Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Five Irish Saints Other than St. Patrick

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Patrick, although the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Scotland to Roman parents around 385 AD. Around the age of 14, he was captured by raiders and taken in slavery to Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd. He made it back to Britain about six years later, after a dream told him to go to the coast, where he met sailors who took him home. A later dream called him back to Ireland, and after he was ordained a bishop (in France — he was quite a traveler), he sailed back to Slane and started converting pagans. He famously used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity, and spent almost 30 years as Bishop of Ireland before dying in 461 — traditionally, on March 17.

Although Patrick is recognized as a saint, and the Catholic Encyclopedia records his exploits at length, he was never formally canonized. Dozens of other Irish saints have been, though, so here are some you may be less familiar with.

1. St. Brendan the Voyager. Born in County Kerry in 484, died at Annaghdown in 577. According to legend, he spent seven years at sea in a coracle with 17 other monks, in search of the Land of Promise. It's possible that he made it as far as North America; adventurer Tim Severin recreated the voyage in the 1970s. Even if he didn't, he founded dozens of monasteries all over Ireland, most famously one at Clonfert that became a citadel of scholarship and education.

2. St. Brigid of Ireland. Also known as Bridget, Brigid (c. 451-525) founded a convent (and later a monastery) at Kildare that became a major center of religion, learning, and art, and led to the building of Kildare's first cathedral. (Today, the Norman-era St. Brigid's Cathedral stands on what was probably the site of the original shrine.) The histories say she was a great friend of St. Patrick's, but this is hard to imagine, since she would only have been about ten when he died.

3. St. Enda. Born in the sixth century, Enda is recognized as one of the founders of monasticism in Ireland. The legends say he was a warrior whose sister, St. Fanchea, convinced him to lay down his weapons and get married. Returning from the wars, he found his fiancee dead, and decided to become a monk. He studied in Rome, where he was ordained, and returned to Ireland to found churches and ultimately the monastery at Killeany, in the Aran Islands. The monastery at Killeany became the center of a network of ten houses that formed the Monastic School of Aran, a center of sacred learning. Enda was a counselor and mentor to many, including Brendan and all of the so-called "Twelve Apostles of Erin."

4. St. Ita. Also known as Deirdre and Mida; her dates of birth and death are unknown, but she lived sometime in the mid-to-late fifth century. Born of royal blood in Waterford, Ita refused to marry and got her father's permission to move to Limerick and found a community for religious women. She later founded a school for boys, and one of her students was the future St. Brendan. Ita is the heroine of quite a few legends, including one in which she reunited the head and body of a beheaded man, and brought him back to life. It's not a name you see much in the US, but St. Ita's namesake, Sister Ita Ford, was a Maryknoll nun who was martyred at the hands of a military death squad in El Salvador in 1980.

5. St. Kieran, St. Kieran, and St. Kieran. It's a popular name for Irish saints, but the three best-known are Kieran of Clonmacnoise, Kieran of Seir-Kieran and Kieran of Disert-Kieran. Kieran (or Ciaran) of Clonmacnoise (512-544) founded the great abbey and school there, considered the first truly national seminary of Ireland. St. Kieran of Seir-Kieran (late 5th-early 6th century) is the patron saint of Ossory, and according to legend was the mentor of Kieran of Clonmacnoise. St. Kieran of Disert-Kieran (8th century) is also known as "Kieran the Devout," and wrote a popular biography of St. Patrick.


Chip said...

The Welsh claim St. Patrick.

AnswerGirl said...

Because I do not allow anonymous comments on this blog, I have deleted a comment that said "So do the Cornish." If you want to post it again with your name on it, please do.

The earliest written histories of St. Patrick appeared about two centuries after his death, so there's no way to know his birthplace for certain. Rudyard Kipling said he was British.