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Ireland is the land of a thousand saints, not just St. Patrick. Actually, Patrick wasn't Irish -- it was his adopted country.
Most of the Irish saints contributed dramatically to the "golden age" of scholarship and Catholic evangelism during and after the Dark Ages on the European continent. However, many saints were named by local bishops before 1634 when Pope Urban II reserved the right of canonization for the pope, and the stories about most Irish saints are based in both fact and lore. Many great saint stories abound that teach us much about piety, scholarship, and the monastic life. Adding to the intrigue (and confusion), there are multiples of several of the saints: a couple of Irish Columbas (one of whom founded the famous monastery on Iona) and four or five St. Finnians, for example. For our discussions here, let's concentrate on those Irish saints that the Church still includes as "headliners" in the liturgical calendar, in calendar order.
St. Brigid of Ireland
Brigid (also called Brνde), Patrick, and Columba of Iona are considered the patron saints of Ireland. She was probably born near Dundalk, Ireland. Her parents were baptized by St. Patrick. Her father may have been an Irish chieftain, and her mother may have been a slave. Brigid entered the religious life in her youth. About the year 470, she founded a monastery at Cill-Dara (Kildare) and was Abbess of the convent. She founded a school of art at Kildare, which produced fine illuminated manuscripts, such as the Book of Kildare.
Patrick was born in Scotland around the year 385. His parents may have been romanized Celts or Romans. (Accounts differ.) When he was about 14, he was captured by an Irish raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd sheep. In the desolation of the sheep fields, he turned to God with prayer. He remained in Ireland until he was about 20, when he escaped. Upon returning to Britain, he studied to be a priest and eventually became a bishop. As bishop, he returned to Ireland in 433 to convert the pagans; he was very successful, converting chieftans, their families, and their entire communities, and building churches throughout Ireland.
Formerly an Irish warrier, he was convinced to stop, settle down, and marry. However, his fiancee died and he became a monk, being ordained in Rome. He returned to Ireland, built churches, and then built the monastery of Killeaney on the island of Aran.
Fionnbharr means "white (fair) head," his nickname. Born in Connaught, Ireland, he was educated in Kilkenny. He went on pilgrimage to Rome with some of the Kilkenny monks. On his return, he may have preached in Scotland, continued preaching in southern Ireland, and lived for a while as a hermit. Eventually, he founded a monastery that evolved into the city of Cork; he was the first bishop of Cork. His monastery became famous in southern Ireland and attracted numerous disciples. He died about the year 633.
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|Last modified: 03 March 2008
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