St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, Abbot
(Ciaran the Younger, Cluain Mocca Nois,
Kieran, Kyran, Ceran, Queran)
Born in Connacht, Ireland, c. 516; died at Clonmacnoise, c. 556. Saint
Ciaran is one of the "12 Apostles of Ireland."
Born into a Meath family of pre-Celtic descent, Saint Ciaran was the son
of the carpenter Beoit. As a boy he left home with a dun cow for company
in order to be trained for the monastic life in Saint Finnian's
monastery at Clonard. At Clonard he taught the daughter of the king of
Cuala because he was considered the most learned monk in the abbey.
About 534, he migrated to Inishmore in the Aran Islands, where he spent
seven years learning from Saint Enda and was ordained priest. He left
after having a vision that Enda interpreted for him. Ciaran travelled
slowly eastward, first Scattery Island where he learned from Saint
Senan, then to Isel in the centre of Ireland. He was forced to leave
here because of his
excessive charity and moved on to Inis Aingin (Hare Island).
He left there with eight companions and eventually settled at
Clonmacnoise on the Shannon River south of Athlone in the West Meath,
where he built Clonmacnoise monastery. He gave his monks an extremely
austere rule, known as the Law of Kieran. The saint is said to have
lived only seven months after founding the great school of Clonmacnoise,
dying at the age of 34.
Clonmacnoise may have been one of the most famous in Ireland, attracting
students from throughout the country. The monastery survived many
invasions and raids until 1552, and there are still many notable ruins
remaining from its early days. Although Ciaran's shrine was plundered
several times during the medieval period, the Clonmacnoise crozier
remains in the National Museum in Dublin.
Various legends, some outlandish, are told of Ciaran. One relates that a
fox's whelp would carry his lessons to Ciaran's master until it was old
enough to eat the satchel containing the saint's writings. Another says
that the other Irish saints were so jealous of him that they fasted and
prayed that he might die young--hardly to be given any credit.
The following stories derive from the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae as
translated by Plummer, which includes the moving account of his death:
"The abbot Ciaran "was like a burning lamp, of charity so rare that not
only did the fervour and devotion of his pitiful heart go out to the
relieving of the hunger of men, but he showed himself tireless in caring
for the dumb beasts in their necessity. . . ."
Ciaran left Saint Senan to live for a time with his brethren Luchen,
abbot, and Odran, prior, at Isel Monastery, where he was appointed
almoner. One day "Ciaran was reading out of doors in the graveyard in
the sun, when he suddenly spied some weary travellers going into the
guest house; and hurriedly getting up, he forgot his book, and it lay
open out of doors until
"Meantime, as he busied himself settling his guests in their quarters
and bathing their feet and eagerly tending them, the night fell. In that
same night there fell great rains; but by God's will the open book was
found dry and sound; not a drop of rain had fallen upon it, and all the
ground round about it was damp. For which Saint Ciaran and his brethren
gave Christ praise. . . .
"One day, when Saint Ciaran was working in the field, there came to him
a poor man asking for alms. At that very hour a chariot with two horses
had been brought in offering to Saint Ciaran by a certain lord, the son
of Crimthann, King of Connaught; and these horses and chariot gave
Ciaran to this poor man.
"Now Saint Ciaran's brothers could not endure the vastness of his
charity, for every day he divided their substance among the poor, and so
they said to him, 'Brother, depart from us; for we cannot live in the
same place with thee and feed and keep our brethren for God, because of
thy unbounded lavishness.' To whom Saint Ciaran made reply: 'If I had
remained in this place, it would not have been Isel (that is, the
low-lying): not low but high, but great and honourable.
"And with that Saint Ciaran blessed his brothers, and taking his wallet
with his books on his shoulder, he set out from thence. And when he had
gone a little way from the place, there met him on the path a stag,
awaiting him in all gentleness; and Saint Ciaran set his wallet on his
back, and wherever the stag went, the blessed Ciaran followed him. And
the stag came to Lough
Ree, which is in the east of Connaught, and stood over against Hare
Island, which is in the lake.
"Then Saint Ciaran knew that God had called him to that island; and
blessing the stag, he sent him away, and went to that island and dwelt
there. And the fame of his holiness spread abroad, and from far and near
good men came together to him, and Saint Ciaran made them his monks. . .
"And one day as they rowed across, Saint Ciaran's gospel which a brother
was holding carelessly fell into the lake, and for a great while it lay
under the waters and was not found. But one summer day the cows came
into the lake, to cool themselves in the water from the great heat of
the sun; and when they were coming out from it, the leather wallet in
which the Gospel had been put had caught about the foot of one of the
cows, and so the cow dragged the wallet with her back to dry land; and
inside the sodden leather the book of the Gospel was found, clean and
dry and shining white, with no trace of damp, as if it had been hidden
in a library. For which Saint Ciaran rejoiced, and his brethren with
him. . . .
"And after these things came a man of Munster . . . Donnan by name, to
Saint Ciaran dwelling on Hare Island. And to him one day Saint Ciaran
said, 'What seek you, my father, in these parts?' And Saint Donnan
replied, 'Master, I seek a place to abide in, where I may serve Christ
"Then said Saint Ciaran, 'Abide, father, in this place; for I shall go
to some other; I know that this is not the place of my resurrection.'
Then Saint Ciaran gave Hare Island with his household goods to Saint
Donnan, and came to a place called Ard Mantain on the River Shannon; but
he would not dwell in that place, and said, 'I will not to dwell in this
place, for here there will be a great plenty of the things of this
world, and worldly delight; and heard would it be for the souls of my
disciples to go to heaven, if I should live here, for the place belongs
to the men of this world.'
"And thereafter Saint Ciaran left that place and came to the place which
was called of old Ard Tiprat, but is now called Clonmacnoise. And coming
to the place he said: 'Here shall I dwell; for many souls shall go forth
from this place to the Kingdom of God; and in this place shall my
resurrection be.' So there the blessed Ciaran lived with his disciples,
and began to found a great monastery there; and many found all sides
came to him, and his parish spread about him far; and the name of Saint
Ciaran was famous throughout all Ireland. And a famous and holy city
rose in that place to the honour of Saint Ciaran, and its name was
Clonmacnoise . . . and in it whether they be kings or princes, the
chiefs of the sons of Niall and of Connaught are buried beside Saint
Ciaran there. . . .
"So for one year did our most holy patron Saint Ciaran dwell in his city
of Clonmacnoise. And when he knew that the day of his death was drawing
nigh, he prophesied, weeping, of the future evils that would fall after
his day upon that place; and said that their life would be a poor thing.
Then said the brethren: 'Father, what shall we do in the day of these
calamities? Shall we abide here beside thy relics? Or shall we seek
"To whom Saint Ciaran said: 'Haste ye to some other place of peace, and
leave my relics as it might be the dry bones of a stag on the mountain.
Better for you that your life should be with my spirit in heaven, than
that ye should abide dishonoured beside my bones upon earth.'
"And when the hour of his departing drew nigh he bade them carry him out
of doors from the house, and gazing up at the sky said, 'Steep is that
road; and it must needs be.' The brethren said to him, 'Father, we know
that nothing is hard for thee: but for us feeble folk, there is sore
dread in this hour.'
"And again brought back into the house he lifted up his hand and blessed
his people and his clergy, and having received the sacrifice of the
Lord, on the ninth day of September he gave up the ghost, in the
thirty-third year of his age" (Plummer).
Troparion of St Kieran
"From childhood thy Life was resplendent with miracles, O Father Kieran,
showing forth thy boundless love for God by loving and caring for His creation, both men and animals.
Leaving thy carpenter father, thou didst seek training in the ascetic life from Ireland's spiritual giants
before founding the great monastery of Clonmacnois,
from whence the Lord, in His great mercy, called thee to Himself in thy thirty third year.
Wherefore, O Righteous one, intercede with Christ our God that we too may be found worthy of His mercy
A Slideshow of Clonmacnoise
Archaeology in Ireland: Investigations of the Celtic High Cross in
Clonmacnois (County Offaly, Ireland)
Clonmacnoice - Ireland's Ancient Monastic Settlement dates back to the
Through the prayers of St Ciaran and all the Saints of Ireland,
Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!
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Page last updated: 21 December 2008
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