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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It is a very interesting question to investigate whether there were any Catholics in Ossory before St Patrick came to preach there. If we include in Ossory the district around Seirkieran, at the roots of Slieve Bloom, the answer will, to a great extent, depend on the solution of the other question—whether St. Ciaran, of Seirkieran, came to preach the Gospel in Ossory before the advent of St. Patrick. This question has been keenly controverted—one party maintaining that St. Ciaran was born so early as the year A.D. 352, that is before the birth of St. Patrick himself, that he was educated abroad, and met St. Patrick at Rome some twenty years before the latter came to Ireland, and that it was in obedience to St. Patrick’s prophetic counsel he came to Saigher, in the centre of Ireland, and there established his church, and preached the Gospel to the natives. The Life of St. Ciaran, published by Colgan, is the chief authority for this view; and it is said the genealogy of the saint confirms it. On the other hand, Todd states that this genealogy refutes that view, as Aengus Osraige flourished in the third century, and that Ciaran, if ninth in descent from him, must have belonged to the sixth century. Besides, Ciaran was at the College of Clonard, founded about A.D. 520, and his death is recorded in the Annals a little later still. The question is surrounded by many difficulties to which it is not easy to find a satisfactory solution.

The Tripartite makes no reference to any meeting or colloquy between St. Patrick and St. Ciaran, the patron of Ossory. We must bear in mind, however, that Ciaran founded his monastery at Saigher, far away to the north, at the western base of Slieve Bloom. But the Life of Ciaran, if it be authentic, contains many important references to St. Patrick. Colgan attributes the Latin Life of St. Ciaran which he has published to St. Evin; and there is a very ancient Life extant which is in substantial agreement with it. The saint was born at Traigh Ciarain, in Cape Clear Island, where his mother dwelt at a place called Dunanoir, on an isolated cliff over that wild sea. On the strand itself, close to an old church dedicated to his memory, Ciaran, after his return from Rome, erected a stone pillar, inscribed with an ancient cross. It stands there still by the sea, the first cross ever erected in Erin, an enduring memorial of the spiritual edifice which he was the first to build in Ossory. The Life states that he was thirty years old before he went abroad to pursue his sacred studies. He was ordained bishop in Rome, where he had remained twenty years engaged in sacred study, and then he came to Ireland to preach the Gospel with the blessing of the Pope and of St. Patrick also, who met him in Rome. Patrick told him to return to Ireland before himself, and travel to a place called Fuaran in the centre of Ireland on the confines of the North and South of Erin. There he was to found his monastery by that ‘cold stream,’ at the place where the bell which Patrick gave him would sweetly ring of its own accord. Ciaran followed out these instructions, and founded his monastery in the wild woods of Saigher thirty years before Patrick came to Ireland, and therefore about the year A.D. 402. His mother, Liadhan (Liadania) accompanied her son, or followed him, to Saigher, and founded a convent for holy nuns which she placed under his direction at the place that bears her name to the present day in the form Killyon (Cill Liadhan), some two miles north of Saigher. If all this be true, St. Ciaran must have been at least as old as St. Patrick, and yet his death is set down as later than 530. He would be in that case, as Colgan gravely states, about 192 years of age, when he went to sleep in the Lord.

We can hardly accept these figures as accurate; yet, there is every reason to believe that Ciaran was a contemporary of St. Patrick, that in all probability he was in Munster before our Saint went to preach there, and had received his mission and his education from a foreign source.

Ciaran is said to have been ninth in descent from Ængus Osraige, who flourished in the first century of our era, certainly before Cathair Mor, who in his will left a legacy to his grandson, if we accept the will as an authentic document. In that case the genealogies both of his father and mother would go to show that Ciaran was born before the end of the fourth century. The Life of the saint expressly states that he and three other bishops, Ailbe, Ibar, and Declan, preached in Ireland ‘before the advent of Saint Patrick,’ which may, however, be understood of his advent to their country in the South of Ireland. He is represented as the friend of Ængus, King of Cashel, long before the death of the latter, in 489.

On the other hand, he is also represented as contemporary of Brendan of Birr, and of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, who was not born until A.D. 512; and also as present in the great school of Clonard, which was founded about 520. We need not, however, attach much importance to these stories of the miracles said to have been wrought when these saints visited each other. Both the visits and the miracles are oftentimes due to the imagination of the narrator, who frequently mixes up the stories of different saints bearing the same name. That Ciaran lived to a great age is certain, for he is represented as a decrepit old man before his death, If he lived as long as Patrick he might easily have come to Ireland before him to preach, and yet have lived some thirty years after him, and seen many of the saints of the fifth century. In the Life of St. Declan it is said that Ciaran yielded subjection and concord and supremacy to Patrick, both absent and present. There is no account of St. Ciaran’s meeting St. Patrick in person; only it is stated in the Life that St. Ciaran visited Ængus shortly afterwards, and he frequently met Ailill, brother to Ængus, who succeeded to the throne of Cashel in 489. In our opinion the Life is substantially authentic.






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