Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Festival of Holy Martyrs in the Félire Oengusso, February 15

I was interested to see this entry in Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints for February 15:
Festival of Holy Martyrs. At the 15th of February, the following stanza, transcribed from the " Feilire" of St. Oengus, as found in the " Leabhar Breac," is thus translated by Professor O'Looney:—

Chant the Sunday's celebration
On the morrow at night
With the passion of a powerful host
The victory of the son of God they obtain."

This stanza seems to have reference, to various holy martyrs, venerated in the Church, at this date, as may be seen by consulting the " Acta Sanctorum" of the Bollandists. Regarding the "Sunday's celebration," and "the morrow at night," I feel unable further to present any illustration, other than what is contained in a comment to the Irish word, can:

"To this we find appended a note (a) Chant i.e., it is chanted because of the nobleness of the festival, even though it should fall on Sunday, or on the- Feast of Barrach the triumphant, i.e., Barrach, son of Nemnand, son of Nemangen, son of Fintan, son of Mai, son of Dublha, son of Oengus, son of Erc Uerg, son of Brian, son of Echu Muidhmeadon. And it is a fortnight [i.e., at the end of fourteen nights] in Spring his festival is, and, it is in the wilderness of Cinel Dobtha, in Connaught, he is, namely, in Cluain Cairpti, ut dixit angelus :—

"Berrach and Mochoem
Delightful was their custom
Whomsoever they prayed for at the gasp of death
Should not suffer death, i.e Hell."

The Berrach commemorated on this day is Saint Berrach of Kilbarry about whom a post can be found here. In the translation of the Martyrology of Oengus published by Whitley Stokes, the passage is translated:
Sing a Sunday's celebration on the feast of warlike Berach,
with the passion of a vigorous host the Son of
God's victory over His enemy.
and the notes add:
Sing a Sunday's celebration, i.e. not superfluous is the Sunday's celebration on this feast always, for there is always a Sunday's celebration on each chief festival in the year.
I next checked an online version of the Roman Martyrology and sure enough the entries for February 15 begin with a litany of martyrs:
At Brescia, in the time of Emperor Adrian, the birthday of the holy martyrs Faustinus and Jovita, who received the triumphant crown of martyrdom after many glorious combats for the faith of Christ.

At Rome, St. Craton, martyr. A short time after being baptized with his wife and all his household by the holy bishop Valentine, he was put to death with them.

At Teramo, the birthday of the holy martyrs Saturninus, Castulus, Magnus, and Lucius.

In the same place, St. Agape, virgin and martyr.

Reading this reminded me of a passage in Thomas O'Loughlin's book 'Journeys on the Edges' where he discusses the annual cycles of worship which shaped the lives of Christians in Ireland:
Then there was the annual round of saints' days. This brought into the life of each day Christians from every period and place - strange names of people and far away places such as we find in the calendar of feasts written in verse near Dublin in the early ninth century, the Félire Oengusso. Here is a sample for 27 July:

The day of the bed-death of Simeon the monk,
he was a great sun to the earth;
with the suffering of a loveable host in Antioch high and vast.

All they knew about this Simeon was his name, and that he was a monk. They also knew that 27 July was the anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of Christians at Antioch - which Antioch they did not know. But Simeon and those martyrs were brothers and sisters in the communion of saints and so their memory was recorded and their intercession requested.

I will close with another Irish appreciation of martyrs, this time from the eighth-century poems of Blathmac:
254. If I am to tell the true fundamental account that I had of the death of martyrs, all the servants of Christ who suffered martyrdom on their principal feasts,

255. it passes reckoning to count it. Since ancestral Adam held counsel there has been with perverse kings a multitude of the pure dear ones of Christ.

256. For what those men have suffered in the torturing of their bodies they shall have keenest vengeance; they are not clients of (a lord of) bad oaths.

257. For splendid Christ has risen; he is eternally safe in the eternal kingdom; the leader with great hosts, the triumphant one, victorious in battle, will avenge them.


Rev. John O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume II (Dublin, 1875), 565.

Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans.,The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee: Félire Óengusso Céli dé (London, 1905), 60, 75.

Thomas O'Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges - The Celtic Tradition (DLT, 2000, 144-45.)

James Carney, ed. and trans., The Poems of Blathmac Son of Cú Brettan, together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a Poem on the Virgin Mary (London 1964), 87.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Companions of Saint Ursula, January 23

At January 23 Canon O'Hanlon has the first of a number of entries in his Lives of the Irish Saints relating to Saint Ursula and her companions. The story of the martyrdom of Saint Ursula was enormously popular during the later Middle Ages and it seems that Canon O'Hanlon believes there is an Irish connection, not to the saint herself, who is said to have been a British princess, but to the maidens who accompanied her and shared her fate. This particular date of commemoration is found at the city most closely associated with the martyrs, Cologne, itself the site of an Irish monastery. That said I would be far from convinced that there is any Irish link with Saint Ursula and her martyred maidens at all.  A vague claim of 'Scottish' origin does not seem a firm basis on which to proceed, given that the idea of having a link to Ireland and its saints carried a certain cachet in medieval continental Europe, where many were pleased to claim that their monastery or mission was originally founded by natives of this country. In the heat of their enthusiasm for reclaiming Ireland's glorious religious past, writers of Canon O'Hanlon's generation were also keen to press claims of Irish origins for the holy men and women associated with other countries on the basis of such 'tradition' that they were Irish or 'Scottish'. In the Middle Ages Ireland was often referred to as Scotia and its natives as Scotti, just to complicate matters even further.  O'Hanlon has noted at least eight separate commemorations associated with Saint Ursula in various volumes of his Lives of the Irish Saints so he certainly ran with this idea, but trying to disentangle what, if any, historical basis, lies behind the legend of Saint Ursula and her maidens is no easy task:

Reputed Festival of St. Ursula and of her Companions, Martyrs. [Fifth Century]

As many of these holy virgins are believed to have been Scottish or Irish, we should feel an interest in learning that their memory is said to have been celebrated at the Church of St. Cunibert, at Cologne, on this day. To their chief festival, however, we shall refer the reader for more detailed particulars regarding them.

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Friday, 20 January 2017

Saint Fechin at Poulaphouca Waterfall

It was the afternoon of Sunday when Fechin and his monks arrived at Poulaphouca Falls, and the glorious Twenty-Eighth Psalm was part of the Lauds for Monday, which they were reciting that evening, and no other Psalm could so voice the feelings of the enraptured hearts of those "sons of God" in the midst of "the many waters" and "the thunders of the Lord" and "the cedars."

"Afferte Domino, filii Dei, gloriam et honorem : afferte Domino gloriam nomini Ejus : adorate Dominum in atrio sancto Ejus ! 

Vox Domini super aquas, Deus majestatis intonuit : Dominus super aquas multas ! 

Vox Domini in virtute : Vox Domini in magnificentia. 

Vox Domini confringentis cedros. . . . 

Dominus virtutem populo suo dabit : Dominus benedicet populo suo in pace." 

" Bring to the Lord, O ye sons of God, . . . glory and honour ! bring to the Lord glory to His name ! Adore ye the Lord in His holy Church !

The voice of the Lord upon the waters : the God of majesty hath thundered ! The Lord upon many waters !

The voice of the Lord in power, the voice of the Lord in magnificence !

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars ! . . . The Lord will give strength to His people ; the Lord will bless His people with peace." (Ps. xxviii).

Not for a few minutes only but for hours did holy Fechin and his disciples pray here and sing their Psalms and hymns. At last some of the monks completely tired and physically exhausted said to Fechin that it was time for all to rest. "No," answered the Saint, " I cannot cease. The Falls never cease, but are continually offering the sublime melody of their music to their Creator. I must not be a debtor to my God." Behold then God wrought a great wonder to reward His devout servant. The waters of the Falls ceased to flow down, and, piling themselves above, seemed to listen to the chanting of the Psalms of Fechin and his choir, a heavenlier music than their own! This prodigy lasted till the third hour. Then the Saint was given to understand that he and his tired brethren might themselves take a little rest and refresh their exhausted bodies, and so they ceased their psalmody.

The Life of St Fechin of Fore: The Apostle of Connemara by Father J.B. Coyle (Dublin, 1915).

Note: January 20 is the feast day of Saint Fechin of Fore and previous posts on his life can be found here and here.

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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Prayer of Saint Aireran the Wise

December 29 is the feast of Saint Aireran the Wise, a scholarly saint associated with the monastery of Clonard. Below is a paper from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record taken from a series on the legacy of Professor Eugene O'Curry, a nineteenth century scholar of the Irish Church. One of the items which O'Curry published in translation was a prayer ascribed to Saint Aireran the Wise and I reproduce the text and its introduction below. The prayer is a wonderful litany of praise in honour of the Holy Trinity. The 'great work' to which the writer of the introduction refers is O'Curry's Manuscript Materials of Early Irish History, published in 1861 and available to read online.



Prayer of St. Aireran the Wise, ob. 664.

[In the first number of the RECORD we published from the manuscripts of the late Professor O'Curry the Prayer of St. Colga of Clonmacnoise. We now publish another beautiful devotional piece from the same collection.

Speaking of ancient Irish religious works now remaining, O'Curry says (at page 378 of his great work): "The fifth class of these religious remains consists of the prayers, invocations, and litanies, which have come down to us". The Prayer of St. Colga, published in our last number, is placed by O'Curry in the second place among these documents, which he sets down in chronological order.

"The first piece of this class (adopting the chronological order) is the prayer of St. Aireran the Wise (often called Aileron, Eleran, and Airenan), who was a classical professor in the great school of Clonard, and died of the plague in the year 664. St. Aireran's prayer or litany is addressed, respectively, to God the Father, to God the Son, and to God the Holy Spirit, invoking them for mercy by various titles indicative of their power, glory, and attributes. The prayer consists of five invocations to the Father, eighteen invocations to the Son, and five to the Holy Spirit; and commences in Latin thus: 'O Deus Pater, Omnipotens Deus, exerci misericordiam nobis'. This is followed by the same invocation in the Gaedhlic; and the petitions to the end are continued in the same language. The invocation of the Son begins thus: ' Have mercy on us, Almighty God! Jesus Christ! Son of the living God! Son, born twice! O only born of God the Father'. The petition to the Holy Spirit begins : ' Have mercy on us, Almighty God ! Holy Spirit! Spirit the noblest of all spirits!' (See original in APPENDIX, No. CXX.)

"When I first discovered this prayer in the Leabhar Buidhe Lecain (or Yellow Book of Lecain), in the library of Trinity College, many years ago, I had no means of ascertaining or fixing its date ; but in my subsequent readings in the same library, for my collection of ancient glossaries, I met the word Oirchis set down with explanation and illustration, as follows:

"'Oirchis. id est, Mercy ; as it is said in the prayers of Airinan the Wise' : Have mercy on us, God the Father Almighty I" See original in APPENDIX, No. CXXI.

"I think it is unnecessary to say more on the identity of the author of this prayer with the distinguished Aireran of Clonard. Nor is this the only specimen of his devout works that has come down to us. Fleming, in his Collecta Sacra, has published a fragment of a Latin tract discovered in the ancient monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, which is entitled 'The Mystical Interpretation of the Ancestry of our Lord Jesus Christ'. A perfect copy of this curious tract, and one of high antiquity, has, I believe, been lately discovered on the continent.

"There was another Airenan, also called 'the wise', who was abbot of Tamhlacht [Tallaght] in the latter part of the ninth century; but he has not been distinguished as an author, as far as we know".

It seems to us that there are three things specially worthy of our consideration in this beautiful prayer.

In the first place, we find in it an explicit and most clear declaration of the Catholic Faith regarding the Blessed Trinity, especially the distinction of three persons, and the Divinity of each of these Divine Persons. " God the Father Almighty, O God of Hosts, help us! Help us, Almighty God! O Jesus Christ! Help us, Almighty God, Holy Spirit!"

We are in the next place struck by the extraordinary familiarity with the Holy Scripture which the writer evinces. There is scarcely one of the epithets which is not found in the sacred pages, almost in the precise words used by him, beginning with the first words, addressed to the Eternal Father. " O God of Hosts", the Deus Sabaoth of the Prophets, and going on to the last invocation of the Holy Ghost, " Spirit of love", which comprises in itself the two inspired phrases : " Spiritus est Deus", and "Deus Charitas est” We may also remark the coincidence between Saint Aireran and the liturgical prayers of the Church, especially in the invocations of the Holy Ghost found in the office of Whitsuntide and in the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation. "Tu septiformis munere: Digitus Paternae dexterae". " Finger of God! Spirit of Seven Forms".

In fine, we find our Irish saint applying to the Son of God the vision of the Prophet Ezechiel regarding the four mysterious animals: "0 true Man! Lion! young Ox! Eagle!"

The prophecy is commonly interpreted of the Four Evangelists. Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome are quoted as authorities for this interpretation. But it is worthy of remark, that Saint Gregory the Great, whilst giving the same interpretation, applies the mysterious vision also to God the Son [Hom. iv. in Ezech.]. And Saint Aireran, by adopting this opinion, seems to afford us another proof of the great familiarity of our Irish scholars with the writings of the great Pontiff and Father of the Church. And this familiarity is rendered still more remarkable, and serves to give another proof of the constant communication between Rome and Ireland, from the close proximity of the times of our Saint and of Saint Gregory.]

Prayer of St. Aireran the Wise.

O Deus Pater omnipotens Deus exerce tuam misericordiam nobis!

O God the Father Almighty! O God of Hosts, help us.

O illustrious God! O Lord of the world! O Creator of all creatures, help us.

O indescribable God! O Creator of all creatures, help us.

O invisible God! O incorporeal God! O unseen God! O unimaginable God! O patient God! O uncorrupted God! O unchangeable God! O eternal God! O perfect God! O merciful God! O admirable God! O Golden Goodness! O Heavenly Father, who art in Heaven, help us.

Help us, O Almighty God! O Jesus Christ! O Son of the living God! O Son twice born! O only begotten of the Father! O first-born of Mary the Virgin! O Son of David! O Son of Abraham, beginning of all things! O End of the World! O Word of God! O Jewel of the Heavenly Kingdom! O Life of all (things)! O Eternal Truth! O Image, O Likeness, O Form of God the Father! O Arm of God! O Hand of God! O Strength of God! O right (hand) of God! O true Wisdom! O true Light, which enlightens all men! O Light-giver! O Sun of Righteousness! O Star of the Morning! O Lustre of the Divinity! O Sheen of the Eternal Light! O Fountain of Immortal Life! O Pacificator between God and Man! O Foretold of the Church! O Faithful Shepherd of the flock! O Hope of the Faithful! O Angel of the Great Council! O True Prophet! O True Apostle! O True Preacher! O Master! O Friend of Souls (Spiritual Director)! O Thou of the shining hair! O Immortal Food! O Tree of Life! O Righteous of Heaven! O Wand from the Stem of Moses! O King of Israel! O Saviour! O Door of Life! O Splendid Flower of the Plain! O Cornerstone! O Heavenly Zion! O Foundation of the Faith! O Spotless Lamb! O Diadem! O Gentle Sheep! O Redeemer of mankind! O true God! O True Man! O Lion! O young Ox! O Eagle! O Crucified Christ! O Judge of the Judgment Day! help us.

Help us, O Almighty God! O Holy Spirit! O Spirit more noble than all Spirits! O Finger of God! O Guardian of the Christians! O Protector of the Distressed! O Co-partner of the True Wisdom! O Author of the Holy Scripture! O Spirit of Righteousness! O Spirit of Seven Forms! O Spirit of the Intellect! O Spirit of the Counsel! O Spirit of Fortitude! O Spirit of Knowledge! O Spirit of Love! help us.

Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol.1 (1865), 63-4.

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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

God's Fine Disciple: An Irish View of Saint John the Apostle

"Disciple of the Lord,
ever-angelic John,
a goodly, handsome-haired man,
with bright blue eyes,
red-cheeked and fair of face,
with gleaming teeth and dark brows,
red-lipped, white-throated,
skilful and dextrous,
with supple lithe fingers,
fair-sided, light-footed,
noble, slender and serene,
bright with holiness,
friend of Christians,
expeller of the dark devil,
God's fine disciple"

'Episodes from the Life of John, the Beloved Disciple' in Maire Herbert and M. McNamara, trans., Irish Biblical Apocrypha: Selected Texts in Translation (Edinburgh, 1989), 92.

On December 27 the Irish calendars record what the Martyrology of Gorman describes as 'The chief feast of John the Apostle'. I have already written about the Irish tradition concerning the apostle John in a post which can be found here. In it you will find some other selections from the Irish apocryphal writings on the Apostle John, writings which draw on common sources but which reflect distinctive Irish embellishments of the text. They are preserved in a 15th-century manuscript, the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum.

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Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Christmas Eve Massacre of 986

The good people at Medievalists.Net have made a summary of a paper by Scottish academic Thomas Owen Clancy on the Christmas Eve Massacre by the Vikings at Iona in 986 available at their site. In it the writer presents an analysis which takes these events beyond 'simple Viking vandalism' and places them in the wider context of the political and ecclesiastical rivalries of the region. Read it here.

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Thursday, 22 December 2016

Saint Evin of Monasterevin, December 22

December 22 is the feast of Saint Evin, founder of Monasterevin, County Louth. Below is an excerpt from an early twentieth-century paper submitted to the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society. The author was a member of the landed aristocratic class, for at this time it was commonplace for local antiquarian societies to enjoy the active patronage of the great and the good. In her article the Countess of Drogheda takes the story of Monasterevin up to the seventeenth century, but I have omitted the later history in order to focus on Saint Evin.  There is a link to the online source for the journal at the end of the post so if you wish to keep reading you can continue at the Internet Archive:



THE town of Monasterevin derives its name from the monastery founded there by St. Evin or Emhin in the sixth century. It is said that St. Abban had preceded St. Evin in remote times, and had founded a monastic house; but it was St. Evin who brought a number of monks from his native province of Munster, and the place which had previously been called Bos-Glas, which means the Green Wood, now came to be called Bos-Glas-na-Muimneachy or Bos-Glas of the Munster men.

Colgan thus writes of St. Evin —

"Saint Evin betook himself to Leinster, and at the bank of the River Barrow he raised a noble monastery, called in that age Ros-Glas, and which, from the number of monks who followed the man of God from his own country of Munster, was called Ros-Glas of the Munster men.

This holy man was famous for many and great miracles, and the monastery on account of the reverence paid to its first founder, stood in so great honour with posterity, that it was held a most safe sanctuary, and no one presumed to offer violence or injury to the holy place, who did not soon afterwards suffer the severity of the Divine vengeance."

It was also said that after his death there was a bell belonging to St. Evin '' which was held in so great veneration that posterity were accustomed to swear on it as a kind of inviolable oath, and to conclude controversies by the virtue of this oath.''

St. Molua of Clonfert (4th Aug.) speaks of '' having visited the Abbot of St. Evin in his monastery not far from the Barrow, which that most holy man, St. Abban, had originally founded."

The year of St. Evin's death is not recorded anywhere; but his festival was held on the 22nd of December, and his death probably occurred in the sixth century. St. Evin wrote a Life of  St Patrick, partly in Latin and partly in Irish ; and it is said to contain many more details of St. Patrick's life and mission than there are in any other Life of the Saint. In the Calendar of Angus he is called '' Pure Emhin from the brink of the dumb Barrow." The well that springs at a little distance from the present mansion was in all probability originally St. Evin's well.

The precise period at which the original Monastery of St. Evin fell into decay is not known; probably it was amongst the many religious houses that suffered from the depredations of the Danes in the ninth and tenth centuries. The "Annals of Clonmacnoise," at the paragraph chronicling the year 1002,
well describes the work of destrnction perpetrated by these infidel hordes in these words —

"The whole realme was overrunn by the Danes. The Churches, Abbeys, and other religious places were by them quite razed and destroyed, or otherwise turned to base and servile purposes.

"Almost all the gentlemen of any account were turned out of their Lands. Yea, some of the best sort were compelled to servitude and bounden slavery. Indeed it was strange how men of any fashion could use other men as the Danes did use the Irish men at that time. But King Bryan Borua was a Salve to cure such sores: all the physick in the world could not help it elsewhere: in a short time he banished the Danes; made up the Churches and Religious houses; restored the people to their antient possessions, and, in fine, brought all to a notable reformation."

Some years later the monastery having again become ruined, it was refounded towards the close of the twelfth century by Dermod O'Dempsey, Lord of Offaly, as a Cistercian Monastery, and called Ros-Glas or de Rosea alle.

The Charter of Foundation of the monastery was as follows : —

"Dermot O'Dempsey, King of Offaly, to all his nobles, clergy, and laity, both present and to come. Greeting, I make known to you all, that I, Dermot O'Dempsey, King of Offaly, by the consent of Murdoch O'Conor have given and confirmed to God and the Monks of the B.V.M. of Rosglas, land on which to build a Monastery in honour of the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and of St. Benedict the Abbot, as a perpetual eleemosynary. These are the lands which I Dermot O'Dempsey have given and confirmed to the aforesaid Monks of Rosglas in remission of my Sins and of the Sins of my Parents, the site of the Monastery of Rosglas, and all the lands with their appurtenances, and with the men belonging to the same lands. All these I give and confirm to the aforesaid Monks, to be held as a free, pure, and perpetual eleemosynary for the health of my soul, and the souls of my predecessors. Wherefore I will and command that the aforesaid Church of Rosglas and the Monks and brethren serving God therein, may have and hold the aforesaid lands, with all their liberties, viz., in woods and plains, meadows and pastures, and morasses in waters and fisheries, in roads and paths, in ponds and mills, in turbaries, and all mountains and valleys, and in all other places and things appertaining to the same lands, free quit and solutias from any customs and exactions, and from all secular duty.


"Nehemiah, Bishop of Kildare.
Donatus, Bishop of Leighlin.
Filan, the son of Filan.
Flan O'Demesi.
Hekinech O'Demesi.
Donchad O'Demesi.
Fin O'Demesi.
Aed O'Demesi.
Culballinuss O'Duin [O'Dunne].
Congal O'Kelly
Rocner Denoulla.
Kelach mac Aulaf."

et alliis multis.

"The Annals of the Font Masters" record the death of this Dernot O'Dempsey in the year 1193, and in 1199 it was mentioned that the Abbott of Ros-Glae "was at his request allowed by the General Chapter of the order to celebrate in his own house the Feast of St. Evin," which shows that the original founder was still held in high veneration....

The Countess of Drogheda, 'Monasterevin' in Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. IV (1903-1905), 231-244.

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