.

Some days later Columba whilst saying Mass in the church had a vision of
an angel, whom God sent to warn him that he should soon be called away.

Now on the last day of that same week, that is, on Saturday, the venerable
man went out with Diarmait, his attendant, to bless the barn; and after he
blessed it, he observed that he was glad to see from the great heaps of
corn that his dear monks would have enough of food for the year, even if
he himself were called away. Then Diarmait was sad, and said, "You grieve
us often of late, father, by referring to your approaching departure from
amongst us." "I will tell you a secret, Diarmait," replied the saint, "if
you promise faithfully never to reveal it to any one before my death."
Diarmait promised on his knees, and then Columba said, "This day
(Saturday) is called in Scripture the Sabbath: and it will also be the
Sabbath of my labours, for on this coming Sunday night I will, in the
words of Scripture, be gathered to my fathers. My Lord Jesus has deigned
just now to invite me; and at midnight I shall depart in obedience to his
summons." Diarmait hearing these words, began to weep, and the saint
strove as well as he could to console him.

On their way home from the barn to the monastery, the saint sat down to
rest himself on the roadside, at the spot where the cross now stands fixed
in the millstone. And as he sat resting his aged limbs, the old white
horse that used to carry the milk-pails from the byre to the monastery,
came up to the saint, and put his head in the saint's bosom, as if the
animal had the use of reason, and knew that his master was going to leave
him; and the horse seemed deeply grieved and appeared to shed tears like a
human being in his master's bosom. Then the saint was deeply moved, and
blessed the poor faithful horse, "for," he said, "it is God that has made
known to him through instinct that he will see me no more."

And going thence the saint ascended the hill that overlooks the monastery
(now called Cnoc-na-Carnan), and standing on its summit he raised his two
hands aloft and blessed his monastery, and foretold that the kings of the
Scots, and even the rulers of rude and foreign nations with their subjects
would yet pay much honour to his poor monastery, and that the saints of
other churches too would hold it in veneration.

Then he came down the hill and went straight to his cell, and sat there
copying the psaltery. But as soon as he came to that verse of the
thirty-third psalm where it is written--_Inquirentes autem Dominum non
deficient omni bono_--"Here I must stop," he said, "at the end of this
page--let Baithen write the rest." And it was an appropriate verse for him
to end with, as the next was an appropriate one for his successor to begin
with--_Venite filii, audite me, timoren Domini docebo vos_.

Having written his last verse the saint went to the church to join in the
first vespers of the Sunday, which are chanted on Saturday evening; and
when the office was over he returned to his little cell and sat down upon
his bed during the night--that bed was a naked rock with a stone for a
pillow--the stone that now stands beside his grave as the title of his
monument. Whilst sitting thus on the rocky bed he gave his last
instructions to his monks in the hearing of Diarmait alone. "My little
children," he said, "my last words to you are:--Cherish mutual and
unfeigned love for each other, and God will never let you want the
necessaries of life in this world, and you will have, moreover, eternal
glory in the world to come."

And now, as the happy hour of his departure was quickly approaching, he
became silent for a little. But as soon as the bell for matins struck at
the midnight hour, he rose up quickly, and going to the church before the
others he entered it alone and threw himself on his bended knees in prayer
near the altar. Diarmait, his attendant, followed a little more slowly to
the church, and at that moment as he approached the door, he saw the
church lit up with a bright angelic light as if shining over the saint.
Others saw it too at the same moment, but when they came nearer it
disappeared. Diarmait then entered the church, and groping through the
darkness--for the lights were not yet brought in--he found the saint
stretched before the altar, and raising him gently, he sat down beside him
and took his holy head and laid it in his bosom.

The crowd of monks now coming up with lights, and seeing their father
dying, broke out into lamentation. But the saint, as we heard from those
who were present, lifting his eyes towards heaven, looked around him on
both sides, and his face was full of a wondrous heavenly joy, as if he
were looking at angels. Then Diarmait raised the saint's right hand to
bless the circle of monks, and our holy father moved his hand as well as
he could, so that he might with the motion of his hand give them that
blessing which he could not utter with his voice. Having thus blessed
them, he immediately expired; yet his face remained still bright-coloured,
so that he did not look like one that was dead but only sleeping.
Meanwhile, the whole church was filled with wailing.

So passed away the blessed Columba, as he had foretold, on Sunday night a
little after 12 o'clock, the 9th of June, in the year of our Lord 597. It
was the seventy-seventh of his age, and the thirty-fourth of his
pilgrimage in Iona.

As soon as matins were finished, the blessed body of the saint was carried
back to the hospice, accompanied by all the brethren chanting psalms.
Thereafter for three days and three nights the obsequies of the saint were
celebrated with all due and fitting rites. After which the venerable body
of our holy patron was wrapped up in clean linen and buried in a coffin
with all reverence--but Adamnan does not mention the exact spot, where it
was laid.


Many writings have been circulated under the name of the great St.
Columba--some few of which are genuine, but most of them spurious. We
shall very briefly call attention to both. There are three Latin poems
published in the second volume of the _Liber Hymnorum_ by the late Dr.
Todd, which are generally regarded by critics as genuine. The first and
most celebrated is the _Altus Prosator_. It was first printed by Colgan
from the Book of Hymns preserved at St. Isidore's. A splendid edition has
also been lately printed by the Marquis of Bute, who has good reason to
regard Columba as the patron saint of his family, which is sprung from the
early Dalriadan Kings.

The _Altus Prosator_ is beyond any doubt a very ancient poem, written in
rather rude Latinity, but syntactically correct, that is, if we make
allowance for the errors and ignorance of the copyists. It consists of
twenty-two _capitula_ or stanzas, each stanza consisting of six lines,
except the first which being in honour of the Holy Trinity has seven, and
each line has sixteen syllables. The meter is a kind of trochaic
tetrameter, with a pause after the eighth syllable, and a rhyme or
assonance at the end of the lines. The first word of each of the
twenty-two stanzas begins with one of the letters of the alphabet in
regular order according to the Hebrew letters.

There is a preface, or introduction, to the whole poem, and a brief notice
of the title and subject matter at the head of each stanza. The preface
which is substantially the same both in the _Book of Hymns_ and in the
_Leabhar Breac_, sets forth as usual the time, place, motive, and author
of the poem, but gives two different accounts. The author was, according
to all accounts, Columcille, and he wrote the poem in the Black Church of
Derry after much careful preparation. His motive was to praise God and do
penance for the sins he had committed, especially in causing the bloody
battle of Cuil-Dreimhne. The time was during the reign of Aedh Mac Ainmire
in Erin, and of Aidan, son of Gabhran in Dalriada. The other account
represents the poem as written in Iona, while Columba was grinding a bag
of meal in the mill for the entertainment of some clerics who came from
Rome to present him, in the name of Pope Gregory, with a richly enshrined
relic of the true Cross, known afterwards as Morgemm, and long, it is
said, preserved at Iona. This is a much less plausible explanation than
the former, and probably invented by some foolish admirers of the saint,
who did not relish the idea of Columcille having to do penance for grave
faults of anger and indiscretion.

The poem is the production of a fervent and pious spirit that feels the
power and mercy of God's all-ruling Providence in the past, and in the
present. It describes the Trinity, the Angels, the creation of the world,
and the fall of man, also the deluge and other noteworthy events in
sacred history, ending with a vivid description of the terrors of the last
judgment. Many graces are promised to those who recite it worthily: Angels
will attend them while chanting it; the devil shall not know their way to
lie in wait for them, nor their enemies to destroy them; there shall be no
strife in the house where it is sung; it protects against sudden and
violent death; and there shall be no want where it is regularly recited.

Columba's second Latin Hymn, known, as the _In te Christe_, is merely the
complement of the _Altus Prosator_. Columba sent that latter Hymn to Pope
Gregory in Rome in return for the portion of the Cross which he had sent
to Columba. When it was recited before the Pope he was greatly pleased
with it, especially as he was privileged to see the Angels listening to it
at the same time. He observed that there was only one fault in it--that
the praise of the Trinity was too scanty, being confined to the first
stanza alone. Columcille hearing this resolved to supplement the _Altus_
by another poem in praise of the Holy Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost. It contains fifteen rhyming couplets of the same character as those
in the _Altus_, but its authenticity is by no means so certain. The fact
that it is contained in the _Book of Hymns_ proves, however, that it is a
very ancient poem, although even there in the preface some doubt is thrown
on its authenticity.

The third Latin Hymn attributed to Columba is the _Noli Pater_ containing
seven rhyming couplets, with sixteen syllables in the line. It is found in
the _Book of Hymns_. The short preface says that it was composed by the
saint in Daire Calgaich at the time that he received the grant of that
place from Aedh Mac Ainmire; and the messengers came at the same time
announcing Mobhi's death, and bearing his girdle as the token of the
saint's permission for Columcille to found his church. But just then the
place took fire, and Columcille composed the hymn to stay the ravages of
the flames. And it has been sung from that time forward as a protection
against fire, and lightning, and the wrath of the elements.

The following is the first stanza of the _Altus_ which shows the metre.

  "Altus prosător, vetustus dierum et ingenitus,
  Erat absque origine primordii et crepidine,
  Est et erit in saecula saeculorum infinitus,
  Cui est unigenitus Christus et Spiritus Sanctus
  Coaeternus in gloria Deitatis perpetuae;
  Non tres Deos depromimus, sed unum Deum dicimus
  Salva fide in personis tribus gloriosissimis."

The two principal Irish poems attributed to Columcille are the "Dialogue
of Columcille and Cormac in Hy"--and his pathetic "Lament for his Native
Land"--to both of which we have already referred. There is a third poem
known as his "Farewell to Aran," which has been rendered into English
verse by another true poet, Aubrey de Vere. T. D. Sullivan has given a
very beautiful rendering, if not of the words, at least of the spirit of
Columba's "Lament for his Native Land." "The 'Dialogue' and the 'Lament'
may not," says Reeves, "be genuine, but they are poems of very
considerable antiquity, and the first shows the early notions which
existed in Ireland about Cormac's adventures, and his relations to
Columba." Colgan is inclined to think them genuine, and has given them
amongst the reputed writings of the saint. They may have been retouched by
some bard later than Columba's time; but in our opinion they represent
substantially poems that were really written by the saint. They breathe
his pious spirit, his ardent love for nature, and his undying affection
for his native land. Although retouched perhaps by a later hand, they
savour so strongly of the true Columbian spirit that we are disposed to
reckon them amongst the genuine compositions of the saint.

That Columba was indeed a true prophet, to whom God made known to some
extent things future and things distant, is clearly shown by his
biographer Adamnan. It was probably his fame in this respect that gave
some countenance to the "forgeries" that were circulated under his name,
not one of which appears to have the smallest claim to be considered
genuine: although some of them are undoubtedly very ancient. O'Curry found
one of them in the _Book of Leinster_, purporting to be a prophecy of the
coming of the Danes on Lough Ree, and their occupation of the abbacy of
Armagh. Reference is also made to the death of Cormac MacCullinan, and the
destruction of Aileach by Mortogh O'Brien, and to similar historical
events that were manifestly foretold (and sometimes with mistakes) after
they had happened. But in the MS. Columcille is described as narrating
these things in cold Iona to Baithen, his friend and successor. Both
Reeves and O'Curry justly denounce the spirit of greed and impiety, that
would in recent times try to palm off on simple-minded people certain
impudent forgeries as the genuine oracles of the saints of God. Such
fraudulent practices are injurious to religion: they dishonour the saints,
and are unworthy of any publisher who calls himself a Catholic.


Of these Colgan with his usual industry and erudition has published five.
The author of Colgan's _First Life_ is unknown, but Colgan believed that
it was written by some contemporary or disciple of the saint, and he
therefore placed it first in order. The _Second Life_ is attributed by
Colgan to Cuimine the Fair[267] (Cuimineus Albus), seventh abbot of Hy;
who, if he did not himself see the saint, was in daily intercourse with
those who did. Adamnan cites this author by name, and embodies the work in
his own splendid biography. The _Third Life_ is that published by
Capgrave, and taken by him from John of Teignmouth--a learned Benedictine
monk, who flourished about the year A.D. 1366. He was a mere compiler, not
an author. Colgan's _Fourth Life_ is the celebrated one by Adamnan, to
which we shall refer at length a little later on. The _Fifth Life_ is a
lengthy one written in Irish. Its author was Manus O'Donnell, chief of
Tir-Connell, as the writer distinctly sets forth in his Preface:--"Be it
known to the readers of this Life, that it was Manus, son of Hugh, son of
Hugh Roe, son of Niall Garve, son of Torlogh of the Wine O'Donnell, that
ordered the part of this Life, which was in Latin to be put into Gaelic,
and who ordered the part that was in difficult Gaelic to be modified so
that it might be clear and comprehensible to every one; and who gathered
and put together the parts of it that were scattered through the old books
of Erin; and who dictated it out of his own mouth, with great labour and a
great expenditure of time in studying how he should arrange all its parts
in their proper places, as they are left here in writing by us; and in
love and friendship for his illustrious Saint, Relative, and Patron, to
whom he was devoutly attached. It was in the castle of Port-na-tri-namad
(that is Lifford--the Port of the three enemies) that this Life was
indited when were fulfilled twelve and twenty and five hundred and one
thousand years of the age of the Lord (A.D. 1532)."

What may be called the autograph copy--it has never yet been
printed--exists, says Dr. Reeves, in all its original dimensions, beauty,
and material excellence written in large vellum folio in double columns,
and is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Colgan's edition is
merely an abstract of the Irish life rendered into Latin. It may be
safely said that O'Donnell's Life comprises everything that has been
written, or handed down by tradition, concerning Columcille. Some of the
miraculous stories which he gives were deemed so extravagant even by
Colgan, that he omitted them in his own compilation. Still, this Life is
of great value, and we hope to see it soon fitly edited by some competent
Irish scholar.


Besides Columba himself there were several other distinguished scholars
connected with Iona. Of these the most distinguished was the celebrated
Adamnan, ninth abbot of Hy. Before, however, giving an account of Adamnan,
it will be useful to give a brief sketch of some of his predecessors in
the abbatial chair.

"Let Baithen write the rest," said Columba, when he was attacked with his
last illness, and dropped his pen at the end of the page in the middle of
the thirty-third psalm. The saying was taken as an indication of his wish
that Baithen should succeed him as head of the Columbian Houses. He was a
cousin of the founder, and had been for many years prior of Iona.
Moreover, he was in every way fitted for the high office by his virtues,
his learning, and his prudence. Kinship with the founder, too, was deemed
at the time an indispensable qualification for holding the abbacy. The
monastic family formed, as it were, a kind of spiritual clan or tribe, and
as connection by blood with the head of the tribe was deemed necessary for
the chieftaincy in the temporal order, so also was it deemed for many
generations to be essential in the spiritual order likewise.

Baithen from his boyhood was the pupil of Columba himself, and inherited
all his virtues. He was especially remarkable for his spirit of prayer.
When walking his hands were clasped in prayer beneath his habit: when
working at the harvest he prayed whilst he was carrying his handful of
oats to the sheaf; even at his meals he said, _Deus in adjutorum meum
intende_, between every two morsels of food. He was a monk in Derry, when
chosen by Columba to accompany him to Iona. There he was appointed a
general overseer of the work done by the monks in the field, but being an
accomplished scribe, he was often engaged in reading and writing. Like his
friend and master, whatever time he did not spend in relieving the wants
of others, he gave to reading, or prayer, or bodily labour; so his Life
expressly states.

His great virtues marked him as a fitting person to be sent to govern the
monastery, which Columba had founded at Magh-Lunga--the Plain of the
Ships--in the Island of Heth, called also Ethica, 'the low lying land of
the barley,' as it is called in an ancient Gaedhlic poem. It was situated
about twenty miles to the north-west of Iona, from which it is of course
distinctly visible. It is a low, sandy tract, about eleven miles long, and
varying in breadth from one to three. He, however, maintained a constant
connection with the parent house, which he frequently visited; for twenty
miles even of that wild sea were as nothing to the hardy sailor monks, who
knew that God watched over them on sea as well as on land. He wrought many
miracles, and possessed in a very striking manner that power, which our
Saviour gave His apostles, of casting out devils.[268] He is also
recognized either as the founder or patron saint of Taugh-boyne
(Teach-Baeithin), in the barony of Raphoe, county Donegal. It is not
unlikely that this was his native district, and was afterwards placed
under his special protection.

Baithen's rule as Abbot of Iona was very brief--from A.D. 597 to A.D.
600--three years exactly, if these dates are correct; for he died on the
same day of the month as his beloved master Columcille. He was seized near
the altar with a fainting fit on Tuesday, the 4th of June. The brethren
crowded round him in tears, for they thought he was going to die, and
Dermitius, Columba's old attendant, said to them, "You see, my brothers,
what a small interval will separate the feast-days of our two abbots."
Thereupon Baithen opened his eyes, and prayed earnestly to God not to take
him out of the world until the feast-day of his beloved master. His prayer
was heard; he died like Columba on the 9th of June, and, doubtless, was
buried beside him in that church, where they so often joined in prayer
before the same altar.

The very last sentence in the Life, as given in the Salamanca MS., states
that the intense pains, which he suffered, did not prevent the sick monk
from continuing his constant occupation of writing, praying, and teaching,
up to the very moment of his happy death.

Writing, praying, and teaching--truly fit occupations for the head of a
great monastic school. No wonder that Fintin, son of Lippan, when asked
about the learning of St. Baithen, replied--"Be assured that he had no
equal on this side of the Alps in his knowledge of sacred Scripture, and
in the profundity of his science."[269] There is an old Irish poem still
extant, purporting to be a dialogue between Columcille and Baithen, which
has been attributed to the latter; and some verses eulogistic of Columba
have also been circulated under his name. That he was a man of great
learning is undoubted; and that he left his spirit behind him in Iona will
be seen from what follows.

Columba used to say that Baithen was like St. John the Beloved in his
innocence and simplicity of heart, and that even in the rigorous
discipline of perfection they were not much unlike; but that it was very
different with their fosterers--he himself was very far indeed from being
like unto Christ.

Laisren, who had been Abbot of Durrow during Columba's lifetime, was now
called to succeed Baithen in Iona. We know little of his history, except
that he was uncle of Seghine, the fifth abbot, who ruled from A.D. 623 to
A.D. 652, during the stormy period of the Paschal Controversies. The
latter was an ardent defender of the ancient discipline both as to the
tonsure and paschal observance. He had been a pupil of Columba in Iona;
and was of his knowledge able to testify to many things concerning the
saint in presence of the Abbot Falveus, the immediate predecessor of

In literary history Seghine is chiefly remarkable as the person to whom
Cummian addressed his celebrated Epistle on the Paschal Question in the
year A.D. 634, to which we have referred at length already.[270] The
superscription is "Segieno Abbati Columbae Sancti et Caeterorum Sanctorum
Successori"--a high testimony to the reputed sanctity of his predecessors.
Seghine was also one of those to whom the Roman clergy during the vacancy
of the See in A.D. 640, addressed an important letter on the same subject.
This shows that from his high official position, as head of the Columbian
monasteries, and, doubtless, also from his high personal character, it was
deemed of the greatest importance to secure the adhesion of Seghine to the
Roman discipline. In this, however, the authors of both the letters were
disappointed. Seghine, who was animated with the unyielding and somewhat,
haughty spirit of Conal Gulban's line, could not bring himself to believe
that his sainted predecessors, whose holiness was proved by so many
miracles, could by any possibility be wrong in the discipline which they
followed. The monks who were trained under him, like Aidan and Colman of
Lindisfarne, were animated with the same spirit; so that even after the
Conference of Whitby the aged Colman preferred to leave his beloved
retreat in Lindisfarne, and sail back again to his stormy home on the
coast of Mayo, rather than adopt the new discipline; and we know that the
Irish monks of Lindisfarne followed him to a man.

Seghine was succeeded by Suibhne, the first "outsider" whom the monks of
Iona elected as head of their Order. Colgan observes that his genealogy is
not recorded in our native annals; whence we may infer that he owed his
elevation to his merit rather than to the accident of his birth. He died
in A.D. 657. His successor, Cuimine, was of the Cenel-Conail line, for he
was nephew of Seghine, the fifth abbot. He wrote a tract, _De Virtutibus
S. Columbae_, which is cited by Adamnan. It really forms the groundwork of
Adamnan's _Third Book_, into which it has been bodily transferred. It has
been also published by Colgan, and the Bollandists, though from different
sources. It is also to be found in the recently published _Salamanca
Codex_. This life shows that Cuimine was an excellent Latin scholar, and
although scarcely possessing the wide culture of Adamnan, he is little
inferior to that celebrated writer, in the graphic account which he gives
of the miracles and virtues of St. Columba.

The Paschal Epistle already referred to has been attributed to this
Cuimineus Albus, as Adamnan calls him. We have shown elsewhere that the
real author was Cummian Fada, Bishop of Clonfert; and it is well known
that during the whole of the seventh century the entire community of Iona
was vehemently opposed to the adoption of that discipline, which the
author of the Paschal Epistle advocates and defends. This of itself proves
that the Abbot of Hy was not its author. We are now come to Adamnan, the
ninth abbot, whose history we must narrate at greater length.


In the year 1845 Dr. Ferdinand Keller was poking with a German's
pertinacity through the shelves of the Town Library of Schaffhausen, in
Switzerland. In a corner of the room he found a high book chest filled
with all kinds of old MSS., without title or number of any kind, and at
the very bottom of the heap he came upon a dark brown parchment
manuscript, bound in moth-eaten beech wood, covered with calf skin,
carefully clasped in front, and very neatly and curiously sewed at the
back. It was a goodly quarto of 68 leaves, with double columns, written on
dark coloured goat skin parchment in large heavy drawn letters of the
character known as minuscular. Everything about the MS. showed great
antiquity--the cover, the parchment, the lettering, and the ornamentation.
Dr. Keller at first thought he had come upon a hitherto undiscovered
treasure; but in this he was mistaken. He only recovered a lost treasure,
and secured its preservation for the learned world. On examination, the
MS. turned out to be the oldest and most authentic copy of Adamnan's _Life
of St. Columba_, made in Iona either during the life time of Adamnan
himself, or certainly within a few years after his death.

The monastery of Richenau in the ninth century appears to have had many
Irish inmates; and this is not unnatural, for the great Irish monastery of
St. Gall was within a few miles of the shore of Lake Constance, and
considerable intercourse would naturally take place between the two
houses. Walafridus Strabo, Abbot of Reichenau, from A.D. 842 to A.D. 849,
had been previously Dean of St. Gall, and in his writings shows an
intimate knowledge of many things connected with Ireland, which he could
have learned only from Irishmen.[271] We know, too, from other sources,
that crowds of Irishmen came to France and Germany in the beginning of the
ninth century, and that many of them brought their books from their
schools at home along with them, as Dungal brought the books which he
bequeathed to the monastery of Bobbio. It is thus easy to understand how
some of the monks of Iona, driven from home by the Norsemen, who so often
plundered the Island about the beginning of the ninth century, would
migrate to some friendly monastery on the continent, carrying their
literary treasures with them.

There can, however, be no doubt that the Schaffhausen MS. of St. Columba's
Life was written in the Island of Hy by one of the Family, so early as the
beginning of the eighth century. The character is of that peculiar kind of
which we have almost contemporary specimens the _Book of Kells_, and the
_Book of Durrow_, and which is now universally acknowledged to be purely
Irish; the ornamentation of the chapters and of the capital letters is
Irish; the orthography is Irish, and what is stranger than all, the Lord's
Prayer is written in Greek on the last page of the MS., and in Greek, of
which we have other specimens remaining in old Irish MSS. with the same
peculiar spelling, in the same semi-uncial character, without accents, and
without breathings--a fact which of itself indisputably proves that the
Greek tongue was taught and written in the Irish School of Hy, 1170 years

The Colophon, or superscription, in rubric, at folio 136, at the end of
the life, records, according to the usual custom, the name of the
scribe:--"Whoever reads these books on the virtues of St. Columba, let him
pray to the Lord for me, Dorbbeneus, that after death I may possess
eternal life."

In A.D. 713, Tighernach records the death of Dorbene, Abbot of Hy, the
very year of his election to that high office. There can be no doubt that
this Dorbene was the writer of the Schaffhausen MS.; there is no mention
of any other of the same name in our annals except of one Dorbene, whose
son Failan is said to have died in A.D. 724. This Dorbene was as Dr.
Reeves thinks, a layman; and, if his son died in A.D. 724, he himself in
the course of nature must have lived and died before Adamnan. But the
Abbot who died in A.D. 713, would have outlived Adamnan only nine years,
and in all probability had been for many years scribe of the monastery,
and may have written the book at the dictation of Adamnan himself.

And now, who was Adamnan? Unfortunately we know very little of his early
youth. He gives us to understand, at least by implication, that he was
born at or near Drumhome, in the barony of Tirhugh, and co. Donegal. The
church of Drumhome was founded by St. Columba, but St. Adamnan is the
patron; and this fact, too, indicates his connection with the locality.
There, also, he seems to have spent his earlier years; for it was there he
says, "in my youth that a very old man called Ferreol, a servant of
Christ, who is buried in Drumhome, told me of a glorious vision which he
saw, when fishing in the valley of the Finn, on the night of Columba's
death." Scarcely any traces of the old church of Drumhome now remain; but
it was once nobly endowed by the O'Donnells. Even so late as A.D. 1609, an
Inquisition tells us that "there are in the said parish of Drumhome, four
quarters of church land, three quarters of Columbkille's land, each
quarter containing six townlands, then in the possession of Lewis
O'Cleary," the head of that family, which the Four Masters have made
illustrious for ever. The old church was finely situated near the shore of
the Bay of Donegal, not far from Ballintra, and in view of the bold range
of mountains, where the sons of Conal Gulban so long and so nobly defended
their ancient freedom.

Adamnan's father, Ronan, was sixth in descent from that same Conal Gulban,
and thus belonged to the royal blood of Tirconnell; his mother was Ronnat,
a daughter of Enna, who gave his name to Tirenna, the territory that in
ancient times extended from Lough Foyle to Lough Swilly. Thus Adamnan was
of the same family as St. Columba himself; for Columba was grandson of
Fergus, son of Conal Gulban, and Adamnan was sixth in descent from the
same Fergus. He was born in A.D. 624, according to the best authorities,
just twenty-seven years after Columba's death, and, as we may fairly
assume, was in his youth placed under the care of the monks of Drumhome,
in whose old churchyard he himself tells us many of the monks of Columba
await a happy resurrection.

How long the boy remained in his native Tirhugh, feeding his spirit on the
glorious vision of its waves and mountains, we cannot now ascertain. It
was at that time, as we have seen, the custom of scholars, even of the
noblest birth, to visit the great monastic schools of the country, and all
the more celebrated masters were surrounded by crowds of eager students,
who lived on their wits, and lodged as best they could, generally in
little huts of their own contrivance. A curious story is told of St.
Adamnan himself in his youth, which amusingly illustrates what may be
called the University life of the time.

Finnachta, afterwards Monarch of Ireland, from A.D. 675 to 695, and
Adamnan's greatest friend, although of the blood royal, was at first very
poor. He had a house and wife, but only one ox and one cow. Now the king
of Feara Ross (Carrickmacross) strayed to the neighbourhood of Finnachta's
hut; his wife, too, was with him and a crowd of retainers; but they could
not find their way home, for the night came on dark, cold, and stormy, so
they were forced to take refuge in the hut. Small as it was, the size of
the house was greater than its wealth. Finnachta, however, "struck the ox
on the head and the cow on the head," and feasted all the king's people
sumptuously, so that no one was hungry.

Then the King and Queen of Feara Ross gave large herds of cattle to the
generous Finnachta, and made him a great man. Shortly after this time
Finnachta, not yet king however, was one day coming with a large troop of
horse to his sister's house, and as they rode along they overtook Adamnan,
then a young school boy, travelling the same road with a vessel full of
milk on his back. Anxious to get out of the way, Adamnan stumbled and
fell, spilling all the milk and breaking the jar to pieces. The cavalcade
rather enjoyed the fun and rode away; but Adamnan pursued them closely,
and said: "O, good men, I have reason to be sad, for there are three good
school-boys in one house, and they have us as two messengers--for there is
always one going about seeking food for the five--and it came to my turn
to-day. The gathering I made is scattered, and what I grieve for far more,
the borrowed vessel has been broken and I have no means to pay for it."
Then Finnachta declared he would make it all right, and he kept his word.
He not only paid for the vessel but he brought the scholars--clerics they
are called--to his own house, and their teacher along with them; he fitted
up the ale-house for their reception, and gave them such abounding good
cheer that the professor, exhilarated by the ale, or filled with the
spirit of prophecy, as the annals say, declared that Finnachta would one
day become the King of all Ireland, "and Adamnan shall be the head of the
wisdom of Erin, and shall become 'soul's friend,' or confessor to the

When Adamnan was duly trained in the wisdom of the Irish schools at home
his thoughts naturally turned to Iona. For that remote islet, surrounded
by the stormy waters and under the misty skies of the Hebrides, had long
been the religious home of his race and family. At this very time, when
Adamnan was about twenty-five years old, a cousin of his own, Seghine,
fifth Abbot of Hy, ruled the entire Order. So with the south wind blowing
fair, we may suppose the young scholar launched his currach on the Foyle,
and sweeping past the hills of Inishowen, he would in about twelve hours
see Columba's holy island slowly rising from the waves. As his bark
approached he would eagerly note all the features of the island--the
central rugged ridge, the low moory shores and narrow strait separating it
from the Ross of Mull on the mainland. With a heart swelling with emotion,
he must have stepped on the shore of Port Ronain, and then kneeling
prostrate before the Abbot in his wooden cell, begged to be admitted to
the habit of the Order. And we may be sure the venerable Seghine received
with open arms the strong-limbed, fair-haired boy, who was sprung of his
own ancient line and born in his own Tirhugh.

Adamnan began his novitiate about A.D. 650, and after thirty years'
service in the brotherhood was himself raised to the abbatial Chair in
A.D. 679. We know little of his life during this period, except that it
was eminent for virtue and learning. We have undoubted proofs of his
success in sacred studies, not only in the works that remain, but also
from the testimony of his contemporaries. He was, says Venerable Bede, a
virtuous and learned man pre-eminently skilled in Sacred Scripture.[272]
This is high testimony from a high authority. Father H. Ward felt himself
justified in saying that Adamnan was thoroughly educated in all the
knowledge of his time, liberal, sacred, and ascetical; that he was also
skilled in the Greek and Hebrew languages, as well as in the arts, laws,
and history written in his native tongue.[273]

Yet this learned monk was not above giving his assistance in the manual
labour of the monastery. He tells us in his life of St. Columba[274] how
on a certain occasion he and a number of other monks cut down as many oak
trees in one of the neighbouring islands, probably Arran, as loaded twelve
boats in order to procure material to repair the monastery; and how, when
detained by an adverse wind, St. Columba heard their prayer and procured
for them a favourable breeze to waft them home. This fact, incidentally
mentioned, proves that most of the monastic cells were made of oaken
boards, which were covered in with a roof of reeds. St. Columba's own hut
is represented as _tabulis suffultum_, and we know from other sources that
as a protection against the weather these cells were thatched with
reeds--_harundine tecta_. It is in this respect that the "Vita Columbae"
is so valuable because it gives us incidentally not only a graphic picture
of the simple and pious lives of the Family of Hy, but also of their food,
their clothing, their monastery, and their entire social arrangements.

Although St. Adamnan ruled the monastery of Hy from A.D. 679 to his death
in A.D. 704, he paid several visits to Ireland, and exercised a large
influence both on its ecclesiastical and civil polity. This was due partly
to his high character for learning and holiness, partly to his position
as supreme head of the Columbian Houses, and in great measure also to his
influence with Finnachta, the High King, from A.D. 675 to 695. It is not
easy to ascertain the exact date of these visits, nor the work done on
each occasion, but the substantial facts are certain.

In the year A.D. 684 one of the generals of the Northumbrian King,
Ecgfrid, made a descent on Magh-Bregh, that is the eastern plain of Meath
along the sea-shore. He pillaged and slaughtered in the usual fashion, and
furthermore carried off many captives, male and female. This attack was
wholly unprovoked, and, as Bede testifies, brought down upon the
Northumbrian prince the signal chastisement of heaven. In the following
year, rashly advancing against the Pictish King Brude, Ecgfrid was slain
and his army routed at a place called Dun Nechtain. Thereupon Aldfrid, his
brother, returned from Ireland, where he had been for many years an exile,
and succeeded to the throne. Aldfrid, during the years he spent in
Ireland, became intimate with Adamnan--our annalists call him the alumnus,
or foster son of Adamnan. Now that he was raised to the throne, the latter
took occasion to pay him a visit in order to obtain by his friendly
offices the release of the captives. Miraculously crossing the Solway
Frith, whose rushing tide "the best steed in Saxon land ridden by the best
rider could not hope to escape," he came to the Northumbrian Court at
Bamborough, and seems to have been received with open arms by his alumnus,
who at once consented to restore the captives, sixty in all, whom shortly
after Adamnan brought home to Ireland. But this visit to the English court
had other important consequences. "When he saw," says Bede, "during his
stay in our province (probably at Easter) the canonical rites of our
church, and was prudently admonished that they who were placed on a little
corner at the end of the world should not persevere in their peculiar
Paschal observance against the practice of the universal church, he
changed his mind and willingly adopted our custom." On the same occasion
he visited the monastery of Jarrow, where the monks greatly admired the
humility and modesty of his demeanour, but were somewhat scandalized at
his Irish frontal tonsure from ear to ear, then known as the tonsure of
Simon Magus.

On his return to Hy, Adamnan tried to induce his monks to adopt the Roman
Paschal observance; but they were so much attached to the practice
sanctioned by their great and holy founder that even Adamnan failed to
bring about a change. It was not until A.D. 716, twelve years after his
death, that they finally consented to adopt the Dionysian cycle of
nineteen years in fixing Easter Day.

He was more successful in Ireland. On his return thither with the captives
in A.D. 686, a Synod seems to have been held for the purpose of bringing
about this change, to which he himself alludes in his _Life of St.
Columba_. Neither the time nor place of the Synod can be exactly
ascertained; it is not unlikely, however, that it took place on the Hill
of Tara at the "Rath of the Synods," where tradition still marks out the
place of "Adamnan's Tent," and "Adamnan's Cross."[275] Others think it was
held at a much later date in A.D. 696 or 697, when "Adamnan's Canon" was
published, to which we shall refer later on. It is certain, however, that
Adamnan exerted his great influence thenceforward to introduce the new
Paschal observance into Ireland, although he did not perhaps finally
succeed until towards the end of his life.

On this occasion Adamnan's visit was not of long duration; but he paid a
second visit to Ireland in A.D. 692--fourteen years after the death of his
predecessor, Failbhe, as the Annals say. This time it was a political
question that attracted him from Hy. For forty reigns the men of Leinster
had been paying the cow-tax, known as the Borumean tribute, to the princes
of the Hy-Niall race, to which Adamnan himself belonged. Finnachta,
however, the reigning High King, the old friend of Adamnan, remitted this
tribute at the prayer of St. Moling, whom our Annalists represent as
having recourse to a curious equivocation to effect his purpose. The king,
at the prayer of the Saint Moling consented to remit payment of the tax
for "the day and night." "All time," said the saint, when the king had
pledged his royal word to this remission, "is day and night; thou canst
never re-impose this tax." In vain the monarch protested that he had no
such intention; the saint kept him to his word, promising him heaven if he
kept it, and the reverse if he did not. When Adamnan heard how weakly the
king had yielded the ancient rights of the great Hy-Niall race, he was
somewhat wrathful, and at once sought out the monarch, and asked to see
him. The king was playing chess, and told Adamnan's messenger, who asked
an interview for the saint, that he must wait till the game was finished;
then he played a second and was going to play a third, when the saint
threatened him with reading a psalm that would not only shorten his life,
but exclude him from heaven. Thereupon he came quick enough, and at once
Adamnan said, "Is this true that thou hast remitted the Borumha for day
and night?" "It is true," said the king. "Then it is the same as to remit
it for ever," said the saint; and he "scolded" him in somewhat vigorous
language, and made a song on him on the spot, calling him a foolish,
white-haired, toothless king, and using several other epithets the reverse
of complimentary.

Of course all this is the work of a northern bard, who puts into the mouth
of Adamnan language which he would use himself; nevertheless, there is a
substratum of truth in the story highly coloured as it is by poetic
fiction. In the end, however, the writer adds:--"Afterwards Finnachta
placed his head on the bosom of Adamnan, and Adamnan forgave him for the
remission of the Borumha." Shortly after, however, Adamnan was again angry
with the king, and foretold "that his life would be short and that he
would fall by fratricide." The Irish life gives the true cause of the
anger and the prediction; it was because Finnachta would not exempt from
taxes the lands of Columbkille, as he exempted the lands of Patrick,
Finnian, and Ciaran. This not unnaturally incensed the saint against the
ungrateful king, whose throne he had helped to maintain. The prediction
was soon verified; Finnachta fell by the hand of a cousin in A.D. 697.

It was on his return to Hy after this second visit that Adamnan seems to
have written the _Life of Columbkille_. Shortly after he paid a third
visit to Ireland in A.D. 697, and apparently spent the remaining seven
years of his life in this country. It was in that year, most probably, was
held the Synod of Tara in which the _Cain_, or Canon of Adamnan, was
promulgated. According to a story in the _Leabhar Breac_ there are four
great Laws, or "Canons" in Ireland. The Canon of Patrick, not to kill the
clergy; the Canon of the nun Dari, not to kill the cows; the Canon of
Adamnan, not to kill women; and the Sunday Canon, not to travel on that
day. The origin of the Canon of Adamnan was this:--He was once travelling
through Meath, carrying his mother on his back, when he saw two armies in
conflict, and a woman of one party dragging a woman of the other party
with an iron reaping hook fixed in her breast. At this cruel and revolting
sight, Adamnan's mother insisted that her son should promise her to make a
law for the people that women should in future be exempted from all
battles and hostings. Adamnan promised and kept his word[276]--in A.D.
696, according to the _Ulster Annals_. That is he procured the passing of
a law exempting women and children--innocentes--from any share in the
actual conflict or its usual consequences, captivity or death. This fact
is substantially true, though considerably embellished in the
details.[277] And Ireland owes the great Abbot a lasting debt of gratitude
for procuring the enactment of this law, which was afterwards re-enacted
in A.D. 727, when the relics of Adamnan were removed from Iona to Ireland
and the "law renewed." There were several other Canons probably enacted at
a Synod held at Armagh about the same time, but this is far the most
important of them all.

The _Life of St. Gerald_ of Mayo represents Adamnan as governing the
monastery of that place, originally founded by the Saxons, for seven
years. Tradition also connects the saint with the Church of Skreen in the
county Sligo, of which he is the patron, and was in all probability the
founder. As head of the Columbian Order it was his duty, from time to
time, to visit the Columbian Churches in Ireland, of which there were very
many, especially in Sligo and Donegal. He may thus have spent a
considerable time in Mayo of the Saxons, although the _Life of St. Gerald_
is very unsatisfactory evidence of the fact.

We cannot stay to notice the alleged "cursing" of Irgalach by Adamnan. The
story is intrinsically improbable and unsustained by respectable
authority. In the last year of his life, A.D. 704, he returned to Iona.
Although the monks would not consent to give up St. Columba's Easter, he
loved them dearly, and wished to bless them before he died. After his
noble life he might well rest in peace with the kindred dust of all the
saints of Conal Gulban's line that sleep in the holy island.

A century later, however, as we have seen, the sacred relics were
transferred to Ireland, but it is not known for certain where they were

Adamnan's two most important works are his _Vita Sancti Columbae_, and his
book, _De Locis Sanctis_.

The life of St. Columba has been pronounced by Pinkerton to be "the most
complete piece of such biography that all Europe can boast of, not only at
so early a period, but even through the whole middle ages." Adamnan
himself declares that he wrote the book at the earnest request of the
Brothers; and that he states nothing except what was already written in
the records of the monastery, or what he himself heard from the elder
monks, many of whom saw the blessed Columba, and were themselves witnesses
of his wonderful works. The entire narrative, which is written in fairly
good Latin, furnishes ample proof of the truth of this statement. Hence
the great value of this Life, not only as an authentic record of the
virtues and miracles of St. Columba, but also as a faithful picture of the
religious life of those early times by a contemporary writer, so well
qualified to sketch it, and who does so quite unconsciously. The
manuscript in the library of Schaffhausen is of equal authority with the
autograph of the saint, if, indeed, it were not actually written at his
dictation, so that the most sceptical cannot question the authenticity of
this venerable record. The Life was printed from this codex by Colgan in
1647, and by the Bollandists at a later date. But the edition published in
1837 by Dr. W. Reeves for the Irish Archæological and Celtic Society, is
by far the most valuable. The notes and appendices to this admirable
volume render it a perfect mine of wealth for the student of Irish

Venerable Bede gives us a very full account of the treatise _De Locis
Sanctis_, in the 16th and 17th chapters of the fifth book of his
_Ecclesiastical History_. It is, he says, a book most useful to the reader
(in that age). The author, Adamnan, received his information about the
holy places from Arculfus, a bishop from Gaul, who had himself visited
Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, and all the islands of the sea.
When returning home a tempest drove his vessel to the west parts of
Britain,[278] where he met Adamnan, probably in Hy, to whom he narrated
all the noteworthy scenes he had gone through. Adamnan at once reduced the
narrative to writing, for the information of his own countrymen. He
presented the work to his friend King Aldfrid, through whose liberality
copies were multiplied for the benefit of the young, if such be the
meaning of Bede's phrase:--"Per ejus largitionem etiam minoribus ad
legendum contraditus." Bede himself was greatly pleased with the book,
from which he inserts several extracts in his own history, concerning
Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Mount Olivet, and other places in Palestine. It was
published at Ingoldstadt in 1619.

A Life of St. Patrick and some poems have been attributed to Adamnan, but
there is no evidence to prove that they are genuine. The same may be said
of the "Vision of Adamnan," a kind of moral discourse in Irish, which
purports to relate a wonderful vision of the joys of heaven, and of the
torments of hell, as seen and narrated by the saint. The work is certainly
very ancient, but contains many things that go far to disprove its own

When we consider the life and writings of this great man, as well as the
large influence which he exercised on Irish affairs during the latter half
of the seventh century, few will be disposed to question his right to take
a high place amongst the saints and scholars of the west. He has been
justly described in the prologue to the _Vision_ as "the noble sage of the
Western World." We have already quoted Bede's high testimony to his virtue
and learning. The Four Masters emphatically endorse that testimony, and
add that "he was tearful, penitent, fond of prayer, diligent and ascetic;"
and that he was, moreover, "learned in the clear understanding of the Holy
Scriptures of God."

After the death of Adamnan, A.D. 704, the Annals of Hy become less
interesting. It still retained its headship of all the Columbian houses
both in Erin and Alba--its abbots holding what is called a _principatus_
over the rulers of the subject monasteries. Mention is also made of the
_cathedra_ of Columba and of Iona; but probably the same thing is
meant--not episcopal or territorial jurisdiction, but the supreme
authority over the Columbian houses and their wide domains. Reference,
however, is made, for instance, in A.D. 712, to the death of "Ceddi,
Bishop of Iona," but he doubtless derived his jurisdiction from the abbot.
In A.D. 717 we are told that the Pictish King, Nectan, expelled the
Columbian monks from his dominions, because they refused to conform to the
general discipline as to the paschal observance, and the coronal tonsure.
This seems to have brought the entire community to a sense of their duty,
for now at length, under the Abbot Faelcu, they began to wear the Roman
tonsure, as they had already adopted the Roman Easter. In A.D. 727 we are
told that the "Relics of Adamnan" were brought to Ireland, and his Law
renewed in that country. The object of bringing over these relics seems to
have been to heal a feud between the Cenel-Eoghain and Cenel-Conal, in
which the clergy appear to have been also mixed up, contrary to the Cain
or Law of Adamnan. The relics were brought back again by the abbot in A.D.

In A.D. 739, we read of the _Dimersio familiae Iae_, as if the greater
part of the community were lost in some flood or shipwreck--most likely
the latter. In A.D. 753, and in subsequent years reference is made to
enforcing the Law of Columcille, which seems to have been a tribute
assessed by the parent house on the subject monasteries and their adjacent
lands. As the relics of Adamnan were carried to Erin, where his Cain was
enforced, so it is likely some relics, if not of Columba's body, yet in
some other way connected with him, were carried round on these occasions.

Iona had now become a celebrated place of pilgrimage. Even kings and
princes, as Columba had predicted, came to the island shrine, and were
deemed especially happy, when they died on their pilgrimage. Niall
Frassach gave up his crown to take the pilgrim's staff, and died in Iona
in A.D. 778; so did Artgal, son of Cathal, King of Connaught, in A.D. 791,
and many princes of the Picts and Saxons in like manner.

Thus for two hundred years since the death of their holy founder, the
community had been growing in celebrity and influence, but now a day of
trial and doom was at hand.

In A.D. 794 the 'Gentiles' made their first descent on the Hebrides; the
following year they attacked and pillaged the holy island itself. It was,
however, only the beginning of the evil time. It was burned in A.D. 802,
and the same year saw the death of Connachtach, 'a very choice scribe,'
whose end was doubtless hastened by the sight of his beloved monastery in

Fortunately, however, the community of Hy got two years later "a free
grant of Kells without a battle." They had, doubtless, been claiming it as
their own; for it was given to Columba by King Diarmait long ago; but the
place may have got into other hands in the interval. Now, however, that
they had recovered it in peace, they resolved to make it their
headquarters in future. In A.D. 807 they began to build a new religious
'city' in Kells; the great church was finished in A.D. 814, when the old
Abbot Cellach resigned the principatus of Iona, which thenceforward was
transferred to Kells, where the new abbot fixed his official abode. It
seems that the venerable Cellach would not leave his beloved island for
the new city in Ireland, and so he resigned his office, and next year went
to his rest in that old churchyard, where the bones of so many of his
sainted predecessors were already laid.

Many of the monks still clung with the same tenacious affection to the
old monastery in the sacred island of Columba, although they knew that
they lived there in daily peril of their lives. It was thus the martyrdom
of St. Blaithmac came to pass in A.D. 825. The Gentiles' fleets were once
more upon the seas. Word was brought that they were harrying the
neighbouring islands; and the monks of Iona betook themselves to flight.
It was not difficult to cross the narrow strait, and escape into the wild
hills of Mull. But Blaithmac would not stir; he was ardently longing for
the crown of martyrdom, and now the hour of his triumph was at hand. He
had hidden the shrine containing the relics of the holy founder, adorned
with gold and gems, deep in the earth, and covered over the spot with
fresh green sods, so as to leave no trace of the treasure beneath. This
was, however, what the spoilers wanted. They asked the old man where he
had hidden the shrine. He refused to tell; and then, enraged by baffled
greed, they slew him on the spot. It was fitting that Iona, the sacred
nursery of so many doctors and confessors, should also have its martyrs in
the ranks of the saints of God. It was fortunate, too, that the heroic
martyr should have found a poet to celebrate his triumph in verses not
unworthy of such a Christian hero.

Walafridus Strabo, a monk of the abbey called Augia Dives, now Reichenau
in Switzerland, heard of the heroism of the Ionian monk from his fellow
monks who had fled for refuge to their countrymen in this Irish House on
the Rhine. Of German birth himself, he was filled with admiration for such
lofty Christian courage; and composed a poem of 180 Latin hexameters, in
which he celebrates the fortitude of--

  "Blaithmaic, genuit quem dives Hibernia mundo,
  Martyriique sequens misit perfectio caelo."

The poem is too long to insert here, but it is a noble tribute from the
pen of a foreigner to the courageous virtue of the Columbian monk who gave
his life for Christ in Iona more than one thousand years ago.

The Rule of Columba[279] required that his monks should be ready for
martyrdom whenever God's honour required it. Their mind was to be always
fortified and steadfast for 'the white martyrdom' of patient endurance;
but they were also bound to have the mind if occasion arose prepared for
'red martyrdom.' Blaithmac found the opportunity and was unwilling to lose
his crown.



  "A voice from the ocean waves,
    And a voice from the forest glooms,
  And a voice from old temples and kingly graves,
    And a voice from the catacombs."
                              --_Aubrey de Vere._


During the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries Kells became the Head of
the Columbian Monasteries, and produced several distinguished men. Its
professors are frequently referred to during this period in our Annals,
especially during the eleventh century. Two of them bore the name of Ua h
Uchtain, of whom one was unhappily "drowned coming from Alba, with the bed
of Columcille--it was a stone--and three of Patrick's relics, and thirty
persons along with him." In A.D. 1050 died Maelan of Ceanannus, a
distinguished sage; and eleven years later the death of Ciaran is noticed,
another distinguished sage of the same school.

Meanwhile Kells did not escape the ravages of the Danes. In A.D. 949,
_recte_ 951, it suffered greatly. Godfrey, King of the Danes of Dublin,
marched to Kells, and having plundered all the country round about,
returned home with "3,000 captives, besides gold, silver, raiment, and
various wealth and goods of every description."[280] Although Kells
suffered much in various attacks, both before and after this date, it is
doubtful if the good monks of Columcille were ever so completely cleaned
out as on that occasion. It is called an _expilatio_ by an old
chronicler--pillage that left nothing after it. Kells was five times
plundered during the tenth century; once also at the close of the ninth,
and once at the opening of the eleventh century; and it was burned during
the same period even oftener than it was plundered. Yet the school and
monastery lived on, and after the Danish wars seem to have become once
more quite flourishing.

The celebrated _Cathach_, to which we referred when speaking of the School
of Moville, was enshrined at Kells about the close of the eleventh
century. On the margin of the under silver plate of the casket, which
contains the MS., the following words in Gaelic are still quite legible.

"Pray for Cathbarr O'Donnell for whom this casket was made, and for
Sitric, son of Mac Aedha, who made it, and for Domnald Mac Robartaigh
Comarb of Kells, at whose house it was made." As this abbot of Kells died
in A.D. 1098 the _cumdach_, or casket, must have been fabricated by
MacHugh's son before that date, probably at the joint expense of O'Donnell
and the abbot.

The family of Mac Robartaigh seems to have produced several distinguished
scholars during this century, many of whom were connected with the
monastic school of Kells. The Mac Robartaigh clan appears to have belonged
to Donegal. The parish of Ballymacgroarty in Tirhugh was most likely their
family inheritance, as it takes its name from the clan. The celebrated
Marianus Scotus was a member of the same family; for in his own hand he
describes himself as Muredach Mac Robartaig, giving his original Irish
name, instead of the literary patronymic, which his learning and virtue
have immortalised.


Scribe and Commentator on Sacred Scripture, must be carefully
distinguished from his countryman and namesake Marianus Scotus the
Chronicler. We have fortunately an authentic Life of the former written by
another Irishman, who was an inmate of the same religious house as
Marianus, and who tells us that he derived his information from Father
Isaac, then living, the life-long associate of Marianus himself.

This Life sets forth that Marianus was a native of the North of Ireland,
but does not name the locality in which he was born. In his early youth he
was handed over by his parents to the care of certain religious men in
order to be trained up for the clerical state in all learning and pious
discipline. There is hardly a doubt that the reference here is to the
monks of Drumhome, in the barony of Tirhugh, county Donegal. The old
monastic church was situated near the sea shore, where the boy must have
often wandered in view of the noble mountains that rise up so grandly
beyond the bay, and in the sight and hearing of the wild Atlantic waves
that break upon its shore. Later on he was doubtless sent to Kells to
complete his studies, for several members of his family presided over that
abbey about this period.

We gather from statements made by Marianus himself, that he left Ireland
in A.D. 1067; and therefore just eleven years after the departure of his
namesake, Marianus the Chronicler. At this period old Father Isaac
described him to the writer of his life, as a handsome fair-haired youth,
strong-limbed and tall, moreover a man of goodly mien, and gracious
eloquence, well trained in all human and divine knowledge.[281] His
purpose was to go on pilgrimage to Rome; but calling to see Bishop Otho of
Bamberg, he was induced to remain with that prelate for a whole year.
Subsequently the bishop gave Marianus and his two companions a cell at the
foot of the mountain, in which they lived as recluses, the bishop
generously supplying their simple wants.

After the Bishop's death they journeyed on to Ratisbon, where they were
once more induced to stay at the earnest entreaty of the venerable abbess
Emma and her nuns. As before they lived as recluses in their own little
cells, Marianus devoting himself with great zeal to the composition and
transcription of religious books for the good abbess Emma and her nuns. He
also found leisure to write books for the monks around Ratisbon; "for his
pen was swift, his handwriting clear and beautiful, and his labour
incessant." He worked so diligently in his cell that his two companions,
John and Candidus--Irishmen also--found quite enough to do in preparing
the parchments which he filled up with the words of salvation. We are
expressly told that they all laboured without fee or reward--giving their
books gratuitously, contenting themselves with the poorest raiment and the
plainest and scantiest fare. "To tell the truth without a fog of words,"
says the writer of the _Life of Marianus_, "amongst all the things which
Divine Providence wrought by the hands of the said Marianus, nothing in my
opinion is so wonderful and praiseworthy as the zeal with which the holy
man, not once or twice, but frequently transcribed with his own hand the
entire Old and New Testament with commentaries and explanations; while at
the same time he wrote many smaller books, and psalters for poor widows,
and for the needy clerics in the same city (of Ratisbon), and that, too,
merely for his soul's sake, without any hope of earthly gain. Moreover,
many monastic congregations in faith and charity imitating the same
blessed Marianus, having come from that same Ireland (Hibernia), and now
dwelling throughout Bavaria and Franconia, are for the most part sustained
by the writings of that same holy man."

Such is the noble testimony borne to the learning, zeal, and charity of
this pure-souled Irish monk in the land of the stranger. And therefore it
was that, not without good reason, he and his countrymen were so warmly
welcomed and so generously treated in all the great cities of mediæval

But Marianus was quite as remarkable for the holiness of his life as for
his learning and literary labours. "He was," says the writer of his Life,
"like Moses, the meekest of men; and God bestowed upon him in a wonderful
way the gift of healing many diseases, but especially fevers, and not only
during his life, as I have heard from trustworthy witnesses, but at his
tomb after his death, _as I have seen with my own eyes_."

We cannot now, however, give an account of the celebrated monastery of St.
James of Ratisbon, which was founded by Marianus for his countrymen, who
came to that city in great numbers towards the close of the eleventh
century, nor of the great scholars which it produced.

Marianus is described by Aventinus in the _Annals of Bavaria_ as a
distinguished poet and theologian--poeta et theologus insignis--second to
no man of his time. His poems are unfortunately lost, but his Commentaries
still remain to us at least in manuscript. His Commentary on the Psalms
was so highly valued, as Aventinus tells us, that it was not allowed
outside of the walls of the monastic library without a valuable deposit
being left to secure its safe return. There is in the Cotton collection a
codex not yet published entitled _Liber Mariani genere Scoti excerptus de
Evangelistarum voluminibus sive Doctoribus_.

His most famous work, however, is the codex containing the Epistles of St.
Paul, with a marginal and interlinear commentary. This precious MS. is now
in the Imperial Library at Vienna,[282] and is especially valuable because
it contains several entries in the old and pure Gaedhlic of the eleventh
century.[283] It is quite astonishing what a number of writers is quoted
by Marianus in the marginal gloss--Jerome, Augustine, Cassiodorus,
Arnobius, St. Gregory, Origen, St. Leo the Great, Alcuin, Cassian, Peter
the Deacon, Pelagius, and the Ambrosiaster are all laid under tribute. We
wonder how many Irish scholars of the present day are acquainted with

This great work was completed on Friday, the 16th day before the kalends
of June, A.D. 1079--he marks the date himself, and asks the reader to say
'Amen' to the brief prayer for his soul's salvation. "Amen, God rest him"
(_Amen Got der Erleich_), wrote a pious old German of the fifteenth
century on the face of the page in response to this pious request. Amen
say we too--may God give him rest--that God whom he served so well during
all the years of his pilgrimage in the land of the stranger.

"And now, my brothers," says the eloquent old Irish monk, who wrote the
Life of Marianus, thinking no doubt of his own far-off home in Ireland by
the swelling Boyne or winding Erne; "and now my brothers, if you should
ask me what will be the reward of Marianus and pilgrims like him, who left
the sweet soil of their native land which is free from every noxious beast
and worm, with its mountains and hills, its valleys and its groves so well
suited for the chase, the picturesque expanses of its rivers, its green
fields and its streams welling up from purest fountains, and like the
children of Abraham the Patriarch, came without hesitation unto the land
which God had pointed out to them, this is my answer: They will dwell in
the house of the Lord with the Angels and Archangels of God for ever; they
will behold in Sion the God of Gods, to whom be honour and glory for
endless ages."

The exact date of the death of Marianus is not marked, but it seems to
have occurred in A.D. 1088, just six years after the death of his namesake
the Chronicler. After Adamnan he was the most distinguished writer
produced by the Columbian Schools.[284]


As the great Columbian order of monks and scholars began in the Black Cell
of Derry, so also from Derry flashed out the latest bright gleams of that
sacred lamp which Columba had kindled, and which at one time irradiated
both Scotland and Ireland. Kells held the principatus during the ninth,
tenth, and eleventh centuries, as we have already stated; but during the
twelfth century Derry came again to the front, and produced a large number
of very distinguished men, most of whom belonged to a famous literary
family named Ua Brolchain, or O'Brollaghan. This family derived its
descent from Suibhne Meann, who was King of Ireland from A.D. 615 to 628.
He was of the Cenel-Eoghain, but belonged to a sub-division known as the
Cenel-Feradhaich, whose tribe-land seems to have been in the barony of
Clogher, County Tyrone. The first of the Ua Brolchain family noticed in
our Annals is Maelbrighde, whose death is recorded in A.D. 1029. He is
described as chief builder of his time in Erin.[285]

The next of the name whom we meet with is St. Maelisa O'Brolchain, a very
celebrated man, who died A.D. 1086. He was probably an alumnus of the
monastery of Derry, but afterwards retired to Both-chonais, an ancient
monastic church in Inishowen, which is best known from its connection with
this holy and learned man. It was delightfully situated[286] on the margin
of a semicircular bay in the north-western extremity of Inishowen, where
the fierce Atlantic billows spend their force in broken wavelets on its
sandy shore. It is well sheltered on the east and south by a range of
steep and rugged hills. The entire parish of Clonmany, in which it was
situated, abounds in natural curiosities as well as in objects of
antiquarian interest, such as cromlechs, raths, and castles perched on
lofty crags.

No traces of the old monastery now remain, but its site is probably marked
by an old church-yard in the townland of Binnion, situated close to a
narrow inlet of the bay, and in a spot which a sea-king of old might fitly
choose as the site of his stronghold. The place got its name of
Both-chonais--the House of Conas--from its founder, who was the husband of
St. Patrick's sister, Darerca, and by her the father of two holy bishops,
Mael and Maelchu. It is referred to at intervals as a place of some
celebrity during the ninth and tenth centuries, and the death of its
Airchinneach is recorded in A.D. 1049.

Maelisa O'Brolchain shunned church dignities, if he were not indeed a lay
professor; but all the same he certainly acquired great fame even in this
remotest corner of Erin both as a teacher and a scholar. The Four Masters
describe him as "the learned senior (or sage) of Ireland, a paragon of
wisdom and piety, in poetry as well as in both languages--(Irish and
Latin)." The term 'chief senior' is never given except to the most eminent
men, who were recognised as such by their contemporary annalists. Colgan
speaks of him, too, in the highest terms as an humble man shunning all
worldly honours, and devoted to a pious and studious life. He was the
author of many books "replete with genius and intellect," which were
preserved in the neighbourhood of Both-chonais in Colgan's time, but have
since unfortunately perished. "I have in my own possession," adds Colgan,
"some few fragments which he wrote," and which also appear to have
completely disappeared since Colgan's time. Even the site of his monastery
is uncertain. O'Donovan seems to think it was in the townland of Binnion;
but Reeves places it in the townland of Carrowmore, parish of Culdaff, on
the left-hand side of the road from Moville to Carn, and about three miles
from the latter village.[287] It is said that he founded an oratory at
Lismore, which was burned in A.D. 1116, and is called the Oratory of
Maelisa. He may have spent some time either as a student or as a teacher
in that celebrated seminary. He died in A.D. 1086 at a very advanced age,
for he had no sickness, but simply gave back his soul to God. This holy
and eminent scholar seems to have belonged to that class of learned lay
professors, of whom Conn-na-m-Bocht at Clonmacnoise was the most
remarkable example. They were equally renowned for holiness and learning,
but abstained from taking Holy Orders either from humility, or in order to
have more leisure and more freedom in the pursuit of knowledge.

The death of Aedh, son of Maelisa O'Brolchain, who is described as "an
eminent professor" (_praecipuus lector_), is recorded in A.D. 1095. He
was, doubtless, the son of Maelisa of Both-chonais, and probably lectured
either there or in the monastery of Derry. Two years afterwards, in A.D.
1097, the Four Masters record the death of Maelbrighde Mac-an-tsaer
O'Brolchain, Bishop of Kildare, who is described as a 'learned doctor.'
There can hardly be a doubt that he was the son of that chief
builder--_prim saer_--whose fame as a mason or architect was known
throughout all Erin, and who died in A.D. 1029. Then we find two members
of the family raised to the primatial Chair; one was Maelcolaim--disciple
of Columba--O'Brolchain, who died in A.D. 1122; and another, named also
Maelbrighde O'Brolchain, who died in A.D. 1137. It is not unlikely he
belonged to the class of laymen who claimed jurisdiction over, and called
themselves "Bishops of Armagh" during a portion of the eleventh and
twelfth centuries; for "Flaithbhertach, 'son of Bishop O'Brolchain,'"[288]
was Comarb of Columcille in Derry from A.D. 1150 to 1175. The history of
this remarkable man is especially noteworthy.

When he was elected as Comarb of Columcille to the abbacy of Derry, in
A.D. 1150, that ancient monastic seat of learning was, it appears, very
much dilapidated. Like other places near the sea, it was greatly exposed
to the ravages of the Danes, and had been several times plundered and
burned. Most of the buildings were of wood, for the great stone
church--Temple-more--was not yet built. A new era of ecclesiastical
architecture was, however, inaugurated in Ireland towards the middle of
the twelfth century by the workmen whom the Cistercians brought over from
France and England to build their own magnificent churches and
monasteries. Nothing like them had yet been seen in the land. There were
Irish workmen, however, who, if opportunity offered, would be worthy
rivals of the masons that built the Norman abbeys in France and England;
and they gave proof of their capacity in the building of Cormac's Chapel
at Cashel, which is a gem in its own way that cannot be surpassed. The
Abbot of Derry came of a family that had won renown as builders, and he
was anxious to show his own taste and skill in the renovation of the
ancient monastery over which he had just been placed. Money, of course,
was wanting, but it could not be long wanting to the Comarb of Columcille,
if he were resolved to procure it. He made an official visitation of the
Cenel-Eoghain, to whose kith and kin he himself belonged, and 'received
his tribute,' in A.D. 1150--the year of his appointment to Derry. Next
year he made a visitation of the Siol-Cathusaigh in the County Antrim,
"and he obtained a horse from every chieftain, and a sheep from every
hearth, and his horse and battle dress, and a ring of gold, in which were
two ounces, from O'Lynn, their lord." In A.D. 1153 he made a visitation of
the Dal Cairbre, and the Ui Eathach Uladh, and got a horse from every
chieftain, and a sheep from every house, and a screaball, a horse, and
five cows from O'Donlevy himself, and an ounce of gold from his wife.
Coined money was scarce; but cattle and horses were plenty, and would do
as well. Later on he even visited Ossory, and raised his tribute, and
procured immunity for the Columbian churches in Meath from all assessments
except, we presume, his own. Being at this time Head of the Columbian
Order, he was, doubtless, present at the great Synod of Kells, which was
held in that city by Cardinal Paparo in A.D. 1152; and during that year we
find he made no official visitation elsewhere. No doubt he had enough on
his hands; and we may be sure he voted for that Canon of the Council which
ordered tithes to be regularly assessed for Church purposes on all the
lands of Erin. It was what he had himself twice done already, and what he
could now do, not only with custom, but with law also in his favour.

O'Brolchain made an excellent use of the funds which he thus procured. He
removed all the houses that surrounded and disfigured the church of Derry,
and then built on the site of the old church that new Temple Mor which
gives its name to the parish, and appears to have been a large and
imposing structure. The Four Masters say it was eighty feet long, and that
it was built by O'Brolchain and his clergy, with the help of the king of
Ireland, in forty days. If so, the materials must have been all prepared,
and a large number of tradesmen must have been employed, which is not
unlikely, seeing that he had already built a limekiln[289] measuring
seventy feet every way, which took him twenty days to construct. The
limekiln was built in A.D. 1163; but the church was not erected until A.D.
1165, and it is highly probable that the walls were being built in the
meantime, and that the Four Masters mean that the church was covered in
during the space of 60 days, which might easily be done. Doubtless,
O'Brolchain constructed many other buildings also at Derry, for otherwise
he would scarcely have occasion for building that enormous limekiln.

The merits of O'Brolchain were fully appreciated by the clergy and people
of the north, and led to his formal elevation to the episcopal order in
the year A.D. 1158. He had previously enjoyed large jurisdiction as Comarb
of Columcille not only in Derry, but over the Columbian Churches
generally. It was felt, however, especially after the Synod of Kells, that
this state of things was now becoming anomalous and unsatisfactory, and
might lead to a conflict of jurisdiction between the Comarb of Columcille
and the regular diocesan authority. Hence it was resolved at a meeting of
the Irish Clergy, held in Meath in that year, to raise O'Brolchain to the
episcopal dignity, and circumscribe his jurisdiction by assigning him a
definite territory. The Four Masters record it in this manner:--

A.D. 1158. "A Synod of the Clergy of Ireland was convened at Bri Mac
Taidgh in Laeghaire (near Trim), when there were present twenty-five
bishops, with the legate of the Successor of Peter to ordain rules and
good morals. It was on this occasion the clergy of Ireland, with the
successor of Patrick, ordered a Chair, like every other bishop, for the
successor of Columcille--Flaithbheartach Ua Brolchain--and the Arch-abbacy
of the churches of Ireland in general." Very little is known of the
history of this Synod; but we may note the following important
facts:--The legate of the Comarb of Peter was Christian, Bishop of
Lismore; his presence at the Synod was sufficient to authorize the bishops
to proceed to the erection of a new See. The 'Chair' spoken of means not
merely a chair in that assembly, but a new diocese, with all the rights
and privileges canonically appertaining thereto. The new bishop was,
however, still allowed to retain, and perhaps for the first time
canonically to acquire, the Headship of all the Columbian monasteries. It
may be that Kells was still a rival, and that its abbot also claimed to be
Comarb of Columba; if so, this decree settled the question; and the new
bishop of Derry was formally recognised as the Head of all the Columbian
houses in Erin--for at that time there could be no question of any other.

Thus it was that the See of Derry was established. Mention is made of a
Bishop of Derry previously, and of a Bishop-abbot of Derry; but it was, so
to speak, by accident that this took place. There was no See of Derry, and
no Diocese of Derry until A.D. 1158, when O'Brolchain was formally
elevated to that dignity. It is not unlikely that he too was in Episcopal
Orders previously--but now for the first time he got a chair or diocese.
This eminent ecclesiastic, the founder of the Diocese of Derry, died in
A.D. 1175, and the Four Masters record his death with the following
honourable testimony:--

"Flaithbhertach O'Brolchain, Comarb of Columcille, a tower of wisdom and
hospitality, a man on whom on account of his goodness and wisdom the
clergy of Ireland had bestowed a bishop's chair, to whom the abbacy of Hy
had been offered (in A.D. 1164), died in righteousness, after exemplary
sickness, in the Duibhregles of Columcille; and Gilla Mac Taidgh Ua
Brenain was appointed to his place in the abbacy." It is a curious fact
that in A.D. 1173, we find recorded the death of Muiredhach Ua Cobthaich,
Bishop of Derry and Raphoe; but it only implies that before the year A.D.
1158 he was the bishop territorially of Derry; for after that date he
could have no legal claim to the See.

During the half-century between A.D. 1100 and 1150, Iona was under the
influence of the Kings of Norway, especially of Magnus the Great, who
subjected the island to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Man; but in A.D.
1156 royal Somerlid recovered Hy and others of the 'Southern' islands.
Being himself a Celt of Irish blood, he was anxious to restore the Celtic
influence in the island; and hence we find that in A.D. 1164, at his
instance the abbacy of Hy was offered to O'Brolchain, Abbot and Bishop of
Derry. But O'Brolchain being now Bishop of Derry, and the recognised head
of the Columbian Order, declined to accept the abbacy of Hy, preferring to
remain in Derry. Domhnall O'Brolchain, however, was appointed to the
insular abbacy, and being, like all his family, a building man, he
determined to signalize his reign by the erection of a great church in Hy.
It was the cathedral whose ruins are still to be seen, and they furnish a
striking monument of the taste and munificence of the Irish Abbot. On the
capital of the tower column are inscribed the still legible
words--DONALDUS O'BROLCHAN FECIT HOC OPUS. We cannot have absolute
certainty; but there can be no reasonable doubt of the identity of this
name with the Domhnall O'Brolchain, the prior and exalted senior, whose
death the _Annals of Ulster_ record in A.D. 1203, and the Four Masters in
A.D. 1202. After his death a certain Cellach,[290] "without any legal
right, and in despite of the family of Hy, erected a monastery there in
the middle of Cro-Hy." But the clergy of the North of Erin, bishops and
abbots, passed over into Hy and pulled down this new monastery; and Awley
O'Ferrall was elected Abbot of Hy by the suffrages both of the Foreigners
and Gaedhil. This points to an attempt made by the foreign influence to
eject the Irish monks from Hy; but for once it signally failed. The last
entry in our Annals records the death of Flann O'Brolchain, the last Irish
Abbot of Hy, in the year A.D. 1219. Thenceforward it ceased to be Irish,
and became a purely Scottish monastery and remained so until the


We cannot pass away from the School of Derry without some reference to one
of the most distinguished men it ever produced--the celebrated Gelasius,
who succeeded St. Malachy in the See of Armagh. He was one of that noble
band of prelates who, with Celsus, and St. Malachy at their head, did so
much for the true reformation of the Irish Church in discipline and morals
during the half-century that immediately preceded the advent of the
Anglo-Normans to our shores.

Gelasius in his native tongue was called Gilla Mac Liag, and also Gilla
Mac Liag Mic Ruaidhre. The term _Mac Liag_ is commonly taken to mean the
'son of the scholar;' and Harris assures us that he was so called because
his father was esteemed a man of learning, and the most considerable poet
of his age. He is sometimes called Diarmaid, which explains why his son is
called Gilla Mac Liag Mic Ruaidhri, that is the youngster, the son of the
scholar, who was the son of Ruaidhri. We know nothing further of his
family or birth-place; but Colgan, who had excellent means of obtaining
information, states that he was born in A.D. 1088. It is obvious that he
was a native of some territory near Derry, and received his early
education in that monastic school, for we find him while still very young
holding the important position of airchinneach--or erenach, as it is
frequently spelled--of that monastery. It is not improbable that his
father, the poet, was connected with the same monastery, if he did not
hold the same office. It was one which at this period might be held by a
layman, or even by a woman, if we may credit the statement of the Four
Masters, that Bebhinn, who died in A.D. 1134, whilst Gelasius was Abbot of
Derry, was the female erenach of that monastery. Gelasius became Abbot of
Derry in A.D. 1120 or 1121; and held that important office for sixteen
years. He must have given general satisfaction in his government of Derry,
for he was called by the voice of the clergy and nobles, and with the
assent of St. Malachy himself, to succeed that great prelate, when he
resigned the primacy of Armagh in A.D. 1137. The reign of Gelasius is
remarkable for two things--first, the success with which he asserted his
jurisdiction as Primate during his visitations in all parts of Ireland,
and secondly for his zeal in holding Synods to correct abuses and reform
the morals both of the clergy and of the people.

During the centuries preceding the twelfth century, which was a period of
reform, the jurisdiction of the Primate was practically in abeyance. If it
was recognised at all in the South of Ireland, it was certainly merely
nominal. This arose from many causes--the troubles of the times, the
rivalry of the native princes, the ravages of the Danes, and the intrusion
of laymen into the See of Armagh, who claimed to inherit the jurisdiction
of St. Patrick to the great disgust of all well disposed persons, both
clergy and laity, throughout Ireland.

The great Brian Boru did much to cause the primatial authority to be
recognised and respected once more in the South as well as in the North of
Ireland. When the great 'Imperator of the Scots,' himself from the South
of Ireland, came and laid his gifts on the altar of Armagh, and afterwards
ordered his body to be buried there, it was a recognition of the
primatial rights of Patrick's See which none could affect to ignore or to

Then during the next century Providence raised up a line of great and holy
prelates in Armagh--Celsus, Malachy, and Gelasius--men of courage,
learning, energy, and filled with the apostolic spirit, who expelled the
intruders, vindicated the rights, and, by their conduct and character even
more than by words, asserted the dignity of the primatial see.

Gelasius had certainly his own share in this noble work. The very year
after his accession to the see of Armagh he made a formal visitation
throughout the Province of Munster, and was everywhere received with
honour and loaded with gifts.

The next year he went to Connaught, where he was also received with all
honour and obedience. Torlough O'Conor was then King of Connaught; and
claimed to be High King of Ireland. He successfully asserted his claim by
over-running Munster, Meath, and Leinster in succession; he even
penetrated into Oriel and threatened Ailech itself. But he received the
Primate Gelasius with the most profound respect; he gave him efficient
protection in his journeys through the province, and seems to have also
assisted him in carrying out his schemes of reform. In fact, whether it
was because he wanted to correct abuses, or liked his treatment beyond the
Shannon, the Primate visited that province no less than four different
times before his death.

Gelasius was no less zealous in convening and presiding over Synods for
the maintenance of discipline and the extirpation of abuses.

The earliest of these was held at Holmpatrick by the Primate and St.
Malachy in A.D. 1148. It is called by the Four Masters Inis-Padraig, but
the place is the same--the small island near Skerries, now called
Holm-Patrick, or Patrick's Island. Its object was to make formal
application to the Pope in the name of the Irish Church for a pallium or
pall for each of the archbishops both of the old and new creation. St.
Malachy set out for France to meet the Pope, as we have already seen, but
died on his way at Clairvaux on the 2nd of November in the same year.

The object, however, was not lost sight of either by the Pope or the
Primate. Cardinal John Paparo landed in Ireland in A.D. 1151, and went
straight to Armagh to meet the Primate, with whom he remained for a week
making arrangements for the coming Synod. It was held at Kells, not
Drogheda or Mellifont, in the spring of next year, A.D. 1152, and was
attended by twenty-two bishops and five bishops elect, with a large
number--some 300 or more--of the clergy of the Second Order, both secular
and regular. We cannot here enter into the many interesting questions
connected with this Synod. It is enough to say that whilst formally
recognising the superiority of Armagh as the Primatial See, four palls
were granted by the Cardinal Legate, thus legally constituting four
archbishops in Ireland for the first time. It is, however, only in this
legal and technical sense that Gelasius can be described as the 'first
Archbishop of Armagh.' Other regulations were also made at this Synod, two
of which are especially noticed. It was ordered by the Synod to put away
all concubines from _men_[291]--not from the _clergy_, as Moore falsely
says; and also to pay tithes according to the usage of the Church
elsewhere. This is the first reference to tithes we find in our Annals,
and it is said that even the clergy did not care to introduce this new
system of getting a maintenance.

The zealous Primate held another Synod at Mellifont in A.D. 1157, partly
to have the new monastic church of the parent Cistercian House consecrated
with greater solemnity, and partly to pronounce sentence of
excommunication against Donogh O'Melaghlin for his impiety and contempt of
the Primate's authority. We are not acquainted with the full particulars;
but this public act by which the Prince of Meath was solemnly
excommunicated and deposed, and his brother appointed by the bishops and
the princes in his stead, shows that the Primate was a man of vigour, who
was resolved to adopt energetic measures to assert his own authority.

Next year we find Gelasius holding another Synod at a place called Brigh
Mac-Taidgh, near Trim, in Meath. Twenty-five bishops were present, with
Christian of Lismore, the Papal Legate in Ireland. The Connaught Bishops
were unable to attend, because they were robbed and maltreated near
Clonmacnoise on their way to the Synod by a party of soldiers belonging to
that very Diarmaid O'Melaghlin, whom the Synod of Mellifont had named King
of Meath the previous year. This incident shows the violent and lawless
spirit of the times, and how necessary it was for the Primate to vindicate
to the utmost of his power the authority of the Church, which alone could
keep these fierce and bloodthirsty princes in check. It was at this
Synod, as we have already seen, that a Bishop's Chair was set for
O'Flaherty O'Brolchain, who was on that occasion formally created, with
the assent of the Legate, first Bishop of Derry.

A few years later in A.D. 1162, the venerable Gelasius presided at another
Synod at Clane in Magh Liffe--the north of the present County Kildare. It
was at this Synod the important decree was passed, which required all the
_Fer-leighinn_, or professors throughout Ireland, to graduate in the great
School of Armagh. This decree more than anything else shows the far seeing
wisdom of the Primate. The School of Armagh was under his own immediate
direction and control, so that he could secure a thorough and orthodox
training in theology for the students. Then by requiring the professors
from all the other schools to attend lectures at Armagh, he secured at
once uniformity of system, and soundness of doctrine in all the other
schools where the clergy of the Irish Church were being trained for the
ministry. At the same time it was a recognition that as Armagh was the
seat of authority, it was also the mistress of sound theology. It is quite
evident that Gelasius was a man far superior to his contemporaries in
wisdom and the science of government.

In the same year he had the satisfaction of consecrating the great St.
Laurence O'Toole to be Archbishop of Dublin--the first prelate of that see
that was ever consecrated in Ireland. It is clear that the Primate was
resolved not to tolerate any longer the claim of the Archbishops of
Canterbury to metropolitan jurisdiction in any part of his primacy.

Yet another great assembly of the clergy and laity was held at Athboy in
Meath, in the year A.D. 1167. Both the Primate and Rory O'Connor, King of
Ireland, were present with many of the prelates and nobles of the North.
Its main object seems to have been to restore peace and concord between
the native princes, whose fratricidal strife had reddened every green
field in their native land, and offered such strong inducements to the
stranger to conquer and divide their inheritance.

The Primate saw the danger, and realized it to the full. As he had held a
Synod the year before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans to remove the cause
of the danger; so the year after their arrival, that is in A.D. 1170, he
held the last Synod of his clergy in his own city of Armagh, to concert
means to expel the foreigners, before they could secure a foothold in the

The venerable old man was then in the eighty-third year of his age, but he
had a braver spirit and a clearer mind than any of the degenerate children
of Niall the Great, whom he gathered round him in his primatial city. He
warned them, and he appealed to them in vain. When the day of trial came,
and Strongbow with his knights were besieged in Dublin, and by united
energetic action might have been driven into the sea more completely than
the Danes were at Clontarf, the men of the North were in their native
mountains ignobly heedless of their country's fate.

Alas! for the aged Gelasius, who had laboured so hard and so long for the
Irish Church and the Irish people. He saw the princes of his country bow
the knee in homage to the triumphant invader; he saw her prelates meet in
Cashel at Henry's summons to endorse his laws; he saw her petty chieftains
either warring with each other or allied with the Norman. Then, and only
then, the old man came from his episcopal city and kissed the hand of
Henry in his new capital of Dublin. He had his old white cow driven before
him to give him milk, which was his only sustenance. He paid his homage to
the king, and then returned home with a sad heart to Patrick's royal City.
Two years after he died at the age of eighty-five, and after his death was
recognised and honoured as a saint by the entire Church of Ireland.



  "Our princes of old, when their warfare was over,
    As pilgrims forth wandered; as hermits found rest.
  Shall the hand of the stranger their ashes uncover,
    In Bangor the holy, in Aran the blest?"
                              --_De Vere._

St. Comgall, who founded the famous School of Bangor, though not greatly
celebrated for his own learning, was the founder of a school which of all
others seems to have exercised the widest influence on the Continent by
means of the great scholars whom it produced.

Bangor and Armagh were by excellence the great Northern Schools, just as
Clonard was the School of Meath, Glendaloch of Leinster, Lismore of
Munster, and Clonmacnoise and Clonfert of Connaught. For it must be borne
in mind that Clonmacnoise was founded by St. Ciaran from Roscommon, that
he was the patron saint of Connaught,[292] and that until a comparatively
recent period it formed a portion of the Western Ecclesiastical Province.
The influence of the other schools, however, was mainly felt at home, or
to some extent in England, Scotland and Germany; but the influence of
Bangor was felt in France, Switzerland and Italy, and not only in ancient
times but down to the present day. There are great names amongst the
missionaries who have gone from other monastic schools in Ireland to
preach the Gospel abroad, but if we except St. Columba, who was trained at
many schools in Ireland, there are no other names so celebrated as St.
Columbanus, the founder of Luxeuil and Bobbio, and St. Gall, who has given
his name to an equally celebrated Monastery and Canton in Switzerland. It
is, then, highly interesting and instructive to trace the origin and
influence of this famous Irish school.


St. Comgall, the founder of Bangor, was a native of the territory
anciently called Benna Boirche,[293] or Mourne, the name of that wild but
beautiful mountain district extending from Carlingford Lough to the Bay
of Dundrum. There is some difference of opinion as to the exact date of
his birth, and indeed as to the length of his life; although all admit
that he died in the year A.D. 600 or 601. He seems to have been during his
life from boyhood to old age a friend and companion of St. Columcille, and
hence if we accept the length of his life given by the Bollandists[294] as
eighty years, we may fix his birth at about A.D. 520--which was also the
date, or near it, of Columcille's birth. Comgallus, the name by which he
was baptized, has been frequently explained to signify the 'lucky
pledge'--faustum pignus--because he was a child of benediction, the only
son of his parents, and born, too, when they were advanced in years. As
usual in the case of our Irish saints, several prodigies are said to have
taken place both before and shortly after his birth. His father was Sedna,
a small chief of the district then known as Dalaradia or Dalaray; his
mother was a devout matron called Briga, who is said to have been warned
before his birth to retire from the world, because her offspring was
destined in future days to become a great saint of God. These pious
parents took him to be baptized by a blind old priest, called Fehlim, who
knew, however, by heart, the proper method of administering the Sacrament
of Baptism. There being no water at hand a miraculous stream burst forth
from the soil, and the old priest feeling the presence of the divine
influence washed his face in the stream, and at once recovered his sight,
after which he baptized the child and gave him the appropriate name of
Comgall. This is only one of the numberless miracles recorded in the two
lives of St. Comgall, given by the Bollandists, but it will not be
necessary for our purpose to refer to them in detail.

The boy in his youth was sent to work in the fields, and seems to have
assisted his parents with great alacrity in all their domestic concerns.
When he grew up a little more he was sent to learn the Psalms and other
divine hymns from a teacher in the neighbourhood, whose precepts were much
better than his example. The young child of grace, however, was not led
away from the path of virtue; on the contrary, he seems in his own boyish
way to have given gentle hints to his teacher that his life was not what
it ought to be. On one occasion, for instance, Comgall rolled his coat in
the mud and coming before his master, the latter said to him, "Is it not
shame to soil your coat so?" "Is it not a greater shame," replied
Comgall, "for anyone to soil his soul and body by sin?" The teacher took
the hint and was silent; but the lesson was unheeded, and so the holy
youth resolved to seek elsewhere a holier preceptor.

This was about the year A.D. 545. At that time a young and pre-eminently
holy man, named Fintan, had established a monastery at a place called
Cluain-eidnech, now Clonenagh, near Mountrath, in the Queen's County. The
fame of this infant monastery had spread far and wide over the face of the
land; for although in many places in those days of holiness there was
strict rule, and poor fare, and rigid life, yet Fintan of Clonenagh seems
to have been the strictest and poorest and most rigid of them all. He
would not allow even a cow to be kept for the use of his
monks--consequently they had neither milk, nor butter; neither had they
eggs, nor cheese, nor fat, nor flesh of any kind. They had a little corn,
and herbs, and plenty of water near at hand, for the bogs and marshes
round their monastic cells were frequently flooded by the many tributaries
of the infant Nore coming down from the slopes of the Slieve-bloom
mountains. They had plenty of hard work, too, in the fields tilling the
barren soil, and in the woods cutting down timber for the buildings of the
monastery as well as for firewood, and then drawing it home in loads on
their backs, or dragging it after them over the uneven soil. The
discipline of this monastery was so severe and the food of the monks so
wretched that the neighbouring saints thought it prudent to come and beg
the Abbot Fintan to relax a little of the extreme severity of his
discipline, which was more than human nature could endure. The abbot,
though unwilling to relax his own fearful austerities in the least,
consented at the earnest prayer of St. Canice to modify the severity of
his discipline to some extent for the others, and they were no doubt not
unwilling to get the relaxation.

It speaks well for the love of holy penance shown by these young
Christians of Ireland that in spite of its severe discipline this
monastery was crowded with holy inmates from all parts of the country, and
amongst the rest came Comgall from his far-off Dalaradian home to become a
disciple of this school of labour and penance.

He remained a considerable time under the guidance of the holy Fintan, the
Benedict, of our Irish Church, who, although his "senior," or superior in
religion, was probably about his own age in years. There is little doubt
that it was from Fintan, Comgall learned those lessons of humility and
obedience which, as we know from his Rule and from his disciples, he
afterwards taught with so much effect to others. His teacher then advised
him to return to his own country, and propagate amongst his kindred in
Dalaray the lessons of virtue which he had learned at Clonenagh.

Hitherto it seems Comgall had received no holy orders. He was a monk and a
perfect one, of mature age too, but in his great humility he had hitherto
declined the responsibilities of the priesthood. Now, however, he resolved
to pay a visit to Clonmacnoise, which is about twenty miles to the
north-west of Clonenagh. Its holy founder, Ciaran, was scarcely alive at
this time, for he died in A.D. 544; but then, and long after, the fame of
the school was great, and crowds of holy men were attracted to its walls.
Here Comgall was induced to receive the priesthood from the holy Bishop
Lugadius, and after a short stay he returned northward to his own country.
This was probably about A.D. 550, or perhaps a little later.

Some authorities place the foundation of Bangor at this time; but it must
be understood only in a very qualified sense at this early date. Comgall
was now, indeed, a famous saint himself, and likely enough, companions
came to place themselves under his spiritual guidance. But we are
expressly told that for some time after his return he went about preaching
the Gospel to the people, especially amongst his own kith and kin, and in
all probability this took place before he established his monastery at
least on any permanent footing at Bangor. But the holy man longed for the
solitary life, and so we are told that he retired to an island in Lough
Erin, called INSULA CUSTODIARIA, or, as we should now say, Jail Island,
and there he practised such austerities that seven of the brethren who
accompanied him died of cold and hunger. He was then induced to relax his
penances and fastings; and shortly after, it seems, at the earnest prayer
of his friends, he was again persuaded to leave Jail Island and return to
Dalaray. This was about the year A.D. 559, which seems to be the most
probable date of the founding of Bangor, although the Four Masters fix it
so early as A.D. 552.

Bangor is very beautifully situated. It is about seven miles from Belfast,
on the southern shore of Belfast Lough, in the county Down, and may be
easily reached either by rail or steamer. It commands a fine view of
Carrickfergus on the opposite shore of the bay, with the bold cliffs of
Black Head further seaward; to the right, across the narrow sea the bleak
bluffs of Galloway are distinctly visible, and far away due north in the
dim distance, the Mull of Cantire frowns over a wild and restless sea. We
saw this fair scene on a fine day in June, when the sun lit up the
steeples of Carrickfergus, and glanced brightly over the transparent
waters, so deeply and purely blue, whose wavelets played amongst the bare
quartzite rocks, and we felt that if the old monks who chose Bangor to be
their home loved God they loved nature also. Most of all they loved the
great sea; it was for them the most vivid image of God; in its anger, its
beauty, its power, its immensity, they felt the presence, and they saw,
though dimly, the glory of the Divine Majesty. It was on the shore of this
beautiful bay, sheltered from the south-western winds, but open to the
north-east, that Comgall built his little church and cell. Crowds of holy
men, young and old, soon gathered round him; they too, without much
labour, built themselves little cells of timber or wattles; the whole was
then surrounded by a spacious fosse and ditch, which was their enclosure,
and thus the establishment became complete. If St. Bernard in his _Life of
St. Malachy_ was rightly informed, it is clear that there were no stone
buildings in ancient Bangor before the time of St. Malachy; and even he,
when restoring the place, with some of his companions, only built a small
oratory of wood which was finished in a few days.

Not its buildings, however, but its saints and its scholars, were the
glory of Bangor. St. Columba from his home in Iona came more than once,
with some of his followers, to visit Comgall and his good monks. On one of
these occasions one of the brothers died during the voyage, and the corpse
at first was left in the boat whilst the monks with Columba went to the
monastery. Comgall received them with great delight, washed their feet,
and on asking if all had come in, Columba said one brother remained in the
boat. The holy man Comgall going down in haste to fetch the brother found
him dead, and perhaps thinking it might have happened through his neglect,
besought the Lord, and calling upon the monk to rise up and come to his
brothers, the dead man obeyed. Walking to the monastery Comgall perceived
that he was blind in one eye, and telling him to wash his face in the
stream that still flows down to the sea from the church, he did so, and at
once recovered his sight. St. Comgall brought back the brother from the
grave, and, moreover, restored to him his eyesight. In this age of ours we
are apt to smile at such miracles as these, because ours is not an age of
faith; and the incredulity of the world around us make us incredulous
also. Yet our Saviour said to his disciples (Luke xvii. v. 6), "If you had
faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry
tree, be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea, and it
would obey you." We doubt if any of our Irish Saints ever did anything
apparently so foolish as this, yet even this they could do in the
greatness of their faith.

St. Comgall paid a return visit to Columba, and it is said that he even
founded a church in the Island of Heth, now called Tiree, one of the
western isles to the north of Iona. He also accompanied Columba in the
famous visit which he paid to King Brude, the Pictish King, who, at the
approach of the saints, shut himself up in his fortress on the shore of
the river Inverness. But Columba signed the sign of the cross, whereupon
the barred doors flew open in the name of Christ; and the pagan King of
the Picts, fearing with a great fear, allowed the saints to preach the
Gospel to his subjects.

A man so famous for holiness and miracles, soon attracted great crowds to
Bangor. St. Bernard in his _Life of St. Malachy_ says that "this noble
institution was inhabited by many thousands of monks." Joceline, of
Furness, a writer of the twelfth century, says that "Bangor was a fruitful
vine breathing the odour of salvation, and that its offshoots extended not
only over all Ireland, but far beyond the seas into foreign countries, and
filled many lands with its abounding fruitfulness." In the time of the
Danes we are told, on the authority of St. Bernard, that nine hundred
monks of Bangor were slain by these pirates--an appalling slaughter, but
not at all an unusual, much less an incredible massacre, for the North men
to perpetrate. The second life given by the Bollandists says distinctly
that in the various cells and monasteries under his care, Comgall had no
less than three thousand monks; but this it seems is to be understood of
all his disciples in other monasteries as well as in Bangor.

Amongst these disciples, besides Columbanus and his companions, of whom we
shall presently speak, were Lua, called also Mo-Lua, the founder of
Clonfert-Molua, now Clonfert-Mulloe, in the Queen's County, and St.
Carthach, founder of the great School of Lismore, which became almost as
famous as Bangor itself. Luanus from Bangor, who seems to be the same as
Molua, is said by St. Bernard to have founded a hundred monasteries--a
statement that seems somewhat exaggerated. Even kings gave up their crowns
and came to Bangor to live as humble monks under the blessed Comgall.

Special mention is made of Cormac, King of Hy-Bairrche, in Northern
Leinster. That prince had been freed from the fetters in which he was
held by the King of Hy-Kinselagh at the earnest intercession of St. Fintan
of Clonenagh. Before his death, however, he retired to Bangor, and in
spite of great temptations to return to the world, he persevered to the
end in the service of God, under the care of Comgall, to whom he gave
large domains in Leinster for the endowment of religious houses. Comgall,
according to some authorities, ruled over Bangor for fifty years, others
say for thirty, which is more likely to be true, and died on the 13th of
May, A.D. 600, at his own monastery of Bangor, in the midst of his
children, after he had received the Viaticum from the hands of St. Fiacra
of Conwall, in Donegal, who was divinely inspired to visit the dying
saint, and administer to him the last rites of the Church. His blessed
body was afterwards enclosed by the same Fiacra, in a shrine adorned with
gold and precious stones, which subsequently became the spoil of the
Danish pirates.

That literature, both sacred and profane, was successfully cultivated at
Bangor, will be made evident from the writings of the great scholars whom
it produced, even during the lifetime of its blessed founder. Humility and
obedience, however, were even more dearly prized than learning. It was a
rule amongst the monks that when any person was rebuked by another at
Bangor, whether justly or not, he immediately prostrated himself on the
ground in token of submission. They bore in mind that word of the Gospel,
"If one strike thee on the right cheek, turn also to him the other." But
the career of the great Columbanus will prove that when there was question
of denouncing crime against God, or adhering to the traditions of the holy
founders of the Irish Church, the monks of Bangor were men of invincible
firmness, who felt the full force of the Apostolic maxim--we must obey God
rather than man. In the question of celebrating Easter, according to their
ancient usage, this firmness bordered on pertinacity; but it was
excusable, seeing that it sprang from no schismatical spirit, but from a
conscientious adhesion to the ancient practice of the Church of St.


St. Columbanus was the great glory of the school of Bangor. He is one of
the most striking figures of his age; his influence has been felt even
down to our own times. The libraries which contain manuscripts written by
his monks are ransacked for these literary treasures, and the greatest
scholars of France and Germany study the Celtic glosses which the monks of
Columbanus jotted down on the margins or between the leaves of their

We cannot dwell at length on the facts of his life, striking and
interesting as his marvellous career undoubtedly is. His Life, published
by Surius, was written by an Italian monk of Bobbio, called Jonas, at the
request of his ecclesiastical superiors, and though full enough in details
regarding his career on the Continent, it is meagre as to the facts of his
youth in Ireland. It is, however, so far as it goes, authentic, for the
informants of Jonas were the members of his own community of Bobbio, who
were companions of the saint, and eye-witnesses of what they relate.

Columbanus, or Columba, was the Latin name given to the saint, probably on
account of the sweetness of his disposition. For although in the cause of
God he was impetuous, and sometimes even headstrong, we are told that to
his companions and associates he was ever gracious and quiet as the dove.
We know for certain that he was a native of West Leinster, and born about
the year A.D. 543[295] if not earlier, for he was at least 72 years at his
death in A.D. 615. In his boyhood he gave himself up with great zeal and
success to the study of grammar, and of the other liberal arts then taught
in our Irish schools, including geometry, arithmetic, logic, astronomy,
rhetoric, and music. He was a handsome youth, too, well-shaped and
prepossessing in appearance, fair and blue-eyed like most of the nobles of
the Scots. This was to him a source of great danger, for at least one
young maiden strove to win the affections of the handsome scholar, and
wean his heart from God. Old Jonas, the writer of the life, shudders at
the thought of the danger to which Columbanus was exposed, and the
devilish snares that were laid for his innocence. The youth himself was
fully sensible of his danger, and sought the counsel of a holy virgin who
lived in a hermitage hard by. At first he spoke with hesitation and
humility, but afterwards with confidence and courage, which showed that he
was a youth of high spirit, and therefore all the more in danger. "What
need," replied the virgin, "to seek my counsel. I myself have fled the
world, and for fifteen years have remained shut up in this cell. Remember
the warning examples of David, Samson, and Solomon, who were led astray by
the love of women. There is no security for you except in flight." The
youth was greatly terrified by this solemn warning, and bidding farewell
to his parents, resolved to leave home and retire for his soul's sake to
some religious house where he would be secure. His mother, with tears,
besought him to stay; she even threw herself on the threshold before him,
but the boy, declaring that whoever loved his father or mother more than
Christ, is unworthy of Him, stepped aside, and left his home and his
parents, whom he never saw again.

He went straight to Cluaninis (now Cleenish), in Lough Erne, whose hundred
islets in those days were the homes of holy men, who gave themselves up to
prayer, penance, and sacred study. An old man named Sinell,[296] was at
that time famous for holiness and learning, and so Columbanus placed
himself under his care, and made great progress both in profane learning,
and especially in the study of the sacred Scriptures.[297]

At this time the fame of Bangor was great throughout the land: so
Columbanus leaving his master, Sinell of Lough Erne, came to Comgall, and
prostrating himself before the abbot, begged to be admitted amongst his
monks. The request was granted at once, and Columbanus, as we are
expressly informed, spent many years in that great monastery by the sea,
going through all the literary and religious exercises of the community
with much fervour and exactness. This was the spring-time of his life, in
which he sowed the seeds of that spiritual harvest, which France and Italy
afterwards reaped in such abundance. His rule was the rule of Bangor. His
learning was the learning of Bangor. His spirit was the spirit of Bangor.

When fully trained in knowledge and piety, Columbanus sought his abbot
Comgall, and begged leave to go, like so many of his countrymen, on a
pilgrimage for Christ. It was the impulse of the Celtic mind from the
beginning--it is so still--the Irish are a nation of apostles. It is not a
mere love of change, or of foreign travel, or tedium of home; no, the
pilgrimage, or _peregrinatio_, was essentially undertaken to spread the
Gospel of Christ. The holy abbot Comgall gladly assented. He gave him his
leave and his blessing, and Columbanus, taking with him twelve companions,
prepared to cross the sea. Money they had none: they needed none. The only
treasure they took with them was their books slung over their shoulders in
leathern satchels, and so with their staves in their hands, and courage in
their hearts, they set out from their native country, never to return. At
first they went to England, and traversing that country, where it seems,
too, they were joined by some associates, they found means to cross the
channel and came to Gaul, about the year A.D. 575, when he himself was
about thirty-two years of age.

The apostolic man with his companions at once set about preaching the
Gospel in the half-Christian towns and villages of Gaul. Poor, half-naked,
hungry, their lives were a sermon; but moreover, Columbanus was gifted
with great eloquence, and a sweet persuasive manner that no one could
resist. They were everywhere received as men of God, and the fame of their
holiness and miracles even came to the court of Sigebert, king of
Austrasia, of which Metz was the capital. He pressed them to stay in his
dominions, but they would not. They went their way southward through a
wild and desert country, preaching and teaching, healing and converting,
until they came to the court of Gontran, grandson of Clovis, at that time
king of Burgundy--one of the three kingdoms into which the great monarchy
of Clovis had come to be sub-divided.

Gontran received the missionaries with a warm welcome, and at first
established them at a place called Annegray, where there was an old Roman
castle in the modern department of the Haute-Saone. The king offered them
both food and money, but these things they declined, and such was their
extreme poverty, that they were often forced to live for weeks together on
the herbs of the field, on the berries, and even the bark of the trees.
Columbanus used from time to time to bury himself alone in the depths of
the forest, heedless of hunger, which stared him in the face, and of the
wild beasts that roamed around him, trusting altogether to the good
providence of God. He became even the prince of the wild animals. The
birds would pick the crumbs from his feet; the squirrels would hide
themselves under his cowl; the hungry wolves harmed him not; he slept in a
cave where a bear had its den. Once a week a boy would bring him a little
bread or vegetables: he needed nothing else. He had no companion. The
Bible, transcribed, no doubt, at Bangor with his own hand, was his only
study and his highest solace. Thus for weeks, and even months, he led a
life, like John the Baptist in the wilderness, wholly divine.

Meanwhile the number of disciples in the monastery at the old ruined
castle of Annegray daily increased, and it became necessary to seek a more
suitable site for a larger community. Here, too, the Burgundian King
Gontran proved himself the generous patron of Columbanus and his monks.
There was at the foot of the Vosges mountains, where warm medicinal
springs pour out a healing stream, an old Roman settlement called Luxeuil.
But it was now a desert. The broken walls of the ancient villas were
covered with shrubs and weeds. The woods had extended from the slopes of
the mountains down to the valleys covering all the country round. There
was no population, no tillage, no arable land; it was all a savage forest,
filled with wolves, bears, foxes, and wild cats. Not a promising site for
a monastic settlement, but such a place exactly as Columbanus and his
companions desired. They wanted solitude, they loved labour, and they
would have plenty of both. In a few years a marvellous change came over
the scene. The woods were cleared, the lands were tilled, fields of waving
corn rewarded the labour of the monks, and smiling vineyards gave them
wine for the sick and for the holy Sacrifice. The noblest youths of the
Franks begged to be admitted to the brotherhood, and gladly took their
share in the daily round of prayer, penance, and ceaseless toil. They
worked so long that they fell asleep from fatigue when walking home.[298]
They slept so little that it was a new penance to tear themselves from the
mats on which they lay. But the blessing of God was upon them; they grew
in numbers, and in holiness, and in happiness, not the happiness of men
who love this world, but the happiness of those who truly serve God.

But now a sore trial was nigh. God wished to purify his servants by
suffering, and to extend to other lands the sphere of their usefulness.
The first trial came from the secular clergy. Those Irish monks were men
of virtue and austerity, but they were also in many respects very
peculiar. They had a liturgy of their own somewhat different from that in
use around them; they had a queer tonsure, like Simon Magus, it was said,
in front from ear to ear, instead of the orthodox and customary crown.
Worst of all, it sometimes happened that they celebrated Easter on Palm
Sunday, so that they were singing their alleluias when all the churches of
the Franks were in the mourning of Passion time. Remonstrance was useless;
they adhered tenaciously to their country's usages. Nothing could convince
them that what St. Patrick and the saints of Ireland had handed down to
them could by any possibility be wrong. They only wanted to be let alone.
They did not desire to impose their usages on others. Why should others
impose their usages on them? They had a right to be allowed to live in
peace in their wilderness, for they injured no man, and they prayed for
all. Thus it was that Columbanus reasoned, or rather remonstrated, with a
synod of French bishops that objected to his practices. His letters to
them and to Pope Gregory the Great on the subject of this Paschal question
are still extant, but he cannot be justified in some of the expressions
which he uses. He tells the bishops in effect in one place that they would
be better employed in enforcing canonical discipline amongst their own
clergy, than in discussing the Paschal question with him and his monks.
Yet here and there he speaks not only with force and freedom, but also
with true humility and genuine eloquence. He implores the prelates in the
most solemn language to let him and his brethren live in peace and charity
in the heart of their silent woods, beside the bones of their seventeen
brothers who were dead, "Surely it is better for you," he says, "to
comfort than to disturb us, poor old men, strangers, too, in your midst.
Let us rather love one another in the charity of Christ, striving to
fulfil his precepts, and thereby secure a place in the assembly of the
just made perfect in heaven."

Language of this character, used, too, in justification of practices
harmless in themselves, but not in accordance with the prevalent
discipline of the Church at the time, was by no means well calculated to
beget affection towards the strangers in the minds of the Frankish clergy.
Other troubles, too, soon arose. The young king of Austrasia, Thierry,
encouraged by Brunehaut, his infamous grand-mother, repudiated his lawful
wife and gave himself up to the most scandalous debauchery. Columbanus
admonished, remonstrated, rebuked in vain. Finding his efforts fruitless,
he denied the guilty pair admission to his monastery, and thereupon they
resolved to expel him and his monks from the kingdom.

For the time, however, he was only made a prisoner, and conducted to
Besançon, where he was kept under surveillance, until one day, looking
with longing to his beloved Luxeuil, and seeing no one at hand to prevent
him, he descended the steep cliff which overhangs the river Doubs, and
returned to his monastery. When the king heard of his return, he sent
imperative orders to have him and all his companions from Ireland and
Britain forcibly removed from the monastery, and conveyed home to their
own country. The soldiers presented themselves at Luxeuil when the holy
man was in the choir with his monks. They told him their orders, and
begged him to come voluntarily with them--they were unwilling to resort to
force. At first he refused; but lest the soldiers might be punished for
not resorting to that violence which they were unwilling to make use of,
he finally yielded. He called his Irish brethren around them: "Let us
go," he said, "my brothers, in the name of God." It was hard to leave the
scene of their labours, their sorrows, and their joys; hard to leave
behind them the graves of the seventeen brethren with whom they had hoped
to rest in peace. But go they must; the soldiers would not for a moment
leave them. It was a brief and sad leave-taking. Wails of sorrow were
heard everywhere for the loss of their beloved father; brother was torn
from brother, friend from friend, never to meet again in this world. Thus
it was that Columbanus and his Irish companions left that dear monastery
of Luxeuil, and were conducted by the soldiers to Nevers. There, still
guarded by the soldiers, they embarked in a boat that conveyed them down
the Loire to its mouth, where they would find a ship to convey them back
again to Ireland.

But it was not the will of Providence that Columbanus and his companions,
when driven from Luxeuil, should return to Ireland: other work was before
them to do. Accordingly, when they came to the mouth of the Loire, their
baggage, such as it was, was put on board, and most of the monks embarked.
But the sea rose mountains high, and the ship[299] which Columbanus
intended to rejoin when under weigh, was forced to return to port. A three
days' calm succeeded, and the captain, apprehensive of a new storm, caused
the monks and their baggage to be put on shore, for he feared to take them
with him. Thus left to themselves, Columbanus and his companions went to
Soissons to Clotaire, King of Neustria, by whom they were received with
every kindness and hospitality. The king cordially hated Brunehaut and her
grandson--his mother, Fredegonda, had murdered Brunehaut's sister--and he
was anxious to keep Columbanus in his own kingdom, but the latter would
not stay. He pushed on, with his companions, to Metz, the capital of
Austrasia, where Theodebert, the brother of Thierry, then reigned. Here he
was joined by several of his old monks from Luxeuil, who preferred to
follow their father in his wanderings, to remaining behind in the kingdom
of his persecutor.

Columbanus now resolved to preach the Gospel to the pagan populations on
the right bank of the Rhine and its tributary streams. So embarking at
Mayence, after many toils and dangers, they came as far as Lake Zurich in
Switzerland, and finally established themselves at Bregenz, on the Lake of
Constance, where they fixed their headquarters. The tribes inhabiting
these wild and beautiful regions--the Suevi and Alemanni--were idolaters,
though nominal subjects of the Austrasian kingdom. Woden was their God,
and they worshipped him with dark mysterious rites, under the shadow of
sacred oaks, far in the depths of the forest. Discretion was not a gift of
Columbanus, so he not only preached the Gospel amongst them, but axe in
hand, he had the courage to cut down their sacred trees; he burned their
rude temples, and cast their fantastic idols into the lake. It was not
wise; the people became enraged, and the missionaries were forced to fly.
After struggling for three years to convert this savage people,
Columbanus, perceiving that the work was not destined to be accomplished
by him, crossed the snow-covered Alps by the pass of St. Gothard, though
now more than seventy years of age,[300] and after incredible toil,
succeeded, with a few of his old companions, in making his way to the
Court of the Lombard King, Agilulph, whose Queen was Theodelinda, famous
for beauty, for genius, and for virtue.

At this time the Lombards were Arians, and Agilulph himself was an Arian,
although Queen Theodelinda was a devout Catholic. Mainly, we may assume,
through her influence the Arian monarch received the broken down old man
and his companions with the utmost kindness, and Columbanus had an ample
field for the exercise of his missionary zeal amongst the rude
half-Christian population. But first of all it was necessary to have a
permanent home--and nowhere could he find rest except in solitude. Just at
this time[301] a certain Jucundus reminded the King that there was at a
place called Bobbio a ruined church once dedicated to St. Peter; that the
place round about was fertile and well watered with streams, abounding in
every kind of fish. It was near the Trebbia, almost at the very spot where
Hannibal first felt the rigours of that fierce winter in the snows of the
Appenines, so graphically described by Livy. The king gladly gave the
place to Columbanus, and the energetic old man set about repairing the
ruined church and building his monastery with all that unquenchable ardour
that cleared the forests of Luxeuil, and crossed the snows of the Alps.
His labours were regarded by his followers as miraculous. The fir trees,
cut down in the valleys of the Appenines, which his monks were unable to
carry down the steep and rugged ways, when the old man himself came and
took a share of the burden, were found to be no weight. So, speedily and
joyfully, with the visible aid of heaven, they completed the task, and
built in the valley of the Appenines a monastery, whose name will never be
forgotten by saints or scholars.

The holy old man lived but one year after he had founded Bobbio. His
merits were full; the work of his life was complete; he had given his Rule
to the new house; he left behind him some of his old companions to
complete his work, and now he was ready to die. To the great grief of the
brotherhood, Columbanus passed away to his reward on the eleventh day
before the Kalends of December, in the year A.D. 615, probably in the
seventy-third year of his age. He was buried beneath the high altar, and
long afterwards the holy remains were enclosed in a stone coffin, and are
still preserved in the crypt of the old monastic Church of Bobbio.

It is not too much to say that Ireland never sent a greater son than
Columbanus to do the work of God in foreign lands. He brought forth much
fruit and his fruit has remained. For centuries his influence was dominant
in France and in Northern Italy, and even in our own days, his spirit
speaketh from his urn. His deeds have been described by many eloquent
tongues and pens, and his writings have been carefully studied to
ascertain the secret of his extraordinary influence over his own and
subsequent ages. His character was not indeed faultless, but he was
consumed with a restless untiring zeal in the service of his Master, which
was at once the secret of his power and the source of his mistakes. He was
too ardent in character, and almost too zealous in the cause of God. In
this respect he is not unlike St. Jerome, but we forget their faults in
our admiration for their virtues and their labours. A man more holy, more
chaste, more self-denying, a man with loftier aims and purer heart than
Columbanus, was never born in the Island of Saints.

The writings of Columbanus still extant are--a Monastic Rule, a
Penitential Treatise, sixteen short Sermons or Instructions, six Letters,
and a few Latin Poems.[302]

The _Regula Coenobialis_ or Monastic Rule is divided into ten short
chapters which treat of the fundamental virtues of the monastic life. It
is especially valuable in so far as it affords points of comparison and
contact with the more complete and systematic Rule of St. Benedict. In
some things it is exceedingly rigorous and very minute in the penances
which it imposes, even on the most venial and semi-deliberate faults. The
first six chapters are devoted to the essential virtues of the monastic
state--obedience, silence, self-denial in the use of meat and drink,
poverty and chastity. The maxim--_cibus monachorum sit vilis et
vespertinus_--seems to allow the poor monks only one plain meal in the
day, and that after vespers. He inculcates also a daily fast, daily
prayer, daily labour, and daily reading[303]--thus including in one
sentence the whole routine of monastic life. The _Liber de Paenitentiarum
Mensura Taxanda_ is equally rigorous and minute in prescribing penances
proportionate to the guilt of the sinner. In those days when there were no
elaborate scientific treatises on moral theology, it was very useful to
have a work of this kind which apportioned its own penance to almost every
class of sin. The confessor, or soul's friend, was thus enabled to form an
estimate sufficient for most practical purposes of the magnitude of the
crimes from the amount of the penance. To fast for a number of days,
weeks, or even years, on bread and water was the stern penance imposed on
the sinner, according to the measure of his guilt, by the rigid directors
of the early Irish Church. Drunkenness was punished with a comparatively
light penance--only a week on bread and water. That same would be even now
of great service if it were rigorously enforced.

The _Sermons_ have nothing specially characteristic to recommend them.
They are, however, brief and to the point, which is more than can be said
of many volumes of more modern discourses.

The _Six Letters_ are perhaps the most valuable of the literary remains of
Columbanus, because they reflect most clearly the character of the man and
the genius of the Celt. We have already spoken of his letters to Pope
Gregory the Great, and to Pope Boniface. Whilst full of respect for the
Holy See they exhibit an uncompromising spirit of resolute independence
and conscious integrity. The letter on the Paschal question to a certain
synod of French Bishops is written in the same spirit, and reminds the
Gallican prelates of some unpleasant truths, which they must have regarded
as a very great impertinence coming from a mere Irish monk, who had
uninvited taken up his quarters in the hospitable land of France.

The Latin poems show considerable acquaintance with the language, and are
especially valuable as exhibiting the classical culture of our Irish
schools in the sixth century. Most of them are in hexameter verse, but
contain few classical allusions. The prosody is sometimes faulty; but on
the whole it is perhaps better than the pupils or even the professors of
our colleges would produce at present if called upon at short notice.

The shorter Adonic verses are simply marvels of ingenuity, and it shows
great familiarity with the Latin language to be able to write an entire
letter of about 150 lines in this metre.

The two most celebrated literary monuments of St. Columbanus and the
School of Bangor that have come down to our time are the _Bobbio Missal_,
and the _Antiphonary of Bangor_, both of which are at present preserved in
the Ambrosian Library at Milan.

The Missal which was brought from Bobbio to Milan by Cardinal Frederic
Borromeo is undoubtedly of Irish origin, and was probably brought from
Bangor by St. Columbanus himself, or by some one of the Irish monks who
accompanied him. We shall not here repeat the critical arguments used by
scholars to prove that it was brought from Ireland in the sixth or seventh
century. The fact, indeed, is no longer questioned. This Missal is
particularly interesting, because it gives us so early a specimen of the
liturgy in use in our Irish Church. The _Missa Cotidiana_ of this Bangor
Missal has practically the same Canon as that now found in the Roman
Missal, and used throughout the entire world. There is greater variety in
the prayers, and our Celtic forefathers were fond of inserting a greater
number of them in the Mass after the _Gloria in Excelsis_. They were
inclined too to canonize their own local saints, and even sometimes
inserted their names in the Litanies and in the Canon of Mass without any
authority but their own devotion. This led not only to variety in the
public liturgy but sometimes to other grave abuses, which were not
eradicated until the time of St. Malachy and other great reformers of
Church discipline in the twelfth century.

Now that we have the Stowe Missal accessible to scholars in the Royal
Irish Academy, we may hope for a minute and careful comparison of these
two ancient books, in order to trace the beginnings of these discrepancies
in the liturgy which were first introduced into Ireland by the Second
Order of Saints, and afterwards led to so much inconvenience.

The Stowe Missal, which is so called, we presume, because it was kept so
long locked up in the Duke of Buckingham's Stowe Library, is considered
to have belonged to the ancient Monastery of Lorrha, in Lower Ormond,
Tipperary. Dr McCarthy, a very competent judge, thinks it represents the
ancient Patrician liturgy used by the First Order of the Saints of Erin,
whilst Bangor may be supposed to have the Mass in its Missal derived from
Wales, or more likely from Candida Casa.[304] The question is a very
intricate one, and full of interest, but cannot be discussed at length in
these pages.

The _Antiphonarium Benchorense_, or Bangor Hymnal, is a collection of
ancient hymns in the Latin language, which were in common use in the
ancient Church of Ireland. Many of them are contained in the _Book of
Hymns_ edited by Todd, to which we have already referred so often. Some of
them were in general use throughout the Latin Church, or at least in the
early Gallican Church, like the Hymn of St. Hilary. But others seem to
have been peculiar to Bangor, and hence have a special interest for us at
present. Such was the _Hymnus Sancti Comgilli Abbatis Nostri_; also the
_Hymnus Sancti Camelaci_, and another entitled _Memoria Abbatum
Nostrorum_, which has considerable historical interest, inasmuch as it
gives a metrical list of the abbots of Bangor down to the time of the
writer. These poems, and also the _Missa Cotidiana_ of the Bobbio Missal
may be seen in the second volume of Father O'Laverty's excellent _History
of the Diocese of Down and Connor_.

There is nothing specially interesting in subsequent history of the School
of Bangor down to the time of St. Malachy. It was totally destroyed by the
Danes, although a nominal succession of abbots was still kept up, whose
names are sometimes mentioned in our annals.


Dungal, however, after Columbanus was, perhaps the greatest glory of the
School of Bangor. This distinguished theologian, astronomer, and poet, was
one of the Irish exiles of the ninth century who were so highly honoured
in the Court of France. His name is not widely known to fame; yet few men
of his time held so high a place in the estimation of his contemporaries,
or rendered more signal service to the Church. The controversy concerning
image worship was carried on with great warmth in the Frankish Empire
during the first quarter of the ninth century, and in this contest Dungal
was the foremost champion of orthodoxy. He gave the _coup de grace_ to the
Western Iconoclasts; after his vigorous refutation of Claudius of Turin,
they troubled the Church no more. It is well, therefore, to know
something of his history.

That Dungal was an Irishman is now universally admitted. The name itself
is conclusive evidence of his nationality. It was quite a common name in
Ireland, and seems to have been peculiarly Irish. We know of no foreigner
who was called "Dungal;" but we find from the index volume of the _Four
Masters_, that between the years A.D. 744 and 1015 twenty-two
distinguished Irishmen bore that name.

In a poem which he composed in honour of his friend and patron,
Charlemagne, Dungal calls himself an Irish exile--_Hibernicus exul_. There
can hardly be a doubt that he was the author of this beautiful poem to
which we shall refer further on. At the close of his life he retired to
the Irish monastery of Bobbio, in the north of Italy, founded by
Columbanus, to which he left all his books, as we know from Muratori's
published list. One of them, according to the opinion of Muratori, was the
famous _Antiphonary of Bangor_, which Dungal brought from that great
school at home, and fittingly restored to Irish hands at his death.

Yet unfortunately we cannot fix the place or date of his birth in Ireland,
although the possession of the _Bangor Antiphonary_ leaves little room to
doubt that he was educated in the monastic school of St. Comgall. Not a
cross, nor even a stone, now remains to mark the site of the famous
monastery whose crowded cloisters for a thousand years overlooked the
pleasant islets and broad waters of Inver Becne;[305] but the fame of the
great school which nurtured Columbanus and Gall, and Dungal and Malachy
can never die.

In all probability Dungal left his native country in the opening years of
the ninth century. Two causes most likely induced him to leave Ireland,
the fame of Charlemagne, as a patron of learned men, and the threatened
incursion of the Danes, who were just then beginning their long career of
pillage and slaughter in Ireland.

However, in A.D. 811, we find Dungal in France. In that year he addressed
a remarkable letter to Charlemagne on the two solar eclipses which were
said to have taken place in the previous year, A.D. 810. He is described
at this time as a _recluse_, that is, one who led a monastic life in
solitude; he seems, however, to have had some connection with the
community of St. Denis, for he evidently recognised the Abbot Waldo as his
superior. From the tone of this letter we can also infer that the Great
Charles honoured the Irish monk with his intimacy and confidence, and the
monarch seems to have the highest opinion of Dungal's learning. He
accordingly requested the Abbot Waldo to ask the Irish monk to write an
explanation of the two solar eclipses, which are said to have happened in
A.D. 810. It is well known that Charles took a great interest in the
advancement of knowledge, and was himself a diligent student. Hence he was
anxious to understand that portion of divine philosophy, of which Virgil

  "Defectus solis varios lunaeque labores."

Moreover, although there certainly was a solar eclipse on the 30th of
November, A.D. 810, visible in Europe, it was alleged by many persons that
there had been another eclipse in the same year on the 7th of June, if not
visible in Europe, yet certainly visible in other parts of the world. This
last point especially seems to have staggered the scientific faith of the
royal scholar, and hence he appealed to his friend Dungal for an

The letter of Dungal in reply is exceedingly interesting. It is addressed
to Charles, and is entitled, "Dungali Reclusi Epistola de duplici solis
eclipsi, anno 810 ad Carolum Magnum." We have read it over carefully. It
is written in excellent Latin, and shows that the writer was intimately
acquainted with many of the classical authors, especially with Virgil and
Cicero. But we cannot guarantee its scientific accuracy in all points. He
starts with an explanation of the celestial sphere according to the
Ptolemaic system, and hence some of his statements seem very strange to
those acquainted with the Copernican theory only of the heavenly bodies.
In the main, however, his explanation of the eclipses of the sun and moon
is accurate enough.[306] "The Zodiac," he says, "or space through which
the planets revolve, is bounded by two lines," which he takes care to
explain are imaginary. "A third line drawn between them is called the
ecliptic, because when the sun and moon during their revolution happen to
be in the same straight line in the plane of this ecliptic, an eclipse of
one or the other must of necessity take place; of the sun, if the moon
overtake it in its course--_ei succedat_; of the moon, if at the time it
should be opposite to the sun. Wherefore," he adds, "the sun is never
eclipsed except the moon is in its thirtieth day; and in like manner the
moon is never eclipsed except near its fifteenth day. For only then it
comes to pass that the moon, when it is full, being in a straight line
with the earth opposite to the sun receives the shadow of the earth; while
in the other case, when the moon overtakes the sun (is in conjunction), by
its interposition it deprives the earth of the sun's light. Therefore when
the sun is eclipsed, the sun itself suffers nothing, only we are robbed of
its light; but the moon suffers a real loss by not receiving the sun's
light through which it is enabled to dispel our darkness." We think it
would require an intermediate exhibitioner to give as lucid an exposition
of the cause of the eclipse as was given by this Irish monk of the ninth
century, and we are quite certain he would not write it in as good Latin.

As for determining the exact dates of the eclipses of the sun, and,
therefore, the possibility of having two in the year A.D. 810, Dungal
cannot undertake to compute them, not having near him Pliny the Younger,
and some other necessary works. However, the thing is quite feasible, and
many ancient philosophers knew and foreknew--_scierunt et
praescierunt_--all about these eclipses. He concludes his letter with an
elegantly written eulogy of Charles the Great, imploring all Christians to
join with him in beseeching God to multiply the triumphs of Charles, to
extend his empire, preserve his family, and prolong his life for many
circling years. The language in the original is exceedingly well chosen
and harmonious.

After this time we lose sight of Dungal for several years. Charlemagne
died in A.D. 814, and was succeeded by his son Louis the Pious, and on the
31st of July, A.D. 817, Louis associated with himself his son Lothaire in
the Imperial Government. Lothaire, young and energetic, was crowned King
of Lombardy in A.D. 821, and next year proceeded to put his kingdom in
order. The warlike Lombards, though conquered by Charlemagne, and kept in
restraint by his strong arm, were a restless and turbulent people.
Lothaire, believing that education and religion would be the most
efficacious means to keep them in order, and consolidate his own power,
induced Dungal and Claudius of Turin, as well as several other scholars of
the Imperial Court, or the famous Palace School, to accompany him to
Italy. Claudius, a Spaniard, of whom we shall have more to say again, was
made Bishop of Turin; and Dungal opened a school at Pavia. In a short time
it became famous; for the master was the first scholar in the Court of the
Emperor. Students flocked from every quarter--from Milan, Brescia, Lodi,
Bergamo, Novara, Vercelli, Tortona, Acqui, Genoa, Asti, and Como.[307]
This was about A.D. 822, the very year, or as others say, the year after
Claudius became Bishop of Turin. About the same time Lothaire himself went
on to Rome, where he was crowned emperor by the Pope, Pascal I., with
great solemnity in A.D. 823.

Dungal and Claudius were thus immediate neighbours. Both were ripe
scholars, both held high and responsible positions; but Claudius, who had
long held erroneous doctrines, now thought it safe to throw off the
disguise. The wolf showed himself, and at once the Irish wolf dog sprang
upon his foe. In order to understand this struggle, which was the last
effort of Western Iconoclasm, we must go back a little and trace the chain
of events which led up to the crisis.

The Seventh Æcumenical Council, and Second of Nice, was concluded at that
city in A.D. 787. This Council, accepting the teaching propounded by Pope
Hadrian I. in his letter to the Empress Irene, and her son Constantine,
explained and defined the Catholic doctrine concerning the worship of
images. It was distinctly declared that supreme worship was due to God
alone; but that an inferior worship should be rendered to the Blessed
Virgin and the saints; and, finally, that a relative worship was due not
only to the sign of the Cross, but also to the pictures and images of the
Blessed Virgin, of the angels, and of the saints of God. This relative
worship was not, however, paid to the images on account of _their own_
supernatural excellence; it was only a token of the love and honour which
Christians have for the originals represented by the images.

The acts of this famous Synod were, of course, in Greek, so Pope Hadrian
had them translated into Latin, and sent a copy to Charlemagne, apparently
in A.D. 789 or 790.

Unfortunately the Latin version was very faulty in many respects.
Anastasius, the Roman Librarian, a most learned scholar and competent
authority, declares that the translator knew very little of the genius
either of the Greek or Latin language; that he made a word-for-word
translation, from which it was frequently impossible to ascertain the real
meaning; and hence, in his time, about sixty years later, few persons were
found to read or transcribe this faulty copy. So Anastasius himself found
it necessary to make a new and correct translation. The French
theologians, therefore, at whose head was the keen-eyed Alcuin, found in
this translation many things to censure, in which they were right, and
many other things they censured in which they were clearly wrong. The
result of their labours is known to history as the famous Caroline
Books--_Libri Carolini_. They were published under the name of Charles
himself, but Alcuin is generally regarded as the real author.[308]

The emperor was so pleased with his work that he resolved to send this
treatise to the Pope himself. Meantime, however, he convened the Synod of
Frankfort in A.D. 794, at which some three hundred Bishops of the Frankish
Empire are said to have assembled.[309] Here, again, the great monarch,
following the example, but scarcely imitating the modesty of Constantine
at Nice in A.D. 325, presided in person, and resolved to prove himself a
theologian. The Synod met in the great hall of the Imperial Palace. The
emperor was on his throne; the bishops were seated round in a circle; an
immense throng of priests, deacons, and clerics filled the hall. Rising up
from his seat Charles advanced, and standing on the step of the throne
pronounced an elaborate harangue, mainly on the heresy of the
Adoptionists, but referring also to the errors of the last Greek Synod
regarding image worship, and he called upon the prelates present to judge
and decide what was the true faith.

The Council did so, at least in their own opinion, after ten days'
discussion. They very properly condemned the heresy of the Adoptionists,
and the condemnation was approved in Rome; but in the Second Canon they
very improperly censured the Second Council of Nice, as if it declared
that the same worship and adoration were due to the images of the saints,
as are paid to the Holy Trinity. Of course the Council of Nice in their
authentic acts had declared exactly the reverse. Moreover, the prelates of
Frankfort added that they would give neither _servitus_ nor _adoratio_ to
the images of the saints; and, no doubt, they were right in the sense in
which they used these terms.

It seems probable that the Caroline Books, written about A.D. 790 or 791,
were approved of in this assembly before they were sent to the Pope. But
when Hadrian received them he very promptly and effectively refuted them.
To each censure of the Council of Nice he gave an elaborate answer, in
which the Pope convicts the authors of the Caroline Books, from the
extracts sent to him, of grave errors in doctrine, as well as of
misquotations and misrepresentations of the Fathers. He shows that they
did not understand the true meaning of the Sacred Scriptures in those
passages which they cited, that they attributed to the Nicene Fathers
errors which they never taught, and that it was the Pope, not the French
bishops, who had received authority to teach the Universal Church.

The authors of the Caroline Books richly deserved this castigation. They
went so far as to declare that the Synod of A.D. 754, which ordered images
to be broken, as well as the Synod of A.D. 787, which commanded them to be
worshipped, were _infamae_ and _ineptissimae_. God alone is, according to
them, to be _adored_ and _worshipped_, and the saints may be _venerated_;
but no kind of adoration or veneration may be paid to the images of the
saints, because they are lifeless, and made by the hands of men. It is
evident the Frankish theologians did not understand what is meant by
relative worship. They admit, however, that the images of the saints may
be retained for adorning churches, and also as memorials of the past; but
it is not lawful to worship them even by such veneration as is paid to
men, _salutationis causâ_. Such is the substance of the doctrine put
forward by the authors of the Caroline Books.[310] Pope Hadrian died on
Christmas Day A.D. 795, and the controversy concerning image worship seems
to have been lulled for some years in the West. It broke out again,
however, with greater warmth in A.D. 824. In the month of November of that
year an Embassy arrived at Rouen, where Lothaire was then holding his
court, bearing letters and presents from the Greek emperor, Michael the
Stammerer, to his western brother.

Michael was an Iconoclast, but not an extreme one; and wrote a very
plausible letter, in which he complains of the superstitious excesses of
the image-worshippers at Constantinople. He represents himself as the
friend of peace and harmony, anxious to repress the excesses of both the
extreme parties; and he beseeches his brother Lothaire to lend him his
aid, especially by his influence with the Pontiff of the old Rome, to whom
he sends several presents with a view to gain his good will and
co-operation for the same laudable purpose. Lothaire, ignorant of the real
facts of the case, and misled by this most deceptive document, promised
his assistance to the Greek ambassadors in Rome, and resolved to aid in
the good work of reconciling the extreme parties in the East. He wrote to
Pope Eugenius II. to that effect, and asked his permission to appoint a
conference of the prelates of his empire, with a view to sift the question
thoroughly. The Pope seems to have consented to this course; and the
conference met at Paris on the 1st of November, A.D. 825.

These gentlemen issued a most elaborate production addressed to the
emperor, by him to be forwarded to the Pope. They begin by attacking the
letter of Hadrian to Constantine and Irene, in which letter, as they
allege, he ordered images to be superstitiously adored--_quod
superstitiose eas adorari jussit_. In support of his doctrine he cited the
Fathers, but according to them it was _valde absona_ what he cited, and
_ad rem non pertinentia_.

Then they attack the Second Council of Nice which gravely erred by
ordering images to be worshipped, as the Great Charles had clearly proved
in the books sent to Rome by the Abbot Angilbert. And Hadrian, too, in his
answer to this treatise, when defending the Synod, wrote what he liked,
not what he ought--quae _voluit_, non tamen quae _debuit_.

This was not enough for this Paris Conference; they had the assurance to
dictate to the Pope what he was to write in reply to the Greek emperor;
and to Lothaire himself they recommended what he ought to write to the
Pope. On the point of doctrine they declare that nothing made by the hands
of man is to be adored or worshipped; and to prove their position they
quote St. Augustine, who, according to them, says that image worship had
its origin with Simon Magus, and a _meretricula_ called Helen!

When the Emperor Lothaire received these precious documents from the two
prelates, Halitgar and Amalarius, deputed to present them, and ascertained
their contents, he told them, as might be expected from a sensible man,
that the letter to the Pope especially contained some things that were
superfluous and more that were impertinent. He therefore commissioned
Jeremias of Sens, and Jonas of Orleans, to make extracts from the report
which would be more to the point and less likely to give offence in Rome;
telling them, at the same time, to show every respect to the Pope, as they
were bound to do; that although much might be gained by deference, nothing
could be effected by exasperating the Pontiff. If, he adds, the
_pertinacia Romana_ will make no concessions, but the Pope is prepared to
send an embassy to Constantinople, then let them try at least to induce
him to allow the emperor also to send an embassy in conjunction with that
of the Pope.

The emperor himself wrote a respectful and plausible letter to the Pope,
urging upon him to send ambassadors to the Greek court, adding that he
might send with them the two bishops who bore the report of the Paris
Conference to His Holiness; and that thus he might be instrumental in
restoring peace to the distracted Churches of the East.

Things were at this pass when Dungal appears upon the scene. The prelates
of France were, many of them at least, not quite sound on the question of
image worship; but Claudius of Turin, just about this time, brought things
to a crisis.

This Claudius was a Spaniard, educated in his youth by Felix, Bishop of
Urgel, in Spain, one of the leaders of the Adoptionist heretics. The mind
of Claudius was infected with this as well as several other errors; but
especially with the most extreme form of Iconoclasm.

Like Dungal, he seems to have been in high favour at court; but he kept
his errors at that time to himself, at least in their extreme form. When
appointed to the See of Turin he threw off the mask. On his first or
second visitation he removed the crosses from his cathedral, he broke the
images of the saints, and the holy pictures on the walls; he declaimed
from the pulpit even against the worship of the saints themselves, or
their relics in any shape or form; and finally, heartily denounced the
pilgrimage to Rome, which even then was customary with the faithful, as
unnecessary and superstitious.

These rash and violent proceedings gave great scandal to the faithful of
the diocese. They were divided into two factions; for the bishop had
numerous partisans of his own, but they were in a minority; and on one
occasion the prelate very narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the
mob. The wily Claudius, however, by his representations to the emperor, in
which he threw all the blame on the turbulence of the superstitious
Lombards, succeeded in maintaining his ground.

About A.D. 824 a friend of his, the pious Abbot Theodemir, wrote a
remonstrance to Claudius on his proceedings, in which he adjured him, by
the memory of their former friendship, to discontinue these odious
proceedings, reminding him how unworthy it was of a Christian bishop to
dishonour the Saints of God, to insult the Cross of Christ, and break the
images of His saints and martyrs.

This gentle remonstrance only made the Iconoclast more furious. He wrote a
reply to the holy abbot, a considerable portion of which has come down to
us, and shows Claudius in his true colours.

It is entitled--"Apologeticum atque Rescriptum Claudii Episcopi adversus
Theutmirum Abbatem."

It was this work brought out Dungal. He had hitherto been much pained at
the proceedings of Claudius; for being then in Pavia he could scarcely be
ignorant of what took place in Turin. Most of the French prelates,
however, themselves more or less infected with unsound doctrine, held
aloof; and even Agobard of Lyons wrote in favour of Claudius, so Dungal,
although probably only a deacon, if, indeed, at all in holy orders, felt
it his duty to come forward as the champion of the truth. He got his
teaching not in France or Germany, but in Ireland; so he was not tainted
with the errors of the Frankish theologians.

Dungal's treatise against Claudius is entitled: "Dungali Responsa contra
Perversas Claudii Taurinensis Episcopi Sententias."

In the prologue of the book Dungal declares that for God's honour, and
with the sanction of Louis and his son Lothaire, he undertakes to defend,
on the authority of the Holy Fathers, the Catholic doctrine against the
frantic and blasphemous trifling of Claudius, Bishop of Turin. Many times
since his arrival in Italy he had just cause to complain, whilst he saw
the field of the Lord oversown with tares, yet he held his peace in grief
and pain. He can, however, do so no longer, when he sees the Church
distracted, and the people seduced by deceivers. He first sets forth very
clearly the points at issue between the rival parties, and then proceeds
to refute Claudius, and prove the Catholic doctrine, observing at the
outset that it was astonishing insolence for any man to presume to
"censure and blaspheme that doctrine and practice which for 820 years or
more was followed by the blessed Fathers, by most religious princes, and
by all Christian households up to the present time."

After proving that these practices were not only not forbidden, but
sanctioned by God Himself in the Pentateuch, he goes on to establish this
tradition of the Catholic Church, quoting most of the Greek and Latin
fathers, the poems of Paulinus, Prudentius, and Fortunatus, the Acts of
the Martyrs and the Liturgy of the Church. He quotes, moreover, the
Apocalypse, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, at great length, to
prove the same doctrine, and alleges that it was the universal belief and
practice in the East and in the West from the days of the Apostles down to
his own time. The Greeks lately erred; but their errors were retracted and

It is impossible not to admire the great knowledge of Sacred Scripture and
Patristic literature displayed by the author. He reasons, too, clearly and
cogently; and writes in a limpid and flowing style. Indeed, we know no
writer of that age who excels Dungal in Latin composition, whether in
poetry or prose; and this is generally admitted by those acquainted with
the Latin literature of the period. Muratori observes that this work shows
that Dungal was a man of wide culture.[311] This is high testimony from
such an authority. Papirius Massonus, in his address to the prelates and
clergy of Gaul prefixed to the treatise of Dungal, calls him an excellent
theologian--_Theologus excellens_--and Alzog declares that the sophistical
reasoning of Claudius, Bishop of Turin, was refuted by Jonas, Bishop of
Orleans, but much _more ably_ by Dungal, an Irish monk of St. Denys, and
subsequently by Strabo and Hincmar of Rheims.

Dungal's was not only the ablest, but also the first work that was written
on the subject; for in it he alludes to the Synod or Conference of Paris
in A.D. 825, as held two years before. So it must have appeared in A.D.
827, long before the refutations published by Jonas, Eginhard, Strabo, or
Hincmar. Henceforward Iconoclasm began to lose ground in the West; and
soon entirely disappeared, until revived in the sixteenth century.

As was observed before, towards the close of his life, Dungal retired to
the monastery of Bobbio, to which he bequeathed his books. From Bobbio
they were transferred to Milan, in A.D. 1606, by Cardinal Frederic
Borromeo, and are now in the Ambrosian Library of that city. Among them
were three Antiphonaries, one of which seems to have been the famous
Bangor Antiphonary. Dungal, no doubt, procured these ancient rituals in
order to quote them against Claudius in support of the Catholic doctrine.
He appropriately dedicated the work to his countryman St. Columbanus.[312]

Columba, as Lanigan observes, was the real name of Columbanus, the founder
of Bobbio, and in all probability, when Dungal calls himself an _incola_
of the saint, he rather means fellow-countryman, than inmate of his

We cannot stay to criticise the poetry of Dungal. His best poem is an
elaborate eulogy on Charlemagne, written in hexameter. Some critics have
questioned if Dungal were the author; the style, however, even of the
opening lines of the poem, compared with the first lines of the epitaph
which he wrote on himself leaves no doubt that the "Irish Exile" was
Dungal. The smaller poems that survive, are written in elegiac metre, and
display considerable taste, although not much imagination.

There is every reason to think that Dungal, who died about the year A.D.
834, was buried in the crypts of Bobbio. He sleeps well with the friendly
saints of Erin; and we earnestly join in his own humble prayer, that he
may live for ever with those saints in heaven, even as their dust has long
commingled in their far-off graves under the shadows of the


We cannot close the history of the School of Bangor without giving a
sketch of the life of its greatest abbot, St. Malachy, who may, indeed, be
regarded as its second founder. We refer to him here, not because he was a
great scholar or a distinguished writer, but rather because the Abbot of
Bangor was the great reformer of the Irish Church in the twelfth
century--a man pre-eminent for the zeal, energy, and holiness of his
apostolic career in the face of the greatest difficulties and dangers. He
was, says the _Chronicon Scotorum_, the man who restored the Monastic and
Canonical rules of the Church of Erin; and that sentence is really a
summary of his whole life.

St. Malachy--in Irish Maelmeadhog--was born probably in the neighbourhood
of Bangor or Armagh in the year A.D. 1095. The family name was O'Morgair,
or O'Mongair, which it is said was afterwards changed into O'Dogherty. His
father was a lay professor or lecturer in the School of Armagh; but his
mother seems to have come from the neighbourhood of Bangor, of which her
brother, the uncle of Malachy, was afterwards titular abbot or perhaps
airchinnech. The boy was thus fortunate not only in having the advantages
of a famous school and a learned father; but also in attaching himself as
a personal friend and disciple to the great and holy Imar O'Hagan, who
then lived as a recluse in Armagh. It was doubtless under his holy
guidance that Malachy acquired that fund of solid virtue which he
afterwards exhibited throughout his life.

In consequence of his eminent virtues whilst still very young, Malachy was
promoted by Celsus of Armagh to deacon's orders; and shortly afterwards,
before he had attained the then canonical age of thirty, he was ordained a
priest by the same great prelate.

Wishing to perfect himself in sacred learning, and especially in the laws
and discipline of the Church, St. Malachy next went to the great College
of Lismore, which was at this period under the presidency of the venerable
Malchus, Bishop of Waterford, and apparently also of Lismore. St. Bernard
describes him as then an old man full of days and virtues, and richly
endowed with divine wisdom. He was an Irishman by birth, but had been
trained in the monastery of Winchester to a more accurate knowledge and
observance of ecclesiastical discipline than were to be found at that time
in Ireland. Under the influence and direction of this prelate the School
of Lismore became, perhaps, the first in Ireland,[315] and St. Malachy
fully availed himself of its great advantages.

On his return from Lismore in A.D. 1125, he was at once appointed to the
Abbacy of Bangor. His uncle, the lay or titular abbot, gave up to Malachy
peaceable possession of the ruined monastery and its wide domains, and
became himself an humble monk of the new community--yes, a new
community--the abbey lands were there, and a nominal abbot who enjoyed the
revenues, but no church, no school, no community.[316] The ancient home of
the saints had become a wilderness, the stones of the sanctuary were
scattered, no sacrifice was offered on its altars.

It was the work of the Danes, who made a more complete ruin of Bangor than
of any monastery elsewhere; because it was on the sea-shore of that narrow
channel between Down and Galloway, which was the highway of the pirates.
St. Bernard says that it was reported that in one day they slew nine
hundred monks at Bangor.

Malachy now took twelve brethren with him and began to build an oratory
once more at Bangor. It was finished in a few days, for it was an humble
building in the Irish style--opus Scoticum--constructed of planed boards,
but closely and firmly put together. Cells for the monks were built around
it, and thus Bangor again began to flourish.

Then Malachy most unwillingly was taken from his infant monastery and made
Bishop of Connor, that is of the entire County Antrim. At this time things
were in a dreadful state in Antrim. There is no reason to question the
testimony of St. Bernard. He is an independent and impartial witness, who
got his information from St. Malachy and the disciples, whom he had left
at Clairvaux. No doubt St. Bernard is rhetorical in style, but he is
definite in statement. The natives were indocile and immoral. They
neglected to go to confession, contracted illegitimate marriages, paid no
tithes or first fruits. There were few priests, and no preaching in the
churches. Malachy girt up his loins for the work before him. He went
amongst the people on foot, accompanied with a few disciples. He
admonished, he instructed, he ordained priests, he preached the Gospel
everywhere. He had to endure much, but in the end he succeeded. The face
of the country was soon changed, the desert bloomed as a garden, and the
people that were not the Lord's became once again the chosen people of

It was during these years that Malachy went to the south of Ireland on a
visit to his friend Cormac Mac Carthy, King of Cashel, and there founded
the monastery which St. Bernard calls monasterium Ibracense, on land given
him by King Cormac for that purpose. St. Celsus, Archbishop of Armagh, had
been driven by usurpers out of his See and was now in the south of
Ireland, at Ardpatrick, in the co. Limerick, over which, as heir of St.
Patrick, he claimed certain rights. Feeling his end approaching, and
knowing that St. Malachy was, of all others, best fitted to succeed him in
the Chair of St. Patrick, he sent him his crozier as a token of his wish
to have Malachy as his successor.

But Malachy was unwilling to be transferred to the primatial See, and not
without good reason. First of all he wished the translation to be made in
a canonical way by the bishops of the province with the sanction of
Gilbert the Papal Legate. This, however, was soon accomplished, the
temporal princes also giving their cordial adhesion to the proposal. Then
Malachy consented on one condition, that when things were put in order in
Armagh, he might be free once more to return to his own diocese and his
beloved monastery of Bangor.

Malachy now found that he had even a more difficult and dangerous task to
accomplish in Armagh than had awaited him in the County Antrim.

For more than two hundred years a family of usurpers had established
themselves at Armagh, and held the land and See of Armagh, transmitting it
from father to son, or grandson, in regular hereditary succession. Most of
them were laymen and married men; but they paid regularly ordained
prelates to perform all necessary episcopal functions, keeping for
themselves the lands, the nomination to the churches, and even the titles
of Bishops and Abbots of Armagh.

It has been said that some of these married men were regularly consecrated
prelates duly recognised by the Irish Church. There is not a shadow of
evidence for the statement, except _the name of bishop_ which is given to
some of them. On the other hand, we have unexceptionable testimony that
these men were laymen, and that the title of bishop was given to them,
although they were laymen. St. Bernard settles the question. He says that
this wicked and adulterous generation were so obstinate in asserting this
right of hereditary succession, that although clerics of their blood were
wanting, bishops were never wanting--that is bishops who were not even
clerics. Of these, he says, before Celsus there were eight married men,
learned enough but without orders.[317] "Denique jam octo extiterant ante
Celsum viri uxorati, et absque ordinibus, litterati tamen." Gerald Barry
tells exactly the same story--that various churches in Ireland and Wales
had lay abbots.[318] He explains too, how it came to pass. Certain
powerful men in the parish, who were at first the stewards of the church
lands, and defenders of the clergy, afterwards usurped the ownership of
the lands, and in order to secure them for themselves, their children, or
their relations, they called themselves abbots and owners of the lands,
leaving only to the clergy such chance offerings as they might happen to

Such a system was of course the fruitful root of many evils. St. Malachy
resolved to expel these usurpers from the See of Armagh. It was a long and
difficult task; and frequently his life was in deadly peril. But God
visibly protected him; he was patient, too, and prudent, as well as
zealous; and in the end was completely successful. After three years of
patient toil, he was universally recognised as Primate; and having thus
banished the usurpers, he resigned the See to the care of the learned and
saintly Gelasius, and retired once more to his beloved Bangor, keeping
only the charge of the episcopal Church of Down.

We cannot follow St. Malachy through his subsequent glorious career. He
went to Rome and was specially honoured by Pope Innocent II., who put his
own mitre on his head, and his own stole around his neck in presence of
his court, and appointed him his Legate for all Ireland. On his way to
Rome he stopped at Clairvaux, where he had the good fortune of meeting St.
Bernard, who became his dearest and most intimate friend. In him too, St.
Malachy, more fortunate even than St. Columba, found a biographer who made
the virtues and merits of the Irish saint known to posterity, and to the
entire Church of God.

The saint also left at Clairvaux four of his disciples to be trained there
under the eyes of St. Bernard himself in the discipline of the great
Cistercian Order. It is to them we owe the introduction of that order into
Ireland in A.D. 1142, and all the great religious houses which the
Cistercians founded throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.

After his return home, armed with the plenary powers of Papal Legate,
Malachy devoted himself with even more zeal and success than before to
the reformation of his own diocese, and the general restoration of
ecclesiastical discipline throughout the kingdom. He was ably supported by
the Irish prelates both in the North and in the South; and he would have
changed the face of the Church before many years, but it pleased God to
call him to Himself all too soon for Ireland. In A.D. 1148 he went to
France to meet Pope Eugene III., who was then at Clairvaux. Before
Malachy, however, arrived, the Pope had departed, but he was consoled by
the warm welcome which he received from St. Bernard and his monks. Shortly
after the Irish saint fell sick to the great sorrow of the community, but
Malachy consoled them, and told them that there was no chance of his
recovery for it was God's will that he should die at Clairvaux. Feeling
his strength failing he caused all the brethren to be summoned to his
bedside. At once they came--St. Bernard at their head. "With longing I
have longed," said the dying man, "to eat this pasch with you"--that is
the holy Viaticum--"before I die, and I thank my God that my longing has
been gratified." Blessing them one by one he said, "Remember me, and
please God I will not forget you." So saying he rested a little; but
towards midnight the community was summoned again, and while they wept and
prayed around his bed, he fell asleep in the Lord, and "the Angels carried
his soul to Heaven." It was at midnight between the 1st and 2nd of
November, but the latter being All Souls' Day, his Feast is kept on the
3rd of November. He was canonized by Pope Clement III., about the year
A.D. 1190.



  "Pleasant to sit here thus
  Beside the cold pure Nore."
                          --_Leabhar Breac._


Several famous religious houses were in ancient days founded around the
base of the Slieve Bloom mountains, and the great saints who founded them
were mostly contemporaries and intimate friends. Saigher, now called
Serkieran, from the name of its founder, Ciaran the Elder, was situated in
the old territory of Ely, at the north-western base of the mountain, about
four miles east of Birr. Exactly at the southern corner of the mountain
slope St. Molua built his oratory, which was called from him
Cluain-ferta-Molua, but is now known by the name of Kyle. St. Cronan's
Church of Roscrea, his first oratory, close to Corville House, and the
beautiful little abbey of Monahincha--Giraldus' Island of the
Living--called by the Four Masters, Inis-locha-Cre--are all still to be
seen in the north-western extremity of Tipperary, not more than three
miles from Kyle. There on the great plain that stretches along the
south-eastern base of the mountain, we find, a little to the right of the
railway to Maryborough, first St. Canice's old abbey of Aghaboe, then
farther on to the left, near Mountrath, is St. Fintan's Church of
Clonenagh. Not far from Clonenagh is the townland of Disartbeagh, where
St. Ængus used to sit by the side of the 'cold pure Nore,' and like
Abraham, received visits from the angels. Still further on, not far from
Maryborough to the right, are Dysartenos, to which the same Ængus gave his
name, and Coolbanagher beyond the Heath of Maryborough, where he saw the
angels around the grave of the old soldier who loved to invoke the saints
of God. Not inviting from a scenic point of view are the marshy meadows
and sluggish streams of that broad plain; but it is relieved by the great
bold mountain on the left, and more than all it is crowded with memorials
of the saints of God.

Clonenagh, in Irish, _Cluain Eidnech_, the Ivy Meadow, is situated about
four miles south-west of Maryborough, in the Queen's County. At one time,
it is said, there were no less than seven churches there, and the fact
that there are at least four distinct old grave-yards, quite convenient to
each other, shows that there were at least several distinct churches
around Clonenagh in ancient times. From the sixth to the twelfth century,
it was not only a great school and monastery, but also the seat of a
bishop, who appears to have exercised jurisdiction over the western
portion of the ancient Leix (Laeghis), the territory of O'Moore.

It was indeed a secluded spot, almost surrounded by bogs, but the rounded
slopes of its verdant knolls gave picturesque variety to what would
otherwise be a very dreary scene. Its founder, St. Fintan, was a very
remarkable man--in fact an extreme type of the asceticism of the age; yet
he was greatly beloved in his own time, and his influence was felt for
many centuries after his death. Clonenagh, too, derives a special interest
from the fact that it was the _Alma Mater_ of Ængus the Culdee, the most
ancient and reliable authority we have on the history of the early saints
of Ireland.

Fintan was the son of Gabhren, of the race of Eochaidh Finnfuathairt, and
is said to have been born in the territory of Leinster. Leinster at that
time was, roughly speaking, bounded on the west by the River Barrow, and
did not include Leix. This Eochaidh was a brother of Conn the
Hundred-Fighter, who came to help the Leinster King to expel the men of
Munster from Leix and Ossory. For this service he received the Seven
Forthartha in Leinster, in which he and his descendants settled. The
Barony of Forth in Wexford was one of these districts, and still retains
the name. There is a local tradition that Fintan was born near
Clonenagh,[319] but this can hardly be reconciled with the express
statement of his Leinster origin. His mother was Findath, probably of the
same race. She was warned by an angel to retire to a secret place until
after the birth of her son, who would be holy to the Lord. On the eighth
day the child was baptized by a certain holy man, who dwelt in Cluain Mac
Trein; and hence it would appear that it was near this place the child was
born. It is supposed that the place takes its name from Trein, or Trian,
son of the celebrated Dubthach Mac Ua Lugair, who rose up to do honour to
St. Patrick at Tara. The Hy-Trian, his descendants by this Trian, seem to
have been located at Limbrick, in the Barony of Gorey, county Wicklow, and
it is not unlikely that Fintan was born there about the year A.D. 525. We
know that he was a little younger than Columcille, and as the latter was
born about A.D. 521, Fintan must have been born a few years later.

During his youth Fintan studied under the care of the holy man who
baptized him; but the place is not indicated in his life. It must have
been some place not very far from Clonard, for we are told that on one
occasion as Columcille was passing not far off, he stopped and invited his
companions to visit the master and his pupil. Fintan already filled with
the spirit of prophecy, had told his master to prepare for guests, as
Columcille was coming to visit him. The master doubting the boy, and
probably a little jealous of the favour shown him, sharply rebuked Fintan
for his presumption; but when Columcille arrived, he rebuked the master,
and told him that both himself and his place of abode would belong to
Fintan for ever. This would seem to imply that this incident took place
somewhere in the neighbourhood of Clonenagh.

Shortly afterwards Fintan was placed under the care of Columba Mac
Crimthann, better known as Columba of Terryglass; but he had yet not
founded that celebrated establishment on the shores of Lough Derg. With
Fintan there were two others, St. Caemhen of Annatrim, not far from
Clonenagh, and St. Mocumin, or Mochocma, who succeeded Columba at
Terryglass. These were both half-brothers of the great St. Kevin of
Glendalough; and very naturally were placed under the care of St. Columba,
son of Crimthann, who was their first cousin. Fintan was probably also
connected with these saints by family ties, as they all came originally
from the same district of Leinster. At first it seems Columba wished to
settle with his disciples at some place in their native territory--in
finibus Lageniensium--and actually had chosen a beautiful spot for their
monastery, where they hoped to live together in holiness and peace; for,
says the Life, they had only one heart, and in the gladness of their
united souls they cried out to their master, "Oh! it is good for us to be
here." "Not so," said Columba; "God reserves this place not for us, but
for one not yet born, Mobhi Mac Calde,"[320] or, as it is elsewhere, Mobhi
Mac Cumalde. The true reading is probably Mobhi Mac Colmaidh, who was the
son of Caeltigerna, a sister of St. Kevin, and a nephew (yet unborn) of
the two brothers, Mocumin and Caemhen; but the place of his Church has
not been ascertained. Thereupon they left the territory of Leinster and
came to the place now called Clonenagh, where they remained for an entire
year without, however, founding there as yet any permanent establishment.
It was surrounded by bogs, but sheltered by great oak woods festooned with
clustering ivy. Great crowds of people, however, and amongst them numbers
of their own friends, continued to crowd in upon the saints, and disturbed
their repose, so that Columba resolved to seek some more retired place in
which to serve God. They saw the wild solitudes of Slieve Bloom rising
over them to the north-west, and thither Columba now directed his steps,
followed by his faithful disciples. On the mountain side they met several
boys who were herding cattle, one of whom, Setne, was voiceless from his
mother's womb. Columba made the sign of the cross upon his mouth, and bade
him tell them the place of their resurrection. Then the dumb boy spoke
plainly, and told each of them where he was to die, and arise from the
dead. Hereupon Columba looking down the mountain saw Clonenagh, which they
had left, filled with God's angels, and he was much saddened at the sight.
Upon inquiry he told them the reason--how he saw the place they had
deserted filled with ministering angels, and how anxious he was that some
of them should return to the holy spot. So Fintan promptly volunteered to
return, and thus became the real founder of that great monastic
establishment, which ever since bears his name.

Numbers of disciples now gathered round him, for the fame of his sanctity
was very great. He wrote a Rule for his community which unfortunately has
been lost; but we are told that it was very strict, even beyond the
monastic rules of that time. His monks worked with hands and feet, digging
the soil with spade and hoe, as hermits usually do. They had no
cattle--not even a single heifer--and therefore no milk; they even refused
to take the milk which their neighbours, pitying their