Ireland: Top Saints

Saintly Families

Stories about Irish Saints occasionally refer to family relationships between them, including parents and offspring, siblings and cousins. Of these, by far the most complex involves the Relatives of Saint Patrick.

The Children of Dediva

Dediva / Mediva, aka Editua / Dedi / Deidi / Deidiu / Deaga / Deighe, was a daughter of Tren, son of Dubhthach moccu Lughair, who as the island’s foremost bard expert in history and lore was appointed Chief Ollam of Ireland and royal poet to the powerful chieftain Lóegaire mac Néill (son of Niall of the Nine Hostages and the titular Ard Rí / High King of Ireland of legend who failed to prevent Saint Patrick from converting the island to Christianity). She had eight famous children:

Saint Senan of Laraghbrine / Laithrech-Briuin in County Kildare was the eldest; his father was Fintan, son of Strened, son of Glinder, son of Corc, son of Conned, son of Aengus, son of Fieg, son of Mail, son of Carthage of the race of Eochaidh, son of Muireadh.   Senan attended the Synod of Drumceat in 580 AD as a monk. The Martyrology of Donegal gives his Feast Day as 2nd September.

Saint Manchin, son of Collan of Corann,

Saint Caillin

 

Saint Caillin, the third eldest of Dediva’s children, was the son of Niata mac Duban mac Fraech mac Cumscrach mac Echt mac Ere mac Ercdal mac Echt mac Dubh mac Moghruadh mac Nert mac Fornert mac Echt mac Beidhbhe mac Doilbhre mac Lugaid Conmac mac Oirbsen Mor mac Ethedon mac Seghda mac Art mac Allta mac Oghamun, mac Fidhchar mac Doilbhre mac Eon mac Cetguine Calusach mac Conmac mac Mochta mac Fergus mac Róich mac Mesoman mac Rossa mac Mogh Taeth mac Rudraige.

 

Caillin was born in Conmaicne Dun Mor (now north County Galway). He spent time in Clonard as a  disciple of Saint Fintan, who gave him 300 ounces of gold when he set out on pilgrimage to  Rome. He studied there for many years until messengers came from the Conmaicne to ask Caillin to return and save them, and he did, bringing with him relics of the Twelve Apostles and the neck-cloth of the infant Jesus.

 

Saint Caillin founded a monastery at Fenagh, in modern County Leitrim, which was then the territory of the Conmhaícne Magh Rein, part of the overkingdom of Breifne.The Book of Fenagh states that when Caillin commenced construction he turned a group of Druids, whom Fergal mac Fergus, king of Breifne had sent to destroy him,  into stones, which locals like to point out at a place called Longstone.

 

Fenagh Abbey was celebrated for its divinity school which students from all over Ireland and Europe came to study. It is said that many chieftains are buried in the ancient graveyards adjoining the monastery, perhaps due to  Saint Caillin dying prophecy that anyone buried in Fenagh Abbey graveyard and in full observance of the true faith will go straight to Heaven on their death.

 

Caillin also had another half-brother by his father Niata, called Nisi, who according to the Book of Fenagh was ” slain by Cellachan. Magh-Cellachain, moreover, was the name of the plain at that time. Cellachan, however, gave the plain and its profits to Caillin, as an eric for Nisi; wherefore it has been called Magh-Nisi from that time to this; and that is why the plain belongs to Caillin.”

Caillin’s history was given in the Old Book of Fenagh (no longer extant; material included in the Book of Fenagh, written in 1516).

The family of Mac Giolla Chaillín took their name from Saint Caillin. The surname is also commonly Anglicized as Kilcullen, Kilgallen, and Kilgallon, and is found mainly in County Mayo and County Sligo.

Saint Caillin is still the Patron Saint of Fenagh. His Feast Day is 13th November.

Saint Felim of Kilmore (aka Feidlimid, Feidhlimidh, Felimy, Feidhilmethie, Feidlimthe, Fedlimid, Fedlimidh, Phelim, Phelime), was probably born in Kiennacta Breagh, County Meath c.650 AD. His father was Carill, son of Laisrén, son of Dallán, son of Eógan mac Néill, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, son of Eochaid Mugmedón. Felim became a hermit living near Kilmore, County Cavan, where he later founded a monastery in the townland of Tonymore (Domnach Mor – Big Church). He is patron saint of the Kilmore diocese. According to the Martyrology of Tallaght and Martyrology of Donegal his feast day is the 3rd of August but the other Calendars give it as 9 August which is celebrated as his feastday in present day. The discrepancy arises because the 3rd of August was the start date of the annual pattern or fair devoted to the saint in Kilmore, which lasted a week from 3 to 9 August. The Ulster Plantation papers of 1608 give a list of fairs in county Cavan which includes- “One fayre holden att Killmore yearly the third day of August being Saint Phelime’s Day”

Saint Daigh of Inniskeen 

 

Saint Daigh of Inniskeen (d. 588 AD?) is known to have been born in Kiennacta Breagh, County Meath, another son of Carrill and younger full brother of Felim. His name in Gaelic means “A great flame” and  he was probably named after his mother Deighe.
When a boy he went to the monastery of Devenish Island, County Fermanagh to study under Saint Laisrén mac Nad Froích. After finishing his studies there he went to study under Saint Comgall of Bangor monastery. When he graduated he worked as an artisan for Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise for whom he made 300 bells, 300 croziers and 300 Gospels which were distributed as gifts to other monasteries in Ireland.

 

He then founded his own monastery at Inis-Caoin-Deagha / Inniskeen, County Monaghan. Saint Columba blessed it for him. Locals tried to kill him but failed and were expelled to the Beara Peninsula, County Cork. Saint Berach was one of his disciples.

 

Daig performed many miracles which are enumerated in his Life. He was present at the death of Carláen the bishop of Armagh who died on 24 March 588 AD. Daige died shortly afterwards on the 18th August in the same year and his feastday is celebrated on that date.

Saint Femia / Feme / Femme / Eufemia, a full sister of Felim and Daigh, is described in the Martyrology of Tallaght as “beautiful, ample, safe, Cairell’s dear modest daughter“. The Martyrology of Donegal gives her feastday as 17th September.

Saint Diarmaid the Just

 

Saint Diarmaid the Just, aka Diermit, Dhiarmuit, Dermod, Diermedus, Diermetus, Diermitius, Diermetus, Diermitius, was the youngest of Dediva’s children. His father was Lugna, son of Lugad, son of Finbarr, son of Fraic, son of Cathchuon, son of Aengus Becchuoun, son of Nath Í, son of Fiachrae son of Eochaid Mugmedon. He was of princely origin as he was 7th in descent from Nath Í, titular Ard Rí / High King of Ireland who died 428 AD, and a member of the Hy-Fiachrach family from Connacht.

 

About the year 530 AD, he founded the great monastery of Inchcleraun on Lough Ree, in the Diocese of Ardagh. Wishing to found an oratory far from the day-to-day distractions of civilization, he selected the isolated island associated with the memory of Queen Medbh, Inchcleraun.

 

Here his fame soon attracted disciples. He was a good teacher, and also a distinguished writer and poet. On the island seven churches are traditionally said to have been erected, and the traces of six are still in evidence, including Teampul Diarmada, or the church of St. Diarmiad. This oratory, eight feet by seven feet, is said to have been Diarmaid’s own church. The monastic school he founded kept up its reputation for fully six centuries after his death, and the island itself was famous for pilgrimages in pre-Reformation days. An ivory statue of the saint was removed from the island during the Reformation to avoid destruction. He also founded the monastery of Caille-Fochladha, Lough Derryvaragh, Co Westmeath where there is a holy well dedicated to him. He was a friend of St.Senan, Abbot of Iniscathy and he composed metrical psalters, among which is “Cealtair Dichill”.

 

He died on at Inchcleraun and his Feast Day is celebrated on  10th January.

Senchán Torpéist (d. 647 AD), the son of Cuairfheartaigh, a member of the Araidh sept from the northern Tipperary-Limerick border, was the only one of Dediva’s cgildren not to be made a Saint. He was the Chief Poet of Connacht in 598 AD when he became Chief Ollam of Ireland.  He is said to have been helped  to recover the lost tale called Táin Bó Cúailnge by his brother Caillin, who is quoted in the Book of Fenagh as saying “My blessing on thy men of song / Who from mild Senchan may descend.” He was married and had children, so it is quite likely that Dediva still has direct descendants alive today.

Gelges, daughter of  king Áed of Connacht, was the mother of  Saint Fursey / Fursa, Saint Foillan and Saint Ultan

Saint Gibrian (d. 509 AD) is mentioned in the fourth book of the Historia Remensis ecclesiae (“History of the church of Rheims”) as one of a group of siblings from Ireland who were received by Saint Remigius and given permission to settle in the Marne region. They were said to number seven brothers, Gibrian, Helan, Tressan, German, Veran, Abran and Petran, and three sisters, Francla, Portia and Promptia. Gibrian chose for himself a spot in what is now the commune of Saint-Gibrien, near Chalôns-sur-Marne.

Saint John of Mushera & his Sisters

Saint John of Mushera, although unfortunately undocumented, has undoubtedly been placed by legend in the Muskerry hills and given three sisters, Saints Lasair Inghean, Ingean Bhuide and Latiaran, imbued by tradition with qualities previously attributed to pre-Christian goddesses, who themselves were honoured at quarterly periods associated with feasts of the pagan year. The seasonal symbolism of their feast days would appear to lend credence to the belief that they were seen as successors to the ancient Celtic deities of the Druids.

Saint Berihert, also believed to have belonged to this family, settled in Tyllylease where a monastery was located in a defeated Druidic stronghold, and where many monks from England are believed to have settled.

It is interesting to note that both Saint Berihert and Saint John are said to have lived with their sisters at Cullen before setting out on their journeys.

Cullen, lying sixteen miles to the south-west of Tullylease, of which Latiaran is patron saint, is understood to have been the site of a nunnery. Cullen may have been used as a centre point from which early missionaries set forth. This theory may explain in some part the relationship between John, Berihert and the sisters. These holy women may simply have been early nuns given the title of sister and this title may well have been taken literally by their early Irish converts who would then have understood the sister-brother relationship as a family one.

June 24th is the feast day of St John and down through the ages it has been a big occasion on the mountainside. Up to about 1940, St John’s Day had a Pattern as well. The pattern consisted of tents set up abut a mile and a half from the well on the Macroom side, in the townland of Moulnahourna. There were sweet and cake stalls, lemonade, cigarettes and porter tents, and of course the indefatigable three-card-trick men. These occasions rarely ended without a faction fight.