24 November 2020

Finding one Saint Colman
after another, and then
a third Saint Colman

Saint Colman of Cloyne depicted in a window in Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

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 Colman of Cloyne (left) among the saints in a stained-glass window in 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.

Saint Colman of Templeshambo depicted in a window in Saint Colman’s Church, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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.

Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh … he is the patron saint of the Diocese of Cloyne, and his feast day is on 24 November (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Colman’s Church ruins
and a mediaeval Augustinian
foundation in Kilcolman

Saint Colman’s Church, Kilcolman, Co Limerick, dating from the 13th century and ruins since 1641 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Kilcolman is a small village between Shanagolden and Ardagh, east of the R521, and south-west of Creeves and Askeaton. Some old manuscripts refer to it as ‘Kilcolman Inferior.’

The few buildings in this small villages include Saint Colman’s Church, a small shop that was once a post office, a school, and the ruins of a mediaeval church that is said to have once been served by Augustinian friars.

Saint Colman who gives is name to this village is the same Saint Colman associated with Templeshambo, near Bunclody in Co Wexford.

The church ruins are in Kilcolman graveyard, across the street from the present-day Saint Colman’s Church.

The church is first mentioned in records that say it was repaired in 1253 by the monks and abbots of Athassel Abbey in Co Tipperary.

The church is said to have been served by a house of Augustinian monk or friars, and it said to have been burned beyond repair and destroyed during the wars of 1641.

There is a separate list of Church of Ireland Rectors of Kilcolman after the Restoration, from 1663 until 1844. From 1663 to 1781, the list overlaps with the list of the Rectors of the neighbouring Kilbraderan, but they were probably never resident in parish, nor is it likely that they ever provided Sunday services in the ruined church or the parish, instead using the appointment to collect the tithes and supplement their income.

The last Rector appointed to Kilcolman was the Revd Henry Gubbins (1785-1845) who was the Rector and Vicar of Kilcolman in 1816-1845. At the same time, he was a curate of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, Limerick (1809-1836), a vicar choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1829-1845) and Vicar of Clonelty and Cloncagh, Co Limerick (1840-1845).

The Church of Ireland parish was abolished after Gubbins died on 22 August 1845.

John O’Donovan measured the ruins of Saint Colman’s Church in 1840 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Meanwhile, in 1840, John O’Donovan had measured the church as 45 ft long and 18 ft high. He noted that the walls were about 10 ft high and 4 ft thick, of hammered limestone, of regular size and regularly laid in courses, cemented with lime and sand mortar.

A plaque was erected in November 1999 to commemorate the priests and monks who served the area during the years from the early 13th century to 1641.

The grounds of old Kilcolman church are now used as a graveyard and Saint Colman’s Stone in the graveyard is said to cure headaches. Some of the headstones date back to before the 19th century. The oldest legible headstone, dated 1 February 1767, is in memory of Jeremiah Shea.

The graveyard has many Cypress trees was extended in recent years with the addition of a new section.

About 400 metres north of the graveyard, Saint Colman’s Well is also referred to a Tobercolman or Tubberchullemaun. A slab at the well states ‘St Colman’s Well, enclosed 15th August 1868.’ The well was roofed and enclosed by a wall erected by the McCoy family in 1868 when their daughter was cured after been seriously ill.

Local lore says the well moved when it was cursed. According to the legend, the well has moved three times. The well was first in the cemetery beside the old church. During heavy snow in a bad winter, someone died and was mistakenly buried near the well. The moved to in a field in Ardagh, but it moved again after two old women using the well to fetch water argued over the well. One of the women washed clothes in the well and, it is said, the well then moved to its present location.

At one time, a pattern was held at the well on 29 October to mark the end of the harvest season.

Across the street from the church ruins stand across the street, Saint Colman’s Catholic Church was built in 1913 on the site of an earlier chapel of ease built in 1827.

Saint Colman’s Catholic Church, built in 1913, seen from the ruins of the mediaeval Saint Colman’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)