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St. Manchan lived in Leamonaghan, it is about two kilometres from Pollagh. St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise gave him some land and he formed a monastery in the year 645 AD. Nothing now remains but the ruins and the surrounding graveyard. The foundations of the original buildings may still be traced but the larger ruins are those of a church built at a later date.

About 500m from the monastery is a little stone house which Monchan built for his mother Mella. This place is known locally as Kell and the ruins of the house can still be visited today. It is said that one day the saint was thirsty and there was no water at the monastery. He struck a rock and a spring well bubbled up, it is now known as St. Manahan's well. It is visited by people from all around especially on January 24 each year. It is claimed that many people have been cured of diseases after visiting the well.

There are many stories about the saint. One of the most famous of them explains why the people of Lemonaghan will not sell milk. St. Manchan had a cow that used to give milk to the whole country side for which there was no charge. The cow became famous and the neighbouring people of Kill-Managhan got jealous and stole his cow. When St. Manchan eventually found his cow it was dead, he struck it with a stick and the cow came back to life and returned to supplying milk.

St. Manchan's shrine was made in 1130 AD in Clonmacnoise, it contains some of his bones including the femur. On the shrine are placed brass figures, in 1838 it was placed in Boher church. It is the largest shrine of its kind in existence today. The guardians of the shrine through the centuries are the Mooney family (my ancestors!)

St Manchan's Shrine is preserved in Boher church, near-by. This shrine is the largest and most magnificent ancient reliquary in Ireland and was made at Clonmacnois about AD 1130. It is a gabled box of yew wood with gilt, bronze, and enamelled fittings. It still contains the relics of the saint. There are ten remaining figures of a possible 50 or 52 on the cover.

Shrine of Saint Manchan

St. Manchan lived in Lemonaghan for 19 years. During this time he looked after the spiritual needs of the locality. He waas known for his kindness and generosity, his wisdom and his knowledge of sacred scripture.

In 664 AD he became ill and was struck down by the yellow plague a disease which desolated Ireland at the time. He died and wad buried locally. After his death the place became known as 'Liath Manchan', which means Manchan's grey land.

How St. Manchan came to Lemonaghan

In 644, Diarmuid, High King of Ireland was on his way to fight a battle against Guaire, the King of Connaught, when he stopped off at Clonmacnois to ask the monks for their prayers for his success. Having won the battle, a grateful Diarmuid granted Ciarán, abbot of Clonmacnois, the "island in the bog" which we now know as Lemonaghan, provided that he send one of his monks there to Christianize it.

St. Ciarán chose St. Manchan for the mission. The thriving community that was already on the island were converted to Christianity by St. Manchan. He then went on to establish a monastery there. He built a cell for his mother, St. Mella, in an adjoining piece of high ground, and the intervening bog was bridged by a togher or walkway made from sandstone laid on brushwood and gravel. St. Manchan is alleged to have taken a vow never to look at a woman as part of his orders, so he is supposed to have had to sit back to back with his mother in order to communicate with her.

St. Manchan had many followers at Lemonaghan and ancient headstones still survive from the era. St. Manchan's well was used for cures since pagan times, and continues to be used for a variety of cures today, as is the holy water font in the ruined church in the graveyard.

St. Manchan
a visit to a historic Offaly centre Monday, 24th January
Midland Tribune 27th April 1935
By Tomas O'Cleirigh, M.A., National Museum.

I was in the little two-horse train which labours west from Clara to Banagher and the outlook was desolate. There was another chap in the carriage. He sat hunched up in the corner with his nose to the window. One glance convinced me that it was useless to say anything and there the two of us kept on staring rather lovingly at a wilderness of bog stretching away to the Slieve Bloom Mountains. It seemed to me that there was a kind of promised land on the other side. On past a few scattered farm houses some grey boulders and the ruins of a church. I found myself thinking dismally enough of the tourists. After all what do they get? Just ruins, ruins and more ruins- the saddest ruins in Europe. Then suddenly I heard my friend of the opposite corner speak in a mournful kind of way with his nose still glued to the window - "That's Leamanaghan, a quare kind of place, decent people, too, the best in the world, people who'd give you all the milk you could drink but wouldn't sell a drop of it for all the gold in Ireland and it's all by raison of a cow, saint Manchan's cow."

The Grey Land

I went through a storm of real Irish rain to see Leamanaghan that very evening. It is four miles from Ferbane in County Offaly and hidden away in a vast bog region which is dotted with scattered boulders of magnesian limestone. The general depression is summed up in the name - Liath Manchan - the grey land of Manchan. Aye! The grey, lonely, chill land of Manchan. St. Manchan lived here and died in A.D. 664. That might have been only yesterday, however as far as the good neighbours are concerned because he is the one subject over which every man, woman and child can get really voluble.

I was taken to see the ruins of his church and then down to his well and heard how when you are sick should pray here, walk three times round it and then, go back and leave a little present for the saint himself in the window of the church. He had quite a good collection when I was there - a strangely human and pathetic little collection among which I noticed a girl's brooch, some small religious articles, a boy's penknife, a G.A.A. footballer's medal and strangest gift of all for a saint of Manchan's calibre - a demure little vanity box! After that I was told that on the 24th January when all the rest of the world works, the people of Leamanaghan just take a holiday and make merry because it would be the unpardonable sin to think of work on their Saint's day.

The Saint's Cow

They have all kinds of stories about the good saint but the best one of them all explains why Leamanaghan people don't sell milk. Here it is - Saint Manchan had a cow - a wonderful cow that used to give milk to the whole countryside - good, rich milk for which no charge was ever made by the saint. Then, the people of the neighbouring Kill Managhan got jealous and watched and there chance. One fine day when Manchan was absent they came and stole the cow and started to drive her along the togher through the bog back home to Kill Managhan. The good cow, suspecting something was wrong, went backwards and most unwillingly, fighting, struggling and disputing every inch of the way. Now she'd slip designedly on the stones: again she'd lie down but every where she went, she managed to leave some trace of her rough passage on the stones of the togher. The marks are there to this day, - hoof marks, tail marks - every kind of marks and the chef-d'oeuvre of them all has a place of honour at the entrance to the little school. Alas! In spite of that very gallant resistance, the cow was finally driven to Kill Managhan. There, horrible to say, she was killed and skinned.

In the meantime, the saint returned, missed his cow, and straightaway started in pursuit. He succeeded in tracing the thieves by the marks on the stones and arrived just at the moment when she was about to be boiled. He carefully picked the portions out of the cauldron pieced them together, struck at them with his stick and immediately the cow became alive again. She was every bit as good as ever, too, except that she was a wee bit lame on account of one small portion of a foot which was lost. She continued to supply the milk as before, and, of course, no charge was made by the saint. Ever since the famous custom still lives on, and good milk is given away but never gold by the loyal people of Leamanaghan. Now, can any lover of the grand faith of Medievaldom beat that?

The very old vellum books state that Manchan of Liath was like unto Hieronomus in habits and learning. I can well believe it. Some distance away from the church is the little rectangle cell which he built for his mother - Saint Mella. Cold, austere and with no window, you get the shivers by even looking at it. There is also a large flag-stone on the togher leading from the well, and they say the saint and his mother used to meet here every day and sit down back to back without speaking a word because the saint had vowed never to speak to a woman!

A Famous Shrine

Leamanaghan people are, I gather, a tenacious class. Not only have they so zealously guarded the cow tradition but they have succeeded, despite the groans of sundry learned antiquarians, in still keeping in their midst the saint's precious shrine. It has a special altar all to itself in the church of Boher. But the first thing I noticed when I went along to see it was a wonderful green in a Harry Clarke window. The shrine itself has been many times described, notably so by the Rev James Graves in 1875.

St. Manchan is credited with writing a poem in Irish that describes the desire of the green martyrs:

Grant me sweet Christ the grace to find-
Son of the living God!-
A small hut in a lonesome spot
To make it my abode.
A little pool but very clear
To stand beside the place
Where all men's sins are washed away
By sanctifying grace.
A pleasant woodland all about
To shield it (the hut) from the wind,
And make a home for singing birds
Before it and behind.
A southern aspect for the heat
A stream along its foot,
A smooth green lawn with rich top soil
Propitious to all fruit.
My choice of men to live with me
And pray to God as well;
Quiet men of humble mind --
Their number I shall tell.
Four files of three or three of four
To give the Psalter forth;
Six to pray by the south church wall
And six along the north.
Two by two my dozen friends --
To tell the number right --
Praying with me to move the King
Who gives the sun its light.

St Manach's Shrine

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