24 November 2020
Finding one Saint Colman
after another, and then
a third Saint Colman
Today (24 November) is the feast of Saint Colman of Cloyne, who gives his name to both Saint Colman’s Cathedral in Cloyne in the Church of Ireland, and Saint Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh in the Roman Catholic Church.
But when I was visiting Saint Colman’s Church and monastic site in Kilcolman, west Limerick, I was told that the Saint Colman honoured there is Saint Colman who is associated with Templeshambo, Co Wexford, and whose feastday is on 27 October.
Indeed, there is at least one more Saint Colman among Irish monastic saints, Saint Colman Mac Duagh, who is associated with Kilmacduagh, Co Clare, a diocese that is incorporated along with Kilfenora, into the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe in the Church of Ireland and, along with Kilefenora into the Diocese of Galway in the Roman Catholic Church.
Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant, Co Cork … the window is the work Franz Mayer & Co in 1886 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)
Saint Colmán of Cloyne (530-606), also known as Colmán mac Léníne, was a monk, founder and patron of Cluain Uama, now Cloyne, Co Cork, and one of the earliest-known Irish poets to write in the vernacular.
Irish genealogies generally agree that this Saint Colmán was the son of Lénín, and descended from the Rothrige, a people who lived in the Déisi or present-day Co Waterford. Irish genealogies also try to associate him with the Éoganachta, the leading ruling dynasty in Munster.
He is said to have been educated as a bard or file, and became attached to the court of Cashel where he remained until he was about 48 years. He and Saint Brendan of Clonfert are said to have settled a dispute in 570 between rival claimants to the throne of Cashel. Aodh Caomh was acknowledged as king, becoming the first Christian king of Cashel, and was enthroned by Saint Brendan.
Saint Brendan then ordained Colmán, giving him his name which is a diminutive of Colm, derived from the Latin columba (dove). According to tradition, Colmán is named as one of the three ‘ex-laymen’ (athláich) of Ireland, along with Énna of Aran and Móchammac of Inis Celtra, suggesting that Colmán was ordained at a later age than was usual at the time.
After some time in Saint Jarlath’s monastery in Tuam, Co Galway, Colman returned to east Co Cork. He is described as a ‘religious and holy priest, who afterwards became a famous bishop.’
Saint Colmán is remembered as the founder of the monastery at Cloyne (Cluain Uama), Co Cork, on land given not given by the local king, but by the King of Munster. The Prince of the Déise, in Co Waterford, presented his child to Colman for baptism. Colman baptised him the child who became Saint Declan of Ardmore.
Saint Colman is also said to have founded a monastery at what became Killagha Abbey in Co Kerry, and many places in Co Cork and Co Limerick are associated with his name.
Many accounts describe him as the ‘royal poet of Munster,’ and his poems include a metrical panegyric on Saint Brendan. His surviving verses date from the period 565 and 604, and are among the earliest examples of Irish writing in the Latin alphabet.
He died on 24 November, ca 600, and was probably buried in Cloyne.
However, the people of Kilcolman in West Limerick insist that bith the mediaeval church and modern church there take their name from Saint Colman of Templeshambo or Templeshanbo, near Bunclody, Co Wexford.
This saint was from Connacht, the son of Eochaidh Brec, and Fearamhla, but lived and laboured mainly in wat is now Co Wexford. He was a contemporary of Saint Máedóc or Saint Aidan of Ferns, who appointed him Abbot of Templeshambo, originally called ‘Shanbo-Colman’ or Saint Colman’s booth.
There are many legends about Saint Colman and of his holy well with its sacred ducks. He is said to have laboured zealously at the foot of Mount Leinster. He died ca 595 on 27 October, according to the Martyrology of Donegal.
Saint Colman’s Church of Ireland Parish Church in Templeshambo, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The third saint, Saint Colman mac Duagh (ca 560-632), was born at Corker, near Kiltartan, Co Galway, the son of Duac, a local chieftain, and Queen Rhinagh. He initially lived as a recluse, living in prayer and prolonged fastings, first at Saint Enda’s monastery on Inismore on the Aran Islands, then in a cave at the Burren in Co Clare.
With the support of his kinsman, King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht, who lived at Dungaire Castle, Kinvara, he founded the monastery of Kilmacduagh, (‘the church of the son of Duac’) in 610, and became its abbot-bishop. His monastery became the centre of the tribal Diocese of Aidhne, practically coextensive with the later Diocese of Kilmacduagh.
Local legend says Saint Colman declared that no person nor animal in the Diocese of Kilmacduagh would ever die of lightning strike. His abbatial crozier was used through the centuries for the swearing of oaths. It was in the custody of the O’Heyne family of Kiltartan and later the O’Shaughnessy family, and is now the National Museum in Dublin.
Other legends tell of Saint Colman and his love for birds and animals, and how he kept a pet rooster to call him in the morning, a pet mouse to call him to prayer in the middle of the night, and a pet fly who served as a bookmark.
When they died, he wrote about his loss to his friend Saint Columba, who replied: ‘You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now. Trouble like that only comes where there are riches. Be rich no more.’
He died on 29 October 632. Although the Martyrology of Donegal assigns his feast to 2 February, tradition in the Diocese of Kilmacduagh pointed to 29 October, and an annual pilgrimage to his hermitage was associated with 21 October.
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There are many other legends about St Colman mac Duagh. It is said that when King Guaire promised Colman the land for a monastery he gave him a belt, saying, where this belt breaks you may have the land for your monastery. It finally broke at what is now Kilmacduagh, thus ensuring Colman's monastery was at a distance from the king's palace at Dunguaire.
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