St Elvis and Christianity in Ireland before St Patrick.

Patrick baptizes King of Cashel

Propaganda by the scribes of Armagh gives us the story of St Patrick baptizing the King of Cashel. Patrick’s crozier pierced the foot of the king, who thought it was part of the ritual, so he didn’t cry out. This tale was designed to claim that Armagh had primacy over Cashel and the province of Munster.

Down here in the deep south of Ireland we celebrate St Patrick’s Day like all Irish people around the world….including elsewhere in Ireland. But there is a very strong tradition in Munster that four saints introduced Christianity to the province before St Patrick arrived.  These four were St Ailbe of Emly, St Ciaran of Saigir, St Abban of Moyarny and St Declan of Ardmore. Saint Ibar or Iberius in Latin is sometimes included as a pre-Patrician saint.

St Ailbe

Window depicting St Ailbe in the Honan Chapel in University College Cork. Each of the windows depicts a saint from Munster.

St Ailbe, considered the most important of these, is known in Pembrokeshire as St Eilfyw or Eilfw. The smallest parish in Britain, just four miles north west of St Davids is named after him. He is credited with founding the monastery of Emly, which was later erected into a diocese at the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111. In the eighteenth century the see of Emly was united with the Diocese of Cashel, the see of the Archbishop of Cashel. Ailbe is said to have been a Irish foundling taken back to Wales by some Britons who raised him as a Christian. On a journey to Rome he was ordained by St Hilary, the pope at the time. Ailbe is said to have baptized St David of Wales and then returned to Ireland to set up his monastery. It is ironic that his name is so well known worldwide for the Latin version of Ailbe is…..Elvis!  So you now know that the king of rock and roll was named after an Irish saint! But I have no idea if the saint was as good as the king with a guitar.

Elvis Presley

They call him the king, but he’s named after a saint! And an Irish saint at that!

Ciaran of Saigir was a nobleman who converted to Christianity and went to Rome on pilgrimage, where he was ordained a bishop by the pope. Returning to Ireland he became bishop of Ossory – a diocese that didn’t exist in the fifth/six/seventh century. He’s called Ciaran the Elder to distinguish him from the St Ciaran who founded Clonmacnoise.

St Abban's Church Killeagh

The now disused church of St Abban in Killeagh in east Cork. What is baffling is that Killeagh is named after a local woman, St Ia (known as St Ive in Cornwall). Nobody knows how Killeagh got a church dedicated to a Leinster saint. Killeagh lies on the main road from Midleton to Youghal.

St Abban was from the area around New Ross in Wexford – a town that was founded in the early 1200s by William Marshal. Abban’s claim to fame is his sister – St Gobnait of Ballyvourney.  Abban is said to be buried in Ballyvourney which marks the western outpost of the diocese of Cloyne. The abbey of Abingdon in England claimed to be named after him, but I suspect they were simply making that claim in the hope of acquiring relics. They actually had nothing to do with Abban. Come to think of it, the village of Killeagh in east Cork – on the road from Midleton to Youghal has a redundant Anglican church dedicated to St Abban – despite the fact that the village takes its name from St Ia (a woman) who gives her name to St Ives in Cornwall.  We’re still baffled by the St Abban connection.

Ardmore

The lovely ruined cathedral and superb round tower at Ardmore, a site dedicated to St Declan. The man had an eye for good scenery. Ardmore is still a popular holiday resort and remains a virtually unspoiled village in County Waterford. The twelfth century sculpture cycle on the west gable of the cathedral is one of the most important in Ireland.

St Declan of Ardmore had the best eye for scenery – Ardmore is a lovely seaside village in the western part of County Waterford which still preserves its tiny ruined Cathedral and its complete round tower.  Declan too went to Rome and was ordained by the pope – and met St Ailbe there. St Declan was considered the patron saint of the Deisi – the people who inhabited western County Waterford. In the modern Catholic parish of Midleton there is a site called Caherultan – said to be the church of St Ultan, a pupil of St Declan. There was certainly a parish church there in the medieval period, but the parish was abolished after the Reformation and the church has vanished.

St Declan's Well Ardmore

Early twentieth century pilgrims at St Declan’s Well in Ardmore. People still go there to take the water. ‘Doing the rounds’ of the holy sites was a way of imitating the pilgrims Rome who visited the seven basilicas there – not everybody could go to Rome on pilgrimage.

Now I don’t expect you to believe all the above stories, for many of them originate as anti-Patrician propaganda written to counter the claims of the church in Armagh to primacy over the whole of Ireland in the 7th and 8th centuries. But there is an interesting grain of truth in several of them. However, the most important detail to remember is that the south of Ireland had a lot of connections with Britain, especially Wales and with Gaul (now France). The evidence for this comes from both ancient Irish sources and ancient Welsh sources, as well as the presence of Irish inscriptions in ogham script on stones in Wales and Cornwall.   Indeed the Ui Liathain and their neighbours to the east, the Deisi even colonised parts of South Wales as the Roman Empire began to contract in the late 300s and early 400s. The Ui Liathain ruled the area that corresponds to south-east County Cork from the Blackwater to the sea and from the Glanmire River to the lower Blackwater. It is ironic that their lands were later settled by Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen and their followers from Wales – the Barrys, the Carews and the FitzGeralds. The Deisi territory in Waterford was colonized by the Powers and the FitzGeralds.

What these stories of the saints suggests is that there was much interchange of goods,persons (including slaves) and ideas between the south coast of Ireland and Wales. Christianity was one of the imports into Ireland – it survived in Wales after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the colonization of England by the Angles and Saxons.

Indeed, when we consider that the Laigin (or peoples of Leinster) even colonized the Lleyn peninsula in north-west Wales, giving their name to the place, we must wonder if the southern half of Ireland was heavily Christianized before the arrival of St Patrick. Modern scholars now believe that Patrick operated north of a line from Galway in the west to Dublin in the east. He didn’t come south of that line because Christianity was already well established in the south, with bishops supervising the church there. A stray bishop would NOT have been welcomed by the southern bishops!

Palladius

Palladius was appointed the first bishop to the Irish believing in Christ in 431 – clearly there were enough Christians in Ireland by this date to warrant the appointment of a bishop. St Patrick is traditionally said to have arrived in 432, but modern scholars reckon he came later and that 432 marked the arrival of Palladius. The scribes of Armagh may have appropriated details from the life of Palladius and attributed them to Patrickd whilst at the same time ‘disappearing’ Palladius from Irish history.

And then there is the reference in Prosper of Aquitaine’s Chronicle: in 431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius as bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.  The crucial thing about Prosper was that he was a contemporary of the two men mentioned in that statement. He was an eyewitness to these events. Prosper wrote his Chronicle to tell the story of how the Pelagian heresy was put down by St Germanus of Auxerre, and others. This heresy had flourished in Britain, alarming the Catholic Church and it probably prompted the decision to appoint Palladius to minister to the Irish Christians as their first bishop.  This was an extraordinary decision because Palladius had to leave the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire to take up his new post. It is very likely that Palladius (a Gallo-Roman) was indeed the first bishop in Ireland, preceding St Patrick by several years.

St Declan's Way

Modern pilgrimage in Ireland. There is now a walking trail from Ardmore to Cashel, linking St Declan to St Ailbe. It’s a sort of secular Camino – Irish style. Instead of sun, sangria and tapas, you get rain, Guinness and Tayto crisps!

Poor Palladius! He was condemned as a failure and almost entirely written out of Irish history centuries later when the scribes of Armagh were trying to claim for St Patrick the credit for converting the Irish to Christianity. The real goal of these scribes was to make Armagh the paramount church in Ireland. But you have got to hand it to them – it was brilliant propaganda! Now the whole world believes that Patrick was Irish and nobody has heard about Palladius, who probably did much to consolidate Christianity in the south of Ireland.  Even Stalin, with his retouched photos during the purges, was a mere amateur by comparison.  And at least nobody died in Ireland!

Ah well, A Happy St Patrick’s Day to you!

. .

Advertisements

Did Dermot Mac Murrough set sail from East Cork to bring the Normans to Ireland?

dermot_mcmurrough

Archtraitor or just another twelfth century Irish politician? This medieval image is thought to represent Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster – the man who brought the ‘English’ into Ireiand.

Diarmait MacMurchada (also known as Dermot MacMurrough) is a name perennially linked to treason in Ireland – although it’s a bit rich considering the propensity of medieval Irish kings to betray almost any agreement made in good faith!  But what blackens MacMurchada’s name for most Irish people was his decision to seek aid from King Henry II of England to recover his Kingdom of Leinster, particularly his direct patrimony of Ui Cinnsealagh (the area now covered by the dioceses of Leighlin and Ferns – essentially Counties Carlow and Wexford).  But most people in Ireland interpret this to mean that MacMurchada brought the English into Ireland in 1169, and so began eight centuries of trouble here. In reality Ireland was politically troubled before the events of 1169 – and there was no guarantee that this would end any time soon. Modern Irish historians now recognize that Mac Murchada was doing exactly what any Irish king might attempt – seek help to regain his kingdom and get revenge on his enemies.  An Anglo-Norman takeover of Ireland was almost certainly not on the agenda.  It is likely that Mac Murchada behaved like any modern politician and lied about some things.  Besides, Henry owed Mac Murchada, for the King of England had hired mercenaries from MacMurchada to put down rebellion in Wales.

But what has an exiled king from County Wexford got to do with South East Cork?  Well, MacMurchada may have sailed from the mouth of the Dissour River (just north of Ballymacoda) to seek aid from King Henry II!  I came across this when looking for something else…..and, as you can imagine, my jaw dropped. Ballymacoda is a long way from South Wexford – and was an even longer journey in the middle of the twelfth century!  I’d better give a short synopsis of the events leading up to this departure.

Diarmait Mac Murchada was born around 1110 as the son of Donnchad Mac Murchada, King of Leinster. Diarmait was descended from Brian Boru through his father’s grandmother. When Diarmait was about five, his father was killed by his own cousin, Sitric Silkbeard, King of Dublin (he was an Irish Viking, to put it crudely). Donnchad was buried in a grave with a dead dog for company – an insult the Mac Murchadas never forgave. This incident gives you a flavour of Irish politics at the time.

Baltinglass Abbey

Diarmait Mac Murchada founded Baltinglass Abbey,Co Wicklow, for the Cistercians in 1148 – only a couple of years after the order had arrived in Ireland to found Mellifont Abbey. Diarmait was considered by churchmen to be a modernizing reformer, and was held in high regard by them.

On the death of his brother, Diarmait unexpectedly became King of Leinster. He seems to have been a somewhat schizophrenic ruler.  On the one hand he gave generously to the church, supporting reforms and founding new monasteries and nunneries (ironically, this seems to have been a speciality of his). However Diarmait was also seen by many as a ruthless tyrant – although this seems to have been the norm at the time.  Gerald de Barri (better known as Giraldus Cambrensis) who visited Ireland in 1185 to discover what his cousins the Barrys were up to wrote of Diarmait that he preferred to be feared rather than loved and that he didn’t respect his noblemen, preferring to promote men of low birth (presumably on merit). ‘He was a tyrant to his own subjects……his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand was against him.’  And so it turned out, for Diarmait had abducted, Dervogilla, the wife of Tiernan O’Rourke (perhaps with the woman’s connivance). O’Rourke was the King of Breffny (in modern Sligo and Leitrim) and he appealed to his overlord and ally Rory O’Connor, King of Connacht and High King of Ireland, who led an attack on Diarmait that did such huge damage in Leinster that his own people seem to have revolted against Diarmait.  Indeed so endangered was his life, that Diarmait had to flee disguised as a monk.  He took ship to Bristol to seek out King Henry in 1166.

nunschurch500

Dervogilla, the woman whose abduction caused all the trouble for Diarmait Mac Murchada, later founded the lovely Nun’s Church in Clonmacnoise. The church may have been inspired by the fine church architecture commissioned by her abductor!

But where exactly did Diarmait find his ship?  Prompted by a recent visit to Youghal, Goddard Orpen, a wonderful historian of medieval Ireland, suggested in a note published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1903 that Diarmait took ship from a place called Corkeran.  He based this idea on lines from a poem composed in Norman French shortly after the events of the so-called ‘Norman invasion of Ireland. The poem called The Song of Dermot and the Earl tells us that:

‘Quant fut li reis exule, A Korkeran (est) eschippe, A Corceran en mer entra, Awelaf Okinead od se mena.’

When the king was exiled, to Corceran he escaped, at Corceran he entered the sea, Olaf O’Cineadha gave him aid’ (my translation)

Orpen identifies the place called Korkeran/Corceran as Gort Corceran which is located just east of Ladysbridge, north of the road to Ballymacoda.  There is an error in Orpen’s account – he says it is near the mouth of the Dissour River – true, but it is actually on the Womanagh River, which flows into the Dissour just a short distance to the north.  Perhaps Olaf O’Cineadha was living in Gort Corceran and he arranged the ship.  This man’s Norse-Irish name is interesting and suggests strong intermarriage over the generations between the various Norse settlers in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford and Cork with the native Irish.  Given that one of the parishes in the city of Waterford was named for St Olaf – it’s possible that Olaf O’Cineadha had connections there.  Whatever the reason, it is clear that the two men knew each other – did Olaf supply ships to take Diarmait’s men to Wales to assist Henry II some years earlier?

It has to be admitted that Orpen’s suggestion was greeted with horror by William Henry Grattan Flood in 1904. (Pity the poor man. With that moniker, he had a lot to live up to – named for two celebrated eighteenth century Irish parliamentarians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood!)  Grattan Flood insisted that Diarmait left from County Wexford – specifically from Corkerry near New Ross, on the banks of the Barrow in County Wexford.  On the surface this looks good – it was in Diarmait’s home territory. But it also entailed a long trip down the River Barrow passing Waterford – a place with no love to Diarmait.

Orpen’s response is firm – he quotes the Song of Dermot and the Earl to say that MacMurchada was driven out by his own people, a detail supported by other evidence from the time. Diarmait was so hounded by his enemies that he had to disguise himself as a monk in order to escape – it suggests the man had a serious popularity deficit, as we would say today. To get a flavour of the vicious nature of Irish politics at the time consider a detail revealed by Dagmar O’Riain-Raedel.  She recounts the horrific tale of two rival Irish kings being finally persuaded by the Bishop of Lismore to make a solemn peace with oaths sworn on relics in the cathedral of Lismore.  The two rivals duly obliged the bishop.  But as soon as they stepped outside the door of the cathedral, having sworn their solemn oaths, one man promptly buried his battle axe in the head of the other.  So much for a binding oath to keep the peace in twelfth century Ireland!  At least the murderer had the courtesy to wait until he was outside the church before doing the dastardly deed – unlike the Anglo-French knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Beckett in Canterbury a decade or so later! (Sadly twenty-first century Ireland got a taste of this twelfth century behaviour during the week when gunmen killed a wedding guest the door of a church in Enniskillen as he was about to attend the nuptials – tradition can be wonderful, but some traditions deserve to be firmly consigned to the dustbin of history.)  The brutal murder at Lismore suggests that Diarmait Mac Murchada was in very real personal danger of assassination or murder.  Hence his flight from Ui Cinnsealagh.  According to Orpen, the nearest point where Diarmait could have safely taken ship for England was in East Cork, specifically Youghal (which probably didn’t exist as a town at the time), or Imokilly barony in East Cork.  The townland of Gort Corceran is near the middle of Imokilly – and Orpen had already noted the name and location on the Ordnance Survey map of the area.

Medieval irish axemen

How to resolve a political dispute in twelfth century Ireland. This illustration may refer to the brutal murder at Lismore cathedral and gives a hint of the personal danger that Diarmait Mac Murchada faced when he was defeated by O’Connor and O’Rourke.

However there are a couple of details that neither Orpen nor Grattan Flood addressed.  The Dissour empties into Youghal Bay, as does the River Blackwater.  The Blackwater leads to Lismore, site of the monastic foundation of St Carthage and a place with a long continental connection, as well as being the site of that vicious axe-job!  At the time, the Bishop of Lismore was Gilla Crist Ua Connairche, called Christianus in Latin.  He was also the Papal Legate in Ireland, so much business pertaining to the Irish church was conducted by shipping passengers, pilgrims and messages from Youghal Bay.  As a king with an interest in church reform, Diarmait might have been given a warm welcome by the clergy of the area – including the Papal Legate and the Bishop of Cloyne.  Indeed, Diarmait’s flight may have been assisted by churchmen – which very likely explains the monkish disguise he adopted.  Also, it should be noted that Gort Corceran is just a few miles from Cloyne.

lismorelarge2

The Cathedral of St Carthage in Lismore, County Waterford, is a medieval structure with much later rebuilding, especially in the early nineteenth century. It is delightfully situated across from the castle gardens. Lismore was the seat of the Papal Legate in the lifetime of Diarmait Mac Murchada. An infamous murder was committed just outside the door of the cathedral in the twelfth century – one king murdered his rival moments after they had sworn an oath inside to keep the peace. Politics, twelfth century Irish style.

To make matters even more interesting, the Dissour river flows through Killeagh, just north of Gort Corceran – and Killeagh was originally the cell or monastery of St Ia (NOT St Abban!).  St Ia gives her name to St Ives in Cornwall as well as sites in Brittany – suggesting a long history of communication between Killeagh area and foreign shores.  In addition it seems that the first two bishops of the restored diocese of Cloyne may have come from the Irish monastery in Regensburg in Germany.  With these overseas connections, the idea of Diarmait Mac Murchada taking ship from Youghal Bay, even from the mouth of the Dissour, makes sense. The idea is reinforced by the fact that the Anglo-Normans later founded an important manor and castle at Inchiquin – right on the banks of the Dissour.  This allowed them to get supplies directly from England if required. If the bishop of Cloyne was involved in Mac Murchada’s flight, it is possible that Diarmait might have embarked from Ballycotton – a settlement controlled directly by the bishop and a significant harbour at the time (see my previous previous post on Ballycotton).

inchiquin castle

The thirteenth century juliet or round keep of Inchiquin Castle on the banks of the Dissour River. Curiously, the Manor or Seigniory of Inchiquin remained effectively outside the control of the Sheriff of Cork for many centuries. The FitzGeralds were the first to hold the manor.

I suspect the jury is still out on Orpen’s suggestion – but it is worth further investigation.  Recently, I met Paul Mac Cotter, who wrote the History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne, and he said that there were many connections between Wexford, especially south Wexford, and Imokilly in the thirteenth century, shortly after the Anglo Normans settled the place. Perhaps these connections went back to Diarmait Mac Murchada in 1166!

capel_island

Capel Island off Knockadoon Head marks the southern end of Youghal Bay and is close to the mouth of the Dissour River. Named after the de Capella family, an Anglo-Norman family who settled in Imokilly around 1200, it may have been one of the last sights of Ireland seen by Diarmait Mac Murchada as he went to seek aid from King Henry of England. The de Capella family are known today as the Supple family.

One thing is clear though – without Diarmait’s trip to see Henry II there would be no FitzGeralds, Butlers, Burkes, FitzMaurices, Supples, Cods, Roches or even Harpurs in Ireland! I’ll update you if I get further information that can shed light in favour of, or against, Orpen’s idea.

There is a delightful irony in the fact that William Henry Grattan Flood was born not far from the Dissour River – in Lismore actually. He even spent much of his life in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, as a church organist – right in the heart of Diarmait Mac Murchada’s home territory!  This is the man who preserved and published the Wexford Carol – the finest of the native Irish Christmas carols! For that alone we can happily forgive him for his peeved response to Orpen’s suggestion about Diarmait’ Mac Murchada’s flight from Ireland.

.