St. Fiech, Bishop of Sletty in Ireland, Friend of Saint Patrick
From the Thesaurus Paleohibernicus:
Now St. Fiacc was the son of Mac Ercae, son of Bregan, son of Daire
Barraig, (from whom are the Hy-Barrchi), son of Cathair Mor. Moreover
that Fiacc was a pupil of Dubthach macCu-Lugair, who was chief poet of
Ireland. In the time of Logaire, son of Niall, it was made. And that is
the Dubthach who arose before Patrick in Tara, after Logaire had said
that no one would rise before him in the house. And he was a friend of
Patrick thenceforward, and he was baptized by Patrick afterwards. Now
Patrick once went to that Dubthach's house in Leinster. Then Dubthach
gave great welcome to Patrick. Patrick said to Dubthach: 'Seek for me',
said he, 'a man of rank, of good family and of good character, with only
one wife and child.' 'Why seekest thou that?' (to wit a man of that
kind)?', said Dubthach. 'That he might be ordained', said Patrick.
'Fiacc is the man', said Dubthach, 'and he has gone on circuit in
Connacht.' [note: Fiacc was 'on tour' as a bard.] Now when they were
thus talking, then came Fiacc and his circuit with him. 'There is the
man whom we have been speaking of', said Dubthach. 'Though it be', says
Patrick, 'peradventure that of which we have spoken may not be pleasing
to him.' 'Let an essay be made to tonsure me', said Dubthach, 'so that
Fiacc may see.' When Fiacc, then saw that, he asked: 'What is essayed'
said he. 'The
tonsuring of Dubthach', [note: The tonsure was not monastic; the canons
of St. Patrick state that Priests must go about tonsured and their wives
must have their heads covered.] They said. 'That is idle , said he, 'for
there is not in Ireland a poet his equal.' 'Thou wouldst be taken in his
stead', said Patrick. 'My loss to Ireland is less than that of
Dubthach', said Fiacc.
Patrick, then, took off Fiacc's beard, and thereafter great grace came
upon him, and he read all the ecclesiastical order in one night, not
fifteen days as others do. A bishop's rank was conferred on him, and he
is the chief bishop of Leinster thenceforth, and his coarb after him.
According to Muirchu's Life of Patrick (see e. g. The Patrician Texts in
the Book of Armagh ed. L. Bieler or J. Hood St Patrick's Confession and
Bishop Fiacc of Sletty was a bardic apprentice of the chief poet of
Leinster, Dubtach, who was the first to rise to greet Patrick when he
came to the court of the king of Tara. Patrick offered to make Dubtach
himself first bishop of Sletty, but Dubtach offered his pupil Fiacc
instead. Hence Fiacc's ability to write hymns in honour of Patrick. His
successor as Bishop of Sletty, Aed, in the late seventh century was
responsible for commissioning Muirchu's Life of Patrick.
From the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
(Lived about 415-520.) A poet, chief bishop of Leinster, and founder of
two churches. His father, MacDara, was prince of the Hy-Bairrche in the
country around Carlow. His mother was sister of Dubhtach, the chief bard
and brehon of Erin, the first of Patrick's converts at Tara, and the
apostle's lifelong friend. Fiacc was a pupil to his uncle in the bardic
profession and soon embraced the Faith. Subsequently, when Patrick came
to Leinster, he sojourned at Dubhtach's house in Hy-Kinsellagh and
selected Fiacc, on Dubhtach's recommendation, to be consecrated bishop
for the converts of Leinster. Fiacc was then a widower; his wife had
recently died, leaving him one son named Fiacre. Patrick gave him an
alphabet written with his own hand, and Fiacc acquired with marvellous
rapidity the learning necessary for the episcopal order. Patrick
consecrated him, and in after time appointed him chief bishop of the
province. Fiacc founded the church of Domnach-Fiech, east of the Barrow.
Dr. Healy identifies its site at Kylebeg. To this church Patrick
presented sacred vestments, a bell, the Pauline Epistles and pastoral
staff. After many years of austere life in this place, Fiacc was led by
angelic command to remove to the west of the Barrow, for there he would
find the place of his resurrection". Tradition tells that he was
directed to build his oratory where he should meet a hind, his refectory
where he should find a boar. He consulted Patrick, the latter fixed the
site of his new church at Sletty--"the highland"--a mile and a half
northwest of Carlow. Here while built a large monastery, which he ruled
as abbot while at the same time he governed the surrounding country as
bishop. His annual Lenten retreat to the cave of Drum-Coblai
and the rigors of his Lenten fast, on five barley loaves mixed with
ashes, are mentioned in his life by Jocelyn of Furness. He suffered for
many years from a painful disease and Patrick, commiserating his
infirmity, sent him a chariot and a pair of horses to help him in the
visitation of the diocese. He lived to a very old age; sixty of his
pious disciples were gathered to their rest before him.
His festival has been always observed on the 12th of October. He was
buried in his own church at Sletty, his son Fiacre, whom Patrick had
ordained priest, occupying the same grave. They are mentioned in several
calendars as jointly revered in certain churches.
St. Fiacc is the reputed author of the metrical life of St. Patrick in
Irish, a document of undoubted antiquity and of prime importance as the
earliest biography of the saint that has come down to us.
"The Hymn of Fiacc is one of the few accepted primary sources for the
life of St. Patrick other than his own writings.
Although its exact date of composition is disputed, there is no question
that it is extremely ancient, a document of the Celtic Church before the
Viking invasions. Tradition ascribes it to the fifth century bard Fiacc,
who also figures as a character in some of the legends told about
Patrick; modern scholars generally think it was composed later, in the
seventh or possibly even the eighth century. -- N. Redington."
A Life of Saint Patrick paraphrased from Fiacc's Hymn
Another hymn, on St. Brigid, "Audite virginis laudes", has been
attributed to him, but on insufficient grounds.
Troparion of St Fiacc
Thou didst devote thy life and ministry to missionary endeavour, O
Hierarch Fiacc And art remembered as the hymnographer who honoured the
great Patrick. Together with him thou didst drive out of Ireland The
ignorance and error of paganism. Pray that Christ our God will raise up
noble souls in our day Who will restore the Orthodox Faith To the Island
of Saints and advance the Kingdom of God For the salvation of souls.
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Page last updated: 16 October 2008
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