Part 1 – The Monk from Osraighe
The Church in Ireland in the eleventh
ruled, and administered by the monasteries where the old rules
were still observed; they were still walled villages of huts and
small churches. —Máire and Liam de Paor
Early Christian Ireland
Áed was born on the island of Éire (Ireland)
in pre-Norman times, perhaps about 1025 A.D.,
most likely near the settlement of Osraighe (the present-day city of Kilkenny). His name was a very common one among
the native Irish; in fact it was the most popular male name of its time, and had
been for hundreds of years. It means “fire,” the name of the Celtic sun god.1
The population of Ireland was much smaller then, estimated to be less than a
half a million, and a single name was all that a person needed. And it was all
that he was given.2
Áed (pronounced [eed]; later anglicized as Hugh)3 and his family lived in the Kingdom of Osraighe, an independent, minor “boundary” territory situated between the two great provinces of Munster and Leinster. It had existed from the dawn of Irish history, and consisted of almost all of what is today called County Kilkenny, the western third of County Laois and one small area in County Offaly. Osraighe (later anglicized as Ossory) was ruled by the dynastic family known as Clann Donnchadh (O’Dunphys). Áed and his family were members of the people of Osraighe; they were tribesmen of the túath (people, nation, race) which lived there. They may even have had some close connection with the dynastic family, as we shall see later.
Ireland was totally rural in these days; there were no urban centers and no central government. The national fabric was not unified under a single king, but instead consisted of scores of tribes with their kings and over-kings who ruled with varying degrees of sovereignty over various size territories and clans, in various alliances with one another and who competed regularly with each other for leadership and control of lands and cattle (the cattle apparently more valuable than the land.) “The tribal system of Ireland, aristocratically formed, was composed of families related by blood, and having a common genealogical origin, but owning separate allegiance and submission to chiefs of their race, and also of their selection. The tribes had an Eponymus or hero as an ancestor, or whose valour and merits they preserved traditional accounts, and to whom they felt proud of being related even in a remote degree. Their tribal names are derived from a distinguished common ancestor. Thus in nearly all cases, the names of Irish territories and the tribes inhabiting them, were identical. Their families were usually known as the inhabitants of a certain Tuath or Territory, in which they lived ; and as the Cinèl or Cinèal, meaning ‘people,’ they gave name to it. They were generally closely connected by kinship and social ties, while boasting of their respectable pedigrees. With them also lived clients, retainers and dependents, who were devoted to their interests and service ; the union of all forming what was recognised as the Clann, meaning ‘the children’ of their Tuath. This genealogical and geographical term was applied to a people occupying a district which had a complete political and legal administration, under a Righ or Chief, who could bring into the field a battalion of six or seven hundred armed men. Moreover, it was applied to a larger division of territory, consisting of three or four, or even more Tuaths called a Mor Tuath or great Tuath, associated for the purposes of policy, and the troops of which were united in war under one commander.”4
The Osraighe were autonomous but relatively small compared to other tribes. They numbered perhaps only about a thousand individuals at the time Áed was born. As was the case all over Ireland, the territory took its name from the people who inhabited it. Thus the name of the túath, the name of the territory and the name of the capital of the territory were all the same: Osraighe. “It is to be noted here that down to the period of the Anglo-Norman Invasion the seat of government in Ossory is referred to by the same name as that of the kingdom of which it formed the capital.”5
In his authoritative work on the history of the city of Kilkenny, John Hogan, a celebrated antiquarian and mayor of Kilkenny in 1883, presents to us the evidence that Kilkenny (closeup) has a pre-Norman, perhaps even pre-Christian, origin. He cites as his evidence the city’s antiquities, all contained within a one square-mile area, “coming down to attest to us as plainly as recorded truth…the early Christian, if not indeed, as some would have it, the Pagan importance of the place….in the morning of Christianity in Ireland, and whilst the Valley of the Nore was still shrouded in the sylvan gloom of ancient forests….
The remains of ancient roadways
The site of its ancient castle
Its cloichteach or round tower
The sites of its ancient churches, and
“The dun, or fortress, that occupied the site of the present castle, before the English invasion, I hold to have been the residence of the kings of Osraigh.”6
The Osraighe have a very ancient heritage in Ireland—one of the oldest—reaching far back into the dawn of Irish history. It had been extended by the poet-historians even further back in time, into the pre-history of Ireland. Over the generations these poets honed the nation’s legends about its ancestors. Relying on those interpretations, the Osraighe tribe claimed descent from a mythical, pseudo-historical Iberian people called the Milesians, who were ruled by King Míl Espáin. Specifically, they traced their ancestry to one son of Míl named Èremon. He was believed to have invaded and conquered Éire a thousand or more years prior. The tradition of Èremon and the Milesians was an ancient invention of the Irish poet-historians, who developed it for very practical reasons. Families, clans, indeed the entire island derived its social standing from its genealogy, and the longer the pedigree that could be demonstrated, the greater the social status that could be derived from it. “The study of Irish prehistory fascinated the medieval Irish, and over the centuries they elaborated a detailed history of successive invasions by Patholón, Nemed, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha Dè Danann, and the sons of Míl.” At first only the major dynasties were considered to be descended from the Milesians. “Soon, however, other dynasties of local importance were provided by the pseudo historians with a line of descent from other sons of Míl, whose family underwent an alarming, if posthumous, increase.”7 Each clan especially wanted a pedigree which would enhance its credibility and respectability. The Osraighe believed they were descended from Eremon, and the bards had elaborated upon the conquering Eremon’s biography to such an extent that his battle sites and even his home, where he died—Rathbeaugh Moat, “Fortress of the Birch Trees” on the Nore River—had been identified. The rath still stands majestically but silently over the Nore. Of course it was all aetiological myth, but it gave the clan a greater sense of their legitimacy and their proper place in the world.
By tradition it was
believed that the Celts first came to Ireland around 500 B.C. in one massive
invasion. Few Irish scholars now accept this. This myth was based on an Irish
document known as the Leabhar Gabhála [le-vor go-vā-la; laur ga-wā-la],8 or Book of
first written down in Christian times by monastic scribes around the seventh
century and perfected in the twelfth…..For a long time these texts were taken
as being the record of actual events passed on through oral memory into
historical times and then written down. In the Book of Invasions the original inhabitants
of Ireland are said to have been the mythological Fir Bolg people. These first
mythological people are followed by the Túatha
Dé Danann—or people of
the goddess Danu—who are skilled in magic and druidry. They are said to arrive
in Ireland and defeat the Fir Bolg in a number of battles and take over the
country. All this long pseudo-history eventually leads up to the main event,
the coming of the Gaels, the Celts.
….The mythmakers who first wrote this story knew what they were doing. They were giving validity to the lineage of the Irish….A sense of belonging to the land and unity in ethnicity is important in establishing the legitimacy and lineage of a people. In claiming a long and legitimate ancestry these Irish writers were putting Ireland on par with the great classical nations of the known world.
….First written down to create and establish a notion of Irishness, it served that purpose well and became a part of Irish identity. It was commonplace then, as now, to trace ancestors back to some declared moment in time—it gave a sense of righteousness to social claims of nobility….
….when the nineteenth-century revivalists went looking for roots of Ireland they sought out these old texts and took them to be historically legitimate. The ‘invasion’ of the Celtic-speaking people became a commonly accepted historical fact.9
In the Irish language the letter [m] between vowels is “lenited” (softened) to a nasalized [w] or a [v] sound, or no sound at all, depending on the dialect of the speaker. So pronunciations of [AY-ra-whon] and [AY-ra-vhon] and [AY-ra-on] are all correct.10 In written Irish, a silent [h] is commonly used to precede a proper name beginning with a vowel. It was merely ornamental, a prosthetic spirant. However, as “Èremon” was anglicized over time, the silent “h” gradually was written as part of the name itself, and was even capitalized. So, what once was “h-Èremon” in Middle Irish eventually became “Heremon” in Early Modern English.
The pseudo-historians (respected and feared in equal parts) had carefully worked out, by means known only to them, Èremon’s descendancy down through the ages, but we cannot depend on any of it to be historically accurate. Now setting the myth of “Heremon” aside, we still find we are fortunate to have substantial information about the Kingdom of Osraighe [os-ra-ye; os-a-ri]11 from ancient times, and at some point we can consider it factual. We just don’t know where, exactly, pseudo-history blends into actual historical fact. We do know that “Irish genealogical sources for the period from the fifth to the twelfth centuries A.D. are by far the best in Europe, and the continuity of many families from that period to the present is well established.”12 And Osraighe has one of the most complete genealogies to be found in Ireland. Its history is given extensive attention in the Irish Annals. “The Kings of Ossory are honoured by our annalists with a peculiar distinction, not given to the princes of other minor territories. In giving the synchronism of the Kings of the Pentarchy with the supreme monarchs of Ireland, they give succession of the Kings of Ossory as well as Leinster, Connacht, Munster, and Ulster, on the principle, perhaps not of territorial extent, but of the superior virtue of the princes.”13
Legend has it that Osraighe takes its name from the name of its first king. “Ængus Osrithe, the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Ossory, flourished some time about the latter half of the second century of the Christian era….According to the Book of Leinster, Ængus was surnamed ‘Osrithe’ or ‘Osfrithe,’ i.e., the Deer-found, because ‘he was found among the wild deer’ (etir ossu allta fo fhrith) ; which probably means that he was born, or brought up in early life, in a place where deer abounded. Whatever circumstances it was that connected his name with the os, or deer, there can scarcely be a doubt that it is to it the origin of the name Ossory must be traced. According to the etymology of the word, Ossory, in Irish, Os-raidhe and Os-raighe, will admit of but one natural and reasonable explanation, and that is, the Raidhe, or Descendants of [Ængus] the Deer[-found]. This name, at first applied to the descendants of Ængus, became afterwards affixed, as in innumerable other instances, to the territory which those descendants occupied.
“History gives no insight into the means, which Ængus succeeded in bringing into subjection the aboriginal tribes who inhabited this district, and in fixing his throne so firmly amongst them, that his descendants ruled, as Kings, over the conquered territory, with but little interruption, for a thousand years after his own death….”14 John Hogan presents to us an unbroken string of descendancy of the Kings of Osraighe from Ængus forward: a regnal list. By using a thirty year span between generations, Hogan worked his way back on the list to arrive at an estimate of Ængus Osraighe living in the second century A.D. Rev. William Carrigan gives us a similar list and similar timeframe. Whether Ængus was a real person and whether the regnal list is historically accurate is impossible to determine, but Hogan and Carrigan gives us what information they have about each king. And we can now turn our attention to the kings who are relevant to the beginning of our story, the time when Áed came into this world.
The Origin of Clann Mac Giolla Phadráig
In the year 927, about a century before the birth of Áed, a great Irish chief, Donnchadh [DUN-uh-khuk; “battle chief”] mac Keallach (son of Keallach), affectionately nicknamed Rowhor (the Fat) came to power in the celebrated Clann Donnchadh (anglicized as the O’Dunphys), the ruling family of Osraighe. His reign brought a sea change to his túath.
King Donnchad was the most illustrious prince of his race ; and under his administration the Ossorian dynasty assumed the proper forms of a civil government. He introduced and established the law of Tanistry [tribal election of the successor to the reigning king; tanist: “the expected one”], and we have satisfactory evidence of the civilized demeanour, and of even the refined mannerism that characterized the city of Ossory during his reign. His castellum wore the aspect of a regal mansion, its halls were thronged with a polite nobility, its social frequenters put on the graceful formalities of gentle breeding, and its domestic rights were secured by marital bands, who kept vigil in defense of its honour….
But the most important of King Donnchadh’s institutions was that, when out of devotion to the National Apostle, he conferred on his son and successor the title of Gillaphadraig, i.e., the servant of St. Patrick, whence descended the sept of the Mac Gillaphadraigs of Ossory….This adoption of the title Gillaphadraig by King Donnchadh, as the patronymic of his family, forms an important epoch in both the civil and ecclesiastical history of the dynasty of Ossory, which has left its traces to the present day in the ecclesiology of the city of Kilkenny. It is a fact that in the names of the three ancient churches of the city to be now noticed, we discover the operation of that peculiar veneration for St. Patrick, from the impulse of which King Donnchadh inaugurated him as the patron of his house and the guardian of his family.
The rapid growth and development of national devotion to St. Patrick in this popular form attained its calumniating point towards the middle of the tenth century, when the name of the Irish Apostle became a household word in the island consecrated by religious enthusiasm, from the inspirations of which churches were founded, and families were dedicated under the patronage of his name.
Donnchadh was king of Ossory during the greater part of the tenth century, when the national fervour in honour of St. Patrick had attained its zenith ; and from the religious tendency of his character we are justified in concluding that he must have been soon and warmly animated with the prevailing sentiments of the time, and, accordingly, the first Gillapadraig, of whom we read, was the son and successor of this religious king. This act of King Donnchadh, in dedicating his son in honour of the Irish Apostle, must be an important epoch in the history of the Ossorian family….
The locality of St. Patrick’s Church, and its proximity to the Castle of Kilkenny, at once imply its original connection.…St. Patrick’s Church was the Church of the Palace of Ossory, in which King Donnchadh had invested the Irish Apostle with the guardianship of his family….
To summarize now what we have just gone over, we find that King Donnchadh, so eminent for his practical piety, held his court on the site of the present Castle of Kilkenny during the greater part of the tenth century, when devotion to the Irish Apostle had attained its climax ; and this good old king, acting from impulses, is the first recorded chieftain who conferred on his son and successor the title of Gillaphadraig, i.e., the Servant of St. Patrick. Next we find the Church of King Donnchadh’s Palace dedicated to the same saint….”15
King Donnchadh not only built a church dedicated to St. Patrick, he also built two other churches dedicated to Patrick's nephews, St. Rioc and St. Mell, “on the opposite banks of the Nore, and in view of his own castellum.” He was a builder. He had probably erected a dynastic mansion which looked like this, because “…as
Irish society became more stratified and centalised in the tenth century, the
ruling elite began constructing new residences to mark its status. These new
residences took the form of raised platforms on top of which a small, hall-type
buildings of wood were constructed – what archaeologists traditionally classify
as a motte.”16 (A spectacular example of this style still exists today. It is the Round Tower at Windsor Castle in England.) Over time, this building activity began to draw more settlement into the area of the capital. Suburbs, called baile, began to develop in the vicinity of the churches.
“Donnchadh, King of Ossory…was a man
of singular piety. He devoted much of his time to prayer to Almighty God,
frequently purged away the stains of his soul by confession, and strengthened
himself in virtue by frequent communion. By his zeal all the principal churches
in Ossory were enabled to dispense, by the privileges of the Apostles, very
liberal charity to the poor ; great numbers of his friends also took orphans
and other poor, under their protection ; every house in Ossory was obliged by
his orders, to have three vessels, in one of which each inmate deposited a
tenth of his food [a tithe] ; in
another kept the portion of the poor commonly called Mihal [St. Michael’s share]…; and in the
third, which may be called crematha, were kept the crumbs and fragments, which
were specially under the care of the mistress of the house.”17 Wise old
Donnchadh was particularly adept at seeking the involvement of the women of his
túath in the operation and betterment of his kingdom.
After a remarkable reign of 47 years, King Donnchadh, whom one poet calls “The fine O’Donnchadh of honest countenance,” and another calls simply the happy king, died in 974. “He rests, with his forefathers, in the churchyard of Saighir-Chiarain.” In 1907, The Very Rev. John Canon O’Hanlon neatly summarized the rise of Clann Mac Giolla Phadráig: “After their conversion to Christianity, the princes or chieftains of Ossory were conspicuous for their religious zeal and munificence towards the clergy. Descended from Heremon, the son of Milesius, their genealogy descends to Ma-Giolla-Phadraig, ‘the son-servant of Patrick,’ who was so-called to manifest devotion for the great Apostle of Ireland.”18
The Next Generation
Although we do not know his wife’s name, we do know that Donnchadh had at least two daughters, Flann Ingen (daughter of) and Sabia Ingen. He also had at least six sons, Gilla Phadráig, Diarmid, Muireadhach, Dunghal, Tadgh and Donnachadh Oge (the younger).19 This generation followed in their father’s footsteps and succeeded to the leadership of the dynasty. But never again would so noble and illustrious a king as Donnchadh I be in power in Osraighe.
When King Donnchadh died, he was succeeded by the son he had named Gilla Phadráig, “and from the scanty details preserved of his reign it is directly to be inferred that he inherited but little of the nobility of mind or capacity of intellect which characterized the administration of his father’s government; nor does he appear to have appreciated the title of Gillaphadraig, i.e., the servant of St. Patrick, conferred on him.” His reign had much less impact on the history of his túath than did his father’s. His only mention in the Irish Annals was of his plundering of Old Leighlinn (about twelve Irish miles northeast of Kilkenny in County Carlow) for which he felt he should do penance and make atonement.
Gilla Phadráig was “slain by…the Danes of Waterford” in 995. His brother Diarmaid had been tanist, but he also was killed in battle in 972, and tanist Muireadhach died in 973, so Diarmaid’s son Keallach, although probably a minor, “obtained possession of the reigns of government which he held for seven years.” Keallach’s reign ended suddenly when he was murdered by his own uncle, Donnchadh Oge. “Donnchadh…was a man of cool, cruel, and unprincipled ambition determined on the possession of his father’s kingdom, and for that purpose either in open rebellion or by private assassination removed Keallach from the throne….”20
At the time of Donnchadh Oge’s ascent to the throne of Osraighe, Ireland was entering an historic period. The visionary but aggressive Brian Boru had usurped the throne of the King of the entire province of Munster, and had put the neighboring province of Leinster under his subjugation. But Leinster was in rebellion against him, and the warrior Boru seized upon an opportunity to put down Leinster and at the same time stem once and for all the Viking onslaught on Irish soil. In 1014 he led a vast coalition army to battle against the “dark foreigners,” who were allied with the Leinstermen, at Clontarf (just outside Dubh Linn). His coalition was victorious, the Leinstermen were vanquished, but Brian Boru himself was killed just as the victory was sealed. Donnchadh II and his men of Osraighe, proud and independent, did not participate in this historic battle. Brian Boru had imprisoned Donnchadh Oge’s father some thirty years prior, and had held him “in fetters,” and his son could not forget this grievance. The Ossarians “…stood meanly and sullenly aloof from the great majority of their countrymen in this supreme crisis, when the destinies of their native land lay trembling in balance.”21 Not only did Donnchadh not participate at Clontarf, he actually led his troops in harassing actions upon the exhausted army, being led home by Brian’s son Donough, as they traveled through Upper Osraighe, which was ruled by Donnchadh’s brother, Dunghal.
The following year Donnchadh, still as independent as ever, enraged Leinster when he treacherously killed the son of the Leinster king “‘after they had made friendship and taken a mutual oath in the beginning of the day.’…so great was the indignation which it excited, that Malachy, who was restored as the supreme monarchy [of Munster] on the death of Brian, at Clontarf, in the same year, lead an army into Ossory to chastise the perfidy of its king. The annalists say:–‘He plundered that territory, he carried off spoils and prisoners, and slew Dunghal.’ This Dunghal was the brother to Donnchad, the reigning king ; he was dynast of ‘Laithe Osraighe,’ i.e., Upper Ossory. Malachy does not appear to have encountered Donnchadh Mac Gillapadraig in his plundering raid through Ossory.”22
“Donnchadh, King of Ossory…was a man
of singular piety. He devoted much of his time to prayer to Almighty God,
frequently purged away the stains of his soul by confession, and strengthened
himself in virtue by frequent communion. By his zeal all the principal churches
in Ossory were enabled to dispense, by the privileges of the Apostles, very
liberal charity to the poor ; great numbers of his friends also took orphans
and other poor, under their protection ; every house in Ossory was obliged by
his orders, to have three vessels, in one of which each inmate deposited a
tenth of his food [a tithe] ; in
another kept the portion of the poor commonly called Mihal [St. Michael’s share]…; and in the
third, which may be called crematha, were kept the crumbs and fragments, which
were specially under the care of the mistress of the house.”17 Wise old
Donnchadh was particularly adept at seeking the involvement of the women of his
túath in the operation and betterment of his kingdom.
But Donnchadh and the tribesmen of
Osraighe soon became even more militant, and were successful in a series of
battles with several opponents throughout the south of Ireland at this time. And
Donnchadh II again took his revenge. “In
the year 1022, Sitric, son of Imar, The Danish king of Port Largie, or
Waterford, was slain by Donnchadh, Lord of Ossory. This was a retaliation for
the murder of his own father [actually
his brother, Gilla Phadráig]
by Donovan and the Danes of Waterford in A.D.
Áed, the principal of our story, was born in Osraighe about this time. It is a good guess that he was born of a middle- or upper-class family, with an unknown close connection to the dynastic family. Áed’s status later in life makes this a likely possibility, as we shall see. His father could have been a noble, perhaps an offshoot of the dynastic family, one of those who followed Donnchadh II into battle, leading his own retinue of clients. And it follows that perhaps the family therefore lived near the capital of Osraighe (closeup), where the castellum of the Kings of Osraighe and the monastery of Cill Cannaich were located. The capital actually would more accurately be called only a small collection of families who were scattered along the Nore River around the monastery and the king’s mansion—but not within a respectful buffer zone of perhaps a mile. The settlement was surrounded in every direction by old growth timberlands, endless bogs and the profound quiet of the land.
Donnchadh was as ambitious as he had ever been, and now his momentum was building. “In the year 1026 Donnchadh Mac Gillaphadraig led an army into the country of the Ui Muireadhaigh, i.e., the O’Murry’s tribeland…a large plain in the county of Roscommon [northwest of Osraighe]. Here he seized on great spoils and killed Muircheartach [Muirta], son of Dunlaing, King of Leinster. This is the second son of the King of Leinster slain by Donnchadh Mac Gillaphadraig.” He soon did an about face and attacked to the southeast. “In the same year, ‘An army was led by the Lord of Osraighe into Ui Ceinnsealaach [anglicized Hy-Kinsella, containing the present day towns of Wexford and Ferns] and he plundered it.’”
Donnchadh was not done. “In the year 1027 ‘Tadgh Mac Gillaphadraig was blinded by the Lord of Osraighe.’” Tadgh was his brother. Tadgh’s daughter Dearbhforgaill [DER-vir-ghil; “daughter of Ireland,” or “daughter of Fál,” or “daughter of a poet”] was married to a grandson of Brian Boru. Donnchadh saw trouble here—Tadgh might become a potential rival to the throne of Osraighe. So he did what he thought he had to do: “to remove the remotest possibility of such a contingency, Donnchadh had Tadgh barbarously deprived of his sight.” These were times when the chief had to be in perfect physical condition, for he personally led his men in battle. He risked and often faced death in war. Blinding an opponent or potential rival would make him unable to lead, and this tactic was often used to end a real or perceived challenge.
The warfare never let up for the tribesmen of Osraighe. Now another threat, this time from the southwest. “Donough O’Brien, King of Cashel, concentrated his forces and marched into Osraighe to reduce to subjection Donnchadh Mac Gillaphadraig.” Donough, attempting to avenge Donnchadh’s blinding of Tadgh and recognizing that Donnchadh had ambitions on more territory than just Osraighe, launched a preemptive attack on Donnchadh’s capital, where perhaps the young boy Áed lived with his family. It was a terrifying time for them. “Here, however, O’Brien was sadly disappointed, for his army was totally defeated by the Ossorians and retreated to their own country, leaving behind them dead on the field of battle the principal chieftains and nobility of Munster.”
The King of Osraighe was now ready for the
greatest power play of his career. In 1033, he made a return visit to Uí Cinnseallaigh and expelled
the King of Leinster, elevating himself to the kingship of the entire province.
He then made his status the cause for celebration in this new territory by
reviving the annual óenach, or fair,
at Wexford. The Annals reported, “The fair of Carmen [present-day Wexford] was celebrated by Donnchadh Mac
Gillaphadraig after he had assumed the kingdom of Leinster and Ossory.” (“The
king was never to become a fountain of justice, although he did preside at the
annual assembly of the people. This gathering—the óenach—was an important event in the calendar of rural society, and
was at once political assembly, market-fair…and an occasion for general
jollification….At the óenach the king
could promulgate certain specific emergency measures and ordinances, for
instance in time of plague, defeat or foreign invasion.”)23 A poem written about the fair mentions trumpets, harpers, tiompan-players, fiddlers, horns, pipes, shriekers, shouters, pipers, story-telling riddles, proverbs and “bonemen” (possibly playing the bones in the same way as spoons are used nowadays.)24
The deposed King of Leinster, Dunlaing Máel na mBó; “servant of the cattle,” fled the province and went into hiding. Donnchadh found him out three years later, sacriligiously forced him from sanctuary in a church, and so barbarously blinded him that he died from the effects within a week’s time. Incredibly, Donnchadh then formed an alliance with Dunlaing’s son Diarmait [dīar-mid] mac Máel na mBó; “son of servant of the cattle,” who “assists this perfidious usurper in his heinous projects.” Diarmait must have been very pragmatic or exceedingly ambitious, or both. Soon, Donnchadh also found out the Lord of Uí Cinnseallaigh, seized him in the church of Kilcullen and handed him over to Diarmait mac Máel na mBó, who promptly blinded him.
In 1039 Donnchadh, more ambitious than
ever and with thoughts of becoming the High King of all of Ireland, turned his attention
to the north. He led his nobles and his army into the province of Meath, where
they plundered the country. But it was his last hurrah. Later in the year “he
died after a long illness.” He reigned thirty-seven years. Although Osraighe
never again attained the status it held under Donnchadh II, John Hogan sums up
his life: “He was a fearless warrior, a brave and undaunted chieftain, yet in
the history of his career we find little to admire and nothing to gratify our
Saint Kieran and the Diocese of Ossory
Kieran, (or Ciaran, Canice, Cannaich, Kannech), another famous patron of
Ireland and a contemporary of Saint Patrick, is alleged to have descended from
Oengus Osriage (presumably our same Ængus). He is credited with founding at
least three separate monasteries within the bounds of ancient Osraighe. The
first was at Saighir, which is today an “island” parish, a detached portion of
the Diocese of Ossory, located within present-day County Offaly. This monastery
apparently had always been a favored burial place for Osraighe royalty of
ancient times, perhaps because of the belief that Saint Kieran himself was
buried there. Today the monastic site is known as Seir Kieran, located six
miles east of the town of Birr at the Clareen crossroads. Extensive earthworks
and early graveslabs are still visible, “including the burial place of the
tenth century King of Ossory,” the beloved Donnchadh Rowhor. In later years Donnchadh daughter Sabia,
when she herself was the “Queen of Ireland,” ordered a protective wall be built
around the graveyard of her ancestors. Traces of the wall can still be made out
A second monastery was founded by Saint Kieran at Aghaboe (“Ox Place,” implying rich pasturage and good cattle-feeding qualities of its land)26 in Upper Osraighe. “He was the first abbot, and while there he ruled over a numerous community of monks, giving great edification, both by his instructions and example….Canice or Kenny—as he is popularly called—continued to preside here until…he died….”27 The Mac Giolla Phadráigs built, or rebuilt, a church there in 1052. Aghaboe is now a small town in present-day County Laois.
A third monastery was founded at the capital of Osraighe proper, close to the royal compound. According to legend, Canice, in the typical Irish fashion, was granted land to build a monastery there by Colman, King of Osraighe in the sixth century. “Colman…was the bosom friend of St. Canice of Aghaboe, to whom he presented, by way of a pious offering, one of his principal residences.”28 It became known as Cill Cannaich (Church of Canice). Eventually the capital itself would take the name of the famed monastery. It was ultimately anglicized as Kilkenny, which is today the name of the present-day city and the present-day county. “The diocese of Ossory is the most ancient in Ireland and originally derived its title not from the territory but from the city of Ossory, which was the seat of government in that territory from the beginning. The city of Ossory was first known by the name Kilkenny towards the end of the eleventh century. Since then its cathedral and it bishops have been indiscriminately named either of Ossory or of Kilkenny.”29
Although John Canon O’Hanlon and others have stated that Aghaboe was the cathedral city of Ossory prior to its establishment to Kilkenny, John Hogan is adamant that Kilkenny was always the seat of the diocese, and was only temporarily displaced to Aghaboe. “…We have materials to prove that Kilkenny had been for some period previous to the Anglo-Norman Invasion the seat of the diocesan chapter and episcopacy, until, in consequence of the disturbance of the times, the cathedral was removed to Aghabo…. and through English influence….the cathedral was again transferred from the ‘Ville of Achbo’ to the ‘Cittie of Kilkenny.’”30
Class and Caste
Irish society of this time was pre-feudal, but still it was composed of different classes of people who had different roles in the society. It was an aristocracy. “Early Irish law describes a society in which there were two significant groups: kings and lords; and commoners or free farmers. Members of each rank had a specified amount of land, number of clients and an honour price that was paid to an individual for any major offense committed against him.” The king ruled with his vassal nobles surrounding him. They were the freemen, the landholders. Below them were the unfree: captives, slaves and hostages. “In practice, every freeman was either a lord (flaith) or the client (cele) of a lord….The support given to a man by his kin and his lord, and the sanctions which that entailed, ensured a reasonable rule of law in the small rural community of the tuath. Freemen, not merely nobles, were land-owners: the client received a loan of stock from his lord….The…unfree client paid a food-rent and performed certain menial services. He also provided the lord and his retinue with free hospitality at stated seasons. The…‘free’ or ‘noble’ client paid at a higher rate of interest on his stock and gave the lord political support, becoming a member of his retinue…”
Noble Grade In English Honor Price Land in Cows Bóaire Ócaire
in cumal hectares clients clients
Rí túath King of territory 7.0 97.3 62 -- --
Aire forgill Lord of Superior
Testimony 5.0 83.4 53 5 6
Aire ard High Lord 3.3 69.5 44 4 5
Aire dèso Lord 1.7 41.7 27 1 1
Bóaire Cow lord 0.8 27.8 18
Ócaire Young lord 0.5 13.9 9
forgill was a class of noble whose status was based on former royal status
or having a strong family relationship to royalty. This noble grade and the aire ard had military functions and could
offer defaulting debtors sanctuary within their ringforts….Of the non-noble
grades, the bóaire was a small
independent farmer and the lowest grade of freeman to hold land in his own
right. The ócaire was the lowest
grade of freeman, and was distinguished by having no land of his own. He would
have leased a tir cumaile of land
from a lord on a yearly basis for the payment of one cow, in addition to the
customary advance of cattle which constituted the clientship fief for all
It could be argued that Áed’s family were of the noble class, perhaps even of the aire forgill grade. His father could even have been one of the royal servitors; kings like Donnchadh were beginning to need more administrative help. “These new kings who exercised such wide powers had need of some officers of government. Kings…were frequently absent on campaigns for months on end….It is evident that there must have been some royal ministers, however unspecialised, to carry out the day-to-day business of ruling in the king’s absence. Though there is no formal account of these officers, occasional references in the annals give us some indications of their existence. One of the most important was the airrí…the term can, I think, be shown to mean governor….[which] office was filled by the middling class lord (either from within the dynasty or from a subject kingdom), who was in no position to challenge the royal authority as greater men might be and who owed his position to royal patronage. Since these men are important enough to be mentioned in the annals, they must of course be men of consequence….The king’s chief officer is his rechtaire, his steward or bailiff. He is the majordomo of the king’s household and, on occasion, the collector of his food-rents…It is evident that in the early period he was an omni-competent household officer with general duties; in the eleventh and twelfth centuries he becomes a royal officer of importance.”33
On the other hand, Áed’s father might not have been an administrator at all. There was also recognition of a “producer” class, divided into an upper caste and a lower caste. The upper caste, nassala, consisted of the lawyers, the poet-historians, the talented artisans who worked in wood, stone or deer antler. Their work (such as these circa 900 A.D. items discovered at Derrynaflan in Tipperary) was quite expert. Áed’s father might have been one of these artisans. They tended to populate the monastic towns which were starting to spring up around the larger monasteries such as Cill Cannaich (Kilkenny) and Cill Dara (Kildare). Regarding the settlement at Kilkenny: “The discovery in the last century of antler tines near the cathedral suggests the presence of some form of manufacturing activity, such as the antlerworking or comb-making that was carried out at Kildare….it is known that the Mac Gilla Patraic, Kings of Ossory, had a house here, in which they held court, and in which a ‘seneschal’ deputised during their absence. Although the evidence is slight it suggests…that pre-Norman Kilkenny was not simply a religious settlement but also a centre of local administration and a place where craftwork was carried out.” 34
Those in the lower caste of the producer class, called biadhtacha [BE-tagh], consisted of the agricultural serfs, clowns and jugglers, kitchen help, etc. These two “producer” castes also had differing rights, privileges and responsibilities in Irish society. “The free and higher class tenants were bound to receive their lord and his train in their houses, usually for two days and nights in the year, whenever the pursuits of the chase or of war, or the exigencies of the vast herd of cattle that formed his personal property, led him to visit their part of his territory ; but…the inferior servile tenants actually supplied the bulk of the means of bearing these visitations…”35
The entire country of Ireland at this time was overwhelmingly rural. A very few villages had grown up around some of the larger monasteries, but these villages were primitive and had a very limited population. The vast majority of the population made their livelihood from agriculture on their own parcel of land.
…It was centered about a ring fort, an area surrounded by a ráith or rampart of earth and stone, containing the dwelling house and the farm buildings which are listed in the law tract as the byre, pigsty, sheepfold and calf-fold. The enclosed area or less was really the farmland….Within the less or close by, was the winter macha or milking yard…eighty or ninety feet in diameter surrounded by a high and massive dry-built stone wall, broken by a single gateway….The size of the ráith and of the buildings within doubtless varied with the prosperity or poverty of its owners. It is possible that the lower orders, the poorer class of tenantry, lived in undefended house clusters or primitive hamlets….
Round about the ráith lay the arable land, the carefully enclosed and fenced fields in which cultivation was carried out. These were quite small fields, containing an acre or two. Beyond lay the forest, moorland, rough land and rough mountain pastures, which were either owned privately or owned in common by a number of farmers.
The Irish were skilled stockmen and a great part of their livelihood depended on cattle, sheep and pigs….Land was measured in terms of the number of cows it could maintain, legal compensations were reckoned in terms of cattle; a man’s standing in society was determined by his wealth in cattle and cattle-raiding was a recognized form of warfare and of adventure of young nobles. The cow was the most immediate form of mobile wealth for raiding, for granting fiefs to clients and for paying one’s debts….
Within the area enclosed by the ráith, usually circular with a mean diameter of about one hundred feet, stood the dwelling-house and out-offices. Farm buildings were also erected outside the periphery if the enclosure. Within the ráith [was] a bewildering variety of structures of differing materials, both free standing and lean-to. It appears the surrounding wall was the most important single item: the buildings within were constructed in whatever way and with whatever materials were most convenient….timber, clay, turf, and wattle and daub were used. Both dwelling places and churches were usually made of wood….Roofing was of thatch made from straw, reeds or rushes….Special houses were also built for large-scale entertainments, weddings and other occasions….Strewn straw of rushes, which were frequently changed, were used as general bedding. Ticks stuffed with straw, rushes and other materials and, in richer homes, with feathers and pillows or bolsters stuffed with similar materials were in use….box bedsteads and bedposts of wood or of metal were used by the rich….Rugs and skins, especially calfskins, were used as bed-coverings.
Sleeping arrangements…were rarely conducive to privacy. Normally beds were shared….
It was common practice to strew the floor of the house with rushes or with fresh straw. Skins, especially calfskins and the hairier the better, were used as bed-clothes, as coverings for seats in carts, and as rugs on which people sat when indoors….Rough stools and tables must have been in use but there is no evidence for sophisticated furniture.
The hearth and fire lay in the centre of the floor and the smoke escaped as best it could through vents and holes in the walls and roof. People sat or lay about the fire in the smoke-filled houses to warm themselves….In a country so heavily wooded as Ireland, timber was the natural domestic fuel….turf was also used as fuel, even in the big monastic centres. The cutting, saving and carriage of turf requires far less labour and far less equipment than wood.
A large cooking cauldron…was restricted in the main to homes of the rich. Water for bathing and for other purposes was effectively heated in large wooden vessels by throwing in hot stones. Similar methods were used to stew meat both indoors and outdoors….
A great deal of home-craft was carried on – spinning, weaving, basket making and the production of domestic items of wood and leather….
Both lord and commoner lived in conditions of extreme squalor by modern standards….Music, story-telling, board-games and drinking seem to have been the chief indoor entertainments of the upper classes….wine always remained an aristocratic drink. Ale was by far the commonest drink, both in secular and monastic circles….36
The Monastic Institution
Éire had always existed in splendid isolation. It’s culture had never been bulldozed by the Roman Empire. It was not Christianized until the sixth century, when Saint Patrick and others started the process of converting the island. Patrick (a Roman Catholic who was kidnapped by Irish pirates in Briton and brought to Ireland as a teenager) and the other saints of his time had originally envisioned a diocesan framework for the Church of Ireland much like existed elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but the island was much too rural to support this kind of a structure. Instead, a different institution developed—monasticism.
The Christianization of Ireland took place within the period of that powerful and surprising movement, the rise of monasticism and its spread from Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor to all parts of western Europe….It would seem that Patrick aimed to establish in Ireland a ruling episcopate such as existed in Roman Britain and elsewhere, monastic elements being subject to the bishops. But by the time of Brigid, the Finnians, and the Brendans, the Church of Ireland was under the leadership of abbots who were secondarily bishops, or had bishops attached to their monasteries and under their jurisdiction….Diocesan episcopacy did not flourish, and what promise there was of it at the early stage faded as monasticism mounted in importance. It may have been the tribal and rural character of Irish society that chiefly prevented the permanent establishment of Episcopal jurisdiction after Patrick. Elsewhere the diocese was organized with a town of some political importance as its center; but Ireland had no such towns….From the sixth century the leaders of the church were abbots and learned monks.”37
Irish monasticism had such a superb reputation it even attracted members from England and continental Europe. “But the great majority of monks in the Irish monasteries from the days of St. Finnian [fifth century] onwards were natives of the soil who had followed the higher call while still in early youth. That their numbers reached a remarkable figure was due in no small degree to the traditional prominence accorded to intellectual pursuits in the Gaelic scheme of civilization. Before the advent of Christianity the professions of druid and poet claimed no mean percentage of the free men of the nation. Parents and kinsfolk decided what members of the family should be set aside for these careers, and the training began in childhood. After the conversion of the country to the Christian faith, druidism died a natural death, and boys who in pagan days would have spent their youth in druidic studies were placed now under Christian teachers.”38 “The church, in a word, fitted so well into Irish society that it was hardly tempted to change it. It owed little to the princes of this world, and was not inclined to help enhance their prestige or prerogatives.”39
No doubt the Irish kings recognized the power and majesty of the monastic institution, and saw the value of cooperating with it. “The Church in Ireland was in a unique position. It was an institution in a way that early medieval kingship could never be. It had a virtual monopoly of literacy. It had control of manpower that must have been the envy of kings. It had established centres that exercised a strong gravitational pull (by contrast kingship was peripatetic). It was in a position to exploit fully technical innovations such as the heavy plough and the horizontal watermill. It was thus the only organization that could produce a surplus – particularly of grain….It…added to its lands by…grant or donation. In the course of time major monasteries had a population that reflected the social grades of society from serfs to noble vassals. This was a population that was being continually added to by the offering of unwanted children, destitute people abandoned by their kin, or people reduced to poverty as the result of war, pestilence, or famine. By the seventh century it is clear that not all who lived within monastic settlements or on monastic property could be classed as ‘religious.’ For this reason the term manach (from the Latin monachus, originally ‘a monk’) comes to mean simply ‘monastic tenant’….Despite the problems, this situation created a strong economic base that provided the wealth for the rebuilding and reorganization in the seventh and eighth centuries….” 40
This monastic movement had an irresistible attraction for young men (and women), and “…in Ireland a larger percentage of the whole population than anywhere else entered monastic communities. Nowhere else in Christendom was the culture of people so completely embraced within monasticism. The Irish Christian youth felt with peculiar force the urge to ascetic devotion, and the busy life of the monasteries offered an outlet to native talent and energy in art and learning and missionary adventure by which Ireland was to make its great medieval contribution to the Christian West…. As schools of learning the monasteries must have had a more than accidental relation to the well-developed colleges of pre-Christian Ireland in which druids, bards, and brehons underwent exacting courses of instruction….The Irish church never repudiated the early cultural heritage, least of all the ancient concern for mature and protracted study; and this could flourish only where students and masters were assembled in considerable numbers. It was the monasteries that provided the opportunity for a higher education long cherished in Ireland.
“Similarly a close relation was usually formed between the monastery and the túath within which it stood, based on the original transfer of land from the clan chief to the monastic founder….The monastery is obligated to provide instruction for children of the túath, and one in seven of the young men is to become a recruit to the monastery….Succession to the abbatical office was restricted to members of the founder’s family wherever such a candidate was available; hence the abbot was designated “comarba,” or co-arb, successor by family inheritance.”41
No doubt as a child Áed showed signs of promise: intelligence, aptitude, strength of character. And no doubt he professed his desire to become a monk to his parents. Even though he was probably not the eldest son, he probably showed signs of being the smartest, and that meant he could be destined for the monastery. A maxim from early brehan law states, “Elder for kin, worth for rulership, wisdom for church. That is, to put the eldest of a kin in the headship of that kin, and to put the person who possesses most clients and power, if he is as noble as his elder, into the sovereignty or lordship, and to put the person who is wisest in a position of authority in the church.”42 So when he was a young man, his family, in council with the leadership of the túath, made a big decision for him, one that would determine the course of his life. He would be allowed to seek admittance to a monastery. “…the monasteries were usually proprietary churches where the secular ruler had a decisive say in the appointment of the abbot….A high degree of continuity was thus guaranteed….The abbots usually came from noble families that had been unsuccessful in attaining kingship.”43
He would not go to Cill Cannaich though; that was discouraged. “Monastic traditions recommended that the monastery chosen should be situated far from family and friends.” And communication with family was also discouraged. “According to the Columban rule the monk might not be seen, nor spoken to, nor written to, nor heard from, without leave of the Abbot.”44 No, he would not enter Cill Cannaich. There were bigger plans for Áed. He was going to go to the great monastery of Cill Dara, outside their túath, far across the Barrow River, some thirty miles to the northeast. Perhaps this decision was made, or at least endorsed, by the ambitious King Donnchadh himself. Kildare was the most prestigious monastery in the entire south of Ireland, and this aggressive king with such grandiose designs on power may have seen this as a good way to project the clan’s influence and reputation into Leinster. This tactic had been used successfully for over a century by the powerful Uí Briain dynasty in Munster. Perhaps other young men and women from Osraighe had gone to Cill Dara in the past, and were there now. Whatever the reasons, this decision would set the course of this young man’s life forever.
The fact that Áed was allowed to seek entrance to the monastery at Cill Dara was in itself an indication of the high status of his family. “…recruiting for the Irish monasteries seems to have been confined almost wholly to the upper and middle classes.” Many monks were sons of the nobility, even from families who had attempted and failed to control the dynasty. “It is evident that the clergy moved easily in legal, poetic, and learned circles, and all seem to derive from one source: the politically unsuccessful segments of the ruling dynasties. This conclusion is amply borne out by the annals and genealogies….In many cases, those recorded in the annals as poets belong to the same type and very frequently they too have close clerical connections….We may now enquire as to the relationship which existed between the kings and this class of clergy, poets, and jurists. In general, it seems, this mandarin class provided the professional servitors of the greater kings….In fact, it was this mandarin class that elaborated the idea of the overkingship of Ireland and projected it backwards into even the remote past, thus creating what remained for a millennium one of the best-known ‘facts’ of Irish history.” 45 Many more monks were sons of the fine artisans, the makers of chariots, the workers in iron stone and wood. “The status of these workers in early Ireland being that of well-to-do professional men today….In no case was it mentioned that a monk was that of low degree…The Irish differed likewise from the Egyptian monks in the place which they conceded to intellectual pursuits, provision for a liberal education, according to the standards of the time, being a normal feature of the Irish monasteries….The placing thus of young children in monasteries with the intention that they should ultimately don the monastic habit was more common in Ireland than elsewhere, owing to the Irish system of fosterage, which resulted in the complete separation of sons and daughters from their parents during the long years that intervened between babyhood and maturity….
“Where the future religious was placed in a monastery in tender years, he would, of course, grow up a monkish child, a monkish boy, a monkish youth, and when the time came for him to revise his parents’ act, and vote definitely for or against the form of life that they had marked out for him, he would find it comparatively easy to confirm their choice. When this had been done there would be question of little more than fixing the date of his formal profession, for his training as a monk had already been received….”46
The Great Monastery
Cill Dara, the “Church of the Oak,” was the monastery of highest prestige in south Ireland, having been founded by Saint Brigid [bri-yid; brīd] herself, a legendary figure in Ireland and considered one of its patron saints and second only to Saint Patrick. The legend states that she came back to Leinster at the request of its people, and
…she fixed upon Drum
Criadh, the ridge of clay. There, under a great oak tree, which she loved,
she built her cell, round which were gathered the wattled huts of her community. Hence came
the name Cil-darra, or Kildare, the cell of the oak….The establishment at Kildare was at first a
community of women, but afterwards a monastery for men was added.
and nuns. As the community increased in numbers, it became necessary, according to the Irish
custom of the age, to obtain the presence of a bishop to consecrate churches, confer orders and
confirmation, and to admit members….
name of Brigid was displayed in the Middle Ages….The Book of Leinster gives a list of thirty
houses of religious women which were under her obedience in ancient times….Grave abbots and
bishops did not disdain to write themselves the servants of Brigid.47
Cogitosus, a monk who lived and worked at
St. Brigid’s monastery around the middle of the seventh century describes the
church at Kildare during his time:
It is adorned with painted pictures and inside there are three chapels which are spacious and divided by board walls under the single roof of the cathedral church. The first of these walls, which is painted with pictures and covered with wall hangings, stretches widthwise in the east part of the church from one wall to the other. In it, there are two doors, one at either end, and through the door situated on the right, one enters the sanctuary to the altar where the bishop offers the Lord’s sacrifice together with his monastic chapter and those appointed to the sacred mysteries. Through the other door, situated on the left side of the afore-said cross-wall, only the abbess and her nuns and faithful widows enter to partake of the banquet of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The second of these walls divides the floor of the building into two equal parts and stretches from the west wall to the wall running across the church. This church contains many windows and one finely wrought portal on the right side through which the priests and the faithful of the male sex enter the church, and a second portal on the left side through which the nuns and congregation of women faithful are wont to enter….48
Father John Ryan gives us a good description of a typical monastery of this period, beginning with the church:
It was usually a large
building (hence the term magna domus…) and was known generally by the name
(…domnach…)….It was generally made of wood “of smoothed planks, closely and
strongly fastened together,” more particularly of oak (which gave good service
in the humid Irish climate), and was therefore referred to often as “dairtech”
(oakhouse)…The roof to such buildings would consist of straw or reeds. Now and
then stone churches were built, generally in places where stone was
plentiful….Stone as building material was, in fact, unfashionable and
unpopular….By the side of the church was the sacristy, and near by was a space
enclosed and consecrated as a cemetery….Burial among the holy dead of a
monastic cemetery was regarded as a great privilege by the laity…Several
monasteries had pre-eminent graveyards for royalty. Next to the church, the
only buildings of much importance were the refectory, which held the kitchen
“where the modest meals of the brethren were prepared,” with its nearby pool
where the monks could perform their ablutions before entering to take their
food. the guest-house, which might sometimes was placed apart from the other
buildings. Also within the enclosure were the cellae, or habitations of the
monks, detached huts made probably of wattle and thatch, and sometimes round in
shape. The abbott may have had a hut of his own. The brethren, however, seem to
have been housed in twos, three, fours, sevens or even greater numbers,
according to the size of the hut. Separate cells might be allowed as a special
privilege to aged religious in their declining years….
Special cells (or at least special facilities within their own cells) must have been provided for the monastic artists, who copied and bound books, as well as for those who helped them in the more material side of the work, by making wax tablets and styles, pens, ink horns, vellum and the satchels in which the books were carried. Missals were needed for Mass ; psalters and other liturgical books for the celebration of the canonical hours. The schools were likewise supplied with text-books and reading matter. Altars had to be furnished with chalice, paten, cruets and vestments, and the church had to be decorated….Implements were needed for house use and for agriculture ; vehicles and boats for transport or for travel. Bells had to be made to call the community to the various duties. The brethren had finally to be clothed and fed and nursed back to health if they fell sick. Numerous offices and workshops had therefore to be provided, either within the enclosures or as near to it as possible. No wonder, then, that in externals the great monasteries bore some resemblance to the Continental cities, a resemblance that increased when lay people attached themselves as dependents or technical workers to the religious communities and set up their own houses beside the monastic church and enclosure….
…the general principle of simplicity was everywhere maintained. Nothing in the shape of decoration was desired or even permitted except in the church, where austerity was sometimes discarded in favour of artistic beauty.49
And so Áed, probably accompanied by his father, made his way to the great monastery town of Cill Dara, which was probably a good deal larger than Cill Cainnach. You might imagine it a long journey for father and son, with an overnight stop somewhere, perhaps at a ford on the River Barrow. They may have ridden in the family chariot, which were used in Ireland. It must have been exciting but also very intimidating for the young boy as they approached the settlement.
…the countless wonders of that monastic city we are speaking of, if one may call it a city, since it is not encircled by any surrounding wall. However, as numberless people assemble within it and since a city gets its name from the fact that many people congregate there, it is a vast and metropolitan city. In its suburbs, which Saint Brigit had marked out by a definite boundary, no human foe nor enemy attack is feared; on the contrary, together with all its suburbs it is the safest city of refuge in the whole land of the Irish for all fugitives and the treasures of kings are kept there; moreover, it is looked upon as the most eminent for its splendid temple. And who can count the different crowds and numberless people flocking from all the provinces – some for the abundant feasting, others for the healing of their afflictions, others to watch the pageant of crowds, others with great gifts and offering – to join in the solemn celebration of Saint Brigit’s feast day on the first day of the month of February.50
Life in the monasteries of Ireland was not easy, nor was it supposed to be.
have abundant evidence that abbots were not only obeyed but beloved, and that
ordinarily monks lived together in brotherliness and friendship. They entered
the monasteries with no illusions about its demands, but came from a secular
society that could offer them little of comfort and ease. The recruits who came
in years of manhood were volunteer soldiers prepared for an exacting but withal
rewarding life, eager for the contest of the soul against the flesh, and for
the knowledge that was available from scholar-monks only. Many also came to a
monastery in childhood on action of their parents or from early piety of their
own, and grew up in the stimulating atmosphere of an institution where men in
earnest were always at work with hand and brain or engaged in acts of prayer
and song. The growing lads may have suffered from the meagerness of the diet,
the lack of play, and the pressure of school tasks; but we see no evidence of
recalcitrance on their part. Monks of all ages were engaged in the farming
gardening, and fishing tasks that were necessary to their subsistence. In some
monasteries only one meal a day was eaten, and the sleeping hours, broken by
the night office, were passed in conditions of studied discomfort. That
vivacious Celts in large numbers subjected themselves to these inconveniences
remains something of a wonder. It is a lesson in the possibilities of human
nature under the impulse of devotion.51
One of the elderly brethren or seniors would, no doubt, be set over the newcomer, to give him needful instruction and see that he was earnest in the practice of virtue, but no elaborate system can be discovered even in the most populous monasteries…Between the senior and the youthful novice the relation would be chiefly that of spiritual father and spiritual son.
…no progress can be recorded until…the soul in time [was] purged of worldly attachments….given the frailty of human nature, the work of purgation might occupy the greater part of a lifetime.
…bishops and priests retire frequently...to the wood or mountain for a season of solitary prayer….But the young novice just entering on his new life would waste few thoughts on the desert or its attractions. All his attention, at the moment, was fixed on the practical problem of purifying the heart of its disorderly affections….prayer (public and private), study of God’s word, fasts and manual work…by imitation of older brethren…
Almost cruel, then, was the earnestness with which the novice applied himself to the work of subjugating his passions.
Monks wore a simple monastic habit, consisting of a tunica, or inner garment….Over this was worn a cuculla, or casula, seemingly a woolen garment of coarse texture, provided with a capa or hood. In cold weather or on journeys it might be covered by an amphibalus or cloak. Sandals completed the outfit. Gloves were worn for work. Staffs were carried on journeys. In form they were simply sticks with a crook, not spiral-headed like the later crozier. Their heads were shaved in the characteristic tonsure, a mark of humility, “for flowing locks were highly prized by the freemen of the Irish race, the shaved head being a mark of slavery.
The Roman tonsure was formed by the top of the head being shaved close, and a circle or crown of hair left to grow around it. The Eastern tonsure, also styled St Paul’s tonsure, was total. The Celtic tonsure, also known as the transverse tonsure, consisted in shaving all the hair in front of a line drawn over the top of the head from ear to ear.
Food…should be of poor quality and taken in the evening ; not, however, to satiety, just as drink should never be taken in such quantity as to produce drunkenness. The purpose in taking food is to sustain the body without doing it spiritual injury. Proper foods for this purpose are vegetables (as well those of the shell family like peas and beans as greens), flour mixed with water and a little loaf of bread. Foods other than these were calculated to burden the stomach and suffocate the soul. Those whose minds are set upon the rewards of eternity should see nothing in food save its usefulness in reaching this goal. Food, therefore, should be taken in moderation, just as work is taken in moderation….We are bound, therefore, to fast every day, just as we are bound to take food every day….the ninth hour (about 3:30 p.m.) was the usual mealtime. The consumption of food before that hour was an offence, particularly heinous if it took place on the two weekly fast-days, Wednesday and Friday. Consideration, however was shown towards the sick, the delicate and those engaged in hard manual work or on journeys. To enter the kitchen after dinner (when the remains of the meal could still be secured) or to pilfer edibles before the appointed meal-time, were weaknesses visited with appropriate penalties. Waste even of crumbs in the kitchen or refectory was sedulously to be avoided.
…fasting…was certainly modified on Sundays, feast-days and during the Paschal season, at least to the extent of allowing more and better food. The arrival of guests brought with it the same privileges and the abandonment of the fast if it were an ordinary Wednesday or Friday….In Lent, however, probably in all the monasteries of Irish observance, there would be but one meal, and that at nightfall, instead of the ninth hour….The chief article of food was certainly bread.
If the monks awoke during the night they prayed….It is impossible to decide the exact amount of sleep which was permitted in any of the monasteries, but the presumption is that the amount was never liberal and in many places was exceedingly meager. It was taken in the cells….
Ascetical exercises of what may be called the natural order of course abounded in every Irish rule. Fasts were many, food was poor and scarce ; work was hard and humiliating ; the time for sleep was short ; much of the night was spent in public prayer ; conversation with human kind, even with the brethren, was reduced to small dimensions. Then there were penances, including castigation with a rod or strap, for failure to fulfill obligations….The humble acceptance of a superior’s commands was in itself an exercise which might call for heroic sanctity. Relaxations, finally, like leave to talk and a slight improvement in food, were of least exciting kind. The ordinary life of the Irish monk was thus as mortified as could be imagined, and if it was at the same time a happy life the happiness was admittedly that of martyrdom…
Noteworthy, too, is the apparently matter-of-fact way in which zeal for studies, the higher as well as the lower, is worked into the Irish system. Such a union of hard study and hard discipline is unique….Its explanation in Ireland is probably to be sought in the native schools of druids, fáthi, filid, bards, which preceded Christianity. The monks…expected to apply themselves not only to religion, but also to the cultivation of the intellect. When they likewise took up the study of the native language and literature, their extraordinary position in the life of the country was assured. Owing to the Celtic, as distinct from the imperial, character of Irish civilization, many small features of monastic life in Ireland have no parallels anywhere….the Irish system was sufficiently strong in organization to survive at home for almost seven centuries.” 52
Although Áed and the other monks at Cill Dara lived a sheltered, even cloistered life, they were probably painfully aware of the events swirling around outside their monastery. The eleventh century was a time of turbulence and change for the Irish. There was immense pressure for dominance among the great provinces of the island, especially between Munster and Leinster. It seemed every king had the dream of unifying Ireland, and each saw himself as the potential high king. Many of the kings of that age had the raw ambition and drive to actually try to make it happen. Cases in point: Brian Boru and Donnchadh of Osreighe. But as of yet a supreme monarch of Ireland was only a theoretical entity; it had never been actually effected. At best, a king would become high king “with opposition,” only to be replaced within a few years by another challenger. “At no stage in Irish history did the high-kingship imply monarchy. Neither Brian Boruma nor any other kings exercised governmental authority over the whole island. They reigned but did not rule.”53 As “Larger and more cohesive kingdoms emerged, the powers and pretensions grew apace, the nature of kingship changed and by the eleventh and twelfth centuries rule over the entire island of Ireland had become, for good or ill, the prize in the political game and the express object of the contenders.” 54 For these men, the concept of high king was more like a goal to be achieved, something for them to strive for. And strive they did.
the time Áed entered Cill Dara, we find a ruthless new contender
for kingship now aspiring to power in Leinster. We saw earlier how this merciless
young upstart, probably in his twenties, had formed an alliance with Donnchadh
II, as his junior partner. “He is described by the elegiac
Bards as of ‘ruddy complexion,’ ‘with teeth laughing in danger,’ and possessing
all the virtues of a warrior-king….”55 His name was Diarmait mac Máel
na mBó. When Donnchadh II of Osraighe died in 1039, his son Gilla Phadráig
II became King
of Osraighe, and Diarmait became the senior partner in this Leinster-Osraighe alliance.
The first thing he did was break free of Munster. “Leinster in particular owes its independence to Diarmait mac Máel na mBó…who himself attempted to gain supremacy [of Ireland]. Diarmait is called in the annals ‘king of Ireland with opposition’; in Leinster his rise meant virtually the beginning of a new dynasty. Diarmait belonged to the Uí Cheinnselaig [directly southeast of Osraighe] who had not provided a king of Leinster since 738.”56 “Diarmid captured Dublin and Waterford, married the grand-daughter of Brian and by ’41 was strong enough to assume the rank of ruler of the southern half-kingdom. This dignity he held with a strong and warlike hand thirty years.”57 Diarmait mac Mael na mBó was now King of the province of Leinster, “with opposition.” That opposition would be supplied by the province of Munster.
In Munster, the powerful clan of Uí Briain had been weakened by the dispute of Brian Boru’s two sons, Donnough and Tadc, for succession of his empire. But it was by no means eliminated. As happened frequently in dynastic families, one son eliminated his brother as a potential rival for the throne. Donnough had Tadc assassinated in 1023, clearing his way to become King of the province of Munster. Predictably, as high kings of their respective provinces, Donnough of Munster and Diarmait of Leinster became rivals of the first magnitude. And for decades the two great provinces of Munster and Leinster would vie for supremacy, aligning then realigning themselves, as a complex web of strategic partnerships developed in the south of Ireland.
Tadc Uí Briain left a son who was “both vigorous and astute,” and it was inevitable that this son should become an enemy of his uncle. A very capable enemy he would prove to be. The cunning Diarmait mac Máel na mBó soon formed an alliance with Tadc’s young son. The youngster was the great Toirdhealbach [tar-dhel-vach; ter-yal-ach; tre-lach; “a man of tower-like stature” 1009–1086] (anglicized Turlough). “Diarmait mac Mail-na-mBo…assisted Toirdelbach ui Briain to wrest the kingship of Munster from his uncle Donnchad.”58 As mentioned previously, and importantly to our story, Toirdhealbach, grandson of Brian Boru, married Dearbhforgaill [DER-vir-ghil], daughter of Tadgh Mac Gilla Phadráig. (This was the same Tadgh, son of Donnchad I of Osraighe, who had been blinded by his brother Donnchadh II.)
In 1052 Diarmait captured the important Viking town of Dublin. He installed his son Murchad as king there. Twenty years later, Murchad’s daughter would become the abbess of Cill Dara. Undoubtedly Áed knew her and worked with her there. “Following a well established pattern, this dynasty [Uí Chennselaig] secured the major office in the monastery of one of their own. This they did in the person of Gormlaith, abbess from 1072 to 1112. She was the daughter of Murchad, King of Dublin….By this stage, although Kildare maintained her importance, control of the international trading port of Dublin was more essential still for a king who would dominate Leinster, or indeed for anyone who had ambitions to control the whole country.”59
Diarmait, being the senior partner in the Leinster-Osraighe alliance, assisted Gilla Phadráig II in raiding Meath in 1054. It was one of Gilla Phadráig II’s few mentions in the Annals. The raid was in retaliation for Gilla Phadráig being jilted by his fiancée Mór, who ran off to the King of Meath in violation of her engagement to him. Despite carrying off “captives and very great spoils” nothing could comfort the heartbroken Gilla Phadráig, and he “died of greefe” the following year. Somehow, though, he left a son, Domhnall, who succeeded him as King of Osraighe. Domhnall would be as the first Osraighe king to be referred to as Mac Giolla Phadráig [ma-killa-PHAW-drig]; 60 “son of the servant of Patrick.” Thus the eponym was finally established at this time.
In 1062 at Tipperary, Diarmait and Toirdelbach at last defeated Donnchadh’s army, and Donnchad Uí Briain submitted to Diarmait mac Máel na mBó. The following year Donnchad left on pilgrimage to Rome; he died there, a tired old warrior whose luck had finally run out. A few years later in England, Duke William of Normandy, a descendant of the Vikings who settled in northern France, defeated King Harold of England at Hastings in 1066. Harold’s sons fled to Ireland and were given refuge by Diarmuid mac Máel na mBó. Duke William quickly took control of England and would later become known as “the Conqueror,” the leader of the Norman Invasion.
Meanwhile, Toirdelbach had effectively been left unopposed in Munster, and by 1068 he was able to gain recognition as King of the province. Domhnall of Osraighe submitted to him in 1070. But by the end of 1071, Toirdelbach, now in the ascendancy, decided that he no longer needed Diarmait, and their great partnership came crashing down. Toirdelbach “held a great muster of the men of Munster and built two bridges over the Shannon at Ath Caille and Killaloe.” The following year he joined forces with the King of Tara, and in February 1072 they defeated and killed Diarmait mac Mael na mBó, “Diarmait was slain, with a large number of Leinstermen….Before the year was ended Toirdelbach Ua Briain had invaded Leinster, burned Ui Cheinnselaig and brought away much booty and cows.”61 Toirdelbach, the man with the tower-like stature, now himself 63 years old, had no opposition in the south of Ireland, and stepped easily into his role as its pre-eminent king.
“Toirdelbach’s direction of events shows the full extent of his considerable strength and ability. He moved quickly and, by promoting rival candidates, fractured the power base Diarmait had created. He consolidated his position in the south by installing his sons Diarmait and Muirchertach Ua Briain as duces in the viking ports of Waterford and Dublin and made Limerick his capital. By 1075 Ireland south of a line from Dublin in the east to Limerick in the west was firmly under his control.”62 Why did he make his capital at Limerick? “The more advanced Irish kings used the Viking towns to strengthen themselves militarily and economically, for they milked them for men, ships, and taxes while at the same time they used them as the whipping-boy for their growing aspirations. It is possible too that contact with the Vikings broadened their notions of kingship.”63
Naturally, Osraighe under King Domhnall continued to ally with Toirdelbach, who was married to Dearbhforgaill. The next time we hear about Domhnall of Osraighe is in mid November 1084, when a tremendous battle against the men of the province of Connaught occurred near Leixlip, a few miles west of Dublin in present day County Kildare. Toirdelbach’s son Muircheartach Uí Briain, who was now King of Thomond (County Limerick) in Munster—and an experienced warrior—commanded the men of Munster, the men of Leinster, the foreigners of Dublin and the men of Osraighe. It was a significant battle. A total of over four thousand men were killed on both sides; Muircheartach and his men emerged victorious. After the burial of the dead and all the other necessities attending to a battle of this size, the victors made a triumphant march back to Muircheartach’s fortress in Thomond, where they were graciously entertained. By the time Domnhall and his men returned to Osraighe early in 1085, they discovered that the Connaught survivors had invaded their defenseless capital and that, “Ceal-Cainnigh was for the most part burned.” Domnhall rebuilt his city, including replacing the famous wooden monastery church with a magnificent stone structure. From then on the town took on the name of the monastery as its own. “There are cogent reasons for assigning to the period of King Donall’s reign the erection of a church of the Irish-Romanesque style in the capital town of his kingdom, and that from the solemn dedication of that church to St. Cainneach, the adjacent hamlet received the name of Cill Cainnigh, though the mansion place of the king still retained the ancient title of ‘Osraighe ;’ thenceforward the city is indiscriminately termed Ossory or Kilkenny.”64
The great King Toirdelbach died at his
palace at Kincora (County Clare) on 14 July 1086. He was 77 years old. “The
annals of Ulster style him King of Ireland in his obit. The same dignity is
accorded him in letters from Pope Gregory VII and Archbishop Lanfranc of
Canterbury, who wanted him to support church reform. The entry in the annals of
Saint Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, recording the selection of Donngus (Donatus) as bishop
of Dublin in 1085 by Terdylvacus, king of Ireland (Gilbert, 250), reflects
Toirdelbach’s controlling interest and also represents the beginnings of the
movement for ecclesiastical reform under royal patronage in the south. His
title was disputed among his sons Diarmait, Tadc, and Muirchertach.”65
The Man Who Would Be King
Of the three sons of Toirdelbach, Tadc died “in his father’s bed” at Kincora only a month later. “It seems reasonable to guess that these two deaths in a royal family were in some way due to the pestilence that is said to have killed a fourth of the men of Ireland in 1084 and the following year.”66 (King Domhnall of Osraighe died in 1087.) Now, with his half-brother Diarmait sidelined as Duke of Waterford, Muirchertach [mur-cher-tach; mwir-hyar-tach; “skilled at seacraft, a mariner;” c1050–1119] (anglicized Murtagh) emerged as King of Munster. He already had effective control of Dublin; he would soon become the most powerful king in the south of Ireland. “…Muircheartach (Murtough) O’Brien was now King of Thomond in Munster, and a man destined to even cast a shadow on the reputation of his father. Muircheartach was the son of Toirdelbach Ua Briain (1009-1086) and Dearbhforgaill (d. 1098), daughter of Tadc Mac Gilla Pádraig, king of Osraighe.” And he married Dubhcholiagh [dow-CHOW-ley], daughter of Diarmaid Mac Gilla Phadráig, Tadgh’s brother, of Upper Osraighe. (Muircheartach, therefore, was married to his first cousin.) As a result of Muircheartach’s ascent to power, the prospects of Áed, the monk from Osraighe, would soon dramatically improve at Cill Dara. And within a decade he would be propelled to the very pinnacle of power there.
There were still more worlds to conquer for King Muircheartach, whose ambition knew no bounds. “Like his great grand-father Brian Bóruma, Muircheartach also tried to make the high kingship of Ireland a political reality. He secured his position in the south, and extended Uí Briain control into the midlands and Connacht for a time….His control of Dublin, his activities in the Irish Sea region, and his courtship of Armagh’s clerics all played a part, and he also made use of propaganda: the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib (‘War of the Irish with the foreigners’) presented Brian Bóruma as the nation’s defense against the Viking onslaught, and Muirchertach as his worthy successor. The national extent of his aspirations is seen in his ruthless treatment of weaker kingdoms and his dealings with the church. He presided over the early formal stages of ecclesiastical reform and the attempt to create a national, diocesan institution.”67
began to quicken and intensify. With control of the entire southern half of
Ireland now secured, in 1092 King Muirchertach turned his attention to the
province of Connacht, which he successfully attacked, expelling its king and
appointing a puppet. Next, “…the king of Meath recognized that the political map was
being redrawn in Muirchertach’s favor and submitted to him.” Now the powerful
Domnall Ua Lochlainn (in present-day County Tyrone) was his staunchest, perhaps
his only, opposition. Muirchertach now stood on the very brink of the High Kingship
of Ireland. Would it happen? “The Munster king who could force acknowledgement
of his supremacy in the north would be rewarded with recognition as king of all
Ireland. Control of the eastern seaboard and Irish Sea trade would bring
rewards of a material nature. Muirchertach redoubled his efforts against
Domnall Ua Lochlainn in the north….”
The Bishop of Kildare
“Particularly in the south of Ireland new concepts of kingship were being assimilated. Progressive kings patronized art and architecture, built castles and bridges, supported the church reformers and the new episcopacy, presided over synods…and issued charters whose terms implied that they, unlike early Irish over-kings, were regarded as domini terrae.”68
Not only was King Muirchertach an extraordinary warrior, he was now the ruling king of a dynasty which had a history of being much involved in ecclesiastical matters in its kingdom and of controlling every aspect of the religious life there. “In the case of the surrounding monasteries, there is a conscious policy on the part of the dynasty to intrude its own members….As the dynasty expanded under the rule of able kings, so did its control of monasteries in the person of junior segments. The twelfth-century reform did little to change this pattern, and for a century and a half after its inception only members of the dynasty became bishops of the new territorial diocese; of these, two were brothers of the ruling king and all were relatives. Further, with the increased power of the dynasty, there was an imperialism in church as well as state. Ó hÁilegáin, abbot of Cork who died in 1106, was a distant cousin of Muirchertach Ua Briain and a member of a group of extensive clerical families to which belonged the reformer, Domnall Ó hÈnna, a member of the same group, was abbot of Cork and (possibly subsequently) bishop of Killaloe. All this reflects the power and policy of Muirchertach Ua Briain and his ability to use the clergy of his own dynasty to infiltrate the monasteries of his rivals, the Èoganacht, and gain control of Cork. Similar policies were pursued by other kings with varying degrees of success. It is evident, even from the bald political narrative of the annals, that the great kings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries were deliberately using the church—and the reform movement itself—to further their political ambitions and enhance their prestige.” 69 Monasteries throughout the south of Ireland owed their highest offices to his sponsorship. “Muirchertach took an active role in important ecclesiastical appointments, seeing to the promotion of men of proven ability and reforming zeal like Bishop Dumnall Ua hÈnna of Killaloe and Máel Muire Ua Dúnáin, ‘pre-eminent bishop in Munster.’ He was probably involved in the selection of Donngus (Donatus) Ua hAingli and Samuel Ua hAingli as bishops of Dublin and his name appears on a letter to Anselm requesting the consecration of Máel Ísa (Malchus) Ua hAinmire as first bishop of Waterford in 1096.”70 And King Muirchertach undoubtedly controlled the selection of Áed, the monk from his mother’s and his wife’s family in Osraighe—the Mac Giolla Phadráig’s—to be the Bishop of Kildare in 1096.
In that year Ferdomnach [far-DOWN-ach; “man of the church”], the Bishop of the Cill
monastery, appears to have been called by Muirchertach to tend to more important
matters. Things were changing in the Irish Church. A monk named Samuel was
selected as the new Bishop of Dublin, and there was a council held at this time
which recommended a young man, Malchus, to be the first Bishop of Waterford, which was ruled by the king's brother. The Irish Church was on the brink of an historic transition,
and Britain was beginning to become involved in its reformation. At this
climactic time within the Irish Church, Ferdomnach, surely at the direction of King
Muirchertach, must have selected Áed
to replace himself as head of the monastery. In fact, they had probably been
grooming him for the job for some time. He may have already been advanced through the ecclesiatic grades at the monastery: lector, doorkeeper, exorcist, sub-deacon, priest. He may have been selected to be Ferdomnach's second-in-command, or successor-designate. (In modern-day terms, he would already
have been the co-adjutor bishop of Cill Dara.) Then as now, Bishops
had considerable authority and responsibility in the Irish Church.
The bishop consecrates the
monastic sanctuary lands in the presence of King and people. Bishops are
attached to great churches only. His standing is that of the king of a tuath (petty state), whilst the
presbyter-abbot has no such privilege….each king is associated with one
has the most prominent seat in the Court, next to the King and Queen….every tuath (petty state) is to have
its chief bishop to ordain clergy, consecrate its churches, direct its princes
and leading men in matters spiritual, bless and sanctify its children after
baptism. He must likewise look after the clergy, see that they perform their
duties, help them so secure their rights in the State and in the Church.
Finally he must see that the oratory and the graveyard are kept clean, and that
the altar is properly supplied with sacred vessels and the like.71
“The next Bishop of Kildare appears to
have been Ferdomnach, who assisted at a council in Ireland, A.D. 1096, by King Moriertach
O’Brien, together with Idunan, Bishop of Meath, Samuel, Bishop of Down, and
other Prelates. All of these subscribed an Epistle to Lanfranc [actually
of Canterbury, recommending for consecration Malchus, the first Bishop of
Waterford. It is thought Ferdomnach resigned the See of Kildare the same year,
as he lived until 1101…”72
An Episcopal Name
There was undoubtedly a large and solemn ceremony, probably at Kildare, to install the new bishop. It’s likely that it was well attended; even King Muirchertach and his retinue would have been present in order to make his presence felt in Leinster. As part of “assuming the dignity” of the office of Bishop of Kildare, Áed, now over 70 years of age, chose as an additional identifying name, an “episcopal” name, which may have been announced at the installation. A new name on an occasion like this would not have been unusual in Ireland in the eleventh century.
other aristocratic families and local lords intent on carving out distinctive
territorial domains, symbolised their status and distinctiveness by the
adoption of specific surnames. It is also relevant to
note that early surname formation did become a feature of the key kin-groups
attached to royal and aristocratic households and military administrations
including castellans, stewards, brehons, bards, as well as military officers on
land or sea.
Equally significant was the formation of early surnames amongst the ecclesiastical elites. Ireland appears to be unique in Western Europe in that clerical families developed their own genealogies (in addition to compiling and preserving the secular genealogies), thus stressing the centrality of the hereditary principle amongst the mainly aristocratic church families. One of the earliest and most powerful groups to develop second permanent names were the erenagh families—these deeply rooted custodians of church/monastic lands, many of which survived in the same parishes down to the nineteenth century. Lectors, abbots and bishops also made their contribution to the stock of surnames as did other related elites such as the poets, historians and topographers. An acceleration in both occupational specialisation and occupational diversification after 1020 and especially after 1070 also added impetus to the solidification of distinctive surnames.73
Taking a new name was also customary upon entering the monastery or making final vows. “The great change from the outward darkness of the world to the light and happiness of religion might be further emphasized by the adoption of a new name.”74 This tradition of taking a new name upon assuming the dignity of a high office is maintained even today by the Catholic Church, when a new Bishop of Rome—the Pope—is elected. The tradition of choosing a new name upon becoming pope began to occur on a regular basis in 996 when the German-born Brunone changed his name to Gregory V to signify he was now no longer German but Roman. This practice might have influenced Ireland a century later.
Áed, the monk from Osraighe, selected the
name “Ó h-Éremón,” which means “of the descendants of Éremón,” as his episcopal
name. What could be more natural: his sept claimed descent from h-Éremón. The
poet-historians had worked out the lineage, thought to be genuine; even Éremón’s
tomb was known to be in Osraighe. The new Bishop of Kildare was making a
statement by taking this additional name. He was establishing his legitimacy as
an authentic, full-blooded Gael, one whose roots extended back even to the very
beginning of Gaelic inhabitation of his island. Henceforth he would be known as
h-Éremón. But he could never have imagined that this name would be carried down,
generation after generation, for more than nine hundred years. And counting.
The Reform of the Irish Church
Reflecting the growing English influence
on ecclesiastical matters in Ireland, King Muirchertach wrote a letter to Anselm,
Archbishop of Canterbury, asking him to consecrate the person they had selected
to be the first bishop over the mixed Norse-Irish town of Waterford, where his
half-brother was duke. “Anselm’s reputation as a saintly prelate must have made
it easier to approach him with a request that he might consecrate a bishop of
their choice. The first sentence of their letter lets us see that they were
conscious of their irregular state.”75 The letter was transcribed by a monk
of Canterbury named Eadmer, a contemporary of Anselm. His work, Historia
Things” included a collection of letters to and from Anselm. This letter was
probably written in 1096.
our blind ignorance has for long compelled us to
endure great loss to our salvation, for we have chosen rather like
slaves to withdraw our necks from the yoke of the Lord than like
free children to be subject to the obedience of a pastor. But now
we know how profitable is pastoral care, for we have before our
minds a comparison with other ways of life. No army ventures to
risk war without authority, no ship ventures to risk the dangers of
the sea. How then can our little barque, abandoned to the waves
of this world, fight against the crafty enemy without a pastor?
Therefore we and our king Muriardach and Bishop Dofnald and
our duke Dermeth, the king’s brother, have chosen this priest
Malchus, a monk of Walchelin bishop of Winchester, who is well
known to us as of noble birth and character, steeped in apostolic
and ecclesiastical learning, Catholic in his faith, prudent, of even
temper, chaste in his life, sober, humble, affable, merciful, well-
lettered, hospitable, ruling his own household well, no neophyte
but having good testimony in each of his orders ( in gradibus
singulis). We beg that he may be consecrated as our bishop by your
paternity, so that he may be able to rule over us and help us, and
that we may be able to do battle for our salvation under his rule.
But that you may know that all our wishes agree in this election,
we have each of us, with ready will, confirmed this canonical
decree by our signatures with our hands:
I, Muriardach, king of
Ireland, have signed.
I, Duke Dermeth, the king’s brother, have signed.
I, Bishop Dofnald, have signed.
I, Idunan, bishop of Meath, have signed.
I, Samuel, bishop of Dublin, have signed.
I, Ferdomnach, bishop of the men of Leinster have signed.
Rev. Aubrey Wynn tells us, “Eadmer has copied the full text of this letter in his Historia Novarum, with the following comment: ‘Many more than these signed the letter, but we have not thought it necessary to note them being anxious to be brief.’ Had Eadmer not been so anxious to spare his readers the tedium of a longer list, we might have had a most illuminating list of the Irish bishops, abbots and clergy who were taking an active part in what had become by now a widespread movement for reform in Ireland. Bishop Dofnald (Domnall Ua h-Enna), who signs in the first place, was the king’s special bishop, and his jurisdiction was widely recognized throughout the kingdom of Munster. Bishop Ua Dunáin (Idunan) who signs in the second place, was at this time bishop of Meath, the central kingdom of Ireland; but he succeeded Domnall Ua h-Enna as chief bishop of the kingdom of Munster when Domnall died in 1098. Bishop Samuel was the newly consecrated bishop of Dublin; and Ferdomnach signs as chief bishop of the kingdom of Leinster, which lay to the south of Dublin.”77 It seems very likely that the new Bishop of Kildare, (installed early in 1096?) would also have signed this document. Samuel was installed in April 1096, and Malchus was installed in December of 1096, both by Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Winchester Cathedral in England. When Malchus returned to Ireland in the spring of 1097 he brought with him a letter from Anselm to Muirchertach, whom Anselm addresses as “King of Ireland.”
The Irish Church was at this time on the cusp of a fundamental transition. Monastic domination was about to give way to diocesan control. Rome, not England, would ultimately be the instrument of change. “Despite many signs of secularization in the Viking Age the Irish monasteries retained their reputation as centres of learning until the late eleventh century….there were indications from the eleventh century onwards of a new leaning towards Rome. The pilgrimage to Rome by Donnchadh Ua Brian in 1064 has been mentioned….King Sitric of Dublin had been to Rome in 1028.
“The attachment of the Irish Church to Rome in the eleventh century…has to be emphasized in order to counter the widespread idea that the reform of the Irish Church had been brought to Ireland from England. This is true only to a limited extent….Four successive bishops of Dublin were consecrated in England by the archbishops of Canterbury (Patrick, 1074; Donatus, 1085; Samuel, 1096; Gregory, 1121); Malchus, bishop of Waterford, was also consecrated by the archbishop of Canterbury, in 1096….Thus the first territorial bishoprics arose in the Scandinavian kingdoms….The influence of Canterbury should not be underestimated, although it lasted only a few decades.
“…just at the time of Canterbury’s greatest influence on the Irish Church the king of Munster took the initiative. In 1101, Muirchertach, Tairrdelbach’s son, handed over Cashel to the Church and presided over a reform synod there….it can be assumed the need for a territorial structuring of the Irish Church had been of central concern along with the reform of Irish marriage laws. [This must have been awkward for the great king who was married to his first cousin.]
“The Munster-based reform of the Church under the leadership of the O’Brians had wider repercussions; it was carried out without regard to the ambitions of Canterbury, without, indeed, any reference to England. In 1111 a further reform synod was assembled at Ráith Bressail; it was attended by 50 bishops, 300 priest and 3,000 clerics (Annals of Ulster). It was presided over by Gilbert of Limerick; in his capacity as papal legate, he showed the first signs of close links with Rome and an independent attitude towards Canterbury. The most important decision of this synod was to organise the Irish Church on the basis of two provinces…with archbishoprics in Cashel and Armagh. The “Scandinavian” bishoprics, especially Dublin, were not included….In 1152, a further synod met at Kells and Mellifont which was presided over for the first time by a papal legate sent from Rome….This synod completely restructured the Irish Church, including the “Scandinavian bishoprics. The order that was established then lasted into modern times….The creation of territorial dioceses was followed by the construction of cathedral churches, built of stone…The reform of the Irish Church stimulated building activity until the end of the century, and this was carried out predominantly by the Irish.”78 The territorial diocese of Ossory, headquartered at the monastic settlement of Kilkenny, was established at the synod of Ráith Bressail in 1111. Kildare was named as a territorial diocese at the synod of Kells-Mellifont, and the bishop’s chair (his cathedral) there was naturally located at that monastic settlement which was founded so long ago by Saint Brigid.
Áed retained the dignity of the office for approximately
four years, but he was an old man now and would soon be called by God to his permanent
home. Like everyone in the south of Ireland, he mourned the death of the king’s
wife, Dubhcholiagh, who died young in the midst of “a great pestilence,” leaving the king
a widower in his mid-forties. He prayed for the repose of the king’s mother, Dearbhforgaill,
who became a nun at the Glendalough [GLEN-da-lock] monastery (County Wicklow)
after the death of her husband Toirdelbach; she died there in 1098. (The ruins at
Glendalough are still intact and can be toured.) He lived to hear of the death, in July 1099 at
Rome, of Pope Urban II, who had “preached the 1st Crusade.” But this was Áed’s last summer; his time was also now at hand.
Had our monk lived only a few years longer, he would have been witness to some remarkable changes in the world. Across the Irish Sea in England, the son of William the Conqueror, King William II, called Rufus, “Red-faced,” died in an unexplained hunting accident in August of 1100. His brother King Henry was well prepared for this accident and quickly took control of the kingdom. The coronation was three days later. Back in Ireland, King Muirchertach made a spectacular donation of the Church of Saint Patrick in Cashel to the Irish Church and attended the synod held there in 1101, thus assuring that Cashel would later become the archbishopric of the south. (And yes, the ruins, known as the “Rock of Cashel,” are still there.) Then the king went off to war again, leading a coalition army which included the men from Osraighe under their king Gilla Phadráig III, called Ruadhe, “Red.” Muirchertach battled Domnall Ua Lochlainn’s coalition army several times, even formed an alliance with Magnus (“Barelegs”) of Norway, symbolized by his daughter’s marriage to Magnus’ son. Muirchertach and Magnus launched another coordinated campaign northward in 1103.
The enormous coalitions assembled by Muirchertach and Domnall faced each other for a week, one frightening pitched battle after another; then Muirchertach foolishly split his forces, and Domnall decisively defeated the remaining contingent in the battle of Magh Cobha (County Down), on 5 August. King Gilla Phadráig Ruadhe was killed, and a process began whereby the old Kingdom of Osraighe splintered into three smaller territories. (Worse things than this were in store for it.) Magnus was killed in a separate skirmish. These campaigns of the early twelfth century were the closest Muirchertach would come to achieving his long sought-after dream of becoming King of Ireland. The prize which had been so close slipped away, and the province of Connaught subsequently attempted to achieve High Kingship.
But none of this was relevant for Áed, and indeed he witnessed none of it. The monk from Osraighe who became the Bishop of Kildare died early in the year 1100 A.D. The final scenes may have looked much as described by Rev. John Ryan:
Irish monasteries, as in all others, special care was taken of the sick
brethren….The great patriarch and the other brethren could but fast and pray,
and this they did until relief came. Later a private attendant from among the
monks assists a sick brother in his last illness….Even the sick who had no
connection with the monastery were looked after with kindness by the monastic
brethren. This tender consideration for the sick and infirm became a feature of
Irish monastic tradition.
When all human efforts failed, and the hour of death was seen to be approaching, the monk was exhorted to prepare his soul for the coming journey. The very nature of his life made it unlikely that he would have anything upon his conscience to trouble him before his departure from the world, but, if he had, an opportunity of confession would be afforded him. Then followed that most solemn of death-bed ceremonies, the administration of Holy Viaticum to the dying brother. The abbot himself would officiate at this duty. If it were he, however, who happened to be dying, one of his friends from a neighbouring monastery might be invited to do him that service. Then the dying man, if able, gave a farewell kiss to all and intoned an antiphon for the departing….Such holy deathbeds were a delight to the brethren, who crowded round the bedside, singing psalms, and aiding, as well as they could, the dying brother in his last agony.
When the final moment had come and gone there would be no tears, for the day was, in fact, a natal day, when the brother was born to a new life and had taken his place in his real home in heaven. Sighs might, however, be permitted as a tribute of affection to the deceased. The Office for the Dead would begin at once but might continue for three days, during which period the praises of God were sung in many psalms. One Mass or more would be celebrated, and the same would be done in neighboring monasteries where the dead man was known and honoured. Meanwhile the body, wrapped in linen cloths, would remain laid out in its dead owner’s cell. When the moment for burial arrived it was borne thence with psalms and prayers to the hallowed earth of the monastic cemetery, there to await the resurrection among so many of the holy brethren. Thirty days after the burial a commemoration Mass was celebrated and this was probably repeated at each recurring anniversary. Did the soul need purgation it would be helped by these Masses, as also by the prayers of the devout, the alms given by Christians, the fasts performed by brethren and friends. Names of those who had died with a reputation for extraordinary sanctity were entered in the missal, for the commemoration at Mass. Thus closed the career of the monk on earth. He had known much of the hardship, but none of the fever and the fret of life. He had reached his Master and his home, where he would abide for eternity.79
A High Mass of Requiem was celebrated for the Bishop of Kildare at the church of Cill Dara. Procession to the churchyard with the pall followed, and on a cold winter’s day his body was lowered into the ground. More than nine centuries later, his remains still rest somewhere in that churchyard. He was Áed Ó hÈireamhóin.
Postscript: The Irish Annals
Áed’s death was a noteworthy event in Irish history and was recorded in the Irish Annals. One compilation of these annals is the one made by the Four Masters, who completed their work in 1636 in the Franciscan monastery in County Donegal. The entries for Áed’s time and prior were sourced from medieval monastic annals, probably including Kildare, which are now lost.
The chief author of the Annals of the Four Masters was Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, a Franciscan friar; he was assisted by three other men. Though only Ó Cléirigh was an actual Franciscan, they became known as “the Four Friars” or in Gaelic, na Ceithre Mastir. This was anglicized as the Four Masters, which in turn became the name of the compilation itself. It is now in the custody of the Irish Royal Academy. Images of many Irish Annals, including this one, are available for viewing at (www.isos.dias.ie)
Áed’s death must have occurred early in the year, since it is the first item recorded by the Four Masters for the year 1100 A.D. That spring we find King Muircheartach launching another campaign, still striving to achieve his goal of becoming the first High King of Ireland. And in August King Henry ascends to the throne of England. Retired Bishop Ferdomnach, now living back at Cill Dara, died the following winter.
The Age of Christ, 1100.
Aedh Ua hEremhoin, Bishop of Cill-dara.
. . .
. . .
An army was led by Muircheartach Ua Briain, with the choice part of the men of Ireland about him, until they arrived at Eas Ruaidh. The Cinel-Conaill assembled to defend their country against them; and they compelled Muircheartach and his forces to return without booty, without hostages, without pledges.
. . .
. . .
The first King Henry assumed the kingdom of England in August.
The Age of Christ, 1101.
Feardomhnach, Bishop of Cill-dara.
Kildare Cathedral and Round Tower Kildare Cathedral stands on the site of a church which was burned in the 9th century. Succeeding churches were burned and the Cathedral was built by Ralph of Bristol around 1223. In the rebellion of 1641, Ralph’s Cathedral was burned but towards the end of the century, part of it was rebuilt. The remainder was rebuilt in 1875. One of its distinguishing features is the three light window, which depicts scenes from the three Saints of Ireland - Patrick, Brigid and Columcille. Interestingly, Kildare is where St. Brigid is supposed to have founded her first convent. It is believed that the Cathedral was built on the site of her convent, but this is by no means certain. Also of interest is the round tower that is in the grounds of the Cathedral, which has a doorway fourteen feet from the ground. But it is spoiled by the modern battlements that were forced on to the top. [goireland.com website]
Postscript: the English Compilations
In the nineteenth century, several British and Irish authors started to publish lists of the various ecclesiastical officeholders, compiling their names with the help of various sources, including these Irish Annals. Ironically, “the English were now trying to preserve what they had worked so hard to destroy.” Here are some of their compilations:
– by Robert Beatson in 1806
THE SEE OF KILDARE.
The Church of Kildare is, for the most part, in ruins ; yet the walls
are still standing, together
with the south side of the steeple, and the walls of the nave, which is adorned to the south with
six Gothic arches, and as many buttresses. The north side of the steeple is level with the ground,
and is said to have been beaten down by a battery of cannon planted against it during the rebellion
in 1641. The choir has been repaired, and here divine service is performed. At 30 yards distance
from the west end of the church is a round tower, about 150 feet high : these are peculiar to Ireland,
and are thought to have been penitentiary towers. Nor far from this round tower, is to be seen an
old small building, now in ruins, called the Fire-house ; and here it is supposed that the nuns of St.
Brigid kept the inextinguishable fire.
The Bishop of Kildare takes place immediately after the Bishop of
Meath, and before all other
Bishops in Ireland, although of senior consecration. The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Brigid.…
[The cathedral was rebuilt in 1875-1891.]
[Those marked with an A
after their names, it is probable, were only
Abbots of Kildare]
1. St. Conleath, - - died 519
2. St. Aid, - - 638
3. Lochin, - - 694
4. St. Forannan, A. - - 697
5. Maeldoborean - - 708
6. Tola, - - 732
7. Diman, - - 743
8. Cathald O’Forannan, A* - - 747
* Said to be killed by a priest, as he was celebrating mass at the altar of St Bridget in
756, since which time, no priest whatsoever has
been allowed to Celebrate mass in that
church, in the presence of a bishop.
30. Culian MacKellach, killed by the Danes, A. 953
31. Mured MacFoelan, killed by the Danes, A. 965
32. Amucaid, - - 981
33. Murechad MacFlan - - 985
34. Moel Martin - - 1028
35. Moel Brigid, or Brigidian, - --42
36. Fin MacGussan (Macgorman), - died --85
37. Moel Brigid (or Brigidian O’Brolcan), - --97
38. Aid O’Heremon - - 1100
39. Ferdomnae - - --02
40. MacDongail - - --08
41. Cormac O’Cathsuigh, - - --44
42. O’Dublin, - - --48
43. Finan (MacTiarcain) O’Gorman, - --60
44. Malachy O’Birn - - --76
45. Nehemiah - - succeeded in --77
46. Cornelius MacGelany, Archbishop, 1206
47. Ralph of Bristol, Friar of St Patrick’s, Dublin --23
48. John of Tauton, Canon of St Patrick’s, Dublin --33
49. Simon of Kilkenny, - - --58
88. Hon. Charles Lindsay, trans. from Killaloe and Kelfenora, 1804
[Robert Beatson, A Political Index to the Histories of Great Britain & Ireland, Or, a Complete Register of the Hereditary Honors, Public Offices, and Persons in Office, From the Earliest Periods to The Present Time (1806), p 187-225]
– by Rev. Patrick Carew in 1838
In 1654, Sir James Ware wrote Antiquities of Ireland, which was expanded by
Walter Harris in 1746. It came to be known as “Harris’ Ware.” And in 1822, John
Lanigan wrote An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. Both these works
contained comprehensive compilations of the significant personages in Irish
history. In 1838, Rev. Patrick Carew made a compilation of the people found in
those two books. Here is an abstract from one of his compilations, a list of
the Bishops of Kildare:
NAMES OF THE
GOVERNED THE SEVERAL DIO-
CESSES OF IRELAND PREVIOUSLY TO THE THIRTEENTH
Extracted from Harris’ Ware and from Lanigan
KILDARE. Ware. Lanigan.
The sort of ecclesiastical Primacy observed in Leinster was
first attached to the See of Slotty, whence it was removed to
Ferns upon the
ordination of St. Mordoc, about the latter
end of the sixth century. Next, (but at what precise time
cannot be ascertained,) it was granted to Kildare. That
said Primacy returned at any time from Ferns to Kildare,
there is no authority whatever to prove. It was still at Kil-
dare in the latter end of the eleventh century.—Lanig. vol.
3, p. 372 and 373.
Lochan . . . . . . . 694 695
Farannan‡ . . . . . . 697 698
‡ As Lochen and Farannan, and others, named in this list, are called only
Abbots in the Annals of the Four Masters, it is dubious, whether they
should be reckoned among the Bishops of Kildare.
Moeldoborocon . . . . . . 708 705
. . .
. . .
Mured Mac-Foelan, Ab. . . . . . 965
Arnucaid . . . . . . . 981
Murechad, Comorban of Conlath . . . . 985
Moel-Martin . . . . . . 1028
Moel-Brigid . . . . . . 1042
Fin Mac-Gussan . . . . . . 1085
Moel-Brigid (O’Broclan) . . . . . 1097
Aid O’Heremon, . . . . . 1100
Ferdomnac‡ . . . . . . 1102
Mac-Dongail . . . . . . 1108
Cormac O’Cathsuigh . . . . . 1146
O’Dubhin . . . . . . 1148
Finan (Mac-Tiarcain) . . . . . 1160
Malachy O’Birn . . . . . . 1176
Nehemiah . . . . . . 1195
Cornelius Mac-Gelany . . . . . 1222
‡ According to Lanigan, Ferdomnac succeeded Fin, and resigned about
After Ferdomnac Moel-Brigid became Bishop of Kildare, and was succeeded by
Aidus O’Heremon.—Lan. vol. 3, p. 452.
[Right Reverend Patrick Joseph Carew, An Ecclesiastical History
– by Henry Cotton in 1848
Henry Cotton also made a compilation of important names in Irish
history, including the Bishops of Kildare.
The See of Kildare
appears to have been founded early in
the sixth century, and was for some time reckoned an
archbishopric. There is great difficulty in tracing the
line of its Bishops, or Abbats, as they are sometimes in-
discriminately styled. Their names and order are here
given upon the best information which Sir James Ware
and his editor, Harris, were able to obtain….
31. 965. MURED MAC-FOELAND, Abbot, of the royal family
of Leinster, was slain by the Danes.
32. 985. MURCHAD, or MUREDACH MAD FLAN, Bishop, died.
33. 1028, or 1030. MOEL MARTIN died.
34. 1042. MOEL BRIGID, or BRIGIDIAN, died.
35. 1085. FINN M’GUSSEN (or M’GORMAN) died at Achonry.
36. 1096. MOEL BRIGID O’BROLCAIN, “called Bishop of Leinster
And Kildare, a man of great fame,” died.
37. 1100. AED O’HEREMON, died.
38. 1102. FERDOMNACH, “Bishop of Leinster,” died. He
had filled this See in 1096, but resigned it to AED O’HE-
REMON, after whose death he resumed the dignity.
39. 1108. MAC DONGAEL died.
40. 1146. CORMAC O’CATHSUIGH, Bishop of Leinster, died.
41. 1148. O’BUBHIN died.
42. 1148. FINAN MAC TIARCAIN O’GORMAN, Abbott of
Newry, succeeded. He died in 1160, and was buried
43. 1160. MALACHI O’BYRN (or O’BRIN), succeeded. He
died on January 1st, 1176/7.
44. 1177. NEHEMIAH was promoted in this year. He is
witness to a grant made by Archbishop Laurence O’Toole
to the Cannons of the Holy Trinity, Dublin. [Chartae
er Privil.] He governed the See until his death in 1195.
45. 1206. CONELIUS M’GELANY, or MAC GEALAN, Arch-
deacon of Kildare, having been lawfully elected, was
consecrated in 1206. He died in 1223.
46. 1223. Ralph of Bristol, the first Treasurer of
trick’s, Dublin, was consecrated in this year. He was at
great expense in repairing and beautifying his Cathe-
dral. He died in 1232. He is said to have written the life
of his patron, Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of
47. 1233. JOHN of Taunton, in England, a Canon of St.
Patrick’s, Dublin, succeeded. He died in 1258, and
Was buried in his Cathedral.
48. 1258. SIMON of Kilkenny, a Canon of Kildare, was
Elected Bishop in this year. He died about 1275.
49. 1279. NICHOLAS CUSACK, A Franciscan Friar, was ap-
pointed Bishop by the Pope on 27th November 1279,
after a disputed election had kept the See vacant for
some years, one part of the chapter having elected their
Dean, and the other the Treasurer. He was appointed
one of the collectors of the Papal Tenths granted to the
King for relief of the Holy Land. He died in 1299,
And was buried in his own church.
1804. HON. CHARLES LINDSAY, D.D.
(Son of John,
Earl of Balcarres, in Scotland) was educated at Balliol
College, Oxford. He came over to Ireland as Chaplain
and Private Secretary to Earl Hardwicke, Lord Lieu-
tenant. In 1803 he was advance to the See of Kil-
dare ; and was translated to Kildare by patent dated 14th
May. He was enthroned on July 6th. (See above, p. 48)
He died at his house in Glasnevin, on August 8th, 1846,
in the eighty-sixth year of his age ; and was buried in
Christ Church Cathedral. At his death the See of Kil-
Dare became united with Dublin, by the Act 3 & 4,
Will. IV. c. 37 ; the revenues of the bishopric, and also
the deanery of Christ Church, being transferred to
the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
[Henry Cotton, Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernicae: The Succession of the Prelates and Members of the Cathedral Bodies in Ireland, Vol. 2, The Province of Leinster (1848), p 224-235]
Appendix Four – by William Sherlock in 1896
BISHOPS OF KILDARE
490. A.D. St. Conlaeth is said to
have been the first bishop
of Kildare. He lived as a recluse at old Connal, near where
Newbridge now stands, on the Liffey. He was appointed by,
or on the recommendation of, St. Brigid about the year 490,
one hundred years before St. Augustine’s mission to England.
Conlaeth, in his seclusion, had pursued the occupation of an
artist in metals rather than a student ; and when he came to
Kildare as bishop, no doubt St. Brigit made use of his skill to
the utmost, for she was eminently practical. Some of his handi-
craft would go to poorer monasteries and churches in the shape
of chalices or crosses, set with gems, and adorned with wonderful
and minute interlaced patterns. Other works would perhaps be
sold for the wants of the community in Kildare. At any rate he
came to be called St. Brigit’s Brazier, and was a skilled workman
in gold and silver. An ancient crozier, said to have been made by
him, is still preserved, and may be seen in the Museum of the Royal
Irish Academy. St. Conlaeth died in the year 519. His relics and
those of St. Brigit were deposited in after years in magnificent
shrines decorated with gold and silver and precious stones, one
on each side of the altar of the church, while crowns of gold and
silver were suspended over them. These shrines were carried
away by the Danes, when they wasted Kildare by fire and sword
in A.D. 836.
638. St. Aed, or Hugh, surnamed Dubh, or Dark, is the next
Bishop of Kildare whose name is recorded. He was likewise
abbot of Kildare, and was of royal lineage. After him there is again
a considerable gap in the recorded succession of those actually
named as bishops, but, for the reasons given before, the abbots
are placed on the roll.
694. Of these was Loichene Meann, or “the Silent,” sur-
name “the Wise,” noticed, perhaps, because of the gift of
silence is more rare with Irishmen than that of eloquence.
697. Forannan succeeded, and then
707. Maeldoborcon, bishop of Kildare.
965. Mured Mac Folen, abbot of Kildare, or the royal
blood of Leinster ; was slain by Amlave, prince of the Danes.
and holy man.” This prelate is better known as Animousus,
author of the Fourth Life of St. Brigid.
985. Murchad Mac Flan
1028. Mael Martin.
1042. Mael Brigid, or the servant of Brigid.
1076. Kelius (bishop?).
1096. Ferdomnach. This prelate assisted at a council, held
in Ireland, which recommended Malchus to Lanfranc, archbishop [Lanfranc died in 1089.
of Canterbury, for consecration as the first bishop of Waterford. The recommendation
Ferdomnach resigned his see in this year, but lived to the year was made to Anselm.]
1097. Mailbrigida (probably repeated by mistake).
1100. Aed O’Heremon.
1108. Cormac O’Cathsuigh.
1148. Ua Duibhin.
1160. Finn Mac Gorman. This prelate assisted at the
Synod of Kells in 1153, and was the author of the celebrated
Book of Leinster, which he compiled for Dermod McMorrogh,
king of Leinster, to whom he had been tutor. The MS. Of
This is in the library of Trinity College, Dublin ; it contains
a collection of historical tracts, tales, poems, and genealogies.
1176. Malachy O’Birn.
From this date until the year 1206 we have no record of a
bishop of Kildare. In that year Cornelius Macglenan was chosen
and consecrated. Thus up to this there had been forty-five
bishops of Kildare, all of the Irish race.
With the Anglo-Norman conquest a new regime began. The
female community of Kildare, presided over by an abbess, seems
still to have been left in the hands of the native Irish, but the
monastery for men came into the hands of the regular canons
of St. Augustine, and henceforth the bishops were English, or of
English descent and education.
1223. Ralph of Bristol was the first English bishop ; and we are
told that he went to great expense in repairing and beauty-
fying the church. From its position, as the mother church of
the diocese, it now became a cathedral ; and it is probable that
the present cathedral was either commenced or finished under
Ferdomnach, his work finished, returned to Kildare, now retired and without the responsibilities of office. Ferdomnach died in 1101, and was succeeded by Bishop Mac-Dongail. [W. Sherlock, M.A. Vicar of Clane, Some Account of St. Brigid and of the See of Kildare, with its Bishops, and of the Cathedral Now Restored, (Dublin 1896) p 21-22, 25]
Appendix Five – by Cill Dara Historical Society in modern times
Go to (http://Kildare.ie/Local-History/) for interesting historical
information about Kildare. It includes
Annals compiled in modern times by the Cill Dara Historical Society.
Researched and written by Robert Joseph Arvin, Jr. © Copyright A.D. 2007
Dedicated to my cousin Lavada, whose interest and enthusiasm motivates this project.