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The lives of the British saints; the saints of Wales and Cornwall and such Irish saints as have dedications in Britain online

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1 Cambrian Register, 18 18, iii, p. 225 ; Rees, Welsh Saints, p. 302.

- Survey of Bangor, pp. 272, 275.

^ Skene, Four Ancient Books, ii, pp. 32, 65, loi, 130. The author of the
eighth century Genealogia, attributed to Nennius, mentions Cian, a bard dis-
tinguished "in poemate Britannico " (see Stephens, Gododin, pp. 159-60, and
Literature of the Kymry, p. 201). The Cian of Nant Nimer, now Nevern, whose
death is recorded in the Annates CamhricB, s.a. 865, is too late. A cleric of the
name occurs as witness to a grant in the Book of Llan Ddv, p. 174, during the
episcopate of Bishop Berthwjai.

* Colgan, Acta SS. Hib., p. 413. ^ Vita S. Pauli Leonensis, ed. Plaine, p. 28.

S. Ciaran


is more probable that he accompanied Jaoua to Daoulas, and was
with him on his return journey when he sickened. ^

We know nothing more about him. Canon O'Hanlon, in reference
to him, quotes Thomas de Hibemia, who says that Cianan resembled
Ruth, who, having no field of her own, was content to glean in those
of Boaz the ears which the reapers left behind them.^

Cianan is to be distinguished from Cianan of Duleek, and Kenan or
S. Kea, the latter of whom worked in Armorica.

He does not seem to have received any cult in Brittany. Colgan
supposed that he was the same as a namesake found in the Irish
Martyrologies on February 25, without any particulars as to where
he lived.

In the Llanthony Abbey Calendar (Corpus Christi Coll., Oxford,
cod. 197) Kynan, Confessor, is entered on November 24 ; but this is
Cianan of Duleek. (See further under S. Kenan.)

S. CIARAN (PIRAN), Abbot, Bishop, Confessor

The authorities for the Life of Ciaran of Saighir are —
A Latin Life in the Salamanca Codex of the Lives of the Irish Saints,
Acta SS. Hibern., Edinburgh, 1888, pp. 805-18 ; the same in Acta
SS. Boll., Mart, i, pp. 394-9. Another from the Codex Kilkeniensis,
in Colgan, Acta SS. Hibern., i, p. 458 et seq.

The Latin Lives are derived from, and are condensations of an
early, probably Irish, Life. This early Life is supposed to have been
composed either before the devastation of Saighir by the Northmen
in 842, or that by the men of Munster in 952 ; after which latter it
remained desolate for twenty years. In one of these plunderings of
Saighir, Ciaran's bell, called Barcon Ciaran, was cracked, and thence-
forth was called Bearnan Ciaran. In the Irish Lives, the bell bears
its first name, and moreover in them is no mention of the destruction
of the monastery, either by the Norse or by the men of Munster. In
846 Cormac the Scribe became Abbot of Saighir, and it has been
supposed that he had composed the Life before the Northmen raided
and plundered the Abbey.

1 Acta SS. Boll, S. Jaoua, 2 March, i, p. 138 ; after the lections in the
Breviary of Leon. Also the Life of S. Jaoua from the same lections in Albert le
Grand, new ed., 1901, pp. 52-6.

2 Lives of the Irish Saints, ii, p. 699.

I 2 o Lives of the British Saints

A fragmentary Irish Life is in Egerion MS. 91. Another, a
transcript made in 1758 by John Murphy of Carrignaver, in Cork, is
among the MSS. of the Royal Irish Academy ; and another in the
Egerion MS. 112. It has been printed in the Silva Gadhelica,
i8gi ; also by Mulcahy, Life of S. Kiaran the Elder of Seir, Dublin,
1895. A Latin Life by John of Tynemouth is in Capgrave's Nova
Legenda Anglics, as Vita Sit. Pirani.

The original basis of all these Lives was probably The Migrations
of Ciaran, attributed to his scribe, Cairnech the Bald, a book long
preserved at Saighir. The glossator on the Felire of Oengus says that
it existed in his day, and that it was a book of wondrous writing, with
many gressa (illuminations ?) and with the colophon — " Let everyone
who shall read it give a blessing to the soul of Cairnech the Bald." 1

A work on S. Ciaran by John Hogan, S. Ciaran, Patron of Ossory,
Kilkenny, 1876, deserves notice. It is an ingenious attempt to show
that Ciaran preceded S. Patrick in Ireland. His calculations are based
mainly on the early genealogies. By allowing thirty years for a
generation and taking Ciaran as tenth in descent from Oengus Osraighe,
he gives 375 as the date of Ciaran's birth.

But in order to arrive at this, some serious assumptions have to be
made ; as that a.d. 105 was the true date of Oengus Osraighe, and next
that the pedigree is complete, and that there are no blanks in it.

The period at which the saint lived has been confused by interested
persons for a definite object. At the beginning of the eleventh century,
perhaps as late as the twelfth, a desire manifested itself among the
chieftains of Munster to have an archbishop of their own ; and to give
colour to a demand for one, it was pretended that there had been
four bishops in the South of Ireland before the arrival of S. Patrick,
and these were Ciaran, Ailbe, Declan and Ibar. Something to this
effect was accordingly foisted into their Lives. This naturally produced

According to the garbled Life, at the age of thirty he went to Rome,
where he was ordained by Pope Celestine (422-30), after he had
spent twenty years in Rome. This would throw his birth back to
about 376 or 378. But Ciaran was allowed to make his foundations
by Aengus MacNadfraich, who fell in battle 489. He was visited
at Saighir by Lugaidh, son of Laogaire, who ruled from 483 to 506,
and he was the associate of saints who belonged to the close of the
fifth century. The Martyrologist of Donegal, confronted with these
difficulties, extricated himself by fabling that Ciaran lived to the age

• Filire of Oengus, ed. Stokes, p. Ixii.











S. Ciaran 1 2 i

of 360 years/ which was indeed a hberal and quite unnecessary allow-

In order to understand the history of S. Ciaran, it is necessary for us
briefly to consider the limits and condition of the old kingdom of
Ossory. This kingdom anciently occupied the entire tract of land
between the Suire, the Barrow and the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
The name signifies the land between the waters. The Nore flows
through it, and all three rivers unite in Waterford Harbour.

It is a district that comprises three extensive plains, separated
from each other by ranges of mountains. Northernmost is the Magh
(plain) Airget Ros, extending approximately through the present
Queen's County. The second plain is Magh Reighna, bounded in
the north by the Thornback range, and in the south by the Dundergh
mountains. It is roughly represented by the county of Kilkenny.
This communicates by the " Wind Gap " with Magh Feimhin in
Tipperary, a wide plain in which rises the Rock of Cashel.

From a century before the Christian era the kings of Munster claimed
a fine from the kings of Leinster, called the Eric of Eidersceal, to be
levied annually on the two southern plains of Ossory. The enforce-
ment of this fine proved a fruitful source of feuds down to the end of
the tenth century.

The Ossorians attempted to shake off the burden in the second
century. They were assisfed by Lughaid Laoghis, from Leinster ;
but, as a price for his aid, were forced to surrender a portion of the
northern plain between the Nore and the Barrow, which was formed
into the little kingdom of Leix, under the suzerainty of Leinster.

Another cession of land took place later, when a slice was yielded
up to the Hy Bairrche.

Next, Core, King of Munster, abandoned the old royal seat at Knock
Grafton, and seized on the Rock of Cashel in Magh Feimhin, com-
manding the whole plain. At the same time he re-demanded the
payment of the hated tax. At this time Ruman Duach was king of
Ossory, and he was founder of the Hy Duach, a sub-clan of the royal
race of the Hy Connla.

Core of Munster, who died in 420, was succeeded by his grandson,
Aengus MacNadfraich, who was converted to the faith by S. Patrick
about fifty years later.

Before 470 a struggle had been undertaken by the Ossorians to free
their country from subjection to Munster ; but with the most disastrous
effects. From Cashel Aengus poured his forces over Magh Feimhin,

^ Todd, T-ije of S. Patrick, 1864, pp. 198-221.

12 2 Lives of the British Saints

at the same time that his kinsman Cucraidh burst into the two other
plains and overran them. A series of battles ensued. The Ossorians
were driven out of one plain after another, and Aengus constituted
of the two plains, Magh Airget Ros and Magh Reighna, an Ossorian
kingdom which he gave up to Cucraidh, to be held under the over-
lordship of Munster ; and he swept all the Ossorians out of Magh
Feimhin and delivered it over to the Southern Deisi of Waterford,
to repeople and to hold as their own.'-

The date of this high-handed proceeding is given in the Chronicon
Scottorum as 445.

Most of the royal race of Ossory were slaughtered, but Lughaidh,
grandson of Ruman Duach, was spared, and sent among the Corca
Laoighe, his wife's family, in the south, on the sea-board of the present
county of Cork from Cork to Bantry Bay. It was precisely from
this district that Cucraidh, the usurper of Ossory, came. Lughaidh
could be safely kept and watched among the people of Cucraidh's
own clan, the Corca Laoighe. His brothers were forced to embrace
the ecclesiastical profession, so as to incapacitate them from becoming
claimants for the confiscated crown. They were suffered for a while
to have churches in the Hy Duach (Odagh) country.

In exile, Lughaidh lived with his wife Liadhain, daughter of Maine
Cerr, related to Aengus and to Cucraidh, and it was due to this that
his life was spared. He seems to have been sent to Inis Cliar, now
Clear Island, the southernmost point of Ireland, as a further pre-
caution against his giving trouble. Here Ciaran was born, and was
given to be nursed by an exile, Cuach of the Clan Cliu, and she was a
Christian ; she formed his young mind, and instilled into his heart the
love and fear of God. We are hardly wrong in attributing to her the
giving of direction to Ciaran's whole after life (see S. Ciwa).

Cuach returned with her tribe from exile in 458 or thereabouts.
Ciaran's birth cannot be fixed with certainty. It might have taken
place as early as 438, when the Clan Cliu were exiled, or it may have
taken place somewhat later.

We are told in his Life that Ciaran did not leave Ireland tiU thirty
years old, and he was not then baptized ; and we are informed that he
remained twenty years abroad.^

1 The Expulsion of the Dessi, by Prof. Kuno Meyer ; in Y Cymmrodor, xiv
(1901); O'Flaherty, Ogygia, ii, p. 243 ; Hogan, 5. Cjaraw ; 'Keating, History of
Ireland, etc.

^ " Permansit itaque ibidem per annos xxti.," Vita in Cod. Sal., col. 806.
In this Life liis age before leaving Ireland is not given. The Irish Life says :
" Thirty years did Ciaran spend in Erin . . . before he was baptized," Life, ed.
Mulcahy, p. 31.

xS^. Ciaran 123

\^'hither he went we do not know, for all the story of his expedition
to Rome and ordination by Pope Celestine must be dismissed as
unhistorical. Probably he visited Cornwah and Armorica, whither,
apparently, many Ossorians had fled when Aengus devastated Magh
Feimhin, and gave it up to the Deisi.

If we are to beUeve the author of the Irish Life, Ciaran was aged
fifty when he returned to Ireland. He is spoken of as a disciple of
S. Finnian of Clonard. Finnian died in 548, and Clonard was founded
in 464. If Ciaran were at any time with him, he cannot have spent
so many as twenty years on the Continent, or cannot have been so
old as thirty when he went abroad.

Probably Ciaran returned to Ireland in 474,1 a.nd went first to his
native island of Inis Cliar, for a church and cross are shown there
that bear his name, or he may have attempted to settle at Rath
Ciaran in Kilkenny, as this place bears his name. But he was very
quickly summoned to the presence of Aengus MacNadfraich, King
of Munster. A son of Ere MacDuach, one of his own kinsmen, perhaps
the son of Ere his uncle, son of Ruman Duach, and therefore his first
cousin, had mahciously killed a horse belonging to S. Patrick, whilst
the Saint was visiting Aengus. The king, not sorry for an excuse to
deal sharply with one of the family of the Hy Duach, obtained his
arrest, and declared his intention of putting him to death, Ciaran
interceded for his kinsman, and undertook to pay the eric or legal
fine for the horse. When, however, he endeavoured to raise the
money, he found it impossible to coUect the sum required. He was
happily succoured by accident. Aengus caught a chill that settled
in his eyes, producing acute inflammation. He at once concluded
that Ciaran had " ill-wished " him, and in a panic sent for him, made
peace, released the man who had killed the horse, and remitted the
fine. 2

However, Aengus would not suffer Ciaran to settle and make a
foundation in the land of his fathers, and the saint wandered off to a
place just beyond the confines of the intrusive Cucraidh. It was a
spot near the centre of Ireland, on the boundary between the northern
and southern divisions of Ireland, but on the Munster side. This,
Seir-Ciaran or Saighir, is now a small village in the barony of Ballybritt,
in King's County, not far from the north-western extremity of the
SHeve Bloom Mountains.

■^ This is the date as near as can be determined of the meeting of S. Patrick and
Aengus, and the conversion and baptism of the latter. Shearman, Loca Patri-
ciana, 1882, p. 453.

^ Vita in Cod. Sal, coll. 810-1 ; Life in Colgan, p. 460.

124 Lives of the British Saints

In the legend, as afterwards elaborated, it was a spot to which
Patrick, whom he had met abroad, had bidden him repair, and where
was the well of Uaran, probably one to which sanctity attached in
pagan times.

According to the story, Ciaran began by occupying a cell in the
midst of a wood, living as a hermit, and his first disciples were a boar,
a fox, a badger, a wolf and a doe. Happily we are able to unravel this
fable. One of his pupils was S. Sinnach, of the clan of the Hy Sin-
nach, or the Foxes, in Tefifia, near Saighir. Another may have been a
member of the Broc tribe in Munster. Os (doe) was unquestionably an
Ossorian disciple. S. Ciaran's wolf was none other than his uncle Laig-
hniadh Faeladh. But faeladh has a double meaning, it is " hospitable,"
as well as " wolfish." There is a Kiltorcan, which must have been
founded by a Tore (boar), another pupil. By this we can see how
marvels were developed out of simple facts. ^

S. Ciaran induced his mother, Liadhain, to found a religious house
for women at Killeen, not far from Saighir. " A maiden came to
Ciaran, and he made her a Christian, and a true servant of God ; and
Ciaran constructed for her a little honourable cell near to the monastery,
and he gathered other holy virgins around her." Who this damsel
was we are not informed in the text, but it would seem to have been
Liadhain, a namesake of his mother, and a granddaughter of Cucraidh,
who afterwards became abbess.

Saighir, the name of Ciaran's monastery, is explained in the gloss on

the Festilogium of Oengus as " nomen fontis " ; and there can be

little doubt that such was the ancient orthography, Saig being the

proper name, and uar, cool, the descriptive epithet. The injunction

already referred to, given by Patrick to Ciaran, when they met on the

Continent, was —

Saig the Cold,

Erect a city on its brink,

At the end of thirty revolving years

Then shall I and thou meet.^

The same inference may be drawn from the words of the first Latin
Life of the saint printed by Colgan, " Adi fontem — qui vocatur
Fuaran " ; whilst the immediate import of the word is fixed in the
Tripartite Life, " Huaran enim, sive Fuaran, idem Hibernis sonat
quod Fons vivus, sive viva vel frigida aqua e terra scaturiens."

The cell erected by Ciaran was of the humblest materials ; its walls
of wicker-work, its roof of dried grass. ^

1 Hogan, Life of S. Ciaran, pp. 124-6. ' Tripartite Life, i, p. 77.

^ The boar collects for the Saint " virgas et fenum ad materiam cellae

aS*. Ciaran 125

Rapidly, however, the monastery grew in size, as disciples came to
Ciaran from every quarter. In the treasury was a miraculous bell
bestowed by S. Patrick on Ciaran, and which the apostle of Ireland
had prophesied should remain mute until the latter arrived at the
place designated as the site of his future resurrection. This bell,
which was called " Bardan Kierani," had been made under the inspec-
tion of Germanus, the GaUican instructor of Patrick. It was extant,.
and held in high veneration at Saighir, when the first Life of Ciaran
was written ; it was also universally honoured throughout Ossory,
being carried to the treaties of princes, sworn on for the defence of the
poor, and used to sanction the collection of the tribute due to the
monastery by the people of Ossory. The Paschal fire was hghted
every Easter and kept burning during the entire year.

Ciaran was given a pupil, Carthach, son, or more probably grandson,
of Aengus MacNadfraich, and who succeeded Ciaran as abbot. It is
difficult to resist the conclusion that this was due to an arrangement
arrived at by Ciaran with the king of Munster and the usurper of
Ossory. Aengus agreed to allow Ciaran to organize the religious
communities on the Ossorian frontier, on condition that his son or
grandson should be made coarb ; and that when he had arrived at a
suitable age, Ciaran should resign in his favour. In like manner
Cucraidh sent his granddaughter to Killeen on the stipulation that
she was to succeed there. By this arrangement it was provided
that the headships of the two great ecclesieistical and educational
establishments for Ossory should pass ultimately into the hands
of scions of the usurpers.

Carthach, who was thrust upon Ciaran, gave him much trouble.
He carried on an amour with one of the young pupils of Liadhain's
establishment ; and when Cuach, Ciaran's nurse, had either succeeded
Liadhain at Killeen, or had founded another convent close by, Carthach
carried on the same game with one of her damsels. At length the
scandal became so flagrant that Ciaran advised Carthach to travel
and sow his wild oats at Rome. S. Itha said of this escapade — ■

Carthach will come to you,

A man who exalts Faith ;

A son will be born to Carthach,

Who will do no credit to his parentage.^

A damsel named Bruinech the Slender was with Liadhain at Killeen..
She inspired Dioma, chief of the Hy Fiachach tribe in West Meath,
with a violent passion, and he carried her off. The story has already
been told {ste S. Buriena).

1 Filire of Oengus, ed. Stokes, p. Ix.

12 6 Lives of the British Saints

The relation in which Ciaran stood to S. Patrick is uncertain. That
the sons of Ere, Ciaran's cousins, did steal his horses, we are told in
the Life of S. Patrick, as also that he cursed them for so doing. ^
There is, however, no mention in it of the intervention of Ciaran.
\A'hy they showed such hostility to the great apostle we are not in-
formed. There exists a popular tradition among the natives of
Ossory that Ciaran and Patrick were not on good terms, and that
when they met Ciaran refused to salute Patrick. The tradition
may be worthless. One thing, however, is clear, the apostle did
encounter carping criticism and disparagement of his work on the
part of some fellow workers, and his " Confession " was written to
disarm this opposition.

In the Life of S. Ciaran we read that King Aengus went with
S. Patrick to Saighir, twenty years after Ciaran and Patrick had met
abroad, and Ciaran slaughtered eight oxen and broached so many
casks of wine that it was said he must have turned the water of his
well into wine to furnish so much good liquor.

Aengus, no doubt, did visit Saighir at some time before 480 ; and
it was between 480 and 490 that Patrick wrote his " Confession."
It is possible enough that he may have visited Saighir and have met
with a cool reception. There exists jealousy even among the best of
men, and Ciaran may have thought that Patrick was taking too much
upon him in trying to extend his influence in Munster.

Whether on this occasion or on another we do not know, but eight
■of King Aengus's harpers or bards were laid hold of and concealed
in a bog. It is likely that the abduction was committed by some of
the Meic Duach, who did not relish hearing the bards sing exaggerated
accounts of the achievements of the victor, who had expelled them
from the heritage of their fathers. Aengus took the matter in this
light, sent for Ciaran, and stormed and threatened. Ciaran was able
to appease his resentment only by recovering for him the eight men,
who had been kept in concealment in an inaccessible fortress sur-
rounded by morass. In the Life this was developed into a resusci-
tation of the bards from the dead. In the Irish Life we are told that
Aengus consulted Ciaran about his harpers, because, having become
a Christian, he did not like to consult a Druid.

There is, however, another way of reading this story. The harpers
had been actually murdered, and all Ciaran did was to discover their
bodies. In the south-west of the county of Kilkenny and on the
borders of Munster is the church of Tullaghought, the Cill of the
Tomb of the Eight, which may or may not represent the place of the
' Tripartite. Life, i, p. 109.

S. Ciaran 1 2 7

sepulchre of these bards. But against this is the statement in the
Life, that the murder took place in Maskerry Tire, which is close to
Saighir. ^

One autumn day Ciaran noticed a magnificent bank of blackberries,
so large and luscious that, to preserve them from rain and frost, he
threw his mantle over it.

Now it fen out that Aengus and his wife Ethne Uatach, or " the
Odious," at whose instigation Aengus had expelled the Ossorians
and planted the Deisi on their lands, arrived on a visit to Cucraidh,
the usurper, in his dun. Ethne was daughter of Crimthan and
granddaughter of Enna Cinnselach, who had banished the Clan Chu,
and with it Cuach, Ciaran's nurse. She was the second wife of Aengus,
who by this time was an old man, and she was young ; had, in fact,
been married to him whilst still a girl. A prophecy had been made
to the Deisi, so says legend, that the man who should marry Ethne,
who was being fostered among them, would give them wide and fertile
lands to colonise. So they fed her on the flesh of infants to ripen her
early. 2 This is the bitter comment of the Ossorians on her conduct
in goading on her uxorious husband to invade Magh Feimhin and
expel the Ossorians. What is true is that, when she married Aengus,
mindful of her obligations to the Deisi of Waterford, she urged her
husband to the wanton invasion of Ossory, and the colonizing of the
land by the Deisi after he had driven out the natives.

When the royal pair arrived at the residence of Cucraidh, they were
well received, and Ethne conceived a criminal passion for her host.
This put Cucraidh in difficulties. He had no desire to embroil
himself with his over-king ; and in his dilemma he sent for Ciaran, who
arrived, bringing with him a basket of the blackberries he had preserved
from the frost, as a present to the queen. ^

The legend writer, so as to distort a very ordinary fact into a marvel,
pretends that the season was Easter. It is far more probable that
it was Samhain, the great feast and visiting time on November i.
Partaking of the fruit served the purpose of cooling the queen's irregular
desires, probably by upsetting her stomach, which blackberries out of
season are notoriously liable to do ; whence the popular saying that
blackberries after Michaelmas Day belong to the devil.

The incident occurred after Saighir was well estabhshed, and prob-
ably not before 480. Ethne Uatach and her husband fell in the battle

1 Colgan, from the Kilkenny Boolt, p. 460 ; Irish Life, ed. Mulcahy, pp. 40-1.

2 The Courtship of Ethne Uatach, in O'Curry's. Lectures on the MS. Materials
of Irish History, p. 586.

' Much the same story is told of S. CyBdejm.

12 8 Lives of the British Saints

of Kelliston in 489, and, according to the Life, Aengus was succeeded
by his son AiUll. But the Book of Leinster and MacFirbis do not name
him ; they make Eochaidh succeed, who reigned thirty years and died
519, or, according to the Four Masters, 523. But it is possible that
Aihll may have had a brief and uneventful reign or may have been
associated with his brother Eochaidh.

A gloss in the Lebhar Brecc on the Felire of Oengus thus describes
the monastic establishment at Saighir.^" Numerous were his cattle.
There were ten doors for his kine, and ten stalls at every door, and

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